The Last Focal Elegia Headphone Review

By Craig M. Woolard

 


Which Closed Back Headphone is Best?

In 2016, Focal took the audiophile world by storm when it released its flagship headphone model, the Utopia. Since then, the roster of audiophile headphones Focal offers to our community has grown. Fast forward to 2018, the Elegia enters the high-end wired closed back headphone market as Focal’s most affordable true audiophile headphone. At $899, the Elegia is priced rightfully in the middle between the Stellia ($2999) and the Listen ($249). Recently, Focal's Elegia closed back headphone even won an Expert Imaging and Sound Association (EISA) headphone award for the "Best Product" of 2019-2020.

For me, the most exciting selling point is how much the Elegia shares in common with Focal’s top of the line open-back designs, including the critically acclaimed Utopia. Essentially, this means the Elegia shares not only the design aesthetic, but it also inherits much of the same research and development that went into Focal’s most expensive premium audiophile headphones. For an audiophile closed headphone priced reasonably in the mid-range category, the Elegia is a bargain.

For music lovers wanting to get more acquainted with true high-performance headphones, the Elegia represents a tremendous value for the money. And for audiophiles in the community awaiting (with great expectations) the arrival of the next great reference headphone, the Elegia has potential. But how well does it integrate into the seasoned audiophile’s lifestyle, and how does it stack up compared to some of its competition?

 

 

Focal Elegia compared to Focal Stellia, Sony MDR-Z1R and Audeze LCD2CFocal Elegia compared to Focal Stellia, Sony MDR-Z1R and Audeze LCD2C

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Build Quality


In terms of fit, the Elegia reminded me of the Focal Stellia. While the Elegia is a relatively medium-weight design, it feels light on my head and comfortable around my ears. At the end of several hours of wearing the Elegia, the level of comfort was as satisfying at the end of the session as it was at the beginning. After 3 hours of listening, I never experienced any build-up of perspiration or “clamminess” around the ears. For me, this means the Elegia can absolutely help me sustain my longer listening sessions, comfortably.

The Elegia’s build quality also feels exceptionally well crafted. It’s sturdy and solid in the hands. Weighing in at approximately 0.95 lbs (430 g), the Elegia is not the lightest over-ear closed-back headphone on the market. It’s also not the heaviest. But compare the Elegia to the Sony MDR-Z1R, and the Elegia is noticeably sturdier in the hands and heavier on the head. But, for me, the Elegia’s slight extra weight translates into what feels like a higher build quality compared to a lighter headphone design like the Sony.

 

Comfort


 

 

Despite the Elegia’s medium-weight design, I didn’t experience any of the usual discomforts I sometimes experience with other headphones of similar weight. Compare this to the much heavier Fostex TH900 MK2 or for extended listening sessions, and the Elegia is like a breath of fresh air. For me, the Elegia is more like a high-performance race car designed to perform at high levels for long distances compared to heavier closed back designs like the Audeze LCD-2C or the Fostex TH900 MK2.

Even during extended listening sessions, I experienced neither neck strain, nor pressure point pains around my ears or cranial areas supported by the Elegia’s leather and perforated microfiber headband. I attributed this level of comfort to the Elegia’s solid but flexible aluminum yoke, which Focal designed to conform and yield to the unique shapes of its users’ heads.

 

Portability


 

 

When comparing the Elegia to the Audeze LCD-2C or even the Fostex TH900 MK2, you might even consider the Focal Elegia to be a more portable reference headphone that users can actually travel with. While the Elegia doesn’t offer a foldable design that would optimize it for travel, the Elegia does come with the same thermo-formed rigid carrying case that’s bundled with the Focal Stellia and Elear. With the Elegia, the included carrying case matches the Elegia’s soft charcoal gray color theme and offers some basic protection. I wouldn’t rely on the included carrying case for anything exceeding just casual travel.

Focal Elegia convenient travel case with included audio cables.Focal Elegia convenient travel case with included audio cables.

Materials Used


Compared to a lighter headphone like the Sony MDR-Z1R, the Elegia’s mostly aluminum construction does have a more durable build quality that feels able to withstand certain types of limited abuse. Given its price-point, and aluminum band construction, I would still handle the Elegia with extreme care and use the included carrying case wherever possible for traveling. The Focal Elegia is not a cheap consumer headphone designed for teenagers to carelessly toss into a backpack between classes. As I’ll detail in a moment, the Elegia is designed for next-level critical listening. Having said that, the Elegia is able to negotiate different ergonomic scenarios quite comfortably without sacrificing superior sound.

