Focal says that its first pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones have been named ‘Bathys’ (pronounced “Bath-ees”) after their metaphorical association with the Bathyscaphe, a deep-sea exploration submersible. The French brand says that the vessel is “the embodiment of calm, depth and absolute silence”, so the connection it has made between that and something with active noise cancellation is indeed rather fitting… until you remember that that ‘something’ is designed to first and foremost bellow music into your eardrums. Still, we like the concept.
Had the Focal Bathys launched a couple of years ago, they would have arrived to a crowd of raised eyebrows and perhaps a sneering Reddit discussion, due to what would have been the unprecedented nature of their price in the Bluetooth headphones market. But since the late-2020 release of the Apple AirPods Max, which did have to bear the brunt of being the ‘first’ to push such parameters, a wave of pricier pairs such as the Mark Levinson No.5909 and Bowers & Wilkins Px8 have come along.
All three have proven their extra worth in the sound quality department of late, and you can now add the Focal Bathys to that eminent list too. What’s more, they – perhaps uniquely to the lot – manage to look their price too.
Design & features
If you are familiar with the company’s wired headphones, the Bathys may not look uniquely special. (And if you aren’t, we apologise for future procrastination and inevitable envy at not owning every beautiful pair.) But trust us when we say that this level of build and beauty in the Bluetooth headphones market is very rare – perhaps unprecedented. They share their wired siblings’ sizeable ovular ear cups, their aesthetic defined by aluminium holey details that all but sufferers of trypophobia are bound to appreciate, speckled around a central circular Focal badge.
Focal has been partial to blessing its high-end headphones with bold colour combos, though the Bathys are some of the safer of the lot in their single black and silver finish – and arguably all the sleeker for it.
The leather ear pads are thick and soft, and the headband substantial and cushioned. And yet despite their substantial build, they pull off chunky and beautiful like a newborn baby in its cute thigh-rolls phase. Too big to be portable? Not at all, but they aren’t as lightweight (they weigh 350g – 100g more than the Sony WH-1000XM5) or as discreet as most – and you should know that the earcups only fold flat as opposed to collapsing inwards, too. That they look a cut or two above regular wireless headphones means you would probably stand out on public transport wearing them, but we’ll let you decide if that’s a positive or not.
Battery life 30 hours
Audio codecs aptX Adaptive, aptX, SBC, AAC
Noise cancelling Yes
USB-C? Yes, charging and listening
Naturally, they have a few design elements that give away their wirelessness. The first is the playback buttons on the right earcup and the single ANC button on the left, which are logically placed for easy access but, at odds with the rest of the design, plasticky and cheap feeling.
The earcups’ Focal logos can light up – dimly, brightly or not at all, selectable in the companion Focal & Naim app. The relatively bare-boned app is also where owners can play around with EQ: select ‘soft’ or ‘silent’ intensities of ANC, or ‘Transparent’ mode for letting in noise when it’s convenient; choose voice assistant – Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa; and see battery status and the Bluetooth codec currently at play.
The progressive quality of Bluetooth codecs will undoubtedly have a say in the relevancy of high-end wireless headphones in the future, and right now the Focal Bathys support one of the highest quality codecs present in the market – aptX Adaptive (backwards compatible with aptX HD and aptX).
Wireless headphones typically allow users to listen wired too, often through a 3.5mm jack. The Focals are no exception to that, however they also have a USB-DAC mode that supports 24-bit/192kHz through their USB-C port, and handily 1.2m cables for both 3.5mm and USB-C are supplied in the box.
The headphones do need power to be listened to through either wired connection, though, and the claimed battery life is a very reasonable 30 hours over Bluetooth, 35 hours over 3.5mm, and 42 hours over USB. We found that wireless performance lasts around 25 hours, though endurance is always dependent on Bluetooth codec and volume – and we listen mainly over aptX HD and, yes, pretty loudly.
We always find it difficult to resist playing Mogwai loudly, after all – especially when it comes through sounding as big, clear and weighty as it does through the Focal Bathys. Instantly we recognise the smooth, warm, full-bodied tonal balance the company’s wired headphones have found so much success with, and here too that is complemented by very good levels of resolution, dynamic subtlety and rhythmic ability within the context of their type and price.
Play the Glasgow band’s Ritchie Sacramento and the Bathys' accommodatingly sizeable, spacious soundstage laps up the dense soundscape, giving those shimmering guitars and hammering drum pattern their due attention on either side of a clear and present Stuart Braithwaite vocal. Their richness gives mids and lows in particular a welcome substance, and without clouding the instrumental textures and high-frequency details too.
Over to dancefloor filler Down by Hot Chip and the Focal’s bold bass passes the test; the bassline groove is profound and pacey, driving the melody forward to get us toe-tapping away. The Focals are happy swapping party times for peacefulness too, their replay of Nils Frahm’s Over There, It’s Raining capturing the atmospheric background and the flow of his fingers across the piano keys.
Considering the Mark Levinsons are leaner, faster and offer a little more detail and dynamic insight (albeit comparatively bass-light), and the Bowers & Wilkins are tighter in the low-end but less insightful, spacious and sprightly, we find that the Focal Bathys nicely justify their price positioning between the two.
For a wireless headphone performance, it’s among the most engaging we have heard. And if you want them to double up as home headphones for longer listening stints, which they are more than comfortable enough to wear for, know that going wired via the DAC/USB-C does add a degree of refinement and tightness to the delivery.
Noise cancellation is fairly non-intrusive to the performance, too, and if you need it – as we did on two flights during testing – it does a decent job of diminishing distracting outside world noise from your music listening in ‘Silent’ mode. Just don’t expect Bose levels of silence, or indeed any Bathyscaphe-related “absolute silence”.
Focal’s entrance into this burgeoning premium Bluetooth headphones market isn’t surprising considering its presence at the premium end of the wired space. Nor is the success of its first effort. The Bathys are highly recommendable for anyone after the convenience of portability in a premium pair of headphones at this price.
- Sound 5
- Features 5
- Build 4
Read our Bowers & Wilkins Px8 review
Also consider the Mark Levinson No. 5909
Read our Apple AirPods Max review
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