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.
Driver type: Dynamic
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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.
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