All “F” Scorecard – Fine French finesse and fidelity in fashion, form, and function!
Focal is the very definition of luxury in the audio market, including speakers of all types and headphones. Focal is premier in design and engineering, marked by obsessive and loving attention to detail and joined by a relentless pursuit of perfection. They consistently balance form and function like no other headphone manufacturer.
Focal’s open and closed-back headphones all belong to the premium segment. They primarily aim at enthusiasts, audiophiles, and audio professionals. Focal most recently threw their beret into the global battle arena of wireless ANC headphones with their new Bathys, a serious attempt to dominate the upper Bluetooth tier.
Anyone who has ever had the privilege of unboxing Focal headphones knows that the special experience begins here. Most of Focal’s higher-end line-up are variations of a common design language, including the headphones, box, carrying case, and cables.
I presume that most Focal owners will want their headphones on display when not wearing them. First, to not let them out of their sight, and second, to continuously behold the beauty that is distinctly Focal.
In 1979 in St. Étienne, France, Focal began as a producer of loudspeaker technologies and high-end hi-fi speakers, eventually expanding to pro-audio speakers, in-car audio, custom install products, and in 2016, headphones. Focal has invested vast resources in time, talent, and treasure into manufacturing, a craft mastered in their own French workshops.
Vervent Audio Group was born in 2011, incorporating Focal and Naim Audio. Naim is a renowned British electronics company specializing in two-channel Hi-Fi, multi-room music streaming systems, amplifiers, and music servers. Each brand brings its own expertise.
- Type: Circum-aural, open-back headphones
- Transducer driver: 1.6″ (40mm) Magnesium ‘M’-shape dome
- Frequency range: 5Hz – 28kHz
- Impedance: 55Ohms
- Sensitivity: 104db SPL/1mW @1kHz
- Distortion: THD 0.25% @ 1kHz / 100 dB SPL
- Cable: 1 x 3.9ft (1.2m) 3.5mm TRS cable, 1 x 9.8ft (3m) 4-pin XLR cable
- Connections: Each ear cup has a 3.5mm input jack
- Weight (excluding cable): 450g (0.99lb)
Every aspect is commensurate with the standard and expectations of a Focal product. Packaging is as premium as what is contained within. The material choice and construction, starting with branded outer cardboard box, is all sturdy and top quality.
Do you want to feel like royalty? For that, buy a pair of Focal headphones for the ultimate unboxing experience.
Inside the shipping box is a heavily guarded jet-black box, which, when lifted off vertically, reveals another box containing accessories and documentation. The unique, sculpted designer carrying case cradling the headphones is itself cradled by foam at the bottom of the box. Who babies a protective case? Focal!
In the box
- Focal Clear Mg headphones
- 1 x 3.9ft (1.2m) 3.5mm, 24 AWG OFC copper cable
- 1 x 9.8ft (3m) 4-pin XLR, 24 AWG OFC copper cable
- 1/4” (6.35mm) jack adapter
- Rigid woven carrying case in a warm sand/chestnut color to match the headphone – 9.8″ x 9.4″ x 4.7″ (250x240x120mm)
The Clear Mg come with two low-resistivity 24 AWG OFC copper cables. They match the headphones’ colorway. Having two different options in length and connector types is a bonus.
Both the 3m balanced cable (XLR 4-pin) and 1.2m unbalanced cable (1/8″ TRS jack) are the same build with different terminations. They are not too light nor heavy and of fitting quality.
The cables themselves are not attractive; the connectors help take attention away from the otherwise dull brown cable.
The smooth rubberized jacketing is somewhat stiff and retains its shape a bit when bent. The best part of the cables is the connectors and Merci Focal, no microphonics!
While the Focal Mg seem ordinary in shape, they are again an example of excellence – in this case, biomechanics. Suspension straps, rods, pivoting arms, or an ‘advanced’ or ‘customized’ adjustment system are noticeably missing.
While the only place the headband makes contact with my skull is a couple of inches at the crown, I have not experienced any hotspot or discomfort.
