No other headphones at this price point give you a front-row seat at the concert like these do.
When purchasing a pair of high-end headphones, you fundamentally want something with a combination of beautiful design and remarkable sound quality. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of expensive headphones that do one or the other, but only a select few can provide both.
One company which has a good track record in this regard is Focal. The long-time French-based speaker manufacturer has designed and marketed several headphones with a french flair and exquisite sound.
That includes the Focal Clear, a headphone that many audiophiles consider the best in class, providing superb transparency and dynamics.
Today, we have the Sequel to the Focal Clear, the $1499 Focal Clear Mg, a new model that follows the same basic blueprint as the original but replaces the Magnesium-Aluminum driver of the Clear with a new Magnesium version that promises even better clarity and dynamics.
The new Mg model also displays the new elevated “honeycomb” design language from Focal, which looks fantastic in conjunction with its Chestnut color scheme.
Focal’s mantra for the Clear Mg is “Experience Excellence,” so I was intrigued to discover my experience. Did I experience excellence? Read on, and ill let you know the scoop!
Disclaimer: The Clear Mg was sent to us by Focal in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. The manufacturer provided no input regarding the content included in this evaluation.
I’ve always been a fan of Focal’s headphones from a design standpoint, beginning with their first models, the Utopia and Elear. So I purchased the latter and found the combination of aluminum yokes, microfiber earpads, and a leather-wrapped headband striking. I also found it to be quite sturdy.
While I have heard about some sporadic driver failures in online forums, I’ve had no such issue with my pair, and I still use them from time to time, five years after purchase.
Like the original Clear, the Clear Mg has almost identical mechanics to my well-worn Elear headphones. They use the same yokes, earpads, and headband. This makes sense since it’s a design that works well, boasting a combination of good looks and comfort due to its even distribution of weight. A competently judged clamping force also helps.
In addition, the Clear Mg has the exact open driver placement as the Elear and Clear, where Focal’s proprietary “M-Shaped Dome” drivers hang in space, providing a wide soundstage and an open, speaker-like experience.
Conversely, Focal has switched from a Silver/Grey color scheme on the original Clear to a Chestnut Brown/Brown color scheme on the new Clear Mg. I like the brown better since it shows less wear than the Grey on the Clear, similar to the darker elements on the Black Elear.
The Clear Mg also has a honeycomb design element placed over the earcup grilles, something the Elear and original Clear didn’t have. The additional pattern adds richness and extra interest to the Clear Mg’s look, which I like a lot.
When it comes to accessories, the new Clear Mg comes with two headphone cables (Balanced XLR and Single-ended 3.5mm) instead of the three that came with the first Clear. I think it’s fine since you get a 3.5mm to 1/4” adapter to replace the standalone 1/4” cable.
Both cables could be a touch more flexible, but they are tangle-resistant and much better than what came with the Elear. Unfortunately, that one was too long and heavy, so I bought a replacement cable immediately. However, there are no such issues with the Clear Mg. The 3.5mm cable is the perfect length for home/portable use (3.9ft), and the XLR cable (9.8ft) is excellent for desktop/home use.
You also get a hard-carrying case similar to the one that came with the original Clear, which is a good thing. In the new brown tint, the case looks like an expensive designer handbag. It was so lovely that my wife was plotting how to take it from me.
Inside the case, you have plenty of room for the headphones and at least one cable, making it perfect for taking your fancy cans on a trip if you wish.
That said, at the end of the day, the real story is the new driver employed in the Clear Mg. The original Clear used a combination Magnesium-Aluminum M-shaped driver similar to the Elear, depending on an upgraded full copper voice coil for better control and sound quality.
Now the Clear Mg takes things a bit further, employing a full copper voice coil combined with a new, lighter, all-Magnesium dome driver, increasing transparency and detail. So how does it sound? In a word, glorious.
With a sensitivity rating of 105dB, the Clear Mg is relatively easy to drive, producing satisfactory volume from various sources. Nevertheless, since they are remarkably resolving and transparent, performance will substantially increase as you improve the source.
Focal recommends 24 hours of burn-in using bassy music, so I fed them a steady diet of Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA” before doing any critical listening.
For my sound tests, I did most of my listening on a simple portable setup using the Fiio M11 Plus ESS Digital Audio Player and TIDAL App as my source.
The first thing I noticed about the Clear Mg was its exquisite tonal balance. While some may find Focal’s lively tuning of the presence region (upper mids) a little too forward, I reveled in it, as it brought any music I played through these headphones to life.
To get such clarity from a driver without veering into a distracting hardness takes a lot of engineering and know-how, and I had to marvel at the results.
They way they manage to provide such balance and liveliness at the same time is nothing short of remarkable. While I can’t call Focal’s tuning “Flat” per se, every part of the audio spectrum was perfectly in line, starting with the airy treble down to the deep, articulate bass.
One thing I look for in a headphone at this price point is a clear sense of space, and the Clear Mg has this in spades. Listening to Macy Gray’s “Annabelle” from her album “Stripped,” I was astounded at the incredible detail and separation of these headphones.
The guitar solo was so clear and vibrant and seemed to jump out of thin air. This was undoubtedly aided by the freedom given to the driver as it was deftly suspended in the open frame.
The layering of the various elements in the song was also quite exceptional, as the percussion and Macy’s vocals were also nicely delineated from one another, then skillfully placed from front to back. The depth and width of the soundstage were magical and made me almost forget I was listening to headphones.
This is something you only hear from the best headphones, and it was at this point I knew I was dealing with something special.
In terms of dynamics, the next song, “Sweet Sweet Baby,” demonstrated how good the Clear Mg was in this department. It’s kind of hard to explain, but these headphones drove the rhythm with such a deft touch that the music almost entrances you.
The microdynamics are handled so beautifully that you feel like you can hear the sound waves bouncing from every corner of the room. This is something I’ve only experienced with headphones costing a lot more than the Clear Mg does, like its more expensive sibling, the Utopia, for example.
I’m not saying it has the immediacy and sharpness of the Utopia, but it comes closer than any other headphones I’ve heard at this price.
Speaking of another headphone at the price point, I made a quick A-B-A comparison with the Hifiman Arya (Stealth Edition). The Arya had a more neutral “flat” tuning than the Clear Mg, which sounded more natural in some ways.
Vocals and instruments sounded just a little more fleshed out and realistic on the Arya, and there was just a touch more resolution.
Conversely, the Focal headphone sounded much more open and provided a lot more “room feel” than the Arya. It also had a lot more get up and go in the dynamics department.
The Arya couldn’t keep up with the “drive” of the Clear Mg’s metal dome diaphragm, which provided the punch and slam necessary to rock out on more upbeat tracks.
Both headphones perfectly played on the strengths of their driver types. So it’s a choice between the slightly higher resolution of the planar driver vs. the drive and presence of a dynamic driver with above-average resolution.
That said, if I had to pick one, I would probably go with the Clear Mg for its deeper bass and more expansive soundstage. But there’s no wrong choice between the two; it all comes down to preference.
Also, if you’re interested, I found the Arya to be a bit more comfortable than the Clear Mg. The Arya’s lighter clamping force won the day for me in that regard.
In a word, I have to say the Focal Clear Mg is masterful. Focal’s promise of excellence is warranted, as there is no other headphone at this price point with its combination of openness, stunning resolution, soundstage focus, and tremendous dynamics.
While it doesn’t quite have the transparency and drive of its bigger brother, Utopia, it provides much of the same speaker-like vibrancy and fireworks. Just keep in mind that this isn’t the most neutral headphone you will hear; it’s a little more on the “exciting” side, which is just fine with me!
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My hunger for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.