- Type: Over ear
- Amp needed: Technically no but use one anyway
- Closed Back
I have one of these. Review is in progress. Spoiler alert…I’m keeping this one for awhile
The Focal Radiance, or more technically the Focal + Bentley Radiance, is a closed-back, dynamic-driver, around the ear headphone designed and built by Focal but with Bentley styling and name plastered on the headband. I’ve been sitting on this one for awhile because I’ve been loaded up on review material. To let the cat out of the bag a little, this one was loaned to me and I bought it…I liked it that much and found a space for it in my already crowded headphone collection. Read on to find out why…
In this reviewer’s humble opinion, the Radiance is a triumph. It has a warm sound signature with punchy dynamics and very healthy bass presence without the bass bleeding into the mids and while maintaining very good clarity and detail retrieval throughout the audible spectrum. Add to that that it’s efficient, easy to drive, isolates well, and is quite comfortable and you have an excellent overall package whether at a desk or on the go. Highly recommended.
KNOW YOUR REVIEWER
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 they’re 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. Finally, I’m discovering that I have a preference for more subtle detail. I like good detail retrieval and hearing what a recording has to offer, but I prefer what many would consider relaxed and subtle rather than aggressive or detail-forward. To my ear, more subtle detail-retrieval sounds more realistic and natural than aggressive, detail-forwardness. There is a balance here, though, because detail retrieval can get too relaxed and that can sound unnatural, as well, or simply leave out important aspects of the recording. Readers should keep these hearing quirks and preferences in mind as they read my descriptions of sound.
FEATURES & BUILD
Subjectively the styling of the Radiance is excellent, IMO. The black with bronze accents is tasteful and attractive without being overstated. Outside of that the aesthetics and build are quintessential Focal. The basic look is there from the shape of the earcups, the pattern on the back of the earcups, the yokes, etc. The one possible downside is that the earcups don’t squeeze together when not in use like many headphones do, causing them to take up a larger amount of real estate than many models:
Focal headphones: always canspreading.
The comfort is solid. I don’t notice any hotspots on the top of my head from the headband. The clamp force is snug but not too tight. I’m also a glasses wearer and did not have any comfort issues as a result. The one comfort downside is that the pads are a leather or faux leather as opposed to the fabric covered pads Focal often uses. These trap heat in a bit more and on occasion they could get warm. This didn’t happen enough to me to be a deal-breaker, though. The pads also give excellent isolation. There is very little sound leakage inward, and it’s not bad outward either, depending on volume, of course.
I think unique to the Radiance and its pad material is its inability to hide dust. If ever they sit out, either on a stand or on a tabletop, and aren’t used for awhile, the amount of dust that collects will remind you that you haven’t used them. Here’s a pic I took after not using them for about 48 hours:
I managed to get that in direct sunlight and made a mark with my finger to wipe the dust off one spot. I frequently have to wipe the pads down with a paper towel or cloth before putting them on.
The stock cable is as bad as it is on any other Focal headphone. It’s thick, stiff, and generally unmanageable. In a departure from other Focal cans the cover of the cable is vinyl as opposed to nylon or cloth. Fortunately, my set came used with a nice Plussound cable (which the seller couldn’t remember the name of). I used either the Plussound or Hart cables for this review. I think Focal’s motto for their cables is “At least they aren’t HiFiMan cables.” And that’s about all that can be said.
Finally, the driver is the typical M-shaped, formless voice coil, dynamic driver that is common in Focal headphones. In this case the driver material is aluminum/magnesium. The rated impedance is 35Ω and the rated sensitivity is 105dB/mW. Those numbers are quite believable as I found them to be very easy to drive, even for DAPs and other mobile devices.
The bulk of my listening was with the Chord Hugo 2 transportable DAC/amp fed by a Cayin N6ii connected via either USB or with Cayin’s USB-C-to-coaxial spdif cable. I also tried the N6ii’s E02 module 4.4mm balanced headphone output to drive the Radiance directly. Desktop gear included the Berkeley Audio Designs Alpha S2 and Schiit Modius and Bifrost 2 DACs with Violectric HPA-V281, Monolith Liquid Platinum amps, as well as 3 amps from Schiit: IEMagni, Magnius, and Asgard 3.
