Comparison of the Focal Elegia, Focal Celestee and Focal Stellia headphones

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The range of Focal closed-back hi-fi headphones has recently been extended with the Focal Celestee, a circumaural model which sits between the Focal Elegia and the Focal Stellia in terms of price. The Focal Celestee adopts the same 40mm aluminum and magnesium dome drivers as the Elegia and inherits its design from the Stellia with a leather finish, here in navy blue enhanced with metallic copper elements. 

We were able to review each of these three headphones separately on this blog when they were released, and the arrival of the new Celestee was the opportunity to bring them together to make a comparative review.

Having these three superb Focal headphones for a week allowed us to better understand their character and compare their musical qualities. 

During this test we used the Astell & Kern Kann Alpha DAP to drive the headphones and listened to Hi-Res audio files as well as our playlists on Qobuz. 

We also used a Lehmann Audio Linearheadphone amplifier to which we connected a USB DAC to play our Qobuz playlists via the Audirvana application on PC.

Focal Elegia

Currently marketed exclusively on Son-Video.com in its Focal Elegia SV 20th anniversary version celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the site, the Elegia is the entry ticket into the world of Focal hi-fi headphones (€499). It features a 40mm diameter transducer made of aluminum alloy and magnesium with an M profile. It has a sensitivity of 105dB and covers a frequency range between 5Hz and 23kHz. 

The design of the Focal Elegia headphones is the most understated of the three. The earcups are made of aluminum and the underside of the headband as well as the earpads are covered with microfiber, while the use of leather is omnipresent on the Focal Celestee and the Focal Stellia.

The main characteristics of the Focal Elegia are neutrality, accuracy and a great clarity, as well as a spatialization and a sense of breadth that are uncommon in closed headphones. 

It offers a very transparent sound reproduction, almost like studio monitoring headphones, it is balanced and particularly accurate in the midrange and treble registers, which makes it very appreciable with acoustic recordings. This is a far cry from the current tendency to accentuate the lows. So much so that this trait has been much criticized since its release. 

The bass response of the Focal Elegia is however far from being ridiculous, provided that it is driven by a sufficiently powerful amplifier. The majority of smartphones and certain digital audio players can indeed prove to be a little too weak to obtain a satisfactory bass with these headphones.

Powered by an audiophile DAP with a solid amplification section like the Astell&Kern Kann Alpha or by a powerful headphone amplifier, the Focal Elegia headphones won us over us by the richness of its midrange and the smoothness of its high frequencies. The bass is nuanced and deep, although a little behind the current standards.

But with a headphone amplifier or a DAP with an effective amplification section, the bass is energetic, deep enough and well defined. Those who prefer a perfectly neutral listening experience will be perfectly content with the lows. But this register may seem slightly underwhelming to those who like very impactful bass.

Focal Celestee

Compared to the Focal Elegia, the Focal Celestee (€999) seems to want to “correct the course” as far as low frequencies are concerned. Although it is equipped with the same aluminum alloy and magnesium drivers as the Focal Elegia, Focal’s engineers have managed to optimize its response curve so that it is more expressive in the low frequencies. This result was obtained by working on both the transducers and the shells of the headphones, but also on the acoustic insulation provided by the leather ear pads, which are more efficient in this regard.

The Focal Celestee headphones are in our opinion the best looking of the three. The Navy Blue finish (which seems to be strongly inspired by the color of the year 2020 – PANTONE 19-4052) is both classy and discreet, easier to wear than the Cognac finish of the Stellia and well highlighted by the few touches of copper metal on the ear cups and the headband. The leather ear pads are particularly comfortable.

The Focal Celestee provides a richer and more “intense” sound in the lows while maintaining a good overall balance. The lows have more presence, as well as more weight and impact than with the Elegia, thanks to the few dB gained in the first octaves and especially between 60 and 150Hz. The bass is full-bodied and remains perfectly held and very reactive. 

The midrange remains well embodied, even if the lower midrange seemed to be slightly less pronounced compared to the Elegia. The higher frequencies are well chiseled while sounding a little softer, still in comparison with the Elegia.

More intense bass without losing too much presence in the midrange or definition in the high frequencies: the Focal Celestee achieves this goal and manages to energize the sound delivery in a more effective way than the Elegia.

