French audio manufacturers definitely have a different way of doing things; minimalist industrial design rules the day but the technology behind the grille covers, face plates, and ear cups is generally ahead of the curve. Focal has been one of the largest audio manufacturers in Europe for a few decades and their merger with Naim Audio only helped to solidify their well-earned reputation for creating state-of-the-art products.
Focal joined the high-end headphone buffet line rather late — but products like the new Focal Bathys Wireless ANC Headphones make you wonder if this was a well-crafted long-term strategy that is going to be a real problem for the competition.
The French manufacturer has always invested heavily in R&D and diversified its business; Focal doesn’t just make its own loudspeakers and drivers for home audio/video, commercial applications, and automotive — they are a huge OEM supplier and there are few companies like them in the industry.
The headphone category has already borne fruit for Focal for the simple reason that they make really exceptional headphones; they have the resources to develop almost every component and have superior testing facilities.
Marketing and retail is also a strong part of the equation for Focal and Naim; our tour of the Focal Powered by Naim Houston location made it rather clear that they have a real strategy in regard to selling high-end headphone solutions to consumers who are not part of the audiophile community.
Focal has 8 models in the headphone category but until now — everything except the earlier Listen wireless has been of the wired variety.
The Focal Bathys are the first foray into the wireless ANC category; the project began many years ago and they have not skimped on either quality or the features set.
The $799 USD retail price might raise a few eyebrows for different reasons; the majority of Focal’s headphones are more expensive and $800 positions the Bathys against the new Bowers & Wilkins Px8, Mark Levinson No. 5909, and T+A Solitaire T Wireless Headphones.
Is there truly a market for $800 wireless headphones?
HiFiMAN jumped into the market too quickly with their $995.95 BT model and it doesn’t retail for that anymore.
A lot of things have changed because of the pandemic and consumers have displayed a willingness to spend more; especially those who are not jumping at the #RTO (return to office) opportunity with a lot of enthusiasm.
Inflation certainly matters and we’ve seen how it impacts prices along with supply chain issues that are still problematic.
So is there anything truly special about the Focal Bathys that makes them worth $800?
That might seem like a slightly hostile attitude but Focal isn’t a newcomer or manufacturer without significant resources.
We were fortunate to get one of the first pairs to review and thank you to Wendy Knowles for making that happen.
Nu? Are they worth $800?
Mark Levinson and T+A might want to reconsider their pricing.
Bien joué, Focal.
Focal are very French with their packaging; it looks expensive because it is and after opening the box we found the Bathys resting inside a semi-teardrop shaped hard carrying case. There is an assumption that you are taking these on the road with you or inside a travel bag and nothing will cause more indigestion then crushed $800 headphones.
The case has a mottled grey and black cloth exterior with a solid black interior finish. The interior includes a net pocket on one side and felt lined compartment opposite it with a teardrop shaped separator that serves as a compartment for the two cables that are included with the Bathys.
There is a USB Type-C to Type-C cable and a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable for using the Bathys as a wired headphone. A Lightning to USB Type-C adapter will be needed for use with Apple devices.
The case is roughly the same size as the one provided with the Sony XM5 or Bose NC700; the cups fold flat but the headband is not hinged.
The industrial design shares a lot of similar features to other Focal headphones with parallel rows of circular recesses of increasing size around a center cap with the Focal logo on the exterior surface of the cups.
One unique feature of the Focal Bathys is that logo is an LED and the app allows the user to set it to two different levels of brightness or to turn the logo off if desired.
The ear pads are leatherette and memory foam to provide the best possible seal, with almost .65 inch of depth and have a very nice feel to them. My bet is listeners will have a tough time telling the difference between the leatherette pads and the leather headband, they are a very good match. The gimbals are magnesium for reduced weight, and the headband is spring steel with a micro-fiber wrapped memory foam underside and leather top band.
That’s one heavy metal headphone.
The weight of the Bathys has been kept to a rather reasonable 350 grams; which is somewhat surprising considering the almost all metal construction. Focal have wisely used magnesium and aluminum alloys to help with the heft and also borrowed from the design of the Celestee and Stellia models which have smaller frames.
