BTW, I prefer to listen to these with Dekoni Sheepskin earpads, as they seem to tame the lower treble and fill out the 200Hz regions, making them sound “fuller.”
I have had these for a couple of weeks now, so here are my thoughts. First off i feel if you can get these under 500, do it. Great closed back, not amp picky. Sounds great and unique with all the amps I’ve had. 800i,a3, hip dac. Takes really well to the hip dac and its bass boost. I highly reccomend that combo for portability. Very nice. You could even get the hip dac and Elegia for under 500. Money well spent imo. Elegia is pretty versatile in the way it adapts to the music it plays. I enjoyed every genre with it. Gives slam if needed, and super detailed when called for. Pretty nice. And the added bass boost on the hip dac makes it more fun than a neutral sounding headphone. Great headphone in this price range.
These are almost exactly the same as my thoughts about the Elegia as well as the Hip Dac combo. I feel like there is some really good synergy there, especially for a solid portable setup. If you are on-the-go at all and want something to throw in your backpack these seem hard to beat if you enjoy the sound.
Anyone want a lightly used Elegia? $500 + 1/2 shipping.
I have been listening to the Elegia A LOT over the last couple of weeks. The TL;DR version of this review is the Elegia are a really good headphone that performs well with a wide range of musical styles, does so in a closed-back form factor, and is an absolute steal if you get if under about $600USD. No, it isn’t perfect, but for what you get and what it can do at that price point there is very little to complain about. Read on to see more detailed thoughts on all that.
I have tried to make this review “scale-able” by making it clear what parts are targeted to newer audiophiles and readers who haven’t read my other reviews on this forum and which parts are more useful for more veteran audiophiles. Alright, let’s get to it.
KNOW YOUR REVIEWER (skip this if you’ve read lots of my posts on this forum)
My preferred genres are rock/metal and classical/orchestral music. I’m getting to know jazz more and enjoying quite a bit. I also listen to some EDM and hip-hop. My hearing quirks include a high sensitivity to midrange frequencies from just under 1KHz to around 3Khz, give or take. My ears are thus quick to perceive “shoutiness” in headphones in particular. I describe “shoutiness” as an emphasis on the ‘ou’ sound of ‘shout.’ It’s a forwardness in the neighborhood of 1KHz and/or on the first one or two harmonics above it (when I make the sound ‘ooooowwwww’ into a spectrum analyzer the dominant frequency on the vowel sound is around 930Hz, which also means harmonic spikes occur again at around 1860Hz and 2790Hz). In the extreme, it can have the tonal effect of sounding like a vocalist is speaking or singing through a toilet paper tube or cupping their hands over their mouth. It can also give instruments like piano, but especially brass instruments, an added ‘honk’ to their sound. I also get distracted by sibilance, or sharp ‘s’ and ‘t’ sounds that can make ssssingers sssssound like their forssssssing esssss ssssssounds aggresssssssively. Sibilance does not physically hurt my ears nearly as quickly as shout, though. It’s distracting because it’s annoying and unnatural. Readers should keep these hearing quirks in mind as they read my descriptions of sound.
Prior to owning the Elegia I had the V-Moda Crossfade M-100, Beyerdynamic DT990-32ohm, Monolith M1060, Dekoni Blue, Sennheiser HD6XX, HiFiMan HE-4XX, Ikko OH-10, Tin T3, Beyerdynamic DT880-600ohm, HiFiMan Edition XX, and Fostex TH-X00 Purpleheart. The amps and dacs I’ve used for the Elegia include SMSL SU-8, iFi Zen, iFi Hip-Dac, and Schiit Asgard 3.
ELEGIA INFO (for beginners)
The Elegia is a closed-back, dynamic-driver headphone which initially sold for 900USD. I found this head-fi video with Focal engineer Nicolas Debard really interesting, and it goes into detail about the design and build. The parts about the ‘ported’ design and thinking of a closed-back headphone as being essentially a very large speaker in a very small room were quite interesting. I will also put here that they isolate very well. You can get away with playing them loudly in an office. And loud they will play. They have a rated 35-ohm impedance with a 105 dB/mW sensitivity. They are easy to drive.
