The Elear By Focal
Tonality9
Build & Fit9
Matchability9
Value For Money9
9Our Score

Focal kind of took over HiFi recently, haven’t they?  I’m conflicted at the moment and finding it hard to be objective with my thoughts on this $999 Elear…I’ve got a lot to say, so let’s just jump right into the frying pan.

Build

It comes with just a normal box and a really long cable that is terminated in a 3.5mm standard plug for both cups.  Custom cable enthusiasts should be smiling right now. They’ll be able to fashion some nicer cables very easily with this one…yay for the death of proprietary plugs and good on Focal for going back to the basics.

The headphone is made of an aluminum/magnesium alloy, which apparently was a conscious decision with the intent to reduce sound wave reverberation in the chassis and cup areas.  I’m not spending a lot of time on this section, so I’ll just say the build is excellent all around with a great feel to it.  The rumors are true, it does creak a bit, but it’s not severe and it only happens a bit when I shift my head around.

 

Comfort Factor

The comfort factor is excellent and I find it immensely refreshing to be able to come off an LCD series headphone or something else that isn’t at all comfortable, then place the Elear on my head and go back to the days where headphones were actually…you know, comfy and cozy.

Any-who, she feel’s fantastic in the hand and on the head, so don’t worry about the 450g weight.  The pads are fantastic as well and have a ton of give. They don’t appear to get warm even after hours of usage for me and also can be removed very easily and placed back on with a quick snap-in-place on the base of the cup.

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Sound Impressions

Bass

I had a listening session with a friend a few days ago, we compared the LCD-3 Fazor to the Elear and neither of us wanted to use the LCD-3.  In fact, my friend listed his LCD-3 for sale with his phone during the meet.  It could be new toy syndrome with regard to the Elear, but I doubt it.  On the subject of bass, the answer is no to if the Elear has more clarity than the LCD-3.   It does not feel as pure and clean as the Audeze, but it does have a better sense of broadness and depth.

Impact

The rumors of impact level are also true.  I guess some others consider this term incorrect and that “dynamics” is a more appropriate term.  Sure, why not?  The dynamics of the Elear are insanely yummy.  If you like your bass depth and extremely satisfying physical slam, go grab an Elear right now and discontinue reading this.  You don’t need to know more if you are a bass enthusiast.  Why?  Well, the headphone simply carries so much substance and weight to the entire spectrum, from the low regions and all the way up to the treble.  This, combined with excellent responsiveness to EQ (that ability to raise or lower the physical quantity of bass via an equalizer or plugin for music software) really makes for a hell of a memorable experience.

DSP and EQ

I can actually run with an absurd +7dB on the bass with Foobar2000’s ‘realbassexciter’ DPS, which is a free plugin for bass enthusiasts.  There are no TOTL headphones that can achieve this level of control without getting ugly that I’ve ever heard.  Not the LCD-3, not the HD800, not the Stax 007 or Noble K10c.  None of the above retain control at these levels of low-end enhancement.  If you want, you can lower the bass instead and get a more linear experience.  No worries, the Elear the response to EQ better than any TOTL on the market that I’ve yet reviewed.

Weight & Dynamics

While on the subject of weight and dynamics, check out the album by Eric Bibb titled Spirit & the Blues (1994).  This album is magnificently well recorded and I am not at all a fan of old school blues like this, but the track called In My Father’s House may be one of the most satisfyingly dynamic tracks I’ve heard in a long time.  He smacks the low E string on his guitar in a slap-pick technique and due to the immense weight carried through the Elear, the literal physical slam of the bass end of the track feels like a velvet, hyper-smooth cloak wrapped around me.

It is incredibly meaty; I’ve never heard another headphone portray bass like this.  Most other TOTL’s go the purer route and stick to raw cleanliness, but the Elear has good cleanliness, as well as serious bass weight.  It is satisfying on every level and has very good everything:  good clarity, good depth and deep reaching potential, very good slam, very good substance factor (weight, thickness), very good response to EQ.

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Mids

Vocals

I circle back to that track again from Eric Bibb and I just can’t stop listening to it.  The vocals are eerily realistic, which is not only due to excellent mid-clarity on the Elear but also the ridiculous image depth in the sound stage.  At time-stamp 1:16 in the track, Eric is singing along and I am getting lost in how excellently formed all the vocals are…then it happens.  Another vocalist appears in stereo left and I’m like “What the hell was that!?”.  I jerk my head back away to the right because I thought my Dad was right next to me and just behind me, trying to scare me by yelling at me.  The first time I heard the track was through this headphone and I actually thought it was someone in my room, so very unexpected and satisfying.  Yum.