In terms of breadth and spatialization, the Focal Elegia and the Focal Celestee are almost on par and both manage to provide more space than what the earpieces would allow, even though former seemed to offer a slightly superior amplitude.

Focal Stellia

The Focal Stellia (€2,990) is considered by many as one of the best models of closed-back hi-fi headphones on the market. While it immediately catches the eye thanks to its neat design and high-end materials, it convinces the listener by its comfort of use and especially by its acoustic qualities.

The aluminum and leather finish in brown and Cognac give the Focal Stellia headphones a unique look, the embodiment of French luxury at the service of a flawless comfort of use. The sound is up to the task with an exceptional capacity to plunge the listener into the heart of the music thanks to the Beryllium transducers: rich sound, analytic ability, balance and energy are all part of the package. 

Unlike the Focal Elegia and Focal Celestee’s aluminum and magnesium alloy drivers, those of Focal Stellia are made of pure Beryllium. This material originally used by Focal to make the tweeters of the Focal Utopia, Focal Electra and Focal Kanta speakers, is also used by the French manufacturer to make the transducers of the Focal Utopia headphones.

Beryllium is an ultra-rigid yet extremely light metal which allows on the one hand the driver to reach very high frequencies (40kHz for the Focal Stellia) and offers on the other hand an excellent impulse response down to the very low frequencies, without distortion.

Although they have a low impedance (35 ohms) and a high sensitivity (106 dB/1 mW) allowing them to be used with a smartphone, the Focal Stellia headphones benefit from being powered by a powerful audiophile player (here the Astell&Kern Kann Alpha) or a headphone amplifier with a good current capacity from the first watts to provide more depth and substance to the listening experience.

The Focal Stellia is characterized by its global balance and its very accurate timbres which ensure a very natural and realistic sound. The bass is deep, perfectly held and has a very nice impact. The Focal Stellia offers in this register more presence and intensity than the Celestee, with a similar response curve but with a few more dB between 20 and 200Hz. The low midrange is also better highlighted and has more substance, closer to what the Elegia offers with a response curve also offering several more dB between 200Hz and 400Hz before matching that of the Celestee. 

To a certain extent, the Stellia synthesizes the energetic and impactful low end of the Celestee with the rich and embodied low midrange of the Elegia. As for the higher frequencies, very incisive and well chiseled, they seemed more detailed and more precise than those of Celestee and the Elegia, without suffering from excessive brightness. 

The aeration and spatialization of the soundstage are remarkable for closed-back headphones, with even more amplitude than the Celestee and Elegia, both in width and depth.

Conclusion

This comparative review of the Focal Elegia, Focal Celestee and Focal Stellia has allowed us to better understand their character. Although the acoustic differences between these three Focal headphones are not significant (they do not present diametrically opposed characters), they still each offer their own sound signature.

Focal Elegia 

Extremely transparent and rather analytical, the Focal Elegia has a neutral and direct character. It excels in particular in the medium register which benefits from an excellent definition and a full-bodied restitution and a lot of substance. The high frequencies are precise and well defined. Slightly subdued, the bass is reactive and nuanced even if it lacks impact and weight. However, this character trait can be corrected with the equalization.

The Focal Elegia is particularly comfortable with acoustic recordings, vocal performances, jazz and classical music (small and large orchestras).

Focal Celestee

The Focal Celestee offers more presence in the lows which are just as reactive and tight but more intense than those of its smaller sibling, thus correcting its flaws. On the other hand, the low midrange is a little behind the Elegia and the Stellia, and can sometimes seem a little “veiled” in comparison. The high frequencies remain clear and precise. 

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The Focal Celestee is very comfortable with rock and electronic music thanks to its energetic lows that follow the rhythm perfectly. It is less analytical than the Elegia, and is therefore more forgiving with less than stellar recordings.

Focal Stellia 

The Focal Stellia combines the best of these two headphones with even more forward and impactful lows than the Celestee, while offering a very rich midrange and exceptional clarity in the higher frequencies. All this with a natural, realistic and relaxed sound signature, without ever becoming tiring. This is by far our favorite model!

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The Focal Stellia is perfectly comfortable with all genres and is always up to the task, whether it is with small jazz bands or live acoustic music, orchestral scores or even with electronic music or more blaring rock.

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