Packaging and presentation
From the moment I first opened the delivery package for the review Stellia, I knew I was in for something a little extra. The Stellia arrives resplendently in a monolithic red leather-esque box, which slides open to reveal undoubtedly the best-packaged flagship experience I’ve encountered to date. Inside, you’ll find a leather-bound gate-folded display case containing the Stellia’s two included cables: a balanced, 10-ft 4-pin XLR cable; and a shorter 4-ft cable terminated in a single-ended 3.5mm stereo jack. Both are sheathed in finely-woven cognac and mocha-coloured fabric (a colour scheme that’s carried throughout the Stellia’s accessories) and are joined to the Stellia’s earcups via 3.5mm mono plugs.
The headphones themselves are housed inside a rather nice semi-hard portable carrying-case, which owners of other Focal headphones will find familiar. It’s lightweight, good-looking and genuinely quite portable – and it could easily be mistaken for a high-end piece of hand-luggage, being finished with fancy zippers and a leather carrying handle bearing the Focal motto: Listen Beyond.
It’s certainly a flagship experience thus far in terms of unboxing and accessories and we haven’t gotten to the headphones themselves yet, so let’s see what we have on our hands.
Build, Design and Comfort
The Stellia bears the same basic profile and shape as the Elear/Clear/Elegia/Utopia and is a full-sized, 435g pair of headphones. They’re not exactly compact, but neither are they as huge as, say, a full-sized model from the likes of Audeze or Hifiman. Picking them up, you immediately notice the suppleness of the leather on the headband and pads, and the precision on the machining of the aluminium yokes and the way they’re connected to the earcups, which gently return to their position after moving thanks to their spring-loaded design.
The Stellia achieves its distinctive look thanks to a skeletonised matte stainless steel outer shell, with a swirling array of circular cut-out holes revealing a delicate leather coating on the outside. You know that a company is going for ‘luxurious’ when they apply leather simply for aesthetics in a place where many might not even realise it’s there.
The Stellia’s headband is generously padded with the darker, perforated ‘mocha’-coloured leather on the underside, and the ‘cognac’-coloured leather over the top. The headband extends with precise, metallic ‘clicks’ for a total on nine increments per side.
The dual-coloured leather scheme continues on the Stellia’s earpads, which are, without any uncertainty, the most supple and luxurious I’ve experienced. Focal explain in their marketing material that the memory foam is coated with an acoustic cloth, and then further wrapped in the outer unperforated leather to help create better isolation for the closed-back design. Isolation-wise, it’s ‘ok’ – enough to immerse you in your music in an office or cafe setting, but don’t expect the Stellia to block-out the noise of a plane’s engines. A ‘click’ of your fingers is mildly audible with music playing at medium volume. Inside the earcups, the drivers are angled slightly forward (rather than perpendicularly as is the case in most headphones) and are protected with a honeycombed lattice structure.
You might have experienced the feeling of sitting in a high-end luxury vehicle at a motor show and being overwhelmed with a sense of luxury and craftsmanship from the environment that you are immersed in. It’s a similar kind of experience when you pick-up and regard the Stellia – it looks and smells utterly gorgeous. Even the untrained eye will lock eyes onto it and understand that they are beholding a special piece of design and construction.
Lowering them over your head and resting them onto your ears is like putting on a well-fitted, expensive leather jacket – they feel snug, soft, and just taut and tight enough to feel cocooned and warm. Clamp-force isn’t overly tight, and there’s plenty of height, width and depth for my ears in their spacious earcups to not rub against any surfaces. I find that the weight tends to distribute a little too much to the headband as opposed to having the earcups do more of the work, and I get a slight sense of pressure right on the very top of my head from the headband, which is noticeable and a little uncomfortable after an album or so’s worth of listening, but thankfully its leather and padding are up to the task.
Articulating the earcups around gently in my hand does cause a small amount of creaking on the Stellia. It’s not entirely audible, but it does detract from the experience somewhat and makes them feel perhaps a little frailer than they ought to. Don’t get me wrong – they’re certainly bloody well put-together and I don’t expect them to degrade with careful use, but I’d like them to feel a smidgen more solid and seamless for their asking price of $3K.
My main quibble with the physical build of the Stellia is the pair of supplied cables, for a few different reasons. Their flat, braided build is certainly robust and made to last, but tends to create audible rubbing and friction against your clothing, particularly above the Y-split. They’re both thick-enough to never tangle, however, they tend to ‘remember’ the angles at which they’re stored causing them to fold at particular increments rather than naturally straighten or curve. Focal’s intended use-case for the Stellia is evident in the cables they’ve chosen – a short, 3.5mm cable chiefly for mobile use; and a longer 10-ft XLR cable for home stereo use.
There are two main problems with this choice: you may not have a balanced amplifier with an XLR output at home; and if so, the 3.5mm cable is simply too short for usable home listening. I even found it too short for general desktop usage. Thankfully I was able to connect it to my balanced Questyle CMA600i desktop amplifier, but I had to use an extension cord with other amplifiers. Many users of higher-end portable devices might also be left scratching their heads from the lack of a balanced portable cable (either 2.5mm or 4.4mm) it the Stellia is truly intended to be an ‘endgame’ portable proposition. Focal does intend the Stellia to be paired with their Arche desktop amplifier, which does include a 4-pin XLR output, so the 3.5mm option is presumably meant to be a compromise to be as compatible as possible across a range of devices. If I were to buy a Stellia, I’d be seriously considering some after-market options. Luckily, being 3.5mm mono and not proprietary connectors, this is easily done.
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