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Neutral hi-fi headphones you can actually commute with

Neutral hi-fi headphones you can actually commute with

The Focal Elegia shouldn’t be your typical high-end headphone. After the extremely profitable Utopia and Clear, the Elegia is Focal Audio’s first contribution into the high-end closed market. Closed-back headphones have historically been one thing of a rarity within the high-end market, just because physics makes it more durable to scale back resonances and distortion on closed headphones, and limits the sense of area in comparison with open-back cans.

Extra lately, headphone corporations have been making an attempt to stability the scales, as a result of it seems some individuals would somewhat their headphone expertise be a bit extra personal. We demand respectable isolation from our moveable cans, and a few audiophiles want to have that on their premium cans too.

Left to Proper: Focal Clear, Elegia, Utopia

That seems to be the mindset behind the Elegia. Like Sennheiser with the HD820, Focal tried to make a closed headphone that replicated the qualities of its flagship cans in a closed-back setting. Mercifully, Focal’s pricing is extra affordable. At $899, it’s cheaper than the Clear ($1,500) or Utopia($four,000) have been at launch. The HD820 was a a lot harder capsule to swallow at $2,400.

For probably the most half, Focal succeeded. The Elegia reveals most of the greatest qualities of Focal’s headphone household, though it makes some compromises getting there

Aesthetically, it’s very a lot a Focal headphone. Its construct is nigh-identical to the Clear, Elear, and Elex earlier than it, besides the pads are totally different and the metallic mesh is changed with a plastic again designed to attenuate resonances. It’s an aesthetic and cozy headphone. I had no hassle sporting it for hours, and the pads are giant sufficient with out being as awkwardly large because the HD820’s.

The brand new housing is designed to remove typical closed-back resonances.

The pads create a strong seal and assist block out extra noise than a lot of the competitors I’ve tried, together with the aforementioned Sennheisers, Denon’s D9200, and most full-size headphones with passive isolation solely. They don’t leak out a lot noise both, making the Elegia appropriate for moveable and workplace use. That stated, Sony’s similarly-priced MDR-Z7M2 manages to be each barely extra snug and considerably extra isolating.

The Elegia comes with a neat hard-shell carrying case, in addition to a three.5mm cable and a 6.3mm adapter. This cable is annoying although. Focal meant the Elegia for use with moveable units, however even after a strong month of use, the cable stays frustratingly stiff. Fortunately, it’s replaceable and aftermarket ones are low cost.

Now for the essential half: The Elegia’s sound is… uncommon. Principally in a great way, nevertheless it’s additionally clear these usually are not probably the most accessible headphones, particularly if you’re principally used to closed-back headphones and/or that is your first foray into the high-end market.

The very first thing that hits you is the spatial presentation. The Elegia doesn’t sound notably large, however that’s not shocking – all of Focal’s headphones have small (AKA ‘intimate’) soundstages. It doesn’t really feel a lot smaller than the Clear and Utopia, and for closed headphones, the dimensions of the soundstage is fairly common.

However the place it excels is with a way of openness. Sure, a headphone can sound open with out an enormous soundstage. It’s tough to explain, however the Elegia doesn’t sound stuffy or closed-in. It’s clear sufficient to virtually make you overlook you’re listening to a closed-back headphone. Once more, it’s very akin to the Clear and Utopia – intimate, however with distinct instrument separation. Focal did a incredible job with eliminating the offending resonances, maybe even higher than the HD820.

To realize that readability, Focal made some fascinating decisions designing the Elegia’s frequency response. Spend a while on headphone boards and you’ll see the Elegia has been considerably divisive since their launch. Some individuals – together with me – assume it’s a bit bass mild. Others assume the bass is impartial. Some assume the Elegia is vibrant. Different’s assume it’s impartial.

Audio all the time has a big dose of subjectivity, however a take a look at the frequency response in comparison with the Clear helps clarify a few of the discrepancies:

A observe about measurements: I’ve lately began taking headphone measurements utilizing the MiniDSP EARS, a set of calibrated microphones embedded inside ear molds. Please bear in mind this isn’t an industry-standard software and shouldn’t be used to find out a headphone’s sound in isolation. Don’t examine to different measurements on-line, as I can solely declare reliability towards different headphones measured on my actual setup.

For extra on the way to learn a frequency response graph, right here’s a great useful resource. I’m utilizing the EARs default ‘target curve’ – you can learn extra about goal curves right here. These measurements are meant as a visible complement and don’t take priority over subjective listening impressions, which can be totally different as a consequence of inherent flaws with my check rig, particularly within the treble.

In blue is the Focal Clear, in purple is the Elegia. I’m utilizing the Clear as a comparability each as a result of it’s a well-liked Focal headphone but in addition as a result of it matches my concept of ‘neutral’ virtually completely. You can see that the headphones are comparable in a lot of the midrange and far of the treble, however differ in key areas.

