Focal's New Entry-Level Closed-Back Headphone
Ah, brand-new headphones. From the excitement of unboxing to the delicious anticipation of that very first listen, it's a thrill that never gets old.
That thrill has been ever-present from the moment the new Focal Celestee headphones landed on my desk. These have become part of my personal group of best headphones, offering me a bit of hi-fi heaven every time I listen.
I had the pleasure of reviewing the limited-edition Focal Radiance Headphones just a few months prior; you can read the review here. To bring you up to speed quickly: The Radiance is a joint venture of Focal-Naim and Bentley Audio. The closed-back Radiance features a re-tuned version of the driver that was in the discontinued Focal Elegia headphone as well as an enclosure change. The limited-edition Radiance is a decidedly warmer and more musical-sounding headphone than the Elegia.
The Celestee features a different re-tuning of the Elegia driver. At $990, the Celestee will permanently take the place of the Elegia as Focal's entry-level closed-back headphone.
Of course, entry-level for Focal is a darn fine place to be. Focal makes some of the finest headphones in the world, infusing them with technology that draws on their decades of research into speaker drivers. Since the release of the open-back Utopia headphones in 2016, Focal has compiled a collection of amazing, high-quality, great-sounding headphones that are enjoyed the world over.
As mentioned, the Celestee replaces the Elegia as Focal's entry-level closed-back headphone. Priced at $990, the Celestee is about $100 more than the Elegia, but the Celestee has stepped it up in terms of materials. For example, the grills on the Elegia's ear cups were plastic, while they are stainless steel on the Celestee. The ear pads on the Celestee are covered in leather, while the ear pads on the Elegia were covered in microfiber. The leather does have practical advantages, but it's also a reason why the Celestee costs a little more.
Materials, Quality & Comfort
I know, I know. Looks aren't everything. But when something catches your eye, there's no denying it. When I first laid eyes on the Celestee's gorgeous navy blue and copper design, I was in love. Coincidentally, I was wearing a navy blue shirt and copper jewelry the day I received the Celestee, and it felt like kismet. I matched the headphones! Focal chose navy blue after working with a designer and product colorist. It is the first time this blue has been used in the Focal collection, and it blends beautifully with the soft copper finish.
According to Focal, dark blue is a versatile and timeless color that is growing in popularity. The combination of this blue with copper and bronze accents is a trend influenced by interior and accessory design, and has become popular in watchmaking and consumer electronics. These shades offer an interesting and elegant alternative to more traditional chrome and silver parts. The Celestee earpads, headband, and earcups boast a navy blue semi-aniline leather finish. Their soft copper details (speaker driver grille, cable connectors, rings, etc.) create a sophisticated look. Coloring aside, the Celestee is closest to the Focal Stellia in design, with decorative circular cut-outs on the earcups and leather ear pads.
Now, compared to the Elegia, the outer ear cup pattern on the Celestee has been updated to have similar symmetry to the Radiance. The ear pads on the Celestee are covered with semi-aniline leather, whereas the Elegia used Alcantara (a suede-like microfiber). Leather increases the coupling of the cushion to around the ear for better noise isolation, and leather cushions help to extend the response in the lower frequencies.
The Celestee's ear pads are very similar to the Radiance, but inside the materials are reversed: fabric and then leather instead of leather and then fabric. This gives a little more absorption in the Celestee and helps to minimize reflections, making it more neutral and less warm than the Radiance.
I know, I know. Looks aren't everything. But when something catches your eye, there's no denying it.
When I first laid eyes on the Celestee's gorgeous navy blue and copper design, I was in love.
Celestee uses the same 1⅝-inch (40mm) dynamic full-range driver with an aluminum/magnesium “M” shape dome as the Elegia, but with different tuning that lends more emphasis on the lower frequencies. The driver features a rear port. (Note that most drivers do not have this feature, but Focal drivers do.)
Unlike the Elegia, which had a fully sealed enclosure, the Celestee has a vented port on the outside of each ear cup to ventilate excess energy that can build up inside of closed-back headphones. This allows the driver to move faster, which leads to tighter, more controlled bass. The driver plate is angled toward the listener in an effort to emulate center imaging.
