I reviewed this headphone’s predecessor, the Focal Clear, and much of the DNA from that superb listening device has made it into the Focal Clear Mg headphones, with major improvements in sound and comfort.
The latest iteration of the Focal Clear breed is smoother, has deeper bass, and in my use tests has hit a high bar for comfort. I’ve reviewed a lot of headphones that win on sound, but lag terribly in comfort. This latest product from Focal hits the comfort ball out of the park, making it a total experience of excellent sound, open-back design, and a really good fit on my head and around my ears.
FOCAL CLEAR MG HEADPHONES
- Excellent sound at all frequencies.
- Build quality is exceptional, with a leather headband with perforated microfiber.
- The new magnesium drivers seem to offer real performance enhancements.
- The exterior colors of what Focal calls Chestnut and metal is appealing to the eye.
- Comes with two cables, a standard 1/4” convertible to a mini-jack, and an XLR cable.
- Includes useful sturdy travel case
- Easy to drive 55 Ohm impedance
- Easily reveals poor recordings (good or bad depending on what you expect)
- Users wanting a private listening environment won’t be happy that others in the room will hear what you’re listening to, but this is always the case with open-back headphones. They are open by design.
I feel like I go way back with Focal. I have a pair of Focal Chorus speakers in my home theater. I’ve had them for about 17 years, and never felt the need to replace them. They are accurate, have been maintenance-free, and meet my needs even with demanding movie soundtracks. I’ve never been tempted to update them, which says a lot about their design longevity.
I was pleased to see Focal try headphones a few years ago, and I reviewed the Focal Clear headphones back in September of 2018. I found them excellent at the time, disliking only the construction of the cables which were too stiff. The sound was neutral, as Focal designed the phones to be. At the time, I found the Focal Clears to be among the best headphones I had reviewed up until then.
Since then, I’ve seen headphones extend their frequency response, and especially reach deeper into the bass regions, something that is more difficult for an open-back design to achieve.
The Focal Clear of 2018 would probably no longer be on my ‘among the best’ list today, and I’m sure Focal was thinking the same thing. So, we now get the Focal Clear Mg, which is a re-think and redesign of what a top-quality headphone should be.
5Hz – 28kHz
104dB SPL/1mW @1kHZ
1.5” (40mm) ‘M’-shaped magnesium dome
Total harmonic distortion:
0.25% @ 1kHz / 100dB SPL
15.8 ounces (450g)
1.2m single-ended 3.5mm cable with a 6.3mm adapter
3m 4-pin balanced XLR cable
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Focal Clear Mg headphones. I liked the first version so much I bought my review copy, so I have a really good idea of how it sounds and how it feels.
At first glance, the headphones look like the original Clears, but a closer inspection of the physical headphones and a reading of the specs reveals improvements. First and foremost, I’d say are the new drivers which give these new Clears the ‘Mg’ in the title. Mg refers to the Magnesium dome driver. Focal claims the new drivers are more dynamic, especially at the low end, and more detailed across the frequency spectrum. Focal also claims the driver’s ‘M’ shape provides more rigidity, yet the design makes the headphones lighter in weight. The unique grille that surrounds the driver also is said to make a wider soundstage, while the reduction of distance between the driver and your ear reduces resonances and smooths the frequency response.
The earpads are perforated microfiber which Focal says improves the soundstage. The headband is covered with leather and microfiber, while the aluminum yoke molds to the user’s face.
I especially liked the color of the headphones, which Focal calls Chestnut and metal. It’s sort of a burnished copper look, and it is remarkably attractive. In general, I care how headphones sound, but the look of the Focal Clear Mg is so distinctive it becomes part of the positive experience of using this product.
The Clear Mg headphones come in a color-matching case. Other than color, it looks the same as the case the Focal Clear headphones were delivered with. It’s stiff, and nicely protects the headphones, and was not an afterthought, as some cases are.
Inside are two cables, a 1.2-meter 1/4” standard headphone plug, and a 3-meter 4-pin balanced XLR cable. At first, I was wondering why there was no 3.5 mm male plug, but quickly saw it was inside the standard adaptor. This way you are ready for any kind of output device.
The cables are much improved from the older Focal Clear. They were stiff and tended to kink. The Clear Mg comes with cables without the braid and stiffness. Good move Focal!
Setup, like most headphones, is trivial. Plug it into your source device, adjust the volume and go. For my listening, I played back most of my music on a FiiO M15 DAP. It provides a balanced and standard 3.5 mm jack, and I listened on the latter.
