Upgraded components and a new magnesium driver offer impressive sonics
Review by Paul Vnuk Jr.
Focal is well known for its broad selection of on-ear headphones. Yet, it was only a few years ago that Focal re-entered the world of professional studio headphones, with the affordable Listen Professional ($299; reviewed October 2018), and the high-end Clear Professional models ($1499; reviewed August 2018). The Clear Mg Professional is the latest entry in the Focal headphone universe. When reviewing the original Clear Professional, Mike Metlay called it a “humbling and joyous” experience. As such, I was quite curious to get my humble hands and ears on the new Mg version.
Red, black and open-back
The Clear Professional red and black color scheme remains, as does the thin aluminum yoke and armature, the thick red perforated microfiber-and-leather headband, and the matching 3/4“-thick microfiber-and-memory foam ear cups. The Clear Mg Professional is an open back, circumaural (around the ear) design. It comes in a hard-fabric zipper case with two cables: a 16.5′, thick, coiled, fixed 1/4” cable, and a straight 3.9′ cable with a 1/8” jack and screw-on 1/4” adaptor. A pair of replacement foam ear cups is also included.
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‘Mg’ refers to the material used in the 40mm magnesium diaphragm. The previous diaphragm contained magnesium, but was primarily (90%) aluminum. Typically, magnesium needs to be bonded with another metal in an alloy. After years of development, the Focal designers figured out how to use a special coating on the membranes to make it work on its own. Magnesium is nearly as rigid and lighter overall than both aluminum and the Focal favorite, beryllium. The result is increased dynamic response and clarity without affecting the general tonal balance.
The driver diaphragm cross-section is ‘m’-shaped, rather than the typical ‘c’-shaped dome. This design is also found in the tweeters of Focal Shape monitors (albeit inverted). This design provides greater rigidity for increased dispersion, better dampening, less ringing, and improved clarity (there’s that word again). The diaphragm is suspended inside the ear cups in free-floating copper voice coils.
Surrounded by honeycomb
While the previous model used internal honeycomb-patterned protective grilles, on the new Mg model they’re ‘m’-shaped as well to conform to the diaphragm shape. This large open honey‑comb pattern is also featured outside the ear cup, replacing the original mesh design. One other significant design change: the driver has been moved slightly forward to give the user a more ‘monitor-like’ listening experience.
What good is a great-sounding set of cans if you can’t wait to get them off your head? Luckily this is not the case with the Clear Mg Professional. The foam pads fit gently over the ears while the light aluminum frame conforms to your cranium. These are actually one of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever used. They fit securely enough so that they won’t suddenly fall off your head, and yet they’re so light that it’s easy to forget you’re wearing them. My wife and son both tried them, and both said that they felt like they weren’t wearing headphones.
I spend a lot of time in headphones: hyper-editing DAW tracks, editing RECORDING YouTube videos, and listening to high-res music files through a high-end DAC. Similar to how the Clear Mg Professional feels as though it has almost zero weight, the open-back design makes them sound like you’re not listening to headphones at all, and as such they lack the perceived isolation of many other closed-back designs. Rather than describe the soundstage in terms of width, I find the soundstage of the Clear Mg Professional better described in terms of depth; instead of being wide and diffuse, they maintain a focused image that allows you to zero in on sounds in a mix while extending both impressively downward and upward in the frequency range. These headphones make peering deeply into a mix’s reverbs and spaces an easy task. The low end is impressive, especially for an open back design—not how it booms, but how far down it extends and how clear and extremely detailed it remains throughout. It’s effortless to pick out round rolling bass guitar notes, hear the low sawtooth breakup on a Moog synth, or zero in on the floorboard thump of a kick drum. The midrange is quite neutral; nothing jumps out or presents as forward unless it was mixed that way.
Despite the neutrality, these are not cold or clinical-sounding headphones. Moving to the high end, I commend the Focal design team—the Clear Mg Professional achieves some of the most remarkable detail that I’ve ever heard in a headphone, and does so without an ounce of harshness, brittleness, or fatigue.
The Clear Mg Professional maintains its fullness and soundstage at quiet and comfortable volumes. On the other side of the spectrum, be careful: because they sound so appealing, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to crank ‘em up and leave it loud—everyone knows it’s not a good idea to do this for too long—seriously.
As an uber-detailed mix tool, it’s easy to hear every detail, find flaws, and place elements in a mix with these headphones. An interesting example: have you ever heard distortion in a classic album or one of your own mixes and wondered, “Are my speakers overloading?” With these headphones, you can pick out the details of tape saturation, effects drive, overloading and distortion—typical elements of the recording/mixing product. Of course, this level of sonic accuracy also makes it easier to use distortion and saturation effects more purposefully and creatively.
As a listening headphone, these might be a bit stark for some of my DJ or even audiophile friends who like thumping, haptic bass, silky mids or a warm top end. If, like me, you enjoy hearing all the minute details in your favorite recordings as originally presented, then the Clear Mg Professional makes for a beautiful listening experience. At home, I work and mix on a pair of Focal Solo 6 Be monitors; in my studio, I use the Trio 11 Be monitors. Interestingly, despite being a headphone the Clear Mg Professional presents a noticeably familial Focal sound.
The build, design, comfort, and sonics of the Clear Mg Professional are simply superb. Without question, these one of the nicest headphones I’ve ever reviewed. As always, with a product of this caliber, the only downside is the price; like the original, they represent a significant investment. Regardless, the Clear Mg Professional offers audiophile-grade sonics in a top-notch studio tool.
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