French high-end model Focal is comparatively new to the headphone sport—its first mannequin was launched in 2012—however the firm has greater than 40 years of expertise designing audiophile audio system and drivers, so it’s no shock that Focal headphones are among the many most extremely regarded on the earth. TechHive has reviewed two—the Clear and the Elegia—deeming each to be distinctive, although not cheap by any means.
The newest addition to Focal’s secure of headphones is the Stellia. Given what I’ve heard from the corporate’s headphones up to now, I used to be keen to provide this one an extended hear—and I used to be not disenchanted!
This evaluate is a part of TechHive’s protection of the best headphones, the place you’ll discover opinions of competing merchandise, plus a purchaser’s information to the options it’s best to think about when buying.
The Focal Stellia is a circumaural (around-the-ear) closed-back design that connects to the supply system with precise wires—no Bluetooth right here! In truth, the Stellia comes with two hefty cables: a 3-meter (10-foot) cable with XLR connector supposed for house use with an amplifier such because the Focal Arche (evaluate forthcoming) and a 1.2-meter (3-foot) cable with a 3.5 mm connector for cellular gadgets. Also included is a 1/4-inch adaptor that screws onto the 3.5mm plug, which is safer than a snap-on design. At first, I assumed the XLR cable facilitated a balanced connection, however it doesn’t; the connectors for every earpiece have solely two conductors (sign and floor), so the connection just isn’t balanced.
The headband and earpiece yoke mechanisms are derived from the corporate’s Utopia headphone, a flagship, open-back mannequin launched in 2016. The constant curve between these components is claimed to supply superior consolation whatever the form and measurement of the listener’s head. In addition, the earpads encompass high-resilience reminiscence foam that, together with the headscarf, is roofed with full-grain leather-based.
Of course, the earcups are designed for greater than consolation; they supply wonderful isolation from ambient sound and an acoustic surroundings particularly designed for the full-range drivers. In truth, the earcups embody two vents: one to manage the steadiness between the bass and midrange and the opposite to evacuate the rear wave from the middle of the motor to keep away from compression and prolong the low-frequency response—in different phrases, this can be a bass-reflex headphone! At the opposite finish of the sonic spectrum, EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam behind the drivers absorbs extra high-frequency power. Finally, acoustic diffusers break up any standing waves and make the earcups extra inflexible and inert.
The full-range drivers themselves are equally well-designed. The 40mm diaphragm is a pure-beryllium dome with very low mass, excessive rigidity, and excessive damping. The cross part of the diaphragm resembles the letter “M,” which is claimed to supply even increased rigidity for extra precision and fewer distortion. Also, the Focal-exclusive frameless pure-copper voice coil reduces the mass even additional. The result’s a frequency response from 5Hz to 40kHz (±3 dB) with a THD of 0.1% @ 1 kHz/100 dB SPL and a sensitivity of 106 dB SPL/1 mW @ 1 kHz. The impedance is 35 ohms, making the Stellia comparatively straightforward to drive.
I don’t usually touch upon a product’s packaging, however I’ll on this case—it’s as high-end because the Stellia itself. A big, sturdy field contains the headphone in its inflexible, woven-cover case together with separate case for the cables. Even the documentation, sparse as it’s, is available in its personal leather-based folder.
At first, I couldn’t discover any indication of which sides of the Stellia are left and proper, however I lastly discovered small labels on the underside of every earcup close to the cable connector. The cables for either side are marked as properly.
The outsized earpads simply match over my comparatively giant ears, and they’re supremely comfy. They don’t clamp down on the top, but they supply wonderful isolation from ambient noise. I might simply spend hours carrying the Stellia—and I did! As common, I listened to tracks from Tidal’s Master high-res audio library enjoying from my iPhone XS by way of an iFi hip-dac, reviewed here.
One of my favourite recording artists as of late is younger Jacob Collier, who’s rightly hailed as a Millennial Mozart. His style isn’t classical music, however quite an eclectic mixture of jazz, rock, and pop that goes far past all three. For this evaluate, I listened to his model of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” from the album Djesse Vol. 1. The readability was superb, with distinctive delineation of devices and vocals, permitting me to listen to properly into the combination even because it remained totally cohesive. The bass was deep however properly balanced with the remainder of the sonic spectrum, and the vocals had been superbly rendered.
Next up was some trendy nation from Rascal Flatts—particularly, “Feel It In The Morning” from How They Remember You. The combine is wealthy and dense, but I might distinguish every component completely clearly. Everything was fantastically balanced, and the bass was deep and clear. Also, the soundstage was extensive with wonderful imaging of every instrument and voice.
