Although best known for their loudspeakers, Focal has been in the headphone game for almost a decade. These years have offered plenty of time for Focal to establish itself as a lust-inducing personal audio luxury brand. All of their headphones are extremely attractive and distinctive, and clearly belong to the same design family. The Focal Clear Mg headphones add yet another high-performance model to the family tree.
Simply put, the entire Focal lineup is amongst the most beautifully crafted headphones in the world.
Upping the ante is the newly redesigned version of the Clear model; designated as the Mg. Gone is the chilly silver and grey colorway of the original, replaced with a rich bronze and brown scheme that Focal calls Chestnut and Metals. The grills are fashioned in a beautifully contrasting silver honeycomb pattern.
For me, it was love at first sight.
Often described as a practical and lower cost option to the flagship Utopia model, the original Clear have garnered almost universal praise for their detailed and musical presentation. So, it is with much anticipation and elevated expectations that headphone enthusiasts greet the Mg. Can this slightly higher-priced, revised version live up to the reputation of their predecessor?
Let’s find out.
Packaging and Accessories
The word of the day is ‘luxury’ when it comes to the Focal Clear Mg headphones. An austere black cardboard box contains the hard-sided, molded storage/carry case with a handle.
Two matching brown soft rubber cables are included; a 3 meter version terminated in a Neutrik 4-pin XLR jack for home listening, and a shorter 1.2 meter cable terminated in 3.5mm TRS (with screw-on 6.35mm adapter) for portable use. On the headphone side, we find dual 3.5mm TS jacks, neatly labeled for easy identification.
The cables are nicely supple and non-tangling, and the soft silicone rubber finish means no unwanted microphonics.
I happen to have a matching DIY short Neutrik female 4-pin XLR to 6.35mm adapter (created with Mogami wire), so connecting the longer cable to my single-ended Burson Conductor R amplifier was an easy affair.
This sort of inexpensive adapter would be a welcome inclusion in the box, as purchasing a longer non-balanced cable from Focal is quite expensive.
Build Quality, Design, and Comfort
With a price tag of almost $1,500, the Focal Clear Mg headphones sit firmly in the more affordable end of Focal’s esteemed headphone lineup. Yes, they are priced as a pair of high-end headphones, but I can unequivocally say the Clear Mg define the concept of a luxurious build; both in terms of quality and design. They are a perfect fusion of retro-futurism that manages to appear entirely timeless and utterly opulent.
A little bit of opulence for that price feels justified. These are luxury headphones, however, that offer a lot more than just fancy industrial design.
The Focal Clear Mg are not black plastic wonders that won’t attract any attention. If you are out and about with the Clear Mg on your head, bystanders are going to look at you and know that you are sporting an expensive set of cans. Their style is undeniable, but may be a touch too bold for some more conservative tastes.
The headphones feel very durable and the aluminum gimbals retract into the headband with a solid click on each size adjustment. The perforated brown Alcantara ear cushions and bottom of the headband have a soft, suede-like microfiber feel, and are amply cushioned with memory foam.
The mixed metal presentation of the chestnut brown cups and sliders contrast perfectly with the silver honeycomb grills on the cup exterior and over the drivers.
As I write this, the Canadian women’s football (or soccer as it’s known ‘round these parts’) just claimed Olympic gold, and I can’t help but draw comparisons to the hexagonal shape of the netting used in the goals. Hoser pride all around this month.
The new grill design is less restrictive than the older version, and Focal designed it be more acoustically transparent and to interact less with the sound of the driver.
Reducing the number of surfaces results in fewer unwanted reflections, and the new design should further enhance the open nature of these headphones.
The Design Sublime
I cannot overstate how well made the Clear Mg are. The fit and finish are impeccable.
Weighing in at 450 grams, the Focal Clear Mg are just massive enough to impart an impression of premium materials and construction. The well-padded soft bits ensure that the weight doesn’t become onerous for long listening sessions.
As per my expectations for Alcantara microfiber, the ear pads do not retain heat in the same manner as leather ear pads making the Clear Mg much more comfortable to wear indoors on a crowded train or outside on the deck.
