Review: Focal Elear – Hyperior

Disclaimer: Focal’s PR agency sent us the Focal Elear on loan for this review. The headphone needs to be returned. The pictures in this review or either ours or those of Focal which we borrowed.

 

Intro

My favorite living film director probably is Alfonso Cuaron.  He has been so ever since I first saw Y Tu Mama Tambien in college.  I checked out his earlier films, a Little Princess and Great Expectations, and enjoyed them both.  He then signed on to make Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and I was over the moon.  I loved the Harry Potter books, and here was my favorite director adapting one of them. Cuaron’s Azkaban ended up being the best of the Harry Potter films by a long short.  I loved it so much I felt like I could write a 40 page essay on it (which I did for my college graduation paper).  So, a few years go by, and his next film, Children of Men, starts getting some press.  Of course I am looking forward to it.  I think Cuaron is amazing, and the subject of the film is really fascinating.  I can’t forget the terrific cast, either.  Then, the trailer is released, and I flip out.  “Holy cow that looks amazing” I say to myself.  I don’t know how many times I watched that trailer.  Of course, by now, part of me is expecting Children of Men to be the greatest film ever made.  Literally, the greatest film.  You can’t win with those kinds of expectations.  Even if it turns out to actually be THAT good, at best, your expectations are only met.  So, despite eventually calling Children of Men Cuaron’s best film, and one of the best of that decade, I was really disappointed the first time I saw it.  It took a while for my expectations to finally dissolve.  I guess the point to this is to remind all of us on how dangerous hype and elevated expectations can be, and the importance of reviewing something for what it is, and not what you heard it is or expected it to be.  And now, on a completely unrelated note, let’s talk about the Focal Elear.

The Hype Train

Yeah, it’s hard to escape the hype on this headphone.  I asked L if I could review it right before the hype train started puffing full steam.  L said he was going to do the review, and then screamed at me to get off his lawn.  Ok, not true, L was very polite about it, but since I wouldn’t be doing the review, I saw no harm in reading what others had to say.  Well, people seemed to be loving every inch of the Elear.  They made it sound pretty awesome.  “Damn,” I says to myself, “I wish I were reviewing it.”  Flash forward a month or two, and I find myself with the opportunity to get an Elear loaner from Focal, and I ask L, if his own review isn’t done yet, might he be interested in a dual review.  “I haven’t been able to get a sample yet” he tells me, “so knock yourself out.”  I am beginning the review this way to fully inform you, gentle reader, that I am not reviewing this headphone unspoiled by the prior enthusiasm for this headphone.  When I know I am going to review something, I try to avoid reading as much about it as I can, as to not come into the review with a preconceived notion of what I am about to hear.  That did not happen here.  So, is this headphone the best that there is at $1000?  Does the Elear silence all comers?  Is this the end game headphone for all except the most insane?  There is certainly a good case to be made for that, but one step at a time.

Focal

Focal is a French company that started in 1979 in the home audio world making speaker drivers and loudspeakers (originally, the loudspeakers were released under the brand name JM-lab, named after the Focal founder Jacques Mahul).  Since then, they have gotten their fingers in a number of different pies including studio monitors and car audio.  In fact, in 2016, Focal launched an OEM system for the car manufacturer Peugeot.  With an optional upgrade, your car will ship with a complete Focal system.  They didn’t come to headphones however, until 2012 with the Spirit One.  The Spirit One had some troubles on release, but Focal seemed to learn a lot from it and responded with the well-received Spirit Classic and Spirit Professional.  But, it is really with the release of the Elear ($999) and its big brother, the Utopia ($3999) that Focal seems to have proven that they can play with the big boys of the headphone world.

Elear

The look of the Elear does a great job of announcing its presence.  I have been struggling as to find the right word as to describe the look.  It isn’t sleek.  It isn’t gaudy.  I’m just not sure.  Then, as I peruse the internet, looking at pictures of the Elear, I notice in one of the pictures the Elear looks like a bodybuilder flexing his massive arms (it was a thumbnail, and I might have been drunk).  That is it.  Muscular is the word I am looking.  Compared to the HD800, which looks like electronic earmuffs or the veneer on the HE-560 that makes me feel like I am wearing my parents’ old  Dodge station wagon, the Elear strikes a bold look that really grabs the eye.  But, even after some time has passed, the look never crosses that line into being too much or too loud.

Build & Comfort

As a headphone of $999 should, the Elear feels to be a very well built headphone.  Aluminum is the material of the day for the yoke.  The ear cup rotator and the length adjustment mechanism, usually part of the yoke, are both contained inside the leather headband.  They did this to maintain the “purity of the design”.  I can’t speak to the purity of it, but functionally speaking, there are no issues here.  You don’t get the same degree of rotation that you find in, say, a Hifiman headphone, but what you get here is more than enough to get you a good seal and a comfortable fit, and that is all that matters.  Speaking of comfort, Focal did a terrific job with the headband on the Elear.  The top of my head is very sensitive, and can’t stand long headphone listening sessions if the weight isn’t very well distributed.  The Elear is not a light headphone.  At 450g, it is 50g heavier than the Senn HD630, which does make my head sore when worn too long.  So, when I say the Elear can be worn for hours with no discomfort, that is really saying something.  The weight, although significant, is distributed well enough to be insignificant.   Well done on that front Focal, very well done.

