Despite being a tech journalist who dabbles in DJing, I spend a lot of my time listening to music through a pair of shitty, old EarPods. No, not AirPods. EarPods. The wired ones. And not even the new wired ones, I’m talking about the ones that still need the adapter.
To put it simply, I have been listening to music that sounds like it was illegally downloaded off LimeWire in 2003.
So you can imagine my curiosity when I was given the opportunity to try out the Focal Clear MG High-Fidelity Headphones. Retailing for a casual $2,199, these bad boys are quite literally worth more than my first car (a 1998 Mitsubishi Magna, for everyone playing along at home).
According to Focal, the Clear MG headphones are the “open-back headphones for the home.” Personally, I primarily use headphones outside of the home, but at $2,199, I can see why it would be a bit of a liability to be walking the streets in these bad boys.
“The gold standard in Focal open-back headphones, Clear Mg delivers outstanding sound performance and sophisticated, design-led features,” the description on the website reads.
“Made in France, these top of the range headphones incorporate exclusive Focal technologies, the result of cutting-edge research in acoustics and Focal savoir-faire. The speaker drivers are composed of a unique magnesium cone, a material that enables sharp, precise, impactful playback that results in stunningly real sound.”
Focal Clear MG Headphones
WHAT IS IT?
Focal's mid-range (but still pricey) open-back headphones.
Super comfortable, amazing sound quality.
The design is an eyesore, doesn't offer noise-cancellation.
Focal Clear MG Specs
Frequency Response: 5Hz-28kHz
Impedance: 55 Ohms
Sensitivity: 104dB SPL / 1 mW @ 1kHz
Loudspeaker: 1.6″ (40mm) magnesium M-shaped dome
Distortion: 0.25% @ 1kHz / 100 dB SPL
Type: Circumaural open-back headphones
Before we get started, we need to address the $2,199 elephant in the room: the price.
I simply couldn’t review these headphones without a disclaimer that I am not and likely never will be in a position to be forking out $2,199 on a pair of headphones, and realistically speaking, very few people are.
Comparatively, the Clear MG is mid price range for Focal headphones, but it’s worth noting that these headphones are still designed as a luxury product. You’re paying for quality and a luxe experience here.
But if you’re otherwise looking at a pair of Bose, Sony or Sennheiser headphones, the price is something that can’t be ignored here.
Although I would’ve loved to have kept these headphones, I simply wouldn’t be able to justify paying the $2,199 for them. That’s not to say they’re not worth the price if you’re in the market for a pair of professional-standard headphones, but unfortunately that’s not me.
According to the website, “Focal places design and materials at the forefront in its mission to create the ultimate sound and listening comfort.”
But I’m just going to come right out and say it: these headphones are ugly.
Focal describes the colours as “chestnut and mixed metals” but if you ask me, it looks like a weird bronze colour combo that feels like it’s trying to be gold but isn’t.
The headband is one shade of light brown, the ear pads and underside of the headband are a darker brown and then you’ve a mixture of bronze and silver metal details. Honestly, they should’ve just named it 50 Shades of Weird Brown and called it a day.
If you like the weird amalgamation of brown, you’ll be pleased to know that the carry case matches this design.
You also can’t look past the honeycomb grille on the sides which isn’t just for aesthetics but is a strategic move and reportedly offers “even more open sound.”
Basically, the pattern results in cleaner high-frequency reproduction because the sound waves bounce off and interact with the materials around the driver.
Personally, I think these headphones would have looked significantly more luxurious if Focal opted for an all-black or all-silver design.
What the Focal Clear MG lacks in aesthetic appeal, it more than makes up for in comfort. Hoo boy, I am talking ear pillows.
Perhaps it’s because I have a huge head that rivals the size of a large bowling ball and generally find most headphones to be uncomfortable, but there’s something about these headphones that is particularly enjoyable to wear.
Even after a full day of wearing them while working, I’m not hanging to take them off. Once they’re on your head, they’re good. You don’t have to mess around with adjusting them, they never feel too tight or like they’re going to fall off. You truly just set and forget.
You can truly tell these headphones were designed for professionals because even compared to comfortable gaming headsets, they’re extremely easy on the ol’ noggin.
When it comes to audio quality, I like to think of the Focal Clear MGs as an acquired taste.
Before we get started, it’s worth noting that these headphones require a running-in period in order to operate at their best quality. So, like a fine wine, they get better with age and you can’t just drink it straight out of the bottle.
“If you want to speed up the process, we recommend playing very bassy music through them for at least 24 hours at a relatively high volume,” Focal recommends on the website.
“This will stabilise the speaker drivers and allow you to get the very best out of your headphones.”
Perhaps its because I went into this review with the mindset of trying to decipher if these $2000 headphones were really worth the price tag that could quite literally buy me a return trip to Japan, but they truly didn’t impress me at first. But to be fair, I didn’t know about the running in period until much later).
The audio quality was great, but I think it comes down to what you’re using them for.
Personally, I spend a lot of my time watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts and streaming music through Spotify, so it’s not like I’m ever really listening to top-tier quality audio.
While there was a difference between the Focal Clear MGs and my shitty, old EarPods, the difference wasn’t super noticeable compared to much more affordable headphones from the likes of Sony, Sennheiser or Bose.
Basically, the audio quality is exceptional, but unless you’re listening to really crisp, high-quality files (think Tidal), the difference realistically isn’t super noticeable to the naked ear.
However, it’s worth noting that these headphones do grow on you. At first I labelled them an exorbitant waste of money, but after the four week loan period I definitely missed the audio quality when I returned to my old EarPods.
So yes, the quality is inarguably better, but would I personally go out and drop $2,000 for the marginal difference? Probably not.
If you’re in the audio engineering game or working as a musician, I’m sure these would offer the top-tier performance of your dreams because I can’t actually fault the audio quality whatsoever. But I do have to be realistic in saying that the casual listener could be satisfied with headphones for a quarter of the price.
Overall Thoughts On The Focal Clear MG Headphones
These headphones are virtually perfect. Sure, they’re a little ugly (sorry, Focal), but they are truly a cut above all the rest when it comes to audio quality.
My major issue, which ultimately comes down to personal preference, is that I wouldn’t drop $2,000 on headphones that don’t offer noise cancellation. I could still hear the construction outside my house with these on. But the Focal Clear MGs are not, and never claimed to be, noise cancelling headphones. But for that price, as a regular consumer, I wanted them to be.
If you’re an audio professional or have $2,000 to spare, these are some god-tier headphones (plus you could probably save a significant amount if you could prove they were tax deductible) and I highly recommend them.
However, if you’re a casual audio listener, I think it really comes down to what you expect, what you’re using them for and what you’re willing to pay for. If you’re regularly watching movies and listening to high-quality audio files at your desk, these could be worth it for you. But ultimately there are much cheaper options out there that also offer incredible audio.