With so many sound technologies now available in headphones, lots of over-ear models cram in all the bells and whistles features - which typically sees the price skyrocket.
Not so the Focal Listen. These over-ear cans are wired only, meaning no fancy Bluetooth wireless or noise-cancellation, instead relying on a closed cup design to isolate the listener from surrounding sound irritations.
Which is all well and good, but the not-so-fancy sense resonates elsewhere: the build quality is so-so, while the sound profile lacks bass to favour a is a vocal-forward, neutral profile - perfectly suited to some, less so others.
Focal Listen review: Design
- Closed cup for sound isolation
- Passive wired use only (no Bluetooth/noise-cancelling)
- Memory foam padded ear cups
- Soft-touch headband
- Chrome-plated earcup exterior
- Locking system for 3.5mm cable
A quick search on Amazon sees the Focal Listen pop-up for under £150, so the design needs to be considered in such terms. The build is generally plasticky - you won't find the luxe materials of the BeoPlay H9 here, for example, but then you'll be £300 better off by compare too.
Besides, just because the majority of the build is plasticky, doesn't mean there aren't some neat touches. The earcup exteriors are chrome-plated for an extra lick of visual excitement, while the Focal logo is subtle, sat alongside the debased Focal brand name to both left and right. It's not garish like some Monster headphones.
Being wired only, there's a sunken 3.5mm headphones jack for the included cable, which has a twist-to-lock system to ensure the cable stays in place. The cable has a play/pause disc on it, while further up the wire is a microphone to be used for calls - if you want.
The best thing of all about the Focal Listen is the comfort level. The large earcups are soft thanks to memory foam, which sees their comfort levels improve over time. We've had these headphones for a long period of time and have used them intermittently when travelling.
That's another benefit: the Listen is closed, meaning sound isolation is highly effective. There's no active noise-cancellation, like we say, but the fit does a good job of keeping extraneous sounds at bay. Well, if your music is loud enough anyway.
Focal Listen review: Sound quality
- 40mm titanium drivers
- 15Hz - 22kHz frequency response
- Generally neutral sound profile
Volume is no problem for the Focal Listen. Crank things up distortion is widely avoided, but it's here the sound profile becomes apparent - and it sounds a bit thin.
Ultimately, the Listen will suit certain people with specific music tastes. Bass frankly lacks, despite the claim of 15Hz being possible according to the spec, so if that's your goal then you're going to need to stump up more cash and head towards the Beats Studio 3 Wireless or Bang & Olufsen H9.
If you're seeking a neutral, vocal-forward listen, however, then the Focal Listen does the job. Sound is clear rather than punchy, so for acoustic tracks where you don't want to hear bass-drowned vocals and guitar plucking, you'll be in luck.
That's the long and the short of the Focal Listen. If you're looking for wired-only headphones that are comfortable and affordable then these cans tick both boxes.
However, the sound profile is a little thin for our tastes, lacking in bass, which makes the Listen's neutral profile better suited to vocal-forward tracks rather than more low-end demanding music and pop.
On balance, the cost to-comfort-ratio makes the Focal Listen a perfectly suitable set of over-ears - so long as they're sat upon a well-matched listener's ears, anyway. That said, for £150 or less it's possible to buy bolder sounding headphones.
The alternatives to consider
For just £20 more these A-T over ears deliver a richer sound profile in our view. It's still a neutral listen, it's still wired-only, but it's the preferable option to plump for.
Read the full article: A-T MSR7 review