Focal Clear Over Ear Open Headphones

Headphone manufacturers pay attention: If you want to build a high-end headphone, this is the way to do it.

I've got to wonder how long Focal's strategic timeline was when they first entered the headphone market with the Spirit One in 2012. Focal is a long time high-end speaker manufacturer, so they're no doubt well familiar with the difficulties and time needed to produce world class equipment—and make no mistake, they do produce world class speakers.

From the initial crinkled diaphragm problems with the Spirit One; to the darn good sounding Spirit Professional; to the fairly 'meh' sounding Listen; and then the shockingly good Utopia and Elear—though not without some issues—it seems to me in hindsight that Focal has not only been on a mission to add headphones to their offering, but has also been conscientiously and consciously on a journey to make the world's best headphone.

At every step along the way, despite me being a bit of a hard ass in my criticisms, Focal has responded in humility and professionalism. At every turn I sensed them knuckling down not only to fix problems but to make novel strides forwarding the state of the art in headphone manufacture. And now, having the Focal Clear in hand, I sense they've reached their goal. For the first time I'm not annoyed at the price of a $1000+ headphones. You'll get your money's worth with the Focal Clear.

Focal Clear ($1499)
The Focal Clear is an over-ear, open acoustic, dynamic driver headphone. While I have a penchant for stealth black audio gear, I find the light gray/metallic silver of the Clear an immensely appealing design.

The headband outer cover is medium gray leather; the earpads and headband pad are perforated Alcantara-like microfiber; yokes are a sandblasted aluminum; outer capsule covers are stainless steel mesh; cables are black and white striped cotton covered—the Clear is a harmonious symphony of premium materials at play in the light, teasing you for attention. As I glance over at the black of the Elear and Utopia, I begin to question my preference for the dark side. This is a beautiful headphone!

Like its siblings, the Clear is a wonderfully comfortable headphone. Earpads are perforated micro-fiber over memory foam and have generous 50mm X 60mm openings; due to the angled driver and baffle plate depth is also quite roomy.

Forward and back rotation of the ear cups is effected by an unusual pivot of the yokes within the headband, which is limited, but ample. Up and down tilt rotates around the yoke arms and is spring loaded with just the right tension to ensure the bottom of the earpads seal as well and have the same pressure as the top.

Pads are removable with a sharp tug. Serial number is under the right side pad laser engraved into the baffle plate. Replacement pads are available through your dealer.

One of the biggest differences between the Clear and its siblings is the accessorization...which is absolutely terrific! The Clear comes with a beautiful fabric covered, hard-side clamshell case with zipper closure and leather strap carry handle. Cables must be removed for the Clear to fit in the case, but a molded central compartment is available to store a cable or two. Its gently curving and form fitting shape and finish makes it the nicest headphone case I've ever seen. Stunning.

A full complement of cables is also included. One short cable (1.2 meter) terminated in a 3.5mm plug and two three meter cables, one terminated in a 1/4" TRS plug and the other terminated in a 4-pin XLR for balanced use, are provided in a dandy dense foam cut out storage case. Cables are 24AWG OFC copper and are covered in a woven cotton outer sheath. Both the Elear and Utopia comes with very long and heavy cables; the new Clear cables are a welcome change. I will note they do tend to keep their kinks from being stored and are a bit stiff, but they're a significant improvement over the previous cable sets.

All cables are terminated at the earpieces with a 3.5mm mono-plug that has a mechanical mating recess so as to prevent undue strain on the connections. Focal calls it a locking mechanical connection, but it seems more like a detented mating to me.

Driver and Acoustics

Focal claims two important differences between the the Clear and Elear: the perforated microfiber earpads, and the copper voice coil. The driver uses an aluminum-magnesium alloy M-dome diaphragm with surround similar to the Elear but has a formerless copper voice coil as opposed to the copper-clad aluminum conductor of the Elear. The voice coil impedance is also lower than the 85 Ohms of other two Focals at around 60 Ohms. The very large and narrow 350 Ohm primary driver resonance at 55Hz may cause these cans to take on a marked bass boost on high output impedance amplifiers. Here's some measurements:


Clear raw response with Simaudio Moon NEO 430HA (purple) and Bottlehead Crack (orange) with about 120 Ohm output impedance.

After a little listen I decided this was a pretty poor match, delivering a wooly and indistinct sounding bass. Truth is, all three Focal cans have too low an impedance and large primary driver resonance to be successfully used with high output impedance tube amps...the Clear is particularly troublesome in this way however.