The current going rate for a new Elegia appears to be about $690. The price appears to be dropping because it’s now a discontinued model. At the time of this writing, though, it’s still quite easy to obtain. Adorama has had a few iterations of that ludicrously good price of $429, but I do not know how many more of those they are going to do (I also got mine from them at that price). However, they are still offering used/open box units for $519 as of 13 Aug 2020. Also at the time of this writing, there have been good deals offered on Elegias in our Buy/Sell thread on this forum.
The Elegia looks and feels like a quality product. It feel solid without being heavy. The earcups are spring loaded around a horizontal axis so they pivot vertically. The earpads are a soft fabric material and feel quite luxurious. I really only have one gripe about the build. Look at this picture:
That’s the Elegia next to my Beyerdynamic DT880-600 (which I dual-entry modded, if you’re wondering where the cord went). Do you see the difference? The Elegia takes up WAY more physical space when it’s ‘relaxed’ and not on your head; much more space than any other headphone I’ve had through here. I don’t know if that’s a general Focal thing or just Elegia, but it you have a rack/shelf/hanger rod full of headphones (and if you’re on this forum you either do or will) know that Elegia can screw up your storage spacing.
Comfort on these cans is really first rate though. I can wear them for hours without any real complaint. Clamp is firm but not hard. Ear pads are soft. The headband is well padded. I don’t even notice my ears getting all that warm, which is a thing that headphones do to me sometimes.
Elegia is pretty neutral with a slight mid-forward presentation, they may be even just a little on the bright side too. The deep bass, <100Hz, is extended and punchy but not elevated. There is a slight dip in the frequency response between about 100 and 200 Hz, though, and that is audible at times and with certain music. However, they are neutral enough that they make sense as a studio monitor/reference headphone. The dip in frequency response can take a bit of fullness out of the sound. If the material has a healthy amount of info below 100Hz, that is masked a bit. But for rock and metal which sometimes don’t have much in that region, especially with some classic rock, they can sound a bit thin. If you’re a basshead, the stock tuning is likely not going to be to your liking. But, oh how things can change. The Elegia takes to bass EQ VERY well. I’ll talk more about this below with amp pairings. But spoiler alert, you can turn them into bass cannons and they don’t complain at all.
The Elegia is the most detailed headphone I own. I can’t make claims about what I haven’t heard, but the only other headphone I have heard that competes with the detail the Elegia fires down my ear canals is the DT880. The Elegia is more detailed than the 880, but not by a ton. Midrange detail is especially delicious. Vocal and instrument reverb has a very convincing, ‘you are there’ kind of effect on a lot of different material. Even with Spotify premium (320kbps ogg format), it was really hard to wear the Elegia and work because in almost EVERY song I was noticing new details. I wasn’t listening for them either. I was working! They were just there! That doesn’t mean the details were aggressive and forward, they were just present in ways I hadn’t heard before on tracks that I’ve heard dozens if not hundreds of times before. The level of detail may be too much for some at times. I didn’t find it objectionable, but some may.
In a word, pretty good. Focals have a reputation for a 360 degree soundfield. Truthfully, I didn’t notice that. I will agree that the soundstage sounds more like a semicircle in front of me than an arc over my head like the DT880 – my previous spatial champ – can do at times. For that reason it’s hard to describe the soundstage as wide or deep; it’s just kind of around the front half of me. Imaging is also strong. It’s easy to tell where in the soundfield instruments are placed and there is reasonably good separation between instruments, at least horizontally, in the soundfield. There is a hint of depth in the soundfield but that’s also not a thing that jumped out at me as a strength. The same is true of vertical imaging.
I haven’t done much gaming with them, but their performance is at least as good as the DT880 in this regard, if that is of interest to you. In some gaming contexts, they could be even more engaging than the 880 because of their bass extension and impact.
The biggest surprise here is how big and open the Elegia sounds as a closed back. It’s not narrow or claustrophobic. What Focal has pulled off here for under $1000 is really impressive.
