With decades of work in the sound reproduction field, French manufacturer Focal can definitely no longer be ignored by anyone. Focal, (formerly JM Lab), earned their high-fidelity letters of nobility just like Cabasse, Davis, Siare, Supravox, Triangle and a few others, who were, first and foremost, transducer manufacturers before becoming loudspeaker manufacturers. Some of the most exceptional reference speaker models in the high-fidelity world owe their very existence to these manufacturers of exceptional loudspeakers – many of which have become immortal. Focal’s Grande Utopia creation is part of this honoured podium of musical reverence. But who would have thought that this pioneer of the transducer would offer us headphones?
Aside from a few marginal exceptions that will use electronics within their design, you would think that headphones are nothing other than a broadband transducer built into each shell. Sure. So will you then tell me why the music heard from in each shell can surpass that output by extraordinarily expensive loudspeakers? Well, all the magic is there, because for an already acceptable price equivalent to that of a pair of loudspeakers, the headphones will show to be superior without a doubt, even much better on several planes. If we consider the fact that we will feel less of the room effect than with a pair of loudspeakers, that we hear less breath as well, and therefore less atmosphere in general, the sound result will not be comparable to that of a set of loudspeakers and we shall, with a headset, be treated to more authenticity, more respect to the sound recording, more dynamics and spontaneity… And to many other things too.
The design and manufacture, according to Focal‘s documentation, are of French origin. We will not complain and, given the result, we must congratulate the company for not outsourcing any aspect of its offering.
I’m surprised by the box that arrives at my house, which is a little bigger than expected. I get out of this box a beautiful black box, it too imposing and heavy. I’m worried. I open the case’s vertically sliding lid. The headset is enclosed in a rigid hull whose appearance and finish are so fine that they remind me of very beautiful leather bags. The remaining space is occupied by another black box with a magnetic lid, containing a coiled cable of five meters in length (16 feet), but you do get a sensation of exaggerated extension after only two meters. The Clear Professional headset is also equipped with a 1,2 meter cable, which is not coiled, with a 1/8 inch stereo connector at one end and two other connectors of the same size (mono) that will plug into
The identification of right / left side will be facilitated by a small label indicating the European Community (EC) as a place of manufacture, and by another indicating that asks the user to not throw this pair of headphones into the household waste bin. I’m thinking of users listening to their music in the dark. Only this label will indicate to them the left side of the headset by touch alone. In this same box, similar to a book, I discover a pair of extra pads identical to the one that already adorns the headset. If the weight of the whole proved worrisome, the headset, once out of its protective shell, is rather light, because the weight came from the black boxes, which pleasantly surprised me.
Presentation, Aesthetics and Finish
The performance offered by the Clear Professional headset is very beautiful and at the height of what its pretty protective case leads us to expect. It is a red leaning towards to a burgundy colour that was chosen for the pads and for the inside of the main headband. A memory foam perfectly marries the contour of the ears in addition to making wearing the headset immensely comfortable. The rest is mostly black, with finely polished aluminum accents. Impeccable finish, elegant and luxurious presentation: Focal as I have always known.
It is a single 40 mm speaker that produces all of the sound waves. But this Clear Professional headphone is not a simple transducer placed in a shell, it is much more than that. Indeed the position of this transducer as well as the shell that contains it, are slightly oriented towards the back of your skull. This thoughtful positioning, on the part of Focal, shows us that research was aimed at a way of approaching listening with that of loudspeakers. Focal did not want to see the effect of the soundstage disappearing so here, we are rewarded with a subterfuge aimed at increasing our enjoyment. The technology used is of an open-air headset, and in the case of the Clear Professional headset, truly open, since the shells for the earpieces are made from a grille completely covered with micro perforations. Apart from the hidden part of the transducer’s magnet, Focal gives its model a phenomenal subjective aeration thanks to this giant grid. The aluminum part that covers the magnet of the transducer allows the user to have an accurate idea of the offset position of the loudspeaker relative to the shell. The transducer used is equipped with a cone made of aluminum and magnesium.
Ergonomics and Comfort
Even if the Clear Professional weighs in at 450 grams, once well positioned on your head, it is quickly forgotten, with or without music, which is a really important point. Focal prides itself on the fact that its Yoke (the Y that maintains the axis of the shells) marries the shape of the user’s face, which is confirmed, since the slight possible rotation of the shells and the Yoke adjusts to the shape of each user’s head. Setting the headset on one’s head feels rigid, then easy to position, and especially non-existent during the musical performances. A very nice piece well designed, which shows all the know-how of the renowned builder, in addition to a very opulent presentation.
Specifc Listening, Professional Version
Since the product entrusted to me is designed for professional use, and although I am not a sound engineer, I still allowed myself to imagine myself in the place of such a professional. And I asked myself: What more will I hear with the Focal Clear Professional headphones than I hear with my usual excellent speakers? To play the game, I chose what, for many years, seemed to me to be my reference recording, the work of Philippe Teissier du Cros, sound engineer and a man who knows how to recognize talent.
