I recently reviewed Focal’s Elear headphone (http://inearspace.com/2017/04/05/focal-elear-french-revolution/) and within doing so talked with great excitement about how they launched two flagship level open backed headphones to the market in one fine swoop! What I failed to mention was that along with those two models, there was a third. It was not of flagship calibre and instead is a fully sealed closed back design but after having spent quite a bit of time with this headphone, let me tell you it still deserves its shot in the limelight.
Named the Listen it is an extremely accessible headphone optimised for mobile use. Focal probably have a distributor near you and this means that unlike most cans I look at, you can probably go give this a try before buying and atop of that, it only costs £149! That makes it even cheaper than the previous studio orientated Focal cans while also a little more consumer orientated (and comfortable), encouraging you to just Listen Beyond.
I think these do a great job of hitting a sweet spot in a lot of categories. The price is fair, the looks are good, the features make the cut and the packaging could see this on the shelves of high street stores as well as in your local HiFi dealership. Inside its plastic enclosure, you have the headphone and its cable alongside a minimal amount of accessories. Namely just a soft pouch and airplane adapter. That’s fine though, it gives you versatility when flying and somewhere to fold these headphones up into. The things I would have liked to have seen included but certainly aren’t necessary are both a 1/4 inch adapter jack and also a longer cable without a microphone, for home use.
The cable included is great but solely for its specific operation, with a mobile phone and on the go. It is only 1.4m long which means there won’t be spools of excess cable between your phone/DAP and your head but does limit you at the desktop. I am someone who likes to sometimes use a closed back at my desk when the house is particularly noisy. The other issue I run into was due to the microphone and button that lives in the Focal badge on the cable. It only has one button (that can still handle a lot of functions) so that means it is usable with whatever phone you have, be it running IOS or Android. However as you may have experienced, this causes certain amplifiers or DAPs to cut the sound unless the button is pressed, meaning it is not viable. Due to the cable being removable you can, of course, get an aftermarket cable to suit your needs if it is that much of an issue. The cable is 3.5mm end to end and has a nifty little locking mechanism so it doesn’t get tugged out.
The design of the actual headphones is rather simple. It is an all plastic construction although the ear cups are plated with Chrome for extra protection and the obvious improvement in looks. The headband is lightly padded but remains comfortable. It utilises a soft touch material that feels very smooth and light without the tackiness of simpler plastics. The headband is also an area where we got some trickle down from their research on the more expensive models.
“Listen also benefits from all the research that went into designing Utopia and Elear headphones with the aim of keeping the shape of the headband constant, regardless of the size of the user’s head. This has resulted in remarkable comfort, even during long listening sessions.”
The cups also rotate on the yoke at all angles which really helps the headphones sit naturally on your ears and seal from all angles, which is more than I can say for the new Abyss Diana. It does have a noticeable clamping factor, nothing initially painful like when I had some Beats by Dre Pro’s but will perhaps be something to consider if you plan on excessively long listening sessions… but giving your ears a break is always optimal regardless. Isolation seemed like a pretty standard affair for a passive noise cancelling closed back. It still does a better job than superaurals like u-Jays but obviously is a bit off the pace to active noise cancellers like Fiil Diva or the latest Bose!
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