With the release of the Radiance, French company Focal has introduced the latest evolution of a concept that at once seemed anathema to the company - a closed back over ear headphone.
But times change, and a couple years back, Focal began offering options for those who prefer or need closed back headphones instead. We are going to look at the three options here, to help eliminate confusion and break down which of these excellent choices may be right for you.
The first headphone we are going to get into here is also the first closed back headphone that Focal came out with all the way back in 2018 (that seems like forever ago)
This is the Focal Elegia.
Like all of their products, the Elegia was designed and constructed in France - and the look of these in nothing short of fantastic.
This begins here with the very chique looking grey, thermoformed zipper carrying case, which is modeled to a shape that is fairly compact and keeps your headphones safe for casual transportation. I wouldn’t trust it being flung around in the trunk of your car with reckless abandon, but the neat little carrying handle on the top assures this is a great vessel for taking your cans on the move.
The case unzips on open up here to reveal some very simple packaging upon delivery, including just your headphones, your cable and a quarter inch attachable adapter.
The cable is 1.2m, I’ve heard some people say this is too short, others say it’s good because it doesn't get you tangled up, I personally find it to be kind of perfect. It has 3.5mm connections all around, two of which go into your earcups, and one on the other end as your main connection. It’s also covered in some zebra patterned cloth that, while it looks nice, makes it a little rigid and kind of thick, so it is definitely more heavy duty than most.
The headphones are obviously the main event, and they look extremely sharp here, with black and silver aluminum accents throughout. The headband is thick and sturdy, but also comfortable with some soft perforated microfiber on the underside. The aluminum yoke has a good shine and extends easily. The earcups have a great etched design that resembles other Focal models.
The earpads are also microfiber here, for a fit that’s really soft, and on the inside you can see the drivers. These are M shaped and lodged at a more natural angle to provide for a really wide and dynamic stage, even though the backs are closed here.
The soundstage here is obviously going to have a hard time measuring up blow for blow with Focal’s earlier models, simply because the closed back just does not have as much give in this regard. However, even if it is not hyper wide and expansive, the stage provides an airy and light quality that is an especially impressive achievement with the closed back. Instruments and vocals have a good sense of outward expansion and there’s a real verticality and depth as well - this is one of the more robust stages you will find with a closed back headphone.
Low end has a deep energetic presence with a good amount of detail, but hard clear lines that prevent any blurring. Midrange is a bit forward here, with very high fidelity and no compression or distortion to be found. Highs are also richly detailed, but also a tad rolled off to make for a warmer signature that is overall smooth, relaxed, and an absolute pleasure to listen to.
If you have been eyeing these for a while, this may be the best time to act, as they are becoming discontinued - and the price is dropping lower and lower as this model reaches its end of life. This is a supreme bargain for a quality product.
Focal’s newest offering is the radiance. This comes in a little bit higher of a price range of 1290 USD, and the big feature here is that it is a collaboration with Bentley - the idea being that it is a meeting between two luxury brands that stand atop their respective industries.
As for the packaging and the look, the style is incredibly similar to that of the Elegia. The shape and material of the carry case is the same here, but the color scheme has been altered. What was once grey, is now a shimmery copper color, and the handle on the top has been adorned with the Bentley logo, to reflect the brand collaboration. It’s packaged the same way, with the headphones inside, accompanied only by your cable.
The cable here is just a straight black, a little more compact, a little less rigid and no longer has the fabric covering.
As far as the look of the cans here, the radiance looks extremely similar, but the color scheme is black and a very shiny copper, which I think really outclasses its predecessor in this department. It is a slick and gorgeous look that really makes these stand out. The perforated design has been replaced with the bentley diamond patterning here as well as under the headband, which has these criss crosses instead of the holes of the Elegia. The headband and earcups are now covered in a full grain Pittards leather, instead of microfiber. This combined with a more relaxed clamp force, makes these a little more comfortable in my opinion. The bentley logo can also be seen here, and it’s just a really gorgeous design overall.
