With the world of music making becoming more mobile via powerful lightweight laptops and audio interfaces packed with DSP plugin power, the need for portable professional monitoring becomes vital. But surely you can’t mix and master with headphones?
When one of the world leading speaker manufacturers starts making pro audio headphones, you probably can. The Focal Clear Professional are a set of high- end headphones aimed to match the experience of listening to studio monitors.
Focal, while relatively new to the headphone scene, is quickly becoming one of the leaders when it comes to design, style, innovation and quality. The Clear Professional completes a line up of three headphones in Focal’s pro audio headphone range, the Spirit Professional being the older model and the rst venture for Focal into the pro- audio market, now complemented by a new closed back model Listen Professional, a lower cost product for general music production and the open-back Clear Professional, headphones made for critical listening which is the set of cans I shall be testing today. Slightly confusing there are identical spec Clear and Listen models in Focals consumer range, apart from colour styling and accessories.
In the Box
The Clear Professional comes in a luxurious hard carry case, a hard moulded flip clamshell design with a lovely textured finish and chunky zip, this sets the tone of workmanship right away, not wasted opulence but a nice touch of luxury with a professional and practical sense to the design. The included accessories are a spare pair of ear cushions and two low resistance OFC copper 24AWG cables, a 5m spiral cable and a 1.2m straight cable terminating via stereo 6.5mm adapter and mini-jack to the headphones via a Y split fitted with mini-jacks that lock into the headphone shells. Each mini jack is marked L and R but not obviously, a common problem with headphones that seem to hide the markers, making you waste time figuring out the orientation before you can listen to them. I often think a quick colour identification marker would be more helpful.
From the first moment you open the Clear Professional case, the high quality finish is obvious, with solid aluminium yokes that mould to the face shape and stand out leather and red pin cushioned fabric that lines the headband and thick ear cushions. These 20mm microfibre wrapped memory foam ear pads fully enclose the ear, to form an integral part of the sound isolation and part of the way the headphones adjust themselves to the head. The other obvious design diference is the angled drivers. Based on their top of the range Focal this design is one of my favourite features. The chunky open back metal grill covered ear cups enclose a weighty driver, specially designed for the Clear Professional, an aluminium/magnesium M-shaped dome, low impedance (55 Ohms) 40mm full range driver with a unique 5.5mm unsupported copper coil.
Focal’s aim to produce a set of headphones that can replicate the openness and response you get from working with a trusted set of monitors is an aspiring concept. The ergonomic design of the Focal Clear Professional headphones combined with the R&D that has gone into the driver assembly produces an open sound with an incredibly high detail.
The low impedance also supports its mobile versatility, driven from low power outputs like a laptop. I use Sonarworks Reference 4 monitoring so ware in the studio, Sonarworks kindly provided a Clear Professional calibrated Pro le that worked perfectly for me to match my monitoring setup. The Clear Professional frequency response is superb and there is no “hi ” mid range scoop, boosted bass and treble to be aware of.
After listen testing on finished mixes, I turned to using the Clear Professionals whilst mixing. This is my critical listening process, the sound reproduction is the canvas on which I build the sonic picture, each audio colouration of EQ or compression, when to cut or boost and audio clues, like how well the mix is starting to come together.
The Focal Clear Professional was a pleasure to work with, what surprised me was the frequency separation, the stereo field had nice width and depth, but the height impression of HF to LF was superb, the bass felt low to my jaw while sweet ear cookies of sparkling highs sat on top.
That might sound poetic but as a mix engineer that is the 3D box I like to create. Without a set of monitors helping me to reproduce that faithfully and consistently, it’s going to be a tough mix process. Focal might have producers mobility in mind with the Clear Professional, and there is even mention of space for an iLok key in the case, but they are quite heavy and the open backs means spill is easily heard. However that’s a small price to pay for what the Focal Clear Professional headphones give you, the ability to have something you can sonically trust anywhere.