Looks like the Fulla 4 will be going back - worked well on Warzone (3d Audio off) in the week, but today and yesterday on Ratchet & Clank (3d audio on) its frequently going into a disconnecting/reconnecting loop (I've tried it with and without mains power also with no joy) so have had to go back to the G6 again. It also seems fussy on how it wants to work from my laptop also.
Not sure if anyone else has experienced this or if it can be fixed - a shame as I really like the size/sound of the device.
I know it's kind of unrelated (I have my future headphone setup figured out, SoundBlaster X7 on a side table + Sundara) but I'm wondering about my speaker setup.
Due to my small room I'm getting a 120cm wide desk that isn't that deep either, and I have a 48" OLED as my main PC/consoles monitor on its own stand some distance away, so getting standard desk clamp mounts for studio monitors at the right distance/placement (especially depth) may not be possible, as they probably need to be extended past my desk space. I'd also like to keep the ground uncluttered so I want to avoid getting 2 separate tall stands for the studio monitors.
I was thinking of using desk clamp arms with 90degree rotation at the end, but for the love of me I couldn't find a single bespoke product online for this situation, only standard speaker tall mounts, wall mounts or fixed desk clamps, and everything with an adaptable arm is only targeted at monitors, laptops and keyboards (hard to get the right size plate to place the speakers on, but I ended up finding the perfect VESA adapter that can double as a stand). Now I'm wondering if the lack of speaker-targeted desk adjustable arms is due to low demand or if it's simply a terrible idea that wouldn't work for some reason (too much vibration?). I sketched up an approximation of what the setup would look like.
Is there any fundamental issue I'm missing here? Each arm can withstand 10kg so the Adam T5V's should hold up well.
Looking forward to the Fulla 4 review - enjoyed mine, (for the day it worked properly ) - since then, it refuses to work via anUSB hubs (powered or not) I have and the PS5 won't recognise it at all from any of its 4 USB ports (again whether I provide mains power to the Fulla or not). Seems I have a defective unit - which is a bit of a pain being in the UK!
Disclaimer: A special thanks to Drop for sending the Focal Elex out to me for the impressions/review. As always, whether products are sent to me or not, I do my best in being 100% honest with my views and opinions. If I don't like a product, I will refuse to write a review of it, or at the very least mention what I don't like about them, though I like to focus on products that people would like or at the very least are interested in. The only bias I have is to my readers. No one, Drop or otherwise, paid or asked me for anything. They only asked for my honest impressions. That's it.
In terms of the Focal Elex, this was purely a personal request from me to Drop. I had never heard a Focal headphone, and figured if I was ever going to get an opportunity, the Elex would be a great point of entry. Boy, what an entry it is.
In comes a very late look at the Focal Elex, by Drop (known as Massdrop when this released). While I have never ended up disappointed by a Drop variant of any headphone I've reviewed (though not being particularly in love with the Sennheiser 8XX), I still didn't know what was to come with the Focal Elex. I did absolutely no homework on Focal headphones beforehand. All I know is that they look great, and seem very well liked by the higher end headphone audio enthusiast crowd. I know nothing of their sound, their tendencies, nothing. But I knew they were popular. I've heard plenty of headphones throughout the years, and I figured before I stopped reviewing, I needed to get my hands on at least one Focal.
Nothing could prepare me for the absolute pleasure that is the Elex. If I had just one sentence to describe my feelings on the Elex, is that the Elex is from memory the best headphone I have ever heard. Now, I don't have the high end experience that others have, but as far as everything I have used and reviewed, the Elex is clearly, and unquestionably the best headphone overall, out of everything I have heard. The closest things I could say would put up a fight are the Hifiman Ananda, and the DCA Ether C that I reviewed so long ago.
Now, when I say best, I don't mean my absolute favorite. I do have my preferences for things that are warmer, and more colored. For instance, I still love and would place the original Audeze LCD-2 Rev. 2 as well as the 2012 and on Denon D7000 as my absolute faves. I'd probably argue with myself and spend my own money in that direction based on my own preferences. However, if I was going to recommend an accurate sounding headphone with exceptional clarity, voicing, and overall performance, the Elex sits at the top. I can only imagine what Focal's higher end headphones sound like, but I'll say the Elex has made me an absolute fan.