In a word, the Focal Clear Mg headphones are excellent. To add a few more words, they have a smooth frequency response, better than the standard-setting Focal Clears of a few years ago. The bass was noticeably deeper and clearer. Highs such as strings and female voices were clear. After reviewing a few closed-back headphones of late, I was pleased to get back to this open-back design. I didn’t feel quite so cut off from the world, although others may want that isolation. Listening to acoustic music, the musicians seemed to occupy a real space, spread out between my ears with a slight forward bias. Headphones will never equal a live performance, or even speakers that can put the musicians in front of you in a realistic way, but on the other hand, the immediacy of sound that can closely mimic what musicians hear inside an orchestra is quite addictive. Like all good headphones, the Focal Clear Mg device is mercilessly revealing. In some recordings, I could hear the faint hum of air conditioning systems that I could not hear listening on regular speakers. I could hear an occasional music stand being adjusted, and all sorts of things that get buried in normal listening via speakers. It’s not really a negative, but it is noticeable. It’s one of the reasons mastering engineers wear headphones for critical mixing, then move to regular speakers to get the best of both worlds and listen to the final mix as people will hear it at home.
I have a list of revealing music files I usually check headphones on. Here’s what impressed, with my comments.
Jurassic Park, John Williams
This is a high-resolution file of the original soundtrack. It’s wonderful for testing strings, instrument positioning, and deep bass which is present on several tracks. The strings were smooth and never strident. Bass was realistic, with no doubling or distortion, and it did not feel over-emphasized.
Shostakovich Symphony #9 and # 5
This recording is on the Tacet label from Europe. They are known for their fine multi-channel recordings. I listened to a 2-channel mixdown of the SACD on my Emotiva RMC-1 headphone output and was treated to a stunningly real performance and recording. In the choral sections, positions of the singers and the instruments were rock solid.
Time Out, Dave Brubeck Quartet
A classic jazz album probably in everyone’s collection. I listened to the Columbia SACD and was transported to the live performance. The analog recording was among the best that the Columbia of old did, and despite the slightest amount of tape hiss, the instruments were locked into their positions and the album was a nostalgic treat.
Theme of Secrets, Eddie Jobson
From 1985, a great pop-rock/synth album that makes a nice test for headphones. Very directional music, nice electronic highs, and deep bass. A wonderful soundscape created on a Synclavier computer.
A Salty Dog, Procol Harum
A classic progressive rock album, auditioned in a 44/16-bit FLAC file. Great separation, some ambient sound effects, all nicely rendered on the Focal Clear Mg headphones. One can tell because the headphones are so accurate, that the highs are a bit rolled off on this recording.
Morph the Cat, Donald Fagen
From 2006, a well-engineered and well-performed bit of rock, jazz-rock, what have you. Another nice instrumental spread with voices front and center. Tight bass.
I’ve heard headphones that sound very similar to the FOCAL CLEAR MG, but frequency response is not everything. When you add comfort, build quality, the exquisite look of the overall design, the FOCAL CLEAR MG is an excellent value at $1500. As high-end headphones go, the FOCAL CLEAR MG is in the middle of the pack in terms of price, but it performs significantly better than the price would indicate.
- Stunning to look at. The Chestnut and metal finish is striking and attractive.
- All cables included
- Smooth frequency response, deeper more solid bass than its predecessor
- Protective case included
- Easy to drive, anything from tube headphone amps to mobile players
- Best in class comfort
- Nothing really to list here. People who want isolation and don’t want the family hearing the headphones will need to look elsewhere but having an open back has advantages in comfort and soundstage that are hard to resist.
I can’t help but give the highest marks to the Focal Clear Mg headphones. As I’ve said, I can’t fault any part of the frequency spectrum. It’s a definite improvement over the Focal Clear headphones, which I highly praised when I heard them a few years ago. These headphones are easy to drive, so portable devices won’t have any trouble.
A word about comfort. Comfort can be the Achilles heel of headphone listening. I’ve heard some terrific headphones, that got uncomfortable to listen to after less than an hour. Some were too heavy. Some were too hot around the ears or pressed too firmly.
The Focal Clear Mg headphones were the most comfortable headphones I have worn. The microfiber ear pads were a delight, and long listening sessions never bothered me. Some will not like the open-back design, but I preferred it. Still, others in the room will hear the headphones when they are rocking at higher volumes.