Focal's been around since 1979. The company was started in France by Jacques Mahul with the sole purpose of creating products that produced excellent sound. Also releasing products under the name "JMlab, Focal gained notoriety through the '80s and '90s, and awesome headphones and speakers are still being made in France, ever-improving and refining.
When I was asked to review the new Listen Wireless Chic headphones, I first Googled who Focal was (and you thought I was some kind of expert!) and then jumped at the chance to get an advanced sneak peek.
This is the Focal Listen Wireless Chic.
Get the look
The new Listen Wireless Chic line is really just the Listen Wireless in disguise. It has the same technical specifications, but features three new colors: blue, purple, and olive green, which are lovely and understated colors. I received the blue model for review, and it's a stunner.
It's essentially a two-tone blue with a metallic finish on the backs of the ear cups and the Focal logo cleverly placed right below each end of the headband. There's also the Focal name on each side of the headband. Branding overkill? Maybe just a touch, but the "Focal" emblazoned on each side is recessed and unobtrusive.
When it comes to how they actually look on your head, it's a bit of a shocker when you look in the mirror for the first time. (I know, not everyone checks themselves out in the mirror when they wear headphones, but I do… For science!). The Listen Wireless headphones are BIG. No exaggeration, they had an extra 2 inches on each side of my head. Of course, with excellent sound and excellent Bluetooth quality (I'll get to those later), comes a compromise in size — you gotta fit all that goodness in somewhere.
These headphones are big, but you gotta fit all that goodness in somewhere.
These happen to be the best fitting headphones I've ever put on. I've checked some over-ear cans out recently that just don't hug your head the way you want it to be hugged, and any head-bobbing to the music is quickly thwarted by your headphones making a break for it. Not the Focal Listen Wireless cans. The fit is tight, but thanks to ear cups with considerable padding, it's wonderfully comfortable, and despite the size for the whole thing, surprisingly light as well. The underside of the headband could use a little more padding, since your head presses it in and comes into contact with the plastic frame, but because the ear cups sit so snugly, they take most of the weight off the top.
All in all, the "chic" aspect of these headphones is out in full force, and you feel it — the plastic doesn't feel cheap, the padding is supple, stitching is great — it's just a great looking pair of headphones altogether.
Sounds like a winner
I'm always skeptical of Bluetooth headphones. I understand the leaps and bounds they've made in the last few years, but I've yet to find a pair that I'd actually spend a considerable amount of money on. Until now.
For comparison, my daily headphones are a wired pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50x cans, which are studio-quality over-ear headphones, and they happen to be some of the best I've ever heard in my life. So, naturally, I compare all other headphones to them. I of course do so in terms of relativity — if I'm reviewing a pair of $30 earbuds, I would never hold them to the same standard.
I don't have to be relative here: the Focal Listen Wireless headphones sound great. Warm bass, crisp vocals — delicious. There is an almost too present element to the sound that I can't put my finger on, but the longer I listen to them in a session, the more I like them. Music you physically have on your phone sounds better than streaming (even high-quality Spotify streaming), but it's still pretty good. Is it $300 good? That's a bit of a toughy.
For most people, Listen Wireless Chic are definitely worth the $300.
The best thing these headphones have going for them when it comes to sound is noise isolation. There is not active noise cancellation here, but boy to these block out the rest of the world when you put them on. When you crank your music up a bit, you almost can't hear any outside noise at all. To test this, I sat down at my drum kit and drummed along to a few tunes, and I was very pleasantly surprised by how balanced my kit was to the music I was listening to. It's not perfect — throwing in earbuds and some construction earmuffs is still miles better, but it's the closest thing I've ever had to wearing just headphones while I play.
All in all, these sound great. Again, are they $300 worth of great? As frugal as I am, I struggle to say yes, but for most people, I'm sure it's more than worth it.
Connectivity like the Flash
I wanted to mention this separately because I am so pleased with how well the Bluetooth radio works in the Listen Wireless Chics. These connect to my phone faster than any Bluetooth device I've ever used, and that's no hyperbole. You flick the switch on, and the voice says, "Power on. Searching. Connected." No exaggeration whatsoever, but read that in your mind — that's precisely how long it takes to connect.
And range is great too. I leave my phone on my desk and head into the kitchen, and I say connected, save for the off hiccup because I'm through a couple walls (with open doorways, mind you). The playback controls are responsive and intuitive, placed conveniently on the front of the right ear cup. The volume buttons are on the back of the ear cup, where you thumb can get them — I love that placement. You can play, pause, skip, fast-forward or rewind, answer and hang up on calls, activate your voice assistant; these are thoughtfully placed and properly working controls.
Should you buy it? Yes
For all their faults (no swiveling ear cups, lacking headband padding, sound that makes me want to buy them but also makes me hesitate at the same time), the Focal Listen Wireless Chic headphones perform admirably, look stunning, and work so well as Bluetooth headphones that I really can't tell you anything but to buy them. They'll be $299 when they come out some time in May, and you can get them in blue, olive, or purple (or the classic black version).
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