For the general public, the top models from Bose and Sony are the ultimate high-end noise-canceling headphones. But traditional hi-fi brands see it differently. Such as Focal, which builds highly regarded wired headphones in the top class. With the Bathys, the French brand is now venturing into real hi-fi headphones – but without wires.
As the largest French audio brand, Focal builds loudspeakers for studios, in-car systems and for hi-fi enthusiasts. The speakers from the latter category are characterized by the use of proprietary technologies and luxurious design. This certainly applies to the more exclusive models, such as the Kanta’s, Sopra’s and the grand Utopia’s. The most expensive Grande models from the Utopia series quickly tap out at 110,000 euros each. We knew then what to expect when Focal plunged into the headfi market a few years ago. No surprise: it did so with products aimed less at casual users, but rather at those more serious about headphones. A bull’s eye, because over-ear headphones such as the Clear, Stellia and the Utopia were soon regarded as references. Albeit on his Focals: with its own sound and finished at a level that you will not easily meet with mainstream devices. Meet the Focal Bathys.
The Bathys is not the first wireless Focal. There was already the affordable Listen. But what we are looking at here fits completely in that row of thoroughbred hi-fi headphones – also in terms of price tag. The most remarkable thing is that it concerns wireless headphones with noise canceling. Not so long ago, most audiophiles would dismiss such a thing as inferior, if only because of the lossy codecs that Bluetooth uses. But opinions on this have now changed. Despite the price tag of 799 euros, the Focal Bathys are not even the most expensive NC headphones on the market. Both Mark Levinson and T+A are aiming even higher, and Bowers & Wilkins’ recently introduced PX8 is only slightly cheaper. The question remains, of course: what do you get for that extra price?
|What||Wireless noise canceling headphones|
|Codecs||SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive, aptX|
|Inputs||3.5 mm jack, USB-C (charging and DAC function)|
|Autonomy||30 hours (Bluetooth and noise cancelling)|
|Extras||Google Fast Pair, multipoint (2 devices)|
One thing you clearly pay for is design and materials. We already noticed: the Bathys fits perfectly with the hi-fi models from Focal in that respect. The industrial design that was introduced with the closed Stellia of 3,000 euros is also maintained with this model. This makes it very similar to more expensive headphones, such as the Radiance (which is released together with Bentley) or the Celestee. That is not a bad choice, because this way Focal strengthens its brand-wide design appearance. It also emphasizes that the Bathys are really intended as full-fledged high-end headphones, which is important to those audiophiles. But more importantly, the headphones look handsome. A little extravagant perhaps, but certainly not as an average mass-produced product.
Striking elements are the metal movable brackets that grip driver housings and the striking motif on the outside. It immediately attracts attention; many circles of different diameters seem to move almost in orbit around an elegant Focal flame logo. That logo is illuminated at the Bathys, which will be too much of a good thing for some. Fortunately, you can dim it or even turn it off via the accompanying app. Not a bad idea, because otherwise it will be very noticeable if, for example, you use the Bathys in a darkened environment to watch a film on a tablet.
The supplied case is also at the level of the wired premium Focals. It is an elegant fabric case that is hard enough to protect the Bathys. Maybe it’s too beautiful to use mobile. We can imagine that the textile can quickly show stains than some textile. As nice as what you get, maybe a more functional case would have been better for road warriors.
The hinge on each side of the bracket pivots approximately 110°. That is a lot of freedom of movement, so you can easily get a good fit. The bracket itself is also adjustable; the mechanism for doing that seems as durable as with other Focals.
The headband of the Bathys is made of leather, with a softer microfibre finish on the inside. That’s quite comfortable. Rather, it’s the touch of the thicker leather ear cushions on your earcups that you’ll feel. The choice of thicker cushions than the norm makes the Focal headphones a bit heavier and warmer. On the other hand, even after long listening sessions, your ear cups do not hurt. The cushions passively insulate very well – fine, because then the noise canceling doesn’t have to work so hard.
Undeniably, the Bathys is a bit heavier than featherweights such as the WH-1000XM5 or the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 4 . They tap at 249 and 293 grams respectively. The Focal puts a little more weight on the scale, 350 grams. It also sits a little more solidly on our heads, but it’s not heavy like some high-end wired headphones.
The cable can too
You notice from various things that the Bathys was designed by a hi-fi company. For example, Focal emphasizes quite explicitly that you can also connect the headphones via a cable. Not on a headphone output of your laptop, however, but with a USB cable. The Bathys will then appear as an external sound card or DAC in Windows or macOS. The advantage – apart from a longer battery life – is that you can then deliver PCM hi-res audio up to 192 kHz / 24-bit in original quality. You can also do this with an Android smartphone, but you must use an appropriate app to deliver hi-res. USB Audio Player Pro is one of them.
It’s not quite the first time we’ve come across this USB-DAC option. But it is rather exceptional.
By the way, you can connect the Bathys analogously with a normal headphone cable – a handy option if you want to watch a movie on the in-flight system during a flight. You still need the battery.
If you listen via Bluetooth, you can count on extensive codec support. In addition to the standard SBC codec, there’s AAC (important for iPhone owners) and various flavors of aptX. Includes low-latency aptX Adaptive, something gamers will appreciate.
