Balanced, rich, crisp sound signature. Comfortable earpads. Includes cable for passive listening.
Cable lacks inline remote control. Not for those seeking huge bass response.
- Bottom Line
The Focal Listen Wireless headphones delivers a beautifully balanced frequency response in an easy-to-operate design.
At $299, the Focal Listen Wireless headphones deliver a solid audio experience in line with their lofty price tag. The highs are clear and crisp across all genres, and sculpting and boosting are kept to a minimum. Booming bass lovers might be disappointed with the general restraint exercised here, however—there's bass, but the primary goal is balance. The design is simple and stylish, the on-ear controls are easy to operate, and overall, the pair is a strong entry in the luxury Bluetooth headphone realm for listeners seeking accuracy—but there are several other tempting options to consider.
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The Listen Wireless headphones look clean and refined. They have an all-black contour with glossy surfaces on the earcups and matte surfaces on the headband. Red grilles are one of the few design flourishes—behind these grilles, 40mm mylar titanium drivers deliver the audio. The circumaural (over-the-ear) nature and plush earpads make for a comfortable fit, and also block out some ambient noise passively. The underside of the headband is less cushioned than the earpads are; it has some rubberized padding, but over extended sessions, it can feel like it's putting a bit of pressure on your scalp.
On the right earcup, there are controls for play/pause, track forward/backward, and volume up/down that work in conjunction with your mobile device's master volume levels. There's also a power switch and a Bluetooth pairing button along the outer panel. The headphones can also connect via NFC. Overall, the controls are well placed and, thanks to the dedicated volume and tracking buttons, it's unlikely you'll accidentally press the wrong one once you get a sense of the layout.
The headphones ship with two cables: one micro USB cable for charging (it connects to the right earcup), and one standard 3.5mm headphone cable for passive listening. Plugging in the cable, which unfortunately lacks an inline remote control or mic, automatically breaks the Bluetooth connection with your mobile device. The audio cable offers a listening experience similar in quality and volume to the Bluetooth stream.
The mic, located on the bottom edge of the right earcup, delivers solid intelligibility—using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we understood every word we recorded quite clearly. It doesn't pick up much in the lower frequencies, so things sound pretty thin, but it delivers excellent clarity nonetheless.
Focal estimates battery life to be roughly 20 hours, but your results will vary with your volume levels. In addition to the cables, the headphones ship with an airline jack adapter and a zip-up foam pouch they fold down into.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the headphones deliver a solid low frequency response. At top, unwise listening levels, the drivers do not distort, and at more moderate volume levels, the lows are still quite powerful. Focal does a good job of keeping things balanced and not allowing the deep bass to overtake the mix—this isn't a boosted sound signature so much as an accurate one with sub-bass capabilities.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the overall sound signature. The drums on this track can be overly thunderous on bass-boosted headphones, but through the Listen Wireless, they sound almost restrained. They don't completely lack any bass response, but there's nothing here that implies thunder or deep lows. Callahan's baritone vocals get a solid low-mid richness and an ideal high-mid and high frequency presence, keeping things clear and crisp. The guitar strums also benefit from the high-mid presence, but you wouldn't call this an overly bright sound signature, either. Focal seems to make balance a priority, and boosting in the lows and highs is quite subtle—if there's not deep bass in the mix, it isn't invented.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop receives enough high-mid presence to keep its attack sharp enough to slice through the mix's layers, but we actually hear a bit more boosting in the higher frequencies, bringing the vinyl crackle and hiss that's usually relegated to the background a little forward in the mix. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with solid depth, but lovers of booming bass might feel that the response here is slightly restrained. The vocals on this track are delivered with excellent clarity, though there seems to be a hint of added sibilance.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get some slightly boosted low frequency presence, but it only brings the supporting lower register instrumentation slightly forward in the mix. The spotlight still belongs to the higher register brass, strings, and vocals—this is a crisp, bright sound with some subtle richness to it. Purists might find the bass slightly too boosted, but most listeners will be very pleased with the blend of general accuracy and slight boosting here and there.
If you're looking for huge bass or completely flat response, the Focal Listen Wireless headphones satisfy neither criteria. Instead, they will appeal to listeners who want something closer to flat response, but are happy to receive some extra richness and boosting in the lows. Overall, it makes for a clear, balanced, full sound signature, but there are many good options out there. In this price range, the B&O Play Beoplay H4 headphones are our Editors' Choice, but we're also fans of the Klipsch Reference On-Ear Bluetooth and the Bowers & Wilkins P5 Wireless. The less expensive Marshall Mid Bluetooth is a solid pair if you're looking for decent bass response paired with a somewhat accurate sound signature.
By Tim Gideon Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear. More »
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