Focal Stellia review

Focal Stellia

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. 

Stellia’s packaging + accessories.

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. 

Stellia’s semi-hard carrying case.

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. 

Stellia’s leather accents on the outer side of the ear-cups.

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. 

Leather cushioned headband.

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. 

Leather ear-pad + honeycombed driver cover.

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.

Stellia is finished in full-grain ‘cognac’ and ‘mocha’ leather.

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.

Stellia’s detachable 3.5mm cables.

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.

The article continues on the third page. Click here or use the jumps below.

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Matty's a musician, music-fan, and 'gear-phile' from Sydney, Australia. Outside of his day-job in creative advertising, Matty enjoys live music, lawn bowls, craft beer, and spending far too much money collecting vinyl.

    17 Comments

    • Reply March 2, 2020

      Hanesu

      Hi Matty!

      I love your writing style – your articles are always a great pleasure to read!!!

      Could you maybe add some sound comparison to other headphones?

      • Reply March 2, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Thanks for reading mate, it’s much appreciated. I left some impressions comparing the Stellia to the ZMF Eikon and Beyerdynamic T1 on page 3 – I think it’s important to compare against headphones you can directly listen-to back-to-back, so I try to always to comparisons with headphones that I have with me at that point in time. Are there any particular headphones you were keen to hear them compared against?

      • Reply March 2, 2020

        Harsha

        Hi,
        Any comparisons with the ZMF Verite Open. I understand open vs closed isn’t fair. Would you rate it on the same level as – LCD 4s/Empyrean/D8000 ?

        • Reply March 2, 2020

          Matty Graham

          I haven’t spent enough time with the Verite or D8000 to give you a proper answer. I LCD-4 is just too dark, and too heavy for me; the Empyrean is tonally very lovely abut just doesn’t have the same aggressive dynamics as the Stellia.

      • Reply August 28, 2020

        Kerim

        I’m fortunate enough to own these, and your review captures them to perfection. I haven’t found a better or more precise description of their strengths and few minor weaknesses. I kept nodding my head and thinking, “Yes, exactly!”

    • Reply March 2, 2020

      Miguel Betancourt

      What a joy and pleasure to read your reviews, simply put, just wonderful!

      Gracias!

      M.

    • Reply March 2, 2020

      Mike I.

      Very nice review, again; thank you !

      Your comparison with the Beyer T1: gen 1 or gen 2 ?

      A comparison with the ZMF Vérité – closed would be very nice: cheaper, less bling-bling, and also beryllium.

      • Reply March 4, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Thanks Mike – it’s the Gen 1 Beyer T1. I don’t have ready access to a Verite – being handmade, direct-to-customer, and generally pretty expensive! Although, I would love to hear one. If one happens to manifest in the next few days I’ll try and add some thoughts to the article.

    • Reply March 2, 2020

      Thomas Ho

      Well said, I agree with the points that you’ve made about being an audiophile as a hobby. I’ve fallen in love with your review. Well done!

      • Reply March 3, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Great to hear, thanks Thomas!

    • Reply March 2, 2020

      MhtLion

      Thanks for great review! Just a quick question please. When you said “does highlight it’s sometimes unnatural timbre in the upper midrange”, you are referring to Stellia or T1?

      Actually, one more question. Have you heard Elex? Sure, it’s open back, but Elex is such a good value proposition. If one wants Stellia but only can afford Elex, I wonder how much of difference there will be.

      • Reply March 3, 2020

        Matty Graham

        I’ve just tweaked it to make it clearer – I’m referring to the timbre of the Stellia when it come to how it deals with some instruments and vocals texturally.

        I have heard the Elex – I recall it being tonally very awesome, and its dynamics certainly were impressive. It’s not going to hit as hard as the Stellia in the low end, in particular, and the beryllium drivers of the Stellia do give it a noticeable edge in the speed and clarity stakes.

    • Reply March 3, 2020

      MHTLION

      Thank you for the response and clarification!

    • Reply March 4, 2020

      Brian Becker

      Superb review friend! Such and enjoyable read.

      I heard the Stellia while visiting London and was gobsmacked silly.

      Since there was no way I was getting this approved by my CFO (aka wifey, bless her heart), and I just had to have something, I got the Elegia instead.

      Very happy I did. Cheers!

      • Reply March 6, 2020

        Matty Graham

        They do have an uncanny ability of impressing you right from the get-go, so I’m not suprised Brian. You have yourself an awesome set of cans in the Elegia, enjoy mate.

    • Reply March 6, 2020

      teknorob23

      Great review, thanks! It will be interesting to see what you think of the ZMF Verite Closed. I was privileged enough to have the two together for a couple of months. The VCs and Stellia are to my ears, head and shoulders above the closest CB competition as well as being right up there in the overall list of current greats. Having initially been blown away by the sheer scale of the VCs stage and visceral bass kick i was sure they’d be the keepers, but as time wore on i found the stellias on my head more and the VCs less and less. The VCs are slightly W shaped and as such the mids are just that bit too recessed for my tastes, that an i started to find them a portly and plodding compared to the up front, but even handed Stellia, with almost utopia levels of detail and in more liveable with tonal package. I should caveat this by saying i listen mainly to complicated electronica/techno with spattering of 90s alt rock like MBV and pavement. I love hearing up front and detail, but in the most analogue manner possible and nothing takes me into the music like the Stellias. Thanks again :):)

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