This is a review of these Focal Stellia headphones.
We have to start with the unboxing experience which reminds me of when I got my Leica X1 camera. The box itself is leather-wrapped and looks like a squared-off basketball. The weight of the products kept the box from lifting off when lifting the top. Those are the details you pay for.
So to state the obvious, Focal used premium materials. It’s made of metal, beryllium, and leather. And more leather. And in case you forgot, they included this tag to remind you that an animal died for your listening pleasure. Adjusting the headband rewards you with a satisfying click.
The earpads are soft and they conform to your head. They form a nice seal. I’ve tried them with a hat and sunglasses and they still do a good job of keep in sound in as well as keeping sound out.
Now, these are not active noise-canceling headphones but they are noise isolating. You should know the difference. Noise-isolating headphones keep sound out using physical means. Active noise canceling reduces unwanted sounds using microphones and signal processing. I prefer noise-canceling because, with noise-isolating headphones, I tend to be able to hear my own breathing and heartbeat. Plug your ears and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
They come with this nice case and two cable options. The jacket on both cables matches the case. One is a balanced XLR and the other is a 3.5mm jack with an option to use the screw-on 1/4″ adapter. Both connect to the headphones with individual 3.5mm connectors that go into each earcup. They’ve even included a leather pouch to hold the manuals. Lol. Rich people.
That’s all nice and all, but it means nothing if they don’t sound good. These sound fantastic. They use a beryllium driver which Focal is famous for in their flagship Utopia open-back headphones. They’ve used beryllium for the tweeters in speakers for years. It’s an expensive material to use but it’s both rigid and lightweight which is what you want for a driver. It’s also radioactive! As long as you don’t breathe it in, you’ll be fine.
The drivers are also angled in towards the front of your ears. I wanted to know if that actually made an audible difference so I put them on backwards. Huge difference. It sounded muffled. When I had them on the right way, the sound went back to normal. These closed-back headphones sounded more like open-back headphones. The soundstage was pretty wide for headphones. Imaging was spot on. It sounded more like the sound was coming from in front of you rather than the sides, which makes sense, because it is.
Now to the sound signature. I ran some sweep tests and it played down to 20hz and up to my limit of hearing. I would need to ask my kids how it sounds beyond 16khz. The bass response was good, but I would’ve preferred more weight. Not that it’s lacking, but I’m used to more bass from my other headphones. I had this connected to a Schiit Modi 3, Loki EQ, and Vali 2 tube headphone amp. I could have tweaked the sound using the Loki EQ to suit my taste but I kept it off for my testing.
The midrange seemed accurate. The top end was…bright. Some may call it detailed and some may prefer that sound. I can imagine someone who may only hear up to 10khz would appreciate these because it can help bring out detail. In my sweep tests, I did notice that compared to my other headphones, these would sing above 10khz. My other headphones sounded like they were running out of breath, while these kept whistling along with ease. I can see how that might be addicting because it is more revealing than some of my other headphones. Going back to my other headphones, the Focals made them sound muffled in comparison. But that’s only relative to the Focal Stellias. They aren’t actually muffled. It’s like someone opening the curtains after a night of partying. The perception of brightness is relative. Some may find these fatiguing for long listening sessions. Some might love the extra detail.
Out of curiosity, I tried my other headphones and I turned up the highs on my Loki EQ to try to match the detail on the Focals. The result was that it wasn’t the same. The Focal Stellias produced higher frequencies with ease. It sounded natural. With the other headphones, it sounded more forced. It’s like the difference between a genius who’s born with a high IQ vs. some normal person trying to sound smart. It isn’t the same.
Let me talk about the cons. Other than the fact that they cost more than my first car, they are a bit heavy for my taste. It’s the trade-off for the build quality you get with the metal construction. Although build quality on the cables is awesome, they are a bit stiff. They’re also hefty enough to weigh down the headphones a bit. These are very comfortable, but you will notice the weight after a while.
So who are these for? If you heard the price and were immediately turned off, I understand. These aren’t targeted towards you. If you are willing to spend $3k on premium headphones, with top of the line build quality, you’ll get that with these. You can also expect an amazing unboxing presentation. The soundstage and imaging are surprising for closed-back headphones. The detail you get is way beyond what average headphones can do. If that all appeals to you, you know what to do. If you’re someone who can buy these and give them away a month later because you’re bored with them, they’re likely already in your cart.
Disclaimer: These guys at Funall Audio were crazy enough to hook me up with these free for review and to keep. They also want to hook you up! They’re offering 10% off any order on their website. Use the code “JOENTELL10”. Expires 10/15/19.
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