The fit and finish are exceptional, down to the smallest stitching detail. All moving parts are quiet and smooth, feeling solid and reliable.
Focal designed the solid aluminum yoke to mold perfectly to the face. The headband, covered in genuine leather and microfiber, follows a smooth curve regardless of head circumference or which way the head turns.
The perforated microfiber earpads play a key part in comfort levels while also contributing to the open sound of the headphones. This openness is further enhanced by the honeycomb design of the earcups’ external grille.
The outside of the earpads boasts a sophisticated honeycomb pattern: an elegance contributed to by the brand-new ‘Chestnut and Mixed-Metals’ finish, which blends classic and modern looks.
Comfort and Isolation
For me, there is enough clamp force to feel snug and secure. The ear cup openings are large enough to accommodate most ears without pressure. Heat build up is minimal-moderate due to perforated microfiber earpads and the open back design.
Comfort is outstanding, and isolation is zero.
These will easily fit members of the BHC (Big Head Club). Despite the heavy weight, they are so well-balanced that I have not been bothered. For reference, I have a medium-sized head and wear these snugly with no extension in the slider adjustments from the minimum position.
After four years of research and development, the engineers at Focal have designed a magnesium dome for the Clear Mg drivers.
This new alloy, combined with an ‘M’-shaped dome, contributes to even more lightness, rigidity, and damping, the three success factors for a speaker driver. The ‘M’-shaped grille inside the ear cup follows the curves of the driver for even greater precision.
The Clear Mg are sensitive and efficient enough to be used with most portable sources, though this may be insufficient if you have a very low-power source, like an inexpensive smartphone.
Add a powerful portable dongle DAC/amp like the Helm Audio DB12 AAAMP to the chain, and you will have more than enough power. The Clear Mg will tolerate EQ, including the significant +6dB bass shelf boost from the DB12. This allows for flexibility in tailoring the sound signature to your preference.
Despite the ad museum controversy surrounding headphone ‘burn-in’ Focal recommends a so-called running-in period to operate at their best.
What is critical to mention, should you buy these for yourself, is that my notes apply only after an extensive running-in period, discussed above. Prior, the timbre was definitely off, and the sound signature was a bit of a mess. I truly was confused about what I was hearing.
”Good things come to those who wait.”
While not a French expression, the Clear Mg age like fine French wine. They require patience and need a significant amount of time to mature.
I have never heard such a radical difference in a pair of headphones’ sound changing over time as much as with the Clear Mg. Specifically, on the Gipsy Kings’ track Djobi, Djoba, there is a lot of hand clapping. This sound varies dramatically and can come across unnaturally with many headphones.
Out of the box with less than 10 hours of playtime, this sound through the Clear Mg was nothing like hand clapping. It was painful and unbearably sharp at even moderate volume. In addition, the overall timbre was off, and the balance sounded uneven. After approximately 75 hours, this disappeared.
I was as shocked as you may be in reading this.
The documentation indicates that the drivers need some serious exercise time to reach their full potential. My best guess is that the sharpness and timbre issues may have been caused by a “not loosened up yet” driver that lacked full excursion, under-delivering bass, and causing havoc throughout the frequency range.
Focal Clear Mg Sound
For evaluation, I listen to a great variety of music through numerous sources, including:
- Sony DVP-S7000 CD Player
- LG V20 & LG V60 phones (both have Quad DAC and headphone jacks)
- Lenovo IdeaPad 3
- Khadas Tone2 Pro
- Khadas Tea
- Helm Audio DB12 AAAMP
- S.M.S.L SP200 Headphone Amplifier
- HIFIMAN EF400 DAC/amp
Focal asserts that the new magnesium ‘M’-shaped dome innovation brings great dynamics and detail across the full sound spectrum while preserving a neutral and balanced signature. I agree.
There are no deficiencies to be found, only preferences and minor observations. My only potential complaints (meaning, I rarely evidence these) are a slight upper mid glare and occasionally some timbre issues, though these have largely dissipated after extensive play time.
