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Focal Clear Professional Review

Rate this headphone:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 50 27.3%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 95 51.9%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther

    Votes: 26 14.2%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 12 6.6%

  • Total voters
    183

charleski

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Hmm, but I don't listen to music with eyes.
Ah, but an accomplished musician can read a score and hear the music playing in their head! ;) So far, though, no-one's tested if they can hear the score better if it's printed on fancy hand-made paper compared to newsprint ... clearly this is something the audiophile mags need to investigate.
 

Bernd

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Ah, but an accomplished musician can read a score and hear the music playing in their head! ;) So far, though, no-one's tested if they can hear the score better if it's printed on fancy hand-made paper compared to newsprint ... clearly this is something the audiophile mags need to investigate.
Yep, you got point there. One only has to think of Mozart (who wrote music while being totally deaf in the later stages of his life)!
 

Garrincha

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Yep, you got point there. One only has to think of Mozart (who wrote music while being totally deaf in the later stages of his life)!
Mixing up with Beethoven, but never mind.
 

Blorg

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I don't get clipping on these at my regular listening volume. Never, doesn't happen. This is even with the sub-bass boosted +8.6dB at 32Hz (Oratory1990's Harman EQ).

I don't get it on @Garrincha 's test track either. To me the Clear sounds better than the also excellent HD650, but I have the disadvantage of owning and having listened to both of them, which impacts my objectivity.

I can however very easily get the clipping if I boost the volume beyond my regular listening volume. I don't need to go to "crazy" levels to get this either, and this is something particular to the Clear, I don't get it on any other headphone. I can also get clipping quite easily also on pink noise, which has more energy in the lower frequencies. I got this immediately testing them on initial purchase, and I thought they were broken. But I don't actually get it on music. It's harder to get to clipping with Oratory's modified Harman EQ which is "only" a +5.5dB 105Hz bass shelf, and harder again if EQ is off entirely.

My understanding, this is more of an issue with Focal's open back headphones specifically, at least when they addressed it on Head-Fi, they said it was a design choice but headphones they referenced were all open back. So it's possible the Elegia, Stellia, Celestee, Radiance etc. don't suffer from it to the same extent. Amir has reviewed the Elegia, Stellia, and Celestee and didn't mention any clipping issues, although he also didn't seem to get it with the Utopia. My general impression, I have seen clipping reported in connection with many of their open backs but haven't seen it reported with the closed-backs.

They say it is related to the dynamics:
As already mentionned several times on Head-Fi, the issue described is actually not a quality issue.
Indeed, we have made a clear design choice on Elear (and by consequence Elex) and Utopia. Our headphones have been designed to favor the respect of the dynamic contained within the audio signal versus dynamic compression that would offer a higher SPL capability but less respect of the original audio signal. To cut a long story short, the choice was audio quality oriented rather than SPL oriented. This allows our products to work with full performances until the mechanical clipping is activated. This means that you jump directly from a very low distortion to a sound which could be heard as rattling / cracking noise. On very special tracks with only very low frequencies at very high level, you can thus hear some noises - as you will do on classic loudspeakers.
If we change your pair of headphones, the new one will be designed similarly and it will also have a kind of cracking sound when you will be listening to music with high volume and a fair amount of bass.
The only solution we can recommend you is therefore to listen to your headphones at a lower volume.

Thank you for your understanding,
Best regards,
Marine, Community Manager Focal

I was concerned with this initially but as I literally NEVER get it listening to music at my regular listening volume, it's not an issue for me. I get how it could be an issue, as it does happen. It also seems to be variable, I get it in the left first and people do report a lot of variance in when this happens. So you may get a unit that does it lower or higher. I have other headphones (Arya, HE6SE, Edition XS) that do low sub-bass better anyway, so I don't pick up the Clears for those sort of genres specifically, I prefer them for the likes of rock. But I don't get it at regular listening volumes even on these tracks if I go looking for it.
 

Jabinho

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This is a review, detailed measurements and listening tests of Focal Clear Pro headphone. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $1499.
View attachment 227912
As our British friends say, the Clear Pro "looks the part." It a unique and luxurious design. Comfort was very good although the cups are on the smaller size. The headband spring is quite progressive and gets stiff fast. So if you have a wider head, it may not be so easy to ear.

