​​Review: Focal Celestee – Gateway to Heavenly Sound

The Celestee are cool blue.
The Celestee are cool blue.
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“At sunrise, the blue sky paints herself with gold colors and joyfully dances to the music of a morning breeze.”

Thank you to Wendy and Focal for providing the Celestee for review purposes.

Focal appears to have gathered inspiration from Debashish Mridha’s quote above to dream up the name of the Celestee. A blue sky painted with gold colors dancing to the music of a morning breeze. How aptly this describes the elegance and beauty of the Celestee, a name that invokes the word ‘celestial’ and refers to the heavens.

Focal designs and builds beautiful headphones and captures their essence with near-perfect names.

The Celestee are cool blue.
Bottom Line

The Celestee are terrific closed-back headphones. Design, build quality, and materials are all sublime. The Celestee sound detailed, balanced, and fun. The Celestee are a more reasonable priced, premium, closed-back pair of cans than the big brother Stellia. Aimed at audiophiles, they maintain their poise providing resolution, dynamics, and listenability. If an intimate soundstage and distinct blue colorway are your thing, then look no further.

What We Like
  • Detailed and clear sound signature
  • Tight and punchy bass
  • Easily driven by portable sources
  • Beautiful design and construction
What We Don't Like
  • Intimate soundstage
  • Weight can cause hotspots
  • Tight clamping force
  • Only a stiff single-ended cable included

The closed-back Celestee are on the more affordable side of Focal’s lineup and are positioned as a replacement for the Elegia. They are the sister pair to the Clear MG, an open-backed model around the same price point. The family resemblance is strong with all the current Focal headphone models, sharing very similar headband and cup designs. The Celestee use 40mm aluminum and magnesium M-shaped dome dynamic drivers.

I recently reviewed the TOTL closed-back Stellia and, aside from a different color scheme, the two models are very visually similar. Priced at less than 1/3 the price of their big brother, can the Celestee capture the same magic that the Stellia are able to conjure?

Press play on your favorite sweeping soundtrack as we drift upwards into the clear blue sky to visit the heavens.

Company Overview

Founded in 1979 and located in Saint-Étienne, France, Focal specializes in the design and manufacture of high-end audio loudspeakers and headphones. They develop all their products on-site and perform the majority of manufacturing in-house as well.

Focal states their ultimate goal is to reproduce the artist’s work as faithfully as possible by crafting products capable of ultimate audio fidelity. All the while, they maintain a stunning design culture that is distinctively their own. “Flawless performance with a distinguished style.” – Focal

Technical Specifications

  • Form: Closed-back, Over-ear
  • Drivers: 40mm aluminum/magnesium, M-shaped dome, dynamic
  • Impedance (Ohm): 35 Ohms
  • Sensitivity (dB): 105dB SPL / 1 mW @ 1 kHz
  • Frequency Response (Hz): 5Hz – 23kHz
  • Removable Cable: 1.2m, OFC 24 AWG
  • Source Jack: 3.5mm TRS
  • Cup/Shell Jack: 2x 3.5mm TS
  • Mic: N
  • Weight (g): 430g
The box is simple and to the point.
The box is simple and to the point.

Packaging

While not quite at the same level of luxurious indulgence as the Stellia packaging, the Celestee come in a similarly austere black box as the Clear MG. The Celestee package is slightly smaller as they only come bundled with a single cable, rather than the Clear MG’s inclusion of both single-ended and balanced options. There is no second cardboard box contained within the outer packaging, and everything resides in the attractive zippered storage case.

Everything is housed inside the travel case.
Everything is housed inside the travel case.
The inclusion of only a short cable terminated with a 3.5mm plug indicates that Focal intends the Celestee primarily for portable usage.

In the box

  • Focal Celestee headphones
  • 1.2m, 3.5mm TRS, 2x 3.5mm TS, OFC cable
  • 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter
  • Storage case
The Focal zippered case comes with all their headphones and is color matched to each pair.
The Focal zippered case comes with all their headphones and is color matched to each pair.

The zippered clamshell-style case is terrific (as usual for Focal) and this time is constructed of a fabric matching the blue and gold colorway of the Celestee.

Cable

Focal’s current rubber-coated cables are merely adequate for headphones of this caliber. The metal plugs and y-split are robust and attractive, but the cables are a touch too stiff to sit flat and tend to hold bends and folds. I’ve hung the cables from the plug for over a month and they are just as kinked as when I removed them from the case. On the positive side, the Celestee cable is just about entirely non-microphonic.

The cable stays kinky, but not in a good way.
The cable stays kinky, but not in a good way.

It’s disappointing to not receive a second longer cable, terminated in a balanced plug for home-usage. It seems unnecessary cost-cutting for a luxury product brand.

Just a single portable cable is included.
Just a single portable cable is included.

