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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

srkbear

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The review index lists them as Recommended even without EQ.

*sigh*. I was only going by this:

“As is, the Utopia sounded just fine. Not a whole lot to rave about but no glaring, annoying response errors. As expected, deep bass was absent so out came the EQ:”

And this: “Objectively we have the "old school" frequency response tuning with deficient sub-bass response and some in the upper mid-range, lower treble. What is missing is not significant enough to leave you disappointed if you paid $400. But at $4,000, you better find a way to add EQ and get the sound to the next higher level.”

I did indeed pay $4,400 for my Utopias. I consider comparing them to $400 headphones to be far from a positive review, and frankly a glaring exception to Amir’s usually fair-minded, sensible approach. Maybe he was sleep-deprived. But these precisely-designed headphones with the most exacting components and attention to detail are not worthy of comparison with cheap Amazon knock-off cans in quality, by any estimation whatsoever. Hence the “panned”. If there’s a better word, I’m open to suggestions.

As a post-script I am left to wonder whether the concerns about missing bass response is an actual flaw in the Utopias or simply an inherent aspect of open-backed cans in general. The Sennheiser 800s have often been lauded as a reference point for years, but my Utopias trounce them in bass detail AND response with no EQ applied at all. I can’t speak for the Dan Clarks, but I would call into question any comparison between a planar magnetic and a dynamic driver headphone to begin with, is that not fair?
 
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srkbear

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If and when the reviews on ASR go wrong, they do so by omitting or failing to recognize some obvious strengths of various products instead of forcibly highlighting some perceived weaknesses. For example, who can name the best-measuring tube amplifier reviewed here? As far as I know, it would be the iFi Pro iCan, however this was not mentioned in its review which instead ended in a scalding to "get rid of the tube nonsense".

Here the Stellia are arguably the best-measuring closed dynamic driver headphones reviewed on the site, the other contenders being E-Mu Teak and ATH M50x (?). The Stellia have some advantages the rest, one of the more obvious being far lower bass distortion at high levels. This was not mentioned in the review which seemed more focused on the ways in which the Stellia is not a black planar magnetic headphone from another manufacturer.
THANK YOU.
 

srkbear

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Really? I’ve compared these directly, and to my ear the Stellia soundstage is nowhere near as expansive as the HD800S soundstage.
Well, one is an open-backed design and the other closed. A better comparison would be with the Focal Utopia and the HD800s, or the Stellias with the HD820, don’t you think?
 

srkbear

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By no means meant as critique on the review process, but I don't think I've read any review of headphones at ASR (perhaps with the exception of the Stealth) where the results were anything near satisfying. Especially not without EQ'ing.
That could mean a few things:
- headphones are mostly a pile of sh*t. No matter the price. The manufacturers just don't know what they're doing.
- It's extremely difficult to build decent headphones.
- The standards here are (way) too high... The reviewer is expecting the impossible or has a different view on headphones than the rest of the world.
- The rest of the world is crazy. They're all listening to inferior products. And seem to like it too!

I'm a bit exaggerating of course, but you get the point hopefully. Even good doesn't seem good enough for headphones on ASR it appears.
I agree wholeheartedly. My $4,400 Utopias got compared to $400 consumer grade junk—and this was review criticizing open-backed headphones for lacking bass. And I’m not sure who decided that Dan Clark planar magnetics were the “reference standard” unless someone is either a little too enamored with the Harman Curve or partial to these cans because they own them.

I must say that I am left to wonder why you can offer this measured, reasonable criticism on this forum, while I post something similar and get savaged by trolls. I’m glad you’re here to represent my sentiments—you must be communicating more effectively than I! I need to go back and read what I wrote…‍
 

watchnerd

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*sigh*. I was only going by this:

“As is, the Utopia sounded just fine. Not a whole lot to rave about but no glaring, annoying response errors. As expected, deep bass was absent so out came the EQ:”

And this: “Objectively we have the "old school" frequency response tuning with deficient sub-bass response and some in the upper mid-range, lower treble. What is missing is not significant enough to leave you disappointed if you paid $400. But at $4,000, you better find a way to add EQ and get the sound to the next higher level.”

