We’re dwelling in a time when luxurious and tech manufacturers hold flirting with one another’s merchandise, whether or not it’s $2,000 iPhones and even pricier Tag Heuer watches operating Put on OS. The very best crossover between the 2 classes has at all times been headphones, which give producers a whole lot of floor space to drape in premium leather-based and steel ornamentation whereas additionally elevating the funds for unique supplies or manufacturing methods. The freshly introduced Focal Stellia are the most recent, and among the many most profitable, specimens of the luxury-tech hybrid.
Priced at an unapologetic $3,000 and in the stores straight away from Focal and Amazon, the Stellia fulfill the calls for of each luxurious and tech fans. These headphones are luxurious to the contact and the mere act of unboxing them is an expertise value paying for. As soon as you set them on, they’re additionally supremely snug. Placing a closed-back design across the beryllium speaker of the Focal Utopia, the Stellia are additionally sonically spectacular and can wow music lovers whether or not they’re audiophiles or not. So sure, we could all have bother digesting the large lump sum of cash that Focal asks, however the product itself goes a protracted approach to justifying that expense.
On the few events that we purchase issues for ourselves that value upward of $1,000, it’s often an merchandise of luxurious or expertise. And after we spend such cash, we have now excessive expectations. Focal lives as much as probably the most exacting of requirements with its Stellia: they’re wearing full-grain leather-based, they’ve thick reminiscence foam cushions that clamp your head right into a vice of loveliness, and their aluminum yokes, woven cables, and contoured arduous case simply exude high quality. There’s even an superior leather-based pockets for the paperwork, which I’d instantly adapt into an aesthetic passport holder.
To love these headphones, you’ll need to be a fan of the colour brown — or “cognac and mocha,” in Focal’s phrases — as a result of there’s no different possibility. Although constructed on the identical bodily body because the previous Focal Utopia, Elear, and Clear, the Stellia are recognizably distinctive, because of their putting exterior, which options an overlay of perforated steel atop one more layer of leather-based. By no means let the French be accused of abandoning their heritage of baroque ornamentalism.
The Stellia are closed-back in design, and their impedance has been diminished to 35 Ohms to make them pleasant to transportable audio sources. Focal actively encourages considering of those as a extra transportable, extra common model of the Utopia — however that look of theirs, along with the sheer, irreducible bulk, makes for loads of curious stares must you ever attempt to put on the Stellia out on a stroll anyplace. I naturally did attempt, and after some criss-crossing of London’s streets, I felt like I’d been carrying an enormous ginger afro wig.
The noise isolation of the Stellia is nice for headphones of their heavyweight class, however it’s nonetheless nowhere near the passive isolation you get from, say, studio cans just like the Sennheiser HD 380 Professional that had been designed for the aim. The Stellia are solely actually semi-closed. Their consolation in use, although, earns no disapproval from me: they carry their weight nicely and have by no means induced me any ache or soreness.
Powering the Stellia is remarkably simple, and I used to be in a position to crank them as much as unadvisedly excessive volumes with an Astell & Kern Kann transportable participant in addition to with Important’s USB-C audio dongle plugged into my cellphone. Given the efficiency contained inside these glamorous cognac partitions, I’d say Focal has carried out an incredible job of decreasing the necessity for added tools to get probably the most out of the Stellia. By comparability, anybody attempting to benefit from the Focal Utopia with no beefy desktop amplifier was actually not doing them justice, whereas you will get near the Stellia’s finest efficiency even when plugged immediately into your transportable audio system.
One other refined however vital change from the Utopia: the cable connectors plugging into the Stellia have been simplified to straightforward 3.5mm plugs. That offers you entry to an enormous vary of inexpensive alternate cables, ought to Focal’s personal not show to your satisfaction. I like them, for probably the most half, as they’re thick, sturdy, color-matched with the headphones, and simply stiff sufficient to withstand kinking and tangling. The one factor that troubles me with the cables is that they produce microphonics from rubbing towards my garments once I’m carrying the headphones and never listening to something.
