In Focal’s headphone line-up, they like to keep their ratio of real words to made up words – and their ratio of closed-backs to open-backs – as an even 50/50 split. So with Clear, Stellia, and Utopia secure in the lineup and Elegia discontinued, we were due for another made up name closed-back. Enter Celestee. Celestee is an all-new closed back headphone which promises to bring top notch sound quality, materials, and design in a package under $1000.
The Build and Design
Celestee presents a very high level of material and design quality for $990. With minimal use of plastics, and a sleek design, the sense of perceived quality when you pick up the Celestee is not far off from the 3x more expensive Stellia, and far exceeds virtually anything else in its price range. Celestee is also a big improvement over Focal’s previous lower priced closed-back headphone, the Elegia. While Celestee isn’t part of a collaboration with a luxury car maker, like Radiance was, the soft blue leather in particular evokes a luxury car interior.
The packaging is nice, but not quite as close to Stellia level as the headphones themselves. Celestee comes in a sturdy black cardboard box, and includes a hard molded travel case as well as a cable with a 3.5mm termination and an included screw-on 6.3mm adapter. The case is the same one included with a number of Focal products, or sold separately for $149, but with a color scheme that matches the headphones. The cable is a fairly versatile and rubber coated, again, with colors and accents to match Celestee.
Celestee provides the level of comfort we’ve come to expect from Focal, with well cushioned earpads and headband. The headphones themselves are also relatively light. The clamp force is a bit higher than some of Focal’s other headphones, but not at the same level as the Radiance which some listeners (and I personally) found to be too tight, and uncomfortable for longer listening sessions. The noise isolation is quite good, and caused me to miss a number of phone calls while working on this review.
Celestee’s sound is very much in line with Focal’s other closed back headphones. It’s generally neutral, with just a touch of air up top, and a small amount of emphasis in the low-end. The bass is well-crafted, providing good impact, with a slightly rounded feel. It remains tight and coherent without any hint of muddiness or congestion. The mids feel only the slightest bit recessed. There’s great detail and texture, and the vocal presence is well balanced. The treble borders on bright, but lends a good sense of air that helps create space in a closed back headphone.
The soundstage is moderately sized, not deep, but surprisingly wide. While overall it’s not particularly big, there was a fairly frequent feeling of things like percussion or cymbals hitting just outside the confines of what I perceived to be the soundstage. The imaging is quite good, providing a concrete sense of positioning to instruments and voices. The combination provides a fairly immersive feeling of being a few rows back at a small venue, with the music up close, and spread wide across a somewhat shallow stage.
Celestee’s characteristics make it play very well with classic rock. On “Brain Damage/Eclipse” by Pink Floyd, Celestee’s imaging provides a strong sense of positioning with the lead vocals in the center, the drums wide behind them, backing vocals on either side, and the guitar’s psychedelic panning moving with a smooth liquidity from side to side. On the biggest moments of “Eclipse,” the backing vocals are crystal clear, with excellent layering between the parts, and incredible lifelike detail in the singers’ voices. There’s a good amount of “splash” in the cymbals and “snap” in the snare, with plenty of impact from the drums, especially during big fills. The overall timbre of the band is natural with Celestee generally feeling quite transparent.
For genres like EDM that rely on strong bass presence and deep subbass extension, Celestee performs well, but might not be the first headphone you reach for. On tracks like “We Won’t Be Alone” by Feint, there’s a good sense of the dynamic shift when the bass drops, and decent impact, but not quite the full sense of deep overwhelming bass you might be looking for. The layering and sense of space is strong, with the more ethereal sections feeling broad and open. The female vocal is well presented, with a soft, intimate feeling standing out among massive walls of synthesizers.
“Neptune, the Mystic” from Holst’s The Planets demonstrates Celestee’s refinement and ability to delicately deliver complex layered parts. The spread between the sections of the orchestra showcases the width of Celestee’s soundstage, and its imaging. The instruments feel carefully arranged across the stage filling the space in front of, and all around the listeners head. The dynamics throughout are mostly in the range of quiet to moderate level, and Celestee captures the small fluctuations of the orchestra expertly, down to the last fading note of the choir as you drift on past Neptune and deep into space.
Mini-review: Eletech Prudence
While reviewing Celestee we happened to have an Eletech Prudence with 3.5mm connectors for Focal/HIFIMAN that was a return from a customer who found the cable too short. I figured I’d check it out, if only to be better educated on some of the items in our product line. First of all, the look and feel of these cables is top notch. Due to their universal fit, the 3.5mm connectors look a little small in the Celestee, and the black wrap on the connections doesn’t blend as well as Focal’s blue wire and matching accents. But it’s a very attractive cable, with a soft feel and quality construction.
Historically, I haven’t been a huge proponent for the benefits of upgrading cables, but I was immediately struck by improvements in the sound quality across the full range. Knowing that the Prudence is silver plated copper, while the stock Focal cables are OFC (oxygen free copper), I was expecting to get a little more of a bright response, but the largest change I noticed was an improvement in the feeling of texture and detail in the low end. While the overall tonal balance remained about the same, there was a noticeable – if still largely marginal – improvement in the clarity of the bass and low mids.
I’m not going to try to convince you that you need to replace all your cables with 8-core unobtainium litz wire for $2000 per cm, but if you’ve put together a system that you’re happy with, and you’re looking for some small improvements to the detail and clarity, the Eletech Prudence can definitely provide that.
The Bottom Line
Celestee follows in Stellia’s footsteps as headphones that seem to defy the very laws of nature themselves in how they provide a sense of space and soundstage with a closed-back design. While it can’t match Stellia’s level of space, detail, and dynamics, Celestee creates a new standard for sonic refinement in a closed back headphone under $1000.