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The impulse to get the “best” headphones out there drives many to spend lots and lots of money, and French audio company Focal has gathered its share of fans on this particular quest. This is the first time that the company has brought active noise canceling (ANC) headphones to market. Are they worth the hefty price? Let’s dive in.
Editor’s note: this is the first version of the article. Updates will follow as the market changes.
The Focal Bathys is for deep-pocketed audiophiles looking for a set of active noise canceling (ANC) headphones. Given the fact that the headphones cost about $800 USD, you shouldn’t be looking at it unless you’re absolutely sure you want to spend that much on ANC headphones.
What’s it like to use the Focal Bathys?
For anyone not suffering from trypophobia, the Focal Bathys offers a very nice experience for ANC headphones—and at its price point, that should be expected. Inside the box you’ll find the headphones, a semi rigid shell fabric carrying case, a USB-C cable, a 3.5mm cable, and assorted documentation. This is a pretty standard set of accoutrements for a top-flight pair of ANC headphones, so no surprises here.
The headphones are quite well-built, clad in black resin with magnesium yokes and an aluminum band. Thankfully, the band makes a lot of contact with your skull, and the ear pads are very wide and deep. At any point where your head meets the headphones there is a decent amount of padding and leather, though the leather at the top of the band is much softer, and the ear pads are much smoother. It’s a good thing too, because the Focal Bathys is fairly heavy, weighing in at 350 grams.
If you’re a bit more slight (or have poor posture at the desk), the headphones’ weight may cause some issues while listening for long periods of time, as this puts a bit of strain on you. While a literal pain in the neck isn’t the best thing, it shouldn’t be an issue for most people. Just be sure you aren’t afraid of bringing in the band a little tight so the weight is as optimally distributed on your head as it can be. Loose headphones can make you tense up if you’re anticipating movement, and with cans as heavy as these you’ll want to avoid that as much as possible—so stop headbanging too, please.
When the headphones are on, the shiny Focal logos illuminate on the back of each ear cup. Though it doesn’t really serve much of a functional purpose, it definitely is eye-catching—and not always in the good way. If you’re not trying to draw attention to yourself, these may not be the headphones to wear on the subway, for example.
When you’re traveling, the Focal Bathys can lay flat, making it easy to stow in the slim carrying case. Said carrying case has a mesh pocket for cables and other things you’ve collected. Just please don’t be tempted to thumb your nose at authority and eat the silica packet, there’s a reason “DO NOT EAT” is printed in big letters.
How does the Focal Bathys connect?
When it comes to connection, the Focal Bathys is a pleasant surprise among high-end headphones. It’s one of extremely few headphones that can connect digitally with a wired USB-C cable, rather than just Bluetooth and analog 3.5mm cable connections. This is great because it allows the headphones to receive the signal digitally, with no Bluetooth compression applied. It also skips the extra analog-to-digital conversion this type of headphone usually has to do when used with a 3.5mm jack, thus fulfilling the promise of USB-C headphones from, oh, five years ago.
This means you don’t need a DAC, and you don’t need an amp, the headphones handle all that stuff. The only drawback here is that the headphones are a bit on the quieter side using USB, so you may find yourself skipping this mode of connection when you’re commuting, or you need the full output level it’s capable of.
If you’re relying on Bluetooth, the Focal Bathys supports Bluetooth 5.1 connections using SBC, AAC, aptX, and aptX Adaptive codecs—depending on which your source device supports. Though this connection comes with some latency like it does with any other set of cans, we measured around 295ms of delay (compared to wired USB) over aptX.
If you’d like to listen over a regular-old 3.5mm cable, just be aware that the Focal Bathys always needs battery power to function— it won’t work passively, so if your battery dies, you’re stuck. It’s a bit frustrating that you can’t listen to the headphones unpowered, but I get the impression that the internal DSP is doing some heavy lifting for the Focal Bathys. It’s not much of an inconvenience in this day and age, but it is a bit annoying if you want to listen without charging your headphones. C’est la vie.
Just like any other Bluetooth headphones, you can connect the Focal Bathys by a very straightforward process.
- Turn the headphones on with the sliding switch, and enter pairing mode by pressing the multifunction button in between the volume up and down buttons for 4 seconds.
- On the device you’d like to connect to, open Bluetooth settings and search for the Bathys in the available devices list.
- Connect to the Bathys and follow the prompts (if there are any)
How do you control the Focal Bathys?
Controls for the Focal Bathys are pretty straightforward, though they can be confusing if you don’t read the manual. On the right ear cup is a cluster of buttons that will be what you use to control volume, your virtual assistant, Bluetooth pairing, and which source you’re listening to.
Because there are so many buttons without labels, it takes a little figuring out which is which. For example, the multifunction button rests in between the volume up and down buttons. Additionally, the voice assistant button is on the very bottom of the right ear cup, and the ambient toggle stands alone on the back of the left ear cup. Here’s what everything does by default:
Volume up / down
Volume up / down
Play / Pause,
Answer / end call
Bluetooth pairing, reject call
Transparency mode / ANC
Voice assistant button
Toggle voice assistant
How long does the Focal Bathys’ battery last?