The Celestee is still in the category of closed-back headphones such as Elegia and Stellia even though it is ported. We will call it a semi-closed headphone. The Focal Utopia and Clear headphones are tuned to be used in an open configuration – what Focal calls a low acoustic impedance environment. As a bass reflex for the bigger loudspeaker system, the headphones have room for tuning the back vent with dimensions and damping/diffuser materials.
With a frequency response range of 5Hz-23kHz, Celestee goes beyond what humans can hear. Extending the frequency range helps to reduce distortion and noise. Speaking of distortion, the Celestee has a THD (total harmonic distortion) rating of 0.1% @ 1kHz/100dB SPL, which is what you want to see in a high-end headphone. It means that the headphone can only distort 0.1% of the input audio. Sensitivity rating is 105dB SPL/1mW @ 1 kHz. In other words, you'll need less power to drive these, meaning you don't have to turn the volume up as high. Impedance rating is 35 Ohms, pretty common for a headphone. This means that almost any music player, including your smartphone, can drive the Celestee.
Like its predecessor the Elegia, the Celestee has an impedance of 35 Ohms and sensitivity rating of 105dB, making it relatively easy to drive. However, we always suggest adding a digital audio player (DAP) or a digital to analog converter (DAC)/ headphone amplifier for optimal sound.
Sound Signature Impressions
Review setup: I paired the Celestee with the Roon-certified Element X by Matrix Audio music streamer/server/DAC/headphone amp -- a great all-in-one desktop solution that is incredibly quiet. I also traded the Celestee's stock cable for a Silver Dragon Premium headphone cable.
The Celestee's sound signature was an instant grab for me: natural and smooth with a touch of warmth. It's definitely warmer than the Elegia, but not as warm as the Radiance. It's got a great sound quality that drew me in right away. The bass is warm and punchy, with a smooth midrange and relaxed treble. The overall effect is lively and engaging, in a mellow kind of way.
Vocals, both male and female, are beautiful and smooth. Taylor Swift's voice on her indie album Evermore is simply stunning, with the Celestee lending a sense of intimacy and emotion to several of these more pared-down, acoustic tracks. Likewise, John Lennon's vocals on "Dig a Pony" were delightfully quirky and authentic.
Speaking of "Dig a Pony," I was really pleased with bass performance on the Celestee. It was rich and punchy but never muddled or bloated. This was true on several of my "go-to" bass tracks. I am by no means a bass head, meaning that I don't like boosted bass for the sake of it. But I do appreciate definition and texture in my bass.
Some of my more energetic test tracks definitely had a more laid-back sound on the Celestee. One example was "Cabron" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. However, what really grabbed me here was the gorgeous separation in the strings and upper frequencies that were robust without being piercing. On another of my test tracks, though, from Jethro Tull, I found the flute to be slightly anemic.
I was really pleased overall by the instrument separation with the Celestee. On a track like "Cocteau" by Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra, I enjoyed layers of crisp, defined sound. Really nice sense of depth and width here, too.
Indeed, soundstage was pretty darn good on the Celestee. I got amazing dimension -- especially front to back -- on "The Three Hunters" from the Two Towers soundtrack. Ditto for "Crossing" from Yosi Horikawa. A lot of the time, I actually prefer a more intimate than wide sound. I'm not necessarily hoping or expecting that my music on headphones will sound like it's coming from hither and yon. What I do appreciate, though, is when my music sounds like it's happening on many levels, rather than along a straight plane. The Celestee dazzled me in this regard. As for Horikawa -- a new discovery for me -- his stuff sounded absolutely amazing on the Celestee. On his track "Letter" -- an absolute delight for any ASMR fan, by the way -- I was delightfully overcome by the crisp but gentle cacophony of sound. I really felt the pen reverberate in my body, and the multidimensional sound was simply all around me.
A lot of the time, I actually prefer a more intimate than wide sound. What I do appreciate, though, is when my music sounds like it's happening on many levels. The Celestee dazzled me in this regard.
How Does the Focal Celestee Compare to the Focal Radiance?
So the Celestee and the Radiance both use re-tuned versions of the aluminum-magnesium driver from the Elegia. All in all, they are similar-sounding headphones.
They both have a natural-warm sound, but the Radiance's sound is a bit warmer and fuller. The Celestee uses the etched-out Focal symbol on the logo button of the cup with a mesh grill vent. The Radiance logo button is raised, thus using the circumference of the logo button as the vent opening. Vent openings can change the enclosure size the driver will see and thus tunes the sound slightly differently.
