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. Hate basically their entire closed-back lineup, but love… well, just two models really, but both of them occupy top spots on my Ranking List for good reasons.
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 in 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.
Focal kicks off 2021 with two new releases coming one after another: the Celestee which I panned a couple of weeks ago, and now a refresh of their ever-popular Clear: the Clear Mg. This also means the official discontinuation of the original Clear, which may be a non-issue or a gigantic disappointment depending on how the Mg fares.
So I guess the question on everyone’s mind now is, how much better (or worse) is the Clear Mg over the original? That’s what IEF is here to answer.
Driver type: Dynamic
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I don’t like the Clear Mg. Actually that’s not really true, I don’t mind it. I’m more disappointed than anything.
Alright, how do I step on the least amount of toes while doing this. Let me begin by reminding everyone again that I actually hold a lot of respect for the original Focal Clear, to the point where I have ranked them as the top five best headphones I have ever heard. I like the thing, I appreciate the thing, and generally it’s one of the safest purchases in the kilobuck space considering its tonality and technical performance.
The Clear Mg is… not that. Sure I’m disappointed by its relative lack of performance compared to its predecessor, but I’m even more disappointed by the fact that Focal has decided to completely discontinue the original Clear without a second thought. If you want a TL;DR here it is: keep your original Clears or get one used market before it’s all gone, because it is in my opinion that the Clear Mg is a downgrade.
Right, so explanations are in order. From the get-go there seems to be some tuning changes going on, for this particular unit at least. The Clear Mg is definitely warmer and possesses less upper mids than the original. This is quite a big problem considering that the Clear has what I’d like to call “hidden honkiness”, where there is a hint of honkiness that’s thankfully being masked by a slightly more forward upper midrange.
The Clear Mg, which the upper midrange suppressed to, well, let’s say concerning levels, hence has this underlying honkiness unveiled. It is certainly far honkier than the original Clear in a direct side-by-side comparison, as well as sounding fairly warmer and dare I say more veiled.
Comparison courtesy of the Graph Comparison Tool
The measurements of course confirm this, but this is actually more puzzling than it is comforting. A couple of other sources with measurement rigs have published results that show the Clear and the Clear Mg to have pretty much exactly the same tuning, baring some deltas in the treble upwards. And so, because these are headphones we are dealing with here, the more likely explanation is not that the driver’s tuning has been tweaked to the significant extent, but rather because the pads themselves are slightly different.
And so, I put the Clear Mg pads on the Clear.
So by taking pad variation out of the equation here, some things become even clearer:
- Indeed, the Clear and the Clear Mg are, at least driver-wise, tuned extremely similarly.
- Because there are reports that both headphones also measure similar with their own respective pads, this also shows some level of pad variation going on.
- The technical differences between the two headphones are made even more apparent. More on this later.
There are some major caveats of course, for instance the Clears that I was testing with had very worn pads and so may not even be representative of what a Clear with fresh pads would be like. But it is also to be noted that I actually liked the Clears that I was using with the worn Clear pads and not so much with the fresh Clear Mg pads, so if the latter is supposedly more representative of what a true Clear is supposed to sound like then some downranking is in order. Certainly a lose-lose situation here.
But let’s talk a little more about the whole Clear vs Clear Mg debacle. With the two on Clear Mg pads thereby putting both on equal ground in a tonal sense, the technical differences get a lot more obvious. That is to say, the Clear Mg sounds noticeably mushier and “slower” than the original Clear, and a tad bit less resolving too.
If I had to put it in more comparative terms, let’s just add in the Utopia into the mix. The Utopia is one of the most resolving headphones out there with a timbre that is just as finicky to deal with due to its notoriously hard transients and what some would call “overly-textured notes”. As such, the Clear is often regarded as the easier-going headphone wherein one sacrifices some of that top-class resolution for a timbre that is easier to manage for more people.
Then you have the Clear Mg, which is one more step down from the two in terms of both resolution and note attack, resulting in a smoother but also less detailed presentation all around. In many cases this would still be fine, after all the Clear Mg is still a very dynamic headphone and not too bad technically when compared to the rest of the market, but this is one of the few cases where I would actually recommend an Audeze for those looking for a similar smoothed-over, upper-mid-dulled presentation without that hit in resolution.
But at the end of the day I’m still left with more questions than answers. Are the pads different from the original Clear? Whose Clear Mgs are representative, mine or the others who received sets that measured almost exactly like the originals without a pads swap? Did I just get a dud set? If so, is there a chance that you, the buyer, would also get a set like this?
If anything else one thing is Clear: I prefer the Clear.
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