I've spoiled enough, so let's get into the why.
What's In the Box
While I'm quite happy getting headphones packaged in a plain box with the bare essentials, if you're going to go out of your way to have some form of higher level unboxing experience, THIS is a great way to go.
A nice, big black box opens up to reveal some wonderful top padding (which I questions just how useful it is, though is still quite nice), the headphone sitting in a foam insert, with the center cut out for literature, and a flap on the lower section which reveals where the cables are hidden.
All in all, the presentation is wonderful, and not overly indulgent. Just luxurious enough that you know these are world class headphones, without excessive waste on packaging.
Headphones - The Elex.
Cables - The two sets of 6ft detachable cables. One terminating in a 1/4" plug, and one in 4-pin XLR, and straps for the cables. I would've preferred the cable that terminates into 1/4" would've instead terminated into 3.5mm with a 1/4" adapter instead. I don't think there's any reason to force a cable to terminate into 1/4". With a 3.5mm plug you can just use a snap on or screw on adapter, whereas with a 1/4" plug you have to get a 3.5mm adapter which you can get a questionable barrel that puts too much strain on your 3.5mm inputs, or you have to spend more money on a 1/4" to 3.5mm adapter. The Elex isn't particularly hard to drive either, so removing the ability to use a 3.5mm source without finding an adapter is just limiting its versatility for no real reason, in my opinion.
Literature - Booklets, Manuals, and Focal related information manuals.
Build and Comfort
It has been quite a long time since I've felt a headphone that feels both tanky, and luxurious. Next to the Elex, everything I've reviewed in the past so many years come off as plastic toys. It's an absolute UNIT of a headphone. It just feels...substantial. Like, you know you're getting a premium headphone for the money, just based on looks, weight, and feel. It exudes luxury.
The Elex's headband is what I consider to be the most 'standard' looking part of the headphone. It just looks like a headband you'd find on a million other headphones. In fact, while I don't know this for sure, the headband and yokes look suspiciously (and exactly) like the ones used on Monoprice's M1070. That's not to say that it's bad. Far from it. It's a chunky boy with a lot of material. So it's definitely not cheap feeling or looking. Mainly covered in what I assume to be faux leather, the headband is quite large, thick, and wide. The bottom side is covered in perforated microfiber which is a welcome change and beneficial for both comfort and aesthetics. It looks nice, and elegant.
The yokes that connect to the cups are made of a black aluminum , and also scream quality and durability. Not unique in design, but they'll definitely stand the test of time. The yokes allow for very, very minimal horizontal adjustment, so some awkwardly shaped headphones may need to take note. The cups do however swivel up and down with plenty of freedom, in my opinion.
In terms of size adjustment, it allows for a large head like mine to fit comfortably, and will likely allow for most head sizes to fit without issues. I like to overextend the length for a more loose fit, in which the Elex allows maybe one or two clicks on each side over my preferred size extension.
In terms of comfort, the headband may be the least desirable trait on the Elex, but that's a very minor quibble with the Elex's comfort. The headband isn't as comfortable as some of the better headphones out there in this regard, but ultimately falls in the range of still being comfortable overall. Whereas I'd want amazing or great comfort, the Elex's headband is still in the range of being good in comfort levels. So not really a downside. Not the best, but far from a problem.
The cups are easily the most recognizable aspect of the Focal Elex design, and unlike the headband and yoke, are entirely unique to Focal. The Elex is simply one of the best looking full sized headphones I've ever seen, and the cups are 90% of the reason why. From the classy, black, outer grill, to the offset ring in front of the driver, to the opening that surrounds the driver enclosure on the inside and allows air to pass freely, this is one beautifully crafted cup design. As vented as the Elex is, it's no surprised that this is one completely open looking and sounding headphone.
The inner side of the cups houses the 40mm driver which is quite exposed but protected by a strong honeycomb-styled grill cover and a very fine mesh. It's quite beautiful, which falls along the line of everything else on the Elex.
