Focal Stellia the new reference in a closed design!
Over the past few years, much has been happening with Focal and their creative design team. The Utopia, when introduced a couple of years back, was well received in the personal audio community with its pristine clarity topped with well-balanced bass and a fantastic midrange garnering the company numerous awards for one of the best dynamic headphone designs currently in use in the personal audio community.
Focal technology in the Stellia incorporates much of what is in the Utopia in a reference closed-back design that delivers pristine sound quality for listeners or professional mastering engineers who demand and need a quiet listening environment. The frameless copper voice coil with the M shaped pure Beryllium dome makes the Stellia a transducer that incorporates a world class driver into the design. The 35-ohm low impedance design is perfect for use with low powered portable devices and really comes to life using the finest electronics to deliver amazing detail and musicality.
The design features that Focal developed for the Stellia, the headband and yoke, were originally developed for the Utopia and used here to provide the listener with total comfort. A cognac mocha finish is used in the design along with full grain leather pads that are soft and comfortable. The result is a transducer that is bold and makes a statement for a luxury design that is impressive to look at and one of the most comfortable designs for listeners who want to listen for a long period of time while forgetting there is a headphone on your head and relax to the enjoyment of the music in total comfort.
Focal went all out with the packaging on this and included a cognac carrying case that will make traveling with the Stellia easy and also has the same cognac color in the soft case. The case is made from cognac and mocha faux-leather and included a 3M high-quality cable with a 4 pin XLR connector and the 1.2 MM cable for portable use. The retail price for the package is $3000.
The Listening Sessions
Once I had the Stellia unpacked and ready to go, I set my reference Auris Nirvana to the 32-ohm input selector. Using the Marantz SA 10 with an Audioquest Wind interconnect and Chocolate USB cable, I started with Roon which has over 15000 DSD and high-resolution albums loaded on the G external drive beginning with some DSD 64 files of classical music.
Antonio Vivaldi La Stravaganzaon Channel Classics has 12 violin concertos with Rachel Podger featured. The sound of her violin had exceptional tonality and the instrument was musical without any glare of harshness. The sound of the violin was vivid and had the necessary bite present in this recording to make the music come to life.
The Stellia placed the violinist in her own space with the orchestra in layered sections with ample air and space between the musicians. Impressive was the Stellia’s ability to recreate the space but most impressive was the hall sound and detail with clarity and a vivid sound. When I closed my eyes I could visualize the orchestra in the hall and the sound was an amazing journey into the performance and the music was clear while the instruments sounded realistic and the flow of the music had me relaxed and the sound was exceptional.
Appalachian Journey with Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O’Connor is another excellent DSD recording with violin, cello, and double bass. Edgar Meyer’s composition “1B” for violin, cello, and double bass had the three musicians in a defined soundstage. Impressive space between the performers was again recreated with ample air and the soundstage imaging was vivid moving the musicians out of my head during this performance.
The Stellia was able to disappear and recreate a lifelike soundstage that at times startled me with its clarity and detail retrieval. The tonality of both the double bass and cello was an extraordinary recreation of the instruments. The Stellia made this album another musical journey into the beauty and delicacy of the exceptional music it was presenting.
“Hard Times Comes Again No More” from the same album, a composition by Stephen Foster, adds the voice of James Taylor to the performance to showcase the vocal capability of the Stellia. Taylor’s vocal was articulate and his range was incredible while the synergy of Taylor with Yo-Yo Ma is a must listen for anyone who wants to hear one of the best vocal performances come to life in a tune that is classic Americana and a terrific performance.
“Slumber my Darling”,another Foster composition, added Alison Krauss’ angelic voice to the experience. The composition composed in 1862 during the Civil War is an exceptional lyrical song and Alison’s vocal is perfect to showcase what the Stellia can do with female vocals. The musicality of the instruments melted away the barriers in this beautiful tune and left the clarity and articulation of voice from heaven come to life.
The violin and cello were exceptional and her vocal had clarity and each syllable was heard from her voice with clarity and conviction. The sound of Alison’s vocal was seductive and also had that rare transparency with the sound of every syllable. The storytelling vocal was magnificently reproduced and the violin and cello were in sync and her performance made me feel like I was at the performance and once again the Stellia easily delivered another performance that was captivating.
John Paul White’s, formerly of the Grammy-winning The Civil Wars duo, new second offering is another exceptional recording on Qobuz that was well recorded and showcased White’s vocal talent and songwriting ability made listening to “Heart Like a Kite” a musical treat that showcased his talent with his songwriting and vocal skills.