The Focal Bathys lasted 31 hours and 30 minutes in our standardized battery test with ANC turned on, exceeding the listed battery life by an hour and a half. That’s not bad at all, and means that a single charge should last you about a week’s worth of commutes, or two full days’ worth of waking hours. Though it’s not the best battery life we’ve come across for headphones, it certainly isn’t bad by any stretch—and given the fact that you can listen wired over USB-C, your options are quite decent here.
How well does the Focal Bathys cancel noise?
The Focal Bathys definitely isn’t going to be taking any titles from Sony or Apple when it comes to active noise cancellation. However, our measured result isn’t bad, just comparatively pedestrian to the absolutely ridiculous performers of the day. In fact, this is roughly as good as Sennheiser’s ANC in the Momentum 4 Wireless — so don’t go scoffing at the Focal Bathys just because of one performance point.
The truth is, noise canceling is hard. The stablished players all have their own secret sauce on how to do it better. But low frequency attenuation of close to 20dB is enough to reduce outside rumbles by about 75% of the original perceived loudness. That’s significant, especially if you’re using the headphones on a bus or an airplane. Additionally, the Focal Bathys will physically block out a bunch of high-end noise even without the ANC, so there’s a lot to like here even if it isn’t the best result in our database.
If you’re looking for a bit less noise attenuation from your surroundings, you can also turn the ANC down a bit by long-pressing the ANC toggle button, or activating the transparency mode by tapping it once. This is one of the better transparency modes I’ve ever used, which is pretty cool if you need to hear what it is your kids are up to in the other room.
How does the Focal Bathys sound?
Editor’s note: this review makes use of a hover-enabled glossary to describe sound quality, based on a consensus vocabulary. You can read about it here.
Can you use the Focal Bathys for phone calls?
You can absolutely use the Focal Bathys for calls of the phone or conference variety. Listen below to our standardized samples in varying conditions for an approximation of how the microphone will sound to the person on the other end. We torture the mic so that we can help you hear how it will end up sounding badly in adverse conditions.
Though these samples seem a bit quiet, just be aware that any video conferencing or internet calling app will be applying its own levelling to the signal, so you’re extremely unlikely to end up with any loudness issues on the other end. We were able to test this over popular services during our evaluation period, and did not run into any issues.
Focal Bathys microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Focal Bathys microphone demo (Office conditions):
Focal Bathys microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Should you buy the Focal Bathys?
As much as I hesitate to recommend a headphone that sells for $800 USD, if you’re looking for the best sound quality you can find in the ANC space: it’s the Focal Bathys. However, just because it’s the best in this category doesn’t mean that it will be the best for you. Definitely poke around our other reviews to see if this headset fits your needs before making it rain at the checkout counter.
Some of the things that should prevent you from buying the Focal Bathys include: an attachment to your bank account, potential neck muscle strain, the desire to not stick out in public, or an extreme fixation on blocking out as much of the outside world as humanly possible. If none of those things describe you, then this is the set of headphones to get.
What should you get instead of the Focal Bathys?
When it comes to direct competitors to the Focal Bathys, pretty much only the Apple AirPods Max and the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless come to mind. The former because of its previous position as one of the most expensive (and effective) ANC headphones on the market, and the latter because of its similar features and performance.
Apple AirPods Max vs. Focal Bathys
iPhone users will absolutely want to grab the Apple AirPods Max instead. Though it’s a little disappointing if you were really keyed in on the Focal Bathys for your next set, truth be told it’s not an enormous step down. Apple has a lot of processing features baked into iOS for its line of AirPods headphones, and the AirPods Max in particular leads the way in other categories like ANC and comfort among noise-canceling headphones.
Somewhat ironically, Apple’s headset—one of the most expensive consumer ANC headphones on the market—are actually a fair bit less expensive than the Focal Bathys. From that standpoint, iPhone users have a lot less to gain by using the Focal Bathys over the AirPods Max if they’re looking for commuter cans.
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless vs. Focal Bathys
Perhaps the headphones most like the Focal Bathys is the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless. Offering USB-C audio, aptX connectivity, and a middling ANC performance, Sennheiser’s flagship ANC headphones are similar in most of the ways that count. However, this headphone doesn’t keep pace with the audio quality of the Focal Bathys, even if it absolutely drubs it in battery life.
If you’re mainly looking for features and could really benefit from saving money, just get the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless. The Focal Bathys is super cool, but the upgrades you get for an extra $400 aren’t worth it for everyone. If you want something that works well enough but has USB-C direct listening available, get the Sennheiser.
Frequently asked questions
By using the included USB-C cable with your Bathys and moving the switch to the “DAC” position, you can get USB-C audio from your Android phone, or computer. However, there’s no guarantee your phone will play nice depending on how old it is.
Though the drivers are made in France, the box indicates that the headphones themselves are manufactured in China.
The Focal Bathys is a set of closed-back headphones.