It’s not very often that I put a headphone on and am immediately grabbed by it. I was immediately captivated by the Radiance. My first impression with it came while sitting out in my sunroom with the Hugo 2. I had been looking for a headphone that isolated well and sounded great off the Hugo 2 for a transportable solution, as the Hugo 2 is quite picky as an “amplifier.” The Radiance immediately made me sit up straight and pay attention. Bass. Detail. Clarity. An almost tactile dynamic punchiness. I knew right away this one was a serious contender. HiFiMan did this to me with the Edition X V2 and then again with the HE1000V2. The transformation the HD6XX makes on a tube amp did it the first time, too. But usually, even with cans I end up liking a lot, the initial impression isn’t the raw “WHOA!” that Radiance gave me. With that said, on with the details…
By ear the signature of the Radiance presents as having an elevated bass shelf of 2-4 dB above neutral until about 100ish hertz. There is a slight dip in the midbass, but not very audible with most listening material, and then seemingly neutral and nearly flat frequency response starting in the lower mids and going all the way through the air frequencies. This comes across as almost an “L” shaped signature, which is a very odd term but is how many audiophiles communicate an elevated bass shelf into a more flat remainder of the frequency spectrum. The resulting presentation is warm and bassy without being bloated and maintaining excellent clarity and resolution in the mids and treble. The presentation is both aggressive and relaxed overall, as well. It’s aggressive in the macrodynamics, punching very hard in the bass, but also having a lot of pop and snap in the transients throughout the frequency range. At the same time it’s relaxed and laid back in terms of details, not forcing itself in that regard, and maintaining a smoothness despite the physicality.
As a self-professed basshead, the Radiance leaves me satisfied. The bass is extended, plentiful, punchy, detailed, and pulls this off without being boomy or bleeding into the vocals. There isn’t quite as much texture as my HE1000V2 can pull off, but that’s also more than twice the price. For a dynamic driver headphone under $1500 the bass texture here is noticeable and impressive. I love it, but I must also caution many a reader. Many listeners are not as much into the bass as I am. If you’re bass-sensitive this headphone could very well be too over-the-top for you. There also can be a bit of an adjustment if listening to my HE1000V2 for awhile before going out to a transportable situation and listening to Radiance. In comparison the bass on the Radiance can be a bit one-notey. I don’t think most listeners will call its bass one-notey in an absolute sense, but it’s not as tonally accurate as the more expensive model.
I’m just going to say one more time this headphone punches hard. It is very dynamic, almost to the point of being able to feel it.
My previous experience with Focal was the Elegia. The Elegia had very detailed mids but at times could sound too mid-forward and shouty. I did not notice any shoutiness with the Radiance that I can recall. The mids are clear and detailed, with good instrument and voice separation, and a generally natural timbre. The timbre doesn’t quite rise to the level of organicness that the Senn HD600/650 reach, but it’s quite solid in its own right.
The treble is clear, sparkly, and extended but will strike some as recessed. To my ear it isn’t recessed, it’s more in line with the same level as the mids, but some will want a bit more top-end presence. The detail and separation are good here too, with the ability to separate rapid cymbal crashes reasonably well and present the attack and decay of each strike. Sibilance is also never added, just presented if it’s in the recording. The balance here between being laid-back yet sparkly, detailed yet relaxed, at $1300, is remarkable. I can listen to it for hours without getting fatigued or feeling like I am missing too much.
Resolution & Detail Retrieval
The Radiance is not the most detailed headphone I have ever heard, but for a $1300 closed-back it is excellent. Classic signs of excellent detail retrieval like room reverb and ‘hearing the room’ are appropriately present without coming across too aggressively.
