Focal Elegia

FOCAL

Elegia Heaphone Review

The first closed-back headphones from Focal.

PRICE


$899

THE HIGH NOTES


  • M Driver
  • Great Closed-Back Accuracy and Openness
  • Legendary Focal Comfort

Company & Product Overview

Focal is a French company who has been in the audio space since 1979, just one year less than Audio Advice! They have three major parts to their company: home audio products, speaker drivers for the automobile industry, and speakers for touring musicians and recording studios. Focal speaker drivers are also found in many popular speaker brands.

One of their key reasons for standing the test of time is the fact that they design and manufacture everything in their own factories in France. Even final assembly is carried out in France, where they employ over 200 people across their facilities.

A few years ago, Focal introduced a line of headphones that took the world by storm for their ultra high performance. The Utopia, at $3,999, has been acclaimed by many to be the world’s best headphone. The Utopia lead to two other models, the Clear and Elear. All of these are open-back designs. Today’s review is on the first closed-back in this series, the Elegia. The Elegia is very similar in appearance to the popular Clear and sell for $899.

Packaging, Design & Build Quality

The Focal Elegia comes packaged in a black, heavy duty cardboard box that comes apart to reveal a clam shaped case to protect the Elegia. This is a very nice gray, fabric wrapped hard shell case with zippers and a carrying handle. The case and the headphones, like all of the Focal’s in this series, are pretty large and are not something you can hide in a briefcase as these are serious headphones. The Focal logo is in the middle of one side of the case and their slogan “Listen Beyond” is lightly engraved into the carrying handle. We do wish the case had a flatter bottom as that would enable it to sit upright and thus take up less space. Inside the case are the headphones, the very nicely done cord, and a mini to full size headphone end adaptor.

Focal spent quite a bit of time on the design for the Elegia as it is the first closed-back type in their top of the line series. Closed-back headphones have a challenge because of the very small space for air to move, and the risk that you lose fast and deep bass response due to resonances from the small cavity. Their engineering team developed a special venting system to ensure they would have that great bass accuracy their other models are known for.

Like the Clear, the Elegia uses Focal’s 40mm inverted dome driver. This is one super accurate full range headphone driver capable of bass down to 5hz and extending way beyond human hearing to 23khz. Interestingly, in the Elegia they were able to lower the impedance to 35 ohms, which means they are very easy to drive even with a smartphone. As a matter of fact, 1 milliwatt will get them up to 105db, which is like standing near a helicopter.

Their patented 40mm M shaped inverted cone driver made of aluminum and magnesium is situated at a slight angle inside the headphones towards the front. The very thick memory foam earpads will hold it about ½” away from your head. A nice touch that we are starting to see more often on good headphones is that the ear pads are removable should one get damaged. They are a very tight fit but still removable. With a gentle tug they popped right off. These are actually over ¾ of an inch thick and covered with a very soft microfiber material.

Each black colored ear cup has a recessed connection for the headphone cable on the bottom. This makes for a great fit with the molded end as it should never get knocked loose. The cable itself is very sturdy and made of a thick material reminiscent of the cord on a 50s vintage electric clothing iron, so in other words, very durable! It's about 1 meter in length and splits into two cords, each about 16” long. The stereo headphone connector is mini plug sized and has a pretty cool little velcro strap to wrap up the cord for the travel case. Plugging the cords into the ear cups results in a nice solid “click”. The Elegia also comes with a full sized headphone jack adapter that screws on to the mini end for a super solid connection.

The Elegia headband is a solid aluminum yoke that has quite a bit of flexibility to it. The part that touches the top of your head is memory foam covered in a soft and ventilated microfiber. The top part of the headband is a hard leather material.

Adjusting the headband is nicely done with what we call the click method where you step through very small movements until you get each one in the right place for optimum comfort. Although, we do have two pet peeves with their design. The first is the headband should have some kind of markings on it so you can tell when you get each ear cup moved out to the same position. The second one will only drive you crazy once, just like it did us. The only way to figure out which ear cup is right or left is a very tiny L or R you can barely see next to the cord connector. We would prefer something easier to find and see. We would have also liked to see the R and L on the cords be some sort of color to help you identify which one goes where. This is something you’ll have to strain to see each time you plug them in.

Just like all of the Focal headphones in this series, the Elegia is built to last a lifetime.  We really like the fact these are 100% designed, manufactured, assembled, and tested in Focal’s factory in Saint-Étienne, France. The fit and finish is as good as they feel and look very elegant.

Comfort

With their very large ear cups, the Elegia will be very comfortable from just about any sized head. Some over the ear headphones do not have a lot of room inside the cup for your ear but that is certainly not the case with the Elegia. We’ve been impressed over and over again with the comfort of Focal headphones and there are no changes with the Elegia. Their use of memory foam, microfiber and ventilation mean you will be able to wear these for hours without any form of discomfort or getting that hot feeling on your head some headphones can give you.

We found them to be most comfortable with the headband angled a bit forward on our head. Interestingly, due to the angled driver, the sound changes a bit as you move the angle around and this is the same spot we felt sounded the best.

The spec sheet shows the Elegia weighing 430 grams, which is just under a pound, but Focal has pulled off a design that makes these feel much lighter than you would think for their weight.