I did indeed pay $4,400 for my Utopias. I consider comparing them to $400 headphones to be far from a positive review, and frankly a glaring exception to Amir’s usually fair-minded, sensible approach. Maybe he was sleep-deprived. But these precisely-designed headphones with the most exacting components and attention to detail are not worthy of comparison with cheap Amazon knock-off cans in quality, by any estimation whatsoever. Hence the “panned”. If there’s a better word, I’m open to suggestions.

As a post-script I am left to wonder whether the concerns about missing bass response is an actual flaw in the Utopias or simply an inherent aspect of open-backed cans in general. The Sennheiser 800s have often been lauded as a reference point for years, but my Utopias trounce them in bass detail AND response with no EQ applied at all. I can’t speak for the Dan Clarks, but I would call into question any comparison between a planar magnetic and a dynamic driver headphone to begin with, is that not fair?

If you like them, who cares what Amir said?

I have a lot of gear that ASR frowns at.

If it brings you joy, that's what matters.
 

watchnerd

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If you're buying these for the looks, get the Clear MG instead. In my opinion, it looks better and it's half the price. Sounds pretty good too, but who cares?
lighter

Can't wear the Clears in bed without disturbing the wife with noise, though.
 

watchnerd

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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.

But I already have a pair of loudspeakers and a car.

And wife is saying no to a new Triumph. ;)
 

srkbear

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If you like them, who cares what Amir said?

I have a lot of gear that ASR frowns at.

If it brings you joy, that's what matters.
It DOES bring me joy! I only asked to get others’ input on their subjective experience vs measurements. But I think I’m learning that subjective experiences are not the prevailing purpose of this forum, which is totally ok! Thanks for the validation, got the message.
 

Jimbob54

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but I would call into question any comparison between a planar magnetic and a dynamic driver headphone to begin with, is that not fair?

Why? Isnt the purpose of both identical? Why should the engineering underpinning a product be of any concern for a consumer/ user? The fundamental form and purpose of both types of headphones is the same, so why not compare them?
 

Skinner001

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I wouldn’t ordinarily stoop to such a pretentious, agonizing review of my credentials if your comment hadn’t been such a personal attack on my inventory. I came to this forum for friendship—and if you’re here for grandstanding then let me assure you you’ve targeted the wrong guy. If you want to waste time and space on here getting into a contest of credibility I won’t engage—because what you’ve shown me of yourself thus far is a clear indication that it would be an embarrassment to attempt to take down someone who is so unsuited to the task.

Thank you for taking your time working out your family of origin issues here at my expense. Now I’m going to move on to more important matters, and you can kindly sit down.
Ah, my well-educated friend, you in fact would do this, as you have on other threads in this forum. You also seem to have used your education in order to read something that has not been written - and as someone here puts it in their signature - I'm responsible for what I write not for what you read.

In fact, you like to write these long novels without actually saying anything or answering questions - seen it in other threads.
I wrote about the industry, and called some reviewers shills, others like Zeos deaf - which he has proven many times over in his videos.

But you found this to be a personal attack, which is fine, I can't, and do not intend to stop people from jumping at the chance to become victims, in this case of their own making. I also don't mind your post or truly care about your credentials, or your (although well-written) boorish, poor attempts at insults. Pretty sure you're causing more problems for yourself than anyone here has caused as no one (as far as I have read) has come even remotely close to insulting you. But to each their own, some people like to find reasons to be insulted - imagining they are the center of attention and referenced in any thought expressed in the conversation. Oh, and the more you write about yourself the less impressive it all is and starts looking like overcompensating.

Focal makes unreliable products at every price bracket, their collaboration with Drop in the form of the Elex is a joke, the higher end cans are neither as comfortable nor have the SQ reviewers fawn over. The measurements are what they are. On the level of an individual, we like what we like, if you like them enjoy and rejoice. If it's out there, there are people who like it - from headphones to cars, food, movies and music and everything else - it's fine to like stuff. What most of us here react to are categorical, general proclamations of X being the best thing ever and that everyone should agree - when objective measurements clearly show it is not the best even in that one domain - and that's without getting to all other features one might judge more subjectively - for example, someone will surely find them uncomfortable, not like the build etc.

Now, my dear physician, calm down, put on your Focals, pour yourself a generous measure of whatever is your drink of choice, enjoy, and try not to feel personally attacked whenever someone disagrees with you.