Unlike the more expensive Focal headphones, the Bathys utilizes magnesium instead of carbon fiber in the design. That does save some money, but the bigger savings have been realized by having the drivers manufactured in France before the entire headphone is assembled elsewhere. That one decision is why the Bathys are $799 and not $999 or even $1,099 USD.
Before you start sending us emails about “how good can they be if they are assembled in…,” just know that Focal has very high finishing standards and their QC is second to none.
The 40mm M-shaped cone dynamic driver is a patented design that was created specifically for Focal’s high-end headphone models and now finds its way into the Bathys; there is some trickle down technology from the Utopia here.
The Bathys’ driver uses an aluminum-magnesium alloy instead of the Beryllium used for the Utopia; both are designed to deliver a detailed full-range sound with strong low end impact and extended highs.
The nominal impedance and sensitivity are not listed as they really are not important as the electronics are never bypassed; the Bathys are always in “on” mode so they proved easy to drive from a wide range of sources.
The drivers are fed by a built-in DAC/amplifier that can be connected to the source either wirelessly or with a USB cable. The Bathys offers Bluetooth support for aptX Adaptive, AAC, and SBC protocols (and multi-point). Switching from Bluetooth to the USB input allows the headphone to handle 24-bit/192kHz PCM.
If you do decide to use the USB connection, the on/off switch has a middle position which initiates the DAC. If you leave the headphone in the “on” position instead, you will not hear any music if connected to a source.
The 3.5mm auxiliary cable also requires that the headphones be turned on to operate so powerless operation is not supported. The upside is that the volume controls on the cups work regardless of source which makes the Bathys’ controls considerably more intuitive than some.
There are physical controls with the ANC/Ambient button on the left cup and the volume rocker/play/pause at top right with the three position power switch immediately beneath it.
On the bottom of the right cup, there is a digital assistant button for Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. The USB Type-C port is just forward of the digital assistant button with a mild forward rake and the 3.5 auxiliary exits the lower front of the right cup.
The cable provided for the 3.5mm connection has a special “L” connector which helps position the cable away from your face; it works rather well and I wish more manufacturers would think about those types of applications.
Focal advertises 30 hours of battery life using Bluetooth with ANC enabled; we managed to squeeze 32 hours at normal listening levels and repeated these results on multiple occasions.
The Bathys support quick charging and 15 minutes at 2.1 amps should net you an additional 5 hours of listening time.
Using the same charger, I found it took roughly 4 hours to completely recharge the battery from 100% drained. USB mode does not draw power from the source device so will still eventually drain the battery but it takes nearly 38 hours to do so. The run time using the 3.5mm connection was over 40 hours.
That level of performance is a significant change for the category considering how little playtime you would have only a few years ago. 40 hours of listening time is a work week for a lot of people and that’s outstanding performance based on my experience with all of the key models in the category.
From a usability perspective, the Focal Bathys are one of the best at any price and that includes the category leading Sony and Bose models.
Battery performance, build quality, and usability are all very important criteria for any pair of ANC wireless headphones, but that wouldn’t be enough when you are talking about the 4-5 most expensive options right now.
They certainly look and feel the part, but if the Bathys can’t deliver a superior sonic experience than the Master & Dynamic MW75, Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2, or far more expensive Mark Levinson No. 5909 — they will not find a lot of suitors at this end of the market. Being good isn’t enough.
The low end has excellent definition with strong impact, but it never calls too much attention to itself. The bass does begin to roll-off in the 30-32Hz range and I did notice that some of the detail is lost at that point.
The mid bass was rather clean with ample transparency and impact and I never felt that it overpowered the rest of the music. Kick drums had very good definition and impact.
The timbre and accuracy of the bass guitar was particularly noticeable through the Bathys; notes were clearly defined and had a very natural sound.
Duran Duran’s “A View To A Kill,” has a rather impactful walking bass line at the beginning and it was impressive to hear how the Bathys handled the percussion and bass guitar; bass notes were very tightly defined and the drum strikes were strong and easy to discern within the soundstage.
There was a slight degree of bleed from the mid bass Into the lower midrange and that did add some warmth and extra weight to male vocals.
Some might feel that it adds slightly too much emphasis in this range but it never bothered me and most recordings were reproduced with excellent clarity and accurate timbre.