In what will certainly be a controversial statement, the Radiance also has the resolution chops to distinguish between DAC and amp signatures as well as slight differences in the sounds of headphone and signal cables. The Plussound cable that came with my set definitely sounded better than the Harts I used, with a little cleaner overall sound, slightly wider staging, and better tonal balance in the treble. Cymbal hits sounded more natural and less tizzy, for example. The Cayin usb-to-spdif cable I mentioned earlier showed up after I had been connecting my N6ii and Hugo 2 via el-cheapo USB cable. The Radiance showed me that the Cayin cable was cleaner, smoother, and separated sounds better. The Radiance showed me that the Magnius is what it is, rather flat and dull sounding (a curse of these high feedback op-amp designs, I’m afraid). It showed me that the Asgard 3 and V281 have very similar overall signatures (warmer, thicker, and highly dynamic) but that the V281 is several tiers higher in overall technical performance. I make this point because this stands in contrast to what the Elegia was able to do. The Elegia’s biggest party trick was to sound fantastic when powered by budget-tier source gear at the expense of it being able to scale up and truly resolve differences between higher quality source gear. The Radiance also does a good job of sounding excellent on budget gear – I thoroughly enjoyed it from the IEMagni and Asgard 3 – but still having something left to resolve differences in higher level source gear. Its scalability is not on the legendary level of the Senn HD600/650 or Beyer DT880 – which all keep finding new ways to surprise you as you go up in source gear quality – but it also does not seemingly approach an asymptote in its scaling like the Elegia does.
The soundstage is Focal-like in creating that 360-degree bubble around the head. Audeze and Focal are similar in how they stage by wrapping your head in sound rather than presenting it out front like many others do. For orchestral recordings it’s often like standing on the Maestro’s box rather than sitting in the audience. It’s a different effect that has its merits. The size of this bubble is neither Sennheiser HD600/650/6XX narrow nor HiFiman egg-shaped line HUGE. It’s in the middle. Within that staging, imaging and separation don’t call attention to themselves for either good or ill. I wasn’t wowed by the placement and separation, but I was also never distracted by the lack of them. In my classical recordings the instruments seem realistically placed, but I also wasn’t as wowed by their placement as I was with the HiFiMan Arya’s placements, for example.
You’re Mostly Fawning Over This Headphone…
What’s Not to Like?
If anyone is going to object to Radiance’s sound I think it will be because it’s just too bassy for some. Some may find it chunky sounding as a result. I don’t get that, but I loves mah bass. Some may find it not bright enough. My subjective impression is that the audiophile industry is moving slowly toward a more bright, leaning-to-analytical signature as the proverbial “audiophile signature.” At least, more and more stuff is seeming to tilt that way. Radiance goes the other way. That may bother some. If spatial chops are your number one priority, even though the Radiance is pretty good, it may not satisfy that itch. However, I can’t name another full-sized closed-back headphone that matches it for the price right off the top of my head.
COMPARISONS WITH OTHER HEADPHONES
Naturally, we all want to know how the Radiance fits in with Focal’s other closed-back models, Elegia, Celestee, and Stellia. I have not heard them all. My understanding is that the Radiance is the bassiest of the set. The Stellia has higher quality bass, but the bass isn’t as present. I honestly don’t know much about the Celestee, other than that blue-green color is SWEET! I owned the Elegia for awhile (review here) and spoke a little bit about the scalability comparison between Radiance and Elegia above. I’ll compare these two a bit more.
The Elegia and Radiance are both easy to drive and are closed-back with good isolation. This makes them both excellent candidates for mobile/transportable use. The Radiance is the more complete headphone from a sonic performance perspective. It’s more resolving, has more natural timbre, and improves upon Elegia’s already impressive macrodynamic punch. The Radiance’s signature is warm and bassy where the Elegia is slightly mid-forward. The Elegia also at times suffers from the metallic timbre that Focal headphones are known for among some listeners. The Elegia ends up having a bite to it that is almost entirely absent from the Radiance. Another key difference is the Radiance is nearly $1300 where the Elegia frequently goes on sale for $399, thanks to Adorama.
