Driven by the rise in digital music and portable audio, the headphone market has exploded in recent years. A small but significant part of this growth has come at the premium end, where high-end headphones have brought stunning levels of sound quality to those prepared to spend hundreds (or more), not just on cans but on the arguably necessary hi-res music players and DACs. And that’s where the Focal Elegias are positioned.
The Elegias certainly look like a premium pair of headphones. While some models go for a workmanlike design, you’ll find nothing of the sort here – even at this price.
Frankly, we wouldn’t have been surprised to see a price tag twice the size on these over-ears. And they don’t just look expensive, they feel it too. Too often high-end products neglect appearances; if you’re spending this sort of money, we think you should get a product that looks and feels the part, too.
The silver and black design is sleek if a little showy, but perhaps more importantly, the Elegia headphones feel solid and built to last. The aluminium headband has just the right amount of flex, the leather padding is showroom carpet levels of thickness, and the 20mm of memory foam on each earcup gives your ears the feel of sinking into a super-soft sofa. Each earcup swivels on the band for an optimum fit against your head.
The jacks on the 1.2m silver and black detachable cable (we wouldn’t mind one a little longer, though) slide a good few millimetres into each cup to connect, locking into place. This adds to the premium feel but also gives this potential weak spot an extra level of protection. At the other end of the cable you have a 3.5mm stereo jack plug and a 6.35mm jack adapter. This all comes in a smart hard shell carry case for the footballer-getting-off-the-team-bus look, and means you don’t have to sling such expensive headphones loose into your bag.
While the inclusion of a carry case is pretty standard, these Focals perhaps warrant it more than most: they are designed for portable and home use, which isn’t always the case with high-end headphones.
For a start, the Elegias have a closed-back rather than open-back design. This means that unlike some other models, Grado's PS1000es for example, they won’t leak sound. Open-back often has performance benefits, which is why many headphones at the expensive end of the market opt for that design, but they can be somewhat anti-social.
The all-important business of music delivery is done by the 40mm aluminium/magnesium dome drivers. Designed and manufactured in-house at Focal’s factory in France, the company calls it an M-shape inverted dome design, and has a patent pending to boot.
The Focal Elegias isolate sound really well. There’s no active noise-cancelling here, but thanks to the closed-back design and comfortable fit of the cups, it almost feels like there is. You won’t hear much from outside and while there is a little sound leakage at high volume, they’re ultimately pretty good on that front, too.
This enveloping design lends itself to an immersive sound. Play something with a wide soundfield and you feel in the middle of the music. Effects at either end of the presentation are clearly coming from a wide left or wide right position, making for a big, spacious sound. Massive Attack’s Angel is a classic bass test track but also interesting for its placement of sounds deep in the mix, with distant drum parts and effects. The Focals deliver those instruments faithfully, picking up the position of parts with impressive accuracy.
Frequency 5 Hz - 23 kHz
Impedance 35 Ohms
That breadth of sound in the horizontal domain is repeated in the vertical. There’s a pleasant depth to bass when required, sub-bass notes sounding like they’re being pulled from sunken depths of the sonic spectrum, adding a subtle weight. Rhythm & Sound’s Mango Drive chugs along sleepily as it should with no shortage of heft to the bottom end. Bass notes could do with being a little tighter and more controlled, though, notes sound softer than some similarly-priced rivals that stop and start notes more promptly.
The same track offers a good test of treble, too, with layered cymbals and clipped drums. The Elegia headphones certainly offer a clear, spacious top end with plenty of attack and certainly on the front foot tonally. Timing is good but not faultless, notes aren’t defined with quite enough precision, which can put a crimp in a steady rhythm.
Switch to the five-star Beyerdynamic T1 headphones and songs are a little more tightly organised, sounding more cohesive and engaging as a result. They’re also a little smoother, not losing any detail but better balancing the sonic spectrum.
Meanwhile, vocals through the Focals have substance, but not quite the immediacy and intimacy found elsewhere. Ultimately, detail retrieval while impressive in isolation, is bettered at this price. A high-quality recording can reveal an artist’s every subtle intonation and that last word in insight isn’t quite as present here as it is on the very best, so you’re not brought quite as close to the recording as you’ll find on some of our favourite pairs of headphones at this price.
The Focal Elegia headphones have a lot going for them and are worth any premium headphone buyer’s serious consideration. They look stunning, are sublimely comfortable, isolate outside noise impressively and deliver a spacious, upfront sound.
Ideal for home and on-the-go listening, their versatility helps set them apart at this price, and they are only pipped by the best when it comes to detail, timing and ultimate musical entertainment.
- Sound 4
- Comfort 5
- Build 5
Read our Beyerdynamic T1 Generation 2 review