It is with great pleasure that we present you the brand new Focal Celestee hi-fi headphones through this test. These new closed-back headphones by the French manufacturer were kept secret until now and are full of promises. The program is such: a low impedance of 35 ohms associated with a high sensitivity of 105 dB, and, just like its younger sibling the Focal Elegia, 40mm transducers with an Aluminium/Magnesium M dome. In terms of design, it is reminiscent of the top-of-the-range Focal Stellia.
Marketed at €999, the Celestee is positioned at the heart of Focal’s range of closed-back over-ear hi-fi headphones. Will it be able to win us over like the Elegia and the Stellia before it?
Focal Celestee: the brand
The company Focal-JMLab was founded in 1979 in Saint-Etienne by the engineer and hi-fi journalist Jacques Mahul. Emblematic of French high-fidelity, recognized and appreciated all over the world, the Saint-Etienne-based brand has never stopped innovating since its beginnings. Focal prides itself on designing and producing its own loudspeakers thanks to a modern and efficient production tool.
Since the creation of the company, research and development have been the object of important investments at Focal. We have the brand’s engineers to thank for the design of the first inverted dome tweeter with glass fiber membrane (1981). Since then, the manufacturer has never stopped experimenting and adopting new materials for its loudspeakers, in particular the Beryllium used for the tweeters of the Focal Utopia loudspeakers or for the transducers of the Focal Utopia and Focal Stellia headphones.
The mid-bass drivers have also benefited from multiple innovations from the French manufacturer. Created in the middle of the 80s, the Polykevlar sandwich membrane named Poly-K is made of two sheets of aramid fibers placed on both sides of a hollow microbead structure. This design optimizes the weight / stiffness / damping ratio of the diaphragm, resulting in an excellent responsiveness of the driver.
The sandwich structure membranes benefitted from a major evolution in 1988 with the introduction by Focal of Polyglass technology. This technology consists in applying fine glass microbeads on a cellulose cone, combining the excellent damping properties of paper with the rigidity of glass.
After earning a great reputation for its speaker drivers, Focal diversified its offer in 2012 with its first headphones, the Focal Spirit One, which were particularly well received by the critics.
In 2016, the French manufacturer put all its expertise at the service of audiophiles with the very high-end open-back earphones Focal Elear (read the review of the Focal Elear) and Focal Utopia (read the review of the Focal Utopia), followed a year later by the Focal Clear (read the review of the Focal Clear). In order to meet everyone’s demand, Focal quickly diversified its offer with still high-end closed-back models. Indeed, many audiophiles want to listen to their music through headphones without bothering the people who are around them. This is how the closed-back models Focal Elegia (read the review of the Focal Elegia), Focal Stellia (read the review of the Focal Stellia) and Focal Celestee, which we are reviewing today, came into being.
Focal Celestee: packaging and accessories
The Focal Celestee headphones come in an elegant black box on the front of which the name of the headphones as well as the brand and its logo are written in white characters. On the left side we find a table summarizing the technical specifications and a list of accessories. On the other side are the categories of audio equipment offered by Focal.
After carefully opening the box by sliding it upwards, we discovered its second part in which we found the case containing the headphones as well as a compartment dedicated to the storage of the multilingual user manual and the booklet presenting the brand. The elegant semi-rigid case, identical in appearance to those we can find with the other Focal headphones in the range, takes up the navy blue and gold colors of the headphones.
As soon as the box is opened, a “Wow” effect is guaranteed. The Focal Celestee is securely wedged in its dedicated space, accompanied by a detachable 3.5mm mini-jack Y cable whose connectors’ feature the Focal logo and the brand name. A mini-jack to 6.35mm jack adapter completes the package.
Focal Celestee: presentation
Occupying a midrange spot of the closed-back hi-fi headphones series by the French manufacturer, the Focal Celestee seems, at first sight, to inherit all of the technical characteristics of the Focal Elegia. If it indeed has a low impedance of 35 ohms associated with a high sensitivity rating of 105 dB, and an extended frequency response from 5Hz to 23kHz, its design results in a slightly different sound signature. In fact, some improvements carried out on the driver’s settings (kept secret) combined with the leather earpads bring a little more depth in the lows compared to the Elegia. The Elegia’s perforated microfiber earpads distribute the sound more widely, resulting in a slight loss of bass. In contrast, the Celestee’s leather earpads are more isolating while retaining a little more bass inside the earcups.
In addition to being easily powered thanks to its low impedance and high sensitivity, the Focal Celestee headphones have the advantage of being usable both indoors and outdoors thanks to their closed design and semi-rigid carrying case.
