Focal Listen review

Focal's produced a pleasing pair of portable headphones... Tested at £150

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

A pair of headphones that can go loud with a rich and insightful sound


  • +

    Solid build

  • +

    Rich bass

  • +

    Smooth treble

  • +

    Good amount of detail


  • -

    Need more punch and aggression

  • -

    Not as comfortable as other headphones

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We’re yet to hear a product from Focal that we didn’t like; every piece of kit that we’ve reviewed has usually received either four or five stars.

As such, we have high hopes for the Focal Listen headphones, and they perform well. These cans are insightful, rich, sensitive and spacious, but are a tad too reserved to get full marks.


From the moment you take them out of the box, the resilience of Focal’s headphones is obvious – you can twist and turn the headband any way you like (within reason) without fear of breaking them.

The brushed chrome ear cups feel strong and sturdy, holding in place the memory foam ear-pieces which, in turn, sit over the 40mm titanium drivers.

It’s clear that these headphones are designed for on-the-go use, and as such, Focal has added a microphone to the 1.5m cable.

There’s also a flat, round button approximately halfway down the cable, which is used for playback control and activating your smartphone’s AI assistant. You press once to pause or play a song, twice to go to the next track, and three times to replay.

However, you’ll want to try the Listens out before buying them, as some of the review team found them a little too tight and pressuring after lengthy use.

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We start by connecting them up to our laptop through the Arcam irDAC-II and start playing Julie Byrne’s Sleepwalker. Her resolute vocals are conveyed cleanly, and with a decent amount of insight.

The Listens turn your attention to the little details, like the short breath Byrne takes before she starts singing, putting across the sense of fragility in the song well.

These headphones have a spacious soundfield, and keep it organised. Riot by Childish Gambino begins with a cacophony of sound with vocalisations coming from multiple directions, and these headphones keep each instrument in line when lesser cans would struggle.

And using Tidal on an iPhone 6S, the Listen’s handling of bells, horns, guitars, and synths in Mike Oldfield’s cover of the William Tell Overture avoids the brittleness that you sometimes get with streaming services, while still revealing how the whimsical high-pitched notes shimmer.

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If you like your music loud, the Listen’s sensitivity means that you won’t need to turn the volume up to produce a big sound.

This also means that battery life will last a little longer too, which is useful if you predominantly play your music through a smartphone or other portable device.

At the low end of the frequency range, the bass has an undeniably rich quality.

Playing Mombasa from Hans Zimmer’s Inception soundtrack, the deep horns and pounding drums come across well, and these headphones have no fear when it comes to the grittier notes.

However, it is noticeable that they don’t quite put the same force behind the track as other headphones do, nor do they dig down to quite the same depths.

The Listen’s safe sound is also something of a double-edged sword. Both their dynamism and sense of timing is a bit restrained, which will leave you wanting for the aggression in harsher tracks like Kanye West’s Black Skinhead.

The breaths that start the song, rather than sounding intimidating, come across a little weary.

The Listens also lack a little in the amount of clarity or enthusiasm you get. This is by no means a dealbreaker, as they make up for it with their solid bass and impressive volume, but it is something to watch out for.

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So if you’re looking for a pair of on-the-go over-ear headphones, the Focal Listens are a smart choice.

They’re detailed, with a strong sound that can compete with the busy street, and their smoothness makes them well-suited for music streaming.

While there are some improvements that can be made, on the whole the Listens are a good piece of kit.

See all our Focal reviews

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What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

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