Welcome to “Crinnotes“, a series where I push out rapid fire opinions of some of the headphones I’ve heard but can’t be bothered to fully review. Thus I won’t get too in-depth, nor will I be too formal and technical. Less analysis, more… from-the-heart if you will.
Like with many other brands, I have a love-hate relationship with Focal.
Most of my love for Focal are basically carried by just two models: the flagship Utopia which is almost universally respected as one of the best headphones of the world, and the Clear which is widely regarded as the Utopia’s budget alternative. Let me be clear (heh) that while I respect these two headphones, I don’t actually love-love them enough to have either of them in my own personal collection. Both excellent headphones… but not for me.
Then we have the hate side, and that’s fuelled mostly by Focal’s numerous attempts at a good closed-back headphone. Also the Elear, which is a monstrosity on its own, but mostly the former. The Elegia: many of whom would consider to be one of the worst high-end closed-backs conceived in recent times; and the Stellia, the pseudo-flagship that (in my opinion) failed to live up to the high standards set by the Utopia.
In recent times Focal has churned out two more closed-back models: the limited edition “Radiance” built for the Bentley automotive brand, and more recently the “Celestee”, which seems to be Focal’s standard-edition production “budget closed-back” now that the Elegia finally goes EOL. I won’t be going into the Radiance due to its limited production run and lack of long-term interest, but the Celestee does seem to be Focal’s attempt to close the gap between their open-back and closed-back lineups.
Have they succeeded? That’s what IEF is here to answer.
Product page: https://www.focal.com/en/headphones-0/headphones/for-home/celestee
Driver type: Dynamic
Not sure how to read graphs? Click here
I don’t like the Celestee.
Surprisingly, the first thing that really offends me about the Celestee isn’t its tonality, but rather its imaging ability. It’s bad. I mean, I’ve learnt to expect mediocre imaging out of your average closed-back headphone, but the Celestee is probably one of the most congested and narrow-sounding headphones I’ve heard, on par with the kind of presentation you get with one of those Sony studio monitoring headphones (MDR-V6, 7506 etc.).
Yeah, the “between-the-eyes” effect rears its ugly head in the Celestee. There is virtually no sense of space and it just falls apart with any kind of live recording. This all is further exacerbated by its puzzling lack of dynamism, so the whole soundspace sounds extremely flat (not in the tonal way) and lacking proper depth.
If there is any redeeming quality to the Celestee’s technical performance, it’s that it’s at least decently resolving. A little mushy in the transients, but decent. Fine for something that costs $50, but calling it a “problem” for what is basically a kilobuck headphone is one hell of an understatement.
But the tuning is really good, right? You ask, hope still shining in your eyes. You talked about technicalities first so you can praise its tonality after, right?
Yeah, uh, no. The Celestee would not be my first pick for tuning either. It’s not bad, but it’s very clearly still leaning towards that “Focal closed-back house sound” that I don’t like for various reasons that I’ll explain below.
Tonality is not simply a addition of frequencies, nor can it be represented as a singular standard-deviation value against some arbitrary target curve. In the Celestee case (or more accurately, in all of Focal’s closed-back’s cases) the tonal problem is a combination of thinned-out mids, uneven upper harmonics, peaky upper treble, perhaps even an oddly-tuned bass emphasis depending on model.
The problem with the Celestee, much like I’ve mentioned in my review of a certain GL2000, is that there never is a point where I could say that I was 100% satisfied with its tonality. There is always something wrong something, whether it being the way it renders brass instruments, or the way it fudges up a simple violin, or maybe even how it screws with both male and female vocals in different ways. As with many of my other reviews I have to reiterate that this does not mean that the headphone is question is completely and utterly terrible, but rather has things that prevent me from singing its praises.
Look, perhaps I’m being too harsh on the Celestee and every other Focal closed-back purely on the basis on tonality, and there very well may be people out there where they would hit their preferences exactly. But even with the consideration of EQ in play… I just don’t see the allure in the Celestee from a technical standpoint either. The kilobuck price tag asks for more, and the Celestee just ain’t giving it.
Overall Grade: C
Tone Grade: B-, Technical grade: C
All awarded grades are in reference to the Headphone Ranking List.
