Focal Elear w/ Clear pads (Elex equivalent) & Hifiman Sundara impressions
My ideal FR lies close to Harman but leans slightly W-shaped: I like a few dB of upper bass warmth, an elevated mid-to-upper midrange for added presence, a small bump in the mid-treble for detail, and at least some air in the upper treble.
Eclair (Elear w/ Clear pads): Note:
It's an open secret that the Elex is a re-painted Elear with Clear pads attached, so these impressions can be considered to be equivalent to impressions of the Elex. Build:
The EleaEclair's build exudes luxury, featuring a gorgeous metal body, fine mesh cups, and a headband covered in leather that feels great to the touch and with plush padding on the bottom side. I am concerned about how long the headband will last, however. The microfiber Clear pads also look great and feel wonderfully smooth, but I have a feeling that their light gray color will mean they won't look so good in a year.
The Elear's stock cable is absolute dog shit, and whoever thought that repurposing a stiff garden hose as a headphone cable was a good idea should be deeply ashamed of themselves. I bought a cheap Elear cable off of eBay and am happy with it. Comfort:
The EleaEclair is quite heavy, but the thick headband cushioning helps even out the weight distribution. I don't have the most muscular of necks, but I still got used to wearing the Eclair within a few hours. The clamp force is light out of the box, so I have no complaints on that front. Difficulty to drive:
The Eclair isn't difficult to drive at all. Feel free to plug it into your phone's headphone jack if it has one. Sound:
- The Eclair's sound signature fits my ideal preference closely enough. It's highly dynamic and very fun to listen to, an aggressive attention-grabber rather than a headphone to relax to. However, the Beats-like Elear's midrange and treble faults are still present to some extent. The frequency response is uneven enough that I'm not sure whether I'd call the Eclair bright or dark, although it leans closer to the former.
- The Eclair's upper bass is slightly warmer than neutral but thankfully does not bleed into the midrange at all. The mid-bass thump is a touch lighter than I would like, and the sub-bass extension is mediocre at best. I found that I didn't mind in practice, however, as the upper bass warmth and energetic midrange seize the center stage with the Eclair.
- The Eclair's low midrange tonality sounds natural enough to my ears. It lacks the sweet fullness of the Andromeda, but I could not detect any nasality or hollowness that are the trademarks of a sloppy midrange tuning.
- The center midrange peak at 1-2 kHz is one of the chief defining contributors to the Eclair's dynamic sound signature. It brings that Focal clarity to vocals and instruments that utilize that part of the frequency range, tearing it in front of everything else and drawing attention to the meat of the music. The shoutiness, however, can make some older, poorer-quality recordings with an already-harsh midrange unpleasant to listen to. It's not a concern with most music, but Elvis is unlistenable on the Eclair.
- A peak in the low treble gives the Eclair a hint of metallic timbre, making both vocals and instruments slightly sharper and more brassy-sounding. This coloration enhances the Eclair's dynamic quality and makes already-aggressive music a treat to listen to. Accept and Manowar sound fantastic on the Eclair, and I could see it being an endgame headphone for rock or metal fans. The timbre's not too noticeable in most other cases, but acoustic, jazz, and classical do sound a bit unnatural on it. My ears grew accustomed to it after a few days of listening time.
- The first complaint I have about the Eclair is about the stark dip from the midrange peak to the upper midrange, which reduces the level of detail I hear and strips presence from very high-pitched vocals. While it is definitely an improvement over the Grand Canyon that is the stock Elear's upper midrange, the imperfection remains audible when listening critically. The majority of the pop genre sounds great on the Eclairs, but some of Masumi Itou's work is rather disappointing. However, I'd still pick up the Eclair over the Sundara in a heartbeat for music featuring female vocals. The recessed mid-treble also deprives the Eclair of crispness and has a further negative effect on detail; there are details I can pick out trivially on my Andromeda and could detect fairly easily on the Sundara that I have to pay very close attention to to catch on the Eclair. On the flip side, this actually does make it sound more like a real speaker system than the other stuff I've listened to.
- The shoutiness makes it difficult to tell how much upper treble sparkle is present. The Eclair doesn't sound dead, and cymbal decay sounds defined enough, so I don't have any complaints about the >10 kHz on it.
- As others have mentioned before, the Eclair's soundstage is not just on the intimate side but sounds like sitting in the front row of a concert. The soundstage isn't deep, but it's not a dull, unengaging kind of shallowness; rather, the music pops out right in your face. The soundstage isn't particularly wide but not claustrophobic, either. The imaging isn't quite pinpoint, but it isn't blobby or hazy, either, even at the diagonals, and is overall just a tad worse than the Sundara's. The Eclair isn't terrible for gaming, but as the midrange peak reduces the depth of the soundstage and masks both bass impact and finer treble detail, it wouldn't be my first choice for that use case.