On the bottom of the cups are dual 3.5mm mono inputs for the cables. The inputs are quite recessed, so you may need to think about the size of any aftermarket cable plugs.
Pads make or break a headphone for me. To say that the Elex's perforated microfiber memory foam pads are arguably the best pads I've ever felt on a headphone is an understatement. I've felt plenty of very comfortable ear pads. However, these pads...man, if it weren't for the fact that ear pads can make or ruin the sound of headphones, I'd want to put these pads on everything. They're very plush, retain their shape, and barely compress when worn. This may actually be the key the Elex's sound, as I note that physically compressing the pads down when worn will DRASTICALLY alter the sound of the Elex, so much that it may as well be various different headphones based on pad compression and driver distance alone. As such, I do believe IF these pads DO wear out and compress due to long term use, the Elex will absolutely sound like a completely different headphone. One that is warmer, with more bass presence, and not as pristine sounding.
I can see pad swapping the Elex being an easy way to tune the sound to your liking, though I don't know why anyone would want to swap from the default pads. They're amazing.
In case you missed the hint on ear pad comfort, I'd rate the Elex's ear pads at about a 9.9 out of 10.
They feel like heaven on the skin
The inner cup ventilation is fantastic for long term wearing sessions and keeps ears from getting too hot
While the pads aren't so plush that they compress like clouds, the fact they retain their shape means less surface area contacting the skin
They're simply incredible. I'd argue that something is wrong with you if thinking otherwise. Inconceivable. You can't change my mind.
The Elex comes with two detachable 6ft cables. One is terminated in a standard 1/4" adapter, and the other comes with a balanced 4 pin XLR Neutrik connector. They certainly look and feel premium. Wrapped in dark grey and black cloth, they're amongst the nicest looking stock cables you can get on a headphone.
I do have a mild complaint about the cables, and it's that they're quite heavy, and not very malleable. These are more cords rather than headphone cables. Quite thick, and not easy to wrap around or control. There's nothing wrong with them otherwise, but I'd personally like something a little softer and easier to manage. An aftermarket cable would likely be the first thing I look for if I was in the market for the Elex.
At about 450g, the Elex isn't the most lightweight of headphones, and you'll certainly feel it on the hand and when worn. That being said, while it's certainly not a feather, I've never found the weight to be cumbersome on the neck, ears, or head. The headband isn't the best at distributing weight, and may have a little bit of downforce felt from it, but overall, I just can't knock off too many points off due to these minor nitpicks.
I feel that the weight is a testament to the high quality of the materials used, more than an issue of it being heavy for no reason.
Final Build and Comfort Impressions:
There's nothing I can truly find problematic with the Elex's build. It looks and feels premium from head to toe. This is one of the best headphones I've ever seen in both aesthetics and build. As far as comfort goes, you have arguably some of the best ear pads to ever grace a headphone, mixed with a decent, albeit not necessarily great headband. I'd say it averages out to very good in terms of comfort. The Elex is a headpone I can wear absolutely all day without question. With minor periods of adjusting the Elex on top of my head, there's little else to keep it from being incredibly comfortable for extremely long periods of use.
The Elex is one of the most open headphones I've used in a very long time, which means that you need to expect a lot of noise leakage in and out. While not as leak heavy as a planarmagnetic like the Ananda (which can double as a portable speaker in terms of noise output), the Elex will need to be played at a moderate to lower volume if you don't want to disturb others, particularly late at night. You'll definitely want a closed door or two between you and whomever you're not trying to disturb. Forget same room listening without people hearing everything you're listening to.
As far as isolation from external noises, this too is about as poor as it gets. The cups are vented between the pads and the drivers, so you're getting all sorts of external influence finding their way into the cups.
As long as you set your expectations accordingly, they're not the worst at noise control, but definitely on the poor side, even amongst other open-backed headphones.
Be warned that the next few sections will sound like utter gushing. It's because it is. I'm going to gush, and you're going to listen to why.
With zero Focal experience, I came in letting leaves fall as they may. Having done next to no digging about what Focal is about and what type of sound they go for, I just wanted something that I wouldn't be disappointed with. If they were going to go any route, let them be, at the very least, adept at it, so that I could at least have a positive review for one of their headphones. I would've been happy with a decent performing headphone. I didn't expect miracles, and I didn't expect something that I'd consider 'The Best' I've ever heard.