For me, the Elegia’s slightly heavier medium-weight is a direct reflection of Focal’s exceptional craftsmanship and attention to detail. I can easily look past the Elegia’s slightly heavier weight for the added first-rate quality that obviously went into the development of this headphone.

Additionally, the Elegia’s 20mm memory foam ear cushions are covered by a perforated microfiber fabric that provides a snug fit around the ears and creates an excellent seal. The Elegia’s comfort and seal instantly reminded me of the Stellia’s sealing condition. While the Stellia’s ear cushions are covered with luxurious full-grain leather, helping the ears stay cooler, the Elegia’s ear cushions provide the identical sealing condition; just not quite as luxuriously.

Focal Elegia Ear CushionFocal Elegia Ear Cushion

Observations and Comparisons


Even though the Sony MDR-Z1R is the lightest headphone in my A/B comparisons, the Elegia actually wins over the Sony MDR-Z1R in terms of comfort and ear cushion sealing condition. I think this says a lot about the Elegia’s level of comfort. Having said that, even though my experience with the Elegia’s comfort and sealing condition was satisfactory, if I had to choose one as the most comfortable for use at home, I preferred the comfort provided by the ear cushions and sealing condition of the Audeze LCD-2C, the Fostex TH900 MK2, the Sennheiser HD820, and the Focal Stellia (in that order) over the Elegia.

Again, that’s not to say the Elegia isn’t comfortable. On the contrary, the Elegia is really comfortable! For reference, I actually found Focal’s ear cushions in both the Elegia and the Stellia to be more snug and comfortable fitting than the Sony MDR-Z1R. However, since the bar is set so high when comparing it to the competition, it was simply not the most comfortable of the bunch. Nevertheless, for this price point, the Elegia’s ear cushions provide a soft comfortable sealing condition that effectively locks in sound and provides an incredibly immersive experience for the user.

 

The Focal Design


Focal Elegia side profileFocal Elegia side profile

"While the materials used in the drivers for each do differ, Focal designed both headphones to have the same 35 ohms impedance, so almost any music player, including smartphones, can conveniently drive both the Elegia and the Stellia."

 

 

Like many of the headphones in Focal’s expanding roster of audiophile headphones, the Elegia’s enclosures have a similar design philosophy as the Stellia’s. Like the Focal Stellia, the Elegia’s enclosures are identical in shape and size, featuring a design that angles the driver to better direct sound into the user’s ears. The drivers in the Elegia are placed at an angle sympathetic to the geometry of a user’s ears to widen the soundstage and to simulate a more loudspeaker-sounding experience, while also maintaining “depth” in the stereo image.

For comparison, the way Focal angles the drivers to direct sound toward the user’s ears is similar to the designs found in the Sennheiser HD 820 and the Sony MDR-Z1R. However, this angled driver design is absent and differs substantially in the Fostex TH900 MK 2 and the Audeze LCD-2C. For the Fostex TH900 MK 2 and the Audeze LCD-2C, the ear cushions around the user’s head, themselves, are used to slightly angle the driver’s directional output instead. Angling the cushions helps siphon the sound waves produced by the driver and into the ear canal, though the actual driver, itself, is not angled inside of the ear cups for these headphones. This is how headphones like the Fostex TH900 MK 2 and the Audeze LCD-2C differ the most from Focal’s approach to presenting a soundstage to a listener.

According to Focal, the reason for angling the drivers inside the ear cup is for optimizing the space between the speakers and the wearer’s ears. The main idea behind the angled design implemented in both the Elegia and the Stellia is simply to improve the dynamic range of the overall sense of presentation and the tonal balance over a fuller frequency spectrum. Both the Stellia and Elegia share this feature in common.

The materials implemented into each design’s driver are where the Stellia and the Elegia diverge the most. For the Elegia, Focal implemented an m-shape aluminum/magnesium dome full-range dynamic speaker driver that has an impedance of 35 ohms whereas the engineers opted for a pure beryllium dynamic driver in the Stellia. While the materials used in the drivers for each do differ, Focal designed both headphones to have the same 35 ohms impedance, so almost any music player, including smartphones, can conveniently drive both the Elegia and the Stellia. 