The ear cups are spring-loaded to return to position and do impart a bit of uneven pressure below the ear compared to the rest of the fit; although Focal claims the design equally disperses pressure points. Regardless, the overall clamping force is pleasantly snug rather than too tight and I can wear them comfortably for hours.
The interior cup dimensions are very generous and those who may struggle with containing larger than average ears should have no fit issues with the Focal Clear Mg.
Under the Hood
Mg is the atomic symbol for magnesium, and it is this material that is the heart of the Clear Mg. The 40mm, m-shaped, dynamic drivers are coated in magnesium and the center domes are made of the stuff, which Focal claims improves lightness, rigidity, and damping.
The reference level Utopia and Stellia headphones feature beryllium drivers, while the rest of the lineup (including the original Clear) uses a blend of aluminum and magnesium.
“After four years of research and development, the engineers at Focal have designed a magnesium dome for the Clear Mg speaker drivers…this innovation brings greater dynamics and detail across the full sound spectrum while preserving a neutral and balanced signature. The ‘M’-shaped grille inside the earcup follows the curves of the speaker driver for even greater precision.” – Focal
With a relatively low impedance of 55 ohms and sensitivity of 104 dB SPL /1mW @1kHz (the same as the original Clear), the Clear Mg aren’t too taxing on amplifiers.
However, their resolving nature means they respond to higher quality sources, and certainly can deliver the full quality of whatever they may be fed. While the standard Apple 3.5mm lightning dongle isn’t a great match (sounding a bit thin and sharp), the Chord Mojo provides a terrific mobile listening experience.
At home, the ludicrously generous power of the Burson Conductor R desktop amplifier certainly isn’t fully required to bring out the best in the Clear Mg.
How Do They Sound?
The original Clear were known for a detailed and resolving sound signature, and to be sure, the new Focal Clear Mg headphones shares much of the same DNA. If anything, the Mg are warmer sounding, with a more prominent midrange, and perhaps a little less treble extension than expected. Overall, the Mg provide a very smooth and easy-to-listen-to experience.
I’d like to address a concern that has been recently raised online regarding the Clear Mg, namely an extremely high-frequency treble ringing that can cause listening fatigue with younger listeners after only a few minutes. Being (as they say) on the wrong side of 40, my ability to discern 17 kHz+ sounds is long gone, and I have not experienced any issues with extended listening to the Clear Mg. As always, YMMV.
I’ve also read concerns about driver clipping and bottoming out with the Focal models when played at extremely high volume levels. I’ve not noticed anything of the sort at what I consider reasonable to very loud listening levels, and it’s likely that you are apt to do more harm to your hearing than to the drivers if you push them to distortion.
On the whole, the Focal Clear Mg headphones are on the darker sounding side of things, with flat sub-bass extension, and a warm, forward sounding midrange.
Depending on tastes, some listeners may perceive a certain slight veil or thickness to the vocal reproduction, but treble clarity and resolution keep the Mg from ever sounding slow or dull. It’s that old trade-off of a bit of transparency for a smoother sonic signature.
Good low-end punch yields an energetic and dynamic personality when the music calls for it. It’s a charming and rich sound profile that I can sink into. (I suggest you give “A Woman’s Worth” by Alicia Keys a listen on the Mg). While not excessively spacious sounding, the soundstage is enveloping, and imaging and instrument placement are very good.
Have no illusions, the Clear Mg are not intended to be truly neutral, and they exhibit a distinctive sonic profile that is both laid back and intimate. These tendencies are well balanced by their ability to maintain clarity and cohesion, displaying a high-end delicacy that isn’t immediately obvious on first listen.
The more you listen to these, the little things that make them so good as a long-term headphone stand out.
Bass response is flat; that is to say, it’s there when called upon by the music but isn’t boosted to unrealistic levels, as is often the case with popular v-shaped tuning. The Clear Mg maintains plenty of control and accuracy, even when thumping away with gusto.
A sense of power is impressively conveyed. Mid-bass punch is fast and tight, and although not really suitable for the bass-heads amongst us, the Focal Clear Mg are dynamic and fun sounding.