The Elegia is a truly closed-back design. When you slip these on, you will be all alone with no external noises disturbing you. The other plus to this is that your office mates will not hear you rocking out either! Even at pretty high levels, you can barely hear anything coming from these if you are not wearing them.

We also like the change Focal made to the cord on the Elegia from some of their previous models where the cord was much longer. The 1 meter length is just perfect for the desk, but it would keep you pretty close to the headphone jack on your audio gear.

Overall, the Elegia is one heck of a comfortable headphone. We may have had a few minor complaints about the labeling of the channels and headphone band markers, but we have to say, all was forgiven once we started playing some of our favorite tunes!

Performance

We love companies that use trickle down technology to help make their more affordable products perform better than they should for the money. The 40mm full range driver used in the Elegia came from what Focal learned when they developed their $4000 Utopia ultimate headphone. This single driver extends way out on each frequency extreme and has no need for a crossover or any type of filtering to get in the way of the signal. We were very curious to see if Focal could pull off that sound from their open-backs in a closed-back model.

We were lucky enough to receive one of the first pairs of Elegia Focal shipped. During the course of our testing we used Tidal coming directly out of the headphone jack on a basic Dell Windows PC, an AQ Dragonfly, Chord Mojo, and a Chord Hugo 2. We have to say, these are very accurate and revealing headphones. Each move we made up in quality of headphone DAC and amp made a significant improvement, so much so that when we went back from the Hugo 2 to the computer direct, the computer almost sounded distorted, certainly with a big haze over everything. While the Elegia can easily be driven with a phone or tablet, we highly recommend you pair them up with something better, be it a great portable player from Sony or Astell & Kern, or one of the many good headphone amp/DAC combos out on the market today. Your ears will really appreciate it.

The first cut we tested the Elegia with was Tom Petty’s Mary Jane’s Last Dance, recorded in 1993. This track told us a whole lot about these new headphones. These are hands down the best pair of closed-back headphones we have heard at giving you an open-back sensation. On a great recording you get a huge soundstage. Treble is never etched or forward but super detailed and accurate. Tom Petty’s voice though was just stunning. We could hear all of the emotions in his voice during the song. The bass was also incredibly accurate with great definition, but it almost felt like they achieved this with some loss of bass power.

We moved from there to an obscure cut we like to use for headphones called Axel F from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack. This track is all synthesized music but with a lot of great detail. Once again we were stunned by the openness of the midrange on a closed-back headphone. The bass line on this cut was just super fast with some of the best definition we have heard.

We then decided to give these a listen on some classic vinyl so we pulled out Eric Clapton’s Slowhand and James Gang’s Straight Shooter from 1972. There is a cut on each of these albums that is a great test to see if the Elegia could give that open, three dimensional sound you get from really good open-back headphones. The first track we tried was Wonderful Tonight from Clapton. We could easily hear the distinct voices of Marcy Levy and Yvonne Elliman singing harmony on this cut. It almost felt like they were slightly outside our right and left ears, an A+ there. The James Gang was next with Get Her Back Again, which is a slow ballad. There is a haunting harmonic track in the left channel that just floated in space, but the really big win was how clear the little finger cymbals sounded as they just trailed away with lots of space around them and they also appeared to come from way outside the ear cups. Both of these cuts showed us what we were by now expecting to hear, a headphone that is just simply amazing in midrange clarity and openness, albeit with a very small sacrifice in ultimate bass energy.

In the end, we found these headphones reminded us of some of the trade offs you make when picking out speakers for your home. Unless you spend over $25,000 on speakers, it's hard to get one that does everything really well. The Elegia felt like we had made the choice to go with a small monitor type speaker. Just like with a really good monitor, the midrange and stereo imaging is just simply amazing.The bass doesn’t lack in deepness, but it is not as pronounced as what you might expect from a big pair of tower speakers. So if you love a more pronounced accentuated bass character, these are probably not for you. But if you value accuracy, a super open sound, and a midrange that is just stunning, these fit the bill perfectly. Also, unlike some speakers or headphones that have an open sound, they are never hard on your ears with a shrill top end; it’s very smooth and enjoyable over the long term. Just be sure and pair them with some pretty decent electronics if you want them to perform for you like they can!

Overall Recommendation

There are a lot of choices out there for headphones in the same price range as the Elegia. However, they check off a whole lot of boxes. Their comfort is top notch. If you want a great headphone you can use at work without your neighbors knowing you like 70s disco, you need a closed-back headphone to keep that great sound in and the Elegia’s do that really well. If you value accuracy over accented bass and want comfort and a closed-back design, we can’t think of anything better under $1000!

HIGH NOTES UNPACKED

Focal Elegia M Driver

M Driver

The Elegia shares a very similar full range driver Focal developed for their $4000 Utopia headphones. It is an inverted cone design that is super accurate, fast, and detailed.

Great Closed-Back Accuracy and Openness

The Elegia is incredibly accurate in its audio reproduction while sealing the sound out from the outside world and sealing you in. But unlike many closed-back headphones, the sound still sounds like it is coming from an open-back design with a huge soundstage.

Legendary Focal Comfort

Focal is becoming known for making headphones you can wear for hours and hours. It's no wonder with their large ear cups that use a soft microfiber over memory foam and a design that makes them feel light as a feather on your head.

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