French audio company Focal is well-known for its luxurious, over-ear headphones and speakers – and the prices that kind of luxury entails.
Even their so-called entry-level headphones, the Focal Elegia, will cost you a pretty penny – but how do they stack up against one of the brands most expensive models, the Focal Stellias, which cost over triple the price and are among of the best headphones we've ever tested?
We spent a little time getting to grips with the high-spec closed-back cans at London’s CanJam headphones show.
- Read our Focal Stellia review
Price and availability
The Focal Elegia are available to buy for $900 / £899 / AU$1,399. This may sound like an eye-watering price to pay for a pair of headphones, but these are the cheapest audiophile-grade Focal headphones you can currently buy. (Focal has cheaper over-ear models like the Focal Listen and Focal Listen Wireless, but those are built for mobile phone listeners and not audiophiles.)
The brand’s other open-back models range between $1000 and $4000, putting Focal right at the top end of the price scale for headphones - which can be a tough pill to swallow considering the number of great headphones that can be had for half that amount. (For example, our current favorite headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM3s, are around three times cheaper at $349 / £300 / AU$499.)
So what do you get for all that money? Well, one of the first things you’ll notice about the Focal Elegia, is their striking design.
Crafted from leather, aluminum, and microfibre, these over-ear headphones are made to look as good as they sound – and that black and silver color scheme means that they look a little more subtle than the cognac-colored Focal Stellia.
Aside from that, they look quite similar to the Stellias, with a soft, generously cushioned leather headband, solid aluminum yokes that are designed to mold to the shape of your head, and memory foam ear cups.
Those plush materials make for a supremely comfortable pair of headphones – although we did experience a slight clamping sensation on our ears as we listened. As we only tested the Elegia for a short time, we can’t say whether this sensation will be alleviated the longer you wear them, as the yoke molds to your head.
At the bottom of each earcup you’ll find 3.5mm jack sockets, which secure the cables in place with a locking mechanism.
Adding to that luxurious feel is the sturdy woven carrying case and cables the Elegia’s come with – it’s hard to say whether that justifies the $900 price tag at this early stage, but it certainly takes the edge off it.
While the Focal Elegia headphones sport a closed-back design, the Focal logo on the back of the housings contain a few tiny openings to alleviate the closed-off sound closed-back headphones sometimes suffer from.
We weren’t surprised to find that these headphones sound fantastic; after all, the Focal Stellia’s expansive soundstage blew us away when we reviewed them.
There are some differences between the two models that means that the Elegia don’t sound quite as impressive; in an effort to keep costs down, the Elegia uses aluminum / magnesium drivers instead of the beryllium drivers utilized by the Stellia.
These dome-style drivers are still pretty similar to those used by the Elegia's more expensive sibling, but they don’t have as high a frequency response as the Stellia, offering 5Hz to 23kHz compared to the Stellia’s 5Hz to 40 kHz.
That’s still a larger frequency response than most non-audiophile headphones offer. According to Turntable Lab, frequencies under 20Hz are generally “felt more than heard”, while frequencies over 20kHz aren’t always audible; still, you may find headphones with high frequency responses offer more detail than standard models.
However, they still offer a very low impedance of 35 Ohms and a sensitivity of 105 dB, which Focal says optimizes them for use with portable music players.
These are true audiophile headphones, and as such, they don’t come with modern conveniences like noise-cancellation or wireless connectivity, both of which could reduce the audio quality Focal is renowned for.
We tested the Elegia using an Arc Audio amp plugged into a laptop streaming Hi-Res Audio from Tidal.
We started off by listening to Secret Boy by Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, and we were impressed by how the balanced sonic signature, with parity across the bass, mid, and treble frequencies.
The percussion sounded bright, snappy, and full of attack, which was complemented beautifully by the warmth of the bass lines. Vocals sat front and center, with excellent clarity.
The next track on the album, Rest, gave us a chance to hear how these headphones handle acoustic sound; finger-picked guitar had a gorgeously natural and woody sound that resonated across that wide soundstage.
We also listened to Jamie XX’s Hold Tight; this track really made the most of the Elegia’s immersive soundstage, with sweeping synths enveloping our ears while thunderous bass lines offered a punchy feeling of depth.
They may not sound quite as breathtaking as the Focal Stellia - at least that’s what we gathered from a short listening session – but the Focal Elegia headphones are still very impressive indeed. Despite using less expensive materials than their costlier siblings, we were still blown away by the depth and width of the soundstage they present, and we thought they look and feel just as good as the Stellia.
The lack of modern conveniences like noise-cancellation and wireless connectivity (as well as the price) means that they might not suit casual listeners who expect more smart features for their money. For a lot less, you can buy the Sony WH-1000XM3s, which offer both of those features, and still sound brilliant.
They’re not cheap by any means, though – $900 is a huge amount of money to spend on a pair of headphones. However, if you’re looking for a pair of audiophile headphones and the idea of spending more than $1000 makes you balk, we think the Focal Elegia are well worth a look ... of course, we’ll need to carry out our full review process before we can give the Elegia an accurate rating.
- Best headphones 2019: your definitive guide to the latest and greatest audio