- I haven't noticed any bass clipping on the Eclair, but YMMV. I assume the clipping is due to faulty quality control rather than by design as Focal claims.
- The Eclair has a very enjoyable sound signature overall, but the uneven upper midrange and recessed mid-treble obscure enough detail that I'm not sure whether I'd call it ideal for critical listening. Honestly, I'm debating with myself whether or not to return mine, but the problem is that I still like it more than the alternatives that I've looked into. In spite of its faults, I find the Eclair addictive and have trouble taking it off my head whenever I put it on.
- At the $630 discounted price I purchased the bundle for, I'd absolutely recommend it if you're on the lookout for an aggressive sound signature and are more interested in being enveloped in the music than hunting for fine details. There really isn't much sonically like the EclaiElex out there.
Focal, in a demonstration of how much respect the company has for its customers, charges $200 for replacement Clear pads. You'll want to treat the microfiber pads well if you buy one of these.
Hifiman put about as much effort as you'd expect into the Sundara's build. The body consists of bent strips of metal attached to cylindrical slabs with chain-link fencing for mesh and scratchy ear pads. Fortunately, the one I purchased didn't suffer from driver failure. The simple design at least gives it long-term durability, minimizing the number of potential points of failure, but the leather part of the headband feels very cheap, and adjusting the sides leaves visible paint scratches.
The Sundara's cable is also awful, feeling like cheap rubber and suffering from memory when coiled up, a D+ to the Elear's D-. Comfort:
So-so at best. The Sundara is on the heavy end, and the bacon strip that Hifiman has the audacity to call a leather headband doesn't help. The lack of horizontal yoke swivel and the circular pads mean that it may not fit your head properly at all. Difficulty to drive:
The low sensitivity makes the Sundara moderately difficult to drive. Most music plays at a satisfactory volume out of an iPhone dongle, but my test for dynamic range is this release of the 1812 Overture
, and you'll want a source that can output at least 100 mW @ 32 ohms without clipping for that—preferably 200 mW for some extra headroom. Sound:
- Both the mid-bass thump and sub-bass extension were somewhat lacking for my liking, making the bass sound uninteresting to my ears. I found myself preferring the Eclair's low bass response to the Sundara's in spite of the former's lesser quantity, as the Sundara's colder, more laid-back sound reveals the lightness of the lower bass response, leaving it readily audible. I wasn't very impressed by the bass decay, either, which gave the bass an off-sounding texture. This is not a headphone for electronic music, even the kind that hasn't had its bass response butchered by dynamic range compression. Also, when I tried to EQ the sub-bass up, it made the bass sound oddly dirty.
- The Sundara's flat upper bass and lower midrange make it sound a bit cold in practice. The Sundara doesn't sound thin at all, so I didn't mind much, but it might take some getting used to if your current daily driver is a warmer headphone.
- In contrast to the Eclair, the Sundara excels with classical and acoustic music with its laid-back, smooth mid- and upper midrange and mostly natural timbre. However, therein also lies the Sundara's Achilles heel: the dip at 1-2 kHz in particular makes female vocals sound hollowed-out and distant. I don't like having to crank up the volume to dangerous levels in order to understand what vocalists are singing, so this was ultimately a deal-breaker for me.
- The treble response is bright overall, adding a touch of sharpness and sibilance that can make the Sundara sound too crisp at times and may make the treble-sensitive uncomfortable. Thankfully, it isn't as bad as the HE400i's ear-pick treble, and I was able to get used to it quickly enough. In spite of this, the unevenness of the treble and the midrange dip does make the Sundara relatively lacking in detail for a headphone with a treble emphasis, although it's still better in that respect than the Eclair. There is an ample quantity of upper treble air that makes the Sundara sound alive with well-mastered live recordings.
- The Sundara has a pleasantly wide soundstage with good depth. If a live performance sounds 180 degrees wide and a professional speaker setup sounds 170 degrees wide, I'd place the Sundara at 140 degrees, the Andromeda at 100 degrees, and the Eclair at 70 degrees. The Sundara also has nearly pinpoint imaging, albeit not perfect. These factors, combined with the boosted treble and exposed bass, make the Sundara a headphone that I could recommend for gaming.
