Focal Elear Open-Back Headphones Prove You Get What You Pay For

“These cost how much?” Raina asked. “Just listen to them,” I urged. Raina put on the headphones and played some of her favorite tunes.“ It didn’t take long for her to become a fan of Focal’s Elear Open-Back Headphones. But at $1000 a pair, she’s not sure they would be a wise purchase.

Yes, Focal’s Elear Open-Back headphones have an MSRP starting at $1000; that makes them a pair of the priciest headphones I have even had the privilege to test. And, while I have to agree with Raina that the price tag is a bit too steep for my budget, I would be lying it I didn’t admit that sending them back after the review period was a huge bummer.

The company describes the headphones this way:

Elear are audiophile open-backed headphones manufactured in France by Focal. Inspired by the best technology and acoustic research that went into designing Utopia, our flagship headphones, they offer truly exceptional performance. The mechanical design provides remarkably smooth and seamless style due to the solid aluminium yoke. They also feature memory foam ear cushions for maximum comfort, an essential quality for long listening sessions. Finally, the exclusive speaker drivers with their aluminium/magnesium ‘M’-shaped domes enable Elear to provide strikingly realistic sound. Be inspired by the sound of a high-fidelity system with a pair of Elear headphones, for hours of listening pleasure.

The Focal Elear, which come from audio-wizards in France, are expensive at $1,000, but that is just a quarter of the $4000 price tag carried by the Utopia, their signature model. So, depending on how you look at it, the Elear are either extremely pricey or they are a bargain. I’m going with the former. since I can’t even imagine being in the market for the Utopia. For those of you who love numbers, it is worth noting that the Focal Elear are 80-ohm headphones with a frequency response of 5 Hz – 23,000 Hz.

The 80 ohm means you don’t need to have an amp to enjoy these headphones, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. In fact, In my testing, it made enough of a difference that I would recommend anyone shopping for them to pick up a headphones amp at the same time. (I’ll be reviewing the Samson amp I employed for the review separately.)

The amp isn’t the only reason these headphones are clearly not intended as mobile headphones. The headphones are large, they don’t fold, and they come with a 13’ cable with a ¼” connector at one end and two 3.5mm cables at the other.

In other words, if you want to use the headphones with a mobile device or with many of the headphones amps that are designed for mobile use, you will need to employ an adapter. Yes, the Elear are intended for home or office use. That’s not a bad thing, but it is something to keep in mind when you are shopping for headphones. If you pick up the Elear, you should budget to get something for use on the go as well.

There’s no question these are large headphones. Their size, along with the inability to fold them up, makes them, as mentioned, ideal for home or office but not the road.

At the same time, while they look like they might be heavy and, as a result, uncomfortable during long listening sessions, they are surprisingly light. Made from a light-weight aluminum magnesium alloy they are plenty strong and, I suspect, will hold up well with time.

The ear pads are a soft memory foam covered in microfiber. They are exceptionally comfortable.

The headband is covered in leather but has the same microfiber on the section that sits on your head. It all comes together to create a pair of headphones that are a pleasure to wear.

In the box are a 13’ cable with, as mentioned previously, a ¼” connector at one end and two 3.5mm cables at the other. One of the 3.5mm cables goes into each of the ear cups.

The shape of the actual headphones is a bit unusual and, thanks to their dome-shaped appearance and drilled holes. They look like small speakers that sit on your ears. That’s worth noting, and I’ll explain why in a moment. And, while they look like they would weigh a ton, they are among the more comfortable over-the-ear headphones I have tried.

I mentioned the unusual design of the ear cups for a reason. When you put on the headphones and crank up the music, it is more like you are listening to speakers than to a pair of headphones. They sound that good. The music is rich and full, the highs and lows clear without being too much and the kids have a clarity that one might expect from a pair of $1000 headphones. In a word they are… amazing. Mind you; I was using a headphone amp, so that needs to be taken into account. Listening to the Elear without the amp wasn’t quite as good an experience but doing so is like drinking a fine bottle of wine from a plastic cup- it still gets the job done but is a waste of money and a missed opportunity to experience something fantastic.

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  • Exclusive ‘M’-Shaped Dome Speaker Drivers Deliver Audiophile Sound: Elear are equipped with the first totally open-backed full-range speaker drivers with aluminum/magnesium ’M’-shaped domes inspired by our Utopia headphones for dynamic and exceptionally precise audio.
  • Premium Acoustic Design Helps Create Perfect Listening Conditions: The high-end mechanical design of Elear headphones allows the listener to enjoy the best listening conditions and they fit all ear shapes and sizes.
  • High-End Materials leads to Optimal Comfort: Aluminium yoke, leather headband, microfiber ear cushions: all the materials used for Elear were chosen with care to optimize comfort while reducing the weight of the headphones.

 

The only real downside of the headphones, other than the price point, is the packaging. I totally get that these headphones are not designed to be taken on the road with you when you travel, but the lack of any protective case was a disappointment. At $1000 they could have thrown in something, so the headphones are a bit protected when not being used. They didn’t, and I think it was a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision.

If you are willing to invest, and I mean invest, in an amazing pair of high-end headphones the Focal Elear are worth a look. Check them out here.

Source: Manufacturer loaned review sample

What I Like: Amazing build; Comfortable; Fantastic sound

What Needs Improvement: Really need to be paired with an amp; No protective bag or case; Intended for home use only; Pricey

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.