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Hands-on with the Focal Clear MG and Celestee Headphones
Hands-on with the Focal Clear MG and Celestee Headphones IBTimes / Jeff Li

I believe everyone's first experience, including my own, with a Focal Headphone would be a memorable one. I remember opening the packaging for the Stellia for the first time, and it felt like unpacking luxury handbags with velvet-lining as I went from box to box.

However, it is safe to say that that is to be expected for an almost $3,000 pair of headphones. What, then, can one expect from Focal's more accessible models, like the new Clear MG and Celestee? And more importantly, how does their sound compare with their more expensive siblings: the Stellia and Utopia? Let's dive in to find out.


Premium Packaging and Build

Though the Focal Clear MG and Celestee cost only a fraction of their flagship headphones, the French headphone maker did not skimp out on the packaging whatsoever. Instead, what you get is the identical boutique-like unboxing experience, including premium boxes and velvety insides. The headphones themselves are contained in a softshell carrying case, and in the case of the Clear MG, there is an extra box to house its duo-cables.


The quality of course doesn't end with the packaging, but the build quality is every bit reminiscent of Focal's flagship headphones. If all four headphones were placed side by side, one would not be able to guess which is the more expensive one.


From the plush earcups, precision machined all-metal hardware and metal emblem, to the use of leather in the headband and cup, Focal have definitely made the best built headphones for the under-$2,000 range. Both the Clear MG and the Celestee would sit comfortably next to luxury French handbags and clothing.


Included Carrying Case and Cables

The rigid woven carrying cases are just as luxurious as the flagship models are, with no lacking whatsoever in the material used, nor in the craftsmanship. They even subtly match the color scheme of the headphones, and have enough space to keep a cable together with the headphone.


As for the cables, since the Focal Celestee is made for being on the move, it only has a single nylon braided cable with a 1/8" mini-jack that has a 1/4" audio jack adapter. However, the Focal Clear MG is made for indoor listening, and contains two extra-long cables, one at 1.2 m with a 1/8" mini-jack that has a 1/4" audio jack adapter and the other at 3 m with a 4-pin XLR balanced jack. Even the cable's colors are complimentary to the headphones, truly pushing the envelope on how refined headphones can look.


The Focal Sound at an Accessible Price Point

Having started at the top of the Focal range with Stellia and Utopia, and having listened to the best of what Focal has to offer, I was genuinely curious to see how the entry level Celestee and the mid-level Clear MG would sound in comparison.

Starting with the Celestee, having a closed-back design, it can be seen as the younger sibling of the Stellia. However, different from Stellia, which sounded surprisingly like an open-back headphone, the Celestee's sound was more predictable. The closed seal allowed it to have a more 'pressurized' bass sound, which would suit the bass lovers who look for the 'punchiness' at the low end.

The more focused soundstage is good for more electronic music like pop, dance and electronic music. What's more, the closed-back design of the Celestee, in isolating the sound, makes them ideal for noisy environments - the better choice for a travel headphone.


However, if you do have a relatively quiet environment either at home or in the office, the Clear MG has a more 'audiophile sound'. The open-back design can be more visibly seen - much like the Focal flagship Utopia - and its cups have semi-transparent internals. They are made for superior staging and are better suited for acoustic music like unplugged concerts, live bands, and orchestral performances.

The pure Magnesium dome - what 'MG' in its name stands for - when compared to the Aluminum/Magnesium dome on the Celestee, has a more detailed sound, especially when it comes to higher frequencies. The Stellia really surprised me because, when matched with the Focal Arche and its included balanced cable, it produces the most realistic sound that I have heard. Comparatively, the mid-range Clear MG didn't have the same effect (And I didn't expect it to at its price point), but the sound characteristics were very similar to Stellia. I highly recommended it for those who enjoy hearing minute details, harmonics and overtones in their music.


Final Verdict

Focal has definitely carved out its own piece of the audio world with its superior luxurious build, coupled with clarity and power in its sound. What I enjoy best from Focal headphones is still in the detail of the sound it produces, and this remains true even at its more affordable price range of closed and open-back headphones.

If you are looking for a headphone that is tasteful to travel with - in other words, made of beautiful leather and sculpted aluminum - then the Celestee is the better choice, as it is built just as sophisticated as any of its more expensive siblings.

However, if you can afford a private space where you can make some noise without bothering anyone, like in a hotel or office space, then: I highly recommend the Clear MG for its detailed and powerful sound. It's what made me a fan of Focal headphones, as it offers superb quality at a much more accessible price range.


For it's amazing build quality, impressive sound that resembles closely to Focal flagship headphones, we're awarding the Focal Clear MG the IBTimes Recommended Badge.

David is a tech enthusiast/writer who is often on the move, but since the lock-down is on a mission to explore gadgets to improve his 'home work'. This is a contribution to an ongoing IBTimes review series on gadgets for Home Productivity.