Focal Radiance Review
Written by Chrono
Whilst this may seem like a rather arbitrary partnership, Focal, Naim, and Bentley Motors actually have a fair bit of history with one another. All the way back in 2008, Naim and Bentley began working together on integrating Hi-Fi audio systems for the car manufacturer’s vehicles, and later in 2011 Naim merged with Focal. From the three companies’ first collaboration, titled “Focal & Naim for Bentley,” two products were born: the Naim Mu-So for Bentley Wireless Loudspeaker, and the Focal Radiance headphone.
In this review, I’ll be sharing my experience with the Radiance headphone, which is currently available for pre-order at the price of $1,290.
Sources and Music Used in Listening Tests
The Amplifier/DACs used in this review were the SPL Phonitor XE (with built-in DAC), Grace Design SDAC + Topping A90, and the JDS Labs Element II connected via USB to my desktop computer. For the listening tests I used music from a wide variety of genres including Rock, Jazz, Classical, Acoustic, Hip-Hop, and latin. I played tracks from my own FLAC library as well as from Qobuz streaming service played via Roon (exclusive mode).
Packaging and Accessories
Not unlike Focal’s flagship closed-back, the Stellia, the Radiance comes packaged in a very nice box that features a black, pleather wrap that reads “Focal for Bentley.” Inside you’ll find some paperwork, as well as the Radiance, which is packed in a mocha, black, and gold Focal hard carrying case.
With the Radiance you’ll be receiving one cable utilizing dual-sided 3.5mm for the headphone side and a 3.5mm plug with a ¼” adapter on the amplifier side. The cable itself is designed to follow the Radiance aesthetics, as it’s all-black with bronze accents. Although it’s much more flexible than the usual Focal cable, it’s unfortunately still not very ergonomic as it is extremely short at roughly 4ft long; so even for desktop use I found it to be somewhat awkward and it could easily get in the way.
Build Quality and Comfort
As expected from a Focal headphone, the Radiance is both beautiful and excellent in its construction, with a build that’s composed almost entirely out of metal and leather. At 439g the Radiance is fairly lightweight, but it feels extremely solid and well assembled, with no aesthetic flaws or loose parts. Also noteworthy is the Radiance’s sophisticated and elegant visual design, of which’s slick, black surface is adorned with Bentley’s Copper finishes and their seats’ iconic diamond quilting.
For comfort the radiance is outstanding, and the one I’ve personally found to be the best in Focal’s high-end headphone line-up. Whilst its design is practically identical to all the others, I find that it has a much more comfortable headband with better weight distribution, as it now has a divot in the center to prevent pressure from building up at the top of the user’s head. Additionally, the Radiance’s pads use a very soft foam that easily conforms to the user’s head, and greatly relieves any clamp force. That being said, the once concern I have for comfort is that because the foam in the pads is so soft, I feel like the driver sits a lot closer to my ears than on other Focal headphones, so some users’ ears will come in contact with the driver, especially as the pads flatten over months of usage.
Like the now-discontinued, closed-back Elegia, the Radiance features Focal’s 40mm aluminum/magnesium “M” shape dome full-range speaker drivers and also utilizes box-shaped diffusers to absorb in-cup resonances.
If I’m being honest, the Elegia was a headphone which I personally considered to be fairly odd-sounding. So given their very similar driver technologies, I expected the Radiance to deliver a sonic experience not unlike that of the Elegia. However, this didn’t turn out to be the case at all.
When I first listened to the Radiance, it came across as a beautifully voiced headphone which I’d describe as having a pleasant tonality that’s fairly warm, with a punchy mid bass, smooth, linear mids, and an easy-going treble range. Despite this laid-back tonality, though, the Radiance remained dynamic, and it possessed a highly musical and energetic presentation that also reproduced tracks with a very good sense of clarity.
The Radiance’s bass response is deep and it adequately textures low tones with great articulation. For extension, it reaches all the way down to 20hz and is easily able to reproduce the rumble of those really low frequencies with seemingly no roll-off. Additionally, the Radiance has a generous bass shelf under 100hz, which gives the sub bass region a very good level of presence that, although a little boosted for my preference, never felt overbearing or intrusive. As it moved into the mid bass, the Radiance sounded to me as though it had a slight elevation at around 150hz, which added a touch of warmth and also enhanced its sense of punch and slam.
For bass definition, even though I did not find it to be quite as nimble as the Clear, the Radiance still had a very fast, tight and clean bass response that comfortably rivaled that of other headphones in the $1,000 to $1,500 range. Overall, I think that the Radiance’s bass response is very enjoyable and should be able to satisfy listeners looking for a headphone that is full-sounding, impactful and detailed in the lows.
