The gold standard in Focal open-back headphones, Clear Mg delivers outstanding sound performance and sophisticated, design-led features. Made in France, these top-of-the-range headphones incorporate exclusive Focal technologies, the result of cutting-edge research in acoustics and Focal savoir-faire. The speaker drivers are composed of a unique magnesium cone, a material that enables sharp, precise, impactful playback that results in stunningly real sound. The elegant finish of Clear Mg is also unique with a Chestnut and Mixed-Metals design combined with the ultimate comfort of a leather headband and microfiber earpads. Supplied with two cables and a carrying case, they have everything you could need to enjoy incredible sound in a quiet environment. Fully unleashed, the sound is incredibly pure, generating a wide range of emotions for even more listening pleasure.
Company and Product Overview
Focal, the luxury audio brand from Saint-Étienne, France, and the maker of world-class loudspeakers and some of the best audiophile headphones in the world has come out with a new open-back over-ear headphone for critical listeners who crave high-end audio served on the warm side of neutral and wide-open.
Following in the footsteps of the Focal Clear open-back headphone, the re-tuned Clear Mg, features fine chestnut leather and microfiber materials on the headband and ear pads with a cool honeycomb pattern that decorates the earcups — and of course, as the name suggests, Focal’s special 40mm 'M'-shaped all Magnesium full-range driver. Needless to say, we were pleased to receive the Clear Mg to write our review for the refreshed open-back headphone classic from Focal.
We will talk about Clear Mg (not Focal Clear Mg Pro) — bear in mind — some of the performance and sound profile is an evolution of the previous iteration of this classic open-back model. Like the original Clear, you can tell Clear Mg shares a lot of the same technology with its highly regarded $4,000+ flagship model.
So, if you are considering an open-back and closed headphone from Focal, you’ll be excited to see how much of the build quality from Focal’s top-of-the-line open-back model trickles down to this.
For more information on what to look for when shopping for Focal headphones, be sure to check out our Focal Headphones Comparison.
Packaging, Design and Build Quality
At Audio Advice, we love it when superior craftsmanship and technology from more expensive products trickle down into less expensive, yet still exceptional equipment.
Weighing in at right under a pound, Clear Mg is hand-built from fine, premium materials in the same Burgundy, France-based facility as Focal’s most expensive high-end open-back — Focal Utopia 2020. Focal uses the same headband, yoke, and ear cups in each model. The differences between the models are mainly the dome material, the ear cushions, and the colors.
In terms of aesthetics, Clear Mg features chestnut finishes on the earpads, headband, and yoke. The ear cups have a totally unique honeycomb grille featuring a striking mixed-metal pentagon pattern that is unlike any other Focal headphone. You can see the honeycomb grille’s sharply defined geometric pattern on the exterior and inside the earcups.
At the center of the new honeycomb grille is the Focal logo on the outside of both ear cups, and this is reminiscent of the original classic Clear design. Overall, Focal did a fantastic job blending the sophisticated classic look of the original Clear with updated modern looks.
Similar to all of the models in Focal’s lineup, a premium headphone case is bundled with Clear Mg. The carrying handle on top of the case makes this really easy to tow around. It’s a rigid woven-cloth carry case that matches the Clear Mg’s handsome chestnut and mixed-metal aesthetics and it does a good job protecting your investment with room to accommodate all included accessories.
Inside the box, there is one 4ft headphone cable with ¼-inch adapter, a 10ft balanced cable with 4-pin XLR connectors, and a 3.5mm female to a ¼-inch male jack adapter is included.
Focal paid extra special attention to the earpads on Clear Mg. The pads are 20mm thick memory foam, wrapped in perforated microfiber material. Not only are they extremely comfortable, but the 1-millimeter micro-perforations help give an impression of open space and extended soundstage. Along with the open-back design, the Focal Clear Mg is meant to create the sensation of listening to speakers in a room, as opposed to through headphones.
Clear Mg weighs about 16 ounces. While the premium build-quality is top-notch, this open-back headphone remains comfortable after extended listening sessions.
The solid aluminum yoke will provide a lightweight, strong, yet flexible support on the head that molds to face shape and reduces pressure points. The yoke pivots and allows for a wide range of adjustments. Each step clicks into place, making finding a perfect fit easy. The headband is also memory foam, wrapped in the same perforated microfiber material as the ear pads. As soon as we put these on, it was clear that these are some of the most comfortable headphones we’ve ever tried. They’re lightweight, the earpads and headband are soft, and they put far less pressure on your head than many other over-ear headphones we’ve tried.
