Focal Clear Review — The Best Headphones for Music Production in 2021
Focal Clear / Focal Clear Professional
On March 12th, 2020 after my fourth work cancelation due to the Coronavirus outbreak in New York City, I read the writing on the wall and looked up directions to Adorama in Manhattan. I knew I was going to be stuck at home for a very long time. I might as well be stuck at home with some new headphones.
Some months earlier I had listened to a number of different Focal headphones and absolutely fell in love with the Focal Clear. So I went to Adorama and purchased a pair. I went to the grocery store and purchased several months worth rice, beans, and frozen meals.
Finally, I went home and took a long shower while listening to Donald G. McNeil Jr. on a New York Times podcast discuss our collective impending doom.
One year later, I have no regrets regarding the Focals. The frozen meals, however…
Note: By all accounts, the Focal Clear and the Focal Clear Professional are the same headphones in different colors and with different accessories. So while I’m reviewing the Focal Clear specifically, all of these impressions should apply equally to the Focal Clear Professional.
Build, Design, and Comfort
The Focal Clear, like everything Focal produces, is beautifully designed. I’ve had mine for almost a year now and they still look / feel brand new apart from the ear pads. Replacement ear pads are extremely expensive at $200 per pair. For reference, Sennheiser sells replacement pads for their HD 6-line for $50 per pair. In theory, ear pads have a substantial effect on a headphone’s sound which is how Focal justifies such a steep price. There are third-party replacement pads available for the Focal Clear but according to objective measurements and subjective impressions by Andrew Park at headphones.com, none of them sound the same as the stock Focal Clear pads. The pads on my Focal Clear do look worn but despite wearing them for 6+ hours just about every day this year, they still feel firm and sound the same as they did when I got them.
Unlike the ear pads, the headband is not replaceable. This is an unfortunate design flaw. In order to keep the headband fresh for as long as possible, I purchased this headphone headband (affiliate link) which happens to perfectly match the Focal Clear color scheme.
The Clear is unreasonably comfortable for how heavy it is. At almost twice the weight of Sennheiser’s HD 6XX, the Clear is almost just as comfortable as the 6XX if not more comfortable in some ways. The (very expensive to replace) ear pads are perforated which probably contributes to the Clear’s breathability along with the Clear’s open-back nature. In the year that I’ve spent using the Clear for recording/mixing/mastering sessions every day, comfort has never been an issue. It isn’t as comfortable as wearing nothing, but it may be the next best thing.
Eyeglasses seem to have a noticeable effect on low end response. With glasses on, the sub frequencies sound slightly off. I avoid this issue by resting my eyeglass temples on top of headphone ear-pads like a complete maniac.
Note: These are open-back headphones. This means there is no isolation between you and your surroundings. These are useful for listening critically at home in a quiet room. They would be totally inappropriate for use in public spaces because 1. everyone would be able to hear what you’re listening to and 2. the noise of your surroundings would make it difficult for you to hear what you’re listening to.
Reference Tracks | Jake Cheriff
Frequency Response / Sound
The Focal Clear is aptly named. Focal has somehow managed to produce a headphone that has been described as neutral, warm, bright, punchy, articulate, etc, etc… I think the contradictions from review to review are a testament to the sweet spot in tuning and resolution that Focal has achieved with the Clear. There is an authority to the way they reproduce audio that I have never heard with other headphones.