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Massdrop x Focal Elex Headphones - Discussions & Reviews
Massdrop x Focal Elex Headphones - Discussions & Reviews
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When Focal announced the Elear in 2016, I was on the hype train immediately. A company known for incredible driver design, built off its own research and IP entering the Flagship headphone arena for the first time? It’s incredibly rare (once every 10-15 years, if that) and intriguing.
I saw Jude’s interview with Nicolas and the hype train hit Mach 1. The Elear wasn’t made by an OEM contracted by Focal, it was made by their team in Saint-Étienne, built from the ground up to exacting standards at every level of production. I saw Jude’s measurements... this looks like a super 650... Mach 3. I bought a pair right away. Those were the longest 40 hours of burn-in I’ve done since my first HD800. Put them on, hit play, and... Mach 0. The bass was too strong for me, the mid presence was too weak for me, the FR reminded me of the early 650 when it had a veil and bass distortion. The clarity, transient response, and soundstage was on another level, so the driver technology delivered on everything it promised, but the FR just wasn’t for me.
This spring, discussions around Focal picked up on Massdrop. We started seeing polls asking for Elears and Utopias. The community started to voice their feelings on both within our platform, and the overall sentiment matched closely with my own experience. Folks didn’t like the bass, folks wanted a little more mids (though there was much debate on this, very easy to have too much in the upper midrange), the driver tech was great, but the FR needed to change. Beyond that, the discussions dove into physical characteristics of the headphone. The Elear is heavy, add a thick, rubberized, 4m cable to that (this was on release, it’s been revised down to ~3m since) and you’re hanging a 100g weight from your 450g headphone with the rubberized material catching on everything for those microphonics we all love.
With a detailed community mandate in-hand, we approached Focal this spring, suggesting we work together on a refinement of the Elear, utilizing elements of the Clear to reach these goals:
1. Reduce the bass response to a tasteful ~3 db above neutral
2. Bring up the midrange presence so it’s in line with the rest of the frequency range
3. Change the cable to be lighter and 6ft long
4. Remove the rubberized coating on the cable
5. Simplify the aesthetic with a black on black on gunmetal colorway
Focal was receptive to our proposal and over the next 8 months we worked to achieve these goals.
To reduce the bass response and bring up the midrange, we changed the earpads to a similar style as the Clear while tweaking the damping scheme.
We dropped the long rubber cable and replaced it with two cloth covered cables. One is terminated with a 4-pin XLR, one is terminated with a 1/4”, both are 6ft long.
We changed the colorway from the black + silver combination to a black on black with the cable providing a little contrast with black on gunmetal.
Across all our headphone collaborations, I feel we’ve executed the community mandate most completely in the Elex. This is the Massdrop flagship open headphone collaboration.
None of this would be possible without your interest, your discussions, your insights, and your support. Thank you for your continued interest in our collaborations and community designed products.
This drop is limited to 1000 units, all serialized, the first 500 purchases are guaranteed a serial number under 550.
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To build on rhenom's message... you really need to listen to the elear without a VST eq'ing the cans (MOST people are not going to spend $250+ to EQ their headphones, while also limiting their listening to a computer). Out of the box, the elear is a bass heavy set of cans.
The sonarworks graph in your link shows a 9db drop between the bass and mids. Also, the sonarworks graph is the only one I've seen that shows such an abrubt rolloff in the sub-bass for the elear. Every other site shows the sub-bass extends much flatter (which matches my impression when I heard it).
The curves in the drop discussion shows a 10db+ mid drop and I've seen graphs online that show close to a 15db drop for the Elear. It's this midrange suckout that accentuates the bass heavy sound of the Elear.
The frequency curves I've seen for the elex show that Focal/MD reduced the bass (still above neutral) and may have done some work to reduce the mid suckout. This should result in a decent improvement and a more neutral headphone... which matches what people that have heard it are reporting (eg., a mini-clear or a more resolving/faster HD600).
For myself, I'd love to hear these next to the Clear. I auditioned the Clear against the Elear a few weeks ago and it was everything I could to to not drop the $1200 and take them out of the store... they were that good.
