Showing 1 of 785 conversations about:
Hello all. In the interest of making the information more accessible, I'm reporting my review here. This originally appeared at HeadFi. I'll skip my pics as there are already many good ones on the main product page. First things first - I really dig Focal speakers. Or perhaps I should clarify by saying I enjoy many of their designs, if not quite all of them. I've owned various models over the years from the Electra, Cobalt, Aria, Chorus, and Utopia lines. Some of these were branded as Focal, others JM Labs, but the company strictly goes by Focal nowadays. The ones I enjoyed most had exceptional detail and clarity, precise imaging, and very tight, articulate bass. The ones that didn't work so well for my preferences (and room) tended to go too far in that direction, sounding overly analytical while lacking in warmth and tonal density. No doubt about it though - Focal knows how a thing or two about building speakers, even if some of them didn't quite work out for me. Focal entered the headphone market a few years back with their Spirit series, and later worked their way up to the Elear, Utopia, and Clear headphones. My experience with their headphones somewhat echos my history with their speakers.... I can certainly see the skill involved, even if I don't always enjoy the end product. Astute readers might have noticed my lack of comments about the Utopia and Elear. Despite both models being released well over a year ago, I have yet to mention them anywhere in my reviews at InnerFidelity, Digital Audio Review, or HeadFi. That's no accident. Despite doing many things right - particularly build quality and comfort, but also in terms of sonics - both models have various traits which I dislike. These add up to enough of a problem where I don't quite enjoy them, nor do I recommend them at their regular prices. Which leads me to the new Massdrop x Focal Elex - a headphone which I can very easily recommend. It's pretty much textbook Massdrop at this point: take an existing headphone, tweak it for the better, and sell it for less than the original. This formula has resulted in modern classics such as the AKG K7XX and Fostex TH-X00, two headphones which every enthusiast should own at some point. And we can't forget the Sennheiser HD6XX which maintains the same (excellent) performance as the HD650 while dropping the price substantially. Massdrop pairs with Focal this time around for their new Elex - and I think it's another classic in the making. The Elex starts with the Focal Elear and sprinkles in certain aspects from their new Clear design. Specifically, we get the drivers from an Elear, pads from the Clear, housing elements from both models, and cables from the Clear, all with a blacked out "stealth" theme. The result is a headphone which, for my tastes, transcends the performance of both "donor" models. All for $799 - significantly less than the MSRP of Elear ($999) and Clear ($1499). I really wanted to like the Elear. Many people enjoy it, and initially I thought it had tons of potential. But after much listening, I just can't quite get over the issues I hear. My complaints focus on two specific areas. First, the bass, which is just too prominent and overbearing. It's fun for a few songs but over time becomes tiresome (with most music). To be clear (no pun intended), I enjoy the quality of the presentation just fine... it's the quantity I take issue with. If it was squarely confined to the low-bass region, I'd probably be less bothered by it, but Elear also makes too much midbass for my liking. Next - and this is one I have a harder time nailing down precisely - is what sounds to me like a suckout in the upper midrange region, followed by a spike further up in the highs. The resulting sound is just a bit... weird. It's not so noticeable at times, but when I do hear it... it really takes away from the experience. Thus the Elear, which initially seemed like a potential upgrade to the classic HD650, becomes a sort of "also-ran" as far as I'm concerned. Interesting, yes, but not really to my taste. Which is a shame as I feel Focal did a great many things right in the Elear design. Now for the good news - the Massdrop x Focal Elex pretty much fixes my issues with Elear. It's a phenomenal headphone. It's not perfect, but to my ears it comes closer to perfection than the Clear does - despite Clear costing roughly double. I think Focal tried to make the Clear a mixture of the uber-dynamic Elear and the ridiculously fast/detailed Utopia. It's an interesting result but not really the direction I would have wanted, and the price is also a bit too high in my opinion. Meanwhile the Elex aims to be an improved Elear for a great price, which is a design choice I can really get behind. First off, the bass. While remaining very dynamic and beautifully textured, it's been toned