Focal Stellia Review

I first encountered Focal headphones at the very first Head-Fi meet I went to.

For you Chicago area folks, it was one of the old ones where Ray Samuels brought his Lamborghini, Jude from Head-Fi came and there was some incredibly cool uber high-end stuff – an early generation Smyth Realizer, multiple Stax 009 setups, the LCD-3 had launched recently… Candyland for a kid like me (I was about 16).

I recall hearing the old Focal Listen as well there, and though they didn’t sound bad my only really memorable impressions were ‘these aren’t very comfortable’ and that it seemed like another two-channel manufacturer jumping on the headphone bandwagon. Many other enthusiasts I talked to had a similar reaction – meh. Let us know when Focal is making serious headphones.

Well, we’re all eating our words now. Focal is one of the huge players in the headphone world, not only with us snobby audiophiles, but also with some solid IEMs and more reasonably-priced gear. Still, even after hearing the Elears and Utopias I wasn’t a convert. They were superb headphones for sure, but at $4,000 USD the Utopia was, and is, a communicative benchmark for the community when discussing price. It was the first widely discussed headphone to grab attention outside of special or limited editions that stood squarely and unapologetically in the ‘well over $2,000’ range. For all it’s special qualities though, I never loved the Utopia. It had some incredible strengths, but it’s never quite made the case for me to take the plunge with it, even if I could afford it.

Likewise, the Elear and Clear headphones have some wonderful strengths, but none has truly captured my ears in the way some others have. I’ve always enjoyed my encounters with Focal’s professional monitoring systems and many of their consumer-level two-channel systems though, and I wanted to like their headphones more. Enter the Elegia and the Stellia. My first listen to the Elegia at Canjam RMAF last year really caught my attention. What I heard was a lot smoother and more coherent sounding to me than I expected from a closed back. I was definitely interested. However since Rafe had already reviewed the Elegia by the time I got to talking to the Focal folks at Axpona 2019, I decided to give the Stellia a try.

I explain all this to give a little backstory on why I’m reviewing these headphones – I’m sure most of you have noticed by now my general caution regarding reviews of particularly expensive gear. I’m not expressly against reviewing or even considering the purchase of expensive equipment, it’s more that as gear gets expensive, I tend to have higher standards. I hear a lot of gear that is ‘nice’ for fairly high sums of money. Well ‘nice’ doesn’t cut it in my world when the asking price is thousands of dollars for a headphone. So, my initial listens to the Stellia indicated to me that something a lot more interesting than ‘nice’ was going on here.

Beginning with the packaging, demure, placid words like ‘nice’ are totally inappropriate. While I raved about the level of packaging quality for a mainstream-priced headphone like the Cleer Flow, the Stellia is in another league. (I swear guys, I’m not turning into a packaging junkie, these last two headphones have just had nice boxes.) The box itself is covered in leather and feels like it weighs at least 5 pounds.

Removing it reveals the packaging proper which is, in stylish fashion, also covered in leather. Inside is a another leather-clad case (how many cows died for this packaging?) which contains a balanced cable, holding spot for the single-ended cable and a long leather wallet-thingy that contains the warranty, manual and other documentation. The Case is covered in some sort of very soft two-tone fabric which looks a bit like the colorations of a Calico cat.

Inside this very nice carrying case are the headphones, which have a custom-molded cutout and a very short single-ended cable. The headphones themselves have caused a bit of a ruckus over their looks. I won’t mince words, they’re aggressively bronze and look like something Spiderman would wear. Personally I think they look quite cool, but I also tend to have a pretty a forward sense of fashion and design. Your mileage may vary.

The headphones themselves are covered in leather much like the rest of the packaging, but of a much softer and finer grain, with a little swatch in French proudly declaring it ‘full grain leather.’ The build quality is spectacular, the metal yokes, leather pads and ear-cup lattice are all simply stunning pieces of industrial design. The entire headphone strikes a perfect visual balance, not too flashy, not too muted. Comfort wise it’s pretty similar to the Utopia and Elear, though not quite as heavy as the Utopia, based on my recollections. Ear pads are very soft and headband padding is good, though the beautiful metal yolk assembly is a bit heavy and slightly stiff, which means that while these aren’t uncomfortable, they’re not headphones that totally disappear off your head during use. I had no issues using them for lengthy listening sessions however, and overall if the other Focal headphones have worked for you, these should too.

The headphone yokes have a sort of beveled opening in the headband allowing them some forward-to-rear tilt, and the mechanism for this is a beautiful bit of industrial production. Thanks to these and the swooping yokes and super soft ear pads, the Stellias don’t clamp super hard, but kind of cradle your face and tend to move around a little bit. It’s quite comfortable but folks with smaller heads should take note of this if using them while on the go. Not that I would ever recommend taking three thousand dollar headphones on the go, but hey, I’m not the boss of you.

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COMMENTS
Dorkmaniam's picture

Seems like an excellent review. Why not add them to the wall of fame?

Rafe Arnott's picture
Wall of Fame retired with Tyll.
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