Clarity

Yes, the mids really are that exceptionally well formed to my ears.  This has only happened to me with sets like the 007 from Stax, which is an electrostatic driver design.  As for raw clarity, I think it’s clarity lays somewhere between the LCD-X and the LCD-3, but not quite on the level of the LCD-3.  It feels a little neutral in tone and maybe even what I’d call a kind of dry in that regard.  The bass doesn’t even remotely bleed into the mids in the slightest and both feel separated and of their own entity.  Because of this, the entire midrange vocal experience is sublime in physical substance factor.  The headphone also isn’t what I’d call very forward, it is just a tad relaxed in forwardness of the midrange in terms of physical placement.

Treble

You’d think there would be something negative hereby this point in the review, but you’d be wrong.  The treble and entire top end are the strongest and most positive quality of the entire headphone.  Simply stunning at times, like a beautiful big cat in the wild and something you want to experience as much as possible.  But like a dangerous big cat out there…as soon as that sun sets, you are in for some serious trouble.

Potency

Despite being gorgeous, vivid, engaging, articulate and plentiful most of the time, it can at times also be overly potent in dynamic power.  IE: it hits very hard if the musician in the track strikes something treble potent.  Cymbals, high hats, piano key strikes and sudden screaming guitars are too powerful.  Again and for the most part, this isn’t a problem.  If the track doesn’t have SLAMMING musical cues, you’ll enjoy the hell out of it.  If it does have a physical slam, it feels like you’ve been smacked in the head, the wince factor is high on this headphone.

Matching the HE-6

Do you like the HE-6 and similar TOTL’s regarded for great treble experiences?  This Elear is for you.  I am not a treble head, in fact quite the opposite.  I am sensitive to brightness and potency up top.  However, the HE-6 has the proper sparkle and brightness factor for me, as well as slam factor and the ability to render slow music tracks in Jazz genre’s very well.  The Elear matches my HE-6 in that regard but takes it way too far with regard to that physical impact level sometimes.  Again, not always.  Be prepared and at least know your music tracks a little before engaging with the treble on the Elear because it can wallop you good now and then.

Staging and Imaging

Depth

Well, don’t expect HD800 level height or width, but do expect roughly the same depth of field and realism factor.  Nobody is going to make an HD800 clone in the TOTL world anytime soon.  As a sound stage enthusiast myself, I’m a bit let down with the overall size of the Elear’s imaging prowess, but not even slightly let down in terms of stage depth of field or airiness factor.  It reminds me a lot of the T1 from Beyerdynamic but scaled up. That means it has good height and width but nothing special, but great accuracy in a physical sense as well as a noticeably better depth of field than height and width.  In that regard, the Elear is a very improved T1.

Realism

Realism factor is again, off the charts and excels past my Noble K10 here, which is the only headphone I own that I regard as offering the best realistically formed experiences overall.  I am beyond impressed because I’ve not heard this type of exceptional depth of field outside of the Stax 007/009 and the HD800.  Combine that impressive depth of image with exceptional positional accuracy and plenty of air, as well as excellent density and substance factor from the bass all the way to the treble and you’ve got one of the most impressive imaging headphones on the market.

image

Copyright Focal 2016

Our Verdict

I’ve got to say that I am terrified of where Hifi is currently heading with regard to how expensive headphones have become.  Pricing is getting out of control, but there is no doubt that this Elear is the top dog at the $999 and under level.  She is luxurious to boot, looks great, feels great, sounds great, is efficient and does not require much amping to get great sound out of, has incredible responsiveness to equalization and can really pack a punch in terms of dynamics and physical impact.

I am let down by the lack of staging width and height, but it is very hard for my ears to care too much when such an awesome depth of field and realism factor is present.  The Elear scores a 9/10 and is my pick for the best full-size headphone to come along in a very long time.

Price: $999

Link: http://www.focal.com/headphones/

Technical 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 13.1ft (4m)
Connectors 1 x 01/4“ (6.35mm) stereo Jack connector

2 x 09⁄64“ (3.5mm) Jack

Carrying case 12.8“x10.2“x6.5“       (326x260x164mm)

About The Author

Senior Reviewer

Self Proclaimed Musicality Guru, Photographer, Audiophile and part time Ninja. I started my audio journey back in 96' and haven't looked back. My ultimate goal in this life is to experience as many Hifi rigs as possible...because I am an audio addict.

