Focal Elegia review: My first true Hi-Fi experience was amazing

Audio / Audio Hardware Reviews / Reviews

The yoke is made of a solid piece of aluminum and the headband is microfiber leather with holes for venting your sweaty melon.

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Over the past five-plus years of running this website, I have used more than my fair share of headphones. I’ve reviewed $US40 headphones and $500 headphones and everything in between. But the Focal Elegia are in a different class and these are the first pair of Hi-Fi headphones I’ve tried. While the Focal Elegia is in a different class, it is important to note that they are on the bottom end of that class but are steller regardless of that.

While I have used Hi-Fi headphones at shows like CES, I have never actually had the pleasure of experiencing them at home. So when Focal reached out to me and asked if I’d like to take the Focal Elegia closed circum-aural high-fidelity headphones for a spin. Well, I couldn’t say no and I purposely held on to them for longer than I probably should have. Read on for the full review of the Focal Elegia headphone.

Specifications

The Focal Elegia has the following features and specifications:

  • Type: Circum-aural closed back headphones
  • Impedance: 35 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 105 dB SPL / 1 mW @ 1 kHz
  • THD: 0.1 % @ 1 kHz / 100 dB SPL
  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz-23 kHz
  • Speaker Driver: 1.57″ (40 mm) ‘M’-shape Aluminium/Magnesium dome
  • Weight: .95lbs (130g)
  • Cable: 3.94 feet (1.2m) asymmetric cable (0.14″ – 3.5 mm TRS jack)
  • Perforated microfiber leather headband
  • Solid aluminum yoke
  • Memory foam earpads

What’s In The Box

  • Focal Elegia headphones
  • Hard shell carrying case
  • Cable
  • 1/4″ adapter
  • Manuals and documentation
Focal Elegia
These are stunning headphones in both looks and build-quality.

Design

Beautiful. That’s about the best descriptor I can give regarding the design of the Focal Elegia. Beautiful in a sleek, modern, and clean design way. They’re also fairly heavy at 430 grams and the construction is, well, it’s thick. The headband is thick, the earpads are thick, the yoke is thick.

These are just really well-built headphones with super premium materials throughout. They feel luxurious when you wear them. These are probably the most luxurious feeling headphones I’ve ever put on my head. Like a satin robe touching your skin.

The yoke is made of a solid piece of aluminum and the headband is microfiber leather with holes for venting your sweaty melon. The back of the earphones are made of high-quality plastic and the center cap is made from aluminum as well. The earpads do tend to pick up dust and debris which doesn’t always look great with them being black.

The included cable is also thick and feels substantial. The cable connections to the earphones have a locking mechanism so when you do put your cables in, they won’t yank out. Focal has included a 1.4″ adapter for those who use audio equipment with that connection.

Overall, these are amazingly designed headphones, from the build and materials to the look and feel. The price tag of the Focal Elegia reflects the quality here in every way.

Focal Elegia
Locking cables keep them from pulling out and the cable is thick and well-made.

Ease of Use

The Focal Elegia aren’t your typical headphones. These aren’t sporting fancy ANC capability nor do they have apps to control the EQ. These are simply a plug-and-play pair of headphones. No need to setup anything, just plug them into your device and enjoy the sound. Of course, these headphones are going to sound better with a DAC but we’ll get into that in the next section. Overall, there is zero learning curve here and these are dead simple to use.

Sound

The Focal Elegia are the first pair of high-end closed-back headphones intended for high-fidelity listeners. If you’re not familiar with the Hi-Fi world, many of the higher end headphones used for Hi-Fi listening are open back.

First, I tried the Elegia’s with my smartphone, tablet, and laptop plugged into the 3.5mm headphone jack. At first, there wasn’t much of a difference, that I could detect in sound over other headphones priced around $400. There was some added clarity and the soundstage was certainly more balanced and even. I did this testing with mp3s on a laptop and by streaming on my mobile devices.