down just enough to keep it from being obnoxious. I'm talking a reduction of roughly 2 or 3 dB, which means bass still hits plenty hard but doesn't color the overall experience so much. Also midbass is better behaved this time around - no more issues with intruding into the midrange. The highs, if still not quite perfect, are more even than the Elear. That troublesome dip seems to be gone, and the spike is (mostly) under control. This makes for exceptional imaging and superb resolution. Seriously, I can't think of anything else in the sub-$1k price range that comes close to the Elex in that regard. The HD800 initially seems more detailed, but that's the result of its brightness and somewhat lean sound. If I really listen, I hear similar levels of detail and resolution from the Elex, presented in a more natural way. HD800 still wins in technicalities, as does Utopia, but the differences are surprisingly small. This is impressive not only for the price, but for the fact that Elex doesn't really set out to be a stereotypical "detail monster" as so many headphones do. Is the treble perfect? Not quite. It still feels a little rough in context of the best available performance (Stax, for example). But overall I'm happy with what has been accomplished here. The Clear sounds a bit more insightful, but does so at the cost of balance. And it feels lacking in dynamics, which is definitely not a problem with the Elex. I also find Clear a tad bright - perhaps that would be the Utopia emulation showing? Meanwhile Elex is just wonderfully balanced, with a presentation I'll call "neutral yet exciting" for lack of a better term. This is the best new headphone I've heard in quite some time. I've acquired a few expensive headphones recently, including Sony's "interesting" Z1R, the MrSpeakers Ether C, and several custom IEMs. I find myself reaching for the Elex over all of those in most cases, with the possible exception of 64 Audio's ambitious A18 model - but that's an apples to oranges comparison if ever there was one. As far as full-size headphones go, the Elex is shaping up to be one of my all time favorites. While I initially saw Elear as a possible HD650 upgrade/evolution which didn't quite pan out, the Elex actually does just that - but for the HD600 instead. It's just a superb headphone that I can't recommend highly enough. Let me cover a few other aspects while I'm at it. I had zero problems with comfort when it came to the Elear. Yet Elex is even better. The perforated Clear pads used by the Elex are wonderful. Super comfy even for several-hour-long listening sessions, and very open feeling. This is still a really large headphone so I can see folks with tiny heads being somewhat overwhelmed by it.... but for most, it should be exceedingly comfortable. There's practically zero isolation while wearing these - so keep that in mind. The Elex doesn't need a lot of power to do it justice. Based on size and lack of isolation, I'd never consider it a portable design, but it does pair very well with quality players like the Fiio X5 3rd gen or Astell&Kern Kann. It even sounds respectable out of Apple and Samsung Galaxy devices. At home, Massdrop's own Grace Design m9XX is a particularly good match, as is their SDAC and Cavalli CTH combo (depending on tube choice). I'd stay away from anything overly bright, as it might accentuate the slight roughness in the treble range. I'd also avoid devices with higher output impedance - I tried a tube amp with 32 ohm output impedance, and solid state amp at 10 ohm, and they both sounded wonky to me. 1 ohm or thereabouts is really the goal in this case. To wrap this up: Massdrop is known for their value releases. Elex has a price tag quite a bit higher than classics like HD6XX and K7XX. But that doesn't mean it isn't a good value. Relative to many new releases with four-digit price tags, the Elex is affordable, and the sound is what I'd call competitive in that class at the very least - and often times superior. If you're looking for a great headphone for $200 or less, Massdrop regularly has several options for you. For those looking to spend more in exchange for extreme performance, the Elex is just the thing.
Dec 16, 2017
Baner
65
Dec 17, 2017
bookmark_border
Thanks for the review. My problem with the Elears is the upper mid range suck out and the fact that they are too dynamic or punchy, not that the bass is over emphasized. In this I agree with the review by Tyll in Innerfidelity where he finds the Elear to be tonally balanced but as he says, "They're so stunningly dynamic I had—and still have—a hard time setting the volume. Turn it up too loud and a piano strike will punch out one of your eyeballs." My question to you is, if you don't mind me asking: Are the Elex as dynamic or punchy as the Elear and is the upper mid range correction simply due to the reduction in bass?