The Radiance is priced $300 higher, though, so what do you get with the Radiance that you don't get with the Celestee? Well, most obviously, you get the Bentley logo. You're paying for a product that was a collaborative effort between three companies. Also, the Radiance comes with three cables, whereas the Celestee comes with one -- a 4-ft OFC 24 AWG cable with asymmetrical 1/8" TRS jack connector. That definitely factors into the pricing.
The Celestee and the Radiance both feature striking copper accents, but the Radiance is black and the Celestee is navy blue. That doesn't affect pricing, but it's something to consider if you're deciding between the two.
Now, how does the Celestee compare to Focal's other closed-back headphones, the Stellia? First off, the Stellia utilizes Focal's beryllium driver, which lends an inherently more analytical/resolute sound than Focal's aluminum-magnesium driver.
The Stellia has been referred to as a closed-back version of the flagship Focal Utopia open-back headphone, which also uses a beryllium driver. If Utopia is the detail king of the Focal lineup, then the Stellia is the Queen. But while the Stellia is a detailed headphone, it's not bright or clinical. Instead, the Stellia has a very smooth sound. It has a wider dynamic range and frequency response than the Celestee, with treble extension to 40kHz. The Stellia also costs about $2,000 more than the Celestee. The Celestee is positioned at an entry-level price point, but it's still a phenomenal-sounding audiophile headphone.
Dragon Cable Recommendations
High-end headphones deserve great cables. (Heck, all headphones deserve great cables!) To maximize the sound of your Focals, you definitely want to think about a cable upgrade.
The headphones with Focal's aluminum-magnesium driver tend to have a warmer sound than Focal's beryllium driver headphones (namely, the Utopia and the Stellia). For the warmer sound signature, we recommend using a Silver Dragon Premium headpone cable.
The Silver Dragon uses 4 x 24.0AWG Teflon insulated stranded conductors using pure single crystallized UP-OCC pure silver with 7N purity 99.99998%. This cable beautifully complements a warmer-sounding headphone with a clean and clear sound. The Silver Dragon will enhance detail and clarity, resolution, and top-end sizzle. It will really open the music and expand the soundstage, and is good for finding "lost" mids and highs. The Silver Dragon is also great for instrument separation for listeners who enjoy sound distinction.
I adore the Celestee. It really was love at first sight -- and at first listen. Pleasantly natural and balanced with a kiss of warmth. For me, the Celestee is the whole package: great sound, eye-catching style, and super comfortable. I wore it for hours at a time on several occasions and had no complaints.
Some people really liked the Elegia, but many found it to be too flat. If you have ever listened to the Elegia and are wondering if the Celestee is for you, I'll say this: the Celestee is, in my opinion, a better-sounding headphone. You get:
- Punchy bass with impactful but not overbearing sub-bass
- Warm mids and engaging vocals
- Smooth highs
The Celestee is not as intensely detailed as Focal's flagship closed-back Stellia, but it's an amazing headphone option under $1,000, especially when paired with a Silver Dragon Premium headphone cable. You get a good amount of detail and distinction between frequencies and instruments. I really enjoyed the Celestee with a range of music, but I think it will especially appeal to listeners of classical, blues, rock and bass-centric music who are looking for a closed-back headphone.
What's in the Box
- Focal Celestee Headphones
- Rigid carrying case in navy blue and soft copper
- 1x 4 ft OFC 24 AWG cable with asymmetrical 1/8" TRS jack connector
- 1x Jack adapter, 1/8" female - 1/4" male
- User manual
- Brand content
Focal Celestee Headphone Review
Focal Celestee Headphone Unboxing
Open vs. Closed: Closed
Driver Type: Dynamic
Size: 1 ⅝ (40mm) Aluminium/Magnesium ‘M’-shaped dome
Frequency Response: 5Hz – 23kHz
Impedance: 35 Ohms
THD: 0,1 % @ 1 kHz / 100 dB SPL
Sensitivity: 105dB SPL / 1 mW @ 1 kHz
Stock Cable: 4ft (1.2m) OFC 24 AWG cable with ⅛" (3.5mm) unbalanced TRS Jack connector Jack adapter, ⅛" (3.5mm) point socket ¼" (6.35mm) point plug
Weight: 0.95lb (430g)
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