The other high-end closed-back I have on hand is a Fostex TH900 with Lawton purpleheart chambers and tune-up mod. Strengths of the Lawton’d TH900 are bass presence, impact, detail, timbre, and frequency extension in both directions. The TH900 is also more V-shaped, with elevated bass and treble. I would say the TH900 and the Lawton are roughly equals in terms of bass presence and macrodynamic punch/overall physicality. The TH900 has more treble energy and can come across as sounding overall brighter as a result. The TH900 is also not very forgiving of source gear. It exposes warts and is also quite picky. If not paired with the right source gear, it will sound any or all of very harsh, sharp, shouty, honky, boomy, you name it. When it’s matched to electronics well, though, it easily surpasses the Radiance in resolution and detail and timbre, sounding like it costs a few hundred dollars more…because it does (by the time you put the whole Lawton package together). The Radiance is not nearly as aggressive in the high frequency and is also much more source-gear independent. Yes, it sounds better with better source gear, but it also still sounds good with source gear that isn’t great or is more budget-oriented. The TH900 is therefore somewhat of a specialist that can create magic with the right source gear and music selections. The Radiance is much more of a generalist with a lower performance ceiling but a much higher performance floor. This is another reason why the Radiance is mobile/transportable friendly. It’s generalist nature means it can be used with a lot of gear combinations for a wide variety of music, making it a friendly travel companion.
Yeah, I’m keeping this one. I may not have it for long, but to paraphrase a quote from the cult sci-fi movie Starship Troopers “this is it until it’s dead or I find something better.” I love the warm, bassy signature, the dynamic punch, and the ability to do all of that without seeming to sacrifice much, if anything, in clarity and detail everywhere else. Most importantly to me, it sounds wonderful through the Hugo 2, which combined with its comfort and isolation, make it a great travel companion. I could rehash all of the glowing things I said above but I don’t think I need to. For me this is a great headphone. If your tastes are similar to mine, try to get your hands on this one. Someday it might be tough. It’s a limited edition…
Thanks for reading! Enjoy the music!
I recently was looking for a replacement closed back for my portable and commuting setups. I was intrigued (and in love with the looks) of the celestee. But looking at reviews I know I could not do the small soundstage that it was plagued with. I made a post here and got tons of recommendations and I decided to try the Radiance.
I have been pairing this with a Cowon Plenue S DAP, that makes light use of EQ and DSP. The Cowon is a bit flat without it no matter what cans you use and those features really are great and a highlight on the Cowon.
I too have hearing quirks. Between 200-350Hz puts a pressure on my ears. This feels like you hit high altitude and you need to “yawn” to balance out the pressure, or you have congestion and a drip from your ears. I am only able to tolerate this for short periods.
I wanted to do a full review of the Radiance, but I found myself echoing a lot of what Wave wrote. I still want to give some thoughts so the best way I found is more of a commentary and notes type fashion. Below I quoted the bulk of @WaveTheory 's review in expandable bubbles, then put my own impressions in underneath each section. I hope this not only gets my thoughts through, but highlights Wave’s great review.
Looks wise the Radiance looks great. I usually hate the “piano black” but the parts with it are so thin or small that it doesnt showcase the normal grouping of fingerprints. The leather is extremely supple glove leather. If youre into higher end leather footwear or good you can tell it is decent stuff, a bit thin but very nice feeling on the skin. I do wish the pads were deeper as when they compress my ears touch the inside but they dont get irritated from it. Overall comfort is just short of my benchmark HD6xx. They sit well and are comfy enough for long hauls. When music was playing nothing leaked out but with music off I could hear the TV in my room decently easy. This is also from a glasses wearer and I will note the pads may need time to morph around my glasses frames.
My big gripe is the cable. It’s not horrific, but it is bare minimum and juxtaposes hard against the rest of the build. I was going to get another cable since I need a specific balanced plug for the Cowon but until then I will need to manage with the stock one doing what it wants and staying crinked forever.
