Elear Headphone Review
THE HIGH NOTES
- Utopia Lite
- Awesome Open-Air Sound
- Comfort for All
Company & Product Overview
Focal is a 35-year old French audio company. They build a wide range of products, from ultra high-performance $100,000+ speaker systems, to pro-audio components made for touring musicians, to high-end car audio. Focal likes to keep all of their manufacturing in-house, which is one of the main reasons they have become such a well-respected brand. In the headphone area, they have three product lines -- home, mobility, and pro.
Today’s review focuses on the home area, where we will dive into the middle of three models in the series, the Focal Elear. The Elear is an open-back, over-ear headphone. It shares a lot of the technology found in the Focal Utopia, which many people consider to be the very best headphone in the world today.
Packaging, Design & Build Quality
The Focal Elear comes in a very sturdy black box. It has a magnetic flap you lift up to reveal the headphones. The box is well padded and makes a great place to store the Elear when not in use. It even has a little fabric strap to keep the top open.
The Elear is a truly great example of a totally open-air design. The large 40mm single driver is suspended inside the earcups, offset from the center and about an inch away from your ears. You can see right through the large earcups.
The removable ear pads are memory foam covered with a very soft microsuede. The headband also features memory foam with microsuede on the inside, while the outer portion is a hard leather.
Each earcup gets plugged in with an individual cord. These join together about 18” away from the headphones and then become a joined dual cord that is about 9 feet long.
The Elear’s cups are joined to an aluminum yoke that inserts into the headband. This allows the cups to pivot and adjust over a very wide range, utilizing the click method for easy adjustments. One thing we do want to note here is that the Elear is not as portable as many of the other headphones we review. They are large and don’t fold up. This isn’t really an issue, as long as you are purchasing them for home use. If you are looking for something more portable, we recommend a closed-back headphone that folds up or lays flat.
While it may seem like a small detail, one of our pet peeves with headphones is when the left and right earcups are not clearly distinguished. With the Elear, it took us some time to find the tiny L and R next to the connection where you plug the headphone cable into the earcups. Luckily for you, if you’re reading this review, you won’t have to search for them, but it was a bit frustrating out of the box. We had a feeling they were going to sound great, so this delayed our gratification slightly longer than we would have liked.
The build-quality of the Focal Elear is simply fantastic. An interesting fact is every single Elear is 100% hand-assembled in France. We could not ask for a better fit and finish. These look like they could last a lifetime! We do not think you will ever have a cable issue either as the cords are extremely well-constructed.
The Elear has some of the largest earcups we have ever seen, which makes them super comfortable, even for people with larger ears. The combination of memory foam and micro-suede results in a headphone that can be easily worn for a long time without discomfort or heat building up. We do think that they feel and sound best with the headband angled slightly towards your brow, but we recommend you try adjusting them until you find the fit and sound that you like best.
While the headphones themselves weigh in at just under 16 oz, they never feel heavy on your head due to the great design.
When we say these are open-back headphones, we really mean it. When you put them on, you will hear almost no change at all in the audio environment as they block out almost nothing. While the folks in our office may have found it slightly distracting, all was forgiven when it was their turn to test drive the Elear.
The cord itself also has pros and cons. It weighs in at a little over 6.5 ounces and being 9 feet in length can be a little cumbersome to locate if you are just sitting at a desk close to your headphone amp. If you have it stretched out, its weight will pull on you a little. The positive, of course, is that it is a high-quality headphone cable that should give years of trouble free use.
With those few minor gripes aside, we find that the Elear is extremely comfortable, and all is forgiven once you turn the music on. And that’s what really counts.
The Elear uses a full range 40mm driver that incorporates their patent pending M-shaped dome. The driver is made of a blend of aluminum and magnesium. This is a great example of trickle-down technology benefitting us all as most of the design of the Elear came from everything Focal learned in making the $4,000 Utopia headphone. The advantage of this single driver technology is there is no need for a crossover or any form of filtering and you get a response range that goes as low as 5Hz and all the way out to 23kHz. The way this unique driver sits just floating in the earcup means there is never any compression caused by a sealed enclosure.
While the Elear has a relatively high impedance of 80 Ohms, they are pretty efficient with a sensitivity of 104dB. We did find in our testing that you will greatly benefit from some power. We recommend pairing these with a good headphone amp.
We let the Elear burn in for about 100 hours before testing, so they were fully broken in when we first tried them on. Our first cut was one of our favorites -- "Spanish Harlem" by Rebecca Pidgeon. We had the FLAC HDTracks 24/176k Hz version. Her voice just floats effortlessly in your head as the track starts off. When the acoustic upright bass comes in, you can hear every little bend of the strings with a bass tone that is rich and full. As more instruments emerge, you quickly know the Elear has a super neutral sound. There is zero of the top or bottom-end emphasis that plagues many headphones today. As a matter of fact, if you are used to a little zippiness on the top end, you might at first find these too laid back, but give them some time and we’re confident you will fall in love with the natural tonal presentation.
The open-back design Focal has developed really shines as things get more complicated. You will hear each instrument in its own space, clearly separated out and floating from what you will perceive as all the way outside your ears and across your head.
Another track which really showed this off is from the album Sisters of Freedom by Harlem Spiritual Ensemble. The track "I Told Jesus" starts off with just a couple of voices and then grows to a huge choir. We’ve noticed on a lot of speakers and headphones that when the entire choir is at a crescendo you can hear some harshness. Not so with the Elear -- they just sailed right through. The emotional quality of the solo voices also came through in a way that was very impressive.
Switching gears, we went old-school and tried some vinyl on a vintage LP12. This time we used a few tracks from the Stones Exile on Main Street.
We can clearly say these headphones are a ton of fun on good vinyl! "Tumbling Dice" and "Sweet Virginia" were a joy to listen to! The Elear captures all the warmth and emotion that vinyl portrays. These may actually be a keeper for our vinyl rig.
An extreme dynamic range is far easier to accomplish on a closed-back or even in-ear headphone design, so the Elear was not as dynamic as some headphones of these types that we have tested. However, you give up all the advantages of open-back when you switch to that technology.
At $1,000, the Focal Elear is certainly not inexpensive, but if you can afford them, they are worth every penny. They clearly excel over models in the $500-$900 category and rival or surpass some other brands in the $2-3K+ range. Just keep in mind that you will need a good headphone amp to drive these, so if $1,000 is your total budget for a portable system, you may need to go downstream just a bit. But there are tons of great headphone amps on the market to choose from but do not expect to just plug them into your phone and get the best they can do.
These are made for either in-home use or a quiet hotel room. As with any good open-back headphone, you will not be able to fully appreciate their great sound in anything other than a very quiet environment. But that is why we all need more than one pair of headphones anyway!
Another great use case is if you have a turntable but don’t have the speaker system where you want it. Pairing your turntable with the Elear and a good headphone amp will surely bring a smile to your face.
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
It is very clear the Elear shares a lot of the same technology as the world-class $4,000 Focal Utopia headphones. For ¼ the price you get an awful lot of this great tech from the Utopia that trickled down into the Elear.
Awesome Open-Air Sound
The Elear driver is literally suspended over your ears in a totally open ear cup. You will hear a spacious sound like you would not believe.
Comfort for All
With the very large ear cups, the Elear fits over your ears with zero ear compression. This makes them feel very light on your head. The soft memory foam covered with micro-suede will allow you to have hours of listening fun.