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Focal Clear MG
Case: 317 x 307 x 238 mm
Ear cup: 55 x 64mm
Cable length: 1.2m (TRS), 3m (XLR)
For those looking at high-end audio, frugality is one thing that goes right out the window. Though we often make the point that there’s no need to overspend on certain components, sometimes getting expensive headphones is worth it. But does Focal’s wallet-busting Clear MG fit the bill? Let’s find out.
Editor’s note: this is the first version of the article. Updates will follow as the market changes.
The Focal Clear MG is for deep-pocketed buyers looking for a less neutral-sounding set of open-back headphones that also double as desk-candy. It certainly qualifies as a “halo” product with a higher price tag than many are willing to spend.
What’s it like to use the Focal Clear MG?
At face value, the Focal Clear MG is a set of very well-polished open-back headphones geared toward luxury more than value. As always, we suggest that any buying decision should consider the performance of the headphones as well as the experience of using them.
Upon opening the packaging, you’ll be greeted with a smart fabric case containing the headphones. In the heavy paper rectangle alongside the carrying case are two cables, an adapter, and some documentation.
Though the headphones weigh 451 grams due to the relatively liberal use of metal in their construction, there appears to be adequate padding to prevent the worst issues heavy headphones can cause. Large, deep ear cups with soft padding are complemented by a band that distributes weight well — all essential once weight exceeds 300 grams, even if you wear your headphones correctly. Thankfully, the Focal Clear MG is one of the few models that get this right. I could use the Focal Clear MG for about 5 hours at a time without having to remove it for comfort issues. However, taking regular breaks is a good idea as your neck may disagree with this assessment.
The band is also made well for users with long hair, as it likely won’t get caught in the usual pain points — though it’s possible your hair might get caught in the mesh at the back of the ear cups.
When you grab the Focal Clear MG to plunk it onto your head, you may notice that you can see through the ear cups far easier than with other headphones — and that’s no accident. The Focal Clear MG’s design goes out of its way to remove material and potential reflection points from its innards, and in some areas, you can see right through the headphones. While the mesh coverings will prevent damage from larger foreign objects, avoid leaving these headphones anywhere excessive dust accumulates: that way, you’ll avoid issues with gunk and other unwanted matter inside your headphones. Use the case, or at the very least, use a decent stand to keep them upright.
How does the Focal Clear MG connect?
Included in the packaging are two Y-shaped cables: one 1.2-meter cable that ends in a 3.5mm TRS plug, threaded to attach a 6.3mm (1/4-inch) TRS adapter that will work for most equipment; the other is 3-meters long and terminates in a 4-pin XLR connector for differential (aka balanced) outputs. While you’re not likely to run into that sort of thing very often with consumer gear, any foray into the higher end will make that connector more useful.
The headphones have a high sensitivity of 104dB/mW, therefore have relatively low power requirements, meaning you’re not likely to need an external amplifier to drive them. However, if you try equalizing these headphones: you may benefit from the added flexibility an amplifier can provide. Similarly, an external DAC is only necessary if you have noise issues with your source or run into unsupported file types.
How well does the Focal Clear MG block out noise?
As the Focal Clear MG is a set of open-backed headphones, you can’t expect it to block out noise because it’s not designed to do that. Though that may disappoint some, it’s an inherent tradeoff that comes with the open-back design that offers benefits in other ways. For example, you avoid that “closed-in” sensation some people get with closed-back headphones. It’s much easier for open-backed headphones to fool you into thinking that the sound is coming from the space around you rather than the headphones themselves.
This design also means less heat buildup inside the ear cups. Though that doesn’t change the performance of the headphones, it does make longer listening sessions more comfortable.
How does the Focal Clear MG 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.
Though much hay is made about the magnesium diaphragm drivers of the Focal Clear MG, they follow a similar design to typical dynamic drivers — it’s not some wild departure from existing technology. The difference that using magnesium instead of another material brings to the table is the lower mass of the drivers. The faster your drivers can move, in theory, the better they can track transients in music.
Should you buy the Focal Clear MG?
The answer to whether or not you should spend over a thousand dollars on headphones seems easy — especially if your budget doesn’t support it — but it could be a little more difficult for the right buyer. The Focal Clear MG is a very fun status symbol, but it’s definitely in the camp of “things you get when you have more money than you know what to do with.”
The Focal Clear MG is an excellent set of headphones; any audiophile should give it a spin. Though it has a somewhat unique voicing, it’s a breath of fresh air to have a more consumer-friendly sound than most open-back models. The Focal Clear MG isn’t the only set of kilobuck-plus headphones that do this, of course, but it stands as an interesting option in its own right.
What should you get instead of the Focal Clear MG?
Once you decide to spend over a thousand dollars on headphones, there are plenty of options in your price range. Consequently, you’ll need to answer questions like “What do I want my headphones to look like” and “Is there something specific I want out of my purchase that isn’t tied to performance?”
Answer these questions, and it becomes much easier to direct you toward specific models of headphones.
Don’t want an open-back set of cans? Get the Meze Audio Liric
Though it costs almost twice as much as the Focal Clear MG, the Meze Audio Liric is another unique set of headphones. Specifically, this set of closed-back cans offers a sound much closer to its open-backed brethren while enjoying the benefits of sealing your ears away from the outside world. It sports a notably different aesthetic with its leather covering, and it’s also a bit lighter than the Focal Clear MG at 390 grams. While the sound of the Focal Clear MG is something I prefer over that of the Liric, you can’t take the Focal cans outside with you — so that’s a massive check in the plus column for these Meze headphones.
Want studio sound? Get the Sennheiser HD 800 S
As cliche as it might be, if you want the best, get the best. For several years now, the headphones to get if you want street cred in the higher price bracket is the Sennheiser HD 800 S. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is that these headphones are regarded by many as being some of the most comfortable, stylish, and best-sounding headphones on the market. Whether you agree or not, the Sennheisers are the way to go if you’re a fan of our “studio” response curve. Given that most people aren’t used to that or are reluctant to move away from a more bass-biased sound, the Focal Clear MG will suit more people entering the world of high-end, open-backed headphones.
Want audiophile grade noise canceling headphones? Get the Focal Bathys
Open-back headphones aren’t for everyone, as they are best enjoyed by the computer or at home. Unsurprisingly, we often will direct people looking at spending hundreds of dollars on headphones toward more consumer-friendly options that meet the needs of people who don’t want to be tethered to one spot. If you’re hoping to take your headphones out and about with you, abandon the idea of open-back headphones and be happy about it.
Happily, ANC headphones are very popular nowadays, and there are now more tiers of quality than ever before. There are cheap ANC headphones and expensive ones — and Focal, coincidentally enough, has the best ANC alternative to the Focal Clear MG. Focal’s Bathys is excellent when it comes to sound quality but also doesn’t have the inherent portability drawbacks of the Focal Clear MG’s design. If you like what you’ve read in this review but want a set of headphones to go with you wherever you go, the Bathys is an easy home run. With an internal USB DAC, wireless, and all the usual trappings of a top-flight set of ANC headphones: the Bathys will be much more versatile.
Frequently asked questions
The Focal Clear MG is made in France.
No, the Focal Clear MG doesn’t require the use of an external amp to enjoy. However, you may elect to use one anyway to provide additional gain required by applying equalization.