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Focal Clear Review (headphone)

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Focal Clear. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $1,490 on Amazon including free shipping.

The Focal looks stylistic and modern:

Focal Clear Review headphone.jpg


I am not sure if I like the fit though. It has a very stiff headband. You go from no pressure to a lot of pressure on your head. That said, after wearing it for a few hours I started to forget about it so not terrible.

Whoever designed the cord though was only after looks and not functionality as it is super stiff:

Focal Clear Review headphone cord.jpg


At least with those standard connectors, it is easy to make your own or buy aftermarket.

The measurements you are about to see are made using a standardized Gras 45C. I searched for any and all measurements I could find online. Alas while a number of them are close to mine, none are using the exact fixture down to coupler and pinna. As you will see, I have confirmed the approximate accuracy of the measurements using Equalization and listening tests. Ultimately headphone measurements are less exact than speakers above a few kilohertz so keep that in mind as you read these tests.

I have calibrated my headphone fixture with 94 dBSPL test tones and decided that I use the same for headphone measurements. However, instead of using 1 kHz tone I have opted for 425 Hz. This seems to better match research data.

I have also made a lot of progress in building a better test suite for the measurements. More updates and changes will be coming but I am starting to feel good about this set.

Focal Clear Measurements
There is nothing more important than frequency response of the headphone as each is seemingly different and that difference leaves a very distinct character:

Focal Clear Measurements Frequency Response.png


Let's cover the good news first: response between 1 and 3 kHz follows our preference curve unlike a number we have tested so far. Bass response is also higher as well.

Misses are the overshoot between 600 and 1.6 Hz. The lower range of this from my speaker testing usually hides some detail in the music. There is a flat area as indicated by the arrow. Clearly, pun intended, the driver is doing something strange there. Group delay shows similar problem:

Focal Clear Measurements Group Delay.png


Here is our deviation from preferred frequency response:

Focal Clear Measurements Frequency Response deviation.png


For relative distortion, I decided to add a third tier at 114 dBSPL:
Focal Clear Measurements Distortion THD Percentage.png


This way you can see the trend better. That trend is what we have seen before which is the bass area generating the bulk of the distortion. And that distortion grows exponentially with level as opposed to linear. We will revisit distortion in the context of equalization later.

Using a log scale and looking at the levels we see our threshold of 40 dBSPL is exceeded mostly in bass frequencies:
Focal Clear Measurements Distortion THD.png


EDIT: forgot to include the impedance graph:
Focal Clear Measurements Impedance.png


Focal Clear Listening Tests and Equalization
In some sense the sins of Focal Clear in frequency response is less severe than other headphones we have tested so far. Naturally, the no-EQ response across my test tracks was decent. There was some detail lacking and some brightness that was bothersome. It created fair amount of "lispiness" with female vocals for example.

I tested small magnitude corrections but soon gave up on them as they didn't seem to be worth the effort. Instead I went after low hanging fruit:

Focal Clear Equalization.png


Basically we have some bass boost, some reduction of energy around 1.1 kHz center frequency and lowering of the peak at 11.3 kHz. The latter was important to get rid of the brightness.

The improvement was quite noticeable and pleasant. More bass helps balance the rest of the response. Detail resolution improved with the 1.1 kHz filter and as noted, the final 11.3 kHz filter took care of remaining brightness. There was a cost in distortion but not audibly:

Focal Clear Measurements Equalization Distortion.png


As expected, bass distortion shoots up but due to our low sensitivity to such distortion, there was no trade off that I could detect. The sound simply became warmer and nicer with better reproduction of deep notes. We naturally gained some distortion reduction with the dip filter around 1.1 kHz (due to broad shoulders it impacts a larger region).

First and second tracks sounded good and then BAM! The headphone jumped its gap resulting in nasty static/crackling sound. The kind of sound that stops your heart beating for a few seconds! Basically the driver is running out of travel and going outside of the magnetic field and then jumping back suddenly. I hear this routinely in cheap bookshelf speakers when driven by high amplification and deep bass. I could get this to happen even in instrumental/female vocal tracks!

Granted, we boosted the EQ but I have boosted EQ much more in other headphones and they can handle with ease. Not so with Focal Clear. Still, I turned off the EQ and turned up the volume and there it was again: nasty clicks. Granted the level was pretty loud now but not outside of what would be listenable.

Searching online, I see references to Clear "clipping." I suspect this is what they are talking about. If so, it is real flaw in this headphone.

