Review: Focal Elear – Hyperior

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.

Specifications

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

Sound

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

Review: Focal Elear – Hyperior
4.6 (91.59%) 176 vote[s]

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13 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 September 24, 2017

      Mark

      While I havent heard the A900x, the Fostex Thx00 and the Emu Teak that are sold on Massdrop would absolutely fit the bill

  • 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.

  • Reply May 14, 2018

    ATTICUS

    Hi all, I’ve just ordered a Focal Elear. I will order a 1.5m cable for nomade use. I have a concern : I currently own an OPPO HA2. Will it have enough power to drive the Elear?
    If not, what would be the best DAC or DAP in the 500-1000usd range?
    Thanks in Advance

    • Reply May 14, 2018

      dale thorn

      My Elear was driven well by the Oppo HA2, as well as the DragonFlys.

      • Reply May 14, 2018

        ATTICUS

        Thanks for the comments. Did you prefer it with HA2 or Dragonfly Red?

        • Reply May 14, 2018

          dale thorn

          DF Red. The Oppo is good, but just a little shy of DF quality. BTW, the HA-2SE might be better, but now it looks like those are no longer available.

  • Reply November 7, 2018

    Denis

    Hello, i own the Focal Elear and i am looking for a desktop headphone amplifier in the $1000 price range for late listening session. The reviewer mentioned briefly the Violectric V100 in his text. Does someone know if the Violectric HPA V100 is a great match for the Elear ?

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