The cushions also cover plenty of surface area around the ears. Having slightly larger earcups generally provides more room in the chamber for the ears to stay cool, and Focal extends this design principle across their entire line of high-end headphones. For audiophile-grade open-back headphones below $2000, Focal goes the extra mile by adding special acoustic treatments within the ear cups that follow the curves of the speaker drivers to enhance high-frequency reproduction with a fantastic sealing condition.
Once you have them on, you can tell these are a great example of a fully open-back headphone. By that we mean you can hear everything going on around you, and of course, everyone around you will be able to hear what you’re listening to as well. This provides a spacious sound field, but we wouldn’t recommend the Clear Mg in a shared workspace, on an airplane, or anywhere else where you might need to be around other people.
For more information on what to look for when shopping for the right headphone, be sure to check out our Headphones and Headsets Buyer's Guide.
We found that tilting the headband slightly forward on the head provided the most comfortable fit and the widest sound field, but this is a bit subjective, so you should experiment and find what you like the best.
We give these a solid A for comfort! They’re honestly among the most comfortable headphones we’ve ever tried. At Audio Advice, we think this feature makes the Clear Mg a clear winner and a great choice for critical listening at home.
Features and Technology
If there is one thing Focal understands extremely well, it is speaker driver technology and how to work with the best lightweight materials in the world to improve rigidity, weightiness, and damping — three success factors for a high-performance driver.
With their flagship Utopia headphone, Focal deployed a full-range M-shaped dome with a Beryllium driver — which is one of the most arduous metals in the world due to its extreme rigidity. The original Clear benefitted from the R&D that went into the Focal Utopia and Elear, which featured a 40mm driver made from a combination of magnesium and aluminum and a new copper voice coil.
This design made the driver in the original Clear easier to get going with better bass definition, greatly improved dynamics, and an, even more, linear top-end extension. This also allowed the original Clear to play louder than the Elear — even at very high volumes, we liked how the bass stayed completely in control.
However, the Focal Clear Mg has been updated with a new speaker driver cone material. After four years of research and development, the engineers at Focal developed a dome with an all Magnesium cone for the full-range driver in the Clear Mg. This new alloy, combined with Focal’s special ‘M’-shaped dome, allows the speaker driver to be even lighter, and more rigid than the Clear’s original aluminum-magnesium driver.
Since the original Clear already reproduced a pure, effortless, realistic sound, just think of even more impactful music, revealing even more. In Clear Mg, the high-performance dynamic driver can present a full range of frequencies from 5Hz to 28kHz for deep bass extension, and a maximum sound pressure level of 104dB for a more precise dynamic range in the mid to high frequencies. Think more precise micro details, more realism, and more accurate dynamics hiding in the headphone’s wide-open soundstage.
The updated driver also gives the Focal Clear Mg an advantage in the power needed. They are 55 ohms compared to the Elear’s 80 ohms. While any headphone of this caliber will highly benefit from a better external amp, this lower impedance means they will run ok on your phone. Even so, we highly recommend pairing the Clear with a better headphone amp, as it’s totally capable of showing off anything you change in the signal path.
After breaking in the Clear Mg for a few days, we used the ¼-inch headphone cable that comes in the box with the iFi iDSD Diablo DAC/Headphone amp connected to a laptop, streaming hi-res audio with Qobuz — then we connected Clear Mg directly to an iPhone for comparison.
Pairing this headphone up with a proper DAC/Headphone amp allowed Focal Clear Mg to reproduce its deep 5Hz bass response with the resolution the human body can really feel. With an impressive high-frequency response of 28kHz, Clear Mg has enough headroom in the mid-range and top-end extension to sing clearly, transparently, and with authenticity and neutrality.
For more information on how to shop for a headphone amp, be sure to check out What Is a Headphone Amp (And Why You Need One).
We listened to a lot of different genres of music in a variety of scenarios like riding in the car, working in a private office, and at home. As open-back headphones go, we were impressed with its wide-open soundstage, the neutral sound signature warmed up just a bit by the deep, resolute bass, and the dynamic details that made listening to music really come alive.
Fleetwood Mac’s “Tango in the Night,” recorded in 1987 as the band’s fifth and last studio album, is a great way to experience Clear Mg’s natural, wide-open sense of presentation, dynamic energy, and “airy,” yet neutral top-end. The entire album from front to back really showed us how spacious the Clear Mg is on vocals, stringed instruments, and rhythm sections as voices and lead guitars seemed to almost float way outside our heads.
