Focal Clear Mg Measurements, Analysis, Review

Discussion in 'Headphone Measurements' started by purr1n, Mar 20, 2021.

  1. penguins

    penguins Friend, formerly known as fp627

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    Sigh... IMO Focal only had to do a few things to be very strong to potentially dominating in the $1-1.5k range.

    1. Reduce metallic sheen / sound slightly (while it's has never been that bad for me... if a lot of people complain about it, maybe change it).
    1b. I would vote to leave this alone, but I'd understand either making it a little more "bright" and "zingy" like the Utopia or more laid back like Audeze.
    2. Make a Utopia-like FR but pull back the 5 - 5.5k ish peak. Don't even need to get rid of the peak if you want it as part of the house sound or signature sound or whatever, just pull it back a bit. Or, keep the neutral-ish to slightly warm FR of the current Clear.
    3. Include a slightly better stock cable than the stock Clear cable. I can't find the picture of it on my phone... but I've seen the same cable (looked, felt, weighed about the same, etc... so probably the same) used on a ~20EUR desk lamp I saw in a store somewhere in Europe as a power cord - I would imagine Focal would have a little more room for a better cable on a $1500 product.

    Could probably get away with keeping everything else at about the Clear level because it's still a Clear selling for $1500ish, not a $4k Utopia. Would probably also be able to get away with not fixing the RMA + driver exertion / buzzing / slapping issues and failure issues (although real or exaggerated - I can't imagine this continued perception helps Focal sell headphones).

    Instead, they do none of these and do other stuff instead.


    Well, here's to hoping the next Utopia stays mostly the same but with RMA/driver issues resolved, 5.5k peak pulled back slightly, a bigger stage, and a few miscellaneous things like maybe lowering the price slightly or using standard 3.5mm or mini-xlr (think ZMF and Audeze) connectors on the headphone. I'd be all over that.
     
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    Last edited: Mar 21, 2021
  2. boomer

    boomer Rando

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    I was thinking about suggesting Elex pads but looking at HF extension probably not a good idea. They probably damped the driver with something to make frequency response more tolerable. Focal is just dancing around the problem of a small driver.
     
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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Yes, sorts of splits the difference. However subjectively speaking, the Elear sounded quite bassier than either Clear. Clear Mg is a more laid-back Clear OG.

    From 4-6kHz, Elex >> Clear OG > Clear Mg. Elex is also has peaker mid-treble and is more metallic. (CSDs and distortion still pending).

    Focal Clear Mg (BLU and RED) vs Elex(GRY)
    Frequency Response
    Flat Plate Coupler w/ Compensation
    upload_2021-3-21_9-16-20.png

    Focal Clear Mg (GRN and RED) vs OG Focal Clear (GRY)
    Frequency Response
    Flat Plate Coupler w/ Compensation
    [​IMG]
     
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    Last edited: Mar 22, 2021
  4. Tchoupitoulas

    Tchoupitoulas Friend

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    The issue of replacement pads is becoming something that prospective Focal customers should consider carefully.

    Some folks have reported that the Clear Mg’s pads are of a different size and shape, and not just a different color, to the Clear OG’s. The issue may be that the different pads might change the tuning of the headphones. If true, the new Clear Mg’s pads may not be compatible with the Clear OG. (There’s also the possibility that the Clear OG’s pads may have changed over time, although that’s yet to be established properly). All this matters, potentially, because when the Clear OG is discontinued, its owners may face a finite supply of replacement pads that retain the headphone’s original sound signature.

    I mention all this because, in the 5 years that Focal has been selling premium headphones, it has discontinued 3 of its first 4 releases (the first post in the Utopia and Clear thread was in June 2016). The Elear was nuked and resurrected as the Elex, with a different tuning thanks in large measure to new pads, if I understand correctly. The Elegia was then abandoned and replaced with the Celestee. Now the same can be said for the Clear. I realize there’s also the Stellia, but it’s barely a year old. At this point, the only long-surviving headphone is the Utopia (five bucks says it won’t make it to 6 years).

    I get that, in itself, the frequency in which Focal replaces its headphones isn’t a bad thing. Is it better that Focal innovates and improves its headphones frequently than follow Sennheiser’s model of releasing four decent headphones over 20+ years? The Elegia’s short lifespan suggests that, as with the Elear, Focal released some headphones to see how the market would respond and, when it received enough data about consumer preferences - and presumably when sales began to flag - Focal issued new, improved versions. Fine, that’s good business sense and a sign of a company being willing to innovate and improve.

