It’s a wireless headphone, so nothing new there, but it can also be a wired headphone. OK, nothing new there either. We’ve had wired headphones since the 1940s at least. It also sports noise reduction, but there are plenty of headphones with noise reduction too.
Bathys comes from the word ‘bathyscaphe’, the first submarine exploration vehicle. The embodiment of calm, depth, and absolute silence, this vessel is the inspiration behind the name of these ANC headphones.
It’s quite interesting that the new Bathys headphones contain a built-in DAC and integrated amplifier. When used in DAC mode, these headphones deliver a resolution of up to 24-bit / 192 kHz for a high-quality listening experience.
I found the Bathys headphones to be of high quality whatever mode they were in, and they were particularly good plugged into a source where they could render high-resolution files. Here’s a unique headphone you can travel with, listen to without the need for wires, and still not sacrifice the very finest audio quality when you plug in a portable digital audio player or even a laptop when on the road.
The Bathys is a closed-back, over-the-ear design.
Focal Bathys Wireless Hi-Fi ANC Headphones Highlights
- Aluminum/Magnesium ‘M’-shaped dome speaker drivers made in France
- Bluetooth 5.1 (multipoint): compatible with SBC, AAC, Apt-X™, and Apt-X™ Adaptive codecs provides an extensive choice of connectivity modes (Bluetooth®, Jack, USB).
- Three modes of Noise canceling: “Silent” and “Soft” modes based on your surroundings and
a transparency mode that allows you to hear sounds and voices around you when needed.
- Voice Assistants – Amazon Alexa & Google Assistant, and the local assistant of the phone (Siri or Bixby for example), easily enabled with a command on the right earcup.
- Clear Voice Capture – microphone technology with 8 microphones
- Finally, a dedicated app for accessing custom settings, and equalizer and sound controls
I’ve been a headphone fan since my early days working at a classical radio station and enjoying the Sennheiser HD414 headsets. They opened my eyes (and ears) to just how satisfying headphone listening could be. The Sennheiser open-air design set off a lot of copies. Sony even licensed the design for some of their early headsets.
Headphones stayed the same for many decades until Bluetooth came along, and we quickly had many brands offering no-tether headphones, which offered freedom for a slight loss of fidelity.
Focal has been around for a long time, around 40 years, and they’ve spent most of that time designing and producing very high-quality speakers. I have a 20-year-old set of Focal Chorus speakers in my home theater; I love the sound and haven’t felt compelled to upgrade them.
Focal’s speaker expertise led to some excellent headphone designs. A little more than a year ago I reviewed the Focal Clear MG headphones and liked them enough to buy the review copy. I was anxious to see how Focal was able to produce a wireless headset that lived up to the company’s reputation and how it stood up against similarly priced competition.
Wireless, Closed-back, Over-ear
40mm Aluminum-Magnesium speaker drivers
Frequency Response (Hz):
15 Hz – 22 kHz
Bluetooth Audio Codec:
SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX Adaptive
Battery Life (hrs.):
Bluetooth 30 hours, Jack mode 35 hours, USB DAC 42 hours
8 microphone array
Carrying Case, 2 cables supplied: one 4ft (1.2m) Jack cable; one 4ft (1.2m)
USB-C® cable, Quick Start Guide
Headphones, wireless, Bluetooth, DAC, review, reviews 2023, headphones reviews 2023, focal reviews
For the sound design, Focal worked with a sound designer to create all the internal sounds when pairing, connecting, switching ANC modes, etc. All the sounds you hear inside the headphones are unique to Focal, as they didn’t want to use the chipset’s very basic tones. It’s a small nicety but shows the attention to detail from Focal.
The Bathys design is like Focal’s open and closed-back headphones. All the materials have been chosen to reduce the weight and provide great comfort to each head shape and size. There is a magnesium yoke for increased lightness, and the Bathys headphones have real leather and microfiber on the headband resulting in good comfort for any head shape. There is aluminum on the headband for robust construction resulting in good wear factors, especially helpful for a headphone designed to travel.
The Bathys headphones have Focal’s flame symbol featured in the center of the earcup, incorporating a white backlight system to be activated if desired. More on that later. The Bathys headphones fold flat to fit in its compact carrying case.
The Focal patented Aluminum/Magnesium ‘M’-shaped dome speaker drivers are made in France. Manufactured in Saint-Étienne at the Focal workshops, the speaker drivers inside the Bathys headphones have the same technology and driver construction as Focal high-end headphones like its flagship Utopia headphones.
Focal integrated a DAC and amplifier inside, with up to 24-bit / 192 kHz resolution, which is very high quality and roughly equivalent to a wired headphone with a separate small DAC.
The Bathys headphones come in a nicely appointed travel case with a USB C cable and a separate audio mini-stereo cable for wired listening. I charged the headphones for about 1.5 hours, which is the suggested full charge. No AC charging block is included on the theory, I guess, that everyone has something that will charge to USB C. Still, I’d like to see people include a wall charger for devices that need it.
When I went to put on the headphones, I could not figure out which ear cup was the right or the left. The headphones themselves are marked in a very subtle way just above the inside of the earcups, but I got the answer with a quick web search.
