There’s a good reason why the Clear is the most-liked Focal headphone. Aside from being significantly less expensive than the Utopia and Stellia, the Clear nails down the frequency response better than the Elear and even the flagship Utopia. But frequency response or tonality is not everything, right? So how does it fare with the rest?
To summarize, the Clear is a very dynamic and punchy headphone with a slight warmth, a wonderfully even midrange, and a detailed treble minus the harshness and fatigue.
The bass quality is such a treat to listen to extending way past the sub-bass area. It’s got plenty of slam and visceral impact that to my memory just falls short of the higher-end Audeze planar. Having said that, the bass is still not fully flat as I can hear a slight bleed to the lower midrange. It is responsible for the slight warm character of this headphone and even with the bleed, the bass-to-mids transition is wonderful, fully devoid of any congestion or coloration that usually occurs when there is a slight intrusion of bass frequencies to the midrange.
The midrange is competently transparent and balanced but I wouldn’t call it lush-sounding. It’s got a similar intimate type of vocals like the HD6X0 without being too forward or shouty. The upper mids and presence region is ever so slightly recessed but I personally didn’t find that to be an issue. This is a tricky area where if there’s too much it’d be shouty and if there’s too few, it is dull or veiled sounding. The Clear in my opinion hit the balance just right.
The highs are again, nicely detailed minus the edginess or roughness that may sometimes get introduced when any of the treble frequencies are elevated. The Clear has that nuanced treble character that allows it to be slightly forward and bright, but texturally smooth without overthrowing the balance of fundamentals and overtones. Some people find the treble to be slightly bright still and if you’re sensitive to this, you can just EQ out the treble a little. But for me personally, it’s right on the money.
The soundstage is where it maybe lacks a little especially if you consider this a key factor. It does sound like an open headphone with a noticeable spaciousness, it’s just not very wide or tall like some good soundstage headphones like the HD800, the Audezes, or Hifiman’s. I find that it’s even slightly smaller than the significantly cheaper DT880 from Beyer and the HE400i that I recently reviewed. The spaciousness has got an intimacy to it that reminds me of the HD 600 or 650 but the Clear has this done better than those.
Imaging is fantastic with the Clear. You are easily able to pinpoint and layer musical instruments within the presentation. The blackness of the background is great, and there’s a very good sense of coherence that makes everything come together nicely. It makes me think the headphone’s ability to image would even be showcased better if the stage is bigger than what it is.
The Clear is an efficient headphone not only capable of playing plenty loud off a portable device but can also sound darn good without being amplified. Still, being a thousand dollar headphone, it is highly recommended that you invest in a good amplification source so you’re able to take advantage of the driver potential.
I’ve used this headphone with Schiit Magni 3+ and Monoprice THX 887 paired with a Schiit Modius DAC, and both of them allowed it to scale much better than when unamped. The bass punch gets an improved textural recovery and really just the overall detail retrieval is much better.
When a headphone exceeds the thousand dollar price tag, it becomes hard to recommend and say “it’s worth it” and the Focal Clear is no different. But when you start moving up to high-end and flagship territory, value is something you just throw out of the window.
For its price, the Clear has two distinct advantages in my opinion. The first one is having an agreeable frequency response that is more or less tolerable for most people and works for most genres. It’s neither too bassy nor bright. Not too forward or veiled.
The second is Focal being a reputable brand when it comes to product consistencies, warranties, and all that stuff. There’s no known unit to unit variance or high driver failure rate that I can read online. Add the fact that the headphone is well-built, looks pretty, and is accessorized nicely and the Clear becomes a compelling buy as an end-game headphone until you find your next end game. Basically progressing through the hobby.
Some of the commonly suggested alternatives for the Clear include the Hifiman Arya which we hope to review here soon and Audeze LCD-2 and LCD-X. Those options are just as competitive with a different set of strengths than the Clear. ZMF Auteur is another that comes to mind but I have not personally heard that headphone yet.
If you’re interested in getting the Clear, you can check it out on Amazon or through their website at Focal.com. There are frequently some used items being sold for $900-$1,000 range on eBay and Head-fi marketplace so if you can spot one in exceptional condition, I highly highly recommend you pick it up if you’ve fully decided you want to get the Clear.