The Stellia once again was able to recreate the vocals with excellent and vivid clarity. The sound of the band was layered with exceptional air and the room was clearly defined in the recording while the vocal performance of this Grammy-winning artist was alive and never sounded like I was listening to a closed headphone. The soundstage was impressive with good separation and each performer showcased in their own space and made the performance enjoyable.
P!nk’s new release Hurts 2B Human is another recording available to stream on Qobuz in a 24/44 FLAC file. “Hustle” the first track, also released as a single, brought P!nk to my personal party and made me come alive and rock to her tune. The vocal performance once again showcased the Stellia with the ability to recreate space and make the sound of P!nk’s vocal transparent with articulation and clarity, and once again the sound of the soundstage was impressive as was the Stellia’s ability to engage me with the performance. P!nk’s music makes me want to get up and dance and the dynamic range of the Stellia recreated the tune with exceptional conviction and delivered the performance without any boundaries. The out of the head experience once again was special while listening to this tune.
Rhiannon Giddens’ new There is No Other album is another high-resolution offering on Qobuz and “Ten Thousand Voices” had an acoustic guitar in the mix with Rhiannon’s spiritual voice in front and the vocal was pristine with clarity and the sound was majestic.
Francesco Turri brought the sound of her vocal to another level. Turrisi is a jazz musician who added a Mediterranean flair to the music and brought her haunting performance to life on the “there is no Other” track from the same album. Giddens has a classical-folk background and the sound of this pairing is unique and the Stellia delivered once again a terrific recreation of the tune and was able to extract the performance and deliver a mythical sound to this spiritual performance an incredible journey where the two artists were in unison and the spiritual performance of Rhiannon’s haunting vocal was a magical moment while listening to this unique duo.
The Elegia from Focal is their $899 reference design I reviewed a couple of months back and found it to be an exceptional world-class closed reference design. The similarities brought to mind the differences I had heard while listening to the Utopia and Elear. The Stellia improved upon the Elegia transparency and was able to extract more inner detail and had a more comfortable fit with its soft and comfortable ear pads. The cost differences between the Elegia($899) and Stellia($2995) are substantial but the higher price of the Stellia is more than justified in greater inner detail.
Listening to Chopin with Rubinstein playing I could hear more of the decay of the Steinway and much more detail, with the sound of the piano keys and tonality improved upon, as well as, the transparency. The Elegia is an excellent headphone that gets you lot of what the Stellia offers, but the Stellia takes you on that journey into hearing everything the recording has to offer and is a step up in performance. Focal has two outstanding reference designs and both will satisfy most listeners, but the Stellia will give you the most in retrieval and performance.
Focal continues to grow as a company with their commitment to the personal audio market. The last several years have brought Focal speaker technology to the headphone community with exceptionally capable products that are world-class designs which sound exceptional. The Stellia with its beautiful cognac finish design is a stellar looking headphone that offers exceptional musicality and is magical in delivery of the music.
The cable is an improvement over the Elegia cable that I had reviewed and built to a price point. Many users will find aftermarket cables bring more clarity and less microphonics to the party. I used the Black Dragon and noticed more inner detail and clarity and a step up over the stock cable.
The musicality of the Stellia offers the listener a terrific product to get the most detail retrieval from your music. The pristine midrange coupled with terrific bass texture made all vocal recordings be recreated with conviction and rare musicality. The pristine treble extension offered a non-harsh reproduction of violin and other acoustic instruments and made the triangle and cymbals sparkle. The added detail retrieval made listening to recordings with drum brushes and triangles a musical treat. The soundstage is exceptional for any headphone let alone a closed design.
Air and space in performance was exceptional. The layerings of large scale recordings come to life and the ability of the Stellia to recreate the room acoustics is amazing. Lovers of large scale performances will be treated to soaring dynamics with the delivery of live performances. Thunderous bass from tympanis and exceptional speed made all the recordings sound lifelike and the performance was completely out of my head. Closing my eyes revealed a large scale recording with me in the orchestra enjoying the performance without leaving my listening room.
Focal continues to impress with its ability to recreate the room of the venue with extraordinary clarity and decay. The Stellia takes the listener on a magical journey and gets out the way and treats you to a magical listening experience. If you are looking for the most in musical performance from a closed design you need to audition the Stellia and you may find, as I did, this is a special headphone that hits all the marks and you may also, like I did, find your wallet lighter as I could not resist the urge to not send this back and purchased the review sample. The Stellia never disappoints and needs to be heard to be appreciated. Highly Recommended.
Frank started his journey in high-end audio in 1978 and was quickly hooked. Frank’s passion for music and great sound reproduction is stronger than ever. His main focus is with high-end headphones and portable related gear. He is a regular Head-Fi.org contributor and is a co-founder of Headphone.Guru.