I paired the headphones to my MacBook Pro and played some music files and also grabbed some streaming music from Tidal. I thought these were the best Bluetooth phones I’ve auditioned. The noise reduction, controlled from the iOS or Android app, or a single button on the left earcup worked as well as the noise reduction I’ve heard on other headphones. Unlike some, it did not degrade high frequencies. The NR button has 3 positions: off, transparent mode (lets some sound through), and full on. It was a good idea to put that button by itself on the left earcup because other than the volume it’s likely to be used the most frequently.
Pairing to my iPhone and MacBook Pro was quick and easy. No issues there.
I also tried the headphone’s DAC mode. There’s one catch. To listen on an iOS device, you’ll need a USB C to Lightning cable, and one is not included. I had one around, played some high-res files from the iPhone, and found the sound playback compelling. Using the included USB C cable, I also played back high-resolution files from my laptop, and there too, the sound was excellent.
I listened to all my demo files both via BT (Bluetooth) and via a wired DAC connection, and I’ll say that listening wired to an analog output (headphone jack) or through the USB DAC mode always sounded better than through the BT wireless connection. But I must add that even with BT, the background was quiet, and the BT sound was excellent on its own, but always exceeded by a wired connection. It’s nice to have both, and this USB DAC mode makes the Bathys quite unique and valuable.
Vaughan Williams “Symphony Nos. 3 & 4”
Vaughan Williams Symphony Nos. 3 & 4 – Andre Previn – This is a CD-quality rip with Previn and the London Symphony. The strings are clean and natural, and some of the opening bass notes are startlingly accurate. I compared this by listening to the Apple AirPods Max and found they sounded good but did not have quite the heft in the bass, and the midrange was not as musical.
Elvis “Elvis at Madison Square Garden”
Elvis at Madison Square Garden: Not the greatest recording ever made, but a nice demo of the imaging of Elvis and his backup in a large acoustic space. The soundstage was very lifelike, although Elvis’ voice could have sounded a bit more natural. These are sometimes the perils of live recordings. Separation is demo quality though in this 24/96 recording.
Kim Andre Arnesen “Holy Spirit Mass”
Holy Spirit Mass by Kim Andre Arnesen: An exemplary recording of this stirring choral and small ensemble music recorded in a large church in Norway. Once again, very fine imaging in this Decca recording (44.1 kHz/16 bit). On the Bathys headphones, you can hear the decay of the voices in the large acoustic space. There’s a great dynamic range here, and the headphones never struggled even in very busy portions of the music.
Joe Hisaishi “Dream Songs”
Dream Songs: Princess Mononoke Suite – Joe Hisaishi is one of Japan’s premier composers. This music is lovely and emotional. The recording features deep bass and precise imaging of the instruments. The strings are lush; the piano is the right size in the soundstage.
Daft Punk “Tron Legacy”
Tron Legacy: Daft Punk: a good test of separation and imaging, as well as deep bass. The track called Disc Wars is a good test of any Hi-Fi equipment, speakers, headphones, and your digital sources. The Bathys had a fine transient response and a stunning soundstage.
There’s a lot to like here. The overall sound is a close family match to the wired Focal headphones I use at home. Similar frequency response, soundstage, and dynamic range, especially when listening through the built-in amp and DAC. In fact, I think it slightly exceeds my Focal headphones in this mode.
- The sound is first class in any mode: wireless, wired, or with its built-in DAC and amp.
- The construction of the headphone is excellent, minus a lot of plastic on the buttons and earcups.
- These are easy to travel with, and the case makes taking care of the Bathys easy.
- The phones are comfortable but large. I think the competing Apple over-the-ear headphones are a little easier on the ear with a tad less pressure.
- More metal and less plastic on the ear cups.
- Better ergonomics on the buttons. There are a lot of buttons, and they are close together. Using these will take some practice.
- The quick start guide is too superficial, and the diagrams are too small.
The headphones are attractive, and the case is serviceable and should survive abuse when traveling.
There are two things that don’t please me about the Bathys headphones. The quick start guide is hard to read (small print) and when you are advising what buttons on a crowded earcup are which, a larger diagram would have been helpful. Also, the LED lights on both ear cups strike me as a silly item to put on a quality, expensive piece of gear. I would not expect that kind of a feature on something made by Focal. It has no use that I can think of, and I felt uncomfortable at the thought of others seeing me listening to light-up headphones. Happily, you can turn them off.
Also, there’s a bit too much plastic on the earcups for a high-quality headphone. All the other materials are first-rate. Why all the plastic? (Focal says it’s to keep the weight down for prolonged listening).
I don’t think the Focal Bathys is high priced for the quality of the audio, and the ability to choose wired, wired with built-in DAC and amp, or wireless. You can listen with or without noise reduction, and even choose to let some outside sounds seep in while noise reduction is turned on.
This is not only a good headphone, but it has unique features you won’t find in the market at any price. Shopping and seeing a Bluetooth headphone at $800 will make you think it’s too high-priced since Bluetooth headphones can be had for around $100. But as my review demonstrates, this is a superior Bluetooth headset that can also function as an audiophile headset that allows you to play high-resolution recordings with no other plug-ins or additional equipment needed. That’s important when you travel, or even when moving from room to room since everything is self-contained.