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Focal Stellia Review (Closed Back Headphone)

Rate this headphone:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 61 32.3%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 89 47.1%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 30 15.9%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 9 4.8%

  • Total voters
    189

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Focal Stellia closed back headphone. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $2,990.

Stellia like other Focals oozes luxury:
Focal Stellia Review closed back High-end headphone.jpg


"Brown is the new black" so fits in with the color theme of this decade although some may think it is a bit much.

When it comes to the included balanced cord, company misses to promote the secondary use for it: should your sailboat every try to get away from you at mooring, you could use this stiff and heavy cord to pull it back to shore! It is mechanically very microphonic as it brushes against your body and does not way to lay softly anywhere.

This is heavy headphone:

LIghtest Closed Back Headphone Review.png


But the design is so comfortable you would not know it when wearing it.

The pads are oval and drivers are mounted at an angle. Dimensions are: 62x51x31 mm (height, width, depth).

Note: The measurements you are about to see are made using a standardized Gras 45C. Headphone measurements by definition are approximate and variable so don't be surprised if other measurements even if performed with the same fixtures as mine, differ in end results. Protocols vary such as headband pressure and averaging (which I don't do). As you will see, I confirm the approximate accuracy of the measurements using Equalization and listening tests. Ultimately headphone measurements are less exact than speakers mostly in bass and above a few kilohertz so keep that in mind as you read these tests. If you think you have an exact idea of a headphone performance, you are likely wrong!

Fitment on the fixture was miserable. Slightest movement would make a huge change in bass and more so in one channel than the other. What you are about to see below is the best I could get it.

Focal Stellia Measurements
Let's start with our usual frequency response:

Focal Stellia Measurements Frequency Response closed back High-end headphone.png


We have decent compliance from about 60 Hz to 3 kHz which means it should sound OK without equalization. We see some early in the response dips around 3 to 4 kHz which should not be there.

Relative frequency response for equalization purposes is thus:

Focal Stellia Measurements Relative Frequency Response closed back High-end headphone.png


I was disappointed to see this level of distortion in such a high-end and expensive headphone:

Focal Stellia Measurements Distortion Percentage closed back High-end headphone.png


Focal Stellia Measurements Distortion THD closed back High-end headphone.png


I expect the 94 dB line to hug the floor above deep bass but here, it wiggles around. And gets worse with higher amplification.

Group delay is decently clean other than the same 3.2 kHz anomaly we saw in frequency response:

Focal Stellia Measurements Group Delay closed back High-end headphone.png


Wonder if this is a reflection from back of the cup. Fortunately it is better than the Focal Elegia I reviewed which had to such cancellations.

Impedance is the same as Elegia:
Focal Stellia Measurements Impedance closed back High-end headphone.png



Focal Stellia Measurements Impedance zoomed closed back High-end headphone.png


Sensitivity is excellent:

most sensitive closed back headphone tested.png


Be very careful as you compare this headphone to others that may be much less sensitive. It will play much louder making you think it sounds better, it is more dynamic, etc. where it might not be.

Focal Stellia Listening Tests and Equalization
Measurements completely predict the sound of this headphone: it sounds "OK" out of the box. A bit heavy sounding due to boosted upper bass. It lacks spatial qualities due to lack of energy in lower treble. Deep bass response is decent though. All can be improved substantially with a bit of equalization:


Focal Stellia Equalization High-end headphone.png


This combination sounded a tad bright but with that came very nice spatial qualities. It goes from almost having none to B+/A- level.

I performed AB testing against my Dan Clark Stealth headphone without equalizing the Stellia. It was no match. Stealth had correct tonality with better bass and much better spatial qualities. With EQ, Stellia become far more competitive, maybe slightly pulling ahead Stealth in spatial qualities. Tonality was a bit brighter which may have aided that. Note that matching levels was critical for this. With a comfortable level for Stellia, Stealth makes almost no sound! :) I am exaggerating but the sensitivity difference is massive.

Conclusions
Focal had two jobs here:

1. Optimize styling. They get A+ here. Even the case and packaging oozes luxury and greatness and would be at home at a Prada store.

2. Optimize technical performance. This is basically an objective failure. There is not one thing you can hang your hat on that they have done right. Distortion is high. Frequency response doesn't comply with anything known and is yet again different from the rest of their headphones. Simple measurements like impedance indicate resonances and problems in the design. Company talks about "pure copper" wire uses to make the driver. Who the heck cares if you can't get a linear driver and produces proper response without so much distortion??? Very disappointing.