Timbre is where there is the biggest mixed bag for me. When I first put them on I was a bit disappointed because the treble sounded metallic and harsh and the mids sounded thrust forward and almost shouty. I…hate…shouty. It didn’t take long though for the timbral character to calm down and show up (probably more mental than physical). Cymbal crashes sounded quite natural. Vocals also started to come out well. Voices more or less sound like voices, at least while singing. Drums have distinct snap and impact to their sound. Brass instruments sound aggressive and well, brassy. There’s even a healthy dose of resinous sound – that ‘zizzy’ quality, according to Stereophile, that results from bows being dragged across strings. All of those qualities give the mids a natural timbre, most of the time. The tuning does push the mids forward enough that an overly aggressive recording can get piercing. Even vocals that are shouts – and shoutiness is only a problem when things that aren’t shouts sound like shouts – can be aggressive to the point of discomfort for me. Still, the Elegia doesn’t appear to inject much artificial shoutiness, it just pushes real shouts forward. It’s a fine line here, but for the most part and for most of what I’ve listened to, Focal walked it well.
There is a thing I don’t like very much here, though. For just normal speaking, such as TV or movie dialog or a YouTube video or a podcast, the midrange timbre on the Elegia is too mid-forward, IMO. In such contexts they can have that hollow, boosted midrange sound of a sound system in many commercial cinemas that are really making sure you can hear the dialog (or were just poorly done, probably poorly done). It can sound like, while not this extreme, the person speaking is cupping their hands over their mouth while speaking. Now, why does this happen during regular speaking and not so much with singing? For one, it might still happen during singing, it’s just masked by the wider range of frequencies present. Or it could be that the Elegia just respond better when more frequencies are used, such as singing rather than speaking.
Finally, it’s not a timbre thing, but that dynamic quality – in this case the punch/slam attack variety – you hear about Focals…it’s real. The attack of the Elegia’s sound is quite aggressive and well, dynamic. I think it’s fun, but it may not be for everyone.
With No EQ
The Asgard 3 powers the Elegia really well. The Elegia has a 35 ohm impedance and the Asgard can pump out close to 5W of power at that impedance. That is more than enough. I was able to listen to rock and metal without EQ and mostly enjoy it. But without EQ the Elegia is better suited to acoustic music like classical, jazz, or opera. But fear not, metalheads…
I Found Zen With Schiit
That response to bass EQ I mentioned, we need to talk more about that. During one of my first listening sessions I was powering the Elegia with a Hip-Dac. First thing I noticed is that the Hip-Dac’s more laidback sound signature was a great match to the Elegia. Then I put that X-Bass bass boost on, and WOAH! That 100-200Hz dip becomes a non-issue. The bass extension somehow gets deeper. There is punch and slam…LOTS of it. And there’s even rumble. Deep, powerful rumble. The overall sound signature almost become warm. It’s hard to call it V since the mids and treble are on similar levels. They don’t become dark because the treble is still quite noticeable. That X-Bass turns them into bass monsters, though. I did notice that at times that bass can be sloppy and uncontrolled with the Hip-Dac. It just didn’t have the power to seize complete control over the drivers in the deep low end. What would it be like if I could pipe that X-Bass through the Asgard? I…had…to…know.
Yeah, so an iFi Zen amp/dac found its way into my Amazon shopping cart (I’m working on a review of that too). The entire purpose was to use it as just a dac, turn on that X-Bass, set the analog outputs to variable, and pipe that bass boost through the Asgard. Holy thumping slamming deep powerful tight tuneful addictive bass, Batman! Look, without that X-Bass, the Fostex biodyna-based headphones, especially the Massdrop X00 Purpleheart, are the bass kings under $1000 (or so I’ve been told). That iFi X-Bass, routed through an A3, and powering an Elegia though…it’s better. Deeper. Punchier. Rumblier (ok, that’s not a word, but you get it). And most importantly, so much more controlled with the Asgard than the Hip-Dac. The A3 grabbed the drivers with an iron-fisted grip and didn’t let go. And the Elegias did not complain at all. Bass torture test after bass torture test, couldn’t detect distortion in the bass or bleed into the midrange. Couldn’t find a noticeable hit in soundstaging or imaging. Rock, metal, EDM, Hip-Hop, all back on the table.