For sake of comparison, my daily driver headphones are ZMF Eikon (closed, work); modded HD650 (living room); HD600 & HE4xx (home office).
I have the Focal Elear and the Focal Clear Headphones.
They are both fantastic and pair well with many amps and even sound very good playing through an IPhone.
I do prefer the Clears but both are worth the price they are selling for.
Review Team on Head-Fi
Will contacted me and asked if I’d like to be part of the launch of the Elex, including posting my impressions of the headphones. I received a pair that Will said would be sonically accurate. Here are the impressions I wrote up. I knew other people who had, or were getting pairs, but we didn't have a chance to compare notes, so these are my thoughts completely independent of anyone else. Will didn't even know what I was going to write until I posted publicly.
FYI, I buy clothes and EDC gear from Massdrop and I bought a pair of K7XX in possibly the very first drop. I met will at the Wikia HQ at a Head-Fi meet just after the Utopia and Elear were released, and met and chatted to Will. Given I'm the kind of person who cannot decide on what color of something I will buy and consequently own a lot of black t-shirts, bags, caps and whatever, you could say the Elex has brought things very much full circle for me!
My first impression of the Elex was of a “baby” Utopia. I could simply say that they are a less resolving pair of Utopias and be done. Going through my recent playlists, I hear the same things, just the micro, and ultra-micro detail is missing compared to the Utopias. However what’s left is punchy and enjoyable and more open-sounding.
Their tonality comes across as a bit light of neutral overall, but a significant amount of this may be more a factor of the precision of their presentation and quality of their bass.
For example, if you found the Elear a bit muffled and bass-strong and want more air and punch, then these may be just what you are after. Out of the Hugo 2, every part of the music seems to jump out — vocals emote strongly, guitars pluck and twang and bass notes punch fast with detail. The soundstage seems wider, with sounds on good stereo recordings seeming to come from way outside the headphones.
The treble is very present — not overdone, but clean and clear enough even when modern, brighter music comes on. It doesn’t become irritating, at least at my moderate listening levels, as can easily happen with cheaper headphones.
The subtle sounds on high-quality recordings don’t have the finesse I get from the Utopias on my system. While I can hear instrument notes decay and echo, those sounds disappear faster and are more “one note” than from the Utopias, which reveal layer upon layer of detail. Despite that, once or twice I ended up looking up from my computer thinking I’d heard a sound from elsewhere in the house when it was a sound coming from within the studio on the recording.
The bass, despite being a bit on the light side on some tracks, is where the Elex totally nails things. There is an absolutely delicious precision with excellent amount of detail for headphones in this price range. This allowed me to enjoy listening with the Elex, even though I have better headphones on hand.
I tried the Elex out of a variety of gear I have hear and they drove readily easily and consistently out of everything. Switching from, say, a Chord Mojo to my main rig, I could make out an increase in clarity, suggesting to me that at the $799 price Massdrop are asking, they are going to give other headphones in this price range a very serious challenge.
The only negatives I can find are that the treble, at least to my ears, can come across as a tiny bit metallic (irony not intended) and the very low bass doesn’t come out with quite the strength that would be ideal (see music impressions). In all other areas, the Elex makes the music I listen to highly enjoyable.
I reckon these are excellent “entry level high-end” headphones that can give one a taste of what the hobby is all about, without demanding a huge outlay in equipment.
Standard bass test tracks:
Angel - Massive Attack
The bass was so punchy that I had to check I hadn’t left the speakers on when listening. It doesn’t have the quantity of deep thump that would make the best match with this kind of track, but then because it is totally the opposite of “boomy” it makes the track quite an experience to listen to anyway.
Hey Lion - Sofi Tukker
The (mid-)bass is likewise very punchy from this dance track, and deliciously precise while all the other parts of the track remain distinctly clear.
When I Get My Hands on You - The New Basement Tapes
The deep rumble of the low bass notes is distinctly rolled off. On good planars you can really feel those very low notes but not with the Elex.