Compression


Focal ElegiaFocal Elegia

Consequently, acoustical engineers find different ways to deal with the pressure of the energy created from standing back waves when they are exerted backward (away from the listener’s ears) and reflected back to the driver cone again. When these “standing back waves” return back to the driver cone, they can disrupt a closed-back headphone’s sense of presentation, so they have to be diffused properly, in order to dampen and vent out the reverberating waves occurring inside of the enclosure.

It should be noted that drivers exert sound waves backward (away from the listener’s ears) just as much as drivers exert that same energy forward (to the listener’s ear). Unlike in an open-back design, which naturally vents out sound waves from reverberating back into the ear cup, a closed back headphone can potentially trap the energy being produced by the driver inside of the ear cup’s enclosed vacuum.

When this phenomenon occurs, we call this undesirable effect “compression,” and Focal deals with the phenomenon the same way in both the Elegia and the Stellia. To deal with compression, Focal incorporates a triangular designed dampening system that breaks up the standing waves and distributes the energy evenly throughout the enclosure via the driver’s rear venting port.

In both the Elegia and the Stellia, an additional venting port is viewable on the outside of each ear cup to ventilate the excess energy. The outer port ventilates the excess energy being exerted by the driver’s momentum and prevents any back waves from reflecting back to the driver cone. Thus, this dampening system prevents an additional unwanted sound signal (compression) from dominating the soundstage. For Focal’s sound signature, this results in a more controlled bass response and minimizes leakage due to the small size of the venting ports. 

Focal Elegia triangular designed dampening systemFocal Elegia triangular designed dampening system

Closed back Headphone Leakage Test


Focal Elegia Side ProfileFocal Elegia Side Profile

 

 

What's headphone leakage? Headphone leakage is the undesirable effect that occurs when an over-ear or circumaural headphone’s sealing condition loosens around the ears and allows enough space for sound waves to escape outside of the headphone. When the sealing condition around the ear is broken, the sound waves being produced by the headphone’s driver escapes, and these escaping sound waves result in a headphone’s soundstage becoming compromised.

In terms of leakage, on the other hand, both the Elegia and the Stellia performed the worst at preventing leakage in this A/B comparison. In our testing, we compared the audible leakage heard from 1 ft and 5 ft away while driving all the headphone drivers in our list with an iPhone 6 Plus playing heavy rock music at 50%, 75% and then 100% maximum volumes, consecutively. The Sennheiser HD 820 and Fostex TH900 MK2 are omitted from this portion of the A/B comparison since these headphones were not available at the time of conducting this test.

 


View the results of our headphone leakage tests now.


 

Since the sealing condition was nothing short of excellent in both Focal headphones, my guess is that the increased leakage from the Elegia and the Stellia was probably caused less by the cushion’s sealing condition, but actually more so by the venting port design that Focal uses in both headphones to deal with the issue of compression.

The venting ports in both the Elegia and the Stellia allow Focal to present an immersive soundstage to the end-user, but the trade-off here for this incredible stereo image may be that both will cause slightly more leakage to escape through the venting port. Even though nearly all closed back headphones present some degree of leakage at maximum volume, for the Elegia and the Stellia, the trade-off here means that both will be slightly more limited in terms of the ergonomic scenarios they might be able to fit into.

For example, using the Elegia and the Stellia in quieter environments such as a library at maximum volume will present more leakage to people sitting nearby compared to any of the headphones in this comparison. However, listening to music at less than 75% will present leakage that’s in the audible to barely audible range depending on the volume level and how close someone is to you. This is still much better ergonomically than an open-back headphone. If you don’t need to listen to music at maximum volume in quieter public spaces where others could be potentially disturbed, then the Elegia has many other advantages to be considered.

Focal ElegiaFocal Elegia

It should be noted the Elegia and Stellia’s increased leakage from the venting port compared to other closed-back headphones in this comparison is not a design flaw as this is an integral part of Focal’s intended design for dealing with the problem of compression, and for setting a superb soundstage. Since this is important for audiophile product shoppers, however, it is noted to help you decide whether or not the Elegia closed headphone fits into your ergonomic scenario.

 

Focal ElegiaFocal Elegia

"It should be noted the Elegia and Stellia’s increased leakage from the venting port compared to other closed-back headphones in this comparison is not a design flaw as this is an integral part of Focal’s intended design for dealing with the problem of compression, and for setting a superb soundstage. Since this is important for audiophile product shoppers, however, it is noted to help you decide whether or not the Elegia closed headphone fits into your ergonomic scenario."


