We’re excited to be giving Headfonia readers our impressions on the Focal Stellia – the $3,000 USD flagship closed-back headphone from the famed French audio manufacturer. The Stellia unit featured in this review was kindly loaned to us by Focal’s local Australian distributor, Busisoft AV, and will be heading back to them afterwards – our sincere thanks for the opportunity.
Ok, let’s deal with the elephant in the room straight off the bat: $3,000 USD is a lot of money to be spending on a pair of headphones, for anyone. Hell, it’s a lot of money to spend on anything, really. That equates to about four and a half grand’s worth of my Australian dollarydoos, and I’d be happy to get that much if someone eventually decides to buy my 13-year-old Peugeot 207 GTi, which is a lot more French-engineered metal and leather for the same amount of money…right?
My friends and coworkers nearly had a coronary when they found out how much the (very) conspicuous looking pair of cognac-coloured leather-bound headphones were worth when they ran into me with them over the past few weeks. Admittedly, there are a few among them who didn’t realise that it’s possible to spend more than a few hundred bucks on a pair of headphones (another common reaction is: “why wouldn’t you just get a pair of Airpods?”, sigh). But, many of them wouldn’t flinch if I’d been wearing a couple of grand’s worth of wrist-watch or had dropped that kind of coin on a long weekend away. Personally, I don’t care for watches (my phone has a perfectly good clock), but I can guarantee you that more people will admit to being far more passionate about music than they are about timekeeping.
So why does investing so much money on a pair of headphones that you’re likely to use for many, many hours, and that will (hopefully) last you several years feel like such an obscene way to depart with your cash? Well, there’s a couple of key reasons. Firstly, as hobbies go, audiophilia is a fairly niche one. Most punters are fairly happy in the belief that Beats by Dre and Bose’s noise-cancelling offerings are the be-all and end-all when it comes to sound quality. Next, as those who actually spend a little time in the hobby and as many Headfonia readers will know – it’s actually possible to get very, very good sound quality for well under $1000. It’s also entirely possible to find excellent performance from a pair of headphones or IEMs with enough change from $500 to take your nearest and dearest out for a nice meal (depending on your taste in food, anyway).
So then, what exactly can the $3,000 Focal Stellia do that other headphones can’t? Will it play music that others can’t, or give you a back massage while it does it? Can it iron your shirt for you? Spoiler alert: it can’t. But, like the watch aficionado or the person that’s saving for their next overseas getaway will tell you, it’s all about the experience. How something makes you feel from the moment you first lay your eyes on it, and every time you come into contact with it. Like Marie Kondo says, it’s important to discern the things in life that “Spark Joy” – when you know what makes you happy, let superfluous things go, and enjoy every moment of what you love. As the cleanup Queen also says, “Cherish the thing you love. Cherish yourself.” – in other words, some times you just need to treat yo’ self.
Meet the Stellia
So what were Focal aiming-for when they created the Stellia? Many of you will be familiar with the Utopia, Focal’s open-back flagship and close relative to the Stellia, which also packs a beryllium-driver as well as a similarly eye-watering price-tag of $2,999 (at time of writing, but has been as high as $4K). It managed to greatly impress Lieven, check out his pics and thoughts on the Utopia here. Focal describes the Stellia as “very high-end circum-aural headphones…for home and on-the-go use”. Now, I didn’t dare take this review pair of Stellias onto the bus or a plane, but it seems that Focal intended to create a pair of headphones that are the best possible option for any possible circumstances – the ultimate pair of headphones. Or, as they say on their website, “Acoustic sound purity, everywhere”. But, as you’ve no doubt gathered by now, the Stellia is more just a statement in audio quality – they’re intended to be a statement piece in and of themselves by virtue of their wholly distinctive and luxurious aesthetics. Whilst the Utopia does reek of high-performance and build quality in the looks department, Focal opted for a more low-key black treatment. However, for the Stellia, Focal went all-out. So, it seems that Focal is targeting not only the audiophile market with the Stellia but connoisseurs of luxury equipment more generally – and close-backed headphones certainly have more mass-market appeal than their open-backed brethren.
So let’s take a look at what we have on our hands. On paper, we have ourselves a closed-back, circum-aural (over-ear) headphone with a 40mm beryllium driver, aluminium and stainless steel construction, detachable cables, and finished in a combination of ‘cognac’ and ‘mocha’ full-grain leather. Specifications are as follows:
- Type Circum-aural closed-back headphones
- Impedance 35 Ohms
- Sensitivity 106dB SPL / 1mW @ 1kHz
- THD 0.1% @ 1kHz / 100 dB
- SPL Frequency response 5Hz–40kHz
- Loudspeaker 1.6″ (40mm) pure Beryllium “M” shape dome
- Weight 0.96lb (435g)
In non-paper terms: the Stellia has made me hear music, and experience playback in a way that no other pair of headphones has done so before – and I’ve heard pretty much all of them. It’s straight-up decadence and detail (both sonically and build-wise) from start to finish – they’re very, very special.
But, are the Focal Stellia ‘worth’ three grand? Do they represent ‘value’? I can promise you, you really, really, do want a pair, but it’s not easy to decide whether they’re worth investing-in for your particular circumstances and priorities. Let’s take a look
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