Focal Clear

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by The Alchemist, Nov 15, 2017.

  1. Melvillian

    Melvillian Friend

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    I had a chance to try both the Clear and the Utopia out of some fancy amps like the Woo WA33 at TSAV on Friday. The first things that jumped at me were the bass and treble from the Clear. The bass was a little elevated, but did not bleed into the rest of the FR like the Elear. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a headphone with nice extended treble that sounds almost as smooth as the HD650. The Utopia on the other hand sounded punchier with a more upfront stage. To me it sounded more "cohesive". With the Clear, I was hearing Bass + Mids + Highs, but the Utopia just sounded like everything meshed together better. The one negative about the Utopia is that the highs sounded a bit rough, especially compared to the very smooth sounding Clear. Out of the WA33, the Utopia had amazing tight and extended bass that was very punchy. It was my first time hearing the Utopia and it made me wonder what people are talking about when they say the Utopia is bass shy? I really wanted to buy the Utopia. I love an aggressive and resolving sound and from what I hear, it pairs really well with the ZDS. Unfortunately that's out of the question right now. I did buy the Clear and would like to share some impressions after a couple of days of listening.

    My setup is Gungnir Multibit + ZDS. Like @brencho, I was also worried about the bass out of an OTL like the ZDS. On high gain (20ohms), it sounds a bit boosted and a very tiny bit distorted. The low gain (10ohms) has always sounded kind of weird to me with the HD6XX, but seems fine with the Clear. I think my ears have gotten used to it at this point. It does leave me wondering how the Clear will sound out of a good SET amp like the EC AF or even a good hybrid like the Torpedo III.

    After a couple of days of listening, the Clears have really grown on me. It's just a very inoffensive sounding headphone with no significant flaws. I think the Bass is a bit too elevated, and it sounds a bit polite and less dynamic than the Elear and the Utopia, but this is all relative. It's still excels in micro/macro dynamics when compared with the HD650. Was listening to "Running On Faith" off of Eric Clapton Unplugged and was just mesmerized by how beautifully the Clear was rendering the small fluctuations in the volume of Clapton's voice. Vocals in general sound very good. I've heard other headphones that excel in dynamics, but there's something about the Focal drivers and the way they do this so effortlessly.

    Bass maybe a little elevated, but it extends low, is clean, and punchy. I don't think the elevated bass is due to the ZDS. At TSAV, It sounded similar out of several amps I heard. It sort of reminds me of the Elear, but it's tolerable because the rest of the FR isn't fucked. It sounds great with older Jazz recordings. The very fast playing upright bass in "Move" by Lou Donaldson is clean and textured. You can hear the different notes compared to the kind of blob from the HD650. On "Take 5", I could hear the tugging and pulling of the bass strings, which I'd never heard before with the HD650 nor the HD580.

    The headstage is small, but it hasn't really bothered me. One of my biggest complaints with the HD650 is that the headstage feels very narrow and crowded, at times sounding as if instruments are stacked on top of one another. With the Clear, the image is very rounded with space and "air" between instruments. It's small, but never feels restricted in width like the HD650. I do think the HD650 has a bit more depth, but again, this hasn't really bothered me. Maybe if I was coming from something like the HD800 it would be a problem. I also haven't spent enough time with the Utopia to compare. The Utopia definitely sounded more upfront, but I can't comment on Utopia's stage depth.

    Overall I'm very happy with the Clear. They look amazing (look pretty cool on the head too), come with the variety of cables, and the case is pretty great. I do think people should hear it before buying.The Focal headphones have their sound and they may not be for you. I think a good tube amp might be necessary to get the tonality and timbre right. Not sure if it's the aluminum drivers, but their tonality sounds off from poor sources like the headphone jack from my laptop or my phone.
    Edit** what I meant to say here is that it can sound unnatural out of my phone and laptop.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2018
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Utopia without a doubt scales more. Already said Clear technicalities are between Elear and Utopia, but closer to Elear. This should imply that Utopia scales more with better gear. Also said if one is already paying $1300 or so street price for Clear, another $1300 toward Utopia is a better way to go...

