Review on Focal Stellia
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The Review on Focal Stellia
The Focal Stellia are $3,000 headphones, and I fear they may have ruined me for life. I wouldn’t normally consider myself an audiophile, but as with the most dangerous of addictions, it only takes a handful of the good stuff to get you well and truly addicted. While it’s an expensive rabbit hole to go down yourself, at the very least the Stellia have a surprising degree of flexibility to help you get the most out of your significant investment.
The Stellia aesthetic is not for shy and withdrawn people. The mix of cognac and mocha leather, stainless steel and aluminum – complete with a perforated design reminiscent of bubbles – makes them stand out even when you’re not listening to them.
Focal doesn’t make cheap headphones, and the Stellia is a good example of that. For $2,990, they are legitimately placed in audiophile territory, the kind of ear-luxury that makes AirPods Max and Sony WH-1000XM4 look pedestrian. Despite this, the Stellia are not Focal’s most expensive headphones; that crown goes to the $3,990 Utopia.
What the Stellia are, however, are the company’s flagship closed-back headphones. Where a set of Utopia relies in part on the space around you for their expansive soundstage, the Stellia cocoon you in your music. There’s no active noise cancellation, just good old-fashioned physical barriers to the background noise of the room around you. Likewise, there is less chance that what you are listening to will be bugged.
It opens the door to taking the Stellia with you, and indeed Focal designed the headphones that way. Honestly, the idea of dropping a set of $3k cans in my backpack while I was going to the airport filled me with not-unreasonable dread, but leaving them behind is really missing the point.
The key is the low impedance. You can think of that as the amount of power needed to power your headphones: lower, and the gain in smartphones and other mainstream electronics is enough to power them. A higher impedance, on the other hand, requires a higher power.
At 35 Ohms, the Stellia is unexpectedly stingy in its hunger for a set of reference headphones. It means that while you can plug them into a headphone amp – I used the excellent but since discontinued Arche from Focal – with the included 10-foot, 4-pin balanced XLR cable, you can also unplug that and use an unbalanced cable from 4 feet swap with a standard 3.5mm jack on the end.
It plugs directly into the headphone port of your phone, must still have one, or in my case the Lightning to 3.5mm dongle for my iPhone 12 Pro Max. Both sets of cables are wrapped in fabric, which can result in some microphonic hiss as it rubs against itself and your clothes. There’s also no in-line microphone, which is annoying when handling incoming calls, but I addressed that by simply not answering the phone. phone.
My antisocial nature was only partly the motivation there; Most importantly, I didn’t want to stop listening. Fueled by TIDAL’s uncompressed tracks, the Stellia quickly cleared up my insecurities about how headphones could justify such a premium price tag.
I confess, my first expectation was a clear sound profile: something unmistakable, which immediately says, “This is why you spent three thousand on this particular pair of headphones.” Instead, it’s the absence of that coloration that you realize is the star here. The Stellia has a purity and transparency that steers clear of the recording itself: Focal’s tuning is more like a magnifying lens, bringing out details that other headphones might miss.
There’s a single 40mm beryllium speaker driver in each earcup, Focal’s proprietary design and promising 5Hz-40kHz frequency response, 106dB SPL sensitivity and 0.1 percent THD at 1kHz. The result is a tremendous amount of precision and a soundstage that feels more like sitting in front of a set of high-end speakers.
The vocals are clear and whistling, as if you are sharing a recording booth with your artist of choice. Somehow, though, the Stellia doesn’t lose sight of what’s going on around it. It’s a cliché at the moment to say that with good audio equipment you can hear elements of songs that you would never have noticed before, but the reality is that this is why something like Focal’s headphones are so addictive. For every moment of rich fame in songs I’d listened to hundreds, thousands of times before, there was always something new and complex teasing the Stellia.
It’s possible that, if your taste is mainly towards bass-heavy genres, you may wish that Focal’s tuning leaned a little more heavily on the low end. On the other hand, I think I’m happier leaving that to my own EQ adjustments. As I transitioned into classical, that feeling of being in the middle of a string quartet or reverberating with every hiss of a pipe organ showed how deftly the Stellia can alternately close around you or spread wide.
Not every song benefits, but that’s more about the music than the headphones you’re listening with. The reality is that mediocre mixes and lackluster bitrates can be exposed with a light surgical ferocity. I tried my usual Spotify playlists with decent but non-lossless downloads and couldn’t help but hear the hiss and crackles. The Stellia will make you picky, and there were times when I would jump between albums and genres trying to find music I could immerse myself in without those raw edges to frustrate me.
The comfort of Focal certainly helps that audition process. There’s full-grain leather on the outer cups, along with special acoustic fabric elsewhere, with 20mm of memory foam on each side for just the right amount of squish and separation. A matching full-grain leather headband has a perforated fabric strip underneath where it rests on your head. The whole weighs 435 grams: heavy enough to feel premium, but not as fatiguing for extended listening sessions. Focal Stella
The more time I spent with the Stellia headphones, the more ironic their lavish presentation seemed. Focal’s standout aesthetic – right down to the leather-wrapped cables and instruction leaflets, and the oversized zippered carrying case – is impossible to ignore. In contrast, the headphones themselves do as much as possible to get the music out of the way, with transparency their lodestar.
The about Review on Focal Stellia
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