Dec 17, 2017
BigGreg
66
Dec 17, 2017
bookmark_border
How would you say the Elex compares to the Sony Z1R? I've auditioned a set, but haven't pulled the trigger on them yet, mainly due to the high price. I thought the Sony sounded really good. I listened to it right after listening to an LCD-4 and while the LCD-4 was amazing, the Sony was so close to it in terms of sound quality that it seemed like a much better value. What is it about the Elex that has you reaching for it over the Sony?
Dec 17, 2017
ixo
45
Dec 18, 2017
bookmark_border
The Z1R sounds better than the Clear to me so the Elex can't likely compare: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_TKKPeAcnk
Dec 18, 2017
Sorry for the late reply. I do find the Elex retains the same dynamic punch as Elear, minus those couple o' dB on the low end. In my view, a headphone can be very bassy but not at all dynamic/punchy, so hopefully you understand what I mean. The Focal Clear might actually have more low end presence yet doesn't come off as being as punchy as Elex overall.
The upper mids seem filled out regardless of the difference in bass. Which is something I very much appreciate.
Dec 20, 2017
The Sony is... interesting. It's kind of like a set of Audio Note speakers - weird freq response, costs a lot of money, some love them, some find them to be a joke. Personally the Z1R is obscenely comfortable and beautifully crafted, but the sound is just... weird. Can't find a better word. I very much enjoy them at times, but certainly don't consider them a universal solution that works with all music. Elex is more even-handed, works with far more genres of music, and is clearly more technically "accurate" if that's what you're shooting for.
Dec 20, 2017
BigGreg
66
Dec 20, 2017
bookmark_border
Thanks for the reply. I only spent about 15-20 minutes listening to the Z1R with music I was really familiar with (Steely Dan - Aja) and I heard details not so much that I hadn't heard before, but presented in a slightly different way - the best word I can use to describe it was "liquid" and very smooth and detailed.
I went ahead and joined the drop for the Elex, but I'm still thinking about getting the Z1R also. Some of the headphones I have now are LCD-XC, LCD-2, HE560, HD6XX, and HD800. To me the Sony sounded closest to the LCD-XC, but smoother and more detailed and more refined. From what I've been reading, it sounds like the Elex might be more like the HD6XX or HE560? I guess I'll find out when I get them!
Dec 20, 2017
FuckHead-Fi
404
Dec 21, 2017
bookmark_border
There is nothing special about the Elex's performance.
Dec 21, 2017
Vigrith
4085
Audiophile Moderator
Dec 21, 2017
bookmark_border
No one's gonna take your seriously. I suppose your intent is not to be taken seriously but still, with a name like that I'd at least expect some relevancy to your comments as head-fi is usually perceived as a site for shill and ridiculous gushing as opposed to actual substance.
Dec 21, 2017
FuckHead-Fi
404
Dec 21, 2017
bookmark_border
I have no idea what you are talking about.
Dec 21, 2017
Vigrith
4085
Audiophile Moderator
Dec 21, 2017
bookmark_border
Of course not.
Dec 21, 2017
I'll put it this way - for ME, personally, the Z1R is not worth the msrp. Not even close. That said, it can be quite enjoyable in its own way, and I see why lots of people dig it. Plenty of folks also like speakers from Zu and Audio Note, and those have the same sort of "issues" as the Sony.
The objectivist in me says the Z1R is a beautifully built, supremely comfortable, yet flawed sounding headphone. The music lover in my sometimes enjoys listening to it anyway. I say give it a try if you ever have a chance. The used price has dropped substantially so there are good deals to be had.
Dec 22, 2017
BigGreg
66
Dec 22, 2017
bookmark_border
I can't see paying full price, but I've seen some pretty heavily discounted demo units.
Dec 22, 2017
Heefty
1360
Dec 29, 2017
bookmark_border
I'm coming to the understanding that the sound of the Elex is like the Clear with a little less refinement on the high end? The question still remains whether that's $700 worth of refinement. I'm picking nits because I have a hard rule against buying audio anything over $200 without auditioning it first. This is one of those rare occurrences that I'm tempted to break that rule, but I'll need very specific information before I can do so...
Any thoughts on how the Clear compares head-to-head?