    With such advantages in technicalities one would hope to find component synergies in sources or amps to mitigate Utopia's tendency toward lean tonal balance. Or use EQ if using computer sources. A bass shelf is easy enough to do. Only people with an excuse would be vinylheads.

    If it makes any of you feel any better, both Utopia and Clear are on Marv's personal WOF. Whatever the fuck Marv's WOF means. In truth it doesn't mean jack. And the LCD4 is on Marv's WOF too. At least the unit I listened to. And add the Elex too at $700.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2018
  3. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    To @Melvillian's comments:

    Yes, starting to feel the Clear is maybe 2db or so too bassy, and not necessarily attributable to slightly higher Z out amps. I felt this way listening from neutral solid state amps too.

    I also felt the upper mids were a little laid back. Just nitpicks for an otherwise excellent headphone that does way more right than wrong.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2018
  4. Melvillian

    Melvillian Friend

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    @Marvey distorted guitars still have that crunch, but it’s a little soft. Like you said, they’re nitpicks.

    If it wasn’t a significant upgrade over the HD650, I would agree that people should just skip the Clear and buy a Utopia. I think it’s good enough and sounds different enough from the Utopia to warrant the ~$1300 price tag for those who either can’t spend that much or just don’t like the Utopia.
     
  5. cskippy

    cskippy Creamy warmpoo

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    I'm thinking Clear might suit my personal preferences better than Utopia, but if I found a Utopia, with warranty for $2600 I would bite.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2018
  6. Vorlon

    Vorlon self-important, pompous ass

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    Time for Clear audition impressions, part II. Just came back from the store...

    First things first. Decided not to bring in my HDV 820 to test it after all. Why? It´s futile. With a ~40 ohm output impedance the bass is getting a serious boost along with a poor damping factor. It won´t be the headphone the designers wanted it to be anymore. Instead I´ve just come to terms that if I get a Clear I need a second setup (which is one of the reasons I might end up skipping them). Demo conditions were around the same, except this time it was hooked to a Heed headphone amp I ´ve never heard before. It seemed to have a pretty warm signature, not a bad match. This time I had taken some extra time to listen to the demo songs beforehand on my main setup (HD 800 S) so I would better compare. Still not a A/B test, but better than nothing.

    What I´m still convinced of:

    - Tonality is awesome. Not bright, not dark, just balanced. Closest there is to a super HD 650.
    - It draws you into the music (foot tapping etc.)
    - It looks and feels like a >1k headphone
    - Decent comfort considering the weight
    - Awesome midrange resolution in particular, vocals sound real with good emotional connection
    - Great bass that goes deep, but I´m not convinced the texture detail is on par with even the HD 800 S (but yes, it´s way more enjoyable in any case)
    - Non-fatiguing highs (HD 800 S is smoother in the highs though and has better resolution, but tonality wise there´s a bit too much treble quantity for many records).
    - Easy to run compared to HD 800 series. Not sure these scale as much, but they already sound very good out of modest sources (something I´d never say of either HD 800)

    Less convincing:

    - Is the headband padding actually replaceable? It doesn´t look to be and with that light grey color it will start showing eventually. Also the headband could use more curve, now it places almost all of the weight on top of your head. Maybe it won´t create hotspot with extended use, but if I had to guess I´d say it´s pretty likely it´s going to be less comfortable to wear for several hours in a row. Perhaps this could be fixed by adding a Sennheiser HD 650 headband cushion though.
    - The aluminum construction is also a minus. It´s still a metal and using lightweight high quality plastics would have made the headphone lighter. It may look and feel nicer, but I still think it would be a better headphone if it used similar plastics as Sennheiser stuff and had copied the Sennheiser anti-hotspot headband design.
    - Are these good for gaming? Probably pretty ok, but I hightly doubt they get anywhere near the HD 800 series in this sort of use. Gaming benefits immensely from the soundstage and in many cases also the slightly elevated treble helps too.

