Review: Focal Elear – Hyperior

First, I want to make a quick comparison between the Elear and the good ol’ HD650.  Both offer full bodied bass and mids, but the fact that the upper-midrange is more in line with the rest of the midrange, almost makes the HD650 sound a little brighter than the Elear, especially with vocal music.  Of course, I am just talking tonality here.  The Elear bass is tighter, goes deeper and everything is much cleaner.  It is clearly operating on a higher level.

The headphone I really want to compare the Elear with is the Hifiman HE-560.  I know the HE-560 is a planar, but they are similar in price, make an interesting contrast, and hell, it’s what I have handy.

Both have an excellent bass, but in very different ways.  The HE-560 bass has a more reference tuning where it goes deep and is very well textured, but the Elear hits consistently harder, and has more body.  It is less dependent on the music playing.  The Elear may not go quite (maybe) as deep, but the difference is minimal at worst.  Both do what they do really well, but I have a hard time imagining more people not favoring the bass on the Elear.  It is also far less amp dependent, so the bass is easier to come by.

The midrange is a much more interesting fight.  The Elear has more body, but drops off in the upper-midrange, while the HE-560 is consistent throughout.  Let’s bring Jenny Lewis back into this again.  With the HE-560, her voice simply sparkles.  On the Elear, her voice takes on a more romantic tone that is beguiling.  Which is better?  I really don’t know.  Depending on my mood, I could favor either one.  Both are clean and detailed (although I might find the Elear cleaner and the HE-560 more detailed.  Seems odd to me, but that’s what I hear).  Honestly here, it depends completely on the flavor you are after.  Both do a great job.

Treble is the Elear’s weakness: lower in the lower-treble, and spiking in the mid-treble, where the HE-560 sparkles.  Some might find the HE-560 too bright (I don’t), and folks aren’t libel to throw that accusation at the Elear, but the uneven treble to me is the Achilles heel of the Elear.

I am convinced that the strong dramatic punch is the cause of the poorer sound stage performance on the Elear.  I know others have said as much, but switching back and forth between the Elear and the HE-560, I would be surprised if most don’t come to a similar conclusion.  Switching to the HE-560 after using the Elear, I am immediately struck at how soft and distant it sounds in comparison.  Switching back to the Elear after a while, the dynamic punch would strike me, but I would wonder where all the space went.  Imagine you are sitting in front of a two channel stereo system, listening to music.  Now, take the two speakers and place them right next to your ears so you are sitting between them.  At that distance, the punch of the speakers is shooting right into your ear and has no space to dissipate, but as a result, you don’t get the sense of the music existing in its own space.  It is just right there.  That’s the Elear’s presentation.  It is a strong one, and a very engaging one, but it might not be to everyone’s taste.

My thoughts were confirmed when I brought the Elear to a local headphone meet.  All loved the dynamic punch, and the bass made many friends, but the crowd was torn on some of the other aspects.  Some people loved it.  One guy in particular just adored the Elear, and thought it is exactly how he wanted to hear his music.  His position is easy to understand.  The Elear rocks.  On the other hand, there were those who missed the air and sense of space that headphones can provide (having an extremely well driven HD800 near at hand didn’t help the case).  That is also an easy opinion to understand.  Who is right?  That will be up for you to decide.

I played around with EQ for a bit, but wasn’t ever able to find just the right balance.  For those so inclined, balancing out the midrange and treble should be doable.

Conclusion

So, did the Elear live up to the hype?  While I don’t think it is the be-all-and-do-all, I really fell in love with the Elear.  Its stellar build, comfortable fit and kick ass sound easily won me over.  When listening to it, the issues with the upper-midrange and lower-treble don’t really bother.  It was a sad day for me when I had to send it back.  The Elear is currently on Headfonia’s recommended headphone list, and it most definitely deserves its spot, but, like all headphones, you should give it a good listen first to see if it will meet your needs.  I have the feeling that a lot of people will love what the Elear is selling.  The fact that it isn’t too picky about what’s driving it means you don’t have to toil over your pairing like you do with some headphones (it sounded great with JDS Labs EL stack).  The Elear sells for $999, and if you are considered a purchase in that price range, you HAVE to hear Focal’s Elear.

Highly recommended.

Review: Focal Elear – Hyperior
4.7 (93%) 160 votes

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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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