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Headphones for metal music - ultimate solution

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by levap, Apr 21, 2014.
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  1. Tsukuyomi
    the newest H9 apperently is better than the older H9i, B&O fixed the driver a little to make it sound smoother and wider?
  2. Monsterzero
    While I do not delve into the Stellia with metal specifically here,it is fantastic with all my usual genres. I speak briefly about how it sounds vs. Verite.

    NZtechfreak likes this.
  3. NZtechfreak
    My wallet trembles hearing feedback like that about the Stellia, embodies the qualities I like in the Utopia. Dynamic, impactful, detailed, some extra energy in the treble, good with all genres (all the headphones I like do multiple genres, which I guess comes from having good technicalities and a fairly balanced FR). Sounds right up my alley.
    Monsterzero likes this.
  4. emptymt
    hoho, thx for sharing it with me man.

    By coincidence, I just spent some time trying The Stellia in my local dealer. I'm gonna write my impression in the impressions thread and copy pasted it here. Will watch your video later when I'm done.
  5. emptymt
    Just my opinion.

    Focal Stellia VS Focal Utopia impressions:

    Listening condition: About 5-8 people in the shop, the shop is fairly quiet.
    Listening duration: about 1 hour and 45 minutes
    Main genre tested: Metal, Rock, EDM
    Gears Used: Hiby R6(standard), 2.5mm balanced out.

    I have owned The Utopia for more than a year now, but, I can’t use it at work, so a closed-back is needed, hence why I tried the Stellia.
    This is not a full-blown review, and is just my opinion after listening to it for a short period of time.

    Impression / Comparison:

    Sound Signature

    Stellia is U shaped, Utopia is Neutral-bright

    Technical capability
    1. Detail is less than Utopia, but I think the differences are not big. Due to open back design, The details that came out of the Utopia feels more effortless, especially in micro details.

    2. Dynamic is still strong, same as Utopia.

    1. Bass more forward and has more body on Stellia.

    2. Stellia’s Bass Speed is similar but more bodied on each kick drum, so the individual hits are not as distinguishable compared to Utopia.

    3. Stellia’s bass extension is strong, but is more mid-bass focused. It is still really enjoyable for EDM.

    1. Electric Guitars still have the bites of Utopia but not as distinct/vivid.

    2. Electric Guitars are not as forward sounding as Utopia.

    3. Bass guitar can sound more textured than Utopia, also has more body and warmer tuning. But it actually expose less micro details.

    4. Some Electric guitar tuning that is on the higher pitch can be fatiguing, for example Cynic. This is similar to Utopia.

    5. For atmospheric stuff, the Stellia can sound more atmospheric due to the thicker Signature. It has this enveloping feel to it.

    1. Vocal can be slightly behind other frequencies, especially male vocals not so much for female.

    2. Stellia’s vocal can be perceived as slightly sweeter sounding imo.

    3. Sibilant tracks is less sibilant sounding than Utopia.

    4. Harsh vocals in metal music sounds more throaty than the Utopia, where it sounds more natural. These makes this type of vocal sound different for both headphone.

    1. Simmer from cymbals and hi hats are less than Utopia.

    2. Extensions is excellent, but not as natural sounding as the Utopia.

    3. Definitely less strident for most tracks.

    1. Soundstage is actually almost the same size.

    2. Stellia is not as airy sounding.

    3. Separation is comparable, but If the music is really dense, on most occasions, Utopia is better.

    4. The Utopia is still more open sounding, for obvious reasons.

    Other observations
    1. It is more forgiving than Utopia for poor recordings, but don’t get your hopes up, this is still a Focal.

    2. Comfort is a little bit better than Utopia, not sure why. I think the pads is more comfy.

    3. When music is not playing, sound blockage is not very good. When music is playing, I couldn't hear people talking in the room. I listen at mid to high volume.

    4. Sound isolation is not that great but not too bad, it's on the same level as Z1R. Don’t go crazy with your volume when using this at work.

    5. For maximum vividness, Utopia is still better.

    When to get Stellia instead of Utopia
    1. Get Stellia if some noise isolation matters a lot for you.

    2. Get Stellia if you want more elevated bass.

    3. Get Stellia if you want a bit more body in your sound.

    4. Get Stellia if you like the vocal effects on it.

    5. Get Stellia if you listen to EDM.

    6. Get Stellia if you like it’s sound coloration.

    7. Get Stellia if you think that you are brave enough to wear these headphones outside.

    The Utopia is still the best sounding headphone Focal made.

    However, The Stellia have a different flavor to it that could appeal to you.

    It is a great closed back headphone for sure.
    swspiers, Monsterzero and Hansotek like this.
  6. NZtechfreak
    So this happened today - more thoughts later...