To say that the Focal Elex blew me away is an understatement. Boy, what a ride the Elex has taken me on. I hadn't prepared for this. I mean, Drop is (for the vast majority of the time), always prepared to send me the good stuff, which I'm more than happy to give the time of day. If it's going to be disappointing, I rather not waste my time or theirs. So, I find it odd Drop didn't think to approach me with the Elex back during their release window. I mean, why? The Elex is SUBLIME. Porque? Ok, vamos a ver.
Those who know me, know, while I don't need basshead levels of bass, I do like a solid foundation for the rest of the sound to stand on. The bottom end needs representation with some vibrancy mixed in with some real gravitas. This may be the most surprising aspect of the Focal Elex's sound. Mainly that when you listen to the Elex's sound as a whole, you would think that it'd have some reservations down low, so as not to outshine the midrange, treble, or any other aspect if its deliciously blended sound.
But the Elex has this...freedom to its bass that allows it to perfectly encapsulate the rawness that more polite, even handed, mature sounding headphones lack. Like, you would think that a highly detailed, neutral, linear sounding headphone would exercise some caution and maintain maybe a bit too much control in bass production. Well, the Elex is more like "Hey, I can be all those things, but I also like to party!" The Elex has an almost adolescent presence in the bass without it ever being what anyone would call heavy handed on the bass. It's still wonderfully balanced, and uncolored. But it rumbles, and it kicks as much as anyone would need it to. This may be one of the best, non-bass focused headphones I've ever heard in terms of dynamics in the lower regions. It's super fun, and still oh-so-very proper and high quality.
I wouldn't deem the Elex bassy by general standards. It's right on the line of perfectly balanced. However, it's the way the bass hits, the way it rumbles, the way it lingers juuuust long enough to make it stand out next to more, "professional" sounding headphones. Professional, boring, lackadaisical. Potayto, potahto. Give me the way Elex portrays bass over any overly refined bass any day of the week. There is such a thing as being too perfect. It's imperfections that give things character, and the Elex oozes character.
Frequency tests done, It goes as low as I can hear at sub-20hz, with good, but never overly emphatic bass. The texture and clarity down low is exceptional to my ears, with a great sense of speed and decay as well. I'm telling you, I'm enamored by the way the Elex showcases it's lowest regions. There's no big bloom or veil. It's not frail or thin, boomy or sluggish. It's just outright tasteful and joyful from bottom to top.
9/10 would let it hit again.
Midrange to Treble:
Continuing from the excellent balance and neutral forwardness of the sound, is the midrange. The Elex has an obvious focused staging in its midrange that is neither in upfront and intimate, nor spaced out and distant. It feels properly centralized with no emphasis or pushed away presence. Something like a 6XX clearly puts the vocals a bit closer to your listening vicinity as if you're on stage as part of the act, while the Elex is more about placing you in the front or second row being part of the immediate audience. just excellent neutrality, linear balance, and details that never stray far from being tonally accurate.
Moving up to the upper ranges, you may be inclined to call the Elex neutral leaning slightly bright, due to the high clarity and presence up top. The upper mid to treble ranges have plenty of sparkle and zest, though I wouldn't ever call the Elex a hot, sibilant headphone. It isn't.
Ignoring published graphs and doing personal frequency tests gave me the Elex's strongest peak at 5khz, with a drop off at 6khz and 8.5khz being the two lowest points to my ears, neither being too low as to be muffled or lacking in presence. The Elex is one of very few headphones I've heard to extend well past 10khz, with my ears picking up sound even at 16khz. Lots of activity in the upper ranges, that I normally would not hear on other headphones.
There's just very little missing from the midrange and treble. It's utterly brilliant.
If there was one aspect that didn't blow me away about the Elex's sound, it's that the soundstage isn't particularly amazing. By design, with how open it is, from being open-backed, having ventilation between the cups and ears pads, and its neutral oriented sound, I guess I just expected something more...airy? Air, spaciousness, weightlessness, are things I just can't say are part of the Elex's repertoire. Now, I don't mean it's bad in any of these regards. More that, it's not particular strengths on the Elex. The soundstage seems moderately sized, and allows for good imaging, but nothing incredible.