Guitar notes had ample energy and growl without being too hard or etched. Sustain and decay were very natural sounding.
My listening routine includes a significant number of classical recordings and how the Bathys handled both the piano and cello sealed my overall impression of the headphones.
Both were reproduced with excellent clarity, resolution, detail, and accurate timbre.
Classical fans need to seriously consider these.
The midrange and upper midrange were very linear sounding with a small degree of emphasis in the upper midrange between 1.5 and 3kHz. The tilt in this region definitely pushed female vocals forward in the mix — but without making them sound too hard or aggressive.
Violin notes were detailed and presented with a lot of energy but they never really crossed over the line and became too much in any track. The timbre was very accurate and it was interesting to hear how Focal walked the tightrope in this particular region. Getting the violin to sound natural and rich is an impressive trick for any pair of headphones and the Focal delivered in a big way.
The lower treble features a mild degree of emphasis but then drops back rather gracefully before reaching the 8-9kHz range where that extra energy can be fatiguing. Percussion has good snap and snare rattle is tightly defined. Cymbals have good energy, but the hi-hat didn’t sound as natural as it could in my opinion.
The Bathys feature enough top end airiness to keep from sounding closed in, but the design and ANC limit just how large of a soundstage you can reasonably expect.
The soundstage is well-proportioned with enough depth and width to allow a proper seating of the orchestra and enough height to give the illusion of a three dimensional space.
Listening to the Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions reminded me that the Bathys are still a closed-back design that lack the overall spaciousness of an open-back headphone; there was certainly a sense of the space present on the recording, but I have heard the track sound far more convincing on other headphones.
The ANC performance, however, is another story. Focal have created an ANC wireless headphone with better noise-cancelling than any other model in the category.
The ANC was very effective at removing droning low-frequency noises and would be good as a travel companion. Higher frequency sounds do cut through a bit more and the Sony XM5 and Bose QC45 do offer slightly better performance in removing unwanted higher frequency noises.
Combine that with average passive noise cancellation, and you have a pair of wireless headphones that will isolate better than almost anything we have tried so far.
Focal have created something rather unique with the Bathys and it wasn’t something that I expected to be rather frank.
The overall sound quality is superb for any headphone, but we’re talking about a pair of ANC wireless headphones that retail for $799 USD.
Are they completely neutral sounding? Not really.
The biggest takeaway is that the Focal Bathys are the first headphone out of the dozens we have listened to over the past few years that deserve to be called “audiophile” quality in the wireless category.
Combine superior battery performance, solid build quality, category leading ANC, and a level of sound quality that wasn’t possible in a wireless headphone until now and you have the most impressive new pair of headphones we’ve tried so far in 2022.
We suspected that Focal wouldn’t do a bad job with their first generation wireless product; other established brands have certainly stumbled out of the gate so it was reasonable to expect that these wouldn’t be the Utopia for $799.
The Focal Bathys have truly exceeded our expectations. If they can improve on these in any significant way going forward, the wired category is in real trouble.
As it stands, these are easily the best wireless headphone I’ve tried to date and well worth an audition.
|Type||Closed-back wireless headphones with active noise cancelling|
|Bluetooth technology||5.1 Multipoint|
|Bluetooth frequency range||2402MHz – 2480Mhz|
|Audio codecs||SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive, aptX|
|Battery life||30 hours Bluetooth Noise Cancelling|
|35 hours Jack mode|
|42 hours USB DAC|
|Voice assistants||Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa|
|Other features||Google Fast Pair|
|Speaker drivers||15/8″ (40mm) Aluminium-Magnesium ‘M’-shaped dome, made in France|
|Frequency response||15Hz to 22kHz|
|Harmonic distortion rate||<0.2% @1kHz|
|Carrying Case (included)||9-7/16” x 8-1/4″ x 2-3/4″ (24x21x7cm)|
|App||Focal & Naim, iOS and Android compatible|
|Connections||Bluetooth / Jack 3.5mm / USB-C|
- Rigid carrying case supplied
- 2 cables supplied:
- one 4ft (1.2m) Jack cable;
- one 4ft (1.2m) USB-C cable
- Quick start guide
For more information: focal.com
Where to buy: $799 at Crutchfield
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