Four years ago, Focal unveiled its midrange open-back hi-fi headphones, the Focal Clear. Today we’re reviewing a brand-new version of this audiophile gem: the 2021 Focal Clear MG open-back hi-fi headphones. On the agenda: a completely revised build, external and internal honeycomb grilles and 100% magnesium transducers. Marketed at €1,499, will we be impressed by this replacement for the acclaimed Focal Clear?
Focal Clear MG: 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). Here we are in the year 2021, with the brand new Focal Clear MG open-back headphones with 100% magnesium transducers and the subject of this review.
Focal Clear MG: packaging & accessories
The Focal Clear MG 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 small box that opens up like a book.
Inside there is the user manual, an XLR cable as well as a 3.5mm mini-jack cable accompanied by a 3.5mm mini-jack to 6.35mm jack adapter. The elegant semi-rigid case, identical in appearance to those of the other Focal headphones of the range, incorporates the same colors as the headphones. As soon as we opened it, we were blown away by its beauty. The Focal Clear MG headphones are securely wedged into their dedicated space.
Focal Clear MG: presentation
The Focal Clear MG hi-fi headphones have the same excellent technical characteristics as their predecessor the Focal Clear, also displaying an impedance of 55 ohms, a sensitivity of 104 dB and a frequency response of 5Hz to 28kHz. The Focal Clear MG differs from the original version by the introduction of pure magnesium transducers. In addition, the design has been completely revised and is reminiscent of that of the Focal Stellia and Celestee closed-back models.
Made in France
Just like a large selection of Focal equipment, the Focal Clear MG 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 these Focal Clear MG headphones in particular, are developed on site, which allows a total control of the manufacturing process.
Exclusive magnesium drivers
Like all Focal audio equipment, the Focal Clear MG’s transducers benefit from an in-house design. These headphones feature large 40mm transducers with an M-shaped membrane and Aluminium/Magnesium dome.
The brand has chosen to use magnesium for its lightness, superior to that of Beryllium, and its excellent rigidity. It ensures a more dynamic and detailed sound than the original Clear, which is equipped with drivers made of about 90% aluminum and only 10% magnesium.
New honeycomb grilles
Though the Focal Clear MG headphones undeniably offer a new aesthetic, they are above all designed with acoustic performance in mind, notably with the new honeycomb grilles on the exterior of the ear cups. These grilles provide more openness, which creates a wider soundstage than that offered by their predecessor.
The same grilles can also be found over the driver inside the earcups. Just like the membranes, they are “M” shaped. That way, they follow the shape of the drivers and are as close to them as possible to improve the reproduction of the highs, which are more linear and precise as a result.
Like the Focal Elear, Focal Clear and Focal Utopia hi-fi headphones, the Focal Clear MG headphones have an open-back design. The sound is therefore diffused both towards the listener’s ears and towards the outside of the shells. The main advantage of this design is that it lets you enjoy music with a feeling of space similar to that of a real hi-fi system, but without the clutter. A quiet environment is required to take full advantage of the performance of open-back hi-fi headphones. If you are not alone in the room, those around you will also be able to hear your music, even at low volume, and you will also hear any surrounding noise.
The Focal Clear MGs are an enchanting pair of headphones that we hope sound as good as they look. We were immediately blown away by their design. With their elegant yet subtle chestnut finish, the Focal Clear MG headphones can be worn proudly like a fashion accessory.
Great comfort and build quality
From the moment you hold them, the Clear MG headphones’ quality is evident. Far from the plasticky look of other headphones, this model is made of aluminum and leather.
The Focal Clear MG headphones are remarkably comfortable. Their significant weight of 450g could have been tiring after a while, but we never felt any sign of fatigue during our test. The headband is also very comfortable thanks to its thick foam padding covered with 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 our 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 3.5mm mini-jack connector labelled “L” (left) and “R” (right). There is also an “L” for the left connector, and an “R” on the right connector. Be careful to follow these indications: if the cable isn’t connected properly, the stereo will be reversed.
The circumaural design of the Focal Clear MG headphones features large-diameter ear cups with thick memory foam ear pads covered in micro-perforated fabric that completely surround the ears. This type of covering not only ensures more extensive diffusion for an increased sense of openness, but also better comfort thanks to its softness.
The Focal Clear MG headphones have detachable ear cushions, which makes them easy to clean.
Focal Clear MG: key specifications
Type: open-back, circumaural
Transducers: 40mm, pure magnesium M-shaped dome
2cm-thick memory foam earpads, microfiber cover, detachable
Padded headband, semi-aniline leather and microfiber
Materials: aluminum and leather
Impedance: 55 ohms
Sensitivity: 104dB SPL / 1mW
THD: 0.1% at 1kHz / 100dB SPL
Frequency response: 5Hz – 28kHz
Semi-rigid carrying case
Balanced XLR Y-cable (3m)
Unbalanced 3.5mm mini-jack Y-cable (1.2m)
3.5mm mini-jack to 6.35mm jack adapter
Focal Clear MG: listening conditions
For our review, we paired the Focal Clear MG hi-fi open-back headphones with the excellent and powerful iFi Audio iDSD Diabolo DAC/headphone amp, which was connected to our Windows 10 desktop computer. Consequently, we were able to enjoy our Qobuz playlists (Sublime+ subscription, up to 24-bit/192kHz) and FLAC files via the Foobar2000 app.
