Big headphones that dare to deliver, the Focal Celestee are nothing short of spectacular. Provided you don’t mind a short cable.
In a world where almost everything is cordless and wireless, it can be all too easy to forget our humble beginning. This reviewer still takes off his headphones randomly while on public transport to feel memorised at just how remarkable wireless audio is, delivering a great sound to your ears and your ears alone without needing to be plugged into your device.
It’s a thing almost of magic, and is probably closer to being automagical, and yet wired headphones are still a thing. If you look at a pair of headphones and roll your eyes, balking at the idea in a wireless world, try not to: wired headphones guarantee a quality of audio wireless doesn’t always achieve, especially as wireless options need to rely on wireless technologies to compress and transfer audio quality, and wired headphones don’t.
For that reason, it’s wholly unsurprising to see wired headphones still about the place, as they’re often catered for audiences looking for the best sound quality they can get from their phone, computer, amp, and more.
Granted, wired headphones are fewer in number than the rolling regularity of which we see wireless options turn up, but typically they’re built for something a little more.
And that’s where we find Focal’s Celestee, a pair of closed-back headphones sporting a really specific look, leather pads, and a driver made from aluminium and magnesium. They’re pretty high-end and not the usual fare you can expect to see in your day to day, but that’s ok, because the Focal Celestee might also be some of the best headphones you can wear to date.
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Design and features
Designed and made in France, Focal’s Celestee are something a little bit different than your typical standard black or white headphone.
Arriving in a specific two-tone design sporting blue aluminium and the soft copper details on the sides, the cable, the inside of the cup, and the “Focal” logo on each side, they’re designed to stand out, complete with a leather-covered stainless steel grill with speckled spots on each cup.
The inside of the Celestee sees a 40mm aluminium-magnesium dome driver with a honeycomb pattern, and the back of these headphones is closed to keep the sound inside. Your ears will be comforted, too, thanks to leather ear pads, while the headband is made with both leather and microfibres.
Weighing 430 grams, the Focal Celestee aren’t what we’d call lightweight headphones, but they’re also not made like standard headphones these days. There’s a cable, and a very specific cable, splitting to each side with a specific jack, before joining in the 1.2 metre 3.5mm cable, though there’s an amp 1/4 inch jack converter in the case.
That case is worth mentioning, too, because it arrives in a textile not out of kilter from the headphones themselves: it’s big, moulded to match and keep the headphones safe, and comes with a speckled pattern with the blue and copper used in the design.
The Focal Celestee retails for $1399 in Australia.
A pair of wired headphones (and wired only!), the Focal Celestee aren’t the usual pair we’ll take for a spin over here at Pickr. These days, everything has a battery in it, but these do not. They don’t even have controls to let you pause or play or change the volume.
Rather, the Focal Celestee are headphones and just headphones. They are wired-only headphones, and require not just a 3.5mm headset jack, but something that delivers a little bit more power, and that makes them totally different from our usual headphone review fare.
It also means we have to use them a little bit differently, because these headphones crave a little more power than you might expect.
How you use wired headphones in a wireless world
Plug the pair into your computer and phone (if you have a converter), and you’ll get a slightly underpowered sound, but acceptable-ish all the same. However, the Focal Celestee headphones are made for folks who know they want a higher quality of sound, and that demands an extra accessory: a small headphone amplifier.
Good thing we’re reviewing those lately.
Plug it into the Astell & Kern USB DAC or even the THX Onyx, and the Focal Celestee becomes something else, delivering a heightened sound for someone who demands it. You can still use your phone, you just need to convert the signal so these wired headphones can take it, meaning it can get a little convoluted, but just go with us here.
Rather than plug wired headphones like the Celestee into your phone directly, you’ll plug them into a DAC that’s plugged into your phone. If you’re using an iPhone, you need a Lightning to USB cable and then the THX Onyx to your headphones, which can look a little awkward, but it works, and delivers superb sound all the same.
About the only problem Focal hasn’t accounted for is the cable, because it’s so short. Measuring 1.2m, it’s one of the weakest parts of the package, because it’s not quite a standard cable — a 3.5mm standard jack executing in two single-pole 3.5mm cables for the left and right connections on the headphone — which means you can’t just find a longer cable all that easily.
Get over the short cable hitch and you’ll find the reason why the Focal Celestee headphones are a must-have: they sound freakin’ amazing.
Tested with the Pickr Sound Test, which you can hear for yourself, Focal has built a beautifully balanced and exceptionally sharp pair of headphones that shine in almost any track you can find.
In Daft Punk, the sound was beautifully sharp with pretty much perfect highs and mids, and a bass that cuts through the bottom end, delivering punch. You never lose that wonderfull percussion from “Contact”, and the same is true in pop and R&B.
In Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Cut To The Feeling”, the bass doesn’t overpower and feels evenly matched to the tidal vocals and synth, while Ariana Grande’s “Into You” resonates with a beautiful rendition, and a clarity that’s impossible to ignore. Listening to FKA Twigs’ “Two Weeks” delivers the guttural bass we’re always looking for, but it doesn’t overpower, achieving what it needs to be: balance plain and simple.
Cut to classic tracks where the mastering was near perfect and you’lol fine a clear and beautifully rendered feeling across all. You can hear the warmth of the rounded bass on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, while David Bowie’s “Starman” delivers a sharpness in Bowie’s vocals atop clearly distinct guitar lines.
In fact, it didn’t matter what we threw their way. Classical was bright and clear, while jazz was nuanced. In short, these are lovely.
But value is an area that’s harder to judge, simply because Focal isn’t targeting that area, so to speak. While the Focal Celestee aren’t “expensive” HiFi headphones, so to speak, at over a thousand dollars, they’re also not a style of wired headphone everyone’s going to consider.
At $1399, the Focal Celestee drive value better than you might expect, and outrank some of the more expensive headphones we’ve thrust on our head. They’re balanced, detailed, and genuinely excellent, but that price and style mightn’t be to everyone’s liking.
What needs work?
And neither will be that genuinely short cable. At roughly a metre, it’s about the shortest cable we’ve seen to come with a pair of wired headphones in some time, and for a pair retailing over a thousand, is something we’re surprised Focal hasn’t thought about.
The case is already a touch on the ridiculous side and you at least get a 3.5mm to 6.25mm converter, which is something, but the short cable is just too short, and kind of makes you need to fork out the money for an extra cable all too soon.
For the price the Focal Celestee costs, you should get an extra cable in the box. You already get a case that mightn’t be to everyone’s liking, and a headphone style to match, but we’d feel a little better about the whole thing if Focal was a little more generous with the cable selection it comes with.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
But if you’re not bothered by a short cable or spending extra on one, the Focal Celestee headphones are a delightful pair of headphones that’ll deliver a solid sound out of nearly anything you throw their way.
They’re not wireless, and that’s a little annoying in today’s wireless world, but they are genuinely lovely all the same. Recommended.