Focal Bathys review: Dismantling the competition through superior sound

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Focal (pronounced FAUX CAL) was founded in 1979 by Jacques Mahul and has become one of the world’s premiere audio brands. The company makes high-end audio products that are generally targeting audiophile customers. The company has traditionally kept its premiere headphones wired and opted to stay away from Bluetooth. But with new Bluetooth technologies, it was time for something special, and the Focal Bathys ANC headphones are it.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

The Focal Bathys (pronounced BAT-EES) enters a ring populated with brands such as Bose, Sony, Master & Dynamic, Bowers & Wilkins, beyerdynamic, and Apple, to name a few. I have used ANC offerings from the list above, and the Apple AirPods Max has been my favorite and go-to wireless ANC headphones in the pack. So I was intrigued to try the Focal Bathys because I know how highly regarded the company is and how much care they take in crafting their headphones and sound.

The Quick Take

Our new feature here is The Quick Take. This is where you can read a quick synopsis of the review should you not have time to read the entire review. Here are my quick thoughts on the Focal Bathys.

I have been actively seeking a pair of wireless over-ear headphones that could make me reach for them instead of my trusty AirPods Max. The Focal Bathys are those headphones.

The design of the Bathys is elegant and premium, and they are comfortable with a better, though not overbearing, clamping force than the Max. The wired options are better than Apple’s flagship headphones, and they have a built-in DAC (Digital Audio Converter), giving an even higher quality sound.

The Focal Bathys also has an excellent hardshell case that protects your $799 investment well. Apple provides a bizarre bra-like thingamabob that is genuinely worthless. Focal’s build quality is outstanding, especially the design and look; I will admit that I like the sliders on the Max better.

As for the active noise canceling, the AirPods Max wins but not by much. But ANC is only a part of the puzzle, and I don’t think it’s the most significant piece. A pair of headphones should deliver outstanding sound; this is where the Focal Bathys wins the battle. I am willing to take a hit on ANC performance for the insane clarity and sound that the Bathys delivers.

If you care about sound and sound is your primary focus, then the Focal Bathys belong on your head. The ANC is still great, I used it on a flight, and it did well. But you will quickly forget about the ANC once you hear the clarity and sound from the Bathys, especially in DAC mode.

Now read the rest of the review!

Specifications

The Focal Bathys has the following features and specifications:

  • Type: Closed-back wireless headphones with active noise canceling
  • Bluetooth technology: 5.1 Multipoint
  • Bluetooth range: >15m
  • Bluetooth frequency range: 2402MHz – 2480Mhz
  • Audio codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX™ Adaptive, aptX™
  • Battery life:
    • 30 hours Bluetooth Noise Cancelling
    • 35 hours Jack mode
    • 42 hours USB DAC
  • Voice assistants: Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa
  • Other features: Google Fast Pair
  • Speaker drivers: 15/8″ (40mm) Aluminium-Magnesium “M”-shaped dome, made in France
  • Frequency response: 15Hz to 22kHz
  • Harmonic distortion rate: <0.2% @1kHz
  • Microphones: 8
  • Weight: 0.77lb (350g)
  • Carrying case
  • Smartphone application Focal & Naim, iOS and Android compatible
  • Connections: Bluetooth / Jack 3.5mm / USB-C
  • Integrated DAC

What’s In The Box

Focal Bathys
In The Box
  • Focal Bathys
  • Hard Shell Case
  • USB-C to USB-C cable (1.2m)
  • AUX cable (1.2m)
  • Manual and Documentation

Design

Focal has always made beautiful hardware. If you check out their website, you will see some of their other headphones; they all share some DNA in design.

Let’s start with that exceptional hard case. At these prices, buyers are right to expect a hard case, and Focal delivers. This case is solid, looks good, and is easy to maintain. The outside is covered in a Heather fabric in grey/black. It feels pleasant to the touch.

The top of the case has a loop, a great place to attach a carabiner to connect to the outside of a backpack. The zipper pull is branded Focal. The zipper slider and teeth are covered by material as they close, I don’t think this is weatherproof, but it does give the zipper a clean look.

Opening the case reveals the Focal Bathys headphones, one 1.2m USB-C cable, one 1.2m AUX cable, and a nice separator for those cables. The case’s interior is a soft material that should keep your Bathys nice and cozy.

Focal Bathys
Beautiful!

As I mentioned, the Focal Bathys design resembles its wired brethren. The top of the headband is made of refined real leather, while the bottom is a microfiber material. The headband is very comfortable, and I felt no pressure on my head even after hours of use. The sliding mechanism inside the headband and connected to the yoke is a traditional ratcheting design. It works great and looks nice, but I prefer Apple’s approach to this design part.

The remaining Focal Bathys materials are aluminum, magnesium, leather, and some minor premium plastics. The ear pads are cushy and comfortable, and the clamping force is slightly more than the AirPods Max but appropriately so. Apple’s headphones are slightly too loose; the Focal Bathys is almost perfect on clamping force.