Made in France
Just like a large selection of Focal equipment, the Focal Celestee hi-fi headphones are designed and manufactured in France in the manufacturer’s workshop in Saint-Etienne. Eager to keep control of its development and to preserve its autonomy and independence, the French brand makes it a priority to keep a large part of its production in France. Moreover, the machine used to stamp the aluminum and magnesium sheets, which make up the drivers of this Focal Celestee headset in particular, are developed on site, which allows a total control of the manufacturing process.
Like all Focal audio equipment, the transducers equipping the Focal Celestee headphones benefit from an in-house design. These headphones feature large 40mm transducers with M-shaped membrane and Aluminium/Magnesium dome.
This Aluminium/Magnesium alloy has 3 advantages sought after in driver design: lightness, rigidity and damping factor. It ensures a great precision as well as a wide frequency response. The coil that accompanies it ensures a high efficiency. These manufacturing choices make the Focal Celestee compatible with a wide array of sources, and this without particular constraint. It will indeed be able to work with any recent smartphone, but it is recommended to pair it with a quality audiophile DAP, DAC or headphone amplifier to enjoy its full potential.
Like the Focal Elegia and Focal Stellia, the Focal Celestee headphones are closed-back models. This means that the sound only passes through one side of the driver, towards the listener’s ear, and does not spread outside the shells. The result is what’s known as passive isolation: the thick ear cushions combined with the one-sided diffusion create a cocoon-like feeling. So you can easily enjoy your music at low volume, even in a noisy environment.
Eager to offer closed headphones with low resonance, Focal has worked extensively on the acoustic design of its drivers. Thus, we find inside each shell a system of absorber and diffuser limiting any parasitic resonance. A vent in the form of a small grid is also found on each shell at the level of the logo in order to expel any superfluous energy. This work carried out by Focal results in closed-back headphones capable of preserving the sensation of an open sound tyage. Of course, this perception is less than what a pair of open headphones could provide.
The bewitching charm of these Focal Celestee headphones is immediately apparent. Esthetically very similar to the Focal Stellia, the Celestee is covered on the outside of its shells with a navy blue openwork stainless steel ornament, under which we find the same semi-aniline leather used for the pads and the headband. This type of leather uses the first layer of skin of the animal, and, unlike the full grain leather (used for the Focal Stellia headphones and also called aniline), this one has benefited from a protective treatment, which makes it less sensitive to possible stains.
Nothing in the design of these headphones was left to chance. Even the junction between the headband and the yoke (adjustable part between the headband and the shells) decorated with a simple golden “Focal” on a navy blue background caught our eye. The Focal Celestee makes a good impression, both esthetically and in terms of quality.
Great comfort and build quality
From the moment you hold it, the Focal Celestee gives an impression of great quality. Far from the plastic aspect that we sometimes find on other headphones, this model is made of aluminum, stainless steel and leather.
The Focal Celestee is remarkably comfortable. Its consequent weight of 430g could have been tiring after a while but we never felt any sign of fatigue during our test. The headband is very comfortable thanks to a thick foam padding covered with semi-aniline leather on the top and microfiber fabric on the inside for a soft feeling on the head. In its extension, the aluminum yoke is designed to adapt to all morphologies. In our case, it did not come into contact with the head or temples. On either side of the yoke, the earcups are held by supports that allow them to be tilted slightly inward if necessary. Each ear cup features a mini-jack 3.5mm connector with the mention “L” (left) and “R” (right). In the same way, we find an “L” for the left connector, and an “R” on the right connector. Be careful to follow these indications: in case of error of connection, the stereo will be reversed.
The circumaural design of the Focal Celestee headphones features large-diameter ear cups with thick, semi-aniline leather-covered memory foam ear cushions that completely surround the ears.
The Focal Celestee headphones have detachable ear cushions. This makes them easy to clean.
Focal Celestee: key specs
Type: closed-back, circumaural
Transducers: 40mm, Aluminum/Magnesium M-shaped dome
Memory foam earpads, semi-aniline leather cover, detachable
Padded headband, semi-aniline leather and microfiber
Materials: aluminum, stainless steel and leather
Impedance: 35 ohms
Sensitivity: 105dB SPL / 1mW at 1kHz
THD: 0.1% at 1kHz / 100dB SPL
Frequency response: 5Hz – 23kHz
Semi-rigid carrying case
1 x 1.2 m OFC AWG 24 cable, unbalanced 3.5mm TRS mini-jack connector
1 x 3.5mm mini-jack to 6.35mm jack adapter
Focal Celestee: testing conditions
We started our test of the Focal Celestee hi-fi headphones by using them with an Android smartphone to listen to tracks on Qobuz. We then paired the Focal Celestee to the Real Cable i-Dac 192 DAC connected to a computer running Windows 10 to enjoy our Qobuz playlists (Sublime+ subscription up to 24-bit/192kHz) as well as FLAC files from the Foobar2000 application. Finally, we associated the Astell&Kern KANN Alpha audiophile DAP (read the Astell&Kern KANN Alpha review) to the Focal Celestee to enjoy FLAC files stored on the microSD card of the player as well as our Qobuz subscription.