 

All this seems impressive on paper, but since all closed-back headphones essentially deal with the issue of compression differently, how does the Elegia actually perform at presenting the soundstage in an A/B comparison to some of it’s biggest competitors?

 

Continue reading to find out more, or go directly to the A/B sound signature comparisons now.

 


Associated Equipment


Reference Tracks


  • Electronic: “Strobe” - Deadmau5
  • Natural: “Giant Steps” - John Coltrane
  • Bass forward: “Jam” - Michael Jackson
  • Vocal forward: “My Mistake” - Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross

 


Focal Elegia

Focal Elegia with Silver Dragon headphone cableFocal Elegia with Silver Dragon headphone cable

 

 

 

 

  • Price: $899.00
  • Driver: Aluminum/magnesium Dynamic driver
  • Frequency Response: 5Hz - 23kHz
  • Cable: Silver Dragon

Focal Stellia

Focal Stellia with Black Dragon headphone cableFocal Stellia with Black Dragon headphone cable

 

 

 


Audeze LCD2C

Audeze-LCD2C-with-Silver-Dragon-headphone-cableAudeze-LCD2C-with-Silver-Dragon-headphone-cable

 

 

 


Sony MDR-Z1R

Sony MDR-Z1R with Black Dragon headphone cableSony MDR-Z1R with Black Dragon headphone cable

 

 

 


 

Part 1: Focal Elegia's Sound Signature

 

 

According to Focal, the Elegia’s have a 105 dB and 35-Ohm impedance, which means the Elegia can be driven conveniently by a smartphone without having to rely on an external amplifier to boost an audio signal’s amplitude. My iPhone 6 Plus, for example, was able to drive the Elegia’s to a comfortable volume level of about 75% maximum output. 

The Elegia really came alive, however, when tethered to a Bricasti Design M3 DAC through a custom Silver Dragon headphone cable. Since the Elegia tends to favor the bottom-end in terms of the resolution it presents, adding a Silver Dragon lifts the Elegia’s veil beyond just the bottom-end. This exposed more of the music’s characterful detail hiding in the mid to high end of the headphone’s frequency response.

 

When listening, I was especially impressed by the enhancement to the Elegia’s highly controlled and resolute bass response. The bottom end was incredibly detailed and clear. Transients in the kick drums and bass-lines were especially rich with tonal characteristics and harmonic overtones I’ve never experienced before. I find these overtones difficult to bring forward in other headphones. But, combined with a Silver Dragon, the Elegia manages to bring forth the bottom end's tonal features with enhanced clarity, effortlessly. 

 

For example, in John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” the Elegia presented the resolution of the Sax playing very much “in your face.” The entire presentation is “cerebral,” and it may actually be the less musical headphone in this case. However, there’s just so much glorious detail brought forward that my left brain can’t help but indulge. My ears are spoiled in all the details served to me on a silver platter of both “good” and “bad;" it does not matter, my ears insatiably enjoy all of it. 

If you want to really hone in and focus in on the particular playing style or the ability of an artist’s performance like Coltrane with microscopic insight into the production tools used in the recording process, then look no further. The Elegia combined with a Silver Dragon will get you there, and bring all of those details to you. 

Focal Elegia closed back headphonesFocal Elegia closed back headphones

I can hear more of the “hiss” tempered onto the analog tape that was used during the recording of Coltrane’s performance. The hi-hats are presented more forward in the mix too. The bass impact is more resolute and forward as well. I can really appreciate the bold honesty that the Elegia headphones present to my ears. There isn’t much that can hide from the Focal Elegia combined with a Silver Dragon, and I’m liking all of it.

 

Focal Elegia with Silver Dragon headphone cableFocal Elegia with Silver Dragon headphone cable

 

Elegia Soundstage


The Elegia’s soundstage is so forward and focused in the “center” of the forehead that the best way to describe the sound signature is “cerebral.” For me, this created incredibly thought-provoking, immersive and deeply introspective listening sessions. In comparison, the Elegia is not quite as good at isolation as the large, fat cushions the Audeze LCD-2C provides, but the Elegia is impressive, nonetheless.  

As you might expect, isolation was noticeably much better than an open-back headphone. Compared to an open-back design like the HIFIMAN HE-1000 V2 headphone, the Elegia was excellent at locking in the music and keeping outside noise from encroaching on the listening session. In fact, the Elegia’s ear cushions were so good at isolation that I barely noticed background chatter in the office with the volume cranked to comfortable levels. 

