The Focal Listen Wireless are full-size Bluetooth headphones from one of the most respected names in ultra-high-end speakers. A pair of Focal Utopia floor standers will cost you tens of thousands of pounds.
Focal makes Utopia headphones too, but the Focal Listen Wireless are far more accessible. At £179 they are much cheaper than the premium pairs from Sony, Sennheiser and Beats.
They sound great too, with balanced and grown-up sound that fits the Focal name. Comfort is the only nagging issue, as most over-ears pairs like this are more comfortable for long sessions.
The Focal Listen Wireless are big headphones with pads designed to fit around your ears rather than sit on them. They are large, and their foam padding is thick and soft.
So why aren’t the Focal Listen Wireless all that comfortable? It’s down to the headband. Instead of using foam headband padding, this pair has a gel-like rubbery layer that sits on your head, a bit like the Beats Solo3 Wireless.
For the first 30 minutes, these headphones feel fine. Not Bose QuietComfort 35 II comfortable, but fine. However, whenever I wear them for the day, they start to cause nagging discomfort after 90 minutes or so.
The Focal Listen Wireless headband simply localises pressure too much. And judging by my pair, the band’s padding actually worsens over time. A weak spot where your crown sits has developed.
This is a signifiant issue if you want a set you can wear for 3-5 hours a day, but it is just about the only thing I dislike about the Focal Listen Wireless.
That said, the design is more likely to polarise than the Sony WH-1000XM2 or the Bose QuietComfort 35. The cups are severe, the headband chunky. These headphones do not look slight or subtle. They have a more aggressive look than recent Beats headphones – a bit of an eye-opener from such a mature-seeming brand.
These headphones are plastic, with little bits of rubber peppered around. The headband is matte black plastic, the cups glossy black plastic. They feel sturdy, though, and the cups fold into the headband. The hinge feels solid.
Want colour? Focal also makes a ‘Chic’ version of this headphone in blue, purple and olive green.
Focal Listen Wireless — Features
The buttons on the side are topped with rubber. They sit on the right cup, and the rubbery feel is a handy tactile sign you’re touching them, not just the cup outer.
There are volume controls on the back side, and three playback buttons sit on the front. Focal has made them into rubber mounds to make it easier to find them blind. However, I don’t think it’s as successful, or as subtle, as a concave (or convex) button. It’s just not easy enough to tell which button is which.
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These headphones use Bluetooth with aptX for wireless transmission, and the battery lasts for up to 20 hours. Over the last 18 months some large headphones have gone much further, with smartphone-like fast charging and much longer overall stamina. However, I’m still happy with the Focal Listen Wireless’s longevity. You can also plug in a cable when the battery runs dry, and one is supplied.
Wireless stability is good. The only interference I heard was when using a wireless wearable and another phone at the same time, and even that was a rarity.
The Focal Listen Wireless do not have active noise cancellation like the Bose QuietComfort 35 or Sony 1000XM but I haven’t missed the feature too much. This pair’s passive isolation is good, and they stand up to the noise of the London Underground well.
Let’s not forget these headphones are also significantly more affordable than the big-name alternatives with active noise cancellation.
Focal Listen Wireless — Sound Quality
Look at the Focal Listen Wireless’s specs and you could be forgiven for assuming they are electrostatic headphones, which have large, flat drivers. However, they’re actually ‘electrodynamic’ headphones, with a more conventional design made of titanium and mylar — the material used in most electrostatic panels.
Considering the current UK price of £179, the Focal Listen Wireless sound excellent. For once UK buyers get a bargain, as these headphones cost €249 or $299 elsewhere.
Their sound profile is relatively neutral for a portable wirelesss headphone, with a little extra energy in the treble and upper mids. The Focal Listen Wireless do not, however, have the added bass power of many pairs in this class.
This choice suits a name like Focal well. But if you’re looking for the extra excitement of, for example, the powerful sub bass of the Senneiser Momentum Over-Ear Wireless, you won’t find it here.
Instead we get a little extra spark, like some citrus flavour added to a cake, that makes the Focal Listen Wireless slightly brighter than some. It’s carefully balanced, though, and I do not find this pair fatiguing or brash.
Soundstage width and stereo imaging are both great, offering the added scale of presentation expected in a good full-size pair.
Listening to the Focal Listen Wireless back-to-back with some full-size favourites, such as the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 and Oppo PM-3, the Focals don’t have quite the same mid-range detail. The Oppo and Sennheiser pairs are better at rendering the meaty mids that supply the character of a lower-register male vocal. But considering those pairs are significantly more expensive, the Focal’s performance is still very impressive.
The only reason to pause, sound-wise, is if you want the extra weight of a pair with a bass emphasis. While I enjoy the Focal Listen Wireless’s tone a lot, some other pairs inject a little more excitement into dance music.
Should I buy the Focal Listen Wireless?
At £179 the Focal Listen Wireless are some of the best-sounding full-size Bluetooth headphones you’ll find at the price. They are around £100 cheaper than the Sony WH-1000XM2, Bose QuietComfort 35 II and Sennheiser Momentum Over-Ear Wireless. And they don’t sound obviously a league below those pairs.
The Focal Listen Wireless don’t have active noise cancellation, of course, and elements of their design are less well thought-out than you’ll find elsewhere.
However, it’s only comfort that stops this pair from earning an even higher score. I find that after a couple of hours the headband weighs a bit too heavy on your head – worth considering if you want a pair you can wear all day.