Design

Have you encountered any of Focal’s current headphone lineup? If so, you are familiar with the general looks and construction of the Celestee. Whether you fancy the blue and rose-gold color scheme is, of course, personal preference. I prefer the browns of the Clear MG, but your tastes may differ from my own.

The Celestee are blue with rose gold highlights.
The Celestee are blue with rose gold highlights.

Much like their big brother, the Stellia, the Celestee cups are covered in what appears to be textured leather underneath the distinctive circular spiral pattern. Essentially, this is the same build quality as the far more expensive models, so it is fair to say that the Celestee are very well made indeed.

With ear pads in place, there is little obvious visible plastic. Given close scrutiny, the cup sides appear to be constructed of metallic finished plastic, but the color match with the metal gimbals is close enough that they in no way stand out. The cup face holding the drivers is made of black plastic as well as the underside of the clip in pads, although the visible driver grills are a metal honeycomb pattern.

Just like every other pair of Focal headphones, the Celestee are beautifully crafted.

The cups are plastic, but this is mostly hidden when the clip-on ear pads are in place.
The cups are plastic, but this is mostly hidden when the clip-on ear pads are in place.

Comfort

Out of the box, the clamping force of the Celestee is quite tight and the cups are spring-loaded to swing the bottom inwards. This can cause unwanted jaw pressure as the slightly firm leather pads press inwards under your ears. I found, with use, that the clamping force does seem to diminish somewhat over time, and once I got used to the feel, they are comfortable enough.

The clamping force certainly helps with isolation – very little sound leaks through, in, or out. This keeps the Celestee in place on your head if using them for their intended portable purpose while out and about. Much like I felt with the Stellia, I’d be mightily disappointed to drop these to the pavement when on a walk and mar the gorgeous looks, so it’s better they hold on securely.

The Focal symbol in the center of the cups is made of fine mesh and appears to be a vent.

The interior volume of the pads is more than sufficient to contain my average-sized ears and I experience no rubbing or touching of the inside surfaces.

The interior surface of the pads is evenly split between fabric for the ear side and leather near the cup side. Interestingly, this is reversed from the Stellia (fabric near the cup, leather near the ear), although I imagine the purpose is likely the same, to absorb reflections and tune the headphone’s sound.

The interior surface of the pads are split between leather and fabric.
The interior surface of the pads are split between leather and fabric.

The headband pad is nicely made from leather on the top and suede underneath and I can’t help but wish it was slightly softer. The 430g Celestee sit a little heavy on the peak of my head after wearing them for an hour or so, causing a hotspot. They feel substantial and well made, in part due to their weight, but this does have an impact on long-term wearability.

Weight, comfort, fit, etc. of the Celestee are near identical to the Clear MG.
The M-shaped aluminum and magnesium driver.
The M-shaped aluminum and magnesium driver.

Internals

Focal’s unique take on dynamic drivers is seen in its M-shaped driver design. The Celestee feature 40mm moving-coil drivers with aluminum/magnesium domes. The vented logo allows for some air movement behind the driver, unlike a completely sealed closed-back design. This construction certainly plays into the tuning of the Celestee.

Focal reports that the motor structure is similar to the Elegia and Stellia, and differs from their open-backed models.

Construction similarities with the Stellia continue internally, as the inside of the cups is covered with the same sort of pyramid-style diffusion and damping material. Again, I’m reminded of acoustically treated music halls. The cups are very easy to take apart, only requiring 6 screws, and the cup surfaces are spring-loaded and pop right open. Also, like the Stellia, the driver sits in a cradle and touches a pair of contacts rather than being soldered to wires.

The sound dampening within the cup. Note the two contacts visible at the bottom of the driver.
The sound dampening within the cup. Note the two contacts visible at the bottom of the driver.

“‘M’-shaped pure Beryllium dome, former-less 100% copper voice coil, new surround… are technologies which offer exceptional dynamics for closed-back headphones and contribute to the reproduction of the tiniest sound details at both high and low frequencies. The respect of the original audio signal is unfailing and the neutrality is flawless, for voices and trebles of astonishing realism.

The Focal engineers worked to achieve the pure sound: vents are integrated to extend the speaker driver’s frequency response; an EVA foam positioned behind the speaker driver absorbs high frequencies; acoustic diffusers break up standing waves to obtain sound reproduction that is free of interference…” – Focal

Befitting their isolating design and shortish cord, the Celestee have an impedance of 35 Ohms and a sensitivity of 105 dB, which is easy enough for most quality portable devices to drive fairly easily. I used my typical portable combo of a Chord Mojo DAC/amp paired with a Hidizs AP80 Pro DAP for the majority of my listening.

Focal Celestee Sound

The Celestee are a very good sounding pair of headphones, with a relatively narrow soundstage and smaller sense of space, befitting their closed-back nature. In short, they sound like what I expect a great pair of closed-back headphones to sound like. Where the Stellia create a surprisingly vast sonic soundscape, the Celestee provide a more intimate experience.

