Compendium updated February 23rd, 2021
~$1,000 is a crowded price point for headphones. Halfway up Hi-Fi Mountain, the headphones here are generally clear upgrades over their cheaper counterparts yet still attainable for many serious hobbyists and professionals.
With fierce competition from the likes of Sennheiser, Audeze, and HiFiMan, the Focal Clears have a lot to prove. See how they stack up below.
We’ve compiled reviews from across the web for your reference. What you’ll find here are the TLDR versions of the full reviews (which you can access with the provided links). We’ll continue updating this compendium as reviews come in.
From Headphones.com's review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, first published on July 22nd, 2020:
“For me, there are a couple of different takeaways after listening to the Clear. The first thing (this is mostly a personal one) is that out of all the headphones I have listened to, with price as a non-factor, the Focal Clear is my personal choice at the time of making this review. I really appreciate what its technical performance is capable of reproducing, and I really enjoy its tonality after using EQ. However, I struggle to say whether or not I recommend it at its $1499 price point. At that price it competes closely with headphones that I have not yet had the chance to listen to and compare to, such as the highly-regarded HiFiMan Arya, the high-performance Audeze LCD-X, and even the artisan ZMF Auteur. Compared to the headphones I have listened to, I still think that with no EQ the Ananda has a more pleasant natural frequency response, and the Clear is only an incremental upgrade on the performance front when compared with the LCD-2.
“Having said that, I do think that for those looking for a flagship-class upgrade from an HD 600-series headphone the Clear is your best option, as the other headphones around this price range and performance level are not really reminiscent of those Sennheiser headphones in the way that the Clear is; also worth mentioning that it utilizes a dynamic driver, so it does not have the planar-magnetic quality in timbre that some listeners do not enjoy. Overall, I find the Clear to be a fantastic headphone that delivers an impressive sonic experience delivered in a beautiful package; I just think that maybe it would be more competitive at around the $1,199 price point.”
From Tomsguide's review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, first published on January 20th, 2020:
“While the Elegia is capable of offering a similar sonic experience for a lower price, the Clear remains the better-looking and sounding pair of headphones. You can only marvel at its clean, premium aesthetics, which are almost as pristine as the sound profile. Audio is also more uniform with smoother frequency response.
“But if you thought the Elegia had its fair share of compromises, the Clear presents the biggest with its noise isolation struggles. The perforated earcups do nothing to block out ambient noise and bleed sound as loudly as some portable speakers. These are not headphones designed to be worn outside, and if worn inside, you’ll want to be in a secluded area to fully enjoy them.”
From Audio Science Reviews' review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, first published on December 20th, 2020:
“The Focal Clear "out of box" (no EQ) response is closer to what we like to see so tonality is not too bad as is. Equalization can take its performance significantly higher but due to poorly designed drivers with too little headroom, this is not a practical path unless you keep volumes low. Without EQ is less of a problem but you would face some brightness and some lack of clarity. At these prices we better not have such compromises.
“I can't recommend the Focal Clear with or without Equalization. I expect more from a company like Focal with incredible vertical integration to build drivers and such.”
From Resolve Reviews' review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, first published on August 3rd, 2019:
"Do I recommend the Focal Clear? Yes. It does pretty much everything right. There are a couple of reasons not to buy this. One of those is if you're looking for a large, spacious stage, then get the 800S. Another reason: if you're looking for something a bit more natural-sounding, a bit more relaxed, look at the ZMF series."
From Joshua Valour's review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, first published on April 15th, 2019:
"It's pretty much a win on all fronts, in my opinion."
"I don't think I found any fatal flaws in this."
"It's a great headphone. That's it. It's just a great headphone."
From Z Reviews' review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, first published on December 23rd, 2018:
"These are just very specifically tuned to have low-end and to be a little tighter and closer...and I wish they handled--it's like turning the bass boost up on a normal pair of headphones, and you're like 'yeah that sounds good,' but then you start putting complicated mixes into it and you're like 'I just can't handle this anymore.' And that's the Clears."
From The Master Switch's review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, last updated on March 26th, 2020:
“These don’t just feel like a simple reskinning of a core concept; rather, they offer definite improvements, and they act as a very effective bridge between the sub—$1,000 Elear and the $3,995 Utopia. It must be said that if you own the former, you’ve got very little reason to buy these, but if you don’t, this could be a very classy entry into the high-end headphone world. If the Elear didn’t exist, these would be revolutionary. As it is, they are merely very, very good.”
