Mis à jour le 13 October 2022.
The Focal Bathys are the first hi-fi Bluetooth and active noise-cancelling headphones from the French manufacturer. This high fidelity model features 40mm Aluminum/Magnesium “M” dome transducers. Made in France, these transducers equip several of Focal’s world-renowned hi-fi headphones. They should also allow users to make the best use of the headphones’ Bluetooth aptX compatibility and, most importantly, its USB DAC mode (24-bit/192kHz).
Available for €799, are the Focal Bathys sufficiently equipped to face the competition? Will they allow Focal to become a new major player in the high-end noise-cancelling headphone market when up against the Mark Levinson No. 5909 and Apple AirPods Max headphones?
Focal Bathys: packaging & accessories
The Focal Bathys headphones come in a luxurious white cardboard box with a magnetic cover. When open, it reveals a very elegant hard carry case that is covered with heather gray fabric. The case holds the Focal Bathys headphones, which are laid flat, a USB-C cable and a mini-jack cable. The manufacturer also includes a quick start guide and a leaflet presenting the Focal brand and collections.
Focal Bathys: presentation
The Bathys are the first active noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones in Focal’s catalog. The French manufacturer previously impressed us in 2017 with the Focal Listen Wireless, the aptX Bluetooth version of the excellent Focal Listen. The Focal Bathys are a clear step up with their premium look. The similarities with the Focal Celestee and Focal Stellia headphones are instantly evident. Their spec sheet also looks very promising.
The structure of the Focal Bathys uses the same materials as the transducers. Aluminum (ear pieces and headband) and magnesium (yokes) make the headphones both robust and lightweight. The outer shell of the earpieces has the same pattern as the Celestee and Stellia models. The Focal Bathys clearly confirm their place in the French manufacturer’s premium range. However, they have a distinctive feature that reveals their connectivity: the Focal logo in the center of the earpieces lights up on demand.
Comfort is of the utmost importance to Focal. Here, it is evident in the memory foam padding of the headband and earpads. The former is covered with real leather on the top and microfiber fabric underneath. The latter feature very soft and comfortable leather that also provides excellent passive isolation. The headphones’ weight of 350 grams is perfectly distributed over the top of the head.
The Focal Bathys feature the same transducers as the Focal Clear, Focal Elegia, Focal Celstee and Focal Radiance headphones. Made in France, these transducers feature a proprietary M-shaped diaphragm. The latter benefits from the acoustic research carried out for the excellent Focal Utopia open-back headphones. The Focal Bathys do not hide their high fidelity aspirations.
The development of the signal processing and software was overseen by Naim Audio. The two brands have been associated since 2011 within the Vervent Audio group. Consequently, the Focal Bathys headphones feature a Hi-Res DAC compatible with 24-bit/192kHz PCM streams (in USB DAC mode). They also incorporate an amplification module and a DSP that are both optimized to fully harness the acoustic qualities of the Focal transducer. Naim and Focal have also developed a specific application to easily adjust the various settings.
Active noise cancellation
These Focal headphones feature two levels of active noise cancellation. Soft, for moderate noise reduction and Silent for total noise reduction. The latter plunges the listener into complete silence to ensure total immersion in their music. The transparency mode allows them to hear outside sounds through the headphones.
A button on the left earpiece allows you to switch from one mode to the other. It is also possible to use the app to select one of these modes. It is a shame that you cannot adjust the level of noise cancellation more gradually, as is the case with certain competing models.
Lastly, these headphones use the Qualcomm Clear Voice Capture technology to optimize the quality of phone calls. It reduces wind noise and ambient noise so that you can always be heard clearly.
Bluetooth and hi-fi headphones
With Bluetooth connections, the Focal Bathys headphones benefit from the quality of the aptX and aptX Adaptive codecs. The latter maximizes the transmission quality in real time in relation to the environment, offering a quality similar to that of aptX HD (with which it is backward compatible).
To enjoy the full extent of the Focal Bathys’ acoustic qualities, users can use the USB DAC mode. To do so, you must connect the headphones to the USB port of a computer, smartphone or tablet and select them as the playback device. The 24-bit/192kHz PCM compatible internal DAC then allows you to listen to your favorite music in high resolution.
Equipped with a mini-jack connector, the Focal Bathys headphones can be paired with any non-Bluetooth audio source that has a headphone output. In this situation, the headphones must still be turned on, as they cannot be used in passive mode if they are turned off or if the battery is flat.
Bluetooth headphones require a rechargeable battery. The battery used in the Focal Bathys headphones provide an autonomy of at least 30 hours in Bluetooth mode and with the active noise cancelling activated. It can even reach over 35 hours in mini-jack mode and 42 hours in USB DAC mode with a smartphone. Moreover, charging the headphones for 15 minutes provides an extra 5 hours of battery life.
Focal Bathys: key specifications
- Closed-back over-ear headphones
- 40mm aluminum/magnesium transducers
- Frequency response: 15Hz to 22kHz
- Active noise cancellation + transparency mode
- Bluetooth multipoint 5.1
- SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive
- USB DAC mode (24-bit/192kHz PCM)
- Battery life: 30h (BT + ANC)
- Hard carry case
- Weight: 350g
Focal Bathys : mise en œuvre
For our review, we paired the Focal Bathys headphones to an Android smartphone via Bluetooth. This allowed us to test the aptX transmission to read Hi-Res music from Qobuz. We were also able to test the quality of phone calls in a noisy environment.
