Focal Radiance review: The Bentley of headphones

Focal produces some of the best headphones in the world, with prices to match. Bentley holds a similar position in the automotive industry, and Focal’s sibling company, Naim—also a well-respected luminary in high-end audio—has been supplying sound systems for Bentley cars since 2008. So, it’s no surprise that Focal and Bentley have teamed up to bring a new headphone into the light of day: the Radiance.

At $1,299, the new model sits squarely between Focal’s Elegia ($899) and Stellia ($2,990), deriving features from both. Soundwise, it’s a bit different than its siblings, but still excellent.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best headphones, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.

Features

Like the Elegia and Stellia, the Radiance is a circumaural (around-the-ear), closed-back design that connects to the source device with actual wires—no Bluetooth here! It comes with a 4-foot OFC (oxygen-free copper) 24 AWG cable with a 3.5mm plug and an adapter that converts it to a 1/4-inch plug. The design elements are pure Bentley, with the company’s logo at the ends of the headband, a diamond motif in the outer earcup grilles and the stitching of inner headband that’s reminiscent of Bentley’s iconic upholstery quilting, and an elegant black-and-copper color scheme. Also notable is the full-grain Pittards leather that covers the earpads and inner headband.

Focal

Focal designed its Radiance headphone in cooperation with the luxury automobile manufacturer Bentley Motors.

The full-range driver is the same one found in the Elegia—a 40mm M-shaped dome made from an alloy of aluminum and magnesium. (The driver in the Stellia is the same size and shape, but it’s made from pure beryllium.) Why is it called “M-shaped”? The cross section of the diaphragm resembles the letter M, which is said to offer high rigidity for more precision and less distortion. Specs include a frequency response from 5Hz to 23kHz (no tolerance given) with a THD of 0.1 percent @ 1kHz/100 dB SPL and a sensitivity of 101 dB SPL/1 mW @ 1 kHz. The impedance is 35 ohms, making the Radiance relatively easy to drive.

As in the Elegia and Stellia, the earcups offer excellent isolation from ambient sound while providing an optimized acoustic environment for the drivers. In fact, the earcups include two vents: one to control the balance between the bass and midrange and the other to evacuate the rear wave from the center of the motor to avoid compression and extend the low-frequency response—in other words, this is a bass-reflex headphone! At the other end of the sonic spectrum, EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam behind the drivers absorbs excess high-frequency energy. Finally, acoustic diffusers break up any standing waves and make the earcups more rigid and inert.

focal stellia m dome Focal

Viewed in cross section, the driver diaphragm resembles an “M,” which Focal says improves its rigidity.

While the earcups use the same design, Focal took a different approach in the tuning of the Radiance. According to the company, the new headphone has more bass and a bit more treble—apparently, the classic “smile” EQ curve—and it’s warmer than the Elegia. Also, it is said to have very wide dynamic range.

As I said in my Stellia review, even the packaging is noteworthy. A large, sturdy box includes the headphone and cable in their rigid, woven-cover case that, in this instance, sparkles with copper and black threads, and the Bentley logo adorns the handle.

focal radiance packaging Focal

Even the packaging is quite impressive.

Performance

Putting the Radiance on my head, it felt identical to the Stellia—same large earpads that fit easily over my large ears, good acoustic seal, and low clamping pressure. And the leather earpads were super comfortable.

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