Focal Stellia Headphone Comparison
Drew Reviews the Stellia, Focal's foray into closed back reference headphones, and compares the sound signature with Utopia and Elegia.
0:08 A visit from Focal
0:50 Release of the Focal Elegia
1:15 Stellia v. Utopia
3:05 Stellia v. Elegia
3:30 Sound Signatures
4:01 Connection system
4:32 Design Features
5:11 Performance and Drivability
5:34 Dragon Cable Recommendation
6:07 Further Reading
When Focal came to visit us a few years ago to introduce us to the Elear and the Utopia they asked me one question. At the end of our meeting, they said after we've come out with these two benchmark products, what do you think would be next for us? I said it's been a long time since we've had a true reference caliber closed-back headphone design.
The last one that I can remember that was really state-of-the-art was the Sony MDR-R10. That was back in the '90s. There are some good closed back headphones out there - the Fostex TH- 900, the Sony MDR-Z1R - but there just really isn't a true reference-caliber closed back headphone out there.
I said if they could come out with a unique and really incredible closed back design they would rule the marketplace. Well, if we remember, I guess it's about six months ago they came out with the Elegia which was essentially a play off of the Clear headphone, that I was told by Focal. It would have the same dynamics, same resolution, same punchy bottom end. It's a very level, flat-sounding headphone from top to bottom, but it really didn't give me what I was hoping for in a Focal headphone with a closed back design.
Well, little did I know that they were still working on what I had asked for, and that's the Stellia. Is it a Utopia? No. Is it a closed back Utopia? Yes.
Stellia versus Utopia: Design
So let's talk about the design aspects of the two headphones. Both utilize a beryllium driver. There are some slight differences. It's the same W sandwich design, it's a little bit of a stiffer surround on the closed back design to deal with the forces going on in a closed back enclosure.
This is basically an infinite baffle design when we're talking about speaker design, in that it's open air on both sides. The grill here relieves the pressure from the back side of the driver, the grill here releases the pressure from the front side of the driver. There's no impedance on the driver from air on front to back. A little bit different on a closed back design. So there is a vent or a port. Where you see the flame design here there's a little grill. Essentially this relieves the back wave pressure of the driver.
This is a true closed-back design, there is a slight bit of leakage because of the port but it's very small and it's not the same way a port on a speaker is used. A port on a speaker will add to the bottom frequency range of a speaker, where in this case everything is handled on the inside of the cup. They've created a pyramid scheme on the inside to deal with reflections and refractions of the back wave of the drivers reflecting off the inside of the cups, and essentially what this has done to the sound in comparison to the Utopia, I would say, has a much deeper soundstage where in the Stellia the soundstage is a little higher front to back, top to bottom, but not as wide. Still sort of sound around your ear versus the deeper depth of the Utopia.
Stellia versus Utopia versus Elegia: Sound Signature
The sound signature of the two headphones is quite similar to my ears. Obviously, the difference in spatial parameters of the sound around your head is a little bit different, but I would say the top end and the bottom end are very close. In comparing the Stellia to the Elegia, the Elegia was a lot flatter sounding in my opinion. The Elegia on the top end and the bottom end are a little more v-shaped if you will. A little more exciting on the top end a little more bottom-end oomph over the Elegia.
I would have expected there be a lot more base from the Elegia, but honestly, I feel the bass of the Clear is a little bit stronger. I prefer the Clear over the Elegia, but I prefer the Stellia over the Clear. I would say the Clear, the Elegia, the Elear, and even the Massdrop Elex are a bit on the warmer side. Because of the beryllium driver, I find that both of these headphones are a little more forward sounding - I would not say bright, but they are a little more forward sounding. The Utopia may have a little more bass than the Stellia, but not by a longshot. But what this gives you is the ability to take your Utopia (aka Stellia = closed-back Utopia) on the go. It's a closed back Utopia. I still prefer the Utopia as my top of the line headphone, but I really enjoy the Stellia as an on-the-go headphone and I can see myself taking it a lot of places I wouldn't take the Utopia.
Connections & Materials
The Stellia connection system shares the same connectors that are used on the Elegia, the Clear, and the Elear, so if you have cables for those headphones they're going to be able to connect with Stellia. The Utopia connectors are one-off. Honestly, I'm a little bit disappointed. I would have like to have seen the Utopia connectors on the Stellia since it's supposed to be the top of the heap in the Utopia line.
Focal also didn't use the carbon fiber yolks. They're using the same style of yokes that are used on the Elegia, the Clear and Elear. The Stellia yokes have been anodized. The leather is one of the most supple leathers I've ever felt; almost as soft as the Ultrasone Edition Series. Some of the lambskin leather on those are the softest I've ever felt. I really enjoy the comfort of these headphones. You'll also notice on the cups this is a stainless steel grill that is encapsulated over the same leather material that's used on the band. Very sexy.
I know I've seen some folks online that either hate or love the looks. Obviously, it's a personal preference, I think this is one of the best-looking headphones in a long time. I love the Utopia, but black's a little too boring for me. I really, really enjoy the looks of the Stellia.
Performance: Easy to Drive
The Stellia is a little more efficient and easier to drive than the Utopia. Any of your devices can drive these headphones. I haven't had a whole lot of problems with audio devices driving the Utopias, but obviously, we're talking about driving them to peak performance. The Stellia is a lot easier to drive to peak performance and using it with your phone or Chord Mojo, or an Astell&Kern digital audio player - not a problem. Very easy to drive.
Dragon Cable Recommendations
So let's talk about Dragon Audio cables and what I recommend. Because the Stellia has a beryllium driver, I want a tad smoother sound on the top end and I still want to add a fuller bottom end weight to the headphone. I want more bass, so adding the Black Dragon V2 or Black Dragon Premium, just like the Utopia, are my recommendations whereas on the Elear, the Clear, and the Elegia I'll always recommend the Silver Dragon because of their warmth. It adds more detail, more clarity, and more top-end.
Hopefully, you enjoyed this quick video on the new Stellia headphones. I've gone into a lot more depth and detail about the new Stellia headphone and how much I really like it in our blog.