    Also out of curiosity I A/B tested it a while against the Utopia. Note that I have serious comfort issues with that one and the clamp just isn´t enough for me. I can´t move my head when using it and sometimes I feel like I even need to improve the clamp with my hands. Nonetheless: can´t deny the Utopia being technically quite clearly superior (way more clarity, faster, more dynamic), but there´s just something in the sound that annoys me. It sounds edgy and tires me quick (and I´m someone who had no problems using HD 800 S for 4+ hours in a row). This is obviously very subjective, but I honestly preferred the Clear sound despite the inferior technicalities. That being said, as I already mentioned be tweeters in speakers never sounded good to me either so I guess the beryllium sound is just not for me.

    Decided to wait until at least next week until making a decision on these. I want to see what CES brings first and then make up my mind. Right now I´d still be delighted to own these, but in the past every time I´ve owned several headphones I eventually gravitate towards using just one. Due to the inferior comfort (vs. HD 800 S) and the smaller soundstage (gaming performance is to me almost as important as music listening) the most likely scenario is probably that I´ll skip these for now and put the money towards a Sony DAP for my IE 800 S instead. Funny thing by the way: the IE 800 S tonality resembles the Clear a lot to my ears. Not quite as balanced, but close.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2018
  7. Darren G

    Darren G Friend

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    Thanks for the review...

    Yea, as a Utopia owner I agree. The clarity and speed is something special, but even after tweaking, they can be tiring. Nothing wrong with choosing an option that has a pleasant character, even if it's not technically the most accurate.

    Something to watch out for is the 'new toy' syndrome. There is always a new toy, and by definition, that makes yesterday's 'best ever' an old toy. The reality is all transducers have positives and negatives. Fortunately when it comes to headphones, it is possible to own more than one, and swap as mood dictates.
     
  8. thegunner100

    thegunner100 Hentai Master Chief

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    [​IMG]

    Chain: Foobar via ASIO > Eitr > Yggdrasil > ZDT via 2x 3-pin XLR to 4-pin XLR adapter & Sylvania 5751 tubes

    Music: Dave Brubeck, Billy Childs, Bill Charlap Trio, Hiromi Uehara, Men I Trust, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, and various other tracks

    I’ve spent the past weekend listening to the Clears and this review is mostly in comparison to the HD650. The first thing that struck out to me when I first listened to them was that they didn’t have any FR fuckeries. The sound was very well balanced from the start, even with no burn-in. A day or two of burn-in brought forth a bit more bass control and treble ease. Nothing game changing, but worth noting.

    As everyone has already said, these headphones have a wonderful balance and tonality that is similar to a modded HD650 but with more extension on both ends, more clarity, and an improvement in technicalities and resolution. They’re about as close to a direct upgrade that you can get coming from a HD650. However, the Clear is a faster, more dynamic, and engaging headphone. The HD650 is just a tad bit slower, a little hazier, and more laidback sounding. I believe that the lack of mid-bass hump on the Clear helps with the bass to mids transition and cleanliness. Soundstage wise, they’re very similar but the Clear can layer and image better.

    To borrow @marvey’s quote, the Clear makes the HD650 sound a bit mid-fi. However, in that regard, the Clear is a bit less tolerant of poorly mastered recordings than the HD650. There’s not much that I find myself missing when I go to the Clear from the HD650. While the Clear is the better headphone, I’ll still keep my HD650s around for their tremendous value and when I want a slightly laid-back sound.

    I’ve also tried the Clear from the Magni 3 and it still sounds very good. With the ZX2 and Google Pixel, I was able to get some decent volume compared to the HD650. Bass was very lacking though, since there just wasn’t enough power from the portable sources to overcome the impedance peak in the bass range. The Fulla 2 did a decent job however, for what it is.