Rickover’s Dream - Michael Hedges
This is where I compared the detail in note decay. Guitar plucks are beautiful and precise, and this is where you enjoy the emotion of the playing the Elex delivers and are careful NOT to compare to anything better, because this recording has a whole world inside of it.
Gentle Storm - Elbow
If there’s a track that was made for the Elex, then this is it. The song itself focusses around the vocals, with a mix of light percussion and piano backing them — no heavy-sounding instruments, Guy Garvey’s vocals reaching right out to you as the other instruments tap and thunk away, each clearly delineated.
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So an excuse to call names because you can't formulate any facts? Good to know.
How about running two computers? One sends the left signal to the left driver and the other computer sends the right signal to the right driver! Now that would be balanced.
Headphoneus Supremus on Head-Fi
Hello all. In the interest of making the information more accessible, I'm reporting my review here. This originally appeared at HeadFi. I'll skip my pics as there are already many good ones on the main product page.
First things first - I really dig Focal speakers. Or perhaps I should clarify by saying I enjoy
of their designs, if not quite all of them. I've owned various models over the years from the Electra, Cobalt, Aria, Chorus, and Utopia lines. Some of these were branded as Focal, others JM Labs, but the company strictly goes by Focal nowadays.
The ones I enjoyed most had exceptional detail and clarity, precise imaging, and very tight, articulate bass. The ones that didn't work so well for my preferences (and room) tended to go too far in that direction, sounding overly analytical while lacking in warmth and tonal density. No doubt about it though - Focal knows how a thing or two about building speakers, even if some of them didn't quite work out for me.
Focal entered the headphone market a few years back with their Spirit series, and later worked their way up to the Elear, Utopia, and Clear headphones. My experience with their headphones somewhat echos my history with their speakers.... I can certainly see the skill involved, even if I don't always enjoy the end product.
Astute readers might have noticed my lack of comments about the Utopia and Elear. Despite both models being released well over a year ago, I have yet to mention them anywhere in my reviews at InnerFidelity, Digital Audio Review, or HeadFi. That's no accident. Despite doing many things right - particularly build quality and comfort, but also in terms of sonics - both models have various traits which I dislike. These add up to enough of a problem where I don't quite enjoy them, nor do I recommend them at their regular prices.
Which leads me to the new Massdrop x Focal Elex - a headphone which I can
recommend. It's pretty much textbook Massdrop at this point: take an existing headphone, tweak it for the better, and sell it for less than the original. This formula has resulted in modern classics such as the AKG K7XX and Fostex TH-X00, two headphones which every enthusiast should own at some point. And we can't forget the Sennheiser HD6XX which maintains the same (excellent) performance as the HD650 while dropping the price substantially. Massdrop pairs with Focal this time around for their new Elex - and I think it's another classic in the making.
The Elex starts with the Focal Elear and sprinkles in certain aspects from their new Clear design. Specifically, we get the drivers from an Elear, pads from the Clear, housing elements from both models, and cables from the Clear, all with a blacked out "stealth" theme. The result is a headphone which, for my tastes, transcends the performance of both "donor" models. All for $799 - significantly less than the MSRP of Elear ($999) and Clear ($1499).
I really wanted to like the Elear. Many people enjoy it, and initially I thought it had tons of potential. But after much listening, I just can't quite get over the issues I hear. My complaints focus on two specific areas.
First, the bass, which is just too prominent and overbearing. It's fun for a few songs but over time becomes tiresome (with most music). To be clear (no pun intended), I enjoy the
of the presentation just fine... it's the
I take issue with. If it was squarely confined to the low-bass region, I'd probably be less bothered by it, but Elear also makes too much midbass for my liking.
Next - and this is one I have a harder time nailing down precisely - is what sounds to me like a suckout in the upper midrange region, followed by a spike further up in the highs. The resulting sound is just a bit... weird. It's not so noticeable at times, but when I do hear it... it really takes away from the experience. Thus the Elear, which initially seemed like a potential upgrade to the classic HD650, becomes a sort of "also-ran" as far as I'm concerned. Interesting, yes, but not really to my taste. Which is a shame as I feel Focal did a great many things right in the Elear design.
