Cable & Pads
My least favorite thing about the build is the included cable. It is well built, OFC, and Focal maintains it has exceedingly low impedance. That isn’t the issue, though. The cable is rather heavy, but that is just the solid build. That isn’t the issue, either. No, the issue is length. This f&#ker is LONG. 4 meters long, to be exact. 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. It isn’t a huge deal, but I did find it annoying enough to mention it. I would occasionally stand up, only to find my head jerk forward as it turned out, I was standing on the edge of some excess cable. Focal recently informed me that the Elear is now shipping out with a 3 meter cord instead of a 4. This is certainly an improvement, but it still seems a little on the long side for me. I might recommend including two cables: one 3 meter and one 1.5 meters. But, that is just me.
My favorite things about the build of the Elear are the ear pads. Sweet Jesus they are comfortable. They are made of memory foam and covered in a microfiber fabric. When I first felt them, I couldn’t believe how soft and cushy they were. They feel like little pillows against my ears. They always give me a great seal and pop back to perfect shape when taken off. These are easily the nicest, most comfortable ear pads I have felt on a headphone.
So, one small, rather insignificant quirk aside, the build and comfort on the Focal Elear is first rate, clearly living up to the hype. Now, however, we move onto the sound.
Type: Circum-aural open back headphones
Impedance: 80 Ohms
Sensitivity: 104dB SPL / 1mW @ 1kHz
THD: <0.3% @ 1kHz / 100dB SPL
Frequency response: 5Hz – 23kHz
Loudspeaker: 137⁄64“ (40mm) Aluminum-Magnesium “M” shape dome
Weight: 0.99lb (450g)
Cable length: 9.8ft (3m)
Connectors: 1 x 01/4“ (6.35mm) stereo Jack connector
2 x 09⁄64“ (3.5mm) Jack
As you can see from the numbers above, these are not particularly difficult headphones to drive. You will want an amp, but it doesn’t need a Beta22 to drive. In fact, on my V100, I set the pre-gain to -12 to give myself the most latitude possible, and believe me, you will want to fine tune the volume as much as possible. After plugging the headphones into your amp, start with the volume at zero, and work your way up, because, what you heard about the Elear is true. That isn’t just hype or marketing buzz, the dynamics on these cans is out of this world. In this regard, every other headphone I have heard has to bend their knee to the Elear. This is more than dynamic kick. This is dynamic pound, or maybe dynamic blast. Even expecting it, I was still taken aback. Switching back to other cans, I was surprised to find them sounding soft (more on this in the comparison section). This alone is enough to make the Elear worth hearing.
The second thing you notice about the Elear is how damn good the bass is. Think about all of the different things you want from you bass response. Well, you want great impact. You want it to hit hard. It should come as no surprise that yes; in fact, the Elear does have great impact. Take a moment, like the very end of the Minnesota Orchestra’s recording of Beethoven’s Seventh, a moment that demands impact, and the Elear helps the symphony end, not with a period, but an exclamation point (or maybe three). Ok, you want that impact, but it needs to have body as well. I don’t want it thin. Well, rest assured the Elear’s bass is of the full bodied variety. Ok, you say, but you don’t want that body to bleed into the midrange. Well, it doesn’t. The segue between the two is smooth as silk. The bass never steps on the toes of the midrange. The bass knows its place as part of the frequency response, not all of it. But even more, you demand that the bass goes deep. On that note, I defy you to find me an open-backed dynamic headphone that does deeper, because I have yet to hear one. The bass is also extraordinarily clean and textured. Some planars around the thousand dollar mark might have the edge in terms of depth and detail, but for a dynamic driver, you will be hard pressed to find better. Honestly, for any headphone, you will be hard pressed to find a better bass presentation. It is about as close to perfect as I have any right to expect.
So, we flow smoothly into a wonderful, full-bodied midrange. Most of the points made about the bass apply here as well. It is clean, detailed and transparent, all the while maintaining a very full-bodied sound. Vocals are very well delivered, and feel very much part of the organic whole, as opposed to a presentation where the voices seem to pop out in front of the sound. Up to this point, there is very little to dislike. Unless you are seeking an absolute reference tuning (lighter and thinner of sound), the Elear just hits all the bases. But now we get to the upper midrange, and it is here that the Elear gets a little more divisive. Relative to the rest of the mids, the upper-midrange is somewhat recessed. Where this plays out the most is in the vocals. Take someone like Jenny Lewis, whose voice can be pretty bright (and prone to sibilance). The Elear cuts the top of her voice off, giving her sound a darker feel to them. Now, this can be a good or a bad thing, depending on your mood. I myself, find myself going both ways. The upper mids, like everything else, is completely clean and detailed; it is just rather laid back, you could say recessed, compared to what came before.
The same fate seems to befoul the treble as well, just in reverse. The lower treble, like the upper mids, is definitely laidback. Although still clean and detailed, there is no sparkle to it. I would describe the Elear as a great headphone to people allergic to strong treble, but there is, of course, a peak in the mid-treble that would make such a recommendation difficult. I am not going to lie and say that the peak in the treble ever really bothered me, because it didn’t. It doesn’t usually present itself until you are actually looking for it. But it is there, and you should be aware of it. Placing my finger on the overall tonality of the Elear is kind of difficult. I would call it a dark headphone with a treble peak. What? That doesn’t make any sense, you say? Well, no it doesn’t, but that is how it sounds to me.
On the other hand, the sound stage of the Elear is easy to describe. The width certainly is OK but the depth is a little less so. The instrument separation is pretty solid, and would be the highlight of this section. I found it air-wise a little less impressive and it’s one of the things that makes the Elear feel darker than it might actually be. In many ways, it sounds like a closed headphone. In air, width and, especially, depth, there are closed headphones that can outperform the Elear. If sound stage is a huge selling point for you, this is the one time I can say this for sure, the Elear might not the headphone for you.
Comparisons and more on the last page of the review HERE