Listen Wireless Headphone Review
Company & Product Overview
Headquartered in France, Focal’s history spans 35 years and covers a pretty wide range of product categories. A huge part of their business is professional grade audio made for musicians on tour, or in the studio. They also make a wide variety of components for high-performance car sound systems. Finally, they cover the gamut of home audio sound reproduction, including some no holds barred six figure speaker systems.
After spending some time listening to the $4,000 Focal Utopia headphone (which many consider the world’s best) and reviewing the $1,000 Focal Elear, we were very curious how the Listen Wireless would perform.
Packaging, Design & Build Quality
The Focal Listen Wireless is a closed-back, wireless headphone and is geared toward a different customer than the high-performance Utopia and Elear. No hard cases or fancy packaging here. The Listen Wireless is meant to compete with the likes of Beats and Bose, and its packaging feels much more like something you’d expect to find in a retail store. While there are no frills, we do want to note that it was really simple to remove the headphones from the packaging. Nothing is more frustrating than purchasing a brand new pair of headphones and having to fight through a hard plastic clamshell.
Included in the box are a soft travel case and a cord that uses a twist and turn design. These are wireless headphones, so you probably won’t be using the cord very often, but we like this feature. It locks the cable in and provides a really solid connection.
You’ll also get a charging cable, which works with any standard USB charger. Instead of a tiny light like many headphones have, there is a lighted ring around the USB port. When it is charging, it glows orange, and when it’s all done it changes to white.
Focal is known for their build quality. While the Listen Wireless isn’t made from the steel or aluminum materials we find in higher-end headphones, the hard plastic construction has a nice fit and finish for the price. It’s solid and feels substantial when you hold them. They fold up nicely, making them perfect as an over-ear travel-friendly headphone.
The Listen Wireless has all of your controls on the side of the earcup. You get a huge choice of options for receiving calls, with even the ability to ignore calls, end call 1 and pick up call 2, or ignore call 2 if you are on call 1. Transport control and volume are also present. If you want to use the Listen Wireless in corded mode, you simply turn off Bluetooth and plug them into the headphone jack. There are no transport controls used this way, but more about that a little later. You’ll also find the USB charging port and an omnidirectional microphone.
The Listen Wireless is a decent-looking headphone, but it probably won’t win any beauty contests. Focal packed tons of features and buttons onto the Listen Wireless without making it look too busy. A combination of matte black plastic and high-gloss plastic finishes help to strike the right balance.
The ear pads come off, which is a feature we love, as it allows you to replace them if they become worn. It’s worth noting, however, that we face a little bit of a challenge getting them back onto the small ridge that goes around the perimeter of each earcup. We’ve seen other headphones with easier earpads that are easier to remove and replace, but considering this is a once every few years kind of chore, it isn’t a big deal. All in all, they feel like they can take a lot of abuse on the go and last for a very long while.
The Listen is designed to provide noise isolation without any active circuitry. The memory-foam lined headband puts a bit of pressure on your ears to accomplish this, but the soft cups, which also employ thick, heat-sensitive memory foam seal you off without being uncomfortable.
We like the fact that Focal uses a click system for adjusting the spread so that you can find the perfect fit and make sure it’s equal on both sides.We would have little a bit more range, but a few of us had to max out the size to get it to fit. We noticed that once they’re on your head, the headband still has some give -- it’s able to swivel slightly, providing a comfortable fit.
The entire headphone weighs in at just under 10 ounces, so you will never get that heavy feeling on your head. We used them for a couple of hours continuous with no fatigue.
Features & Technology
The Focal Listen Wireless utilizes Bluetooth 4.1 wireless technology and is aptX compatible. The battery lasts 20 hours and only takes 3 hours to fully charge. If you don't need wireless headphones, take a look at the original Focal Listen, which has a similar sound and design, but is a fully wired headphone and lacks the Bluetooth features.
The Listen Wireless benefits from the research and development that went into Focal’s higher-end headphones. They use a single driver dynamic system. The 1.6” full range driver is constructed of a combination of mylar and titanium. With a low impedance of 32 ohms, the Listen Wireless presents a very easy load to drive. You should be able to get great volume, even out of a smartphone.
They also utilize a double microphone system, which is supposed to help deliver superior voice rendering during phone calls.