My measurements didn't show a marked increase in openness to the acoustic environment around you (though my measurement system seems to wander around a bit in its isolation measurements lately), but in wearing and comparing the Clear to Elear (and Utopia) I do think I hear it as slightly more open to external sounds.

Dan Clark (of MrSpeakers) and I had a chat about this recently and we both agreed that for some unknown (to us) reason, having less isolation from external sounds does somehow translate to perceived improvements to a headphones perceived openness.

Right, let's get to the serious listening.

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glabetrotter's picture

Hi Tyll!

At first I would like to congratulate the review and wish you Merry Christmas!
I want ask you what u think about Focal Listen? I know that u like other models headphones Focal. In my opinion Focal Listen are really good headphones and are better than e.g. OPPO PM3 or cheaper Beyerdynamic DT150. Uff, this is revolution in portable sound and not only, because we can use Listen in home. They are easily to drive, sounds good... very good at this price... But still it's only my opinion. Can u talk me what u think about this model?

Best regards,

Iliketrains's picture

Tyll said the focal listen is fairly "meh". Nothing special

Lawk's picture

I quite like the listen from an in-store demo. Certainly natural sounding.

Beagle's picture

Great headphone for the money..

zobel's picture

...Too small again for me though. I need at least a 40 mm X 70 mm opening.
I'm glad for for having my AKG K7XX, and Senn HD 600, and HD 380 Pro. I am not deprived at all. Nothing too wrong with the Amperior either.
I just wish everyone's fit could be addressed in these designs somehow.
AND I wish everyone here a Happy Christmas and Merry new Year!

Liopleus's picture

Hi Tyll,

Could you let me know if I can get similar sound by putting the Clear pads on the Elear, or is it better to simply upgrade to the Clear?

Thanks in advance!

jodet's picture

I've been a serious can guy for over a decade, Stax, Sennheiser, etc. I cannot get over how much I enjoy these Clears. They are so well balanced and the fit and quality is off the charts. They're an end game headphone for sure.

Serious's picture

Honestly the target looks more like a DF tuning with a bass bump and treble shelf than your new target. It does have less 2-3kHz than DF though.

Here's a quick and dirty overlay between the Clear and your graph with the ID, DF and new targets:

And here's the same thing, but with the Harman target (different HATS, though). Harman target is similar to DF, but with a speaker target FR added:

Idk, but the midrange curve looks pretty similar to the DF tuning of Stax phones. At least on paper this looks like nothing new.

tony's picture

Color match to hair is obvious, who does color better than the French ?

Focal is ranging Color in their Loudspeakers too.

Arn't Aesthetics & ergonomics 'part and parcel' to "Luxury" ?

You're right, they're gorgeous and people will probably want to try them out, just based on appearances.

Even those Cables have that black/white repeating contrast that I see in the Five Star French Hotels like "The Mark" in NY,NY !

Geez, this stuff just keeps getting better.

21st Century Tony in Michigan

ps. Steve Guttenberg's YouTube is a "must", he's outdoing Herb Reichert & Paul McGowan at in-sighting.

Merkurio's picture

Seems you're really enjoying them, aren't you Tyll?

Maybe isn't fair play due the price difference, but it would be great if you made a quick comparison between these and the LCD-2C.

As much as I really like what Audeze did for the price, I'm now tempted with the Clears... But the bass response, highs spikes taming and soundstage size are my main concerns, the LCD-2C simply nails it in those regards!

drm870's picture

I ask because while it's nice knowing you can finally "unreservedly recommend" a $1000+ headphone, $1500 is still going to be a stretch for me. At $800, though, the Elex would be a good step up. I've never paid more than $400 or so for a headphone (the Oppo PM-3, and I bought the Sennheiser HD 650 for a hundred or so off at the time of purchase), so that would still be a step up to be sure -- although I guess the MrSpeakers Aeon would be the competition at that price point. Anyway, appreciate all you do!

