Focal Clear MG Review: Officially The Best Wired Headphones
The Focal Clear MG headphones are about as good as it gets when it comes to exquisite home audio.
REASONS TO BUY
- +Gorgeously rich and realistic sound
- +Premium build quality
- +Easy to drive
- +Very comfortable
REASONS TO AVOID
- -Open-backed has disadvantages
- -Maybe not totally neutral
Testing for our Focal Clear MG headphones review has not been a particularly strenuous experience. These are premium headphones designed for a rich listening experience, and they deliver. For my money, these are the best wired headphones on the earth.
Also Read: Beats Fit Pro review: AirPods Pro smarts for your workouts-Ready...
They're open-backed headphones designed primarily for listening to an audiophile-friendly setup — that is, with a dedicated headphone amp – but they're also simple enough to be driven by portable devices, so you're not tied to your bookshelf.
Because they have an open back, they may produce a natural and expansive sound, yet that sound leaks something terrible in and out. That's good - it's by design – but it means they're not suitable for taking on the train or, for that matter, to the office. They're designed for listening at home, where you can regulate the amount of outside noise.
When you put them on, the microfibre earpads and headband material feel like you're sinking into a sofa, and they stayed firmly in place on my head without becoming uncomfortable or overheating after a lengthy period of listening. They're soft and hard at the same time, just like the perfect hug.
The aluminium frame and honeycomb design on the outside of the earcups also feel quite expensive, and a look under the microfibre pads exposes the same honeycomb in an M-shape, protecting the odd M-shaped magnesium drivers inside.
Also Read: Best Gaming Headphones 2022: Best Wireless Gaming Headset,...
FOCAL CLEAR MG REVIEW: RELEASE DATE AND PRICE
The Focal Clear MG costs £1,499/$1490/AU$2,199, which is slightly more than the Focal Clear they're replacing and around the same as the Sennheiser HD 800 S, their sole competitor.
This is actually at the lower end of Focal's line – its lowest headphones are the £999/$990/$AU1,399 Celeste – and it's around half the price of Focal's superb closed-back headphones, the Stellia, which are roughly on par for audio quality in my opinion.
So, in terms of audiophile headphones, they're reasonably priced, even if they make the price of Apple AirPods Max appear like pennies in contrast. These are intended for a different audience.
This is obvious even before you try them out of the box. It's a posh affair, all clean black cardboard that pulls apart to expose the Clear MG's high-quality hard casing.
A second part opens to reveal the two cables included: one with a 3.5mm headphone jack and a screw-on 6.5mm connector and the other with a four-pin XLR. On the opposite end are easy-to-connect twin cables for the headphones' two earcups.
Also Read: Best Wireless Earbuds 2022: Best Wireless Earbuds for Android,...
The cables are made of soft-touch plastic, so they don't snag and produce no noise when rubbing against clothing.
FOCAL CLEAR MG REVIEW: PERFORMANCE
The Focal Clear MG was largely tested with the Naim Uniti Headphone Edition, which is a natural coupling given that Focal and Naim are owned by the same firm. I also put it through its paces with the tiny EarMen Sparrow USB-C DAC. My primary source for Hi-Res and CD-quality tunes was Qobuz, with some Apple Music thrown in for good measure.
The Clear MG are so soothing and engulfing in these setups, and provide just the kind of natural and wonderfully detailed sound you want.
You are undoubtedly getting the whole picture of the music, from the singer's inhalation to every vibration of a bass string. When called upon, the Clear MG has a deep and guttural pool of bass power to draw from, yet it's carefully controlled and never exaggerated... unless the song demands it.
The bass also gives you a sense of the dynamic range of the headphones, which may still resonate strongly in the mix even when the rest of the song suddenly introduces high singers and instrumentation.
Similarly, at the high end, you can hear the unintentional pop of a singer's lips staying together, even while instruments bounce beneath it. The headphones simply take up as much detail as you can throw at them and return it to you with exquisite politeness.
Even in tracks that build to a purposeful cacophony of clashing noises, the Focals just crack their knuckles, like John Wick ready to take on a dozen men at once. Even in the busiest tracks, you can hear the individual instruments, not just the overall mix.
Also Read: The Best Mechanical Keyboards 2022: The Greatest Keys and...
As a result, it feels quite authentic to the song. If music wishes to be smooth, the Clear MG will apply it like Nutella. Diamond is used when a song wishes to be crisp and hard.
I wouldn't say the resulting sound is truly neutral. I believe it requires a slight shuffle towards some warmth in the mid and bottom, and I have no problems about that.
Because of the open-backedness, sound totally leaks in and out. It's a particularly blustery day on the day I'm writing this, and when the wind really gets up, it creeps into the background. Again, no problem – if you prefer the expansive and dynamic sound of open-back cans, that's the other side of the coin.
In any case, you may always increase the volume. The Clear MG handles being cranked up without complaint most of the time, but when playing through the Naim Uniti in particular, we noticed that non-Hi-Res tracks were more likely to hit a ceiling where they became harsh, whereas Hi-Res tracks sounded great up to the point where the volume was simply too much.
FOCAL CLEAR MG REVIEW: VERDICT
I don't have any major gripes with the Focal Clear MG. The price is undeniably exorbitant, but as I noted earlier, it's in line with comparable audiophile headphones and appears very affordable when compared to some of Focal's even more expensive alternatives. The cables maybe a little longer. That could be handy...
Otherwise, I've found them to be magnificent. They're headphones that allow you to revel in sound, packed detail, and definition in waves when paired with a suitable high-quality audio source, DAC, and/or amp. And they're both comfy and stylish while doing it. Only a few headphones make it so easy to lose yourself in your music.
Also Read: Sony WF-1000XM4 TWS Earbuds with Active Noise Cancellation...
FOCAL CLEAR MG REVIEW: ALSO CONSIDER
The main opponent here is Sennheiser's HD 800 S, which are widely regarded as being about as neutral as headphones can get while offering all of the same benefits of impact, detail, and realistic sound reproduction as the Focal Clear MG. They're nowhere near as attractive as the Clear MG. Really, you can't go wrong with either of these — I'd go with the more stylish and little warmer Focal's, but that's just my preference.
The Grado SR325e is our more affordable open-back headphones of choice if you want this kind of audio experience but at a lower price. Their design is more "practical" than anything else (though they look rather lovely as a result), but their audio quality is exceptional for the price. Given the price difference, it's shockingly similar to what you get from the Clear MG, albeit the extra expense does offer you a notable step up. They're also not as comfy as the Clear MG, though a new version – the SR325x – is on the way, with a more comfortable headband.
The Focal Clear MG headphones provide simply amazing audio quality as well as a comfortable design for extended listening. They can even be driven by portable devices, although they perform best with a great hi-fi setup.