Focal Elegia with Silver Dragon headphone cableFocal Elegia with Silver Dragon headphone cable

 

 

Interestingly, the bottom-end resolution is what stands out the most. The bass is extremely tight and resolute in every song I listened too. With the Elegia, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to more funkier and complex music where I could hone in on all the instruments, clearly. Songs that I enjoyed the most while listening to the Elegia were “Working Day and Night” and “Dirty Diana” by Michael Jackson.

The bass response is so clear in the Elegia that it’s tempting to call it a “reference headphone,” or even a more affordable alternative to the Fostex TH900 MK 2. If overtones and “colors” imparted from the artist’s creative use of compressors, transistors, boutique tube amplifiers, the sound of tape smear and other production trade-secrets is your end-game, then the Elegia combined with a custom Silver Dragon headphone cable is truly a winning combination: a sound engineer’s dream team. 

Like everything in life, this brings some pros and cons to be considered as well. Higher frequencies were a little too resonant for my tastes, causing me some slight ear fatigue during certain songs. At times, I found that I needed to reach for the volume control to save my ears from the harsher frequencies. For example, listening to the hard-hitting EDM snare on “Strobe” by Deadmau5, I really needed to dial back the volume to save my ears from the snare’s overstimulating frequency.

Even though I experienced some issues with harsher frequencies in the top-end at louder volumes, the Elegia does a really nice job of fitting in comfortably with almost all music genres especially Jazz, Classical and EDM. I personally think this is a winning combination for anyone interested in a reference headphone where details are presented up-close and in your face.

 

The Elegia will allow you to hear tonalities you wouldn’t normally be able to experience with other headphones. This may be a good thing for many listeners, but I can see how some might not appreciate the extra detail; especially when it can become slightly “harsh” in the top end. For these listeners, I would recommend pairing the Elegia with a Black Dragon headphone cable instead. The Black Dragon dialed back the resolution of the top-end sizzle a bit, while smoothing out the transients in the top-end as well. This really helped warm up those “harsher” frequencies for my own listening sessions.

Focal Elegia with Black Dragon headphone cableFocal Elegia with Black Dragon headphone cable

Part 2: Sound Signature Comparisons between Closed Back Headphones


In Part 1 of this review series, we focused our attention on the excellent Focal Elegia soundstage and its unique sound signature. But how does the Focal Elegia really sound compared to similar closed back headphones in this price range? For Part 2, we'll complete this review by comparing the Focal Elegia's sound signature to the Focal Stellia, Sony MDR-Z1R and Audeze LCD-2C .

 

Focal Elegia Compared to the Focal Stellia


The soundstage was slightly more compressed than even the Focal Stellia’s. For example, A/B comparing the Elegia’s with the Stellia is like a breath of fresh air after listening through the Elegia’s for an extended session. Again, this is because the Elegia is so good at presenting a more neutral frequency response as a great reference headphone should. The precision of the stereo image in the Elegia was noticeably less extensive in both height and width compared to the Stellia’s, the Audeze LCD2C, and the Sony MDR-Z14. 

 

Focal Stellia with Black Dragon headphone cableFocal Stellia with Black Dragon headphone cable
Focal Stellia with Black Dragon headphone cable

 

For example, Coltrane on the Stellia’s is less in your face and less detailed, but maintains a sharp resolution by not bringing forth so much detail forward. The taller presentation is simply presented smoother and more musically to my ears than the more analytical Elegia. Bass is smooth (not as tight) and clearly presented. The Stellia’s higher frequencies are much less resonant, and the snare lands very satisfyingly within the Stellia’s overall sense of presentation. 

However, the Elegia’s imaging precision is incredibly resolute, and the soundstage is large enough to allow all of the instruments to sit naturally in what is ultimately a forwardly focused and centered presentation. The Elegia presents entire rhythm sections as incredibly “snappy” and “funky.” The space between instruments is also presented with equal clarity and detail, allowing the instruments to “breathe” naturally in the mix with neutral treatment. 