Martin.'s picture

This comment might as well come from me. I have the Oppo Pm-3, Senneheiser 6xx incoming, and am looking for the next step. Was considering this, the Elex, the LCD-2C or one of them AEons.

donlin's picture

Excellent review and spot on in all regards. This one is special.

crazywipe2's picture

Good to know there is a > kilobucks headphone without major flaws that earns the ticket without reservations!
I like them visually, but I don't like the light grey color scheme. Honestly it's too cold. Do you know if they will come out with a more appealing black version in the near future?

visitbe's picture

Tyll, I appreciate your efforts in creating this and other reviews. I can only imagine how much work is involved.
If I were to eat ramen for months and save up for this headphone and an amp, what amp do you recommend pairing this headphone with?

jk6661's picture

Forgive the probably noob-ish question, but why isn't the Clear a good match for high output impedance tube amps? And what constitutes "high" output impedance? I ask because I have a tube am, and I'm considering this headphone.

jherbert's picture

"...After a little listen I decided this was a pretty poor match, delivering a wooly and indistinct sounding bass. Truth is, all three Focal cans have too low an impedance and large primary driver resonance to be successfully used with high output impedance tube amps...the Clear is particularly troublesome in this way however..."

mariscosyketchup's picture

I agree 100% with you, the Clears are something special.
However, a few nitpicks:
- I would like more room on the earpads, something like 70x50 mm instead of 60x50mm.
- A tad less midbass (to prevent the slight bleed into the mids), and a bit smoother treble, to get a more "even, liquid" sound.
- A bigger soundstage, the Clears (and also Elear and Utopia) have a small soundstage to my tastes.

That would make them just perfect for me.

zobel's picture

What you said.

sszorin's picture

Focal made a big error by using 40mm driver in their headphones. 50mm should be a minimum for top end headphones, 50mm driver balances frequency bands better than 40mm one. Focal Clear's driver bleeds bass into middle frequencies - that means 'Clear' are not transparent headphones. They have an upper mids roll-off in the critical frequencies 1000Hz - 3000Hz, which affects overtones. I predict the new Audio-Technica ADX5000, with its 58mm driver will push Focal Clear aside.

Malik's picture

Audio-Technica? No thank you ;)) LOL

sszorin's picture

Focal ? LOL

Malik's picture

If you happen to find this headphones let me know please! I still havent found! I want Clear to have bigger earpads, smoother treble, bigger soundstage and deeper bass!

IgorC's picture

I wonder whether Tyll can add numerical rating to his reviews. I think that will be even more representative and useful for people.

Something like, bass is 4.5, highs are 4.0, comfort is fantastic (5.0) etc...

Thank You.

Ranstedt's picture


which of these cans would you recommend for an audio professional that needs a reference pair of cans to mix / master on? Which of these cans expose flaws better in a piece of music?

The reason I'm comparing to the Aeon Closed is because in the Aeon Closed review you said "With a sound straight down the middle, both audio enthusiasts and professionals will find themselves pleased as punch with this high-value audio transducer. Tonal balance and transient response are extraordinary; imaging is very good for a sealed headphone; only some roughness and slight dynamic compression belie the fact that this is a sealed headphone and isn't going to deliver the finess, smoothness, and liquidity of some open headphones."


Phoniac's picture

Audeze LCD MX4.

kais's picture

Everyone's hearing and taste is different, so you have to evaluated by yourself.
The reviews can give you a good starting point for selection, not more.
Listen to a bigger selection of professionally recorded music of the type you are doing that you know sounding good on speakers in the outside world, and imagine if you would change the mix.
Then do some test mixes on them and check how they work on different speakers.
The headphones you feel the least need for changes in the mix for both cases are the ones that fit best.
Being an audio professional too, with a big studio, I choose the headphones that fitted best to my monitoring system, although I don't need to work much on headphones I ended up with a system in the $5000 range.
I do not use this system to enjoy music, just to work on it!

南开米饭's picture

why just pull off the Stax 009? it stays there too long

GNagus's picture

Before you rip headphones off the wall, keep in mind that some headphones such as the HD800S play nice with a variety of amps.

MLSensai's picture

Hi Tyll,

I appreciate your reviews. Based on your impression of the Elear I bought this can in March but missing a little bit clarity. Now I am very excited about your opinion of the Clear. I also owned and own Sennheiser HD6XX(S) and in my opinion the Elear is suoerior to them already. So on Head-Fi I found measurements comparing the Clear with all these and now the Massdrop Elex has been measured and compared with the Clear.

The Elex and Clear seem to be twins in their freqzency responses. The Elex with a little bit more energy above 10k and the Clear with a few dB more bass under 40Hz (should not be a big deal).

Ok, to shorten this...
Will you compare both directly, the Elex and the Clear?

Here is the link to the measurements

Best regards