I've heard over 50 headphones this year, but I'm dreaming of only one pair this Christmas

Focal Bathys being held in the hand
(Image credit: Focal)

Christmas is, predominantly, a time for giving, be that to your loved ones or your community. The true spirit of the festive season has always been as much about how much you give as it has been about how much you are treated to, with true happiness, so we’re told, coming from the joy you bring to others. 

Well, that only goes so far if you ask me. Like it or not, Christmas is also a time for thinking about yourself, for covetously eyeing up all those things you didn’t have the nerve, or the cash, to buy for yourself during the rest of the calendar year. The arrival of Santa and Michael Bublé provides the perfect justification for splashing out on that audio tech you’ve been ogling for the past eleven months, or at least the opportunity to ask your nearest and dearest to shoulder that financial burden on your behalf.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about what my ideal audio gift would be this year, money no object (okay, money slightly an object, otherwise I’d be asking for a pair of the Yamaha YH-5000SE and an enchanted Japanese samurai sword). As an indulgent gift that’s just about within the reach of the mortal man, I’d have to say I’m utterly enamoured with the Focal Bathys, and if any relative is reading this in a panic wondering what to get me, these beauties are a good place to start. Come on granny, I know you need to pay for your heating bills, but that pension will easily stretch to a £700 pair of wireless headphones.

The Focal Bathys are some of the finest Bluetooth cans you can buy at the higher end of the market, something you’d expect from a pair that costs more than twice as much as the Sony WH-1000XM5. I’ve had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with the Focals, and it’s been a joyful experience tinged with nagging regret that I’ll probably never own them myself. Such is life.

What the Focal Bathys feel like are headphones pushing the boundaries of wireless sonic performance in the wearable market. Wired cans are still the ones to go for if you truly value sonic fidelity, but it’s headphones such as the Bathys that feel capable of closing that gap and pushing wireless sound to be as refined as possible. Everything about them feels like it’s tuned to ensure you truly enjoy your music, with them blending detail and clarity with boldness and depth – a balance that isn’t easy to pull off. They are, to be clichéd, the best of both sonic worlds. 

Yes, there’s noise cancelling, a raft of supported Bluetooth codecs and a pretty well-designed app, but it's the sonic chops of the Focals that hit you for six. Pump some Nirvana through the classy cans, for instance, and unless you've heard the band through the very few pairs of pricier, superior wireless models out there (T+A Solitaire T, I'm looking at you), you’ll be knocked back by that grungy, crunchy guitar as Cobain’s Fender practically wallops you in the face. When the time calls for it, the Focals are superb at enveloping you in the drama of sound, as though it were the '90s once again and you had your head next to one of the speakers that shook with the rumble of In Bloom or Lithium. For headphones without wires, they're dead impressive.

Focal Bathys from a low angle

(Image credit: Focal)

Switch over to the other side of the sonic spectrum, though, and you’ll receive a completely different character from the Bathys. With a chameleon-like versatility, they’ll happily shapeshift to convey an utterly distinct tone and genre depending on the music played, so that something like Nick Cave now benefits from an open, broad soundscape in which to breathe and exist. It’s like switching from an old CRT TV to an IMAX screen and seeing the whole picture rather than a squashed-down mess that seems to meet somewhere in the middle.

Design-fiend that I am, I also love the way the Bathys look. Focal does even more eye-grabbing cans in the shape of the steampunk-esque Clear Mg and the bold, striking Stellia, but I’m pretty sold on the look of the comparatively modest-looking Bathys. I love those big, expansive oval earcups with their “aluminium holey design” (as we put it in our Focal Bathys review), not to mention the attention and care that seems to have gone into every tightened screw and polished surface.

We also surmised in our review that “this level of build and beauty in the Bluetooth headphones market is very rare – perhaps unprecedented”, and I’d have to agree. Nothing else really comes close for the money, and while I wish the control buttons weren’t so cheap and run-of-the-mill, that would be my only complaint. Plus, the earcups’ Focal logos light up, and that’s enough to make my critical faculties melt into pudding anyway.

I’ve opined quite a few times already that the thing that pushes a person to invest in a product isn’t merely cold hard numbers, bulging spec sheets or attractive price tags. Rather, just as we eat with our eyes as much as our mouths, we listen with our hearts as much as our heads and ears. Much like my preference for the Ruark Audio R410 and Revo SuperConnect Stereo all-in-one systems over more functional, utilitarian speaker offerings from Sonos or Apple, I get a real feeling from the Focals, as though they have a personality and character all of their own. If I had to pick one indulgence this Christmas, these high-end heartthrobs would be at the top of my list.


Read our Focal Bathys review

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Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. During his time at the publication, he has written countless news stories alongside features, advice and reviews of products ranging from floorstanding speakers and music streamers to over-ear headphones, wireless earbuds and portable DACs. He has covered launches from hi-fi and consumer tech brands, and major industry events including IFA, High End Munich and, of course, the Bristol Hi-Fi Show. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or trying to pet strangers' dogs.