Disclaimer: The samples of the Focal Listen and the Listen Wireless for this review were sent to us by Focal’s PR agency in the US of A.
You remember Focal, right? That company that garnered a little buzz in the world of headphones with the release of their two audiophile headphones the Elear, and the Utopia. I reviewed the Elear here (https://www.headfonia.com/review-focal-elear-hyperior/), and found it to be pretty much worth the hype. But straight audiophile headphones aren’t Focal’s only bag. Around the same time the Elear hit the scene, Focal released the Listen, as well. Unlike the big boys, the Listen was designed as a mobile headphone. You want audiophile, at home listening? Focal has you covered. You want some great sound on the go? Focal has you there, too. But not just with the Listen. Now, Focal has added the Listen wireless to their arsenal as well. How well do these phones fair? Let’s find out.
The Focal Listen
(Just a quick note, when talking about the Listen Wireless, I will always write out “Listen Wireless”. If I am just talking about the Listen, it will just be the Listen. This may seem obvious, but I want to make sure there is no confusion.)
The Listen debuted for the price of $299, but with the release of the wireless model, it dropped to $249. It doesn’t make quite the bold visual statement that the Elear, or Audeze SINE does, but the Listen is still a pretty handsome headphone. For me, it is the chrome plated ear cups that do it. It contrasts well with the otherwise all black design and does a good job catching the eye. While the rest of the build is plastic, it feels pretty darn solid, and I have no doubts about its durability. It may not feel as high end as Focal’s… high end headphones, but solid marks here for looks and build.
Comfort on the Listen is only so-so, I am afraid. Part of this is due to the fact that the top of my head is really wimpy, and if the pressure isn’t very evenly distributed, my head will start to hurt. The Listen does make my head sore. I don’t think the stiffer padding on the headband does me any special favors. I did find myself moving the headband around a bit to keep it off of just one spot. That is my biggest issue. The ear pads are satisfactory. They offer my ears enough room, and do the job they set out to do. They aren’t the exceedingly luxurious pads of the Elear, but at a quarter of the cost, that is no surprise. They aren’t getting overly warm on long listening sessions. Ultimately, you have to let your head be the judge as to the comfort of the Listen, as everyone will have a different opinion on what is comfortable and what isn’t.
Being that the Listen is built as a mobile headphone, and that most people listening to music on the go today do so via their phones, the Listen is built with phone use in mind. The Listen comes with a cable that attaches to the left ear cup with a locking mechanism. Built into the cable are a microphone near the ear cups and a button about half way down. That button can be used to pause, skip or rewind the music you are playing, or answer calls. So, it’s handy. Everything works like it should. These features are going to appeal to some more that others (One of the only reasons I got a smart phone was I needed a Bluetooth device to be able to complete this review. I actually loath those damn things. In my mid-thirties I am already the proverbial old man complaining about the young kids and their damn gadgets), but if it is your thing, here it is.
Type Closed headphones, circum-aural
Impedance 32 Ohms
Sensitivity 122dB SPL @ 1kHz – / 1Vrms
THD <0.4% @ 1kHz / 100dB SPL
Frequency response 15Hz – 22kHz
Driver 137/64“ (40mm) Mylar/Titanium
Weight 0.60lb (273g)
Cable length 4.60ft (1.4m)
Connector 09/64“ (3.5mm) Jack 4 conductors
Dimensions 913⁄32“x811⁄32“x43⁄8“ (239x212x111mm)
Now, sound. (Listen)
I am going to do this backwards, and start with a comparison with the Audeze SINE, as I have one handy. Both are portable headphones. Both are comparably sized (although the Listen is an over-the-ear and the SINE is an on-the-ear). The SINE is a bit more expensive at $449, but I have seen it around for under $300 (although not as of this writing). It takes only a short listen to discern the difference between the two. The SINE is noticeably more refined. It is more linear, and much more detailed. While the Listen does have a larger sound stage, every note from the SINE is much better defined. It is a portable audiophile headphone, and the Listen is not. Of course this is from my Violectric V100 or Cayin N6 (which has a pretty meaty amp section), how does it fair running out of my Samsung Galaxy 3? With the SINE, while I can get enough volume, the sparkle isn’t really there anymore. It doesn’t sound bad, mind you, but it sounds much better with a little more horsepower upstream. The Listen, on the other hand, needs no such extra power. The difference between the Listen on my N6 and the Listen on my Galaxy is very minor in terms of overall sound quality. As you can see by the stats, the Listen is a very easy headphone to drive. It is very sensitive, and can be driven plenty loud, even on my cellphone. The same goes for my 3DS. This was designed to be used with mobile devices, and at that, they have succeeded wonderfully.
While the sound isn’t audiophile, it is very enjoyable. Listening to music on my smartphone (the soundtrack to Rondo of Blood being a particular favorite), the Listen rocked. While this isn’t a hyper detailed headphone, which you wouldn’t expect for the price, it still has enough so you don’t feel you are missing part of the music. So, there is enough detail to make you happy while you are out and about, but not enough to embarrass the sound system of your phone.
Overall, the Listen has a fairly relaxed sound. The size of the sound stage is pretty decent, good width and fair depth for a closed headphone. Part of that might come from a slightly distant lower midrange, but I never found that to be much of a problem. I watched a lot of TV shows brandishing the Focal Listen and dialogue was always clear, and easy to understand. Carrie Page’s scream sent shivers down my spine (to anyone who watched Twin Peaks: the Return will know what I am talking about).
The treble is of the relaxed variety. It is there enough as to keep the Listen from qualifying as dark, but it is a little on the soft side. Being that the Listen was made to be used with a large variety of sources and play well with less than audiophile sound recordings, I think this was a smart choice. Not for the treble heads amongst you, but for all others, I think you will be happy with it.
The review of the Listen and the Listen Wireless continues on Page Two of the review, after the click HERE or the jump below