With the Elegia’s, there is just so much rich detail presented for the listener, that it wouldn’t be correct to say the soundstage is more compressed sounding. This would imply a “muddier” and more “boxed-in” sound signature. But, this is not the case whatsoever for the Elegia. The Stellia, however, can reveal how much height is being missed when comparing the Stellia to the Elegia’s. For this reason, the Elegia’s soundstage is less expansive than the Stellia, but the Elegia’s imaging precision makes it the most incredible headphone for listening sessions where up-close attention to the finer details is the listener’s prerogative. I really cannot stress enough how good the Elegia is at performing this task. Connecting a Silver Dragon custom headphone cable to the Elegia helped compensate for this, and opened up the Elegia’s more narrow sense of presentation to breathe better. This added more perceived “height” to the overall soundstage for me.

However, the trade-off here is that with so much detail presented, the music can become too analytical over extended listening sessions. For example, a lot of the harmonic character of Coltrain’s signature saxophone-style was presented slightly drier in the Elegia’s overall harmonic balance. For the Elegia, the dryness presented was noticeably resolved when I switched from a custom Silver Dragon headphone cable to a Black Dragon instead. This smoothed out the intensity from the Elegia’s crisp resolution and warmed up the bottom-end as well. 

Overall the Stellia has the more musical sound signature of the two, and the Elegia is the more analytical headphone. For example, even though the Elegia presents bottom-end harmonic overtones beautifully, rich in detail, I noticed less character in the mid to high range of the Elegia’s frequency response. Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross’s vocals in “My Mistake (Was To Love You)” were presented up close and forward, but some of that intimacy I heard in the Stellia’s seemed somehow lost at the same time through the Elegia. 

For certain recordings, the Elegia was a little too analytical for my tastes compared to the Stellia’s warmth. Like anything, here I discovered another trade-off. Where the Elegia is shockingly fantastic at presenting low-end “character,” it didn’t perform as well at presenting the same degree of character that it achieves in the bottom-end as it does in the mid-to-upper range. I noticed vocals and other instruments in the mid-to-upper frequency range falling a little bit flatter compared to the rich detail presented in the lower end of the Elegia’s harmonic balance. 

Similarly, John Coltrane’s saxophone in “Giant Steps” was incredibly up close, personal, detailed, and resolute. However, it was too analytical, somehow lacking “musical character” to my ear. I was able to dial in more warmth in the Elegia’s more analytical sound signature by using a Black Dragon custom headphone cable instead, however. This helped enhance the character of the mid-to-upper range by warming up the content in this frequency range.

During a song like “Strobe” by Deadmau5, the kick drum is less resolute in the Stellia, but I can feel the “thump” of the kick drum pulsating deeper into my chest. I immediately notice that this is a much more musically pleasing presentation compared to the Elegia. This headphone also has a “taller” sense of presentation that has broadened my awareness of the musical context in each song I listen to. Combine this headphone with the black dragon cable, and the Stellia has achieved a taller sense of presentation that somehow manages to not bring out too many harsher frequencies. The result is a much warmer top end that helps snares, high-hats, and vocals sit comfortably in the mix and within the presentation overall. Snares and other higher frequency content was balanced and more pleasant overall. Turning up the volume translated into a bigger bass impact that I can feel and smooth top-end sizzle that didn’t fatigue my ears.

Listening to “Strobe” on the Stellia was a surreal experience. I felt immersed, totally, in the presentation that this headphone provides. I didn’t want to stop the track at all. For EDM tracks that have a lot of ambiances incorporated into the production, the Black Dragon Premium headphone cable paired with the Focal Stellia is a winning combination if total musical immersion is your game.

Focal Stellia with Black Dragon headphone cableFocal Stellia with Black Dragon headphone cable
Focal Stellia with Black Dragon headphone cable

 

Focal Elegia Compared to Sony MDR-Z1R


Sony MDR-Z1R with Black Dragon headphone cableSony MDR-Z1R with Black Dragon headphone cable
Sony MDR-Z1R

The Elegia’s bottom-end doesn’t get the same low-end bell curve bump in the frequency spectrum like the Sony MDR-Z1R. The presentation of the bass is totally different in the Elegia. Unlike the Sony MDR-Z1R, which to my ears made the bottom-end sound a little more boxed in and “muddy” with exaggerated impact, the bass response of the Elegia is more extensive in range, more resolute, and highly detailed. I savored the bottom end detail in the Elegia’s compared to the Sony MDR-Z1R. For this reason, I preferred the way the low end is presented in the Elegia’s frequency response over the Sony MDR-Z1R. 