The place the Clear has a reasonably typical, smooth roll-off from the mid-bass area into the sub-bass, the Elegia has a big drop-off going from 300hz to about 180hz. That is presumably to keep away from the bloated-bass so typical in closed-back cans – the Sennheiser HD820 does one thing comparable. It really works, however just like the HD820, I feel the Elegia overcompensates. Going additional left into the frequency graph, we see the Elegia picks up the slack within the sub-bass.

See, it’s fairly uncommon for a closed-back headphone to dip down within the midbass like that. For an additional comparability, right here’s what the frequency response seems to be like on Sony’s 1000XM3(in pink), which has a really mainstream tuning:

On the Sony’s, as with most closed headphones, you get extra bass coming in from the mids, not much less.

The sub-bass to midbass ratio interprets to extra ‘rumble’ than ‘thump,’ and in consequence, the Elegia may sound bass-shy on tracks with extra mid-bass and bass-strong on tracks with extra sub-bass. Both approach, nobody will assume it has an excessive amount of bass. On the plus aspect, this does imply the low-end is extraordinarily tight and articulate for a closed-back headphone – it’s simply not all the time as current as I’d like.

The treble is much less contentious. For probably the most half the treble sounds smooth and detailed, however it can sound harsh on some tracks. The partly is as a result of I’d typically flip up the quantity to get extra bass thump, solely to show it again down once more when the peaks turned disagreeable. Mixed with the recessed midbass, it makes for a relatively ‘dry’ sound that makes it straightforward to select element (and flaws) in your music. If the Clear is a ‘neutral’ headphone, then the Elegia leans ever so barely in the direction of brightness.

Usually, I felt the Elegia carried out strongest with acoustic music with actual devices, the place its intimacy is welcome and its imaging chops appreciated. The midbass makes it a weaker selection for mainstream pop and hip-hop, although the sub-bass meant they weren’t completely at a loss, and nonetheless carried out nicely for some digital music and films. They dry tonality additionally makes them a sensible choice for gaming – not the widest soundstage, however nice for pinpointing enemy places with out positioning getting misplaced in boomy explosions.

Greater than something, it’s only a sound signature I needed to get used to. I had instantly liked the Focal Clear, however the first week or two utilizing the Elegia… I simply couldn’t get into it. Definitely not towards the HD820, Sony Z7M2 or D9200 I used to be demoing on the time, nor the mainstream headphones I check extra recurrently.

As soon as you acclimate – if you acclimate – the standard strengths of Focal headphones are there. Very low distortion and wonderful decision, transient response, imaging, and dynamics. Regardless of a reasonably dry sound, the dynamics of the headphone prevents them from coming throughout as boring. It’s additionally value noting that if you’re coming from open-back headphones, which already are typically lighter within the bass, the transition could also be simpler.

And when it comes to element, I’ve to provide kudos for what Focal has completed right here. These get you actually, actually near the Clears and HD820, regardless of costing $600 and $1,500 much less, respectively. Because of the hollow-ish midbass, it’s timbre isn’t nearly as good because the Focal Clears – however only a few headphones do. It’s higher than the HD820 on this regard, which has a extra pronounced mid-bass dip. Apart from, the Elegia reply very properly to EQ; a couple of DB up round 150hz fixes most of my issues with its tonality.

Earlier than I end up, I ought to spotlight that a part of Focal’s aim was to make one of many best-sounding moveable cans – or at the least ‘portable’ by audiophile requirements anyway. Whereas its measurement and stiff cable restrict their practicality, it isolates nicely and leaks little sound. Furthermore, it’s tremendous straightforward to drive out of any half-decent moveable supply – it sounded simply nearly as good from an LG V40 and Radsone ES100 because it did from my desktop supply. You may profit barely from a greater supply, however the Elegia stands amongst comparatively few full-size headphones in its class that doesn’t majorly profit from one. That is about as commute-friendly as audiophile headphones get with out choosing earbuds.

Focal tried to make top-of-the-line closed-back headphones, and for probably the most half, I feel it’s succeeded. The Elegia simply isn’t fairly for me, and I extremely advocate you attempt earlier than shopping for until you know what you’re in search of. I’d summarize it as such:

If you need a enjoyable headphone with highly effective bass, an enormous soundstage, or silky-smooth treble, these aren’t for you. You may need to think about Sony’s similarly-priced Z7M2 in its place that higher reveals these qualities.

However with the Elegia, Focal is asking you to rethink what closed-back headphone ought to sound like.

If you worth dynamics, tons of element, openness, and if you favor one thing nearer to neutrality than a stereotypically ‘fun’ sound – or don’t thoughts somewhat EQing – the Elegia is a extremely succesful headphone properly value your consideration. Once more, it’s certainly one of few headphones on this worth vary that genuinely isolates and sounds nice pushed out of a cellphone. Whether or not or not the tuning is for you, the Elegia is a singular providing amongst closed headphones that are likely to sound so comparable, and for that a minimum of, I’m glad it’s an choice.


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Revealed December 14, 2018 — 17:56 UTC

Worth
$
899
ProductElegia by Focal