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Testing Ground

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

By ALBAN AMOUROUX |

It took awhile for Focal to invest in Hi-Fi headphones, but in just a few years the catalogue was quickly expanded and covers all budgets. Before headphones, the French brand did the same thing with its loudspeakers catalogue. The closed-back Stellia headphones, which we are testing here, are a top of the range product that use the same technology for their transducers as Focal use for their loudspeakers.

Focal’s products are successful across the board, from car Hi-Fi systems to studio speakers, Hi-Fi speakers and headphones. Focal produces products that meet the expectations of both entry-level and top of the range users without ever confusing its image. Each product benefits from the last and sets the standard for whatever is to come next.

In the field of headphones specifically, there are fifteen different models in order to cover all bases: in-ear, open-back headphones, closed-back headphones, wired and wireless headphones, for home use or for professional use. The purely Hi-Fi range is made up of five models, among which is the Utopia model; the peak of the range. Focal uses the name Utopia for its very best products in each section. The Utopia is a set of open-back headphones. Next in line is the Stellia, a closed-back model. The two devices do not necessarily share the same purpose, and each listening experience has its fans. Let’s see what the 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 the Stellia:

For each of its products, Focal has chosen a different color. On the one hand, it makes it easier for you to differentiate between the devices, on the other hand, you don’t have a choice of colour. If you want grey, you will have to purchase a specific model. So, if you want the Stellia, you will have to make do with its mocha and cognac finish. It is not very discreet, but it works just fine. Focal recommends the use of the Stellia outside due to its mobility and closed-back architecture. However, you can be sure that everyone will notice you walking around with this headset on.

The Stellia is a rather imposing headset and we ourselves wouldn’t recommend it for outdoor use. It weighs 435 grams, a considerable weight but one that you won't feel once you place the device on your head. The Stellia is comfortable and doesn’t press against the top of your skull. It rests delicately thanks to its well-padded headband. The 20mm thick memory foam pads do not suffocate the ears either, applying just enough pressure for optimal support and excellent soundproofing capacity, the latter being one of the Stellia’s principal strengths.

Focal have used full-grain leather in "cognac" and "mocha" to match the general colour of the headset. The leather surrounds the entire headband and is covered with tiny holes. It also covers the pads, both inside and out. The finish is quite perfect. The large aluminum yoke offers enough leeway to find the right setting for your head. It holds each ear pad in place via two anchor points. The back of the ear pads are made up of leather and a stainless shell studded with holes. The holes only serve an aesthetic purpose as the headphones are closed-back.

Focal is inscribed on the top side of the headband whereas the brand’s logo can be found in the middle of the ear pads. You can’t miss them. We tested the 40th anniversary version of the Stellia. It does not have any technical distinction, only a different inscription on the ear pads. This version of the Stellia comes from the exclusive Focal Symphony 40th box set released in 2019 to celebrate the company's 40th anniversary. The box set included the Utopia headphones, the Stellia, a DAC/headphone amplifier and a walkman.

Features of the Stellia

With the Stellia, Focal applies the top notch technology that it developed with its loudspeakers. The headphones’ 40 mm transducers have a pure Beryllium 'M'-shaped dome. This light and very rigid material is perfect for headphones. The device’s impedance is low (35 ohms), allowing you to use it with any source, although we recommend a DAC/sedentary amplifier or a high-performance audio player.

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

The Stellia headphones are not foldable, but you can carry them in their handy brown case. Inside the case there is enough space for the two cables. The case is hard in order to provide the best protection for the headset and has the same finish as the rest of the components.

Upon Listening

We tested the Stellia with an audio analogue AAdac DAC/Amplifier connected to the Bluesound Node 2i music streamer with Qobuz (Hi-Res) integrated. Once on your head, the headphones make you feel close to the music without having to turn the volume up excessively thanks to their isolation capacity and high resolution. While some headphones may have an acerbic mid/treble range or an overwhelming, even deafening bass, the Stellia has each register at exactly the right level and the overall feel is extremely natural.

The Stellia exhibits a phenomenal and impactful bass response. Its realism, impact, and depth are impressive without any drag. At first, it may seem that the bass doesn't go as low in frequency as other other headsets. However, this first impression is only due to the overall precision of the headphones. When going deeper into infrasound, the headphones have no issues, and when going in the opposite direction, the Stellia does not produce any fake resonance. On the electro track Shut Me Down by Haute, the bass is perfectly placed and resonates strongly without compromising the rest of the sound. The singer’s voice sounds extremely realistic with a beautiful reach on the high-mid range without being overly aggressive. Layers of music surround you as if in the room. You might just find yourself taking the headphones off just to make sure you hadn't left the speakers on. But no, the sound really is coming from the closed-back headphones.

You can effortlessly follow Stan Getz' saxophone on Desafinado with all its nuances and mouth sounds, while Charlie Byrd’s guitar closely accompanies him. The drums are the link between the two instruments, creating a harmonious ensemble. The Stellia recreates the same soundstage as a speaker with millimetre accuracy of placement. Dion's last latest album, accompanied by his guests, features various up-tempo songs and the Stellia enhances the 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 delightful listening experience. Both instruments can be followed very closely, almost as if you're surrounded by bubbles of music containing each an instrument kept at the perfect volume.

+ :
Comfort
High quality cables provided
Respect of registers
Realistic soundstage
Organic and deep

- :
Soundstage more enclosed than open-back headphones
No choice of color

Conclusion

With the Focal Stellia, you will hear everything. The extreme precision of the Stellia reproduces vocals, instruments and atmosphere with a rarely heard density. Musicality is prioritised, inviting you to listen for hours on end. Of course, the Stellia is still a closed-back device: on the one hand, the headphones isolate perfectly from their surroundings, on the other hand, the soundstage is essentially all in the head, which is normal for this type of model. Micro-information, however, is still very much present with the Stellia and explodes outside the head. The Stellia is the best closed-back headset you could 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 test the Stellia Symphony 40th.