I personally really enjoyed the Radiance’s midrange, as it was slightly cool but still balanced and linear. Vocal and instrument lines had a rich, accurate body with well-reproduced fundamental tones in the lower mids. The upper midrange between 3K-5K was very slightly turned down and was mellower on the Radiance, but it never had me feeling like it was lacking in presence; electric guitars still had their buzz, and brass instruments had a good bite to them. The only odd thing I did notice for the mids is that, like other Focal headphones I’ve tried, the Radiance has a slight bump at around 2K. For the most part it’s very subtle, but I did find that it could occasionally make vocals have a slight nasal quality to them and percussive instruments like tom-toms could have a somewhat metallic hue to them. Aside from that very little deviation, though, the mids on the Radiance had a pretty natural timbre, and they were very even with a great tonality that never risked coming across as forward or shouty.
The Radiance’s highs are a little on the warmer side and are remarkably smooth with no peaks or sibilance. Oddly enough, even I’d say that the Radiance could use 2dB-3dB at around 5.5K (a region I’m particularly sensitive to) just to give vocals a little more brilliance, Nonetheless, the treble range here still has some nice sparkle around 8K-10K, and it also extends nicely into the air region above 10K. I think that it’s safe to say that, without a doubt, of all the headphones I’ve tried from Focal’s range this one is the most friendly for listeners who, like me, are a little on the treble sensitive side, and they make for a very enjoyable and laid-back listening experience.
By no means is it class-leading, but I was still very impressed with the Radiance detail retrieval capabilities. It was definitely very adept at representing all the different vocal and instrument tones; which gave the music a believable, well-defined and textured structure. For a closed-back headphone it is remarkably resolving, and I think its internal resolution almost matches that of the open-back Clear.
Soundstage, Imaging, and Layering
The soundscape that the Radiance creates is a fairly intimate one, with all the different tracks played feeling like they’re coming from very close to my ears. Its soundstage width is comparable to that of the HD 600, so whilst it’s not the greatest when it comes to conveying a vast sense of distance, it doesn’t feel particularly confined either. Additionally, the Radiance has great imaging that accurately positions sound without any obvious gaps that would otherwise break the soundscape. Furthermore, there was the Radiance’s instrument separation and layering which did a fantastic job in distinguishing all the different layers and instrument lines. Even in older recordings, which would feature multiple vocals or instruments in one track, I felt like the Radiance was able to keep the parts composing those tracks distinct and well-defined.
Dynamics I think are a staple of Focal headphones, and the Radiance is no exception. The Radiance’s driver has a great excursive capacity, and it is able to really deliver a very satisfying punch. In the lows, bass notes hit with authority and they carry a physical sense of impact. On the top end, the Radiance has a weighty snap and strike to it that is able to reproduce the weight and tension with which instruments like pianos or xylophones are played. This dynamic quality allows the Radiance to deliver a very engaging and energetic experience that can bring some extra life into your music, games, and movies.
Of all the high-end closed-back headphones I’ve tried, the Radiance is one of the most isolating, surpassing both the Stellia and Sennheiser HD 820. In large part I think that this is due to how close the pads and ear cups fit on the user’s head, but it could also be a result of the headphone not having the usual port on the rear of the cups where the Focal logo is. In any case, the isolation on the Radiance is great, and it is very capable when it comes to both keeping sound away (I even struggle to tell if I’m yelling or not when I speak with these on) and keeping sound in.
With the Radiance, I only applied to very subtle peak adjustments, as I really found it to sound great from the get-go. The first adjustment I made was that I reduced 2K very slightly, and then I also added a little more energy in the lower treble at around 5.5K. If you would like to try out my EQ profile for the Radiance, my EQ preset use these settings:
- Peak at 2000hz, -2dB Q of 2
- Peak at 5500hz, +3dB Q of 1.41
I personally feel as though in every way the Radiance is the perfect upgrade from the Elegia, as it delivers very good technical performance and day-long comfort packaged alongside a smooth, very musical presentation. Not to mention that as an easy-to-drive headphone with the benefits of being a closed-back, it’s also an ideal traveling companion for those who don’t want to forego top-tier audio on the move. So, I think that the main takeaway for me after getting the chance to try out the Radiance is that I really hope that in the future, some non-limited-edition version of this headphone is released; because, classy looks aside, it’s got a lot going on for it and it would make for a great standard addition to Focal’s already excellent line-up.
Watch the video review here:
Join the discussion about the Focal Radiance at "The HEADPHONE Community".
Buy the Focal Radiance on Headphones.com at the best price available.