Conclusions
The Focal Clear "out of box" (no EQ) response is closer to what we like to see so tonality is not too bad as is. Equalization can take its performance significantly higher but due to poorly designed drivers with too little headroom, this is not a practical path unless you keep volumes low. Without EQ is less of a problem but you would face some brightness and some lack of clarity. At these prices we better not have such compromises.

I can't recommend the Focal Clear with or without Equalization. I expect more from a company like Focal with incredible vertical integration to build drivers and such.

------------
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/
 

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sweetchaos

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#4
If you're using Equalizer APO:

In the Focal Clear review, Amir incorrectly reported +2dB gain (for 11,319 Hz peaking filter) when he posted the PEQ filters photo.
But in the review, he said "lowering of the peak at 11.3 kHz". This means gain should be -2dB (not +2dB).
My code shows the correct value.
Preamp: -5.3 dB
Filter 1: ON LS Fc 40 Hz Gain 3.0 dB Q 1.0
Filter 2: ON LS Fc 75 Hz Gain 2.0 dB Q 1.0
Filter 3: ON PK Fc 1100 Hz Gain -2.0 dB Q 2.0
Filter 4: ON PK Fc 11319 Hz Gain -2.0 dB Q 3.0
For more info, see List of Amir's Headphone PEQ filters.
 
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YSC

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#6
Great detailed review amirm as always.

after seeing this, this hd800s and the he400i it seems to me all these respected companies are targeting a free field harman live curve more than the preference curve and basically all being lower than the preference curve 6-8db in bass region. Any interest or chance to contact focal and sennheiser for their design logic and target curve?
 

deafenears

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#7
Thanks Amir. Interested in how the Stellia will measure up, especially seeing the frequency response graphs showing more bass energy / boost.
Q8Mbo5RzRf-2.png
 
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Francis Vaughan

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#8
For relative distortion, I decided to add a third tear at 114 dBSPL:
Is the label on the graph wrong then? It says 124.
Typo: Tier not tear. (Although one could be forgiven for a Freudian slip given the numbers.)
 
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amirm

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franspambot

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#11
Good stuff. A fair assessment of a product that should perform better. You look where others don't and it's interesting to see how you can link your data to your observations. Simply, I am learning a lot here. I hope those that can't see past the ASR curve don't miss out on the good stuff.

@amirm would you be able to include your "speaker like" frequency response graphs in your future reviews? I personally find them helpful.
 
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#14
Nice review!

I have owned several focal headphones (elear, clear and elegia) and they do tend to have some driver clipping problems in defective units. I had to replace the elears which started developing this problem until one driver just gave up (even though I really took good care of them). The replacement has worked fine and the others don't have this problem (fingers crossed).

One out of four does seem like a bad record, and I've heard that this also happens to the top of the line Utopia of 4k! But at least the warranty is good (if bought in an authorized dealer).

I use a very similar Eq setting as @amirm and have not noticed any distortion, even with continuos sine test signals, I test them every once in a while as I'm scared they will fail agail.

Apparently this defect has been attributed to the use of a formerless voice coil, which tends to break in some cases, but who knows :rolleyes:

Still I really like the EQed clears, that's why Im still rolling the dice with them!
 
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amirm

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Thread Starter #16
@amirm would you be able to include your "speaker like" frequency response graphs in your future reviews? I personally find them helpful.
Oh, sorry, meant to include that. Just added it to the review.

 
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amirm

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Thread Starter #17
I do not suppose anybody can link me to some information on how to interpret the group delay charts?
In a nutshell, it should have a curve that starts high and then comes down and stays flat to 20 kHz. The absolute level can be above zero but should not have all the random junk we are seeing in middle frequencies. The delay itself is not audible but it is indicative of something going wrong given the randomness.

Edit: any sharp peaks (vertical lines) indicate some kind of "non-minimum phase" (i.e. cancellations) that should be subject to equalization to fix as noted on the graph.
 
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amirm

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Thread Starter #18
Wow. Certainly a disappoinment for $1500.. Wonder how the other end of dynamic HP would test - the $79 SHP9500? 'Can't wait' :)
I bought a bunch of under $99 headphones a few months back. I will start testing them once I get through the loaner ones that have been waiting. don't have that Phillips though. Does it have a good reputation?
 

Cahudson42

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#20
Does it have a good reputation?
I think most would agree, with EQ, it does.

I use mine for casual TV listening, permanently linked with an external about $30 bt receiver. (No EQ) Very comfortable. IMO sonically beats every other bt HP I have tried. No need to spend a fortune for great tv sound..
 

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