Review: Focal Clear MG open-back headphones.
Restyling of a perfect product
I have long wanted to try a headset from this brand for the magazine. Since he began manufacturing headphones, initially in the mid-range with models like the Spirit Classic , he gave signs that he would be a serious manufacturer: reliable for his good workmanship and interesting for his sound. By then my interest was aroused and I paid attention to what they were bringing out.
When they made the leap to the high range, with the creation of the Utopía model , they confirmed expectations by creating a new benchmark in the sector, which still remains as such today. Since then they have been bringing new models to the market in different ranges, gradually focusing on the high ones. For some time now I have owned one of their first models, the Elear . I went to a specialized store trying the Elear and Clearof the time, and shortly after I got hold of them. They are one of my favorite teams, and I have enjoyed them almost daily ever since. Its correctness, tonal naturalness and dynamics have made, to a certain extent, change my tastes in this hobby a little, and have significantly displaced other models that I own and use regularly.
Now we have this model, the Focal Clear MG , a revision or restyling of the Clear that I tried then in the store and that already impressed me a lot. So much so that it seemed really complicated to me that in such a short time the brand decided to release a new model. I have verified, however, that the original Clear is still for sale and in production, and is still available on the manufacturer’s own website without there being a significant price difference between the two models.
I deduce, therefore, that it is not a model intended to replace the previous one, but rather a market alternative that the manufacturer has seen as perhaps necessary, or at least desirable, to offer to the fan. Let’s see how Focal has done it , to what extent this model change brings something better, or at least different, to the spectacular previous model.
PRESENTATION AND MATERIAL QUALITY
Focal has entered strongly in this aspect from the beginning. Since its first models, with a much tighter budget in the mid-range, it can be said that it was exemplary in all aspects: boxes, accessories and build quality. Right now, and considering the models I know, I think it can be said that they are simply the way to go, and that other brands could well take it as an example for different reasons, especially practical ones.
The headset we are reviewing is delivered in a textile-lined cardboard base box. In it we find all the accessories of the product, manuals and documentation. This box will serve to store the equipment if we are not going to use it for a long period, or to transport it in a timely manner, but it is not used frequently. Even so, it is already of the quality of the boxes that we usually find in this sector as a standard for storage after each use.
Focal also offers a small and well-designed carrying case that fits perfectly in this box described above, but which already serves us to store and transport the headset and cables in daily use. It is an example of how to adjust a case to the size of a headset that, being high-end, is already large in itself, but as a whole it is practically like a semi-portable device.
In the images we can see that the headset is perfectly attached internally, since the cover is made to measure almost to the millimeter, so that it will hardly work for any other model. The compartment is resistant and you can also store the cables without ever coming into contact with the headset. The cable box deserves a separate mention, also made with great care and to measure.
The cables are of a very high quality, and their aesthetic appearance is very careful, both in the connectors, with the proper functional serigraphs and brand details, and in the cable textile itself, with color and textures to match the rest. of the aesthetic details of the headset. They deliver an SE cable and a balanced cable with a large 4- pin connector , the most common in the high-end sector for this configuration. The connectors are of the mono jack type on the cups, and their connection and disconnection is simple and very comfortable. In addition, being a practically universal type of connector, it can be done with cables from other brands without any problem.
The materials of the headset are very select. The entire structure of the headset is metallic, as well as its joints and reinforcements. The headband is entirely covered in natural leather, with microfiber in the area in contact with the head. The cups are made of a plastic material in their base shell, the lid is a very fine metallic mesh with many reliefs, in which the anagram of the brand and the nomenclature of the model are perfectly inserted. Everything is finished to a level that impresses the naked eye and enhances the natural touch, as as well as being luxurious it is certainly also hardwearing. The pads are made of perforated microfiber, they offer extreme comfort and transmit good durability due to their touch and density.
The ergonomics are also excellent. The earphone has weight, we can recognize that it is among the heaviest in its range, and even so its fit is perfect, and thanks to its good design it can be used for prolonged listening without problem, notably concealing the 450 g of the set. It is, therefore, the most comfortable headset in relation to its weight that I have tried.
Every detail, material, color, texture and polishing with alternating gloss and matte are very well achieved and studied to provide the headset with a finish that significantly improves the previous model, which was clearly more austere in this aspect, without detracting from its construction quality.