    But here’s the rub: Focal is potentially leaving in the lurch those customers who forked out a lot of money for high-end headphones only to find that the model is soon to be discontinued and that - importantly - the exorbitantly expensive replacement pads will go the way of the dodo. This has happened before, it seems. Replacements for the Elex’s pads are not available even as Focal continues to sell the headphones, which means that the scarce, "NOS" pads are selling at a higher rate than they were when originally sold separately by Drop. Last year Drop had a tough time selling new, replacement Elex pads from Focal and ended up having to refund everyone who’d bought them. As one of Drop’s representatives announced:

    "We understand how frustrating the situation with the Focal Elex replacement pads has been. We share in those frustrations and have been trying to come up with a satisfactory resolution for months. Our internal testing has confirmed that the latest batch of pads varies in weight from the "stock" pads by as much as 15%. Although we have reported these concerns to Focal, they have not offered us a substantive resolution at this time, and we're continuing to try to work with them on a solution."​

    Why couldn’t Focal have treated its customers like Sennheiser - with affordable, replacement pads that in some cases can be used for multiple models (aren’t the HD 580, 600, and 650 pads all interchangeable)? With Sennheiser’s potential sale of its consumer audio division, I can see myself loading up on spare pads for my HD 6XX and HD 800 SDR. At least they’re comparatively inexpensive, though. I can also see an investment in a ZMF headphone in my future: three cheers for lifetime warranties and affordable pads that are compatible across models and that offer pad rolling opportunities. With Focal, though, at some point in the future, I may have no choice but to pad roll, never again able to get back to the sound signature of the stock, original pads.
     
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  5. chakku

    chakku Friend

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    Focal's lack of support for existing customers seems to be a commonly brought up issue and from what I could gather when getting in touch with previous distributors of their headphones in my country, was ultimately what led to nobody stocking them in New Zealand. The only place available to purchase them is a sister store of an Australian dealer whose customer support is handled through Australia anyway.

    On another note, @purr1n any chance of a graph comparing the Clear MG directly to the HD650? I can roughly gauge it by eye but would love to see them stacked/normalized to 1KHz given the 650's existence as a reference for SBAF.
     
  6. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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    Off topic but ...
    It's difficult to tell from the photos, but could that guy's new Clear pads be Elex pads in gray?* My Elex pads are thinner and match his description of feeling "less premium". I wouldn't mind picking up another pair of Elex pads, but from your Drop snippet, that doesn't sound too likely ...
    Thanks for this reminder. Ordering a set of HD800 pads now!!!

    *Edit: My implication being that Focal decided to just make Elex pads in gray for the Clear, and not bother making 2 different specs.
     
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    Last edited: Mar 22, 2021
  7. TheIceman93

    TheIceman93 El pato-zorro

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    Andrew has some interesting measurements in his review regarding treble differences. I think the OG Clear will be staying in my stable. Not enough of an upgrade to bother.

     
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  8. Lyander

    Lyander Too sensitive for SBAF

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    Glad the upper mids/lower treble aren't as sunken as on the older Focal, perhaps that's a mistake they've since learned not to repeat. I don't recall hearing much tizz with the Elear when I got to demo it but that could have been music selection or, ambient noise, or me being deaf :p

    Voicing aside and acknowledging the persistence of xmax farts, this really is just in the same playing field as Clear then? Hmm, wonder what would convince Focal to do this for the Utopia...

    Oh and I did read the "not fully settled in" bit but looking forward still to other measurements to see how the new diaphragm compares, like CSD or burst response. Distortion, I can kinda guess at :D

    Thanks again for this! Still not interested in buying Focal gear but their headphones are pretty neat as always.
     
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  9. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Focal Clear Mg
    Impedance and Electrical Phase
    (GRN = on head, YEL = free air)
    upload_2021-3-22_13-33-41.png

    Also, see attached ZMA data file. I'll let you work your magic on the effects of amp output impedance.
     