Personally, and as usual, I don't mind this, as I don't give soundstaging too much priority, especially when I can mitigate deficiencies with virtual surround processors in terms of movie and video game uses. I don't need my music or other media outside of games and movies to have a large stage.
Again, it's not bad. I'd consider the Elex and average performer in this regard.
Sound Signature and Clarity
(Note - I have two areas of sound that I use the term "neutral" for. Neutral forwardness or lack off, as in whether sounds are intimate or spaced back. A sort of distance measurement relative to your listening position. Neutral again meaning not too forward, not too spaced back. In terms of sound signature, I mean it as something else, meaning tonality our how sounds...sound, if that makes sense. Not being dark, warm, cold, or bright.
The Elex sounds close to what I perceive has neutral in tonality/coloration. A neutral tonality for me means that sounds aren't dark or warm, nor are they bright, cold, or analytical. Neutral means right where it needs to be. Correct. Somewhat lifelike in tone. If anything, the upper range can be just north of neutral and a little brighter than perfectly neutral, but not by much, and only in some ranges.
Clarity is absolutely top notch. The Elex isn't boringly analytical or lacking in musicality, but it does exhibit a high degree of clarity, so much as to do well in sub-surface, miniscule detail retrieval. The Elex is among the best I've heard at the minor nitpicking needed for analysis of sound without ruining the enjoyment factor. It's better than great. It won't best the absolute top players like say an HD800, but I'd take the minor concessions made for something I'd want to listen to for all purpose rather than just for one thing here or there.
Simple answers? Sound signature is neutral to slightly bright. Clarity is about 8 out 10 ten. Great clarity.
The Elex isn't particularly hard to drive, and should work well with most kinds of sources and amplifiers. Worry less about how much power being sent, and the tonal balance of the gear you may have, as the Elex is quite neutrally colored, and may intake some traits from other aspects of your chain.
As such, I believe the Elex pairs up well with practically anything, and should be a great way to demo colored gear like specialized tube amplifiers.
Personal example, I compared a $600 Schiit Modius/Jotunheim 2 balanced combo, with an entry level, $99 Schiit Fulla 4 tiny amp/dac. I got the same enjoyment and toe tapping factor off both setups. Really, don't worry so much about powering the Elex. It will sound amazing off practically anything. Anyone that tells you otherwise is just spitting hyperbole, and trying to justify their purchases. Yes the Fulla 4 isn't as holographic and dimensional and full as the Jot 2/Modius, but it still sounds like the beauty that is the Elex. If you have ANY dac/amp worth two cents, the Elex will sound fantastic. That's all you need to know.
After having just listened to me gush about the Elex's sound, were you truly expecting anything other than glowing impressions out of its gaming performance? If so... why? A good headphone is basically guaranteed to sound good for gaming as well. Well, the Elex is so far beyond just 'good', that you should expect its gaming performance to be every bit as excellent as you should assume it is.
Now, yes, the soundstage isn't enormous and incredible as some others. Yet, if you're a gamer like me that uses virtual surround, you know that the magic of soundstaging for games is mainly associated by whatever virtual surround solution you're using. As long as a headphone isn't overly congested and miniscule in soundstage size, all a headphone does is enhance the dsp of whatever VSS you use.
The Elex being neutrally inclined in coloration, with a modest but decent soundstage will pair up incredibly well with any virtual surround solution. Soundstage size and depth is great, having used Dolby Headphone, Redscape Audio, Sony's Tempest 3D audio, Creative's SBX and SXFI. The Elex sound fantastic through each and every single one of them. Dolby Headphone and SXFI warm up the sound a bit giving the Elex a more immersive experience, while the others are less colored and will work for both competitive and casual gaming.
As for the stricter, more stereo-oriented gamer that scoffs at virtual surround, well, while I think you guys are silly (and dead wrong), but I still would say the Elex has you covered there as well. The linear tonality, pristine clarity, and decent stereo soundstage will allow the Elex to flex its muscles regardless of whatever game you throw at it.
