With wireless being the way that so many headphones have been going, and with built-in 3.5mm jacks becoming rarer, it might seem, I don’t know, maybe a bit retro to review a pair of wired-only headphones. Even so, the Focal Listen Closed Back Over-Ear Headphones are worth a look.
Focal, a French audio company, has been around since 1979 making home audio loudspeakers, headphones, car speaker drivers, and monitoring loudspeakers. Their goal is to “reproduce the artist’s original work as faithfully as possible,” and to that end, they constantly invest in acoustic research. At this time, they have the following headphone models available: the $3999 Utopia, the $999 Elear, the $345 Spirit Professional, the $249 Listen, the $198 Spirit, and the $125 Spirit One S.
Packaging for the Focal Listen isn’t what I would consider premium, but since that doesn’t have any bearing on their build quality or how they perform, let’s set that to the side.
Included in the box are the Focal Listen headphones, a neoprene travel case, a 1.4m (4.5′) long OFC cable with remote control and omnidirectional microphone, and an aircraft adapter. These headphones are collapsible and travel ready.
Focal says that the Listen headphones:
- Are premium closed-back circumaural portable headphones compatible with all smartphones
- Have exclusive cone technology offering remarkable neutrality and sound quality
- Are light and comfortable with excellent noise isolation for an optimal experience in noisy environments
First impressions of the Focal Listen headphones include that they have a bold look and that they are quite light and portable at 10.1 ounces. Composed of matte black plastic with chrome plated ear cups and soft-touch leatherette on the padded head strap leatherette ear cups made up of 22mm thick thermosensitive memory foam, the Focal Listen headphones look minimalistic and almost industrial. I consider that to be a good thing.
Those large ear cups provide exceptional noise isolation; the headphones do not have active noise cancellation but even in noisy environments you’ll notice that most background noise is completely cut out. Focal says that the large ear cushions preserve the headphones’ acoustic qualities, and I found that to be true. The high-density foam ear cups are heat-sensitive and very comfortable while being worn. Inside each ear piece is a 1 3/4″ (40mm) driver.
The 3.5mm cable has a built-in locking mechanism to keep the cable from inadvertently ever coming loose.
Listen features exclusive cone technology, with 40mm large driver made of Mylar and Titanium offering remarkable neutrality and sound quality. For optimal performance, a Mylar sheet is used on the driver, while a Titanium coating is applied to the dome only.
Since these are not wireless headphones, there are no buttons, ports, sliders, or other things to describe … and that almost makes me feel like I’m missing something, as I am so used to having to go into a long explanation of how everything works. In that regard, the Focal Listen headphones are almost refreshingly simple.
There is an omnidirectional microphone built into the headphone cable that will come in handy when you are making or accepting calls, and there is a round remote control built into the cable that will answer and hang up on calls or play or pause music or videos when pressed once, when pressed twice it will advance to the next song, and when pressed three times will reverse to the last song; there is no volume control.
The Focal Listen experience is satisfying; they produce a huge sound that is rich, full, and immersive. The bass line on the right songs is strong, thumpy, yet not overwhelming; vocals are pristine, although depending on the song, some of the highs can be a bit piercing. Music sounds multi-layered and songs that have a lot going on in the mid-range (e.g., any Glass Animals song) sound clear. The Listen headphones are tuned a bit differently than some of the other headphones I’ve reviewed in the same price range, and it’s interesting to listen to songs that I think I know through what amounts to different ears; Manchester Orchestra’s I’ve Got Friends sounds closer to live than it does through my other headphones, and that’s a new experience. Christine and the Queens’ Tilted sounds like the vocals are coming in through the center of the top of my head while her pounding bass line hits each of my ears — another new and interesting sensation. Melanie Martinez’s voice on Soap sounds much more multi-layered than usual, and the opening strains of The Weeknd’s The Hills sound like controlled explosions going off in my ears — in a good way. Lorde’s Team sounds majestic, and BØRNS Past Lives is simply incredible. All of this is to say that the Focal Listen headphones have an excellent sound that I greatly enjoy.
It can be a hard sell in the day of Bluetooth and wireless headphones to convince people to give a wired pair a chance, but if you have a device that still has a 3.5mm jack (or you don’t mind using your iPhone 7 dongle), the Focus Listen headphones create a satisfying and enjoyable sound that is worth experiencing.
The Focal Listen Closed Back Over-Ear Headphones retail for $249, and they are available from various retailers including Amazon [affiliate link].
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample
What I Like: Minimalistic and slightly industrial design; The large ear cups block out a lot of ambient noise when music is playing; Headphones are comfortable enough to wear all day; Huge sound that is rich, full, and immersive
What Needs Improvement: No wireless option