Now for the good news - the Massdrop x Focal Elex pretty much fixes my issues with Elear. It's a
headphone. It's not perfect, but to my ears it comes closer to perfection than the Clear does - despite Clear costing roughly double. I think Focal tried to make the Clear a mixture of the uber-dynamic Elear and the ridiculously fast/detailed Utopia. It's an interesting result but not really the direction I would have wanted, and the price is also a bit too high in my opinion. Meanwhile the Elex aims to be an improved Elear for a great price, which is a design choice I can really get behind.
First off, the bass. While remaining very dynamic and beautifully textured, it's been toned down just enough to keep it from being obnoxious. I'm talking a reduction of roughly 2 or 3 dB, which means bass still hits plenty hard but doesn't color the overall experience so much. Also midbass is better behaved this time around - no more issues with intruding into the midrange.
The highs, if still not quite perfect, are more even than the Elear. That troublesome dip seems to be gone, and the spike is (mostly) under control. This makes for exceptional imaging and
resolution. Seriously, I can't think of anything else in the sub-$1k price range that comes close to the Elex in that regard. The HD800 initially seems more detailed, but that's the result of its brightness and somewhat lean sound. If I really listen, I hear similar levels of detail and resolution from the Elex, presented in a more natural way. HD800 still wins in technicalities, as does Utopia, but the differences are surprisingly small. This is impressive not only for the price, but for the fact that Elex doesn't really set out to be a stereotypical "detail monster" as so many headphones do.
Is the treble perfect? Not quite. It still feels a little rough in context of the best available performance (Stax, for example). But overall I'm happy with what has been accomplished here. The Clear sounds a bit more insightful, but does so at the cost of balance. And it feels lacking in dynamics, which is definitely not a problem with the Elex. I also find Clear a tad bright - perhaps that would be the Utopia emulation showing? Meanwhile Elex is just wonderfully balanced, with a presentation I'll call "neutral yet exciting" for lack of a better term.
This is the best new headphone I've heard in quite some time. I've acquired a few expensive headphones recently, including Sony's "interesting" Z1R, the MrSpeakers Ether C, and several custom IEMs. I find myself reaching for the Elex over all of those in most cases, with the possible exception of 64 Audio's ambitious A18 model - but that's an apples to oranges comparison if ever there was one. As far as full-size headphones go, the Elex is shaping up to be one of my all time favorites. While I initially saw Elear as a possible HD650 upgrade/evolution which didn't quite pan out, the Elex actually does just that - but for the HD600 instead. It's just a superb headphone that I can't recommend highly enough.
Let me cover a few other aspects while I'm at it. I had zero problems with comfort when it came to the Elear. Yet Elex is even better. The perforated Clear pads used by the Elex are
. Super comfy even for several-hour-long listening sessions, and very open feeling. This is still a really large headphone so I can see folks with tiny heads being somewhat overwhelmed by it.... but for most, it should be exceedingly comfortable. There's practically
isolation while wearing these - so keep that in mind.
The Elex doesn't need a lot of power to do it justice. Based on size and lack of isolation, I'd never consider it a portable design, but it does pair very well with quality players like the Fiio X5 3rd gen or Astell&Kern Kann. It even sounds respectable out of Apple and Samsung Galaxy devices. At home, Massdrop's own Grace Design m9XX is a particularly good match, as is their SDAC and Cavalli CTH combo (depending on tube choice).
I'd stay away from anything overly bright, as it might accentuate the slight roughness in the treble range. I'd also avoid devices with higher output impedance - I tried a tube amp with 32 ohm output impedance, and solid state amp at 10 ohm, and they both sounded wonky to me. 1 ohm or thereabouts is really the goal in this case.
To wrap this up: Massdrop is known for their value releases. Elex has a price tag quite a bit higher than classics like HD6XX and K7XX. But that doesn't mean it isn't a good value. Relative to many new releases with four-digit price tags, the Elex
affordable, and the sound is what I'd call competitive in that class at the very least - and often times superior. If you're looking for a great headphone for $200 or less, Massdrop regularly has several options for you. For those looking to spend more in exchange for extreme performance, the Elex is just the thing.