    Last edited: Jul 27, 2019
    Hansotek likes this.
  7. ev666il
    How would you guys say the following compare when it comes to metalcore and melodic death metal (e.g. Parkway Drive, Aether Realm, Threat Signal, Cold Insight, etc.)?

    Aeon Flow Closed
    LCD2 Classic
    HE 560
  8. Hansotek
    If you have the budget for those, I’d consider the Campfire Cascade as well, which would be my pick. Otherwise I would go with Aeon.
    ev666il likes this.
  9. NZtechfreak
    OK, so the Raal.

    Spent about 90 minutes with it in a dead quiet environment.

    Files were my own, all FLAC 16/44.1 apart from one song from the only 24 bit album in my collection (noted in the song list). DAC/amp were the dealers own - Denafrips Terminator and Kinki EX-M1 (215W/channel). He's a high end speaker dealer, so while I didn't bother getting names of his cables and interconnects as I'm not much a believer in that, they were all top notch expensive stuff so if you're solidly in the believer camp rest assured these were not likely letting things down. Not a huge believer in burn in either, the Raal was the dealers, reasonable number of hours on it from speaking with him but can't quantify that for those are who are in the believer camp there (would estimate at least 50 hours). Note: I am not at all interested in debating cables or burn-in, and I won't engage in discussion on these at all - just don't go there please, it only degrades the threads SNR. I am only mentioning these things at all as a courtesy to provide that context to those who would wish to know.

    I generally wasn't listening to whole songs, mostly excerpts with a more specific listening focus.

    Song list:
    Forty Six and Two, Tool
    Take the Power Back, Rage Against the Machine
    Throes of Rejection, Pantera
    Planet Caravan, Pantera (cover)
    Billy Jean, Michael Jackson
    Teardrop, Massive Attack
    Let Go, Frou Frou
    Close to Me, The Cure
    Ain't That a Kick in the Head, Dean Martin
    All Along the Watchtower, Jimi Hendrix (cover)
    I Put a Spell on You, Nina Symone
    Blue in Green, Miles Davis
    You Learn, Alanis Morissette
    If You Have To Ask, RHCP
    Heartbeats, Jose Gonzalez
    I'm on Fire, Bruce Springsteen
    The Fade Out Line, Phoebe Kildeer
    Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, Led Zeppelin
    Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd (24 bit vinyl rip)
    Then these last few tracks to see how particularly badly mastered brickwalled songs sounded (with apologies to my ears) -
    American Idiot, Green Day from the original 2004 CD (not the remastered one, which actually increased dynamic range, a startling rarity in remasters)
    Parts of several Death Magnetic tracks
    (honestly, I'm really very sorry to my ears)

    Afterwards I spent a very focused 5-10 minutes listening to selected bits from the above on my HE-6. Unfortunately my speaker taps cable was too short beneath the splitter to reach the Kinki's taps, so I used a Bakoon the dealer had on hand here instead. While the Bakoon was three times as expensive as the Kinki, it was 25W into 8ohm according to the dealer, which is less than I've used the HE-6 with before where speaker amps are concerned and obviously not the same amp I listened to the Raal on. While both would be unknown HE-6 pairings to me, I would have preferred obviously to have as few different variables as possible. Sound seemed around the right ballpark for the HE-6, so I mostly got what I wanted from the brief listen despite the suboptimal setting.

    In terms of my own tilt/preferences - I have some high frequency hearing loss from too much loud guitar playing and concert-going, so headphones that are neutral-bright or with extra treble energy are usually desirable to my ears. Given my ears attenuate these frequencies I suspect how I appreciate tonal balance is somewhat tipped and bass is probably mildly elevated to my ears accordingly (honestly I feel like this is almost a sweet spot to occupy in this hobby, a lot of really superb headphones on a technical level are in the neutral-bright and possibly slightly bass-light category). I don't listen 'casually' with headphones, when I am listening on 'phones it is with total attention on the music. Detail and dynamics are very important to me, and I don't fatigue easily. I can't stand bloated woolly bass, and I don't do headphones for this or that genre - they either sound good for everything to me or I won't buy or keep them. Last thing to note is that I had a cold a couple of weeks ago, and while that was resolved some ten days or so before the audition, in my car ride over to the dealer I got some mild symptoms of eustachian tube dysfunction at one point and that will likely have impacted things to a small and unquantifiable degree.

    OK, disclaimers and background aside, was I wowed?

    Yes and no. Apart from selected moments I generally wasn't wowed in the "oh my god, these are the best thing I have ever heard" kinda way. The reason for that was that these are a rare headphone that does so little wrong anywhere that there isn't any particular thing that calls out your attention, while being extremely good on many fronts. That wows me, but not in the jaw-dropping way a first listen to the HD800 does for soundstage, or the Abyss or LCD-4 do for bass.