    There were mentions of metal coloration from the driver materials. The Overnight Sensations MT utilize a neodymium soft tweeter and an aluminum woofer. Perhaps I’ve already been so used to the sound of metal drivers, I couldn’t really tell if there was an inherent coloration to them. In some ways though, the Clear reminds me of my near-field OSMT setup. Good soundstaging with a dynamic and punchy sound. Very even throughout all of the FR range (the slight upper mids dip on the Clear is not noticeable for me).

    Comfort wise, the Clear is heavier than the HD650 but distributes weight very well. The Clear clamps a bit but the pads are very comfortable and do not bother me with my glasses. I wore them for about 6 hours on Sunday while streaming and found them to bother me less than the HD650s did after a long session. I’d imagine the Clears getting more comfortable as time goes on.

    As I’ve said before, the best trait about the Clear is its balanced sound that does not offend or fatigue. The bass is well extended and provides a nice punch for EDM and drums. Mids are spot-on and portray vocals and piano well. Treble is non-fatiguing but with a good amount of sparkle. I don’t have a pair of HD800s anymore, but a modded pair should have more treble resolution and extension than the Clear. Overall while other totl headphones may have advantages in different areas (high scores in some areas, lower scores in other areas), the Clear has a higher overall score and overall enjoyment to me.

    Anyone who enjoys the modded HD650 should look into demoing the Clear at a nearby Focal dealer, at a meet, or ideally at someone’s home with familiar gear. For now, the Clear is the most logical upgrade from the HD650 for those who are looking for further refinement and resolution, but find the HD800 too thin and diffuse.



    Things for future consideration:
    Zach is sending me an Auteur for the upcoming meet, so I will do some direct comparisons when I receive them. I’ll also get the chance to compare the Clear with the Utopia and LCD2C at the meet.

    Testing out scaling and OI interactions at the upcoming meet with the Studio, Aficionado, ZDT, and Stratus. Maybe a TIII as well.

    Trying the Clear out from a higher powered portable source like the ZX300 or WM1A in balanced mode.

    @SteelCannon and @sphinxvc are coming by later this week to give the Clear a try.
     
  9. Darren G

    Darren G Friend

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    I am still going to keep my Utopia HPs because they get my recollection of one of my favorite live performances almost perfect. Chris Botti Live in Boston. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Botti_in_Boston

    The blat and blare of Chris Botti's trumpet is essentially right. It sounds like a brass instrument, as it should. Not polite, there is a screech, but it's a sublime screech, and take away that edge, and the horn is no longer a horn.

    Katharine McPhee, John Mayer, Sting, Stephen Tyler, yes, that is almost exactly what they sounded like amplified.

    The thing is live music is amplified, and microphones, and it's not all smooth and maple syrup sweet. The Utopia does convey some details that other headphones mask.
     
  10. Larry Megugorac

    Larry Megugorac Craps on Filipino accents to ease inner poverty

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    Darren,

    This is an excellent video as well seeing them perform with Chris one-at-a-time....Sting puts on a great performance as well with Chris...love that horn play....as he does with others...Dave Koz come to mind! I own the HD-650 and 800S love them both...but my give the Clear a demo...thanks!
     
  11. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Just catching up. What happened to Tony Newman? LOL.
     
  12. Darren G

    Darren G Friend

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    Love the saxophone (and Koz as an artist)!

    A good transducer conveys the spit, brass, honk, of this instrument. It just doesn't sound sweet and gentle elevator music like live.
     
  13. Aeron

    Aeron Facebook Friend

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    Not sure that’s an absolute disqualification of his opinion, it’s pretty subjective. An example is that I find the LCD-3f (and Clear) quite comfortable, but then again I have a Linebacker/Marine neck (or lack thereof).
     
  14. Aeron

    Aeron Facebook Friend

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    Think of the Clear as a near Utopia, with better balance, tonality and bass for Everyman, a
    Kopfhörer der Leute.
     
  15. gbeast

    gbeast Mighty Moral Power Ranger

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    No thank you
     
  16. SoupRKnowva

    SoupRKnowva Official SBAF South Korean Ambassador - Friend

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    I got to check out the Clears today at Definitive Audio here in Seattle, they're right down the street from me, I've walked by quite a few times and never been inside till today. I listened for like 3 hours with my GO2A running out of my iPhone X with ALAC files.

