I’ve been a fan of Focal’s Elear for some time now, having first heard them about a year ago at a time when I was just starting out on my head-fi journey. Fast forward a year and I finally bought a pair of my own, inspired by the sudden and frightful drop in the value of ‘used’ Elears following the unexpected announcement of Drop’s (formerly Massdrop) Elex variant.
It seemed to me, given the hype about the ‘new’ Elear and how the Elex ‘fixed’ the quirks in the original Elear’s sound, that something must be patently wrong with a headphone I knew to be highly resolving, incredibly dynamic and very lifelike. After all, why else was I able to snag it for less than half the original retail price in such good condition?
The so-called ‘fix’ of the Elex was, by many accounts, its new earpads – apparently a simile of Focal’s Clear earpads, made of the same material but in a darker fabric. These were supposedly a step up from Elear’s older microsuede earpads, both physically and sonically, and in the days leading up to the arrival of my Elear, I must admit to being worried that I’d taken a false step.
And so it was, when I first opened up the rather posh-looking box that housed my not-so-new Elears, the first thing I looked at was the pads. Indeed, something was amiss. The Elear I first saw way back when was freshly unboxed, and consequently had fresh and plump earpads that felt nothing short of luxurious. The Elear I was now holding was clearly well worn, although the only sign of that wear was in the earpads.
Everything else looked and felt as I remembered it, but the pads, rather than full and lush, were depressed, misshapen, with the material starting to fray – as any suede-like material is wont to do after exposure to skin oils and clamping pressure.
Despite their appearance, once the headphones were mounted and playing, all thoughts of mucky earpads disappeared. The sound was as slick and punchy as I remembered it, only now I had more time to listen at length and form a proper impression of a headphone that launched to such wide acclaim not that long ago.
Time for a change
To be fair, I’m not sure what some people are smoking when it comes to the Elear. As a huge fan of female vocals, I half expected to be hearing my favourite tunes skewed and distorted by the so-called ‘midrange suckout’ the Internet deemed the Elear’s one big downfall (now remedied by the Elex and its fancypants pads). But I heard nothing of the sort. Yes, there was an obvious dip in the upper midrange on some tracks, maybe a bit too pronounced for some, but the way I heard it, it made sense to de-emphasise this region when every other frequency was so full and in-your-face awesome.
Despite my positive impressions, try as I may I couldn’t get the thought of the poorly made pads out of my mind. This was clearly a premium headphone, with a sound signature that suited my taste to a tee, and yet it was badly let down by some poor design choices. I mean, who in their right mind thought microsuede (or whatever this material is made of) was a good idea for the one part of the headphone that gets touched, compressed, heated up and oiled every day, all day?
It was time for a change. The pads had to go. But, given how pad sensitive the Elear could be (and most likely was, given the positive, almost anti-Elear reception of the Elex and Clear), I couldn’t just buy any replacement pads. I could, of course, just order a pair of original Elear pads, but given how little I thought of their quality, and also the fact that such shoddy quality would cost me more than a third of what I paid for the actual headphones, I needed to look elsewhere.