From The Absolute Sound's review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, first published on June 13th, 2018:
“Mid-line components are often the most neglected in reviews and in consumer interest. Flagships get the raves, while entry-level models get approving nods for their value and economy. But when it comes to pure value for the money, those overshadowed mid-line models are often the best options. That’s exactly what you get from the Clear—a well designed, beautifully made, high-performance earphone that can deliver an exceptional musical experience. Is the Clear a giant-killer that can compete with higher-priced “reference-level” models? Yes and no. Both the Sony MDR-Z1R and the HiFiMan HE1000 V2 produced more extreme low-bass energy, but neither bettered the Clear in midrange purity, harmonic complexity, and imaging prowess.”
From Audiophilia's review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, first published on March 27th, 2020:
“Throughout all this listening I realized what a well-rounded performer the Clear was. To be fair, there are other headphones that may be better at certain individual aspects of performance—some may have bigger soundstage, some may pull out even more detail (the HD800 comes to mind), etc.—but each comes with further sacrifices. At this price, the Clear makes you sacrifice nothing. It has fun with everything you throw at it, and yet still unveils gobs of texture and detail. For someone like me, who listens to Prokofiev one minute, and Black Flag the next, I’m amazed at its flexibility. When you combine musical dexterity with an ability to be easily driven by a wide range of amplifiers and sources, it’s an easy recommendation. At the end of my review period, I purchased my sample pair. The Clear has become my new reference for headphones in the under $2,000 category. Challengers beware.”
From Tech Hive's review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, first published on October 6th, 2017:
“Focal’s Clear open-back headphones are an astounding sonic achievement. Its name says what it does: It empowers you to hear your music clearly, without any barrier. But be warned! Auditioning Focal’s Clear headphones is like choosing the red pill from The Matrix. Once you listen to their openness, dynamics, and transparency, and timbral accuracy, you just can’t go back to other headphones. Clear will change your view of what you thought was possible with headphone audio.”
From The Verge's review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, first published on October 23rd, 2017:
“I don’t think anything has been neglected with the Focal Clear. Focal made a choice to prioritize detail and precision in its sound over the more facile thrills of extra servings of bass. What has emerged from that decision is a fantastically well balanced sound married to an equally well thought-out and precise design. These headphones are just as pretty on the inside as they are on the outside.
“My ultimate test for a pair of headphones is how much I want to keep listening to them after a review is complete, and right now, I don’t care to listen to anything else.”
From Audiophileon's review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, first published on October 27th, 2020:
“The Clear is far more than a dumbed-down version of the Utopia designed to hit a price point. Instead, they appear to be built from the ground up to deliver the best possible performance for the money. Focal have down a great job of maintaining top quality build while substituting luxury materials like beryllium and carbon for cheaper alternatives. Smart choices were made with the switch to microfibre padding, which keeps them a very comfortable headphone for all-day listening.
“Finally, keeping the sound in line with the tuning of the flagship Utopia was a smart move, and in doing so, they lose very little in performance. This makes it very easy for us to recommend that even if you are paying full retail, I think they are a solid buy.”
From Headphone Reviews' review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, first published on July 11th, 2019:
“As you might expect, Focal has hit a home run with the Focal Clear headphones. The headphones are beautifully designed, very comfortable, and offer a sound quality that’s perfect for the audiophile looking for something a little more fun. The frequency tweaks are subtle enough to make for a very natural listening experience.
“Despite the high price tag, the Focal Clear headphones have a ton going for them — and that’s why we’ve awarded them the Headphone Review Gold Medal.”
From Sound on Sound's review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, first published on May 18th, 2018:
- Comfortable to wear, with a very open and non-fatiguing way of presenting music.
- Sound comes across as detailed and accurate, yet also engaging to listen to.
- Very expensive.
At this price, Focal’s new flagship phones are up against some very well-regarded rivals, but they certainly have what it takes to compete on quality.”
From Sound Stage Experience's review of the Focal Clear Over-ear Headphones, first published in February 2018:
“I loved the Focal Clears for the same reason I loved the Acoustic Research AR-H1 headphones I recently reviewed: They sounded terrific, worked great with any kind of music, and exhibited no annoying flaws or colorations. At about twice the price of the ARs, the Clears should be better, and they were -- they delivered more midrange and treble detail than the AR-H1s, and they’re much more nicely made and come with all the needed accessories. For me, the Clears were also a little more comfortable. The only downside is that you need a decent amp to get the best sound from the Clears -- but if you’re spending $1500 on headphones, you can surely afford a good portable music player or headphone amp to go with them.”
Editor’s note: Emphases ours.