The earcups articulate to fold flat but do not fold in as the Bose ANC headphones do. The earcups have eight microphones, and the ANC/Transparency button is on the left earcup. The right earcup has the rest of the controls, which consist of the following:

  • Off/DAC/On button
  • Multi-Function button (play/pause, ffw/rev, volume up/down)
  • Bluetooth button
  • Voice Assistant button (Siri, Google, Alexa)
  • AUX port
  • USB-C port (charging and DAC mode)

Finally, I leave one of Focal Bathys best design features for last. At first, I thought this would be campy and not interesting. The Focal logo on the outside of the earcups is backed with a white LED light. The app can control this to make it bright, dim, or off. Focal made this fun feature subtle and stylish, not gaudy or ugly. It adds a neat little flair to the Bathys and sets them off. Though in a dark airplane, you might want to dim it or turn the feature off.

Overall, Focal has given the Bathys its signature design aesthetic and done it with premium materials. They are comfortable and tick every box on the premium wireless headphones design box. The Focal Bathys is my favorite wireless headphone design, hands down.

Ease of Use

Focal Bathys
Controls on the right ear cup

Using the Focal Bathys is straightforward; if you’ve used Bluetooth headphones, these will come to you quickly. The Bathys go into pairing mode when you turn them on; find them in your Bluetooth settings and connect. I used my iPhone 14 Pro Max to test these.

The physical buttons are easy to understand and operate; I love that Focal opted for traditional buttons and not some silly touch interface; well done! Overall, dead simple to use and operate; there’s not much more to say.

App/Software

I also love that Focal made its app and software simple. There isn’t much to the app; you get a basic EQ, control over ANC/Transparency, and control over the LED light. The most important part of the Focal/Naim app is firmware updating. The Focal Bathys were updated twice during my testing period; I like that they are actively fixing bugs and issues.

The EQ is nice, but I didn’t feel the need for it as the soundstage Focal has given these headphones is perfect; more on that in the next section. Overall, I have to give Focal props for making the app simple and not filling it with crazy options and features that can sometimes overwhelm users.

Sound

Focal Bathys
Fantastic sounds from these headphones!

Let’s start the sound section of the Focal Bathys review with the ANC and Transparency features. I am just going to come right out and say this. The active noise canceling of the Bathys is great but not excellent. Bose, Sony, and Apple all have the Bathys beat regarding ANC.

That doesn’t mean the ANC Focal has brought here is bad; it’s very good and competes with Bowers & Wilkins Px8 and Master & Dynamic MW65. But it doesn’t reach the level of some other competitors. Transparency Mode works nicely, doing what it says it does. I don’t use this mode, but it works for those who like it.

But ANC is only a part of the bigger puzzle. From my perspective, I am buying headphones for the sound, and sound is king to me. Focal’s sound staging absolutely obliterates anything from Sony, Bose, or Apple. Once you hear the sound coming from the Focal Bathys, it is easy to forgive the very slight inferiority in ANC.

Before I go on, let me note that if you’re a fan of heavy bass and EQ’ing from your headphone brand, you will not get that here. The Focal Bathys aims to deliver a balanced and neutral soundstage that delivers the sound as the artist intended, and that is what I want in my headphones. You can tweak the bass with EQ in the app, but I love the sound out of the box.

Focal hand builds their drivers, which is all done at their facility in France. These 40mm drivers deliver a crisp clarity making hi-hats and cymbals shine while lifting vocals up and forward. The bass is exactly where the engineer put it, not smashing everything else to a pulp. Of course, you get what you get if you listen to music mixed to use the bass as a mangler of all other frequencies.

Focal Bathys
40mm handmade drivers

I appreciate Focal’s delicate touch in sound staging here. It shows their appreciation and respect for the work the artist put into their music. The Focal Bathys has Bluetooth 5.1 and codecs for AAC, aptX, aptX adaptive, and SBC. Bluetooth has come a long way, as the codecs and software magic made everything sound excellent.

But to increase your sound quality, you can use the included AUX cable with an external DAC (digital audio converter). Or better yet, use the built-in DAC with the included USB-C cable, and you have just found level 11.

Using the Focal Bathys in DAC mode will show you what hi-fidelity is as the DAC amplifies the sound giving it a stronger presence. It also increases clarity and brings all the little bits and pieces in your music you may not have heard before. It’s like clearing your windshield of dead bugs, and you can see clearly again. The DAC experience on the Bathys is wonderful, eliminating the need to bring a portable DAC with me.

Overall, the sound quality is fantastic, and the Focal Bathys are the best-sounding ANC headphones on the market right now. At least that I have used.

By the way, Pink Floyd’s 50th anniversary Dark Side of the Moon was just released with Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio, it sounds incredible on the Focal Bathys!

Reception/Call Quality

Bluetooth reception is standard, and the Bathys hold connectivity well; there are no complaints. Call quality is great; again, nothing to disparage there.

Battery Life

Battery life is excellent, with 30 hours on Bluetooth and ANC, 35 on AUX, and 42 on DAC mode. I used the Focal Bathys on a recent trip to New Jersey, and they lasted between all four flights and then some when I returned, never needing recharging. I used them on Bluetooth and ANC mode.

Price/Value

The Focal Bathys are expensive. They are much pricer than what Apple, Bose, and Sony offer, but the value is much better than the competition. The soundstage is fantastic, and including a built-in DAC is enough to justify the $799 price tag. As of this review, you can find them on sale for around $640 at Crutchfield and Adorama, links below.

Wrap Up

If there is such a thing as the holy grail of wireless Bluetooth ANC headphones under $1,000, the Focal Bathys are it. I recommend these over any other ANC headphones for under $1000 in a heartbeat.

Last Updated on March 27, 2023.

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