Slam dunk proposition and collaboration between Drop and Focal!
PROS: One of the best value open-back headphones under $1000, attractive Focal build and design, build quality, comfortable fit, natural neutral-warm well-balanced reference-ish sound signature, dynamic punch, excellent sounding natural midrange tonality and timbre of instruments, natural but resolving treble, instrument note weight and definition, instrument realism.
CONS: None for the asking price as it has very good VFM proposition. Nitpicking – Can use a bit more presence in the 4-5kHz region, headphone doesn’t fold into a small form factor, no carry case included, a shorter 4 feet balanced 4.4mm/2.5mm cable as an option for use with DAPs would be great.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review in exchange for my honest opinion.
About Drop and Focal.
Drop (formerly Massdrop) is an American e-commerce company based in San Francisco, California. Drop uses data and insights from community to develop and find products that feed their interests in audio products and mechanical keyboards. The Drop community can also learn, share, shop with others as well as participate in product development through polls, discussions and interest checks.
Though it’s widely known among audiophiles today, Focal remains at its core an engineering boutique. Everything from research and development to engineering and production happens in the same facility in the Loire city of Saint-Étienne. The drivers are assembled by a handful of technicians and every part is tested and QCed at every stage of the assembly process. The glue used to attach the driver diaphragm to the surround (the black material around it) is a custom formula created by Focal’s chemical engineers. Developed to allow maximum driver movement, the surround is 80 microns thick compared to the 200-micron-thick material available elsewhere: a testament to Focal’s belief that when it comes to making the best products out there, every detail counts.
- Open-back circumaural design
- 40mm full-range dynamic driver with Aluminium-Magnesium “M”-shaped dome
- 20mm-thick perforated micro-fibre memory foam ear pads
- Perforated micro-fibre headband with length adjustment and cup rotation
- Aluminum yoke
- Impedance: 80 ohms
- Sensitivity: 104 dB SPL / 1 mW at 1 kHz
- THD: < 0.3% at 1 kHz / 100 dB SPL
- Frequency response: 5 Hz–23 kHz
- Cable length: 6 ft (1.8 m)
- Product weight: 15.9 oz (450 g)
- Storage box dimensions: 12.8 x 10.2 x 6.5 in (32.6 x 26 x 16.4 cm)
- Individually serialized on sticker under right ear pad
- Handmade in France
Included in the box.
- 6 ft (1.8 m) cloth-wrapped single-ended cable with ¼ in (6.35 mm) plug
- 6 ft (1.8 m) cloth-wrapped balanced cable with 4-pin XLR plug
- Storage box with magnetic closure
- Manufacturer’s 2-year warranty
Development and Tech.
Focal Elex is a collaboration headphone between Drop and Focal. Elex is a refinement of the $1,000 Elear with elements of the $1,500 Clear, thus improving the overall sound, build and aesthetic. As per Drop, with Elear as a foundation, the Elex aims to give the audiophile community everything it’s looking for in a “super HD 650.” The memory foam ear pads are as plush as ever and based on community feedback, they’re now wrapped in perforated microfibre to bring the bass down to a tasteful emphasis of ~3 dB above neutral, compared to the 5 to 10 dB of the Elear. Elear’s leather headband has been updated to more breathable perforated microfibre. The headphone allows for length adjustment and ear cup rotation to provide long-wearing comfort for all head shapes and sizes. The colour way has been simplified to a subtle matte black. Drop also replaced Elear’s 9.8-foot rubber cable with two 6-foot cloth-wrapped cables – one with a quarter-inch connection and the other with a four-pin XLR plug by Neutrik.
Picture Courtesy – Drop.com
The Elex features Focal’s newly developed 40mm full-range dynamic driver with an Aluminum-Magnesium “M”-shaped cone. Meant to sit about 2 inches from the ear, this driver is unmatched when it comes to impulse response, transient response and low distortion. The driver excursion (how far the driver travels at maximum power input) is 10 times greater than most dynamic drivers, allowing the Elex to extend down to 5 Hz without roll-off. Also, all its drivers are QCed to within 0.5-decibel tolerances.
Picture Courtesy – Drop.com
Build Quality, Fit and Comfort.
Well, it’s a Focal headphone and they’ve taken the ear pads, headband and cables (with different black and grey colour) right off the Focal Clear, so build quality and comfort being really good should come as no surprise. Elex, unlike the Elear or Clear, has a complete matte black finish which is in line with the black paint scheme of most Drop products. It is almost completely made of metal and has nice attractive perforated ear pads and headband. The headband adjustment is click based and is very easy to work with to get a comfortable fit. Every part looks well designed and the fit and finish for the price are excellent. The only thing I can nitpick here is Elex’s inability to fold into a compact ‘easy to travel with’ form factor and lack of a carry case in the package. I understand costs need to be cut somewhere to keep the price highly attractive, but Drop should at least offer the Focal carry case as an add on option in my opinion.
Coming to fit and comfort, Elex is an extremely comfortable headphone to live with. It’s a bit on the heavier side, heavier than the Sennheiser HD6XX but it is very easy on the head with just the right amount of clamp force, which is neither tight nor loose, just perfect. The perforated ear pads are nice, cushy and very comfortable for long sessions. The headband on the top doesn’t exert a lot of pressure either and keeps the headphone feeling comfy for hours at a stretch.
Cable – Both the stock cables are nice quality 6 feet cloth covered cables, one with a Neutrik 4-pin XLR balanced jack and the other a 1/4″. Both the 3.5mm headphone connectors and Y-split are matte black, with the Focal logo on the Y-split and small L & R indicators on the connectors. Resistance measures around 220mΩ, which is fairly low. They aren’t the most supple cables but are built quite well with desktop use in mind and should last a long time. The only downside I can list is that they are a little too long and bulky if you want to use them with DAPs. I personally would’ve liked a balanced 4.4mm/2.5mm cable included in the package or at least offered as an option to choose from.