I start with what has made me follow Philippe Teissier du Cros for years, Hadouk Trio. I believe it was with the album Air Hadouk that I had a true musical revelation and, more than anything, a real revelation of what could be a mastered recording. It is a great pleasure to be able to listen to it with Focal headphones as I often imagined listening to it with a pair of Grand Utopia. The Clear Professional transcends my listening experience with loudspeakers, and nothing gets lost in room reverberations. The sound is a direct connection with the listener, and that’s what I feel with these headphones, a live sound performance. Not one note, I repeat, none, is forgotten or seems weaker than the other. This somewhat indescribable or indefinable ‘something’ tells me that despite the fact that I no longer count the number of times I listened to this CD, I now hear other aspects, as if it had been somehow enriched. In the Lomsha introductory piece, the bass and the Doudouk flirt with perfection. All the harmonics are magnified and even Steve Shehan’s cymbals never seemed to me so caressed. I imagine the recording of this kind of music is very difficult to achieve, because the percussion track, (especially in the case of the piece Tricotin), is considered as an instrument in its own right and not just the foundation of the rhythmic accompaniment. This CD’s dynamics as reproduced by the Clear Professional headphones are truly spectacular.
And now for the vocals, how are the voices on the discs that I also know very well? Angélique Ionatos’album Canta Frida Kahlo lets me answer that question easily. The test of Frida Kahlo’s lyrics, here articulated so well that one can grasp every last syllable, is very revealing. As are Focal‘s Clear Professional headphones. The voice is put slightly forward while the accompaniment is somewhat more subtle, slightly retreated. The piano part is beautifully natural. As for the song Y a volar, we hear swallows sing, the presence of these is very concrete outside our headspace and in a rather disconcerting way, since we feel the birds spiral around us. I have never felt the sound of this album in such a way and that’s what’s interesting with headphones listening. Everything seems to be rediscovered.
Then comes Duoud with Mehdi Haddab (Oud acoustic and electric) and Smadj (Oud acoustic and electric also, adding an electronic touch to these musical creations), equally beautifully recorded. And this is the oud – the instrument – as you have never heard it before! Especially if we start with Johnny Guitar, the first track from the album. The track that mixes the traditional and the very contemporary is Luthausore, quite a feat for any high-end loudspeaker. And it is not any easier with headphones, since the play here consists of merging the two styles (the traditional and the very contemporary). The electro-acoustic accompaniment is perfect, so much so that I catch myself looking for what I would not have heard before in this album. Without being a sound engineer, one can easily imagine the intentions and desires of each party, Ph. Tessier du Cros wanting to totally respect and the music and the musicians he is recording.
Extended Listening, Home Version
In music listening version, that is to say without really concentrating on the quality of the reproduction, but by letting yourself be carried by the music, the Clear Professional excels there too. I leave Ph. Tessier du Cros to go to more recent and commercial music purchases. The latest compilation of Francis Cabrel offers a selection of pieces recorded on a variety of different dates. This artist’s work is always nicely cared for, which yields amazing results using Focal’s Clear Professional headphone. This latest triple album compilation includes some recently recorded unpublished tracks. Meticulous, I would dare say very meticulous, is the workmanship on these recordings, and the tracks now offer perfect pleasure emanating from the Clear Professional headset. Focal always offers a warmness if you will, in reproducing vocals with a realistic human definition.
I underline here an important part of my delight in listening to all my albums and which is due to the fact that emerges, with this headset, a true respect for the music (and by this very fact, for the listener) who does not get bombarded with over exaggerated bass notes. It is not because digital playback can reproduce tons of bass that it is necessary to have a pair of headphones that hammers the base of your skull. Congratulations to Focal who knows what respect for music means and conveys it with these Clear Professional headphones.
A few questions will arise with the purchase of this headset. What do you want to do with it? Well, don’t ask yourself these questions, because if you want to use the Clear Professional as a sound professional or to listen to your favorite music as simple entertainment, or to view movies, make them a possible substitute for your main loudspeakers, the Clear Professional headphones will be perfect in all cases. I have said it often, but I will repeat it, today pro gear is moving towards the consumer sector and that is a good thing. For my part, I have never really made a difference in this brand, and I have always thought that a good product serves everyone, whether it comes from the pro sector or from the consumer sector. The Clear Professional headphone set by Focal deserves to be used for listening, so much so that even if you do not want to buy it, it will be important to try it, even only once which will not be habit forming, to have a more precise idea concerning one of the most beautiful current achievements in the world of headphones. Whether you buy it or not, you will have come across a real reference in the matter, which will allow you to no longer ask What more will I hear with the Clear Professional by Focal?
Warranty: 3 years, parts and labor
Distributor: Plurison, Tel.: 450.585.0098
Hadouk Trio, Air Hadouk, Naïve, NJ620611
Angélique Ionatos, Canta Frida Kahlo, Naïve, NV 46911
Duoud, Ping-Pong, World Village, WVF 479025
Francis Cabrel, L’essentiel 1977-2017, TMUCD35911
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