The review continues on Page 2, after the click HERE or the jump below

Review: Focal Elear – Hyperior
4.9 (97.03%) 128 votes

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7 Comments

  • Reply June 24, 2017

    Till Richter

    Thanks for the very interesting and well written review, Dave! I have yet to hear the Elear but am quite tempted after reading so many favorable reviews. The most interesting detail in your review was you mentioning that the cable is 4m long and that you found that too long and would have preferred the more common 3m length.

    I have an idea why they made it 4m long and must say that I really like that length vs the common 3m. While longer is not always better, in this case it is.

    I assume from what I have seen over the past 30 years that most people have their equipment in a rack between the loudspeakers. Of course, this is for normal installations. You guys at Headphonia possibly are straight desk top audio jocks. 🙂

    Well, then, the loudspeakers are often around 250cm apart. Which in a standard equilateral triangle would give a distance to the base line of around 216 cm. Now pretend a normal rack height of around 70 cm at which the cable is plugged in and a listener ear height of 80 cm. This comes to a length of 366cm for the cable to be useful in a “normal” installation. Thus 400cm is just about right so that people with a normal hi-fi set-up can have the additional benefit and joy of headphones without actually rearranging their devices or their furniture or both.

    Of course, the placement of a hi-fi rack in between the speakers is not optimal (vibration), yet it is still better looking and cheaper in terms of shorter speaker wires that are easier to hide than an installation of the rack on the side wall of the room. That’s certainly why many people do it like that.

    Now, if you only have a desktop audio system or a nice listening chair where you listen to a sweet little rack right next to you, then 4m is too long. But it is still easier and cheaper to curl up 4m (or at least cope with the additional 1m) than buying a new high-quality 4m long headphone cable just because the darn manufacturers didn’t do their homework.

    If I were to buy an Elear I’d try to get an “old” model with the totally unfashionable but immensely convenient and money-saving 4m long cable. Ideally, Focal would give customers a choice. Do you read this, Focal?

    Cheers,

    Till

  • Reply June 25, 2017

    Dave

    I did say something to that effect, “That might be nice if you like sitting across the room from your equipment, but for a person like me (and I suspect, most of you) who is within two feet of his amp, you end up with a huge mess of cable at your feet.” I actually said I would prefer a 1.5m cable, but is just me. If you ever give the Elear a listen, make sure you let us know what you think.

  • Reply June 28, 2017

    Jaycee

    Hello, I’m a huge fan of this page, the reviews are really well put, however I would very much like to know what would be your top picks for a pair of closed-back, neutral and wide/deep $soundstaged cans on the range of sub $1000 USD.
    I’m trying to upgrade from a pair of ATH-A900x, so it’s kinda hard to find something similar albeit better.

    Thanks, and regards.

  • Reply July 5, 2017

    Jason Lang

    Nice review, I think these are one of (if not) the best headphones you can get in the $1,000 price range. Maybe if you like a more analytical sound than the HD800 or T1 would be better suited but for pure listening pleasure, the Elear is tops IMO. I’ve had my pair for about 9 months and I use them every day, and they sound better than they did new. I’ve never been a believer in mechanical burn-in with drivers but I swear they sound clearer and more open than they did new. The soundstage width has opened up more and with the already fantastic depth the imaging is much more realistic. All in all a wonderful headphone that sounds great with any style of music, for $999 you can’t go wrong.

    • Reply July 5, 2017

      dale thorn

      In a direct comparison between the Elear and the T1 (and possibly the HD800), the Elear is night-and-day different. A very different sound. The T1 and HD800 have the “classic hi-fi” tuning where the response was measured “free-field”. The Elear tends toward a very different tuning, similar to the AudioQuest headphones.

  • Reply July 17, 2017

    Steve

    Maybe I’m spending too much time on the internet, but it’s interesting how different reviews reach entirely different conclusions about the same product.

    You say that in many ways, the Elear sounds like a closed headphone.

    Stereophile says the Elear is one of the most open sounding headphones ever and is destined to become a classic.

    Not sure to make of this

    • Reply July 17, 2017

      dale thorn

      Soundstage is affected by openness, but it isn’t a direct correlation. Sometimes I think these get confused or assumed in a wrong way. One sure thing about the Elear though is the slight anechoic-chamber effect from lack of reflections in the earcups. You might get a sense of it from the Elear by itself, but when comparing directly to other headphones, it’s more obvious.

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