Focal is one of the few audio brands that actually builds its own drivers or speakers. It even shakes up some pretty innovative things. The characteristic of the more expensive products of the French brand is the use of feather-light beryllium. However, that metal is too precious even for premium Bluetooth headphones. So you will find two 40 mm aluminum-magnesium speakers here, which is also a less cheap solution. Good to see that no savings were made on this point.
In terms of battery life, the Bathys scores very well. According to the manufacturer, you can count on 30 hours with Bluetooth and noise cancelling. In USB-DAC mode you get forty hours.
The Bathys also offers multipoint Bluetooth. So you can connect it to two devices simultaneously; can be paired with eight devices.
Shares an app with Naim
De Bathys does not have very many settings. You can do everything with the buttons on the headphones even. We applaud the choice for physical buttons instead of touch. Touch controls do not always work (e.g. with gloves) and are often easy to activate accidentally. You won’t have that here.
There is also an app. It is a bit strange, because Focal shares this app with sister brand Naim. That means that if you operate the Bathys with the app, you will see something very sober and focused on the headphones. If you connect exactly the same app to a Naim streamer or Uniti amplifier, you are suddenly in a very extensive streaming and multi-room environment. That is not bad, just special if you have products from both brands at home.
The Focal & Naim app keeps things simple for the Bathys. No endless menus, just a main screen where you see all the information. How much charge the battery has, the codec used, that’s about it. You can tap three icons to adjust something: EQ, Noise Reduction and LED. If you expect the usual enumeration of genres at the first, then you’re wrong. In addition to the standard setting, there is only Home (with slightly less bass and middle) and Loudness (intended if you listen quietly and still want bass). You can also tune the sound yourself via a five-band equalizer. In terms of noise reduction, you get three options: Transparent, Soft (for at home) and Silent (for on the road).
Large soundstage, great for classical
In terms of sound, the Bathys serves something different than the top models from Sony or Bose. It’s a comment that you can make equally with the more expensive models from Bowers & Wilkins (which do put the spotlight on other things) and partly with Sennheiser’s Momentum Wireless 4. Hi-fi companies clearly want to offer something different. Smart, because on a technical level it is difficult to compete with the CE superpowers. For example, the emphasis is not so much on tangible bass, but on a more balanced reproduction with a little more sparkle and a larger-feeling soundstage.
That is certainly the case with this Bathys, because Focal’s home sound also emphasizes the mid-frequencies. It is no coincidence that this is exactly the area for which people pay extra attention. If you are not used to a ‘real’ hi-fi sound, that is a bit of a surprise. Fans of Focal, on the other hand, discover exactly what they expect. Voices (especially female ones) have a lot of character, and string instruments are also cleverly portrayed. We do notice that there is sufficient layer extension with the tracks on ‘Midnights’, Taylor Swift’s latest album. ‘Lavender Haze’ immediately wraps us in with deep beats, but it is Swift’s voice that floats clearly above it. That combination is quite nice and small is bigger than with the Sony WH-1000XM5 that we have nearby. Now headphones like these are always a bit heavier in the low because you need that for mobile listening. That’s where that Home preset comes into play. If you listen in the sofa, we would still activate this for a bit more balance. But that’s a matter of taste. The Focal approach also strongly emphasizes the very spatial character of Romy Madley-Croft’s voice on ‘Angels’ by The xx, found on the recently re-released ‘Coexist’ album. You can also admire the remarkable but astonishing voice of Benjamine Clementine at the Bathys. The subtle panning of the backing vocals and the whistling in ‘Residue’ are also more noticeable here, while the strings in ‘Delighted’ have a very smooth character. Large orchestral works or more refined piano pieces – it’s all bacon for the mouth of these headphones. in short, we hear a lot of fun for gourmets here. It’s not a neutral sound, though. Although you can adjust things quite well with the equalizer.
In the more effective ‘Silent’ mode, the Bathys’ noise canceling is very effective against low rumble and distracting sounds. You will still hear the slightly higher sounds, such as a little wind and rolling noise in our regular test video of a train driving through a snow storm. The reduction of tiring noise is very good. These are headphones that are suitable for both home/open office use and commuting. However, the NC cannot match the WH-1000XM5. But that thing is also extraterrestrially good in terms of noise reduction. On the plus side, there is hardly any noise or artifacts from the noise reduction. The microphones also seem to hardly be affected by wind.
Is your first thought: “I don’t want to pay that much for noise-cancelling headphones!”. Then you may already fall outside the target group of the Focal Bathys. Like some rivals from other high-end hi-fi brands, this unit is primarily aimed at audiophiles who want to listen wirelessly. As an alternative or addition to a high-end wired headphone.
However, the distinctive design and high-quality finish make the Bathys equally attractive to luxury hunters. There are other luxury headphones, but in terms of design, Focal opts for something a bit more extravagant. The Bathys looks expensive, so it certainly succeeds as a statement.
But it’s also a great pair of headphones. It has the features that a better NC headphone should have, including good codec support and great autonomy. Above all, the Bathys serves up music in a more intense and detailed way than most mainstream competitors. The soundstage – the width of the sound image – is also very good.
What is of course the case is that the Focal sound should suit you. Hi-fi companies want to distinguish themselves by offering more in certain areas and each brand has its own emphasis. That inevitably evokes a love it or hate it response more quickly. But this is clearly not a thing for the gray middle class.
- Premium finish to match the price
- Good autonomy
- Beautiful presentation of vocals
- Noise canceling is above average
- Higher price range
- Perhaps not the first option for a hectic commuter life