Focal Stellia review

Focal Stellia

Amping and pairing

 

With 35-ohm/106dB sensitivity drivers, the Stellia was definitely designed for use with a wide range of source gear – in particular, mobile equipment. What’s very quickly apparent about the Stellia is the fact that you’re able to just very, very good performance from said gear. It’s not tremendously amp-picky, nor is it altogether difficult to drive. However, if you’ve gone to the trouble of acquiring yourself fancy new sports-car, you sure as hell aren’t going to fill it with 91 octane. And it’s the same with audio gear – sure, you can go from zero to ‘too loud’ in under 4 seconds with any old fuel, but you want to make sure you’re extracting the best from it. So please, if you’ve gone to great trouble (and great expense!) of getting a great pair of headphones like the Stellia, you’ll get more reward from using better-recorded source material, with better source gear. 

Focal Stellia + Questyle CMA600i.

I spent most of my time listening to the Stellia with my Questlye CMA600i using the balanced 4-pin cable. The Questyle easily drove the Stellia to comfortable listening levels at around 8:30 on the volume pot and proved to be a transparent, powerful and enjoyable pairing. 

The Stellia also proved to be a genuine portable contender when it came to pairing with high-quality mobile sources. Sonically, it was a terrific match with both the Chord Mojo and the new Astell&Kern S700, neither of which broke a sweat driving the Stellia in 3.5mm single-ended mode. I would have loved to have tried the 2.5mm balanced option on the A&K DAP, but I didn’t have an adapter on hand (sorry!). However, there was nothing missing from my musical enjoyment via single-ended playback to warrant requiring the maximum 4vrms of the balanced outputs. Dynamics and bass impact did feel a little leaner on the Mojo after immediately using the Stellia with the Questyle, but still impressive nonetheless. 

Focal Stellia + Astel&Kern SA700.

I did enjoy tubing the Stellia, spending a few enjoyable albums’ worth of time with them paired to the Hagerman Audio Tuba, which I reviewed last year. The Tuba is a transformer-coupled amp, with the ‘LO’ output having an impedance of 5-ohms – about right for a 35-ohm headphone, but sometimes this can play with the frequency response of lower-Z cans. Not so with the Stellia, which were an absolute treat on the Tuba. Throwing the Tuba’s EL84’s into the equation tended to make the Stellia slightly softer and rounder in terms of bass impact, and did make for a slightly more gentle upper-octave. While it didn’t exactly sacrifice resolution, The Tuba did make for a smoother, less defined image and smoother treble response.

Focal Stellia + Hagerman Audio Tuba.

The article continues on the fifth 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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