In general, I think that we are facing one of the best manufactured and designed headphones on the market, and that it is a material reference point for any other rival in its sector. I think the style of this latest model has had a greater impact on this aspect of a luxury item that is reflected in every detail. I can’t say it’s materially better, but it certainly does convey a higher level appearance.
It is very difficult to find any fault. Perhaps the weight could have been lowered a bit, it is the only thing in which other competing models objectively improve it. And to say something else, the SE cable has been manufactured in a very short length, 1.20 m in total, surely to make it more comfortable if it is used from a portable player. I find this a bit illogical in a headset of this range and technical capacity, since, although, as we will see later, it allows this type of use without problems, it will not stop being done logically in a private and quiet environment, and a cable longer allows for more logical use with stationary equipment.
Focal Clear MG – SOUND PERFORMANCE
The headset arrived at my house unworn, perfectly sealed. This is something that, from the outset, is very exciting, but it also means that we will need a logical shooting time to fully understand its true potential. And in this case I have to warn those interested: the shooting of this headset has been long, longer than expected. Let no one worry about this: we can enjoy the headset from the first moment, but we will notice some changes for the better over time.
On the manufacturer’s own website they already warn that the transducers, both boxes and headphones, require in all cases a time of use so that their moving parts acquire the adequate elasticity to offer their maximum performance. In addition, they insist, the term is variable depending on the use, and they establish a prudential time of about 50 hours. I think I needed more, comfortably reaching double.
At all times I have had the Focal Elear next to me as a comparative reference , which has helped me a lot to calibrate the subtle changes that have been taking place during filming. The Focal Clear MG is shown from the outset as a headphone of extraordinary technical capacity. It is a headset with a soft character, with a certain tendency to warmth as a whole despite being, due to its resolution, transparent with details.
The bass is very enveloping and reaches very low. It is generous, I would say one point more than what we could consider neutral. This differs from what I remember from its previous sibling, the Clear , which shows a more restrained and dry bass. In the current model, the bass is, at the same time more present and deeper, also a more refined and musical point. This change, which is immediately noticeable without being dramatic, will be a constant in all aspects of the headset.
The mid-range is also a notch warmer than its predecessor, and has a more direct and up-close presence. Full-bodied and nuanced in both resolution and texture, it clearly commands the scene at all times, bringing a material and realistic character to the playback that is probably the main distinguishing feature of the headset. I would say that, in its upper part, the mid-range has also been slightly softened, as if to be more friendly than it would be with a neutral character. It doesn’t lose its naturalness as a whole, nor does it sound artificial or strange at any time, but it is soft and elegant. It is at this point where the headset has shown the greatest difference with its predecessor, even more than in the serious area, and also the part that has evolved the most with filming.
From the outset, the mid-range was soft, but shortly after a few days of use and continuous shooting it became darker. It may surprise what I am going to say, but there have been times when I was surprised by how seemingly dark and warm it could seem, even compared to the Elear that I had as a reference and that, without a doubt, has a warmer character than its older brother. .
Over time, however, and with a good dose of patience, I have been able to see how it has opened up to show all the transparency and intensity that I expected in this model, finally being one of the best and most impressive midranges that I have heard. never.
Above, the headset is always very detailed, being in this sense at the highest that one can find in the market. The treble is never aggressive, in any recording, including the roughest and most difficult that I have been able to try. It also has that little patina of softness and elegance with which they have characterized this new model, and it is less aggressive than the previous Clear , a bit in line with what I have told about its mid-range, but without ever looking dark here. , or excessively hot.
Technically, both in resolution and in scene, it clearly outperforms Elear , and I daresay also, to a lesser extent, the old Clear . This difference has been increasing as the headset became loose in its running, and finally, once used to it, the return to my now humble Elear has become harder than expected.
I think that Focal wanted to give the new Clear a friendlier and less neutral character, to be more versatile with any recording and to allow music to be enjoyed in a less aggressive and more relaxed and elegant way. And, as far as I remember, he succeeds. I even think it can be said that it has managed to slightly improve different technical aspects: the extension and depth in the bass, the body in the mids, with a more physical and present character and the resolution on top.