    Attached Files:

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  10. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Focal Clear Mg (BLU and RED) vs HD650 (GRY)
    Frequency Response
    Flat Plate Coupler w/ Compensation
    upload_2021-3-22_13-39-49.png
     
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  11. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    Thanks. The curve is very similar to the OG Clear hence so are the results, but here they are for completeness anyway with the same example amps:

    ECP T4 (6.3 ohms lo out, 26 ohms hi out)
    Valhalla (4.9 ohms lo out, 14 ohms hi out)
    SW 51+ (27 ohms lo out, 54 ohms hi out)

    [​IMG]
     
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  12. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Focal Clear Mg
    CSDs (FPC)
    FPC Clear Mg L.jpg
    FPC Clear Mg R.jpg
     
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  13. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    This is quite interesting because either your Utopia or Clear (OG) csd measurements didn't have sustaining decay at 20khz. If I recall correctly, that thing was shown in Elex. I'm surmising that the phenomenon occurs to any metal transducers focal ever made (no matter it's made of Be, Al, or Mg) but at different freqs. Curious if CMG's 20k stuff is due to slightly changed inner dimension.

    I quickly and crudely (lol) experimented the free-air behavior of CMG I am having now, but failed to reproduce sustaining decay around 20k.

    Measurement aside, perception-wise, CMG's treble and top end sound less metallic to my ears by all means compared to any other focal open-backs I tried. I intentionally EQed a few decibel up, but came to the same conclusion so far. Still no idea how much attributable Mg is to such things though.

    Will post my early thoughts tomorrow or so. So far it's too much spot on my taste to think more analytically. What I can say now is 2541-J2(SE)-CMG is unbelievably engaging.
     
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  14. TomNC

    TomNC Friend

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    The FR of CMG vs. Clear OG and HD650 has raised some questions to me. Does the CMG sound less clear but wetter compared to the OG version? When I auditioned the OG, I liked it quite a bit but was bothered by some dryness of the sound (FWIW, I heard some dryness with the SR1A too).

    CMG has lower high-mids and low-mid trebles compared to the 650. But I would believe that the CMG is still sounding significantly clearer than the 650. Where is the 650's veiledness coming from?

    Looking at the CSD of CMG in comparison with that of the 650 in another thread (https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...sennheiser-hd650-love-appreciation-thread.44/), I can see that the decay or impulse response differences are mostly in about 1K Hz and lower. Would this be the major cause of the perceived difference in clarity between the headphones? Back when I had headphones in differing tiers, I found R10 > 1266CC > HD800 > HD650 in terms of clarity or transparency. R10 is known to be light- (but fast) bassed while the 1266 is definitely not. Perhaps the 1266 has shorter decay in the mids and lower frequencies than the HD650?
     
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  15. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    Conditionally yes. CMG, at least for the unit I am testing and with my current rig, do sound less lean, dry, and contrasting. And quite obviously laid-back and more on the relaxing side. Some may associate such traits with clarity. And I really like CMG's richer tone (which I always give up to some extent for focal openback). Maybe the latter is just a byproduct of the former (i.e., better concentration on my end).

    I've seen many hypotheses to answer that specific question. No single answer was quite satisfying yet. I'm surmising multiple root causes interacted. At least, I don't think it a pure-fr problem at this point as I could neither reproduce nor solve that thing via EQ.

    Yes but only weakly. Lower mid CSD is AFAIK strongly associated with internal absorption, cup reverb, as well as acoustic openness. Thus, I don't want immediately associate decay that area with clarity. From experience, perception of clarity is determined by rather how those elements harmonically tuned than individual measurable factors.
     
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    Last edited: Mar 25, 2021
  16. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    I honestly didn't pay much attention to Clear MG (henceforth abbreviated as CMG) until Marv started this thread although I got favorable reports from a couple of non-sbaf friends (both coming from production side rather than consumers/audiophiles) and they both testified CMG was sufficiently different from Clear OG (COG). Anyway, then I came across the OP. Felt like I should give focal another shots.

    With some discording back and forth, I could borrow CMG by the end of this week. And fortunately I got a chance to AB COG and CMG side by side today. While I've only spent a couple of days with CMG, I was blown away. Enough to decide picking up a pair for myself. Sigh.

    Let me quickly share some of my stream of consciousness. Again, take my assertions with huge grains of salt.