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  • NightPhotographer

    I was about to get an HD800 but good reviews on ELEAR made me pause. Sound stage and imaging are very important to me, this is why HD800 was on top of my list. How do you compare these two in that regard?

    Cheers

    • 24bit

      Here’s the story. I’ve been a long time HD800 owner, years and years with multiple sales and repurchases of the HD800 for no reason outside of me getting bored and selling, the regretting and rebuying. I resold my HD800 just to fund an Elear because I think it is a superior headphone overall. My favorite quality in a headphone is staging, vastness and realism factor. The HD800 sounds noticeable larger in width and height, it has more air to it and separation is certainly superior. The Elear is more intimate sounding, it’s bubble of sound is more constrained and limited, but the depth of field (forward reaching sound stage property) felt the same as the HD800 to me. The HD800 midrange is more recessed, the Elear is more forward and still matched the HD800 in that realistic forwardness, that reach out and touch the artist feel. Beyond that, the Elear still has good staging properties, just not great like the HD800.

      The Elear sounds much more firm and of a higher physical substance. The HD800 sounds thin, unnatural in terms of the weight carried compared to a real person talking to you. It just never sounded REAL to me in that regard, it’s just too thin sounding. The Elear has even more substance than the LCD series planars from Audeze and carries a much more realistic tone and texture. Everything feels rock solid. If you don’t care about anything else but stage size, then the HD800 will remain the #1 spot for you for some time, doubtful anyone will make anything that spacious sounding in for years to come. But, if you want a more complete experience, something EQ friendly that can become linear, or bassy, and that has a much better substance factor than the HD800 all while retaining good staging properties, well then the Elear is the much better choice. The forward depth of stage is immensely satisfying and as a sound stage nut case it is good enough for my ears to focus on and almost not care about the lacking width and height compared to the HD800.

      hope that helps!

      -mike

      • NightPhotographer

        Have you been listening to HD 800 through tube amps or solid state amps? I believe HD 800 through solid state amps is meh at best. I think warm tube amps can remedy the HD 800 weaknesses.

        • 24bit

          My favorite solid state amps are all warmish and soft sounding in dynamics, I refuse to listen to the HD800 through anything neutral. It took me years to find a proper amp for my HD800 that I really loved and it only came just recently in the Airist Heron 5. It sounds lovely with the Hd800. No amp will fix the thin sound signature nor increase the bass enough for me to enjoy on a personal level. The HD800 is not a responsive headphone when it comes to EQ and bass boosting sadly. But ya, colored amps will absolutely change things up for sure, as mentioned my hunt lasted years until just recently where I was finally satisfied with the HD800+Heron 5. That changed the day I got the Elear.

  • Khloe85

    @24bit:disqus

    Is this a more enjoyable can than the PM-1?

    I own a PM-1 and was considering getting á TOTL dynamic can to pair with my Violectric V281 because I want to try something different. I was thinking of getting the T1 gen 2 or the 800S but then the Elear came along with a BANG. Th900 with lawton level 1 mod maybe??

    I like the bass and the substantial sound of the Pm-1 so the dynamic can should do bass well and have the Realism factor. I don’t plan on selling the PM1. The only open back dynamic I have is the HD650.

    • 24bit

      I couldn’t say which you would enjoy more, but for my own preferences there really is no contest here. I’d much rather have the Elear than any of the others, all of which I’ve owned and tested many times. The Elear sounds noticeably better in every way than the PM1, as well as the T1 and the TH900 even with great cups, which I also have.

      I don’t think you can go wrong with the Elear here if you enjoy a very firm and solid sound signature. The HD800, T1 and the TH900 are all relatively thin sounding by comparison. The TH900 can go deeper, but its bass texture type is completely different, it is purer, thinner, snappier. I very much prefer the way planar bass usually sounds and in this case, the Elear has a bass type that I prefer over even the LCD3 from Audeze. The Elear have immense substance factor, so it feels very heavy, it also goes more than deep enough for me, it responds very nice to EQ and Bass boosting as well. I’d take the Elear over all the above mentioned any day.