Focal Clear MG: listening impressions
Like the other models in the range, the Focal Clear MG headphones are wonderfully neutral. This characteristic is particularly appreciable, as the headphones fade away to leave only the music, allowing us to savor each note without any coloration. We put these Focal Clear MG hi-fi headphones to the test by evaluating their capabilities with a wide variety of musical styles. We can already tell you that it passed this test with flying colors!
Chris Jones – Roadhouses & Automobiles
With this superb acoustic track where vocals and guitars take center stage, the Focal MG Clear headphones offered us a richly detailed sound. This track confirmed that the mids are particularly linear. The soundstage benefitted from a pleasant width. The music had room to breathe.
Eric Clapton – Reptile
With this track, we were able to enjoy the Focal Clear MG’s expertise in transcribing details in an information-rich context. Each instrument was in its place without overshadowing any of the others. We could even hear the guitarist’s fingers on the strings!
Orchestral & symphonies
Hans Zimmer – Gladiator Medley (Live in Prague)
Right from the beginning, the singer’s magnetic voice carried us away. We simply closed our eyes to imagine her at our side. This particularly rich track, which covers the entire audible spectrum, allows us to say with certainty that the Focal Clear MG headphones are capable of reproducing all notes, from the lowest to the highest, with great accuracy. Moreover, as this track goes from very quiet to very loud moments, sometimes with disconcerting speed, the Focal Clear MG hi-fi headphones demonstrated the ability of the magnesium transducer to provide excellent dynamics. The Focal Clear MG kept up with the rhythm at every moment.
Ennio Morricone – Chi Mai
We tested the high frequencies with this iconic track, and were pleasantly surprised by the Focal Clear MG’s ability to retranscribe each detail with an extreme precision and accuracy, all without any sibilance. We enjoyed a clear and spacious sound. The soundstage was wide and deep, just as we expected.
Nina Simone – Feeling Good
The very first notes of this song gave us the chills. The level of details was astonishing, with the same wonderful neutrality to which the French brand has accustomed us. Both the brass instruments and the voice of this great jazz artist were perfectly reproduced without any auditive fatigue being felt.
Pop & rock
Vintage Trouble – Run Like The River
We were completely immersed in this energetic track with drums, cymbals and electric guitars. This wasn’t simply due to the nature of the track, the headphones also played an important part there, as they delivered the music brilliantly, making us enjoy the slightest detail. We couldn’t help but tap our foot to the beat. The Focal Clear MG always held its own, even with styles sometimes considered unsuitable for open-back headphones. This performance can probably be attributed to the use of transducers made entirely of magnesium.
Pink Floyd – Money
This classic song had to be part of our playlist today! We must admit that until now, we preferred to use a real hi-fi system to enjoy this iconic track. There’s no point beating around the bush: the Focal Clear MG headphones made us change our mind! We had the same enjoyment as when listening with speakers, a remarkable achievement. The familiar cash registers and coins in the introduction, accompanied progressively by the bass, the electric guitar and then the drums were reproduced with an incredible level of detail. We were able to benefit from incredible realism, a wide, deep soundstage, with a lot of texture, but also a wonderful stereo effect.
Metal / Rap
Ghostemane – AI
We pushed the Focal Clear MG headphones to its limits here, asking them to reproduce very low frequencies. We were pleasantly surprised by the Clear MG: it was able to offer us striking infra-bass, which is rare for open-back headphones. The physical impact that one generally expects to feel when listening to this type of track was indeed present.
Black Eyed Peas – Boom Boom Pow
Electronic music with punchy bass and nice spatialization with headphones? Yes, the Focal Clear MG can do it! Another nice surprise for all those who want to enjoy this style of music and are still looking for THE pair of open-back headphones that will meet their expectations!
Focal Clear MG: compared to…
Focal Clear: predecessor to the Focal Clear MG and sold for €300 less, the Focal Clear has the same characteristics as the newer model bus is equipped with aluminum/magnesium drivers. The decision to equip the Focal Clear MG headphones with fully magnesium transducers allows the latter to offer deeper bass. As a result, the Focal Clear headphones sound a little less lively.
Sennheiser HD-800S: sold for €1,590, the Sennheiser headphones provide a wider frequency response, especially in the highs, which are more detailed. On the other hand, the Focal Clear MGs has the edge in terms of power supply thanks to their 55 ohms and 104 dB, compared to 300 ohms and 102 dB for the Sennheiser.
Focal Clear MG: conclusion
The Focal Clear MG hi-fi headphones simply amazed us, both with its beauty and its musical performances. They exude quality as soon as you hold them and are incredibly comfortable (we didn’t want to take them off…). In terms of sound reproduction, it is a flawless system. The Focal Clear MG is always extremely precise and we enjoyed a wide and deep soundstage. We were particularly surprised by its ability to go down in the low frequencies and offer an impressive impact on tracks that should, in theory, be incompatible with open-back headphones. It is with great pleasure that we announce that these Focal Clear MG headphones should be able to satisfy you, no matter what genre you prefer! The benefits of magnesium seem to have been proven!
Concerning the power supply, it will be necessary to associate it with a good DAP such as the Astell&Kern KANN Alpha or a powerful headphone amplifier such as the iFi Audio IDSD Diablo. Although its impedance is contained and its sensitivity high, the French manufacturer’s headphones generally need a good power reserve to express themselves fully.
What we liked
- The deep bass
- The neutrality
- The spacious soundstage
- The comfort
- The design
We would have liked
- A slightly longer 3.5mm mini-jack cable