While we had a few small gripes about the Focal Listen, what really matters most is how they sound. With the heritage of Utopia and Elear hanging over their head (no pun intended), we wondered how a $299 headphone from the same company would perform. In a word, amazing!
You can instantly tell they are from the same family. Bass is very tight and well-defined with plenty of punch. Left-to-right separation, for a closed-back headphone, is super impressive. The Listen Wireless has a very smooth, non-aggressive top end, which we really prefer over those over-exaggerated “fashion” headphones (you know who we mean!).
We tested everything from Vivaldi to John Coltrane to Iron Butterfly. One thing you will find out about the Listen Wireless and all other great headphones for that matter: no album sounds the same. You will instantly be able to tell a great recording from a mediocre recording. They truly let what is there come through.
To test the range, we connected the Listen Wireless to an iPhone via Bluetooth. We were able to get 50 feet away with a wall in between before we lost signal. Very impressive! You get a little less bass impact, less dynamics, and the top end was not as silky when they were wireless versus when we had them plugged in, but this is what we find with every Bluetooth headphone we’ve ever tested.
What you really get with the Listen Wireless is flexibility. You can go wired when you want the ultimate sound and you can go wireless when you need the convenience of wireless.
As far as noise isolation, they are great. Once you are listening to music, you will be alone with the headphones. While they will not cancel out loud external noises like jet engines or a subway train, they will do a good job of blocking most of it out.
To test audio quality, we started with what we thought would be a common use case -- through a smartphone, streaming Spotify. Next, we stepped up to an AudioQuest Dragonfly Red. Pairing this with the Listen Wireless in wired mode provided sound that was extended and nuanced.
Even though they are plenty efficient enough to be driven by a smartphone, if you use something like a Dragonfly, Fiio, or any of the other portable headphone amps made for a phone, these guys will really show the difference.
We’ve seen a few reviews that said the Listen Wireless did not have great dynamics. If we’re being honest, we don’t think they were fully tested using a great outboard DAC/Amp.
To really push them we decided to pair them with the Naim DAC-V1, a great piece that we were also reviewing at the time. This DAC sells for 8x the price of the Listen Wireless, so we don’t think this is a combination that anyone will actually use, but we wanted to find the limits of the Listen Wireless. Surprisingly, coupled with this pure Class A headphone amp, the sound coming from the Listen Wireless got even better.
In sampling a bunch of music, we cued up U2’s The Joshua Tree. This is a fairly long album. We started out with the first song but just could not stop listening and tapping our toes as we got lost in the music and ended up playing the whole album through.
So, why would we go so far in putting great stuff in front of a modest pair of headphones? We have found in our many years of doing this that if an inexpensive speaker or headphone keeps getting better and better as you send it a better signal, that is a sure sign you have a real winner! Well, we definitely have a winner with the Listen Wireless. For a modest price in the world of high-end headphones, they are just stunning.
Obviously, we love the sound of these for the money. Unless you have a larger head, they should fit and feel just fine. They really are the perfect versatile headphone. You can travel with the Listen Wireless and easily drive them with your smartphone or use Bluetooth for the ultimate in convenience. The Listen will appreciate that better portable DAC. Then you can use them at home to really kick back and enjoy the music.
If you have the wherewithal to own the Elear or Utopia, these make a great travel pair to get that classic Focal pure sound on the go.
We really hope these great sounding headphones will introduce true good sound to a whole new group of listeners. Most of the “popular” headphones in this price category and above just do not sound that great with either their markedly exaggerated bass, treble, or both.
We finally have a $299 headphone which fits the criteria for the average listener that is all about the music and nothing else. Add in the portability, wireless capabilities, and advanced features, and you’ve got a headphone in the Focal Listen Wireless that should have the mass market headphone brands shaking in their boots.
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
High-End Sound, Modest Cost
You can tell these come from a family of great sounding headphones. We were just blown away at how good they are for the money. And don’t be afraid to step up what you are driving them with because they will show you the improvement.
Built to Last
Material quality is super high for a headphone under $300. They feel like they could take years of travel without missing a beat.
Amazing Bluetooth Range
We were stunned at the range of the Listen Wireless. You’ll have no issues of getting coverage up to 30ft in just about any environment and you’ll probably get close to 50 if things are open.