That’s how most people consume music these days, streaming or mp3s. But the Elegia’s were made for more than that and these headphones are only as good as the source you are plugged into. Most streaming services (as well as mp3s) compress their music files which make the music lose a lot of its data. Generally, this is data that most people won’t notice and can deal with. The advantage to compressing the files is it takes up less bandwidth and, in the case of mp3s, less storage space.

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So spending $900 on a pair of Focal Elegia headphones is probably a waste of money if you only plan on listening to mp3s and streaming your music.

In order to get the most out of a pair of headphones like the Elegia, you need files that haven’t been stripped of their data like lossless audio or FLAC files. Lossless audio is exactly what it sounds like, audio that remains in its true state and retains all of its data.

But lossless audio isn’t the only thing you really need to get the most out of the Elegia’s. You will also need a digital audio converter (DAC) to convert the digital signal from your source device to the headphones. DACs help to amplify and clean up your lossless files, making them sound clean and crisp through your headphones.

Focal Elegia
I love being able to see the drivers.

DACs can get pricey themselves, this is why the world of Hi-Fi is usually out of reach of the average consumer. Not only are you paying nearly a thousand dollars for headphones, many times much more than that, but you have to invest in a DAC and FLAC files or a lossless audio streaming service like Tidal.

Because I don’t own a DAC myself, I asked Focal if they would supply one so I could get a real sense of what the Elegia could do. They sent along the SteelSeries GameDAC for PC. This isn’t the most expensive DAC on the market and there are probably better ones but it was enough to do the job.

Knowing I had to test these headphones with lossless files I plunked down the money for a Tidal subscription. Tidal streams music in Hi-Fi lossless quality so I knew I was getting the best file I could, other than having FLAC files on my PC, which I don’t.

After setting up the SteelSeries GameDAC on my PC, I plugged the Focal Elegia headphones into it and fired up Tidal. My go-to song for testing any headphones is “Echoes” by Pink Floyd (the David Gilmour live version).

I honestly was not expecting to hear much of a difference between these $900 Focal’s and my $400 Master & Dynamic headphones. But it only took a few minutes to spot the differences straight away. There were subtle things I could hear that I never heard before. Everything from fans voices in the background to small musical parts I’d never spotted before.

Focal Elegia
The headband is super comfy as are the earpads.

Everything was much clearer, sometimes for better or for worse. I continued on to different genres like heavy metal, country, Sinatra-style, and classical. The clarity absolutely blew my mind in every style of music I played through the DAC into the Focal’s.

I decided to test less expensive headphones with the DAC and see if there was a difference. I will tell you that a DAC paired with lossless audio does make a difference. But the Elegia still had the upper hand when it came to clarity and balance.

In a nutshell, these headphones are absolutely amazing with a proper DAC and lossless audio sources. They sound great with basic mp3s and streaming audio but probably not worth spending the $900 if you’re not going all into the world of Hi-Fi which means DACs and lossless files.

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Price/Value

US$900 is a lot of dough and you have to know that you will spend more than that when you invest in a DAC and lossless audio. The world of Hi-Fi audio isn’t everyone’s playground but if you’re interested, the Focal Elegia are a great starting point at the bottom of the Hi-Fi price points. For those who want to get into Hi-Fi, these are a good value.

Wrap Up

The Focal Elegia headphones aren’t for your average consumer. Most people will be happy with their mp3s and streaming with a much less expensive pair of headphones. The Focal Elegia are a perfect door into the world of Hi-Fi if you’re ready to take the step into investing more into your sound.

*We received a review unit of the Focal Elegia headphones for the purposes of this review.

Focal Elegia

US$900
9.8

Design

10.0/10

Ease of Use

10.0/10

Sound

10.0/10

Price/Value

9.0/10

Nailed it

  • Easily the most comfortable pair of over-ear headphones I've used
  • Amazing looking design
  • Premium materials and stellar build-quality
  • Amazing Hi-Fi sound made even better with a DAQ

Needs work

  • Pricey and probably out of reach of most consumers
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