For example, John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” on the Sony MDR-Z1R  presented a larger bass impact, but the weightier bottom-end is noticeably less resolute. Instead, the bottom end is a little muddier than the tight resolution in the bottom-end weight that is present in the Elegia’s. Compared to the Elegia, I personally do not prefer the way the bass is presented in the Sony MDR-Z1R on a natural song like “Giant Steps.” On the other hand, the Sony MDR-Z1R presents more room ambiance. I can hear the signature of the room’s reverberation reflecting against the saxophone performance in greater detail. For me, this indicates more depth is present in the Sony MDR-Z1R’s soundstage compared to the Elegia. 

“Strobe” by Deadmau5 revealed noteworthy differences between the Elegia and the Sony MDR-Z1R. Again, I can definitely hear the Sony MDR-Z1R’s bell-curve frequency response when listening to an EDM banger like “Strobe.” It’s fun to listen to. But as more of an analytical listener, myself, it’s not really my preference. The overall bass impact in the soundstage is larger, and the top-end is exciting. However, like the Elegia, the higher frequencies are pronounced and a little bit too much top end sizzle for my ears. 

Even with a Black Dragon cable to help warm up the frequency response, the top-end is still a little too resonate for my ears. The bass impact is not as tight and resolute as the Elegia’s either, but the bass impact is presented larger. The sense of presentation I have with the Sony MDR-Z1R is that I hear more bass in the Sony MDR-Z1R’s frequency response, but I don’t feel it like I did with the Stellia’s. The larger bass impact does not have the “tightness” in the bottom end that the Elegia’s have either. However, the largeness of the bass presentation is exciting and makes me want to turn up the volume. However, when I turn up the volume, I get a little more than I bargained for. Similar to the Elegia’s, the higher frequencies where the snare also sits in the mix are presented with too much resonate detail for my ears. It’s just too much top end sizzle, and I have to dial back the volume overall. Consequently, that larger bass impact that was so exciting initially is also dialed back, and some of the original excitement is also lost every time I need to renegotiate the volume level. 

 

Unlike the Elegia’s, the Sony MDR-Z1R’s mid-range is rolled back, noticeably. For example, In a vocal forward song like “My Mistake (Was To Love You)” by Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross, the two vocalists were not presented as forwardly in the Sony MDR-Z1R’s soundstage as the Elegia’s. The Elegia has a “wall of sound” signature that completely immerses the listener within a sense of presentation that’s more centrally oriented. The Sony MDR-Z1R, on the other hand, is immersive in a totally different way. For example, a song like “Jam” by Michael Jackson has an incredibly cinematic “three-dimensional” presentation that the Elegia’s (nor the other headphones) simply do not present.

Overall, due to Sony MDR-Z1R’s recessed mid-range, the Sony MDR-Z1R can present a more exciting and cinematic presentation compared to the Elegia’s. The cinematic presentation is more three dimensional for certain songs. However, even though the Elegia can be less exciting to listen to compared to the Sony MDR-Z1R in this way, I realize how much I actually prefer the Elegia’s flatter frequency response and more neutral sounding signature. The Elegia’s are more honest than the Sony MDR-Z1R, and for more analytical listeners, like myself, the detail they present is the excitement. 

Because of the bell-curve frequency response, The Sony MDR-Z1R is an awesome choice for rock, pop, hip-hop enthusiasts, dub-step bass heads, and maybe even funk fanatics. The bell-curve lends itself quite musically to any genre of music that has that danceable feel with a heavier bottom-end that fills in for a more recessed mid-range. Having said this, I would pick the Focal Elegia over the Sony MDR-Z1R.

 

Focal Elegia compared to Audeze LCD2C


Coltrane on the Audeze LCD2C is brilliant. Again, this headphone is just very open and airy. Compared to the more centered and cerebral Elegia’s, listening to Coltrane on the Audeze LCD2C is like opening the backdoor on a breezy summer evening and just letting the fresh air in. The music just breathes when comparing it to a more analytical headphone like the Elegia’s. 

Interestingly, the Audeze LCD2C and Elegia have very similar sound signatures by being exceptional at presenting details. They just present these details very differently. The Elegia is similar to the Audeze LCD2C in that the sound signature can be more on the analytical side, but the sense of presentation is much wider and less centered in the forehead. Details are resolute with a little less resonance due to a slightly taller and wider presentation that spreads the stereo image out more than the Elegia’s. Where they really differ is in how forward the detail is presented to the listener. The detail is just incredibly resolute and in your face when listening through the Elegia’s, whereas the Audeze LCD2C has a more open soundstage than the Elegia to my ears.