P.S. In the future, just refer people to the post I'm citing so that you don't need to type your CV multiple times - or better yet, attach a PDF - will be quicker for you, and easier to ignore for us.
 
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acbarn

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Well, one is an open-backed design and the other closed. A better comparison would be with the Focal Utopia and the HD800s, or the Stellias with the HD820, don’t you think?

You must be confused; I wasn’t the one who compared the Stellia to the HD800S. Perhaps re-read my comment in the original context, as a response to the following:

In my listening I find the Stellia to project music in a larger theater than the HD 800s, which are known and lauded for their ability to project music outside the listener's head. And for this reason I believe the Stellia earns it's place as a unique and compelling headphone.
 
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Aerith Gainsborough

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If you like them, who cares what Amir said?
I have a lot of gear that ASR frowns at.
If it brings you joy, that's what matters.
This.
People get too would up over these reviews. Amir mostly searches for technical excellence and wants to compare independent of price point. He asks the hard questions and that is GOOD. He does seem to love his Harman target but that's okay too. We have to decide on a target if we want to make comparisons and the Harman target seems a sensible one (even if it's too bassy for my taste).

Do the Focal can's deliver technical performance that is worth their price tag?
As a Clear owner, I must admit that is not the case. You can get the same sound for much less cash.

Do I still love my Clear, despite Amir basically going "OMG, clips like crazy, broken can, cannot recommend!"?
Absolutely. I see Amirs point and I consider his warning a fair one but it does not apply to my actual real life use case.
 

watchnerd

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This.
People get too would up over these reviews. Amir mostly searches for technical excellence and wants to compare independent of price point. He asks the hard questions and that is GOOD. He does seem to love his Harman target but that's okay too. We have to decide on a target if we want to make comparisons and the Harman target seems a sensible one (even if it's too bassy for my taste).

Do the Focal can's deliver technical performance that is worth their price tag?
As a Clear owner, I must admit that is not the case. You can get the same sound for much less cash.

Do I still love my Clear, despite Amir basically going "OMG, clips like crazy, broken can, cannot recommend!"?
Absolutely. I see Amirs point and I consider his warning a fair one but it does not apply to my actual real life use case.

As opposed to my 'objectivist' DAW, my living room 'big system' is intentionally built around components that cost too much for the performance delivered. ;)
 

thewas

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Do the Focal can's deliver technical performance that is worth their price tag?
As a Clear owner, I must admit that is not the case. You can get the same sound for much less cash.
Just out of curiosity, any examples? :)
 

Aerith Gainsborough

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Just out of curiosity, any examples? :)
Sorry, I should have been more precise: you can get the same sound if you use EQ. Out of the box ,I do not know any equipment that does sound the same.

If I EQ my DT880 and my Clear to the same target and volume match them ... fat chance that I can tell their sound apart, even in a sighted test. I deliberately did not apply the Oratory EQ to my Clear to allow it to sound different ... and not feel like a total idiot for spending 1.5K.
Getting the RME and using the EQ was a humbling experience, to say the least.

YMMV, of course, on Head-Fi I would probably be stoned for saying such things. They almost lynched me when I said that EQ'd Utopia and Clear would probably sound the same too. :D
 

thewas

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Sorry, I should have been more precise: you can get the same sound if you use EQ. Out of the box ,I do not know any equipment that does sound the same.
Interesting and of course I understood that you meant with EQ :) as my (unfortunately) limited personal experience with the Clear was different, as a longtime HD600 owner I really enjoyed the Clear when I listened to them at a friend, so I tried to make an EQ for the HD600 to make their response as the one of the Clear based even on different measurement rigs but never really achieved the same "magic", maybe I should repeat it with newer measurements from Oratory.
 

Aerith Gainsborough

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Interesting and of course I understood that you meant with EQ :) as my (unfortunately) limited personal experience with the Clear was different, as a longtime HD600 owner I really enjoyed the Clear when I listened to them at a friend, so I tried to make an EQ for the HD600 to make their response as the one of the Clear based even on different measurement rigs but never really achieved the same "magic", maybe I should repeat it with newer measurements from Oratory.
Keep in mind: its entirely possible that your ears are more sensitive to these things than mine. Would be interesting to see how you feel if you try again. So please report your findings, if you decide to do so. :D
 
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