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Testing Ground

Focal Celestee: closed-back headphones with an open mind

By Alban Amouroux |

Every bit as substantial as the Stellia, Clear or Elegia, the new Focal Celestee is a luxury mobile headset. It is closed off to isolate the listener from external noise. It takes the well-known design of other headphones but sets itself apart with a new colour: navy blue.

Focal is not resting on the laurels it won with many models out of its headphone range. This range has a very wide spread of prices to meet the demands of all enthusiasts. It should also be noted that Focal offers both closed- and open-backed headphones. Each model is either one or the other. The Celestee joins the closed family.

This model's true calling is mobility. It can therefore be linked to a smartphone or a mobile music player. Of course, nothing prevents you from using it sitting down at home. Focal has put extensive work into combinations of colour and material. So this navy blue was not arrived at by chance. It is a thoughtful choice and gives the Celestee a luxurious look, where dark blue meets copper with some very precise elements, allowing the whole to stand out from what is already on offer in the industry. The end result is that the Celestee is immediately recognisable.

Features

Price: Manufacturer's website
Impedance: 35 ohms
Sensitivity: 105 dB SPL / 1 mW @ 1 kHz
Distortion: 0.1 % @ 1 kHz / 100 dB SPL
Frequency response: 5Hz-23khz
Transducer: 40mm aluminium/magnesium M-profile dome ● Supplied cables: 1x 1.2 m asymmetric cable jack TRS 3.5 mm, adapter jack 3.5/6.35 mm
Accessories: rigid carrying case (250x240x120 mm)
Weight: 430 g

General presentation of the Celestee

If you are familiar with Focal headsets, you will recognise the outer appearance of the Celestee. This new navy blue colour is found all over, from the headband to the pads to the aluminium forks. These are connected to the ear cups via parts that end in bronze-coloured caps. This second colour is also found at the ends of the headband, on the outside of the cups where the logo and name of the headset are located, on the connection plugs as well as on the inside of the cups.

At 430 grams, the Celestee is an imposing item. It is quite close to the 490g models like the Audeze LCD-GX that we tested recently. But it is quite different in terms of comfort. The distribution of the mass seems more balanced with the Focal. The support around the ears is less stuffy while the hoop presses a little more on the head. Since it is sufficiently well-padded, it is not burdensome to wear.

The comfortable leather pads do their job well by helping to isolate external noise. The noise isolation works very well. This closed headset is almost an active noise-cancelling headset. Once the Celestee is put on the user's head, a bubble of silence is created. This is what permits the use of this headset out and about. You hear nothing from the outside, and almost no sound leaks from the headphones.

The headband is flexible enough to fit the contours of the head. The hoop is adjusted via notches. The arches allow the ear cups to rotate independently. A slight twist is possible. All this without any creaking noise when moving your head.

How the Celestee works

Focal has fitted the Celestee with its famous 40mm M-shaped dome transducer. It is made from an aluminium and magnesium alloy for lightness. Deep down within the ear cups, it is protected by a honeycomb grid. Focal has paired it with an acoustic treatment in order to remove any annoying resonance from the cups.

The Celestee has a classic impedance of 35 ohms that will facilitate use with a smartphone, and with any headphone output in general. The device's sensitivity helps it obtain high listening performance, without ever pushing things too far, of course. The advertised bandwidth ranges from 5 Hz to 23 kHz, enough not to lose so much as a crumb from any musical style.

All Focal Hi-Fi headphones come in a rigid carrying case that matches the colour of the headphones. It protects the Celestee effectively while providing space for the cable and jack/mini-jack adapter. Speaking of which, only one detachable cable is supplied. The plugs are of excellent quality, offering tight, consistent contact. On the other hand, it measures only 1.2 metres. It is perfect with a mobile music player, but less so if you want to connect to a Hi-Fi system. In the classic mono mini-jack format for each ear-cup, it is easy to replace it with a longer model, bought separately.

Listening

We started our listening with our small USB DAC / Headphone Amp Pro-Ject S2. There was no problem powering the Celestee. We also connected it to an RME ADI-2 Pro AE, and then to a Matrix Audio Mini-I 3 Pro whose test you will soon read here. While it is possible to listen from any source, such as a smartphone, you will be able to get a lot more out of the Focal Celestee by using higher-end electronics. The latest track, Peur des filles by L'Impératrice from their electro / pop / funk album Tako Tsubo produces a broad ambiance outside the headset with different layers within which the instruments are well spaced. We can confirm this on So What live by Marcus Miller and the Monte Carlo Orchestra whose different instruments surround us with a beautiful feeling of depth and distance.

If you're used to headphones brimming with bass, the Celestee might disappoint at first. But when we put it in context and pay attention to its respect for different registers, we realise the excellent linearity of these headphones: the bass is present, neither too far forward nor in the rear. It plays what it has to play, with vigour and realism. The bass is reproduced with all the necessary details: punchy, round or deep depending on the track. It offers a real seat for every track without ever being covered over. Even older recordings become more pleasant to listen to. To push the exercise a little further, we listened to North Star by Tales of Us and its demonic ultra-bass. The Celestee did not flinch, solidly reproducing sound waves from the bowels of the Earth, without interfering with the rest of the music.

The rather intimate retro soul from the album Introducing... by Aaron Frazer is not necessarily easy for every system to handle. Superbly well-centred, the scene nevertheless remains easily legible, as does the very characteristic voice of the American, whose every detail and inflection can be enjoyed. The old-fashioned instruments form a compact ensemble that's close to the singer but precise in timbres and placements. In the end, the Celestee works with all musical styles. It excels with classical music, especially with the reproduction of symphonies such as the N ° 6 "Pathétique" by Tchaikovsky played by the Berlin Philharmoniker. The resonances accompanying the instruments help to recreate a vast soundstage. We find ourselves bathed in the music, the orchestra surrounds us, the power rises naturally. Everything remains consistently legible and invites us to long hours of listening.

The Pros :
Quality of manufacture and presentation
Excellent passive insulation
3D soundstage
Mastery of bass
Comfortable everywhere

The Cons:
The only cable supplied is too short

Conclusion

This is yet another achievement by Focal. The Celestee is a high-fidelity closed headphone, there is no doubt about it. Its major asset lies in its ability to create a three-dimensional sound image outside the limits of the head, even though it is a closed headset. That is a level of performance that we have already seen on the very high-end Stellia. Let's take the opportunity to compare them: can the Stellia justify its price being three times higher than the Celestee's? As always in Hi-Fi, a significant investment does not necessarily correlate with advantages obtained. There is a certain family resemblance between these two headphones, although the Stellia is generally more efficient thanks to its beryllium transducers. It is this beauty and verisimilitude of timbres of the Stellia in the medium/high ranges that Celestee lacks. If we put the latter back in its place and measure it against its direct competitors within its own price range, it remains an excellent headset, offering very faithful and respectful sound restitution, and thanks to its undeniable comfort the wearer never gets tired of it. The Celestee is a standard-setting closed headphone whose price seems perfectly justified.