For example, listening to “Strobe” revealed the differences in sense of presentation the most. The tonal character of the kick drum is similar, making my head instantly want to bob up and down to the pulsating rhythm when A/B testing the Elegia and the Audeze LCD2C together.  However, the presentation of detail being so forward and “in your face,” rather than more spread out in the stereo field made me prefer the Elegia’s soundstage over the Audeze LCD2C.


 

Closed Back Headphone Leakage A/B Test Results

Ratings: Inaudible, Barely Audible, Audible, Annoyingly Audible

 Volume: 50%, Distance: 1 ftRating = Barely Audible
 Volume: 50%, Distance: 5 ft, Rating = Inaudible
 Volume: 75%, Distance: 1 ftRating = Audible
 Volume: 75%, Distance: 5 ft, Rating = Audible
 Volume: 100%, Distance: 1 ftRating = Annoyingly Audible
 Volume: 100%, Distance: 5 ft, Rating = Annoyingly Audible
 Volume: 50%, Distance: 1 ftRating = Barely Audible
 Volume: 50%, Distance: 5 ft, Rating = Inaudible
 Volume: 75%, Distance: 1 ftRating = Annoyingly Audible
 Volume: 75%, Distance: 5 ft, Rating = Audible
 Volume: 100%, Distance: 1 ftRating = Annoyingly Audible
 Volume: 100%, Distance: 5 ft, Rating = Annoyingly Audible
 Volume: 50%, Distance: 1 ftRating = Barely Audible
 Volume: 50%, Distance: 5 ft, Rating = Inaudible
 Volume: 75%, Distance: 1 ftRating = Audible
 Volume: 75%, Distance: 5 ft, Rating = Audible
 Volume: 100%, Distance: 1 ftRating = Annoyingly Audible
 Volume: 100%, Distance: 5 ft, Rating = Annoyingly Audible
 Volume: 50%, Distance: 1 ftRating = Barely Audible
 Volume: 50%, Distance: 5 ft, Rating = Inaudible
 Volume: 75%, Distance: 1 ftRating = Audible
 Volume: 75%, Distance: 5 ft, Rating = Inaudible
 Volume: 100%, Distance: 1 ftRating = Annoyingly Audible
 Volume: 100%, Distance: 5 ft, Rating = Annoyingly Audible

 

 

Final Thoughts: Which Closed Back Headphone Should You Buy?


 

Overall, the Elegia lives up to the Focal name and delivers tremendous value to the user. So what’s the final verdict? For the analytical audiophiles in the community, the Focal Elegia is a very interesting reference headphone. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know it. Will it replace the Fostex TH900 MK2 as the next great reference headphone of legendary status? Probably not, but it does offer something unique that I believe stands out compared to its competition. For any audiophile who listens analytically, you really should check out the Focal Elegia, and experience it for yourself.  

For the music lover who wants to get more acquainted with true high-end headphones, the Elegia represents huge value for the money in terms of both performance and ergonomics. It suits a wide variety of music genres from Bluegrass, Classical, Electronic, Folk, Funk, Jazz, Pop, Rock, (you name it) and more. It also fits in with many ergonomic situations from on-the-go listening to at-home bliss. 

Out of all the headphones I compared with the Elegia to write this review, the Focal Elegia paired with a Silver Dragon headphone cable is almost my favorite combination. For me, the Focal Stellia paired with a Black Dragon headphone cable is my absolute favorite combo. However, the Focal Elegia came extremely close to the Stellia’s performance. What sets the two apart the most for me comes down to the way I prefer to listen to music. Ultimately, the Stellia and the Black Dragon combination helps me get lost in the music the best. If “getting lost in the music” is your end-game, then buy the Focal Stellia and a Black Dragon Premium headphone cable, and never look back. 

 

 

 

 

When I need to listen more analytically, however, the Focal Elegia combined with a Silver Dragon headphone cable is my new go-to secret weapon to get the job done. For this, the two are fantastic together. If you're serious about critical listening sessions with your music, then add the Focal Elegia and a Silver Dragon headphone cable to your collection, and never let a single detail fly past your musical radar again. After all, when your favorite artist records an album, they never let a single detail escape their ears; why would you?

Focal Elegia with Silver Dragon headphone cable