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Focal Stellia: musicality and precision, the quintessential Hi-Fi closed-back headphones

Door ALBAN AMOUROUX |

It took awhile for Focal to invest in Hi-Fi headphones but in a few years the brand’s offer has rapidly expanded, appealing to all budgets. Before headphones, French brand Focal used the same strategy to increase its speakers’ offer. The closed-back headphones Stellia, which we are testing here, is a high-end product. Focal applied the technology mastered with its speakers to Stellia and its transducers.

Focal’s products are covering all aspects of the Hi-Fi market, from car devices to studio speakers, Hi-Fi speakers to headphones. Its offer goes from entry level to high-end products, without ever compromising the brand’s public image. Each product is benefiting from the previous release and pushes the next one forward.

The brand’s headphones are numerous and embrace fifteen models: earphones, open-back and closed-back headphones, wired and wireless, for home use or for professionals. The Hi-Fi line includes five headphones among which Utopia is the very best. Utopia is the name used by Focal to describe all its top-notch products. It is a set of open-back headphones. Right below in the line, Stellia is a closed-back model. The devices don’t share the same purpose, and each listening experience has its fans. Let’s see what Stellia has to offer.

Characteristics:

Price: €3000
Impedance: 35 ohms
Sensitivity: 106 dB SPL / 1 mW @ 1 kHz
Frequency Response: 5 Hz - 40 kHz
Speaker drivers: 40mm 'M'-shaped pure Beryllium dome
Provided cables: 1 x 1.2m asymmetrical cable TRS 3.5mm jack, 1 x 3m symmetrical cable 4-pin XLR connector, 1 x jack adapter - 3.5mm female – 6.35mm male
Weight: 435g

General Presentation of Stellia:

For each of its products, Focal has chosen a different color. On the one hand, it makes it easier for you to differentiate the devices, on the other hand, you don’t have any choices. If you like grey, you have to consider a specific model. And if you want the Stellia, you will have to get accustomed to its cognac and mocha finish. It is not discreet but it will work fine when you use it at home. Focal also recommends the use of Stellia outside because of its closed-back architecture. You can be sure that everyone will notice you when you walk around with this on your head.

Stellia is rather imposing and we wouldn’t recommend it for outdoor use. It is quite heavy, 435 grams, but you won’t feel the weight once you place the device on your head. Stellia is comfortable and doesn’t put any pressure on the top of your skull. It lies delicately thanks to its well-padded headband. The full-grain leather (20mm) cushions memory foam will not squeeze your ears either. They apply just enough pressure for the best support and for an excellent soundproofing capacity, the latter being one of Stellia’s strength.

For the Stellia, Focal used a cognac and mocha leather theme matching the headphones’ color. Leather covers the headband (with many tiny holes) and the inside and the outside of the cushions. The finish is quite perfect. The massive aluminum yoke allows enough latitude to find the right setting depending on your face shape. It supports each earpad via two anchor points. The back of the earpads is made of a leather ear cup and a stainless steel case covered with small holes. The holes are only here for aesthetic purpose, as the headphones are closed-back.

Focal is inscribed at the top of the headband whereas the brand’s logo can be found in the middle of the earpads. You can’t miss them. We tested the brand’s 40th anniversary edition of Stellia. It shows no technical specificities and only displays a different inscription on the earpads. This version of Stellia was included in the exclusive Focal Symphony box set released by the company in 2019 for its 40th anniversary. The box set featured the Utopia headphones, the Stellia, a DAC/amplifier for headphones and a portable audio player.

Features of the Stellia

With the Stellia, Focal applies to headphones the best technology it has developed on its speakers. The headphones’ 40 mm transducers feature a 'M'-shaped pure Beryllium dome. This light and stiff material is perfect for headphones. The device’s impedance is low (35 ohms) allowing you to use it with any sources, although we recommend a DAC/ sedentary amplifier or a high-performance audio player.

The cable is detachable. Each earpad carries an input for a 3.5 mm lockable jack. This allows you to use the Stellia in both asymmetrical and symmetrical connections. Both cables are provided. The first one ends with a stereo jack 3.5 mm connector (the 6.35 mm adapter is provided as well). The second one, made for symmetrical connection, ends with a 4-pin XLR connector. A cognac knitted fabric covers all cables.

The Stellia headphones can’t fold but you can carry them in their handy brown case. Inside the case, you will be able to place two cables. The case is rigid. It keeps the device safe and has a beautiful and elegant finish.

Upon Listening

We tested the Stellia with an AAdac audio analog DAC/Amplifier connected to the Bluesound Node 2i music streamer which includes Qobuz in Hi-Res. Once placed on the head, the headphones allow you to commune with the music, without any intellectual efforts. Thanks to Stellia’s isolation capacity and high resolution, you never have to turn the volume excessively up. Some headphones display an acid midrange/treble as well as an overwhelming or even deafening bass. With the Stellia, each range is at the right position and the overall feel is absolutely natural.

The Stellia exhibits a phenomenal and impactful bass delivery. It emphasizes its realism, impact, and depth without any dragging effects. At first, one could think that the bass doesn’t go as low in frequency as with other headphones. But this first impression can be explained by the overall precision. It is perfect when it must explore infrasound. And if it goes in the opposite direction, it never creates fake resonance. On the electronic song Shut Me Down by Haute, the bass is tensed, perfectly placed and resonates strongly without compromising the rest of the sound. The singer’s voice is extremely realistic with a beautiful reach on the high-mid range without being aggressive. Layers of music surround you as if the sound was in the room. Sometimes, you almost feel like taking the headphones off, just to make sure that your speakers are not on! But no, the sound really comes out of closed-back headphones.

You can follow Stan Getz playing Desafinado with no efforts. You hear all the nuances of his saxophone, the sounds he makes with his mouth whereas Charlie Byrd’s guitar is on the right. The drums connect the two instruments and create a harmonious ensemble. The Stellia recreates the same soundstage as a speaker and shows an obsessive respect to placements. Dion and guests’ last album features various up-tempo songs and the Stellia enhances maximum separation between the vocals and the instruments. On My Baby Loves to Boogie, the sounds of the guitar and the harmonica are exquisite, creating a pleasurable listening experience. Both can be followed horizontally and vertically, almost as if you were surrounded by music bubbles containing each an instrument kept at the right volume.

+ :
Comfort
High quality cables provided
Respect of the musical ranges
Realistic soundstage
Organic and deep

- :
A soundstage closer than on open-back headphones
No choices of color

Conclusion

With the Focal Stellia, you will hear everything. The vocals, the instruments and the recording’s ambiance are rendered with high precision and rare density. Musicality is the priority and you will be able to listen to music for hours without getting tired. Of course, Stellia remains a closed-back device. On the one hand, it features a perfect isolation from its environment. On the other hand, it creates a soundstage essentially located in the head, normal for this type of technology. Micro-information, however, is still totally present and explodes outside the head. Stellia is the best closed-back headphones you can hope for. The materials and the finish are exquisite. A huge success.

Thank you to L’Odyssée Musicale in Clermont-Ferrand for welcoming us and allowing us to try the Stellia Symphony 40th.