    • First of all, CMG is never ever an ideal upgrade from COG for those who already liked COG or Utopia-like voicing and built rigs around them (those two also different from each other but setting CMG as a reference point, they're more similar than different). If you want that sounding, disregard anything I wrote below, walk away, or quickly preorder NOS pair before all gone.
    • CMG is best suited for people who favor focal-ish detail retrieval/dynamism but unfortunately listen to a lot of treble-heavy (synonym to crap songs) tracks. Another optimal cluster is those who want to pair with more modern upstream such as Soekris 2541, which could be too north to pleasant zone with COG/Utopia -- I tested 2541 and COG and re-confirmed the combo wasn't for me.
    • For the first time I could hear truly smooth, refined, and very laid-back highs from focal. CMG could take care of all the sibilant test tracks (collected from anime-related, kpop, jpop, or some very sharp/untreated recordings) I threw in, which COG rejects roughly half or even more. CMG even outdid HD650K in forgivingness. I honestly didn't expect it.
    • COG wasn't particularly poor at reproducing air and ambiance. But CMG is obviously a step up in this regard. Lowered acoustic impedance, lighter magnesium driver, and some design/dimension changes (I guess) altogether created "explosive" airiness. And perhaps due to such trait, I could hear meaningful improvement on staging and imaging. Note that the latter was what I've been regarding as focal open-back's weakness. Fr plot (>10khz) may hint about this, but there's something in my perception that can't be fully explained by the plot. Also, it honestly feels like CMG benefited much more effectively from 2541's head stage (one of the greatest strengths I think) than COG did.
    • Weirdly enough, CMG seems to subtly out-resolve COG in midrange. More detailed, nuanced, textured, and delicate midrange heard with CMG in every way I hear. Not to mention Utopia is one of the absolute kings in this area, but CMG did it so "differently" that I can't easily contest. As a (self-proclaimed) materialist audiophile, I believe Utopia would eventually outperform though.
    • Bass could be kinda give one take one. CMG digs deeper and lower, but COG hits harder. I'd not say CMG is "annoyingly soft". but bass impact is not as convincing as other focals were. Transient is tad faster but also rounder (partly associated with softness I described).
    A while ago, I ended up ditching Elex because my modded hd650 and stock hd600 mostly edged out elex. Clear (OG) could be a better consideration in some metrics but I wasn't comfortable with price delta. Now even though I am having kiss-hd650 sitting around me, I don't feel that way any longer, at least performance-wise. Fully equipped with 2541 and Jotunheim 2, 650 is not even contestable this time around in my book. Revenge accomplished.

    Will update back later as I collect more thoughts.
     
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    Last edited: Mar 23, 2021
  17. MetalStef84

    MetalStef84 Rando

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    Considering that I am now living with a zmf trio (Atticus with univ pads, Aeolus and Verite Closed with Be2/Auteur pads) and was looking for a more sharp/direct/less laid back complement to those, the fact that I mainly listen to hard rock / metal (e.g. Avatar, Architects, Five fingers DP...) and had to sell the OG clear because they were "too much" (fatiguing mainly, piercing... but loved the punch/impact)... Do you (Vtory, Marv) think this MG version can be a good complement or (since I read "rounded bass" that is how I feel zmf hps) is becoming somewhat "Aeolusly", so too redundant?
    Thank you!!!
     
  18. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    If I understood correctly (keywords with bold style), we are in pretty similar situations. To me CMG is nicely complementing Verite (open, with BE2) for alternative presentation/flavor without changing upstream components. CMG is imo darker on top octaves than BE2 verite, but still focal-ishly proactive elsewhere. Also, acoustic impedance (airflow trapped in cup or not) is night and day different between the two. See my sig for further reference.

    That said, I believe CMG worth shortlisting or considering. Just don't buy blindly or irreversibly.

    PS. I sold Aeolus quite long ago and didn't like them as much as what I am having now. Speaking of verite vs cmg's bass, that ultimately comes down to 50mm+low excursion (+metalized film) vs 40mm+high excursion (+rigid metal). Without pushing them to limit (at my listening level), I don't think CMG's bass rounder than Verite.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2021
  19. MetalStef84

    MetalStef84 Rando

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    Thank you Vtory for the suggestions!
     
  20. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    ^ This. Only thing is the perceived clarity takes a hit, so I'm not liking is as much as @Vtory. Different component chains though since I'm running Gungnir A2 -> EC Custom Studio 45.
     
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