In other sections, however, we can consider the original Clear more balanced and neutral, and perhaps, as I recall, with a somewhat more three-dimensional presentation and not so direct in the mid-range. It will therefore be a matter of taste to decide on one model or another. For the most veteran fans, I will say that this update reminds me a little of what Sennheiser did with its 600 series when it brought the hd650 to the market , although in a somewhat more subtle way: to give a more musical and warm character to a headphone with which they had achieved an almost unbeatable tonal balance. I have always been more convinced by the hd650 , but it is simply a matter of taste.
In addition to what has been said so far, I would like to highlight a quality of these headphones, and in general of this brand, in which I believe they make a difference with the current competition in the market. It’s about the extreme dynamics and cleanliness of everything they reproduce. It is one of the qualities on which manufacturers have focused the most in recent years, and where the deference is most noticeable compared to the top-of-the-range models of previous generations.
In the case of Focal, and specifically in the Clear MG, the result is simply extraordinary. Everything that is reproduced is perfectly defined with perfect cleanliness and lack of grain. And also in the entire range of frequencies, without distinction. The details are very delicate and physical, they are placed in the scene with a very high sharpness, and to a certain extent they manage to hit us as if it were a sound of boxes or a larger transducer. Real awareness of this is made when we compare the result with other competing models: suddenly you find that they sound indefinite, like dirty by comparison. This intensity is such that at times it can even be overwhelming,
As for combinations with the amplification, I have been able to test the Clear MG with different equipment, both stationary and portable and semi-portable, and also in the balanced configuration. The Clear MG is very easy to move, practically all its potential is extracted from a simple iPad , to give us an idea. And this is where the idea of having taken out an SE cable so short in length must go. It’s a very sensitive headset, and with some devices I’ve barely been able to start turning up the volume to find my comfortable listening spot. In addition, its very direct presentation makes it more appealing to listen to at low volumes.
The equipment with which I have ended up liking the most is the Musical Fidelity MX-HPA . But in general I think it can be said that with any team it can be enjoyed without problems. I think it is convenient, yes, to recommend a team that is as neutral as possible and that holds the bass well, since the Clear MG is generous below. Connected to box equipment, as is the case with my Arcam A90, the result is amazing in scene and tonal quality. At times he has made me doubt whether a stationary and dedicated team is necessary with him, such has been his performance. We always find an extra point of precision and control with high-level equipment that makes the difference, but I recognize that in this case a good result is so easy to achieve that it may well happen that, despite losing a bit in technically, one ends up preferring the result of a box team or a more humble one for pure synergy.
With portable sources and mobile phones it is also tremendous in everything I have tried. It is something that other brands have already achieved and a natural trend in almost all current models, even if they are a flagship of each brand.
Focal Clear MG – CONCLUSION
Focal has reworked its most valued model, the Focal Clear MG , with a slight move towards musical and warm. He was faced with retouching a headphone that, originally, has been considered a purist in its tonal balance, and he wanted to differentiate it without losing its general virtues. It is a change that can be perceived both in sound and material, as if with their physical presence they wanted to give us a clue of what their sound is going to offer us.
In this way, the new Focal Clear MG is shown as a true technical giant, and also as a headphone so musical and versatile that it could, without any doubt, be the only headphone for any fan, even the most demanding. Easy to move, forgiving of recordings, and with tremendous dynamics, you can equally enjoy a complex classical composition and a dubiously recorded 1970s rock record. And the real merit lies in the fact that both things are done at an extraordinary level. You don’t feel at any time that you have to give up anything in any way as a fan of audio, not natural timbre, not dynamics, not musicality. I’ve seen tremendously versatile headphones before, but none at this level of ensemble.
TECHNICAL CHARACTERISTICS of Focal Clear MG :
- Type: Open Back Circumaural 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: 450g (50.7lbs).
- Supplied cables: 1 x 1.2m minijack cable with 6.35mm jack adapter. 1 XLR 4-pin cable of 3 meters. 1 jack adapter, 1 1/8″ (3.5 mm) female – 1/4″ (6.35 mm) male.
- Carrying case included: 250x240x120mm.
- Optional: a stand that allows Clear Mg headphones to be displayed indoors.
Focal Clear MG – €1499