You may not have heard of French audio company Focal, but among audiophiles its speakers and headphones stand in high regard. The Listen Wireless is the company's first crack at a full-size premium Bluetooth headphone.
This $300 model looks similar to the wired Listen, which I liked a lot, but it has a more eye-catching glossy black finish instead of brushed silver. It folds up to fit in an included neoprene carrying case, and also comes with a cable for those times when you want to go wired.
The headphone feels sturdily built, although at 300 grams it's slightly heavy. While I found it easy enough to wear, it isn't as comfortable as Bose's QuietComfort 35. I do like that Focal's ear pads are equipped with thick, high-quality memory foam, and they managed to seal out a lot of ambient noise Unlike the Bose, however, there's no active noise cancellation.
The headphone has a dedicated on/off switch, which I liked, and it paired and re-paired without a problem, maintaining a steady Bluetooth connection. It doesn't offer multipoint pairing, which means you can't connect two devices at once and switch between them. Some people care about that feature.
I thought it also worked well as a headset for making calls; there's NFC tap-to-pair technology for devices that support it. Battery life is rated at up 20 hours of listening time, which is decent. No complaints there.
Like the wired Listen, this model served up rich, refined sound, with punchy, well-defined bass and relatively open, airy sound for a closed back headphone. The mids sound natural and accurate.
The only problem I have with Focal's sound is that it's a tad bright. It sounded great with some material -- it's designed to be revealing, but that also makes it a little unforgiving. With some tracks that extra bit of presence boost in the treble can lead to a touch too much sizzle and perhaps even some listening fatigue.
The bright sound was even evident in wired mode, which causes much of the bass to drop out and kills the sense of balance. This headphone is best used in wireless mode only. Save the wire for low-battery emergencies.
Knowing the wireless headphone was probably going excel with jazz and well-recorded tracks, I fired up Diana Krall's "Turn up the Quiet" album and it certainly delivered. It was also an excellent match for tracks you'd typically encounter in a listening demo for a pair of audiophile headphones -- The Eagles' "Hotel California" and Pink Floyd's "Money" come to mind.
Where the headphone loses a little of its appeal is with today's amped up, heavily digitally processed music (one example among millions: Calvin Harris' "This Is What You Came For"). I'm generalizing, but the point is that headphones like Bose's QuietComfort 35 are designed to smooth out some of the potentially harsher elements of those modern mainstream mixes. The more revealing Focal brings them out and accentuates them, leaving you with a few wincing moments that make you want to turn the volume down (the headphone does play plenty loud with mobile devices).
That doesn't mean the Focal Listen Wireless is a bad headphone. Not at all. It just might not be the right headphone for you and your listening tastes.
The other small issue is that it's a little too close in price to the Bose QuietComfort 35 and Sony MDR-1000X, both of which offer additional features, most notably active noise cancellation. There's also the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 at $250 that also delivers excellent sound (maybe not quite as good as this Focal), and also includes active noise-cancellation.
In terms of apples-to-apples comparisons, I also like the B&O Play by Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H4, which is a Bluetooth-only headphone that lists for $300 but can be had online for $250. It's lighter and slightly more comfortable than this Focal, though it doesn't come with a carry case. The Bluetooth-only V-Moda Crossfade Wireless 2 is another competitor that I also rate slightly higher.