The standard cord supplied with it is rather thick, short and kind of stiff. Not a fan.

The measurements you are about to see are made using a standardized Gras 45C. Please note that headphone measurements are not very exact so variations exist between reviewers especially in higher frequencies.

Edit: I was told the headphone was the "MG" version. It is not. It is Clear Professional.

Focal Clear Pro Measurements

Let's start with our usual frequency response:
View attachment 227913
This is almost identical to Focal Clear I reviewed a while ago. Sadly this means shortfall in bass response and various deviations from 1 kHz up. There was also 2 to 3 dB channel level difference which I could not dial out no matter what I did. Hand pressure on the low output pad would fix this partially but I could not make it do so by itself.

Here is the deviation from the target to use to develop equalization:
View attachment 227914

Dynamic range and distortion are disappointing at higher output levels. I could easily hear the drivers crackling during 114 dBSPL -- a defect that I have only heard with Focal headphones:
View attachment 227915

View attachment 227916

Impedance is highly variable due to a very large low frequency peak:
View attachment 227917

So if you have a high impedance headphone amp, you are going to get different frequency response than what I measured.

Group delay is messy:
View attachment 227918

Sensitivity is about average:

View attachment 227919

Focal Clear Pro Listening Tests and Equalizations
Out of the box lack of bass was obvious and overall sound while not bad, wasn't exciting either. So out came the EQ tool:

View attachment 227920
It is non-trivial to develop an EQ above bass due to fair amount of variations. I used negative filtering to simplify equalization in the 4 to 6 kHz. The negative filter took down a resonance which improved clarity. And then I boosted the overall region with a more gentle filter. Once there, the sound was transformed substantially and was impressive at times.

The disappointment came from any attempt to push the headphone during bass heavy tracks. The drivers created nasty crackling sound forcing me to turn the volume down. In a sea of competition without this issue, I am so surprised that Focal continues with the same low excursion drivers even with this revision.

Conclusions
At low to medium volumes and with equalization the Clear Professional produces very good fidelity. Turn up the volume or defeat EQ and it becomes a headphone not worthy of the brand. Combine that with the nearly $1,500 price and the limitations become quite glaring.

I personally would not choose or recommend the Focal Clear Pro. But if you like it for some other reason, then be sure to use equalization and keep the volumes down for best performance.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
Is the black better than the silver one ?
 

Blorg

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Is the black better than the silver one ?
They are identical other than the color and accessories. I believe this has been confirmed by Focal. You can compare the measurements in Amir's non-Pro review. Bear in mind that pad wear can cause differences in frequency response, but even considering that the measurements look near identical.

The non-Pro has three cables including XLR and they are these heavy braided things, the Pro only two (no balanced) and they are rubber and look more utilitarian but handle better. The Pro also comes with a spare pair of pads, which given the price they sell them at ($250) is probably a good trade.

I prefer (and own) the black and red, aesthetically, and also that it keeps looking better for longer, the silver one can quite tatty looking quite quickly.
 

Bernd

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Tnx, very much for your work and review. I can only concur. This crackling in the deep bass frequencies is really a showstopper, and I sold my Focal Clears after a month. I have been reading in this thread, that only open headphones from Focal suffer from this problem (sic)!! But even then, given the retail price of these cans, this is simply unacceptable.
 

Peterinvan

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I’ve never had my Utopias clip either, and I apply a lot of bass. I’m also using an exorbitantly overpowered 14 watt headphone amp to run them.
Please look after yours Ears! I am now 70+ and have more time to enjoy music and exploration on Tidal. I wish I hadn’t abused my ears when younger.
 

srkbear

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Please look after yours Ears! I am now 70+ and have more time to enjoy music and exploration on Tidal. I wish I hadn’t abused my ears when younger.
LOL thank you sir! (I almost said “hear hear!” but thankfully thought better of it). I’m actually quite careful about my hearing, but your graceful words are appreciated and wise. :) I promise I’m not using all those watts.