Gaming on the Elex is great, no matter what method of headphone gaming, no matter what game, no matter how long, now matter how serious.
Likely to no one's surprise, I find the Elex to be well suited for any and all forms of media. Its fantastic balance allows the Elex to do well with anything you throw at it. Want to listen to podcasts? The Elex's clarity and neutral forwardness allows voices to be picked up easily. Want to watch movies? While it may not be as bombastic as a bass-forward headphone, it still has a good amount of rumble and impact to make action movies enjoyable. Want to just sit back and listen to music before bedtime at low volumes? The Elex has you covered. Need critical, analytically focused listening? Hey, the Elex is no slouch. Really, it just lends itself to anything you throw at it.
The Elex has quite a large footprint, isn't collapsible in anyway, and is a bit on the heftier side of headphones. It's also very open, which isn't suited for outside listening. All of this means that the Elex makes for a poor choice of headphone for portable or transportable use. Unless you have a large private office away from the next person, I wouldn't even recommend it for work either. Seriously, keep the Elex at home.
Who Is It For?
The better question would be, who ISN'T the Elex for? The Elex is so good, I'd recommend it to practically anyone and everyone. It's so good, I doubt many people out there wouldn't love it in some form or another.
If anything, I wouldn't recommend it for those wanting a headphone for the reasons I stated in the previous section. It's not portable-friendly, and it leaks a ton. Those would be the only two reasons I can think of stopping anyone from getting the Elex.
I do believe the bass is fine for a neutrally toned and balanced headphone, though if you're a basshead, then there's certainly other headphones better suited for you. I feel the bass is more realistic to the sound, not so much thunderous and omnipotent.
Basically, as long as you're expecting a headphone that is tonally well balanced, and not super colored one way or another, the Elex is brilliant, period.
Likes and Dislikes
Almost everything about its sound
Clarity and detail
Ear Pads comfort
Thicker than necessary and stiff cables
Soundstage is merely average (I expected more considering how open the headphone it is)
I am absolutely enamored with the Focal Elex. I think it's the best all around headphone I've heard in many, many years. If someone were to ask me what my endgame headphone is, I'd be more than happy to say that the Elex could fill that spot. That being said, It'd be supplemental for something warmer and fuller sounding as a companion like an LCD2C, since my tastes are for something darker with more bass. Still, if you were to ask me if I'd spend at most $1500 for either a headphone like an Arya (which I've heard, and is absolutely brilliant), or two that are $750-ish, I'd definitely would take the Elex as one of them.
There's just little that goes wrong here with the Focal Elex. It is an absolute joy to listen to for anything I manage to throw at it. I've come to expect nothing but excellence from Drop. This joint venture with Focal has to be the most impressive of all. The only problem born from having listened to the Elex, is that now I want to hear what else Focal has to offer. If the Elex is this good, I can only imagine how impressive their higher end headphones are. For $700, if you want well balanced and highly detailed, I believe you only have two real choices: the Focal Elex, and the Hifiman Ananda. Personally, you can't go wrong with either, but I do find the Elex more comfortable, and usable for longer periods. So my choice would be the Elex 9 times out of 10. I also think it's less peaky, and tonally better behaved than the Ananda. However, the soundstage is considerably more impressive on the Ananda. Nothing can quite match the soundstage height of a big Hifiman planar. In the end, the choice between the Elex and Ananda is one I don't envy.
I believe Drop called the Elex a super-HD650. I'd be more inclined to say they'd be better off known as super HD600s. They're not as warm and dark as the HD650. They sound more neutral, not as mid-forward, and better balanced than the HD650. which is what I've always heard of the HD600s. So if you want a super-HD600, the Focal Elex is a prime candidate.
Up to this point, I'd say nothing has managed to hit me on this deep a level the way the Focal Elex has. At least as far as headphones that aren't gear specifically to my tastes. The Elex would be that "And One" headphone. So for example, I would own an LCD2C AND the Elex. I would own a Denon D7000 AND the Elex, etc. The Elex being the greatest complementary headphone is no mere compliment.