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Review: Focal Elear Open Back Headphones

by Paul Strauss
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Headphones are like cars. There are cheap and basic ones that get the job done, and then there are Ferraris. The Focal Elear is one of the luxury supercars of the headphone world. Everything about them exudes quality, from their impeccable build and styling to their incredible sound.

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French audio equipment maker has years of experience building premium speakers and home theater gear, and has now turned its attention to the headphone market, striking a knockout punch with their first products. I was certainly impressed with their everyday mobile headphones, but the Elears are on a whole different level.

Of course, when you’re spending $999 on a set of headphones, plus the cost of a headphone amp, they better be special. And when something comes in a box that looks this premium, the gear inside has to live up to the hype. Fortunately, Focal nailed it.

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The main structure of the Elears is a substantial, yet lightweight aluminum yoke, mated to large earcups with soft and comfy leather-covered cushions that wrap your ears in sound. On the outside of the earcups, you’ll find an industrial looking mesh, which helps give the full-range earspeakers a wide and open soundstage that gets the sound out of your head.

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Even when connected to my inexpensive FiiO D/A converter and headphone amp, the Elears sounded spectacular. In Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues, I picked up on nuances of the guitar strums that I’ve never noticed before. On Santana’s classic Oye Como Va, I thought I was standing in the studio, between Carlos and the members of his band.

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On Tune-Yards’ Bizness, the flowing, mellifluous vocal ramblings at the start of the track seemingly floated around the room, while the punchy bassline of Muse’s Supermassive Black Hole rattled my bones. Sound reproduction is as good as any headphones I’ve heard this side of a $4000 pair of Stax SR-009s I once tried out. Everything is in its proper place. Bass is deep and punchy, mids are smooth, and highs are crisp and clean.

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I have a playlist of about 50 tracks I usually use for testing audio gear, and at least one or two of the tracks trips up every pair of headphones I’ve tested. Not so with the Elears. From the most subtle passages of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to the fattest beats of Missy Elliot’s Get Ur Freak On, the Elears did not flinch.

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Honestly, if you’ve got the budget, you’ll want to put these on your shopping list. Of course, like any open-back headphones, they don’t block out external noise, and others can hear what you’re listening to – a small price to pay for such amazing sound.

If you’re serious about your audio, you won’t be disappointed with Focal’s Elear headphones. They’re available for pre-order now.

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