In addition, we tried the Focal Bathys’ USB DAC mode with two different sources. First by connecting the headphones to our smartphones to listen to Qobuz via the USB Audio Player Pro app. Then by connecting them to a computer to listen to Qobuz with the Audirvana and Roon interfaces. The headphones we received for the review were brand-new, so we let them run for around thirty hours to break them in.
Focal Bathys: our impressions
As soon as we unboxed them, we were very impressed by the build quality and the silhouette of the Bathys headphones. They weren’t quite as beautiful as the Celestee or Stellia models, which are embellished with colored leather on the earcups. They looked good regardless, especially when the Focal logo on the earpieces was lit up!
Bluetooth mode, noise cancellation
Once the headphones are turned on, a long press on the Bluetooth button activates the pairing mode. You can then open the Focal & Naim app to access the various settings.
An equalizer lets you adjust five frequency ranges within a range of +/- 6 dB, in increments of 0.5 dB. Three equalization modes are defined by default: None (flat), Home and Loudness. The app allows the memorization of several customized equalization modes.
A dedicated button lets you adjust the noise cancelling and transparency mode. The latter diffuses the external sounds in the earpieces. Very effective, it allowed us to distinctly hear the vehicles in town and to remain aware of where they were on the road.
The Focal Bathys offers two ANC presets. The Soft mode provides moderate noise reduction and the Silent mode offers much greater isolation. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to adjust the noise cancellation gradually, as is the case with the Technics EAH-A800, for example. In the city, the Silent mode was very effective at drastically reducing the sound of the traffic. In public transport, it erased the sound of the engine and the din of the passengers very efficiently.
The Soft mode was ideal for eliminating the hum of computers and air conditioning in an open space office, without completely isolating us from our colleagues.
The management of telephone calls with Clear Voice Capture technology was extremely efficient. On the riverside during rush hour, our callers could hear us very clearly. Despite the many vehicles passing by and the wind sweeping along the banks of the river, we were able to converse without difficulty.
Music listening sessions
This may be stating the obvious, but the Focal Bathys offered a very different sound signature depending on the equalization selected in the app. The Loudness mode enhanced the high frequencies (+2.5 dB) and bass (+1.5 dB) while reducing the mids (-3 dB). It may be useful in transport, but we found it to be a little too over the top.
For daily use in Bluetooth mode, on the street or in the office, we preferred the None mode. Although it set all the sliders to zero, it provided a rich and lively listening experience. The sound was dynamic, with powerful bass, detailed highs and vibrant, warm mids. With these qualities, the Focal Bathys is clearly among the best noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones, regardless of price.
It was in USB DAC mode that the Bathys headphones revealed their full potential, as long as we were using a bit perfect playback application. You can either stick with the neutral (None) EQ mode for engaging and punchy bass, or switch to the Home EQ mode. The latter provides a more neutral sound signature that is more similar to the manufacturer’s wired hi-fi headphones.
Whether they were connected to a smartphone or a computer, the Bathys headphones offered a more precise and detailed reproduction in USB DAC mode than in Bluetooth mode. The dynamic range was wider, the vocals and the instruments more distinct. The soundstage was three-dimensional and vast, and the overall balance was even better. The bass sounded tighter and more nuanced. The midrange seemed more organic and the high frequencies even more accurate. We enjoyed the typical Focal sound: rich, engaging, detailed and well balanced with a wide bandwidth.
Focal Bathys: compared to…
€200 more expensive, the Mark Levinson N° 5909s are compatible with the LDAC codec as well as aptX Adaptive. They can also be used in passive mode, even when the battery is flat, which isn’t possible with the Focal pair. However, the ANC of the latter is more effective, both for music and phone calls. Soundwise, both headphones offer a clear, detailed sound. They effectively separate the different elements of the soundstage and offer good spatialization.
The spatialization of the Focal headphones is slightly more three-dimensional. They offer nice depth and more width than the American headphones. The balance of the Bathys is also more expressive in the lows, bringing more substance and texture to the listening experience. Finally, the equalizer offers the possibility to customize the sound of the Bathys more accurately than the more limited Bass Contour function of the Mark Levinson pair.
Praised by the press and acclaimed by Apple users, the AirPods Max deliver clear, detailed sound with good spatialization and effective noise cancellation. The Focal headphones deliver a more accurate sound and are more effective in providing a realistic and engaging soundstage. The Apple DSP may be excellent, but the limitation of the AAC codec is noticeable in Bluetooth mode. In terms of comfort, the Focal Bathys also win the match with a better weight distribution and ear pads that do not make your ears warm. Finally, Focal’s USB DAC mode allows them to offer a hi-fi performance that the AirPods Max cannot match.
Focal Bathys: who are they for?
The Focal Bathys will appeal to those looking for expressive and dynamic hi-fi Bluetooth headphones with effective active noise cancelling. Their very attractive design, long battery life and excellent phone call quality will further persuade them.
Focal Bathys: conclusion
Focal seems to have found the ideal formula for its first Bluetooth hi-fi headphones with noise cancellation. The structure and transducers that have been tried and tested on the brand’s high-fidelity models give the Focal Bathys all the qualities expected of premium headphones. They are beautiful and comfortable, the sound is energetic, rich and very lively. The music is expressed with great smoothness and immerses the listener in a very immersive sound experience.
The aptX Adaptive compatibility, the excellent call quality and the effective active noise cancelling also impressed us.
- The design and comfort
- The lively and very immersive sound
- The noise cancellation and phone call quality
- The USB DAC mode
- The quick charging
We would have liked
- A more gradual adjustment of the ANC
- To have been able to use them in mini-jack wired mode without the battery