Thankfully equalization rescues it and brings out benefit of such things as angled drivers to produces enjoyable sound. But come on Focal. Please start with a clean sheet of paper and pay as much attention to electroacoustic design that you put in styling. I don't have a mirror in front of me and can't see what the headphone looks like when I am using it. I hear the sound so please focus on that. Forget whatever random ideas that are behind each headphone. Get behind one response curve and minimize distortion. I am confident you can do it.

I can't recommend the Focal Stellia without EQ. With EQ, it is very nice and salvages this headphone nicely.
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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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To import this PEQ profile into 'Equalizer APO', use:
Preamp: -5.0 dB
Filter 1: ON PK Fc 60 Hz Gain 4.0 dB Q 4.0
Filter 2: ON PK Fc 110 Hz Gain -3.0 dB Q 3.0
Filter 3: ON PK Fc 1200 Hz Gain -2.0 dB Q 3.0
Filter 4: ON PK Fc 4200 Hz Gain 5.0 dB Q 6.0
Otherwise, see my PEQ guide.
..................................................................................................................
For those who don't have PEQ-capable app, and want to use GEQs instead:
See my GEQ guide for 10-band, 31-band, and 127-band GEQ profiles.
 
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Doodski

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Maybe if they took a zero off the price tag, I'd be interested.
That microphonic cable is a real letdown. A purchase of these headphones is expensive and then the user needs to make or buy a proper cable assembly. If there's one thing about headphones that is a pet peeve it is a microphonic cable. My HD598 have zero microphonics and they cost $200 from amazon.ca
 

nerdstrike

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Thanks ASR! I find myself thoroughly disabused of the notion of buying Focal headphones. Far too many of them have come across as less than the excellent their pricing demands. I'll revisit all of these when my current cans have had it, but my general impression is one of disappointment.
 

Drengur

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Very disappointing at this price. Perhaps they focused a bit too much on the looks, but I would imagine that at this price you should be able to get both; performance and craftmanship.
 

MZKM

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As someone who rarely listens to music on a computer and uses my iPhone, I really care about performance without-EQ, so that coupled with the price and microphonic cable got a 2/4 score from me.

And sure I have the ES100 MK2 if I really want to add EQ while using my iPhone, but it’s just one more thing, rather than just a dongle and be plug and play.
 
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Bow_Wazoo

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I had many wonderful hours with the Stellia (adjusted to Harman, of course).
I really liked acusic, vocals, jazz on the Stellia. EDM, Hip Hop, and Rock, on the other hand, I didn't like on these HP.
Because these styles of music have revealed the great weakness of Stellias:
the bass is "soft".
It has no "punch" and no "slam".
A typical DCA bass...
This characteristic cannot be remedied with an EQ.

Stellia is nowhere near the Utopia.
In my opinion the Stellia is overpriced...

PSX_20210911_193528.jpg
 
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Jimbob54

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Thanks ASR! I find myself thoroughly disabused of the notion of buying Focal headphones. Far too many of them have come across as less than the excellent their pricing demands. I'll revisit all of these when my current cans have had it, but my general impression is one of disappointment.

I bought the Clear second hand based on reputation rather than measurements. I have to say I agree- even at second hand pricing the biggest upside is the "look". I dont find them massively comfortable, SQ is good after EQ , but then isnt everything. These Stellia look better but clearly dont perform better than the Clear for a higher price of admission so yup, spend money elsewhere.
 

Koeitje

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Maybe if they took a zero off the price tag, I'd be interested.
Wow I didn't even see the price at first.
As someone who rarely listens to music off a computer and uses my iPhone, I really care about performance without-EQ, so that coupled with the price and microphonic cable got a 2/4 score from me.

And sure I have the ES100 MK2 if I really want to add EQ while using my iPhone, but it’s just one more thing, rather that just a dongle and be plug and play.
Same for me. I don't want to mess around with an equaliser. Especially for this price.
 

JJB70

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I like the industrial design and build of Focal headphones, but these are ridiculously expensive for what they are. Whenever I have tried Focal headphones I have found them a bit bassy out of the box but not bad, however at their price points I would expect a lot more than not bad.
 

tomtrp

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Their open backs are fine or even great depending on taste but elear, elex, utopia all have quality control issues and the Clear has the clipping issue. All of their closed backs are terrible in my honest opinion.
 

gigi_boeru

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Thank you for the review, but for this price the performance must be at least very good (without EQ obviously).
 

restorer-john

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I like the industrial design and build of Focal headphones,

They do look and feel gorgeous, but their price is ridiculous.

Let's put this into perspective. You can buy an excellent pair of loudspeakers (or even a very decent 2nd hand car), for less money. The value proposition is simply not there.
 
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