- While the Sundara has its weaknesses, such flaws are to be expected at its price point. It is nevertheless a great mid-fi pick, especially for the $300 secondhand going rate or the $350 official sale price, not to mention a better value than anything that the ripoff artists at Focal have to offer. However, I ultimately sold mine just recently due to the sound signature not being to my taste. These are classical and jazz cans, not pop or IDM cans.
submitted by dongas420
My thoughts on trance in 2018
In terms of trance, I initially thought 2018 was an diminishing year. While in the past few years, trance was undoubtedly my most listened to genre, and I would never miss an opportunity to go to a show, even if it artists I wouldn't normally listen to on my own, this year I started to burn out a lot
. I probably listened to more progressive house and techno (combined) than trance at home, started digging way more into more experimental and IDM, and especially towards the second half of the year, mostly stopped going to live shows unless they were monumental (Dreamstate) or I had friends to drag along (in the past I'd go solo no problemo). I felt like this year compared to last, there was a pretty steep dropoff of interest for me, but then I compiled this list of tunes that I really liked
and realized, nah, it was still a good year, probably better than 2017 even. I'm just getting tired.
I was going to do a runthrough of how I thought each sub-scene (uplifting, tech trance, etc) was doing, but then I realized that it's pretty much just me saying "I like psytrance, I don't like uplifting, etc". So instead, I'm just going to talk about some of my favorite things from the year.
Favorite Labels: Forescape Digital
FSOE Clandestine/Outburst Twilight/Mental Asylum
- It felt to me like prog trance had a very quiet year. JOOF had a slow release schedule, and even JOOF Editions V4 felt more like a prog house and techno mix with some psytrance thrown on at the end. Pure Progressive sort of fell off the face of the earth, and while FSOE Parallels started up, a lot of the releases just weren't to my taste. Forescape Digital felt like the only label consistently putting out prog trance that felt like you were going on a journey, which is what I want my prog trance to do. They sniped basically all of my favorite prog producers except for Airwave, and put out quality release after quality release. Though to be honest, I don't think there were any releases that absolutely blew me away, but eh, I can't ask for everything. Great job enlusion!
Any psy label that consistently puts out good >140 full-on/uk psychedelic that is distinguishable and unique
- I'm grouping these together because they sometimes felt like the same label. Hit and miss, but mostly hits, the misses were never terrible, and when they hit, they goddamn hit. Consistently quality tech tools and stompers. I'm always keen for more techy Paul Denton/Stephen Kirkwood/Indecent Noise/Renegade System/Everlight! In particular, I feel like Clandestine and Twilight sort of paved the way for more styles within tech trance by opening up more release outlets - before, the most experimental stuff was coming out on what, Aria? Some standouts - Neurofunk, Her Dark Eyes, Berlin 2000, Blizzard, Sleep Paralysis, Trans Karoo, Nemesis, Pressure.
Disappointments (after strong previous years): Skullduggery, Afterdark, Subculture, Pure Progressive, VII (excluding Big Bill's releases), TesseracTStudio, Damaged
- So usually not Sacred Technology, and definitely not X7M. But basically all the others, so Nano, Zero One, Nataraja, Digital Om, 24/7, Dacru, TIP, Maharetta...
Favorite Producers: Will Atkinson
- Surprise, surprise. But seriously, it feels to me like he is the only producer in the trance scene willing to break out of his comfort zone and produce something that stands out time and time again. Listen to the variety of styles just in this set. Primeval, a borderline electrohouse track, released on DOORN ffs, which hasn't released trance in god knows how long now, and Didgeridoo, borderline techno, but then also Seventh Heaven, a huuuuuge uplifter. Not to mention Fired Up, which I know was polarizing, but show me another trance track with a drop like that. Oh yeah, and he also remixed Above & Beyond into U2.
Stoneface & Terminal
- Dude had like 15+ releases this year, almost all of them were excellent, and they were all distinctly him, despite being all over the place in terms of style. Trans Karoo is 100% my favorite breakdown of the year.
The Noble Six
- To be honest, I wasn't huge on their album, though I liked most of the tracks from it. But they've done such a great job of distinguishing themselves from the crowd, and half the time I listen to a new tune of theirs, it always feels so refreshing. Almost on Atkinson levels of willing to push boundaries for me, especially with their recent Armin remix (though that one sort of missed the spot for me).
- I don't like most uplifting. I think it's becoming a predominant opinion that uplifting has become increasingly stale and cookie cutter. However, this guy is certainly an exception to the rule. If you need proof, just listen to this set, the tracks have that same progression that older Anjunabeats or Armind tracks once had.
- Yes, he hasn't changed his signature sound for 6+ years. I don't care, since he's still the only one doing it. His mix compilation from early this year was phenomenal, and I loved almost every release he put out. Surprisingly, a wide variety of styles (that still fall under the umbrella of Gai Barone), from the lighter, ethereal Flash to the almost classic trance sounding Monoroid (and check the Pianoroid version!)