Focal Celestee: listening impressions
Chris Jones – Roadhouses & Automobiles
Chris Jones’ voice was perfectly embodied, followed smoothly by the backing vocals. The Focal Celestee showed a nice neutrality and transcribed each note perfectly. We could easily imagine the guitarist’s fingers running over the frets, moving from one chord to another, or the pick strumming the strings. Every detail came out with an incredible accuracy. The sound stage was far from being narrow for a closed-back headphone. It was a flawless rendition.
Eagles – Hotel California (Live on MTV, 1994, long version)
Listening to this timeless track, we were able to test the Celestee’s ability to give each instrument and voice its place. We can already tell you that these headphones know how to do this, to perfection. We were able to visualize with a great accuracy the placement of the guitars taking place in turn in the center, on the right then on the left, the public, towards the left, the drums of which we could feel the texture and the maracas on both sides. The stereophony of the Focal Celestee is excellent.
Orchestra et symphony
Hans Zimmer – Gladiator Medley (Live in Prague)
Here again we were able to distinguish the location of each instrument and voice. The Focal Celestee headphones showed neutrality and transparency. Shivers ran down our spine from the first notes. The Celestee proved that it was up to the task and reproduced each register perfectly. The sound was both clear and warm. It also proved that it knows how to conjure deep lows when it is necessary.
Ennio Morricone – Chi Mai
On this great classic rich in highs between the violins and the synth, the Focal Celestee headphones knew how to make a stand. We did not notice any auditory fatigue. Each instrument was in its place and was embodied with great accuracy.
Jazz / Blues
Nina Simone – Feeling Good
From the beginning, the voice of one of the greatest jazz artists in history transported us. Every detail was clear, even the smallest mouth sounds. We just had to close our eyes to be transported in front of this fabulous singer. Then came the brass instruments, perfectly embodied and well held from the lows to the highs.
Dion – My Baby Loves To Boogie
On this very bluesy and catchy track, the Focal Celestee kept the pace. No instrument took precedence over another, everything was exactly in its place.
Pop / Rock
Michael Jackson – Smooth Criminal
The entire track was delivered with flawless accuracy throughout the entire sound spectrum, as the Celestee has already showed us. What surprised us here was the level of detail of the heartbeats from the beginning: the impact was so physical and realistic that we almost had the impression that our own heart was ringing in our ears. A truly intense experience!
AC/DC – Back In Black
The saturated guitars, the powerful snare or the bass drum hits did not scare the Focal Celestee, nor did the singer’s voice, which can sometimes reach very high notes. The Celestee held its ground and showed a constant energy.
Dua Lipa & Angèle – Fever
Walking the line between pop and electro, this track allowed the Focal Celestee to show its potential in the lows: it is capable of hitting very hard when it is needed. It is very neutral and knows how to be analytical: once again, we perceived details that we had not noticed when using other headphones.
This musical style is probably at the limit of what the Focal Celestee can offer, as we noticed on “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas. The bass was bold but could be even more intense. However, there is nothing prohibitive, since some tweaking of the equalization parameters allowed us to appreciate this track.
Focal Celestee: compared to …
Audeze LCD-2 Closed Back: sold at the same price, the Audeze headphones use Planar Magnetic technology. It offers a slightly superior level of definition and details as well as deeper and better defined bass. On the other hand, the Audeze are a little more difficult to drive because of their impedance of 70 ohms against half less for the Focal model.
Klipsch Heritage HP-3: also marketed at €999, the Klipsch headphones present, thanks to their semi-open design, a wider and deeper sound stage than the Focal Celestee. On the other hand, the French headphones are more neutral and more balanced from the low to the high frequencies.
Focal Celestee: conclusion
These midrange closed-back hi-fi headphones by the manufacturer from Saint-Etienne hold a place of choice. The Focal Celestee’s stunning design gives, as expected, an idea of its performances: yes, it sounds as good as it looks! Build quality, sound quality, we weren’t expecting anything less. The Focal Celestee is able to reproduce all the non-electronic musical tracks with a great neutrality and accuracy. For this particular style, although it is able to reproduce the different registers, it may still lack impact. It will always be possible to tweak the equalization of the source. We also confirm that, if the Focal Celestee can work with a smartphone or a DAC, it is with an excellent audiophile player such as the Astell&Kern KANN Alpha or a very good headphone amplifier that it will reveal its full potential. We can say it: the Focal Celestee headphones are in every respect situated between the Focal Elegia and the Focal Stellia.
What we liked
- The balance, the neutrality and the transparency
- The accuracy and precision
- The comfort
- The design
- The build quality
We would have liked
- A longer cable
- A cable with a 2.5mm mini-jack connector