Dec 29, 2017
Jkross22
32
Dec 29, 2017
bookmark_border
This is a thoughtful comment. I think the challenge for many of us who have bought on Massdrop before is that at a certain price point, it's not just an issue of diminishing returns, but one of risk. $700 can buy you a lot of headphone on the used market.... heck, $350 does the same, so I'm left wondering if I'm going to hear $700 or closer to half.
My point of reference is coming from HiFiMan 400i. Wonderful headphone, but since I'm using my phone as a source (granted, it's the excellent ZTE Axon 7), am I going to benefit dramatically going from the 400i to something like this?
In other words, does a purchase like this also necessitate the purchase of a headphone amp to truly enjoy the benefits of this headphone?
Dec 29, 2017
djfluffkins
138
Dec 31, 2017
bookmark_border
Short Answer? Yes.
Long Answer? Having just gone in and tested the Elear, Clear and Utopia at a shop for about 90 minutes off Tidal (can't remember the DAC/Amp model but they were selling it for 3.5k), then off my own source (Fiio X7/AM2), then off Spotify hi def into a Chord Mojo I can say there's a pretty noticeable difference when it comes to what you're getting out of the headphone.
Let me first say that nothing in this set of combos was bad. In fact, the only real mistake I made was testing the Utopia first, because the Clear's are great, but they aren't Utopias. I know that sounds really dumb, but if I hadn't heard the Utopias, I wouldn't have known that was a register cans like these could have hit. The ability of Focal's lineup to resolve details in the music was something else. The best way I have to express that detail was with the Clear/Elear, I heard a really high quality recording of a guitar strum. I could hear every note clearly. When I put on the Utopias, it sounded like someone was playing the instrument next to me, with all the definition that comes when I pick a string on my guitar.
I think others have expounded on it as well, but I would say the real answer is, garbage in, decent garbage out. Awesomeness in, awesomeness out. Do I think you need to drop $500 on a DAC/Amp for this? Probably not. I'd be surprised if you couldn't get away with a SDAC/O2 or a Schiit Stack. Many people think the ZTE Axon 7 sounds better than sub 200 desktop components... So maybe you're ok as long as your sources are good enough quality.
Dec 31, 2017
Dismayed
3
Dec 31, 2017
bookmark_border
I auditioned the Elear, Clear, and Utopia a few weeks ago at a local high end audio shop. The Utopias were breath taking. Tonal balance was damned near perfect, and the detail that they resolved was absolutely stunning. But they are, unfortunately, more than I'm willing to spend. The Clears also had a really nice tonal balance, and they also resolved a lot of detail - just not as much as the Utopias. But they were still amazing. The Elears were just ok. They are a bit recessed in the mid-range, and they resolve far less detail than did the Clears. So I'm passing on this drop, and I'm saving up to buy Clears.
Dec 31, 2017
Heefty
1360
Jan 2, 2018
bookmark_border
I don't know about the Utopia. That peak in the 6kHz range in the treble has me a bit nervous, but I have no doubt that it is the most resolving of the group. Hell, for $4k I'd demand it. Not to mention that it is generally considered quite bright overall rather than balanced. The Clear is the one that has me saving my pennies. I'd hate to set myself back in my saving on these unless the additional refinement I expect in the high end is not really worth it.
Jan 2, 2018
Dismayed
3
Jan 13, 2018
bookmark_border
I found the Clear to be a huge step up from the Elear. The mid-range is better balanced and the Clear resolves quite a bit more detail. Save up! I am.
Jan 13, 2018
airjames
10
Feb 7, 2018
bookmark_border
I have the lcd 2 as well and am interested to hear your opinions on comparisons with the hd 800 as those are a pair i was going to get before these came along. What dacs and amps do you use?
Feb 7, 2018
BigGreg
66
Feb 7, 2018
bookmark_border
The HD800 and LCD 2 are very different. The LCD 2 being very "warm" and "liquid" sounding with the HD 800 being much more detailed and precise. I find the HD 800 to be some of the most comfortable headphones I have and I really enjoy the sound of both headphones. They're very different, but both are very pleasing to me.
