We confess to reviewing these headphones for an extended period. We kept the Listen Wireless running on Bluetooth and via their supplied cable for several months of general commuting and weekend afternoon use. That in itself speaks to their quality. But where some headphones quickly deliver a ‘wow’ moment, or else offend from their first burst, the Focals did as Ol’ Man River done, they just kept rolling along. Don’t get us wrong — these are good headphones, and they never offended. They just never quite went ‘wow’ either.
As for their performance, so for their looks. They’re labelled on the outer earcup as ‘Premium Mobile Headphones’, and pretty much everything is high-grade plastic in construction terms, sturdy but plain, with only red cloth inserts inside the leatherette earpads to brighten this a little. We weren’t surprised when Focal recently announced a range of ‘chic’ colours (purple, olive and blue) were to be made available — we’d guess perhaps the early feedback on the black edition was well, dull.
Under the headband is an unusual material which we think the spec sheet attempts to label as “soft touch material”, said to give the benefit of more comfort and improved weight distribution, though the label points to the top of the headband, which is hard plastic. In use we found them rather tight despite the relatively deep ear cushions, and with a hotspot at the top of the head even at their full extension and despite this supposed ‘soft touch’. We note that the memory foam inside the earpads is described as “heat-sensitive”, but nowhere could we find this message explained as either a benefit or as a warning not to go anywhere hot.
We certainly thought their origami-like folding to be impressive. The provided soft carrybag seems too small for such sizeable headphones until you fold both earcups inward and find they do — just, with a bulge — fit inside.
The technology is certainly solid. They use a 40mm titanium/Mylar driver, so presumably a thin layer of titanium atomised onto the driver’s plastic for additional rigidity with minimal extra weight. They are on the money impedance-wise for mobile use at 32 ohms if you’re using the cable, or with Bluetooth the quoted battery life is a useful 20 hours, about par in today’s market at this price.
They turn on via a hard switch at the top of the right headshell, and below this are sturdy if stiff buttons for volume up/down and Bluetooth activation (the volume controls annoyingly beep and momentarily duck playback level at every increment). Track controls are round the front, and the usual combinations of short and long presses allow fast-forward or next track selection, rewind or previous track, play/pause, and various combinations for call rejecting or answering, for which twin microphones are included to enhance voice quality and intelligibility.
We had no trouble connecting and maintaining a Bluetooth connection; their range seemed particuarly strong, and there is NFC pairing for those phones that support it. It’s important to remember to turn off that switch when you’re done, because although there’s automatic standby if they’re not connected to a device, they likely will remain connected to your device after you stop listening, short of disabling Bluetooth or turning off your phone. A full charge takes around three hours.
Listening critically to them in a quiet environment, Leonard Cohen’s live O2 Tower of Song was presented large and rich, his vocal kept in a single central piece when so often the bass content gets audibly split from his raspy tone. The girls sounded divine, the audience had their magic moments. With Neil Young’s Walk With Me they certainly produced the low notes on this recording, though they failed to lift forward the difficult bassline on Colours Fly Away by The Teardrop Explodes, leaving this track sounding rather flat. We had the volume maxed most of the time over Bluetooth to achieve our preferred listening level even at home, and there were times when the midrange at this level would punch the ears rather than bewitch them. Their laidback characteristic was most clear on music with the magic of, say, Joni Mitchell’s later recording of Both Sides Now. This should melt the soul with its shimmering strings and floating heart-rending vocal, but it all felt rather ordinary through the Focal Listen via Bluetooth, and not much improved when we moved to the cable, where certainly additional treble edge was delivered, but not the desired magic, and indeed a little lumpiness to the upright bass. This was less ‘flat’ than previous Focal cabled headphones we’ve reviewed, as if the overall voicing had been selected to compensate for the smoothing of Bluetooth. We think these are technically solid headphones that just failed to move us, so audition a pair before purchase, lest they do the same for you.
Focal Listen Wireless
Type: closed, over-ear, dynamic, Bluetooth
Driver: 40mm titanium/Mylar
Impedance: 32 ohms (wired)
Sensitivity: 122dB SPL (wired)
Quoted battery life: up to 20 hours