      • Khloe85

        @24bit:disqus Thanks.

        More enjoyable than the PM1, wow.
        Does the Elear’s sound have a planar like body and solidity?

        • 24bit

          Equal density, but a completely different texture. Planar’s tend to be what others call “quick” and with a fast decay, especially on the low end in the bassy areas. The Elear is slow in that regard, it is methodical and takes its time, it feels broad and less sharpened. If you have heard the HD650, the Elear is similar in “Thickness” and substance factor.

  • Joel

    What’s the power requirement to get a great experience out of Elear?

    I have a Mojo and was just wondering if it will provide a great experience. I did try to pair Mojo with HD800, it was quite good but a bit lacking in air and dynamics. It sounds to me like HD800 need just a little bit more power than what Mojo provide.

    • 24bit

      I currently don’t own any portable setups that justify the Elear. I thought the Elear matched the HD800 in depth of field, but not width and height properties. So if you felt let down by the Hd800’s realism in a forward sense out of the Mojo, odds are good you will feel the same about the Elear.

      At 80ohm, the Elear will get loud and be pushed more efficiently than the 300ohm HD800, so you might achieve a happy medium with the Mojo. I really couldn’t say. This boils down to subjective tastes. I thought the Elear sounded very good out of my Cowon Plenue M alone, but that has a lot to do with EQ and such helping the low end. Either way, the Mojo will push the Elear noticeably better than an HD800.

  • Shini44

    i am getting Utopia in two weeks, but this review made me decide to also buy the Elear!! BEST Elear review on the internet so far, 10/10. i am from head-fi. but your site in my top 3 (other than head-fi) i loved how you compared it to HE-6. i love the bass on HE-6. i don’t mind more impact ofc. i love the sparkly treble as well.

    so Elear got better mids than HE-6? clear and vivid, not thin in comparison? and is the bass with more impact or as much? so far HE-6 (fully driven by LAu) got the best bass i ever had, nice impact, fast, clear and super controlled. and oh the bass texture. you think Elear driven from DAVE or LAu at least. can surpass that? i would like to hear more before i decide to sell the HE-6 and TH900 ^^

    thanks in advance 😀

    • 24bit

      I thought the Elear sounded more realistic and offered better clarity in the midrange. The HE-6 is the thinner of the two, the Elear has more substance. (crazy to think, but to me its true despite the HE-6 being a Planar). The Elear’s substance factor is off the chart good. I couldn’t say about the driving power of those amps, I never used them and also never heard of them.

      IMO, sell the TH900. Grab the Elear and have it for comparisons with the HE-6. See which you like more and sell the other. For me, that’s a no brainer. The Elear has much better stage depth of field and realism factor, it also doesn’t require anywhere near the amping power the HE-6 does to achieve great things. I compared the Elear to the HE-6 using that blues track I mentioned and it was vividly obvious that the Elear’s realism factor is on another level, especially so during that one brief moment another singer in the track appears in stereo-left in your ear. The HE-6 does not portray that as well as the Elear did, not by a long shot.

  • Josh

    I’ve had my Elear for only a day and its easily my favorite hp I’ve had and I’ve has some decent ones like the Nighthawk, HD700, Sony Z7 along with others. It is so dynamic and I agree with what you say about the soundstage, its not very wide but its depth of field and realism is outstanding. I love the bass of the Z7 and Nighthawk but the Elear is on another level with its dynamic sound. I think I’ve found my end game as I don’t ever see myself spending 3K or 4K on a hp because to me that’s crazy considering they Elear is probably 80% to 90% as good as most of them.

    Also your review (along with Tyll’s) is a big reason I took the plunge and spent a grand on a pair of hp’s. Even if I don’t agree with some they are always top notch and a great read so thanks for all you do.

    • 24bit

      This is incredible! Congrats. I feel the same. The Elear is really something.

  • Sanjeewa Samaranayake

    I need help. I purchased Elear after seeing so many positive reviews including Tyll’s. I got it and did not like the sound out of box. Then I started ruining it for about 60 hours (pairing with Chord Mojo directly and Mojo->Luxman P-200). I still do not like it. This is compared to HD800 and AKG812 directly via Mojo or Mojo->Luxman. So my question is what is the actual break in period for it to come to life. AKG K712 for instance need over 100hrs. I just want to understand and if it is not going to improve I have no hesitate to get rid of it. I listen to female vocals, melodies, Yanni. Kenny G, some classicals, eastern music, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, Simon & G, Eagles etc.

