I felt like a very giddy kid over the weekend with the loaner of the Focal Elear by Mikee Rodriguez. While there are contrasting feedback with the can, I still felt elated by the fact that I chanced upon a loaner of one of the highly raved cans recently released in the market.
Why not? The Elear, together with the $4000 Utopia has gotta be the sleekest, sexiest cans for some time now. The way it looks definitely brings out luxury from the cans. But the more pressing question will have to be “how well does this $1000 wonder sound like?”
To date I already have 3 buddies who owns one, and I must say I really can’t blame them. The way it looks will definitely turn heads, something I will be torn whether to bring out in public as I worry that it might be too hot in one’s eyes as well as feel flattered toting such lovely looking headphones.
So, to settle in, what does this pair of gems has to make it truly worthy to be an automatic pick for the collectors given the looks and the sound? Let’s break it down to see.
There is a ton to be said about how the Elear is built. For one, Focal seemingly decided to design the Elear with aesthetics and durability in mind. I will have to give them kudos on this department, as headphones may tend to have at least a weak point that usually gives up eventually.
The cups are covered with wire mesh reinforced by a frame inside to ensure that it won’t be deformed even if some force are applied. Embedded on it is a smaller circle that houses the Focal emblem with the ring marked with the Elear as well as the material used (aluminum-magnesium) and label showing the can manufactured in France. Cups are cushioned by Microfibre memory foams that felt quite comfortable enough.
Grasping the earcups are nicely textured aluminum yokes. One would worry about the yokes giving up easily as you can see how well sculpted these pieces are to hold on the cups without any worries.
The headband is made of leather lined with velour that allows comfort while wearing it. Pretty comfy for me, also looks like it can manage some stress from bigger heads.
Cable build is also quite nice, you can feel that Focal did some effort in keeping the premium feel of the Elear. The headphone termination for the cable is mono 3.5mm which has a decent locking mechanism to avoid loosening over time. Cable splitter looks great, with the Focal logo engraved on the face of the splitter. Termination on the other end is a 6.3 TRS plug with a solid aluminum barrel again engraved with Focal and is insulated with polymer. Pretty tough for me, I will say.
With all these, perhaps the only caveat that I have is the weight. It carries almost half a kilogram (450 grams to be exact) which reminds me of Audeze LCD-2. I would say the Elear is lighter, however for extended listening periods you might have some stiffness in your neck. Also, Focal could have done away by including a shorter cable than what it has (4 meters) as it already is heavy for what it is. Other than this, build is definitely excellent for the Elear; I am willing to give it a 4 out of 5 in the build aspect.
One thing I noticed initially is how well the Elear scales. The first time I got my hand on one, I tried it with three sets of sources: an Onkyo DP-X1 paired with an Asus Xonar Essence One, and with an Aune M1S, and lastly with the DP-X1 paired with an Xduoo XD-05. So far, as the power improves, Elear gets wider soundstage and offers better imaging. Of course the best experience was when I plugged it in the Essence One.
Upon listening, what also stood out was how well detailed the sound it yields. I had this discussion with fellow enthusiasts and we all quite agreed how well Elear works with piano and strings. Keys and plucks are definitely crisp, somewhat allowing you an idea on how each is defined. One thing that wasn’t really the strong suit for the Elear though was with violins and cello as they seem a bit unusual (I guess the term used was unnatural). Not entirely to take one off, but if you are the type who is nitpicky, you will definitely notice that.
Looking at the FR graph of the Elear (courtesy of Head-Fi.org), you can already tell how smooth the frequencies transition from the low ends up to the mids). There are fluctuations towards the higher end, but upon listening it is not really bothersome. Although looking at the graph (and as insinuated by a few friends), it seems switching to Utopia pads would really do a lot of improvements depending on the user. Of course, YMMV.
*solid line: Utopia, dotted line: Elear
Let’s try to play some tracks with the Elear. My source will just be the DP-X1 paired with the XD-05:
Clocks (Floating In Space, Edge Of The Light)
I kind of went biased with the Elear using this track as Clocks is piano heavy. As mentioned a while ago, the piano is definitely crisp with the Elear. The higher notes are airy while bass notes are subtle yet extended. I can also definitely feel how clean the track is, and what was already a very relaxing track becomes even more tranquil.
Shoot To Thrill (AC/DC, Iron Man 2 – Deluxe Edition)
Perhaps one thing typical of a dynamic driver is the quantity of bass it offers. Elear does offer such ample amount, something tuned not to be overbearing yet has that healthy dose. However, as typical dynamic drivers do, it felt a bit slow for me. Not too slow to be sluggish, but I guess at this price point I felt as if it kind of lacks the nimbleness other cans in the same price point offer. I guess I am just thinking that other drivers such as planar magnetic and electrostatic drivers can be had for around the same price, but then again the overall signature preference comes into play. I will probably just say that for really fast and aggressive tracks, the Elear may not be the best.
Hold My Heart (Sara Bareilles, Kaleidoscope Heart)
Excuse me for my indulgence, but when I am given a can that has piano as its strength, I can’t help but include this track. Given the nice depth and extension of the sub bass coupled by the excellence in piano, listening to Sara Bareilles using the Elear becomes a unique experience. Personally, it gave me a very emotional feel while listening to the track. Makes me doze off to nothingness while whiling away with the music playing in my ears. I guess this is where Elear excels: these kinds of tracks will definitely get you lost.
I guess I pretty summed everything up for the Elear. But the bigger question is, given how it is marketed in the market, should every enthusiast capable of getting one should do so? I dissent; maybe it does work well with a huge market base, but I will have to say that it will fit every single sound signature preference there is. Truth be told that as listeners we can adapt with a certain gear, and for once in a while there might be some that appears in the market that may be easy to listen to. With the price point, I believe in staying out of being safe; I firmly believe that one should really go for his or her preference given the amount being shelled out. Sure, Elear isn’t exactly TOTL level cans but I guess at this price, you might want to focus particularly on what you want and what works well with your set up.
However, I won’t say that the Elear is hyped to be too good to be true. It is a good can, and a very good one at that. It works really well with a lot of tracks I tried it with, although by now we all agree that preference plays a big thing. Whilst highly scaleable, the Elear is something that is quite easy to love, but may not necessarily be the vote of all masses. I would personally get one myself, but only if I have bought the cans on the top of my list, which puts the Elear on probably the fourth or the fifth.