The midrange appears to become more forward as the frequencies increase; however they thankfully avoid the glaring nasal-ness that seems to be somewhat pervasive with IEMs I’ve listened to recently. The mids are warm sounding, rather than neutral, and this adds a distinctive character to the overall sound. The Canadiana rock sound of bands such as Sloan is particularly enjoyable and full-sounding through the Clear Mg.
Vocals sit a little back in the mix, without quite the pinpoint clarity presented by the higher treble notes. I find that this voicing helps to ground the singer in the middle of the soundstage, with instruments extending far wider within the perceived soundstage. The music envelops my head, while the singer is positioned front and center.
Clarity and resolution take a noticeable step up in the treble region. There is plenty of delicate detail being portrayed without ever crossing the line into sibilance or excessive brightness. The Focal Clear Mg are aptly named, and treble clarity is the name of the game.
The resolving nature of the treble combined with the smoother midrange performance is an interesting mix, and as mentioned, the combination creates a unique sound signature. I can see some being put off by the Clear Mg’s tonality, but this is the sort of warm but detailed musical presentation that appeals to me in a big way.
If you are drawn more towards the fuller and perhaps more blunted sound of the Audeze LCD2 than to the ultra-resolving character of the Beyerdynamic T1, then the Clear Mg will scratch your (and my) particular audio itch very well, indeed.
Some will no doubt lament the discontinuation of the original Clear. Although they share a very similar lineage, the Mg are not the same headphones in aesthetics or sound.
If we are to judge the Focal Clear Mg on their own merits, they epitomize what luxury audiophile headphones should be. They are characterized and defined by a pervasive warmth, evident in their earth-tone color palette, enveloping comfort, and smooth sonic signature.
In the stratospheric category where top-tier headphones have come to inhabit, the (as exorbitant as it may seem) midrange-priced Focal Clear Mg stand out from the crowd.
These headphones just speak to me. Every element seems tailored to perfectly fit my tastes. I love the design. Their shape, size, and feel exceed all my expectations for high-end headphones. The choice of materials couldn’t be better.
The Clear Mg’s sonic signature is just as engaging as the design itself; Focal have taken the high road and built something that offers superb industrial design building on their clear expertise in the field.
My musical journey feels slightly more complete wearing these headphones.
The Clear Mg are undeniably an extravagance, but unlike many things, their intrinsic worth is evident.
- The very pinnacle of craftsmanship and build quality
- Very comfortable for extended listening sessions
- Warm and lush sound signature
- Lots of treble detail and resolution
- Controlled and punchy bass
- Efficient enough to pair well with a variety of sources including portable devices
- Absolutely gorgeous design
- Terrific included cables
- Treble may be rolled off for some tastes
- Warmer, non-neutral, and less detailed midrange may not suit all listeners
- Some users report extreme high-frequency pressure
- A 4-pin XLR to 6.35mm adapter would be a good inclusion as the single-ended cable is only long enough to be suitable for portable listening
- Form: Circumaural open-back headphones
- Drivers: 1.6″ (40mm) magnesium M-shaped dome
- Impedance (Ohm): 55Ω
- Sensitivity (dB): 104dB SPL /1mW @1kHz
- Frequency Response (Hz): 5Hz-28kHz
- Distortion: 0.25% @1kHz/100dB SPL
- Removable Cable: Y
- Source Jack: 4-pin XLR and 3.5mm TRRS
- Cup/Shell Jack: 3.5mm TRS
- Weight (g): 450 grams
Where to Buy:
Who is Focal?
Focal, based in Saint-Étienne in the French Loire region of France, has created audio equipment, including loudspeakers, headphones, car speaker drivers, and monitoring loudspeakers, since 1979.
The concept of ‘Made in France’ is something Focal feels very strongly about. All of their products are conceived and developed on the same site and a large majority of the manufacturing is carried out in France.
Certain construction processes are outsourced to partners, who have been carefully selected according to strict criteria and stringent quality control standards.
Focal constantly invests in acoustic research with the goal to reproduce the artist’s original work as faithfully as possible. This lofty goal of ultimate audio fidelity is well balanced by a discriminating commitment to design.“Focal products are also lifestyle objects, objects of everyday life. That’s why every tiny detail has been researched, designed and tweaked. This makes them exceptional products capable of flawless performance with a distinguished style.” – Focal