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29 thoughts on “[Crinnotes] Focal Celestee Quick Review: Closed-off”
Whoa, for the cost I really expected better sound. I was kind of interested. I’m glad I found this review.
Would recommend looking at reviews beyond this one. Most reviewers had a positive impression of them; this is the first I’ve seen that’s been so completely negative. I’ve been using the Celestee as my daily driver for the last week, and I’m perfectly happy with them.
Crinacle is mostly true in his review as he is not sponsored in anyway to keep review as fair as possible.
The HD 820 is a great example. Top “reviewer” and YouTube say that headphone is great base on it price point.
But those who know about music know that headphone is down right trash.
At first I didn’t believe as I also see mostly positive review. But when I tried is , it really sucks.
So always trust your ears and try it out yourself in person rather then review.
Perhabs Crinacle is not sponsored, but Crinacle’s ears and tasts are not universal. Like any other reviews, all of this must be taken with a pince of salt.
The only judge is what you hear and how you fell it.
An honest review doesn’t mean a universally “correct” impression.
I have the Elegia and hate them ! No soundstage, heavy, strong clamp force, muddy sound. Just hate it. As reference I love Sennheiser sound signature and have a Woo Audio WA7 amp and a Lehmannaudio linear amp
The Elegia is not bad if you replace its ear pads with Brainwavz Sheepskin pads. Then it suddenly has a soundstage and bass is faster&tighter. Use DSP to tune its sound signature to your liking. The Elegia is decent closed-back headphone, imo.
EQ the Elegia with oratory1990’s profile – lets you iron out the muffled sound (idk what focal was thinking) and they sound pretty good.
This is arguably one of the worst reviews I’ve ever read about an Audio Product. I’ve never actually seen someone complain so much about something without actually saying why. Ridiculous.
He quite explicitly says why he doesn’t like them? Forget your reading glasses? Poor soundstaging, lack of dynamics, decent resolution, imprecise transients, wonky frequency response – all at a price where such shortcomings are unacceptable.
I’ve never seen anyone complain so much about a review without actually reading it. Ridiculous.
Talk about TL;DR. How much more clear could Crin be?
>>>In the Celestee case (or more accurately, in all of Focal’s closed-back’s cases) the tonal problem is a combination of thinned-out mids, uneven upper harmonics, peaky upper treble, perhaps even an oddly-tuned bass emphasis depending on model.
The problem with the Celestee, much like I’ve mentioned in my review of a certain GL2000, is that there never is a point where I could say that I was 100% satisfied with its tonality. There is always something wrong something, whether it being the way it renders brass instruments, or the way it fudges up a simple violin, or maybe even how it screws with both male and female vocals in different ways. As with many of my other reviews I have to reiterate that this does not mean that the headphone is question is completely and utterly terrible, but rather has things that prevent me from singing its praises.<<<
Sure seems like a recent purchaser of the Celestee has their knickers in a knot over a less-than-jizzing review of his new toy.
it’s ok, just accept that they suck to listen to, at least they’re nice to look at, so the purchase wasn’t a total loss
I got the Hifiman Ananda and the Focal Radiance within a month of each other. I like them both but reach for the Radiance far more, I prefer its tonality, which is warm. I prefer how they render Jazz (great for piano) and electronic music. Plenty of sound-stage and imaging for me, if the music serves it up. The Anandas do have clearer highs but I’m always adding a lot of base via EQ. I’ll admit, I don’t like recorded live music except in very rare cases (give me a studio please), so can’t comment.
Perhaps the Radiance is very different to the Celestee but its more likely my preferences are very different in this case to the reviewer. would not be the first time.
I’ve had the Celestee for a week and have been using them as my daily driver. I disagree with the reviewer’s take on them. They are closed back headphones, and these don’t magically work around typical closed back headphone issues, but I don’t think they are nearly as bad as described. I tried the Elegia and didn’t like them at all. The Celestee is very different and better in every conceivable way. I’m completely sure my ears are no where near as well trained, but these headphones sound just fine to me. Most other reviews seem to suggest the same – this is the first I’ve seen that’s so wholly negative. Sound stage is definitely their weak point, but I would expect that from a closed-back headphone.