The Elegia has earned a place in my collection for quite some time and also inspired a major overhaul of my headphone loadout, which is a work in progress. The Elegia is a strong all-around performer, especially with some bass boost. It’s closed-back with pretty good isolation. It comes with a nice carrying case. Once my home desktop setup is upgraded, I can see the Elegia, Asgard 3, and Zen being my office setup. That trio synergizes very well and because of the option of XBass, or not, can handle just about any kind of music and do so quite well. The Hip-Dac pushes the Elegia well enough that those two will become my travel setup (except on airplanes, the Elegia don’t isolate THAT well). I bought my set of Elegia for $429 and I have to admit, it feels like stealing.
I have joined HFGF Elegia gang, happily. Although I think we should call ourselves The Eleg-ion…
Solid review Wave! My 2 cents on the timbre and mild shoutyness… It’s enough personally I would not recommend these as studio monitors. Also for those that have tried the LCD-X, the timbre is something one actually tends to enjoy overtime.
This are fun headphones and their quirks are enough that it takes a neutral headphone that should perform well and be boring… Then makes it fun. Every quirk you notice is only at first when comparing other headphones and completely liveable (and after time preferred). So to extrapolate Wave’s comment on timbre and shouty, yeah it’s not perfect and neutral but honestly is more fun.
If I was starting all over and had to pick one headphone to do everything and a studio wasn’t and option… These would be a solid choice. I would say these I recommend more so because they scale up to the Bifrost 2 and GS X Mini very well, while playing nearly equally well with a Modius and Heresy. These headphones seem to care a lot more about your signal source than they care about what amp you use (in my tests).
If you wanted an LCD X, don’t have the greatest amp, and want to try and spend half the LCD X money, and listen for fun… This heaphone is it.
Thanks, Dago! I sure would like to try an LCD-X. Hopefully soon!
I know it’s obscure, but I’m enjoying the hell out of my Audeze EL-8Cs. Anyone know how the Focal’s compare? Big step up? Little?
Working from home non-stop since March has made me appreciate the need for at least one good open can and one good closed with good isolation.
Very nice write-up! You made me even more interested. Yes Focals are VERY dynamic and it can get a little tiring, but it is addictive. These do seem to be a closed-back Elex, or at least very close.
I haven’t heard the Elex but I haven’t heard any clipping just pushing them hard (for me) out of curiosity. So if that’s that’s and Elex issue, this can solve that partially.
I am not one of the guys trying to go deaf.
I am a quiet listener, under 75Dbs. On my LP I never go above 10:00 and that is plenty loud for me.
75 dB is generously loud, IMO.
Same…generally try to keep peaks below 80, so average is generally well under 70 for me
And at 75dB average is when I’m only listening. If I’m trying to work, that’s way too loud. Gets both distracting and fatiguing in that context.
i think it’s only because i’ve listened to the elex lol but the punch on the elegia is perfect for me when listening to even chill music. Like it’s true that it’s still not a chill headphone in any way but it can be relaxing enough in my experience for calmer music. besides that i like how engaging it is.
Only recently have i been using the elegia alot again, and the timbre i can see how it might be a mixed bag. I think it’s not as natural in some ways as something like the haws (in my experience) but the vocals and acoustic instruments sound pretty good in particular.
oh and ur comment about shouty makes sense now. Because i don’t look at graphs whatsoever but i noticed that unlike the elex it can get a bit sibilant on some kpop. altho i don’t know if i would consider it shouty when i compare it to the sundara which can be a bit shouty. maybe it’s a different frequency range i don’t know
I use a decible meter and set it for maxes when I am testing. I set 75 as a peak. Most of the music ends up in the 60-69DB range. It might peak to around 75DBs once or twice in a song.
The deal is back in the elegia!! And cheaper lol. Elegia for 400 bucks
Does someone mind giving a quick comparison with the Clear? If I own the Clear already, how worth it is the Elegia? I don’t need closed backs… but that sale beckons me…
I have both. I love the Clear. The Elegia is VERY good IMO, but if you don’t need a closed back, I would say to stick with the Clear, as it’s better in every way, excepts maybe sub-bass slam, IMO.