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Focal's $3K Stellia headphones are the sound of luxury – CNET

Focal Stellia headphones

Focal

Focal started getting serious about making high-end headphones in 2016 with the introduction of the Utopia, it was right up there with the best in the world. Now with the Stellia, the engineers have pulled out all the stops and made a superb-sounding closed-back model that does a great job of blocking out external noise. Stellia runs a cool $3,000 in the US, £2,799 in the UK and AU$4,499 in Australia. Meanwhile, the flagship open-back Utopia sells for $4,000 in the US, £3,499 in the UK and AU$5,500 in Australia.

Focal is much better known for its speakers, and years ago I owned a set of its baby flagship Focal Mini Utopias, so I'm well acquainted with what the company's engineers are capable of. Now they're crafting world class 'phones!

Tech specifications start with the Stellia's 40mm pure beryllium dome drivers with copper voice coils. Impedance is an easy-to-drive 35 ohms, and the headphone weighs almost a pound (435 grams), yet it feels great on my noggin. The headphone comes with two sets of fairly stiff cables: one 10-foot (3-meter) cable terminated with an XLR plug; and a 4-foot (1-meter) cable with a 3.5mm plug plus a 6.3mm adapter. I so wish Focal would supply more flexible cables.

Stellia in its carry case.

Focal

Stellia's color choices, Mocha or Cognac, are deliciously out of the ordinary, with matching real leather ear pads and headband. It's reassuring to note Focal's high-end headphones are made in France, just like its speakers.

The Stellia looks and feels luxurious, she coddles your head as well as ears and offers a tender embrace every time you don the 'phones. Stellia's isolation from external noise was well above average, even when I listened in a noisy park near my Brooklyn home.

Well-recorded acoustic jazz from guitarist Gene Bertoncini and bassist Michael Moore on their Two In Time album sounded like I was listening directly to the microphone feed, the sound was that close.

Jeff Tweedy's vocals sounded just right on Wilco's Schmilco album; his band's subtle electric accompaniment tickled my ears. Great headphones like the Stellia make it easy to hear into the mix.

Trumpet player Erik Truffaz's electronica-tinged jazz is highly textured, and the ultradeep bass beats coursing through his Bending New Corners album all but massaged my eardrums. The bass goes really low, but it never felt overdone -- the control down there is exceptional. Reggae had plenty of drive over the Stellia.

Sadly, I didn't have Focal's Utopia headphones on hand for a direct comparison, so I popped on a set of Audeze LCD-MX4 headphones and the tonal balance cooled down, and I missed Stellia's richer tone. Though the MX4 is an open-back design, the sound felt more canned than it did on the Stellias. The Focal is a very open sounding closed-back design. 

Stellia is so easy to drive it sounded fine with my iPhone 8, played over the Apple Lightning-to-3.5mm dongle. It's hardly an ideal setup, but for travel it's perfectly serviceable. It is after all, a very large headphone, so transporting Stellia isn't for the faint of heart. Home listening with a Mytek Brooklyn amp kicked Stellia's sound quality up a few notches.

I was attracted to the Focal Stellia first for its sound, but I stayed for its comfort. It's truly a luxury design, and I can't say that about too many high-end headphones.

Focal's $3K Stellia headphones are the sound of luxury     - CNET

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