The Focal Clear MG was one of the first releases of 2021, and also one of the most exciting since it was a follow up to the unbelievably successful Clear (now lovingly dubbed the “Clear OG”). While both the Clear MG and original Clear are quite similar, there are a few key differences. I’ll share my thoughts and listening experience on the Clear MG as well as how it compares to the original, so that you may choose the headphone that is best for you!
Focal Clear MG Summary
What we like
- Excellent resolution
- Great Instrument separation
- Warm tuning
- Punchy dynamics
What we don’t like
Build and comfort
The build on the Clear MG resembles that of other Focal Headphones structurally, but it gets a rather unique visual design with its chestnut-and-mixed-metals colorway. As expected from Focal, the Clear MG is extremely well put together, feeling like an undoubtedly premium piece of audio equipment.
For comfort, I’d say that while the Clear MG—as well as pretty much all other Focal headphones—are not the most comfortable headphones I’ve tried, they’re certainly not difficult to wear. They can feel a bit cumbersome in extended listening sessions as a result of their 400g+ weight, and the spring-back mechanism of the ear cups, which make the clamp force feel a bit stronger.
Sound and frequency response
For the Clear MG, Focal is once again using a variation of their M-Shaped Dome Speaker driver, made entirely out of Magnesium as opposed to the Aluminum-Magnesium Alloy that they previously used.
In terms of its sonic presentation, I find the presentation of the Clear MG to be almost identical to that of the original Clear. You’re still getting the punchy, forward, and speaker-like presentation that Focal headphones deliver. What I found surprising, though, is that despite the changes to the driver, the tonality remained mostly unchanged with the exception of the treble region, which as we’ll discuss briefly, is quite a bit warmer on the MG model.
As with the original Clear, the Clear MG delivers some of the best bass I’ve heard on a dynamic driver headphone. It has a very articulate and well-controlled bass response that is out-paced only by the likes of the ZMF Verite and Focal’s own Utopia.
It also has excellent bass extension for a dynamic driver headphone, with only the slightest bit of roll-off under 35hz. One difference to note here is that the MG model seems to have a more generous bass shelf under 100hz when compared to the original Clear, so I didn’t even feel like I had to reach for a bass boost toggle or EQ for the bass. Overall, I’d say that as with most Focal headphones, the Clear MG’s bass is just very accurate and enjoyable.
In the mids, the Clear MG is once again quite similar to the original Clear. The lower mids on both headphones are rich and well represented, with a linear response from 300-1000hz. At around 2.5Khz I find that the Clear MG has the same sort of bump that I find on all of Focal’s headphones, which introduces a slight honk or nasal quality to the headphone’s timbre. The upper mids are where the MG differs from the original Clear, though. They're slightly cooled-down at around 3Khz, which is a welcome change since I personally found the predecessor to sound a little shouty in that region. That being said, though, the MG also seems to have a more aggressive dip at around 4.5Khz, which seems to slightly dampen instrument overtones, with brass instruments in particular losing that top-end bite that you’d expect to hear.
As I mentioned previously, it’s here in the treble that the MG and original Clear differ the most. The original Clear wasn’t a bright headphone, but it did have a fairly uneven treble region with low-to-mid treble peaks that could become a little fatiguing over longer listening sessions. The MG seems to have evened-out most of those peaks. Still, I feel as though certain parts of the treble region now feel blunted, making the headphone feel quite warm overall–although, that could be a pro for listeners who are treble-averse. One more thing I noticed is that while I usually enjoy headphones that extend well into the region above the 10K, the Clear MG seems to have just a tiny bit too much energy in those air frequencies, adding a slight glisten and shimmer to instruments and vocals.
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When it comes to detail retrieval and overall image clarity, I think that the Clear MG delivers performance that is appropriate for its price bracket. In this regard, it competes squarely with the Sennheiser HD 800S, Hifiman Arya, Audeze LCD-X. It’s got a well-contoured bass response, and it really surfaces the intricate instrument and vocal tones that convey a pristine image of the music
Soundstage, Imaging, Layering
The soundscape that the Clear MG creates is similar to that which other Focal headphones create. That is to say that its soundstage is fairly forward and intimate like on an HD 600-series headphones, but it’s got precise imaging that perfectly delineates the positioning and directionality of sound. It’s also got outstanding layering capabilities that nicely space out and distinguish the individual tracks in a mix.
The Clear MG, like its predecessor, is a brilliant and very competitive headphone. For my tastes and preferences, I think that the new Clear MG tuning is an improvement over the original as the changes to the treble I think make it quite a bit easier to listen to, and I didn’t have to reach out for EQ as quickly. If you already have an original Clear, I don’t think that going for the MG is really worthwhile, but if you don’t have one and you’re in the market for high-end open-back, dynamic driver headphone with an enjoyable tonality and excellent technical performance, then the Clear MG gets a strong recommendation from me.