The review was perfunctory in every sense and that’s a shame. What am I supposed to do with “this does not mean that the headphone is question is completely and utterly terrible, but rather has things that prevent me from singing its praises”.
Early on I really liked Crin’s rankings and point of view. However, I discovered I don’t agree with his choices too much of the time, don’t hear what he hears. I’m thinking ear shape and the DSP between our ears here. He acknowledges this as most reviewers do. I bid this site adieu.
Thanks Crin. Thesedays, just too many companies deceptively highballing luke warm cans and IEMs for “high price must have high quality sound”.
Your review certainly reveals those deceptive highballers. Keep it going. Be the one knows whats really good and bad regardless of the deceptive value tag, the price.
To all of you angrily complaining about this review, here you go:
“- Yes, this is the opinion of one person on the internet. Please do not get too offended if your favourite IEM isn’t graded as highly as you’d like. (vice versa applies)
– This list is meant to be used as a reference point. I highly recommend against blind-buying and suggest to have a listen to the IEMs yourself. By all means, use this to shortlist what you should try in the future but don’t take it as gospel.”
these aren’t IEMs?
Apply the same to headphone
So in the end Airpods Max are way better than the Focal Celestee both in tonality and even in the technicalities at half the cost even having BT and NC. Interesting.
Who ever said that hahahaha just no.
From where in the hell in that review did you extrapolate that?
I auditioned for Celestee few weeks back in a local shop in ID. Spent 10 minutes looking at its very beautiful build, paint, case, and finish. I then spent another 30 minutes to convince myself to buy this. But I can’t.
At the same time both LCD-X and Auteur was on sale. After listening to three of them. My heart was racing to decide for myself is it going to be heavy pair of woods or heavy pair metals? Celestee was no longer a consideration in my head.
Now I am sitting in my desk listening through my purchase and realizing it is always the wisest thing to trust your own ear.
which one did you get?
You get what’s best for you but I hope you realize you’re comparing Open-back with Closed-backs + low-impedance vs high-impedance.
Celestee is trying to accomplish a very different goal and in a completely different category (Closed-back low impedance dynamic) than LCD-X and Auteur.
Crin’s review of Celestee is very against the grain of other trustworthy headphone reviewers. But it is his opinion and he even stated he generally isn’t a big fan of Focal’s sounds nor their philosophy with closed-backs.
I personally think Celestee is a great option for closed-backs. There’s honestly not that much better that are dynamic and low impedance and you just really have to ask what $1k means to you..
Stellia is better. At more than twice the price, however.
Just heard the Celestee; and it sounds like its price would indicate. It’s not better and not worse than a number of other headphones in its price range. I had heard Utopia first, and that was something. But, it had better be, for $4000.
I have LCD-X 2021, and I’m very happy with its performance at the $1200 price point. It’s a dark headphone, even with eq, but its hard to beat for impact. Kick drums and synths really slam (as you would expect with 106 mm drivers). EDM and classic rock is really its forte: female vocals and string arrangements, not so much.
For me, the Focal Radiance is probably the best tuned headphone out there, closed or open. I wouldn’t suppose the Celestee has been tuned that much differently?
I lean towards the Haman tuning, so preferences really count heavily here. Also how much you believe in soundstage on headphones. I personally don’t care much about “head stage”, only speakers produce real soundstage period.
I have to say, this is the closest review out there to what I’m hearing out there. The staging is so small, narrow, and hard on the ear that I’ve checked 5 times now that the channels aren’t reversed or out of polarity or something. It’s like all the instruments are miniatures & overlapped right in the center, an ‘orchastra in a phonebooth’ to give an analogy.
Reviews on these seem to depend on whether or not one is sensitive to whatever this staging thing is; for reference I’ve heard this same flaw in the Audio-Technica AD900 & MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open.
What I disagree on is the dynamics.* These have a strong kick & bite which would be easy to love were the above not true. It gives energy to aggressive vocals that most phones don’t & these headphones play clean/grain-free enough that it’s hard to judge your if you’re listening too loud. I’ve jumped a few times now to unexpected snares(jumpsnares if you will..)
*I think I get Crin’s lack of dynamics however as they lack the same punch for the bass/low-mids. It’s a presence region party trick.