In terms of the price hike, a lot of that here can be attributed to the driver technology and setup. The driver here is the same full range M shape and 40mm size that is used in the Elegia, and both are made from an alloy of aluminum and magnesium. Both also have the wide same frequency range of 5 hz to 23khz, and both have an output impedance of 35 ohms to make them pretty easy to drive, even if just from a phone. However, if you’re spending the cash on these, you probably want to experience their full effect with an amp.
In terms of the soundstage here, it is unsurprisingly very similar to that of Elegia, but has a slight edge here, as its image reaches out just a little wider, while still maintaining the same amount of verticality and depth. The closed back doesn’t get in the way of really precise layering and imaging, and the Radiance has just a little more top end extension with more spacious headroom. This overall gives it a little more of an immersive feel.
As for the sound quality, the tuning and profile here has been adjusted some when compared to the Elegia. These are both pretty balanced in the bass department, but I found the radiance to be more so, with a subtlety that has good texture and natural characteristic. However, this may be too reigned in for some bass heads.
Mids here are supported with a lot of detail and clarity, and they lean somewhat forward more so in the Radiance to highlight more color and give elements some more pop and shine here. The Elegia may have a little more weight in this department, but the Radiance provides some more definition.
On the top end, the Radiance brings more to the table here than its predecessor. Both have a bit of a roll off in this area, but the Radiance provides for more extension and has some sparkle and shimmer that the Elegia leaves out here. That being said, both are extremely similar, with the Elegia being slightly more laid back, and the Radiance supporting more of a smiley face with more punch on the top and bottom ends.
The final offering to get into here is another jump in price range, this one more significant - and this is the Focal Stellia.
These came out a littleover a year ago, so generationally these are in between the Radiance and the Elegia just in terms of their chronology.
Just in terms of their price, these go for 3 grand, so certainly not a casual purchase by any means. As this is the case, this is going to be a lot more involved than either of the other options I described earlier.
The look here is incredibly unique, even among Focal units which all tend to look fairly similar.
The first thing to notice is the color, which departs from the blacks and silvers for a very fine mocha and cognac finish. The earcup is made of a stainless steel grill over full grain leather.
The earpads are made of the same leather here, and really soft and plush for a fit that is extremely comfortable.
The impedance here is the same as the other two models at 35 ohms, but the frequency range is a much more revealing 5 hz to 40 khz. This will provide for much more detail retrieval.
The driver here is also the same signature M shaped dome, but the material makes all the difference. In this unit, the driver made of a more expensive pure beryllium. The advantages of this are many, including: super high rigidity, so there is no distortion even at high volume; Extremely good dampening, so there is no ringing or resonance when reproducing elusive frequencies. And finally, it is very light weight! This means the diaphragm has significantly less mass than that of the Elegia or the Radiance.
Even though these are a big price jump from the Elegia and Radiance, the stage it offers is once again pretty similar, as there’s only so far a closed back can go before it hits a ceiling. It has the same good amount of depth and these reach pretty far to the edge of the stereo field, but certainly not near what the open backed focal models can do here. I would say the stage is on par with the radiance, maybe feeling a bit larger due to the more extended frequency response.
Speaking of which, the low end here is easily the most impressive of the three, as the detail retrieval combines with a tight level of control to provide for bass that is powerful but also very clean in tone.
Mids once again have that slightly forward tilt that brings out lots of color and texture, but it feels the most natural here. Lows and highs are balanced in a way that provides richness without artificial color, which really makes vocals pop.
The highs also retain a more laid back quality, but it feels smoother here, as opposed to lacking like some might find in the other units. In elements like pop and hip hop where lows and highs will be more separated, this will provide a really enveloping and pleasant listening experience.
If you’re in the market for a high quality closed back headphone, you can’t go wrong with one of these options from Focal. With a range of prices and different designs - all featuring Focal’s quality sound, there’s certainly a lot to recommend from each of them.
If you want a bargain deal that will still be a high quality purchase, you’d do yourself a disservice not to look at the Elegia, which may be off the market soon.
If you want something new that is still in a middle price range and has a gorgeous design, it may warrant a look at the Radiance.
And finally, if you truly want luxury in both aesthetics and sound, the Stellia may just be for you.