In a relatively short time, Focal has established themselves as one of the world’s best manufacturers of headphones. It does not seem possible for the French speaker manufacturer to make bad headphones.
The open Focal Clear were probably the ones that made the biggest impression on me, considering the price. Because even though the top model Utopia is better overall headphones, Clear was so complete that I did not miss anything. That they then also cost well under half of Utopia is in itself an achievement.
Clear has now been upgraded, primarily with better drivers. They have membranes in pure magnesium – hence MG in the name.
The goal of Clear MG has been to make a diaphragm with vanishingly little mass, while staying rigid enough to handle the fastest oscillations without distorting. And that in a cheaper way than has been the case on the wildly expensive Utopia with membranes of beryllium.
On Clear, it was solved with an alloy of magnesium and aluminium. But on Clear MG, aluminium has been dropped in favor of pure magnesium to reproduce the entire tone range with more extreme precision and with super-fast transients – also in the highest range.
If you look at the diaphragm in profile, it has an M-shape, which is the shape Focal has chosen for all their headphones to achieve the most even frequency response. Like the predecessor, the voice coil is made on the outside of a tube, but instead airwound with a very strong glue to give the lowest possible mass.
The impedance is at a comfortable 55 ohms combined with a fine sensitivity of 104 dB. This means that Clear MG does not require as much power as e.g. the heavier Sennheiser HD 800 S when playing just as loud. They are also far more easily driven than most flat magnetic headphones such as the Audeze LCD-X or the HEDD Audio HEDDphone with the special AMT diaphragm.
The result is that the Focal headphones work great with portable players and DACs, and in fact just fine directly from a mobile phone. But in this class, quality means a lot, not least on the player and the amplifier. So I would highly recommend a proper amplifier.
You get far with Chord Mojo, and of stationary I can e.g. recommend RME ADI-2 DAC. I myself use Auralic Taurus (mkI) and Sennheiser HDV 820, and for the occasion I have also used Naim Uniti Atom HE.
Asymmetrical design – inspired by the geometry of nature
The honeycomb design on the outside of the metal ear cups is not just a delight to the eye. More importantly, it provides lower acoustic resistance, giving the magnesium driver as much leeway as possible. The hexagons are at least innermost towards the center and gradually become larger outwards.
They have a size ratio close to the golden ratio (Fibonacci sequence), where the area of a larger figure corresponds to the sum of two smaller figures. It is repeated in nature, as we find patterns that follow this sequence in both the plant and animal kingdoms. The idea of transferring it to acoustics is that it creates a more harmonious relationship between resonances and thus better sound.
Produced in France
Like other expensive Focal products, Clear MG is produced entirely at Focal’s factory in St. Petersburg. Etienne.
The headphones have leather details on the headband and a stainless steel inner grille to protect the driver. The grid has the same honeycomb pattern to give a coherent expression and the best possible sound. Personally, I think Focal has hit the spot with the design.
Clear MG has perforated microfiber in both the ear pads and the headband. It should provide maximum ventilation during prolonged use. A carrying case with matching nut brown color is included to ensure safe storage. Also included is a 3 meter long 4-pin XLR cable for balanced headphone amplifiers and a shorter 1.2 meter long unbalanced cable with 3.5 mm plug and 6.3 mm adapter.
The sound of Focal Clear MG
I once thought that its predecessor Clear was at least as good as the Sennheiser HD 800 S, i.a. with fatter bass. Since then, I’ve listened a lot more to the Sennheiser headphones, and I’m not as skeptical now as I was then. Because the Sennheisers are really good.
But so are the new Focal Clear MGs. Hear e.g. the double bass on the quirky contemporary jazz number Formwela 1 with Esperanza Spalding. It is larger on the Clear MG than on the HD 800 S and stands in greater contrast to the piano, which does not perform so well with the amplifier Sennheiser HDV 820, but more with the Naim Uniti Atom HE. The powerful Auralic Taurus also brings out the best from the bass.
They are both excellent partners for Clear MG, but perhaps most Naim. There is something about the speed and impact power – especially in the middle bass – that fits these headphones perfectly. No wonder, since Naim and Focal are sister companies.
The HD 800 S is less bulky in the bass range than the Clear MG. They both get the whole bass register and a lot of details. But Clear MG has more weight and volume, more physique.
Crystal clar voices
Singing voices are really clear. Both women and men. Clara-Lane Lens and Nick Cave complement each other on the composition Litany of Gathering Up from the play LITANIES, a kind of opera written by Nick Cave and the composer Nicholas Lens, who is the father of Clara-Lane. Nick Cave’s deep voice has a formidable foundation, larger than on the HD 800S. And where Clara-Lane’s voice is light and detailed with Sennheiser, it seems to have a larger register with Focal Clear MG.
Where the HD 800 S excels is the size of the soundscape. It extends almost infinitely beyond the sides and places instruments further apart in a larger space than the Focal does. Clear MG is more focused in the middle and is perceived as a bit more monitor-like. For my part, the HD 800S is quite excellent for mixing music on, but the Clear MG is possibly a tooth sharper in that area.
About the sound level
The only thing I want to point out about Clear MG is that when they reach their maximum sound level, you can hear it by diaphragm making clicking noises when it goes beyond its stroke length.
This is normal and the importer states that it is not harmful to the drivers. But where other headphones can be pushed even further – because they go into compression instead – Clear MG says stop when they can no longer. This also applies to other Focal headphones, and it is intentionally to get full dynamics in the music.
Clear MG also has a higher maximum sound pressure than both its predecessors, Clear and Elear (MG also has higher sensitivity and can thus be operated with a weaker amplifier).
Sometimes I want to be able to play very loud, which I can with both the Sennheiser HD 800S and the closed Focal Stellia and Celestee. Clear MG gives earlier than these, and during the test I was in doubt as to whether it was actually high enough in all contexts. But the conclusion was in the end that I think they play abundantly loud.
The open Focal Clear MG are excellent headphones. The music sounds great with many layers of detail and a nice large midrange reproduction. The bass is cash without becoming dominant, and the treble is crisp and detailed without being scratchy. And best of all, the headphones are comfortable to wear and work fine even without a powerful amplifier.
The stereo width is not as large as on some others. Clear MG may therefore be perceived as more monitor-like – but still just as musical.