Focal are a company who need no introduction in the world of hi-end audio. With a well-established vertically integrated base, the French company have a developed a strong foothold in an already saturated marketplace.
Originally versed in loudspeaker technology, the brand have made use of their extensive R&D knowledge to create a line-up of game-changing headphones. The first open-back models: Clear and Utopia were soon followed by the entry-level closed-backs such as the Focal Elegia and now the more high-end Focal Stellia headphones.
The Stellia retails for a hefty $2999 price tag and features Focal’s new generation of electrodynamic speaker drivers. The M-shaped Beryllium dome is a tactful addition to exploit use of a light and robust material to counter resonance and aid sound propagation. Thus with such a clear focus on hard science and the delivery of results, it is no surprise that their latest concoction has intrigued both audiophiles and the mass market alike.
The Stellia’s come in a strong cognac-coloured leather box which lifts to unveil a darker brown insert. Inside, is a large zip-up hardshell carrying case ideal for the longer commutes along with a similar cognac colored leather leaflet box featuring two cable options (a 1.2 metre one with 3.5 mm termination and another of 3 metre length and terminated in 4-pin XLR). Finally, there is a thin leather wallet which contains the user manual and other necessary paperwork.
Together with the headphones, Focal have a clear and unified two-toned colour theme which helps the brand be distinct and defining in a world of generic audio gear. The overall packaging exudes luxury and is reflective of the price of the headphones.
The Design & Build
The design aesthetic of the Stellia features the same cognac and mocha colour thematic employed in its packaging. The overall headphones look and feel very classy and certainly offer a unique and compelling charm. The smooth curves of the headband and yoke provide an ergonomic fit with a sliding mechanism for adjusting. The outer ear cup design features a honeycomb metallic lattice which surrounds a circular steel Focal logo with the Stellia branding and Beryllium material engraved.
Borrowing from the Utopia, the Stellia incorporates the same geometry M-shaped 40 mm Beryllium driver which is said to offer exceptional dynamics within the confines of a closed-back design. The Stellia is the culmination of years of research with integrated vents to extend frequency responses and foams to absorb excess energy. The choice of beryllium drivers with frameless 100-percent copper voice coils also offer excellent sound acoustics for sound with low frequency interference and light mass.
The Focal Stellia provides a distributive headband which is both wide as it is nicely padded. The blend of high resilience memory foam ear cups and well-constructed metal allows for a comfortable fit despite its 435-gram weight. One thing that could be improved however is the clamping force which does come in a little snug. However, for a closed back designed for portable use it does provide for a more secure fit.
The Stellia offers a low frequency spectrum which extends low with great realism and accurate timbre. In line with its rather neutral presentation, bass is never offensive but rather agile and stops on the dime. Mid-bass is more prominent than sub-bass and tracks have good punch with speedy delivery. For those wishing for visceral impact and thunderous lows, the Stellia is not the headphones to appease. Instead, the emphasis here is placed on a precise but capable low-end which never muddies or overwhelms higher frequency ranges. In ‘Differences’ by Ginuwine, the low-end is very tastefully done with bass which quickly fades as it enters. It is clear that the Stellia can handle complex bass lines and rather than leaning towards a more analytical sound, there is adequate body and depth giving it higher levels of engagement.
The midrange of the Stellia rests in the line with the rest of the frequency spectrum; linear, balanced and neutral. Particularly impressive is the ability of the Focals to convey a very dynamic arrangement of music. Both micro and macro-dynamic gradations of sound are handled with ease and the Stellias really pick up on the subtleties and nuances of multi-instrumental tracks. Vocals sound even and present without being too forward or laidback. The slight upslope in the 7k to 10k territories gives the upper midrange some needed sparkle to add some life to tracks. Note thickness is not the largest I have experienced and does on occasions lack some body. However, separation and imaging allow for pinpoint imaging giving a well-defined soundscape despite the inherent constraints of a closed-back design. Speaking of pure tonal character, the Stellia adopts a more focused and neutral sound as opposed to the airy and more diffuse presentation of the HiFiMAN house sound.
The Stellias are a forgiving pair of headphones which is partly the reason there are never any harshness or stridencies in poorly mastered tracks. Despite this, they still seem to retain good levels of sparkle and resolve where the high frequencies are concerned. An example is in ‘D.A.N.C.E’ by Justice, where cymbals and snare sound tight and shimmery. Tonally, the frequency response is very even akin to the Stellia’s overall neutral character. In ‘The Outsider’ by Guthrie Govan, notes of the electric guitar seem to soar with great transparency and detailing.
The Soundstage & Imaging
The Stellias offer a capable soundstage for a closed-back model. Its strength lies in its imaging with great separation of sounds and ability to pinpoint nuances within tracks. The Focal house sound, however, does stray towards the more intimate side of the scale. The Stellias are no different in these regards with the dimensions of width not feeling like the grandest of presentations. This does improve slightly with tube-amp pairings which add necessary harmonic distortions to add some body and depth to the overall soundstage.
The Focal Stellia are a relatively efficient pair of headphones coming in at 35 Ohms impedance and 106 dB sensitivity. This allows it to scale well straight from laptops however dedicated desktop amps/DACs do improve its sound.
Schiit Audio Gungnir Multibit DAC and Mjolnir 2 Amp (LISST and tubes)
Overall, this pairing sounds great with the Empyreans despite not costing as much as other propositions. There is great sound-staging depth with some of the leading transients being rounded more to aid the smoothness of this headphone’s delivery. With the Telefunken E18CCs, there is a good amount of harmonic distortion added which further increase the musicality and emotiveness of these headphones.
Schiit Audio Yggdrasil Analog DAC and Mjolnir 2 Amp & Schiit Freya Plus Pre-amp
With this combination, there is more of a reference tilt with outstanding levels of detailing, transients and separation. The Yggdrasil does well to provide those extra micro-detailing and attack while the Mjolnir 2 and Freya Plus infuse a natural and holographic sound signature which make the whole listening experience a blissful addiction.
Drawing on Utopia’s level of success, the Focal Stellia represents Focal’s latest answer to closed-back designs. At $2999, they represent a huge investment for those seeking for the Focal house sound in a more portable and convenient format. While the Focal Stellia does not demand attention from the outset, it is a headphone which capitalises on an inoffensive sound with great tonal balance, dynamics and pinpoint imaging. Coming from a well-established brand, the quality of the Stellia are as expected and second to none. They are by no means for everyone – in fact, those musically inclined or those seeking for a tilted presentation should look elsewhere. However, with its fantastic build and engineered look along with the balanced frequency response, it would be hard to forgo an audition of these. Stayed tuned for more…
Focal Stellia Headphones
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