A long, long time ago I ran across an interesting website that had some software that calculated a custom PEQ algorithm based on an ad hoc audiogram it measured for you, but I haven’t been able to find it again. Apple does this for you as well, but only with their own AirPods line. I’m 53 and I need it already!
 

acctx

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Focal might be bad or crap, but your goo'old hd600 is also one overpriced piece

It kind of is actually. I used to have HD58 Jubilee that pretty much sounded the same but sold for $130. Makes HD600 a questionable value.
 

thewas

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Focal might be bad or crap, but your goo'old hd600 is also one overpriced piece
The nice aspect though of the HD580/600 is that you could have bought them over 20 years ago and save a lot of money and time with not needed later headphone purchases. At that time not many similarly neutral open headphones existed at that price, even today the competition isn't really large.
 

DjBonoBobo

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Except- I cant find the "official word from focal" anywhere.

Don't know about the MG, but before buying the OG Clear Pro a few years ago i asked Focal support this question directly and got the answer they are identical except color and accessories. That's where the "official word" came from.
 

Jimbob54

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Don't know about the MG, but before buying the OG Clear Pro a few years ago i asked Focal support this question directly and got the answer they are identical except color and accessories. That's where the "official word" came from.
Ah yes, I was pretty sure the OG were identical. I would be amazed IF the MG weren't too. Makes no sense to have different tunings in one line
 

dingeth

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I too am in the minority here in that I've owned my OG Clear Pros for over 2 years now, and have never once experienced the driver clipping issue. Granted, I love the sound as-is so don't EQ them (although I did experiment with the oratory1990 presets a while ago, but found that I preferred them with the default tuning). The only effect I add is a subbase boost via my iFi micro idsd which is a physical toggle and not done via software. It's definitely subjective, but these are the first Headphones that after 2 years I still have no desire to "upgrade" whatsoever as I just really enjoy their sound.

Perhaps these just match my Sonic preferences more than the other headphones I've owned (Audeze Sine, LCD2C, Phillips Fidelio X2) or have quite a bit of experience with (OG Senn HD800, HD660s) over a wide range of music genres.

A big part of my preference might also have to do with the fact that I find the comfort of the Focals much better than either of the Audezes, the X2's or the 660's (clamp). The HD800 are indeed very comfy though.
 

Natchie

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I can propose another great song, which has very deep bass:
There is also magnificent dancing involved. And I would like to make call, since I like the song a lot, but do not manage to track it down, does anyone know what song this is?
phenomenal dancing that stops the traffic and attracts the girls
 

Hubentus

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This track is a sure thing to make it happen:


On RME ADI-2 Pro, I recall the level being around -10 dB on the volume control. I got it to happen with and without EQ but it is far worse with the former.
Man thats loud. I recall that you use Hi Gain on the RME as well. Hi Gain at -10 on the fairly sensitive (104 dB/mW) Clear is VERY loud. I listen on Topping DX5 at Lo gain at -20 dB with these cans. So I'm sure you have a genuine issue with these headphones and this clipping, but I just can't see it as a problem for most normal listening at moderate to high levels.

BTW, these headphones have gotten ridiculously cheap now. I picked up a brand new pair (the grey/silver version) on Cyber Monday for the equivalent of US$660. I'm still assessing them for sound quality compared to HD650 and Aeon Closed X. I noticed the different bass quality compared to Aeon Closed X immediately - more slam, less texture I suppose. Will reserve judgement FTM. But no crackling yet even with the torture tests.
 
Last edited:

Hubentus

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This has been solved indeed. The wires from the membrane to the chassis are made longer and do not 'snap' off even at max. excursions as happened with some of the earlier models.
The driver basically is a dome tweeter that has rubber surrounds and thus can make larger swings. The rubber surrounds also are responsible for the much lower resonance frequency than most other HP drivers. To prevent the driver shooting out of the airgap the solution used was hardlimiting maximum excursion (the loud clicking) which protects the driver. As long as one does not require very high listening levels nor boost bass a lot these sound fine (right out of the box) and 'clear' (because of the elevated 1-2kHz range).
The MG version is a less 'bright' sounding headphone which some people might like over the original (2-8kHz is lower than in original Clear).
Fortunately with EQ one can get these to sound equally good as well.
Interesting info. How do they limit the excursion of the driver? What is the membrane actually doing when this crackling happens?
 

solderdude

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AFAIK it is hitting the chassis/magnet, so basically hard clipping on one side of the signal. Maybe even the front grille ?
The suspension is very supple so large excursions (lowest frequencies) can easily occur. There seems to be some product tolerances as well or people are driving it louder than they think they are.
 
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