    These are exceptionally fast, exceptionally resolving, very dynamic, the soundstage was large-ish (I had them at around a 40-45 degree angle, you could probably enlarge soundstage even more angling, but at the expense of volume and bass), the imaging pinpoint. I've not gone chasing FR graphs, but they seemed very even through the midrange favouring neither male nor female vocals, guitars sounded great. Treble extension very good, no issues with glare/etch excessive energy for my ears, the entry of the trumpet in Blue in Green and the rimshot in Teardrop that are painful on some phones were just great (YMMV given my disclaimer earlier). Bass quality is very good, tight, impactful, resolving of textures like bass string vibrations against frets... but I did at times find myself wishing for more presence really low down. I think I would fall short of calling them frankly bass light though. On most tracks I had no issues, it was only on tracks with a heavy foundation down really low I felt I was missing some bass (Let Go, Teardrop for example). I think the speed occasionally took away some of the bass impact/rumble too, the intro to Throes of Rejection for example suffered and Vinnie's drums sounded a bit more anaemic than I think they should. These are extremely transparent though, and upstream changes will change their character a bit, so I would imagine the right amp pairing could bring things up a bit. They're also incredibly clean, and would probably take to EQ just fine too.

    When I tried the HE-6 a few things were thrown into sharp relief. The three tracks I mentioned above all sounded much more 'right' on the HE-6, but the HE-6 sounded closed-in and almost muffled in comparison. A lot of detail in vocals - breathyness, some fine gradations in pitch and so forth that really drew me into the performance - that I was picking up on the Raal were simply absent on the HE-6. Similarly the reproduction of room echo and other echo techniques employed by Paige that were amazingly reproduced and positioned on the Raal were notably less present. These were some of the aspects where I heard things I've never heard before (yes, that old cliche), and it's been a long while since I heard this much deeper into familiar recordings in this hobby. Obviously I would have liked to have heard the HE-6 on an amp that was a known quantity to me to really flesh out how great these differences really were, but the main thing I wanted from the comparison was to hear songs where deep bass was more integral to the songs voice and I at least got that.

    Comfort was fine for me, but then how much anyone else can take from that I don't know. Despite having a prolapsed disc in my neck and chronic pain with that, I've never had trouble with heavy headphones *shrug*

    My take away is that these are exceptional headphones, I think in a tier with the Abyss and Susvara above all others (I've no interest in the several extraordinarily expensive systems that exist above these prices, so I'm not saying anything about their merits when I say that), but I don't think I will pick them up all things considered. That would require investing in a speaker amp and all that goes with that - cost, fitting it into my system, finding 'the one' etc. Additionally, I think planar bass is probably just my thing. I need to audition both the Susvara and Abyss Phi TC at some point, but I'm probably headed toward the Abyss given the Susvara will also want an amp, and my impression from the feedback I'm seeing is that the Abyss sound will likely be more to my liking.
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2019
  10. Monsterzero
    But...You didnt tell us what you were wearing.:gs1000smile:

    Kidding. Fantastic review. One takeaway. From my understanding the bass on the Terminator is quite heavy,so if these sounded anemic with the Termy,i would imagine it would fare even worse on lesser DACs and lesser(215 wpc!) amps.
  11. NZtechfreak
    I'd love to hear these on a few other systems, I think their sound is probably more malleable than a lot, to get a better grip on the Raal character I think it's probably a must. As I said, only tracks with a lot of information in very low bass registers felt lacking, so not generally anaemic as such. EDIT: Should clarify bass extension is really quite good, it's not a complete absence of reproduction or that it drops off the face of a cliff beneath 100Hz, just the presence drops off - that's why EQ is likely to be pretty handy here.

    I realise after all of that I forgot to report how absolutely awful Death Magnetic stuff and American Idiot sounded. Never heard them sound worse. Drum sounds were frankly horrific, but then they usually suffer the most being the peak amplitude wave-forms before everything gets brickwalled or passed through the Rick Rubin filter. So top marks for unfiltered truth telling I suppose, although it renders some of your collection only listenable on lesser equipment.
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2019
  12. NZtechfreak
    Highly recommended if you've never seen before -

    Last edited: Jul 27, 2019
    darmanastartes likes this.
  13. vipervick
    So, did anyone ever make a definitive list? I'm really interested in the ZMF offerings.
  14. emptymt
    Good to see you in this thread man, for me I would be interested with the new Verite closed.
    vipervick likes this.
  15. vipervick
    I think I'm more interested in the Atticus for metal. But I know nothing. I'm big into hard slamming bass. Lots of Doom, Stoner, and Psychedelic metal.
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