I have a number of headphone amps - Schiit Mjolnir, OPPO HA-1, Auralic Taurus MKII, Beyerdynamic A2, and Musical Fidelity M1 HPA. I don't have any separate DACs, I use the DAC in my OPPO blu-ray players, or my pre-pros or integrated amps.
Feb 7, 2018
majesticles
6
Feb 12, 2018
bookmark_border
You mentioned that this would pair well with the CTH depending on the tube. Which tubes do you recommend?
Feb 12, 2018
Rick_T
44
Feb 12, 2018
bookmark_border
Hi,
Thanks for the detailed review.. What specific tube amp/s did you use if I may ask? I prefer tube amps with output transformers though. So output impedance would still be relatively high compared to most SS, even if lower than OTL tube amp types. Thanks!
PS - there are new portable Daps like the upcoming Hiby R6. It has an output Z of 10 Ohms. It would be interesting how they match up.
Feb 12, 2018
mcburnjow
11
Feb 13, 2018
bookmark_border
I too am a focal/jmlab fan. My budget audiophile system is built around jmlab Electra 905‘s. I have a set of HD600 with Dakoni perforated leather pads and master and dynamic 40. Really prefer my etymotic XR paired with Dragonfly red.
I have the massdrop Dark Voice that I rolled JAN Tungsol tubes into. How do you think this will pair with the Elex.?
Feb 13, 2018
piper
12
Feb 14, 2018
bookmark_border
Best for you to bring along the DV for listening. IMO, with tube amp it should be ok. I had listen to the Elear and to my ears it sounded too fwd and metallic. BTW, I also have amp such as DV 399 and others, hp such as HD650 and others.
Feb 14, 2018
hatman
330
Feb 20, 2018
bookmark_border
Thanks for the detailed review.
If you don't mind my asking -- why did you NOT do reviews on the two Focal headphones you didn't like and only write a review on the one that you did like?
An honest reviewer wouldn't withhold a review just because the product has issues.
Feb 20, 2018
bobbyblack
0
Mar 11, 2018
bookmark_border
Hi,can you tell me what is the difference between M1HPA and Auralic Taurus MKII(i own M1HPA and want an upgrade). Thanks!
Mar 11, 2018
BigGreg
66
Mar 13, 2018
bookmark_border
A couple of disclaimers. I've never A/B tested the two amps, and I don't think I've used them with the same sources either.
I don't have all the cool "audiophile" words to describe the difference between the two amps, but I would say that the Taurus has more detail, slightly less grain (maybe none), and more power. It is the best headphone amp I have, but it is not so good that it completely outclasses any of the others I own or makes me not to want to listen to the others.
I actually have the HPAP, which I think was supposed to be an upgrade of the HPA, or at least it was its successor. I've only listened to the HPAP, not the HPA, so I don't know how much difference there is between the two Musical Fidelity amps. The HPAP has two RCA inputs, while I believe the HPA has one. The ability to switch between two sources was one of the things that attracted me to the HPAP originally.
The Taurus is "better" sounding (to me) than the HPAP, but it's not a significant upgrade and certainly not night and day. The HPAP has plenty of power as well and is a really nice sounding amp. If it was the only amp I had, I'd be happy with it.
The Taurus is nice because it has both XLR and RCA inputs and has a balanced out. The Taurus retails for more than twice as much as the HPAP, and you are not going to get twice the performance. If I had to try to quantify the difference, I'd say the Taurus sounds maybe 5-10% better than the HPAP. With the HPAP you're already at the place where you start to see the law of diminishing returns kick in quickly.
I think you'll find some really good reviews of both units.
I hope that helps.
Mar 13, 2018
inmytaxi
173
Mar 24, 2018
bookmark_border
You sent them back for a small discoloration? There is something seriously wrong with you.
Mar 24, 2018
alvarg
226
Mar 26, 2018
bookmark_border
Oh have you received them and reviewed them yourself?
Mar 26, 2018
HifiHero
29
Feb 25, 2019
bookmark_border
How would the Elex compare to the Elegias? I'm was thinking about buying a pair, but if these are better, and cheaper... You advice would be appreciated.
Feb 25, 2019
View Full Discussion