Many of you may be curious about comparing the Clear Mg with the original Clear. Since I do not have a pair on hand to A/B compare, this frequency response graph may be helpful for reference (note: Focal does not share these with the public).
Overall, the Clear Mg’s frequency tonality is as gorgeous as the headphones, and the dynamics are as bold and nuanced as the color and material choices. What seems to be common for the Focal house signature sound is excellent balance, emphasizing the mids and upper mids.
The Clear Mg are amongst the elites of the headphone world in the matter of not requiring any significant equalization (EQ) or “fixing” to produce sound to the best of their potential, a trait they share with the HIFIMAN Arya Stealth Magnet Edition.
Soundstage width is above average. Sense of space and imaging are very good, as are resolution, precision, speed, detail, and dynamics. There are almost no areas of sound that the Clear Mg do not excel in.
The only exception may be the preference of some basshead listeners, who always do better with closed-back headphones and ear pads that accentuate bass resonance.
The Clear Mg are remarkably balanced and will deliver beautiful, organic reproductions across all genres.
Balanced, in this case, does not equal lacking dynamics or boring in any way.
Quick, tight, controlled, authoritative. For an open-back, the bass is impressive and will reach deep with just enough linger and presence to be satisfying. There is virtually no noticeable bleed into the midrange or masking of higher frequencies.
Traveling to Breda, Netherlands, we may find the childhood home of one of the world’s most famous DJs and music producers. Tiësto’s The Business (Official Music Video) is just killer (pun intended) to listen to and watch.
The sound is full, huge, and all-encompassing with the Clear Mg, following the general theme across all music genres. The track is synthetic bass heavy and has no emotional tone without it. The Clear Mg do not disappoint, especially because of their ability to extend so low.
Midrange is sweet, full, and stunningly clear (pun intended). Placement in the mix sounds accurate, especially with vocals not being too forward or recessed. The midrange feels like the center stage of the Clear Mg, fully complemented by the authoritative bass and significant treble detail.
A nearly perfect exemplary sonic display of midrange is Lisa Gerrard and Jules Maxwell’s track Heleali (The Sea Will Rise). This is a soaring sonic journey with layers of complex sound that most headphones cannot handle.
Despite the distortion, resonance, and extensive dynamic range, the Clear Mg are composed and do not lose any of the full spectrum detail. All the while, Lisa’s voice is stunningly sharp and centered. Breathtaking, truly.
The treble is detailed and smooth without being surgically sharp. Treble may sound just a touch rolled off if you are used to detail monster headphones, such as the aforementioned HIFIMAN Arya – the Clear Mg are a bit more forgiving. That said, they will be more than satisfying for most listeners.
I recently traveled to Newark, New Jersey, United States, and saw Terence Blanchard, joined by his E-Collective and Turtle Island Quartet for a special tribute to Wayne Shorter.
Listening to them live from the 5th row in the center of the phenomenal NJPAC Lizzie & Jonathan Tisch Stage at Victoria Theater was quite an intense experience – and a great opportunity to compare the live experience with the Clear Mg back at home.
Candidly, the music is much easier to listen to through the headphones. While this is most likely a result of the production and mastering, the Clear Mg’s presentation smooths out the occasionally piercing highs of Terence’s trumpet. The detail and dynamics are far less fatiguing and more revealing simultaneously.
Where to Buy
The Clear Mg are unique in myriad ways and an achievement in audio technology. Priced well into the USD$1000+ tier, the Clear Mg are a luxury item for casual consumers. For audiophiles and enthusiasts, they are an object of desire that will satisfy many cravings for superior gear and be an easy choice for a sound investment.
At this tier of headphones, it is much more difficult to declare “better” rather than “different.”
The few caveats are the transparent open-back design, physical heft, and…. well, that’s about all.
These Clear Mg are closing in on perfection, gracefully dancing between genres with no hint of being far out of their element. The only exception is for those who are addicted to massive booming bass – who will likely not be shopping in this category.
Please comment below with your thoughts, and as always – happy listening!