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I too am a focal/jmlab fan. My budget audiophile system is built around jmlab Electra 905‘s. I have a set of HD600 with Dakoni perforated leather pads and master and dynamic 40. Really prefer my etymotic XR paired with Dragonfly red.
I have the massdrop Dark Voice that I rolled JAN Tungsol tubes into. How do you think this will pair with the Elex.?
Best for you to bring along the DV for listening. IMO, with tube amp it should be ok. I had listen to the Elear and to my ears it sounded too fwd and metallic. BTW, I also have amp such as DV 399 and others, hp such as HD650 and others.
When we approach a company to propose a collaboration, we come with a complete vision based on the discussions and community activity on Massdrop. This means a base product, the change requests voiced by Massdrop members, and a price point. The price points we present are based on our analysis of the sentiment surrounding the base product on Massdrop.
Usually our partners accept our proposal, sometimes they try to debate/negotiate, and even more occasionally it’s impossible for them to accept.
When we approached Focal to create the Elex, our pricepoint was $699.99. This was impossible for them to accept, so we launched at $799.99.
We’ve been talking with Focal since launch day, working to create a new drop level at the original $699.99 proposed pricepoint.
After much discussion, we are pleased to announce the addition of a $699.99 drop level! This means all participants (existing and new) in the drop will get the Elex for $699.99 instead of $799.99.
The $699.99 drop point will be available for the remainder of this drop (next two days) but as of today, this is the only time Focal is comfortable with this drop level.
What does this mean for future drops of the Elex? By default, it means all future drops of the Elex will be $799.99. However, if the response is strong enough, you may convince Focal that $699.99 is the correct price point for future drops of the Elex.
Thanks for your time, interest, and lively discussion on this drop!
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They could have ran a group of magnets with other R&D prototypes for the betas. Yes, I am hoping for something beyond a simple Lego Chimera.
Inferences/allusions are speaking in tweak: Will: “I'm sorry I have to phrase all of this in rhetorical questions and alluding language, but business relationships are complicated, and I may have to take down this post anyway depending who calls who over the next couple days.”
And I keep looking at this:
If the Clear MSRP is just 999, then yes, this should be 599. However Clear seems to be hyped very much by some reputable reviewers, and sell at least $1199 for now. The reviewers who hype the headphone, I believe, have a strong personal connection to the companies. Still, Clear is a good headphone, and compared to the other headphones on the market, it worths the price tag. On another end, the MrSpeakers Ether Flow sevies did not deserve its 1799 price tag in the beginning.
After listening to the Elear at CanJam yesterday I’m conflicted between them and the Elex. I’m not a basshead, but I did enjoy the emphasized bass on the Elear. With the tamed bass of the Elex that creates a conundrum for me. On the other hand, the Elear apparently has more treble extension and I am a bit of a treblehead. Argh, I may end up picking up a used Elear and then decide which one to keep after getting the Elex in April/May.
Would it be possible to add the Focal travel case for this unit?
Focal is an audiophiles dream company.....NO compromise and all about quality and sound accuracy. Love ALL their stuff. Amazing!
Why there's no shipping outside the US? Most MD product ship to my country but this one not
"The driver extrusion (how far the driver travels at maximum power input) is 10 times greater than most dynamic drivers, "
An EXTRUSION is something squeezed into shape, like toothpaste. EXCURSION, as mentioned 9W ago by artofnoise, is the right word for range of motion of a driver.
I cringe each time I read that. It may well be the driver is created as an extrusion (?), but the word is out of place here. C'mon, man...
Not sure why MD had to go and change the discussion screen format. Now there's a lot of wasted screen space to the right, with no added functionality. I also liked how the right-hand panel used to display the latest comments posted, but now that seems to be gone as well. Poor update, IMHO.
Can anyone give insight on how this compares to the E-Mu Teaks?
These will have a bit more soundstage, mid clarity and pronounced treble. The E-MU has more sub-bass and has a lusher sound but both sound excellent, u wouldn't be doing your wallet wrong if u had both especially at this price.
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