Here I agree with Wave’s description. I would say though I think the mids are a little elevated above neutral with the treble hitting that flat target. I will say for a few minutes when I first put it on I did feel the 200-350Hz pressure but it faded rather quickly.
The bass is easily the star of the show. Paired with the Cowon Plenue S (which is known for its warmth) this may be the best bass I have heard to date. I don’t have much experience with $1k plus cans to compare, but this had me addicted adding more db to bass frequencies in the EQ. It never once clipped or overstepped its place. Do I now love bass? Maybe. But there is no hiding the punch and feel the Radiance gives. At around 1:45 in Ratatat’s Seventeen Years the bass line cuts out then comes back in just punching and popping. Most headphones can tell you the bass is there, but only the Radiance and the dual 10" subs from my first car are able to let you feel it. It is addicting, dynamic and is a reference on how to do bass and not have it bleed over anything else.
Reference Track: Seventeen Years - YouTube
As a daily HD6xx wearer I have no complaints regarding the mids. Everything sounds more correct and it takes a bit of a listen to hear where the timbre is behind the Senns. There is plenty of texture and details here. It was real easy to hear and enjoy vocals and the natural echo in recordings. Male vocals from the grunge era hit with the feeling they should. Female vocals were also nice and smooth but before EQ were more average. More on this in the Treble impressions.
Reference Track: Alice In Chains - Nutshell (MTV Unplugged - HD Video) - YouTube
The best way I can describe the treble is like this. Imagine you are trying to talk to your friend from down an empty hallway using your normal speaking voices. You can hear them and everything is clear but you can just tell they are way over there. To me, it is recessed in the literal sense of the word, just pushed to the back. I really like crispy airy treble so this initially did not wow me and seemed to adversely affect female vocals. A few DB in the EQ pulled that all from down the hall to the expected regulated 6ft distance. Unlike some other cans, nothing got more grainy or etched or harsh with the treble EQ adjustments, it just honestly felt like female vocals and the sizzly parts of the treble moved closer to you. Pre EQ it was weird listening to Adele and she wasn’t in the centerstage of it all. I was a little sad that these cans did not have focal’s beryllium drivers which are touted for their top end sparkle but the Radiance proves it does not matter.
Reference Track: Adele - Rolling in the Deep (Official Music Video) - YouTube
I agree here fully. This hits home where the Radiance is good at letting you know the quality of your source gear. I do not think that it will make bad recordings or low quality files unbearable but it does scale up. The jump from the R6 2020 to the Cowon Plenue S was extremely tangible and it showed off why the Cowon was $2k new. I need to try it on the BF2 > RNHP but I had a cold lately and the ears are always off when I am sick, I do not want to spoil or mislead myself on this one.
Another description I can not do much better on. It’s like being in one of those futuristic donut shaped rooms and you are the jelly in the middle. I haven’t had anything really fully wrap behind me like my Ultrasones do (The first time I put them on I listened to a plane flyby and I legit turned around thinking a prop plane was about to buzz me!) But its real nice to have more that the isolated left, right, center blobs that the HD6xx sticks to.
Man I really like these. I didn’t want to. Bleh to the “Bentley” part of it. Bleh to the recessed highs. Bleh to them not folding for travel. But man these proved me wrong. This is something by description alone I would not really reach for and if I waited for Wave’s review before buying I probably would have written these off as not my preferred flavor.
I am soooooo glad that I had someone reach out and offer me a great price on what was basically a new set. For a number that started with an 8, I think it was worth every penny and at this time I wish I was traveling more to use it. I feared too much warmth with the Cowon but it has turned into a synergy heaven. The more you put into both the DAP and the Radiance the more they give back. They also take EQ like a beast. The sound will be way out of whack before the drivers clip or distort.
Detailed, spacious, lush, warm, thumping, lush, well behaved, lush, comfy, lush, lush, lush. If there was one word to describe the Radiance it has to be Luuuussshhh. The sound is lush, the feel is lush, the packaging is lush, the lush is lush.