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Headphones

Focal's Elegia headphone gobsmacks the Audiophiliac

It's Focal's first high-end closed back headphone, and it sounds awfully good!

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Focal's latest headphone is their first to hush external noise.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I've spent a good deal of quality time with Focal's high-end headphones over the last few years, and came away with favorable impressions of them all. 

This new one, the Elegia, differs from the other three over-the-ear headphones I've heard, the Elear, Clear and Utopia. They're all open-back designs that let you hear your surroundings. The Elegia is a closed-back design and does a decent job hushing external noise with a tight ear seal. 

The headphone sells for $899 in the US and £799 in the UK. The price hasn't yet been set for Australia, but the US price converts to about AU$1,265.

Solid comfort

Aluminum yokes provide a secure grip on Elegia's ear cups, the cushions are nice and soft, and the perforated micro-fiber padded headband reduces the pressure on the top of your head. Elegia feels above average in comfort, even though it weighs a hefty 15.2 ounces (430 grams). Build quality feels solid, and Elegia comes with a nicely finished storage case. The headphone is made in France.

Elegia's "M" shape inverted 40mm aluminum-magnesium dome driver owes a lot to the drivers used in Focal's higher end 'phones. Impedance is rated at 35 ohms.

One nitpick: The 4-foot (1.2-meter) cable is stiffer and more prone to kinking than any other cable I've used that was supplied by the original manufacturer of the headphone. It's a sturdy cable, and will probably withstand rough handling better than more typical skinny cables. In any case you can swap out the Focal cable for a more flexible aftermarket cable.

Listening tests

If you crave high-resolution sound, Elegia will put a smile on your face. It certainly did when I streamed Let's Eat Grandma's spectacular I, Gemini album on Tidal. This pop music's delicate percussion, piano, and airy effects sounded remarkably clear and floated free of the headphones' ear cups. Open yes, but not as spacious as the open-back Focal models mentioned above.

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Elegia's plush pads coddle your ears.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Switching over to the Audeze EL-8 closed-back headphones the sound balance was more laid-back and softer. I missed some of the Elegia's sparkle and more forward sound, but I liked the EL-8's richer midrange and the bass was weightier and felt more solid. It's no slouch when it comes to transparency, but the Elegia's livelier sound was addicting, and when I switched over to the EL-8 I felt like I was missing out. They're both excellent, but different-sounding headphones.

Up to this point I played Elegia on my desktop system with a Mytek Brooklyn digital converter and headphone amplifier. Switching over to my iPhone 6S, the sound was still listenable when I played Elvis Costello's brilliant new Look Now album. It's his best album in years, there's lots of great songs and his voice is in fine shape. The Elegia also made it clear Look Now is one of Costello's better-sounding efforts.

I loved the Focal Elegia, and not only because of its sound. It just feels right in my hands and on my head. It's about time Focal added a closed-back design to its stable of high-end headphones. 

Focal Utopia: The world's best headphones?

More from the Audiophiliac: High-end hi-fi news and opinion, every weekend.