Turning to the principle attraction of the Focal Stellia, I’ve to admit that their sound didn’t sweep me up on a magic carpet joyride upon my first hear — as a result of it’s not meant to. Focal calls these headphones reference-class, which alerts the corporate’s purpose for a purist sound that exaggerates or diminishes as little as potential. The very best time period I can use to explain it’s flavorless: like water, these headphones adapt to and signify the character of the factor they’re interacting with greater than any peculiarities of their very own.
Right here’s the issue: absolutely the best-sounding headphones, to my choice and that of many others, don’t sound completely flavorless. I’m at present additionally testing the flagship Audeze LCD-4z, and their fantastically detailed and lifelike sound is underlined by a loving contact of additional bass that makes them nigh-on excellent. With the LCD-4z, and Audeze headphones normally, I really feel the bass. With the Focal Stellia, a lot as was the case with the Focal Utopia earlier than it, I hear somewhat than really feel it.
Regardless of my bass-loving methods, I gave the Stellia a good likelihood and, over time, I grew to actually admire and revel in them. Within the audio world, the notion of decision means a lot the identical because it does with visuals, referring to how a lot element a sure system is ready to reproduce. Nicely, the Focal Stellia are like these huge 8K TVs we see solely at commerce reveals, exposing all of the nuance you could possibly need from any given tune. This decision is achieved courtesy of the super-expensive beryllium speaker inside every ear cup, which minimizes distortion and deviation, and thus leaves room for each be aware, shuffle, and whisper in a recording to come back via. At any time when folks say “I heard issues I by no means heard earlier than in that tune,” it’s an indication that they stepped as much as a lower-distortion, higher-resolution pair of headphones.
For me, the album that basically seems like a complete new expertise via the Focal Stellia is Halsey’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. Her vocals are pure, lovely, and taking heart stage, identical to they need to, however it’s absolutely the cornucopia of stuff occurring within the background that I hadn’t beforehand appreciated. The manufacturing of that album is extraordinarily elaborate, and the Stellia signify each layer with forensic precision, so it’s separable and distinguishable from the subsequent.
Switching over to Sage Francis’ A Wholesome Mistrust, the soundstage collapses, the beats get soiled and fewer exact, and I can simply visualize the distinction in manufacturing services between Sage and Halsey’s albums. One is a meticulously perfected pop concoction whereas the opposite is a intentionally gritty affair, which is information to nobody, nevertheless sensing these variations for your self in such a direct and instantaneous method is an enormous a part of why individuals are prepared to spend large on high-end audio gear. If you happen to’re solely going to hearken to underground rap or grime, you’d most likely be higher served by a less expensive and bassier different like Focal’s personal Elear, however if you wish to genre-hop and actually really feel the variations between numerous productions, the Stellia try this higher than virtually some other headphones.
Final however not least, I’ve to say Tadashi Tajima’s Shingetsu album of shakuhachi performances. The Stellia give life to the bamboo flute in a splendidly natural method, and the combo of that peaceable music and the headphones’ consolation and noise isolation has had me listening to the album on repeat for a lot of hours at a time.
Let’s get away from the value factor for a second. Are the Focal Stellia value wanting? Completely. Selecting them up once I get settled in for a day’s work, even taking them out on the transfer once I really feel notably ostentatious, I get a reliably thrilling and insightful efficiency each time. Their unsparing sonic transparency isn’t at all times to my tastes, however it’s trustworthy to the music and technically spectacular. To an incredible extent, Focal has taken the large demanding beast that was the Utopia and refined it right down to a extra humane providing.
I can’t dictate to anybody what a specific gadget or product is value, as a result of every individual’s funds and circumstances will differ. That being stated, it’s secure to imagine that the Stellia at $3,000 is principally blowing no matter headphones funds you have got for the subsequent decade, if not the remainder of your life, on one single pair of cognac-colored cans. Alas, I by no means fairly fell in love with the Stellia to the diploma the place I might advocate doing that.
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