Focal Listen Professional Headphones
Often when something says “professional” in its name, it isn’t – are these cans an exception?
by Phil O’Keefe
The French take good audio very seriously. Want proof? Look no further than Focal. They’ve been making scientifically researched, well-designed and well-respected speakers since the late 1970s. Today they make everything from home audio speakers to car stereo drivers, headphones, and high-end professional studio monitors. Focal has an excellent reputation overall, so when I was asked if I wanted to check out a pair of the new Focus Listen Professional headphones, I jumped at the opportunity. Let’s see what they have to offer.
What You Need To Know
- Focal’s Listen Professional stereo headphones are a replacement for their previous Spirit Pro model.
- The Listen Pros feature a closed-back, circumaural design – they’re intended to sit around the outer part of your ears rather than sitting on top of them like supra-aural headphones do, and their closed-back design improves isolation and minimizes “bleed.”
- The ear cups are made of high-density, heat-sensitive memory foam and are covered with a red microfiber cloth material, which to me feels much more comfortable and a lot less “hot and sweaty” than your typical vinyl or leatherette style ear pads. The memory foam is 7/8″ (22mm) thick. Focal says that the memory foam helps not only to improve comfort, but also with “soundproofing” and isolation.
- So how good is the isolation? Quite good overall. You should be able to use these as tracking headphones in the studio without worries.
- The inside of the semi-flexible adjustable headband features a padded silicone liner that distributes the weight on the top of you head without pain or unreasonable pressure. The ear cups press in fairly firmly, and even after a couple of months that didn’t lighten up appreciably, although it’s not too objectionable.
- The Focal Listen Professional’s headband is foldable, allowing the headphones to be collapsed into a smaller size for storage and travel.
- I have a fairly large head (7 1/4″ hat size) and there was plenty of adjustability in the headband to get things nice and comfortable, with a bit of expansion capability left in reserve. Unless you have an extra large head, they should fit you fine.
- Inside the ear cups you’ll find a layer of felt over each driver, and the felt is marked with red L and R indicators, making it easy to get the ear cup orientation correct when you go to put the Listen Pro headphones on. Or you can just remember that the cable is attached to the left ear cup…
- Weight is kept down to a very reasonable 10 ounces (280g) through the extensive use of plastics for the majority of the construction, but nothing feels cheap or flimsy. The plastic has a matte surface and is finished in such a way that it doesn’t easy show fingerprints.
- Focal Listen Professional headphones have 40mm transducers with Mylar / Titanium cones.
- Impedance is rated at 32 ohms. Sensitivity is rated at 122dB SPL @ 1kHz / 1Vrms (which seems fairly optimistic to me), and the frequency response rating is given as 15Hz – 22kHz with no +/- tolerance listed.
- The Listen Professional headphones come well-accessorized. First of all, you get a rigid, zippered carrying case. The case has a molded pocket that holds the folded Listen Professional headphones, along with another pocket to stow your two cables.
- There’s even a small loop inside the case that’s designed to store your ILOK dongle so you can easily take that along with you too.
- Inside the case you’ll find a pair of OFC cables – a 16′ (5m) coiled cable and a shorter 4.5′ (1.4m) straight cable. The coiled cable has a beefy 1/8″ (3.5mm) TRS plug (along with a 1/4″ / 6.35mm adapter), while the straight cable is designed for universal smartphone compatibility and features a TRRS style mini plug, an inline omnidirectional microphone, and a remote switch that allows you to play / pause, rewind, fast forward, answer calls, etc.
- The cables attach to a socket in the left ear cup – just insert the plug and turn it a quarter turn and it locks in position. Since cables are the number one thing to go bad on headphones, I always appreciate it when they’re easily replaceable.
- While they’re otherwise quite comfortable, the circumaural ear cups are a touch on the small size – their interior dimensions are roughly 1.5″ W x 2″ H. You may not notice unless you have fairly large pinnae (outer ears), but if you do, you might feel a bit claustrophobic; I felt like the edges of my ears were barely able to fit inside the ear cups (like they’re supposed to), and that they were occasionally being pressed on a bit; it’s not nearly as bad as as what you experience with supra-aural headphones, and the memory foam helps keep things comfortable anyway, but some people might notice a little pressure around the edges of their ears.
- The Focal Spirit Pro headphones that the Listen Professional models replaced had some reported issues with the headbands cracking, and while only time will tell as to whether or not the Listen Professional headphones will prove to be more durable, I saw no signs that gave me cause for concern during a heavy-use, three month testing period.
I really like the Focal Listen Professional headphones quite a bit. The inclusion of both a long coiled cable and a shorter smartphone compatible one will make them suitable for use in a wider range of listening situations – you’ll find yourself reaching for them not only when you’re working in the studio, but also when you’re on the go and using your laptop, tablet or smartphone. They’re sensitive enough that they can be driven to decent levels even by the often weak headphone amps built into such devices, although as you’d expect they still perform better (and play louder) when you use a decent quality headphone amp to drive them.
The overall tonal balance is reasonably good for cans in this price range. The low mids are a little on the soft side and the high mids are somewhat forward, but this isn’t anything too drastic, and probably contributes to their good sense of detail. The low end, while fairly extended, isn’t the beefiest you’ll ever hear, but it’s surprisingly detailed and tight for a pair of closed back headphones, with less of the typical bloat in the bottom that closed-back headphones typically exhibit. The stereo sound stage is also nice and wide – again, impressively so for closed-back cans. There’s a sense of openness to the sound that is more commonly found in semi-open back headphones.
Are the Focal Listen Professional headphones deserving of the professional moniker? Absolutely. Despite having the over-used word “professional” in their name, they really are up to the demands of professional use in terms of comfort, sound quality and durability. I’m sure we’ll be seeing them turning up in the possession of many recording engineers, and they’re also bound to be a popular choice for studio tracking room use too. Whether you are looking for headphones for personal listening enjoyment or for professional use – either on the go or in the studio, you really need to give a pair a listen for yourself – if you do, there’s a very good chance you’ll want to give a pair of Listens to yourself! -HC-
Want to discuss the Focus Listen Professional headphones or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Studio Trenches forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
Focal Listen Professional circumaural closed-back stereo headphones ($299.00 “street”)
Focal’s product web page
You can purchase the Focal Listen Pro headphones from:
Phil O’Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa’s Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.