We review the Focal Elear, which is a 40mm dynamic driver circumaural headphone featuring Focal’s signature M-shaped dome tweeter. It is priced at $999.
Disclaimer: The Focal Elear sent to us for the purposes of this review is a loan sample that was returned after. Thank you to Focal for giving us this opportunity.
To read up on other Focal products reviewed on Headfonics click here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
The Focal Elear 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.
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.
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.
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 when headphones were actually…you know, comfy and cozy.
Any-who, she feels 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.
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 meeting. It could be new toy syndrome with regard to the Elear, but I doubt it.
On the subject of bass, the answer is no 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.
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 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 responds to EQ better than any TOTL on the market that I’ve yet to review.
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 velvet, a hyper-smooth cloak wrapped around me.
It is incredibly meaty; I’ve never heard another headphone portray bass like this. Most other TOTLs 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), and very good response to EQ.
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 the 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.
Yes, the mids really are 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 its clarity lies 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 the physical substance factor. The headphone also isn’t what I’d call very forward, it is just a tad relaxed in the forwardness of the midrange in terms of physical placement.
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 is 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 sunsets, you are in for some serious trouble.
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 TOTLs 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 the slam factor and the ability to render slow music tracks in the Jazz genre 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 well now and then.
Staging and Imaging
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.
The 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 of 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.
I’ve got to say that I am terrified of where portable audio is currently heading with regard to how expensive headphones have become. Pricing is getting out of control, but there is no doubt that this Focal 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 high and is my pick for the best full-size headphone to come along in a very long time.
Focal Elear Technical Specifications
Type Circumaural 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