It comes down to a matter of personal preference. If you, like me, tend to like the spacious presentation that great open-backed headphones can provide, you may prefer the Focal Clear MG. Closed-back fans will certainly find much to like with the Celestee.

The Celestee provide a dynamic and forward sound, full of detail and nuance. Their resolution is quite good, and small details are easy to pick out. They have a lively sound signature, anchored by a punchy and controlled low end. The Celestee are engaging and easy to listen to.

The Celestee tend towards a more analytical sound due to a slightly thin midrange, likely created by a lack of upper bass bleed. This sort of tuning helps with detail and speed, and helps give the Celestee their resolving signature.

Although the Celestee are seemingly intended for portable usage, they are more than capable enough to anchor a home listening setup where the improved isolation characteristics of a pair of closed-back headphones are desired. They offer all the detail that critical listeners expect, without being too clinical to be fun.

The Celestee are true Focal headphones, offering a remarkable closed-back alternative to the Clear MG at around the same price point.

Frequency response graph of the Celestee as measured on a miniDSP EARS measurement fixture. Note that the spring loaded ear cups make it difficult to obtain a proper seal on the test fixture, so some variation is to be expected.
Frequency response graph of the Celestee as measured on a miniDSP EARS measurement fixture. Note that the spring loaded ear cups make it difficult to obtain a proper seal on the test fixture, so some variation is to be expected.

Bass

The main complaint with the Focal Elegia seemed to be a lack of bass weight. The newer Celestee model does not share this issue. They extend deeply and have a slightly elevated bass response descending into the sub-bass frequencies.

There is an emphasis in the mid-bass which creates a solidity and punchiness to the sound. Things are tight and controlled, and the Celestee seem to revel in delivering a tangible kick to music. Bassheads may prefer a more boosted sub-bass heavy profile, but most folks should enjoy what the Celestee bring.

Midrange

The bass does not intrude upwards into the midrange region, and although not cold sounding, the midrange is a touch thinner than the lower notes. Things sound quick and defined, and the upper midrange seems slightly forward in the mix.

Voices are clear and real sounding. Tone and texture feel natural, and female vocals seem to be portrayed especially well. It’s easy to pick out different instruments in the song, and while there’s plenty of energy, the presentation isn’t too in-your-face to be enjoyable for relaxed listening sessions. Overall, the midrange is well balanced, just leaning slightly more towards clinical rather than mellow.

Treble

The treble follows well from the midrange, with a detailed and clear presentation. Overall, I’m left with the impression that the Celestee are smoother sounding than the Clear MG. They are very easy to groove to for long sessions, yet provide plenty of resolution to critically listen to the music.

Balance makes for a great-sounding pair of headphones. There should be deep bass notes, yet they must remain controlled and tight. The midrange should sound full and weighty, yet retain enough detail to ensure that voices and instruments stay distinct. The highs should give satisfying sparkle and a sense of airiness, but shouldn’t have sibilance or cause fatigue.

The Celestee deliver this balance.

The mesh vents in the logo help tune the sound.
The mesh vents in the logo help tune the sound.

While they aren’t quite a match for their big brother Stellia, they certainly hold their own. Personally, I prefer the superior feeling of spaciousness that the Clear MG and the Stellia provide. But, with the Clear, that comes at the cost of portability and isolation, and, of course, the Stellia are priced far higher.

If you want the benefits that high-end, closed-back headphones provide, the Celestee should be on your radar.

Where to Buy

The Celestee are a beautiful pair of closed-back headphones.
The Celestee are a beautiful pair of closed-back headphones.

Conclusion

The Celestee are terrific closed-back headphones. Design, build quality, and materials are all sublime. But, perhaps blue with rose gold highlights aren’t a good match for your personal preferences. The Celestee sound detailed, balanced, and fun. But, perhaps you prefer a more spacious and open sound that an open-backed pair of headphones can better deliver.

Like all things, there is give and take. Benefits and drawbacks. Elements that make something a better choice for one person over another.

I naturally compare the Celestee to the two other pairs of Focal headphones that I’ve had the pleasure of recently reviewing. Due to my own preferences, the Celestee aren’t quite a perfect match for my tastes. But of course, I’m not you, and they may be just what you are looking for.

To my eyes and ears, the Focal Clear MG are near-perfect headphones. I consider them the very pinnacle of craftsmanship and design. The ‘chestnut and metals’ rich bronze and brown color scheme is sublime. Their warm sonic signature suits my tastes extremely well.

The flagship, TOTL Stellia are everything that closed-back headphones should be. Remarkably spacious sounding, they are versatile performers that excel in basically any usage. But all that sonic bliss comes with a hefty price tag.

The Celestee are a more-reasonable premium closed-back can. Aimed at audiophiles, they maintain their poise providing resolution, dynamics, and listenability. If an intimate soundstage and distinct blue colorway are your thing, then look no further.

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