    I acknowledge Elear gives experience like listening to floor standing speakers, thick in sound, more in my head, punchy and very easy on ears. But for me mids and highs are not there, clarity/details lacking, sound stage-missing, separation lacking (all compared to HD800). I also believe that it much more real (if you believe speakers are the real thing) and much easy on my ears for any music. But I want my headphones not be speakers (if so I will use speakers) and I want a that enjoyment that I get from HD800 amplified. Not sure I got my expectations wrong

    Well I have added HD800 very late to my collection- started with Philips X2, AKG K712, Audeze LCD, K812, HD800 now Elear. Of all the gear I got and sold to date HD800 and Mojo are the only I belive are read winners.

    So please advise any more break in would help in my case. I have clearly written above my preference.

    • 24bit

      If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. I don’t like the HD800 unless it is on a very specific rig. I motion you return it asap and try something else. Sadly, this is the journey we must all take to find sets we love.

      The Elear is not a midcentric headphone, IMO. It offered a relaxed midrange. This is the hardest recommendation possible, as I am in the same boat. There really is no recommendation that hits all your points that you listed that can be found in a full size headphone. In my humble opinion, it doesn’t get better than the Elear, HD800 and the LCD2/3 for that price of $999 and under, even on the used market.

      Elear is just about the most dynamically realistic of the lot
      The HD800 is the most grand and spacious, high accuracy levels
      The LCD series covers bass and mids (not so much the LCD2, but the 3 is one of the best Midrange headphones money can buy)

      Sadly, that’s the end of the line before headphones get into multi thousand territory and honestly, I still prefer the Elear for some things, the HD800 for Classical and excellently spacious tracks specifically, and the LCD3 for vocals in general.

      The one product that has outlasted all is my Noble K10, I’ve owned it longer than any flagship and its the one I can’t be without, it outlasted the length of time I’ve ever owned a flagship full size, so to me that covers the bases the best and that would be my recommendation. You can snag a used one for under $999 these days. It might be the solution for you, but I would try to demo a universal first if possible.

      • Sanjeewa Samaranayake

        Many thanks for the detailed response. So I guess further burn in will not change anything. I will look for Noble K10. I hope Chord Mojo would be good with K10.

        To tell you the truth I am 100% happy with HD800 and Mojo/Luxman and wanted to check out what is this fuss about new focal. May be I should stop reading forums and live happily.

        Again thanks for your valuable input

        • 24bit

          I am a firm believer in no physical changes in a headphone, Burn in is our ears adjusting, just like our eyes adjust to light when walking outside after being in the dark for a while. Same thing with our ears when putting a set of headphones on. I wrote about this a few years ago in my TOTL guide in a Burn In Section.

          http://headfonics.com/2014/08/12-flagship-headphones-compared-the-totl-guide/3/

          It will not actually change, IMO. Also, the Mojo + K10 is a real winner and most owners agree that and the larger model Chord are pretty much the best portable setups you can buy.

          It is best to inquire as you did, I just wish I could have talked to you before you bought the Elear. IDK who said it was mid-centric or good for that, it certainly isn’t as you’ve come to find. It hits the spot for this and that, the HD800 hits the spot for this and that and so far there is no end all, perfect all around set.

          The closest I ever got was the K10. For an IEM, it has good staging in every direction, but not the best. Bass is excellent all around in quantity and quality, but not the best. Same for the mids and treble. Great, but not the best. Physical slam is just right, it does not EVER sound harsh or wince worthy like the HD800 can, its much softer, but not too soft. Its the best Mix I’ve found and the best all arounder. Sadly, the world of Full size sets is one of

          “Pick this set for a few genres or applications, pick this other one for something else.” Sadly no full size set truly satisfied me on all levels, not even the LCD4, 009 and not even the Orpheus. Clarity in those sets is better than the $999-1999 lot of headphones, but nothing else is assured to be BETTER per say. The HD800 still wrecks the 009 in staging ect ect.

          Its a no win hobby mate, but that is why the journey is important. When you find that one set, it makes it all worth it. 🙂

          Best of luck
          -mike

          • Sanjeewa Samaranayake

            Thanks Mike for taking time to explain. I am sure lot of others who love HD800 and like me want to look at other options find your input invaluable.

          • 24bit

            Very welcome.

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