Focal’s new lineup of reference headphones made thunder in the headphone community, The Utopia, and its little sister the Elear, created a barnstorm of chatter in the forums, meets and CanJams worldwide. The French based speaker manufacturer had previously released some less expensive models in addition to their new reference lineup. I heard the Utopia at various shows and dealers and realized that Focal was on to something very special. The Utopia went on to win our coveted headphone of the year award in 2016. Peter Pialis reviewed the Utopia here.
The Elear priced at $999.99 was substantially less and after I requested the review sample from US distributor, it took me a while to get one for review, as the demand was high and they were in short supply. Once I received the Elear I knew this was a special headphone, especially at this price point.
Focal’s goal with the reference line was to create a loudspeaker in a headphone chassis. Sounds crazy in theory but not in implementation according to the good folks at Focal. Let take a closer look and see if Focal hit all the goals they set for this headphone.
Design and the Music
Focal describes their Elear as a technophile design that uses full range speaker drivers made of aluminum/magnesium M shaped domes, that the Utopia inspired, for dynamic and precise audio sound. The high-end materials used in the Elear were designated to allow the listener the best listening conditions and to recreate a full range loudspeaker. The design has battleship build quality and a ear pad that has memory foam that easily adjusts to the individual listener. The sound was dynamic and had excellent separation and felt like it was out of my head. Listening to Julia Fischer’s outstanding Pentatone “Tchaikovsky Violin C Concerto” on the Oppo BDP 205 was a revelation. The sound of her violin was never strident and musicality soared. The Elear recreated space and air exceptionally well and the luscious sound of her violin was detailed and never harsh, with musicality that made listening special.
The real treat came listening to full scale orchestras. While listening to Orff’s Carmina Buranaon Telarc (SACD), the sound was powerful and majestic and at times had me startled with the speed of the transducer. Spread out on the stage, the Atlanta Symphony orchestra and chorus was so vivid and lifelike, that I had forgotten that I was listening to a recording. The wow factors in this recording knocked me for a loop. I could hear individual chorus voices with air and separation. Once again I was impressed with the sound coming from the Elear. This pure DSD sound had my complete attention and was especially impressive with the musicality that the Elear was able to deliver.
Musical instruments all had exceptional tonality. The sound was not bright and on the VPI 229D, the tube magic was working big time on the sound and offered exceptional tonality. The midrange was outstanding and never omitted anything from the performance. The treble while extended was never harsh and bass was accurate and textured. The presentation on large-scale recordings was always satisfying.
The only distraction for me was the 13. 1 foot cable(now changed to 3M) as it kept getting tangled up in my desk chair, I switched to a Moon Audio Silver Dragon with a 5 ft length that was more manageable. The Silver Dragon immediately paid dividends as the sound from the silver cable gave a more clear picture into the recordings and also increased clarity substantially. The shorter more transparent Silver Dragon from Moon was the last finishing touch that noticeably stepped up performance in the Elear. Using my reference Chord Dave, the Elear produced similar results on a wide variety of recordings. The DAVE’S speed was evident and it took complete control of the bass on recordings with deep bass extension. The sound from Daft Punk’s Get luckyhad speed and finesse with thunderous bass. The Dave was an excellent match that was able to showcase the Elear and get excellent performance from digital recordings streaming Tidal with the exceptional build in DAC.
The Wrap UP
Focal has created a new storm in the headphone community with both the Elear and the Utiopia. The Elear is a magnificent headphone with its unique loudspeaker design that delivers big sound with excellent detail retrieval The headphone’s build quality leaves little to be desired and the outstanding sound always left me astonished. The Elear tonality is so good at reproducing both instruments and vocals, reproduction was outstanding especially for a headphone in this price range.
The Elear is especially strong in recreating the room where the recording was created. The decay of the recording is so good that it always felt as if I was in the room where the recordings were made. The Elear has exceptional decay of notes and recreated space as good as any headphone I have heard currently in production and was close to the Utopia in overall performance. So did Focal achieve its goal of created a loudspeaker? Well the spectacular sound is exceptional and no doubt one of the best in the $1000 price range, the only fault for me, at this time, was in soundstage delivery. The minor quibble with the Elear I had was that the soundstage at times could be a bit restricting in width and layering but overall the musicality and tonality and reproduction of both instruments and vocals was able to overcome that minor shortfall. Listening to female vocalist like Alison Krause was always seductive and Andrea Bocelli’s incredible vocal on his Sentimento SACD always delivered exceptional sound and always took me to the hall. On tracks when the music stopped and he continued with vocals without music, you could hear the hall and the decay of lyrics was a special treat and always stellar. The Elear was able to recreate the hall and studio space and make it come alive and take me to the venue.
Listening to Bocelli made me forget about the soundstage and was especially rewarding with the performance both he and the Elear delivered. The time spent with the Elear was always exceptional, so much so that I purchased the review pair and use them frequently. The sound is exceptionally transparent and delivers exceptional performance like a finely tuned musical instrument.. Focal has hit its goals and delivered a world class product at a bargain price. The Elear delivers reference quality sound in an affordable package and makes it a contender for the best in its class. 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.