On the album’s self-titled fifth track, “Tango in the Night,” an almost eerie interaction between a synthesizer and an arpeggiated stringed instrument can be heard panned to the right, while a vocal performance by Lindsey Buckingham just floats in the middle of the wide-open soundstage. About 56 seconds into the song, Buckingham’s voice rises outside of our heads, and the Clear Mg lets out all the emotions of his voice which can be hard to reproduce on some systems.
For our next classic dive, we pulled out Eric Clapton’s Slowhand from 1977. While we loved listening to it, “Lay Down Sally” was just truly amazing to hear with the Clear Mg. This more upbeat track features vocal harmony from Marcy Levy and Yvonne Elliman. Each voice is overdubbed far out into the left and right channels. When you hear Clapton singing dead center in the middle and these female harmonies come in way out to the sides of your head, and you hear the layers, it will surely put a smile on your face!
Going back even further in time, we reached for Grand Funk Railroad’s, “Closer to Home” from 1970. There is a track on here we use a lot for our evaluations called “Mean Mistreater.” It starts out with a Fender Rhodes where one note is intentionally very distorted. The better the system, the easier it is to hear the distortion. It came through loud and clear on the Clear Mg -- no pun intended. The magic starts again with some overdubbed harmonies. You hear Mark Farner dead in the middle, smooth as silk. Then the producer plays around, sliding the mixed vocal tracks from left to right. This was a common trick in the ’70s. On the Focal Clear headphones, these tracks start far outside your head and float all the way to the other side — it’s almost spooky!
Bass seems to go deeper on the Clear Mg as well. It really shines on acoustic bass, where you can hear even more of the rich harmonics. The Focal Clear Mg is incredibly neutral across the whole audio spectrum. If you are looking for a top-end sizzle, these are not for you. They are completely honest to the music.
We also felt the Clear Mg was more dynamic than before. From top to bottom, the dynamic parts of a track seemed to be jumping out more while it was easier to hear the nuanced and subtle details in the softer passages. There are still some closed-backs that can portray more dynamics, but as has been our standard, we greatly prefer the sound of open-backs for critical listening. On a product like the Clear Mg, you get a real sense of openness with sounds floating all around your head and even to the outside — something that just isn’t possible to the same degree with closed-back headphones.
After testing the Clear Mg, we are more convinced than ever that Focal is still one of the absolute top players in the headphone game today. As impressed as we were with the original Clear, the Focal Clear Mg is absolutely worth the sub-$1,500 price range.
The high cost of premium Beryllium drivers in higher-end products like the Focal Utopia 2020 can place audiophile performance beyond most people’s reach. However, if you are considering a pair of high-end headphones below $2,000 to listen to music more critically, you have our approval to splurge on the Clear Mg. The sound signature will be deeply satisfying for critical listeners who want detail-oriented music and want to hear music exactly as the artist intended.
While not the same effortless top-end extension that you only get from Beryllium drivers, the benefits of all Magnesium drivers mean the headphone will preserve a neutral, balanced reproduction of your music. They are more comfortable by a wide margin, come with a better selection of cables, they look fantastic, and the sound is superior across the audio spectrum.
As we mentioned earlier, you can drive the Clear Mg with a smartphone, but if you want to get the most out of them, pair them with your home system, a good headphone amp, or any of the great DAC/Headphone amps on the market. The Focal Arche would be a very solid pairing.
In the right environment, you’ll be able to comfortably listen for hours on end. As with any open-back headphones, they are designed to be used in a quiet environment. This combination of comfort, great looks, and incredible sound is hard to beat. If you need help knowing what to look for when shopping for great headphones, be sure to check out our Headphones and Headsets Buyer's Guide.
Type - Circum-aural open-back headphones
Impedance - 55 Ohms
Sensitivity - 104dB SPL / 1mW @ 1kHz
THD - 0.25% @ 1kHz / 100dB SPL
Frequency response - 5Hz – 28kHz
Speaker driver - 15/8" (40mm) 'M'-shaped magnesium dome
Weight - 0.99lbs (450g)
Cables supplied -
- 16.5 feet (5m) asymmetric cable (1/4" - 6.35mm TRS jack)
- 3.94 feet (1.2m) asymmetric cable (1/8" - 3.5mm TRS jack)
- 1/8" (3.5mm) to 1/4" (6.35mm) stereo jack adapter
Carrying case provided - 97/8x91/2x43/4" (250x240x120mm)