    When I first heard the Utopia at the Big Meet, I wasn't impressed. The tonal response was weird and really threw me off, and I never gave them the chance to impress me with the technicalities. Today, I gave the Utopias that chance, and they really did impress me in the technicalities, I still wouldn't want to own them but there ya go.

    The Clears are a knockout in the tonality department, and sounded like they would be a solid step up from the 650Ms in most regards, I even noticed some resonance or strain of some kind in one of my favorite Soen tracks that I hadn't ever noticed before, maybe because of how dynamic they are.

    Hearing the technicalities of the Utopias though made listening to the Clears bittersweet, they just need a can with the tonality of the Clears and the technicalities of the Utopias and they'd have a real winner. I may end up getting a pair of Clears though for what they are, and at the price they aint bad.
     
  17. slankoe

    slankoe Tongue tastes of LH butthole

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    I got kinda stoned, and I finally felt that "disappearing on the head," thing that every single review says about the Clear. Nice job, Focal. :headbang:

    My mum also has visited me, and today I had her try on three headphones. Her preference was for Clear > HD650 KISS > Hifiman HE-560 all out of the Bottlehead S.E.X.

    The Clear sounded "the clearest, and layered," while HE-560 sounded "muffled," with the HD650 sounding "in between the two."
     
  18. g_mr_p

    g_mr_p Rando

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    I had my mother try a few headphones some time ago (the Utopia, chiefly). Her overall sonic impressions went something like: "Why aren't you saving or investing this money. I can't believe I raised such a fiscally irresponsible son."

    So yeah, she liked them.
     
  19. Darren G

    Darren G Friend

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    LOL. I had tried to setup my mom with music, because she said she liked music, but she never used any of it. If you are a music lover you get it, and if you aren't, spending on it looks like a waste of money.
     
  20. ductrung3993

    ductrung3993 Facebook Friend

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    I picked up the loaner unit from @CEE TEE today. A big thank you to him for being such great hospitality and spoiling me with all the MD goodies. Shout out to @Will as well for soldering the Elex on the spot for me to listen (I would not have asked for the Elex had I knew the work that needed to be done)

    For the Clear, this is my impression from *very brief* initial listenings:
    ("chain" = Jotunheim plugged straight into a Macbook 12". excuse me for no DAC, I'm not buying anything until I move into a new place)
    - I'm a playnar guy, which also means that I'm not the biggest fan of Focal tuning (have only tried Clear and Elear really). This correlation might or might not make sense. Either way, I also find the Clear timbre to be a bit unnatural to my ears. I hear this unnaturalness the most for "sss" in singer's voice
    - Yeah, you can call it a significantly more refined Elear. The obvious = new case, new cables, new earpads. One thing I'd like to mention about the earpad is that the Clear's earpad is quite a bit more comfortable than the Elear's, plus that it's less "slippery" on my face. With the Elear, the earpad would slide a little when I turn my head and sometimes this would require adjustment, which can be annoying.
    - Very good tonal balance as many have suggested. For me, bass is a bit too much
    - I like a warm, cohesive, romantic and "blanketing" sound. That is not the Clear unfortunately, or the Clear with Jot alone at least. I would not called it fragmented but I can head bass, mid, high clearly and separately more than I'd like too.
    - It is a bit thin sounding in the mid for my liking, I'm a mid-head.

    +++ VS Elex: I A/B these on a Carbon X for about 45s-1minutes and the most stood out difference was that the Elex has more bass and Elex's mid was colder and a bit more rough/edgy as opposed to the Clear's smoother midrange (so I guess I agree with @Marvey's analogy that Clear ~ HD650 and Elex ~ HD600 here)

    That's it for now, I will take a shower after a long rainy day. I will try it more when I'm not actually super tired.

    EDIT: will try it on the Vali 2. I feel that the Clear would be a better match with tubes.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2018

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