As I used to be wanting across the Tidal Master Library, I occurred to take heed to “Hallelujah!” from Creeper’s new album Sex, Death, and the Infinite Void. It’s a 45-second intro to the album with recorded rainfall and thunder with some low synth sounds and spoken phrases, all of which sounded fantastic; the rainfall and thunder had been particularly efficient, encompassing a large soundstage. When the primary music began, I found it was fairly thrashy and punk-like, so I rapidly stopped it—not my cup o’ tea!
Another new discovery was “Running Away” by Omar Rodriguez-López from The Clouds Hill Tapes, Pt. III. This observe opens with vocal chords and provides super-low synth bass, lead feminine vocal, piano, and different synth sounds. I used to be particularly impressed with the synth bass, which was super-clean and completely balanced with the remainder of the combination, and the piano was superbly rendered.
Turning to some jazz, I listened to “How High The Moon” as sung by Patti Austin with Afro Blue and the Count Basie Orchestra on Ella 100: Live on the Apollo. Patti was undoubtedly channeling Ella Fitzgerald, and the Stellia highlighted her vocal expertise completely. Again, the readability and presence of your entire sound was startling, and a large soundstage unfold out the band and background vocals in entrance of me. I might guess the sound I heard was higher than truly being there.
One of my favourite artists from the 1980s is guitarist Pat Metheny, and one in all my favourite Metheny albums is First Circle, which was remastered in 2020. I listened to “Forward March,” a brief intro to the album that begins with a deep bass drum and a horrible, out-of-tune marching band. It nearly hurts to take heed to this cacophony, however it’s hilarious on the identical time, and on the Stellia, I might hear every cracked observe and inaccurate entrance all too clearly. After a few minutes, the music transitions to “Yolanda, You Learn,” a hard-driving jazz/rock observe with synth guitar, drums, bass, and a few vocals, all of which had been super-clear, distinct, and well-balanced.
For a style of classical, I discovered an exquisite model of the second motion from Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “New World,” organized by Tamas Batiashvili to function Lisa Batiashvili (relation unknown) on solo violin with Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin beneath the course of Nikoloz Rachveli on the album City Lights. On the Stellia, the violin sounded superbly pure with beautiful excessive harmonics, and the orchestra was exceptionally rendered with good steadiness between the wealthy basses and the remainder of the sections, which I might discern completely.
I additionally needed to attempt one thing from Tidal’s 360 Reality Audio library, which presents headphone-based immersive audio utilizing Sony’s expertise of the identical identify. I reviewed the technology here. For this evaluate, I listened to “Tambo in 7/4” by Airto Moreira, remastered from his 2011 album Fingers. The Stellia rendered a superb immersive soundstage with devices throughout and showing to be exterior the confines of the headphone, although there wasn’t a lot overhead.
The Focal Stellia is the best headphone I’ve ever heard, with distinctive readability, very good soundstage and imaging, and an exceedingly well-balanced presentation of deep bass, clear mids, and glowing highs. Even higher, it’s super-comfortable to put on for prolonged durations, which I fortunately did.
Of course, that stage of efficiency comes at a excessive price—practically $3,000 on this case. But that price ticket is totally justified; not solely is the efficiency second to none, Focal used the best high quality supplies within the development and even within the packaging. The firm touts it as a headphone you may take with you if you’re out and about, however at that value, I wouldn’t danger it.
Other than the excessive price ticket, the one con I see is the shortage of a balanced connection. I don’t think about this to be an enormous disadvantage, however some headphone aficionados would possibly, particularly for that sort of cash. Theoretically, a balanced connection can improve an amplifier’s voltage-swing vary whereas decreasing THD (complete harmonic distortion) and crosstalk, supposedly leading to extra refined element and tighter low bass amongst different advantages. But you want a balanced amplifier and cable in addition to the suitable inner wiring inside the headphone. Perhaps most significantly, any enchancment to the Stellia’s sound high quality could be marginal at greatest; I can’t think about it sounding noticeably higher than it already does.
If you’re interested by investing within the Stellia and a superb headphone amp, Focal is providing a bundle take care of its Arche DAC/amp, which sells for $2,490 by itself. But you may buy them together on Amazon for a complete of $4,000, which saves you $1,480 off the mixed particular person costs. I’ll be reviewing the Arche within the subsequent couple of months, so keep tuned for that. Incidentally, in case you already personal a Focal Stellia, Utopia, or Clear headphone, Focal will ship you a $1,000 voucher towards the acquisition of the Arche. You’ll discover the details here.
Meanwhile, I’ll be listening to the Focal Stellia as a lot as I can, basking in its magnificence.