Other noteworthy producers: Will Rees, Spirit Architect/Djantrix, Astrix, Lucas, Ajja, Richard Durand
- One of the most consistently incredible, mind bending UK Psychedelic producers, change my mind. All of his productions are just so damn tight. I don't think this year was particularly standout for him compared to other years, I just really enjoyed his productions this year.
Favorite Sets In no particular order (trying to keep it to trance, but there were a looooot of great prog/techno sets as well):
- Lost in Noise at Dreamstate
- Gentech at Dreamstate - I zonked out day 2 of dreamstate right around the time of this set, and missed both of these :( Lesson learned kids, I have physical limits too.
- Cold Blue at Dreamstate - Cold Blue had a pretty meh year imo after an incredible last year. However he made it up to me for played a set consisting entirely of the tunes I wanted to hear from him, some killer IDs (especially at the end!), and none of the tunes I didn't want (except for Bliss, ugh). Possibly my favorite trance set I saw live from this year.
- Greg Downey at Womb, Tokyo - productionwise, Greg and Skullduggery had a meh year, but his sets are always hot.
- Joint Ops Centre at Buenos Aires - BRING BACK JOINT OPS JOHN, YOUR UPLIFTING IS BORING :(
- Interstellar - Creations - on the other hand, here is incredible uplifting. These guys put everyone else who produces primarily uplifting to shame.
- Kearney at Lumi - Kearney's lumi sets are peak Kearney.
- Gai Barone at PT Sydney - basically a GB producer set, which I'm all for. So many tunes in here I hadn't heard for a good while, like his Kerosine remix.
- Will Atkinson at ASOT 850 - Know who can get away with playing hardstyle bootlegs of trap tunes in a trance set? Big Bill.
- Sneijder @ Paradigm - This set had me so hyped up for what was to come for Afterdark. Unfortunately, the rest of the year was kind of a letdown...
- Ajja at PsyFi - there are no words.
- Astrix at PsyFi - I don't like it when Astrix panders to festival audiences. Here is a set when he doesn't do that.
- Jordan Suckley at Cream - most of these songs are totally unremarkable on their own but man, Jordan is suuuuch a master of making them special together. Also I LOVE the old school hard trance at the end. Top gym set of the year for me.
Favorite Tunes In no particular order:
I'm thinking of doing 3 different mixes for end of year mixes based on what I enjoyed, one focusing on tech, uplifitng, and softer psy (a la Simon Patterson style), one focusing on deeper progressive trance and techno, and one focusing on absolute stonkers of psytrance. One of those has already been entered into the mix competition, stay tuned for the others if you aren't sick of me yet. Thanks for reading!
- Will Atkinson - Didgeridoo [is it trance? is it techno? I don't care, it's wildly original, and builds oh so very well up to the drop where everything just sort of explodes into madness]
- Lostly - Trans Karoo [best breakdown of 2018, change my mind.]
- The Noble Six - Black Lotus [a goddamn beauty, I'd put more TNS tracks on here if they were released]
- Gentech - Feel My Love [I like my hybrid tech/hard trance to repeatedly punch me in the face, don't @ me]
- 1200 Micrograms - Tribute to Bansi [RIP]
- Ajja & Arcon - Dawn Dragons [fattest bassline of 2018?]
- Simon McCann - Pressure (Scot Project's Make Me High Remix) [once this one gets going, there's no holding back. Absolute power right here. Perfect gym tune]
- Modus - Organic Panic [Addictive bassline and that robot voice is just toooooo funny]
- Raja Ram & Tristan - Take A Trip [not gonna lie I only like this one because Raja Ram says funny things on it]
- Kalki - Japan [my favorite prog psy tune of the year, that bassline is just sooooo juicy. Keep your eyes on Kalki!]
- Menno De Jong - Ananda (Sean Tyas Remix) [I love the melody on this one, and the little extra flourish Tyas put on it is icing on the cake]
- Psysex & Illumination - Play The Drum [so soft & gentile, very unique for 2018]
- Estiva - Alive [just to spite prydz stans]
- Tristan & Supermodule - The Multitudinous Path [good god]
- John O'Callaghan - Behind The Silence (Cold Blue Remix) [I liked the original more until I heard em both live - maybe it was the drugs but the CB version just hits the heart with extra oomph]
- Djantrix & Modual - Cisternia [no words]
- Symbolic - Evolution [Another solid prog trancer, always did damage live. Symbolic does an incredible job of crafting melodies into tracks where the primary focus is still on the percussion]
...oh and if you like my tastes, I make mixes semi-frequently
submitted by Redrot