Focal Radiance Review

Not content with making some of the world’s finest luxury cars, driven by both British Royalty and American rappers, Bentley and Focal have collaborated on the creation of the new, limited edition Radiance headphones. While I’m sure the automotive engineers over at Bentley left the headphone design strictly to Focal, they’ve got the Bentley “B” on it. So is the Radiance just a fancy cross-promotion for luxury automobile enthusiasts or is it a great headphone in its own right?

The Build and Design

Radiance provides the level of build quality and comfort we’ve come to expect from Focal, along with a striking black and bronze color scheme. Of course, the one caveat to the design is that, being a collaboration with Bentley, Radiance features prominent Bentley logos on both sides of the headband. It’s not particularly distracting, but if you’re not into the luxury automotive scene, it might not be your favorite design choice. Otherwise, if you like the Focal style and fit, you’ll find plenty to like about Radiance.

Focal Radiance Unboxing

In practical matters, Radiance’s build feels like a step up from the Elegia, with the more striking color scheme and an improvement in the materials. The clamp force seems to be slightly higher than other Focal headphones I’ve used, and the earpads perhaps a bit softer.

The package is as upscale as you would expect on a collaboration from a premium headphone designer and a luxury automotive company. The inner box is leather coated with the Radiance, Focal, and Bentley logos debossed on it. Inside you’ll find the headphone case, with the Radiance, its cable, and the adapter inside. Overall the build quality and packaging meets or exceeds expectations for $1290 headphones.

The Sound

Focal has made a name for itself with headphones like the Clear and Utopia that prioritize detail and transparency above all else, but the Radiance is more similar in sound signature to the Stellia, which offers a taste of the detail and clarity of the Utopia, but with a more balanced, accessible sound signature. Most notable is the low end which has a great sense of physicality and good subbass extension. The bass is elevated somewhat over the mids, but the midrange doesn’t feel recessed.  While the different frequency ranges are well balanced, you still have that trademark air and detail in the upper mids and highs.

Radiance’s soundstage is round, being about as deep as it is wide, but owing at least a little to its closed-back design, overall smaller and more intimate. The imaging is solid and positioning is generally clear across the stereo field. It’s not holographic, but combined with the excellent layering, it delivers a cohesive musical experience.

Focal Radiance

On The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes,” Roger Daltry’s voice is clear and forward. With Radiance, there’s a great sense of space and positioning with the band and background vocals. The timbre of the guitar and bass is natural, and the bass is especially detailed and textured. The dynamic shift midway through the song feels exciting, with a solid impact from the drums and a nice crunch from the electric guitar.

“The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” is a good demonstration of Radiance’s ability to deliver intricate detail across heavily layered passages. With the opening low synth sound, you can instantly hear the grit and distortion, and as more and more layers of synthesizers are added – and eventually traditional instruments – Radiance reveals texture and feeling in each one. The overall response is well balanced, with no element overpowering another.

Radiance delivers the smooth soul sounds of Booker T. and the M.G.s “Back Home” with a good balance between the low grooves of the drums and bass, and the various instrumental parts and solos throughout. The soundstage puts you in a small club, and the imaging, while not pinpoint accurate, helps enhance the interplay between the keys and guitars throughout the song. The highs hit a little bit too bright during portions of the guitar solo, but overall strike a good balance between adding the right amount of bite without becoming harsh.

“Hey Kid” by Ingrid Michaelson is another solid demonstration of Radiance’s strong performance with vocals. Throughout the song, the instruments are well layers, and the lead and backing vocals are well positioned and blend nicely. Radiance deftly captures the shifts from the softer, intimate vocals of the verse, and the crescendo of the chorus, with the final chorus in particular having layers of vocals soaring over layers of instruments, all remaining coherent and cohesive to the very end.

Focal Radiance Focal Arche

For testing, I used a number of devices, including the iFi micro iDSD Signature, Questyle CMA Twelve, iBasso DX160, and Focal Arche. My favorite was hands down the Arche, which, set on the “Stellia” preset, proved to be the perfect companion to the Radiance. The DX160 performed surprisingly well, and my custom EQ which adds a touch more bass really enhanced the low end slam and physicality. Radiance has little trouble being driven by devices like your computer or phone as well.

Comparison: Audio-Techncia ATH-2000Ti and ATH-AWAS

For closed back headphones in the $1000-$1500 range, you actually have a fair number of options. One brand that consistently does great things with closed back headphones is Audio-Technica. While Focal and Audio-Technica have a similar focus on providing epic levels of detail, clarity, and transparency, their execution ends up being a little different.

All three headphones have excellent build quality, and deliver with premium materials. I find the ATH-AWAS to be the most comfortable of the three, though it’s basically a toss-up between that and the ATH-2000Ti. All three are similar weights, so it’s largely going to be a matter of personal preference over whether Focal’s or Audio-Technica’s design fits your head better.

In terms of tuning, all three have similar well-balanced tunings which ultimately tend towards being a little bit bright. The Radiance probably has the best low end impact of the three, with the ATH-AWAS falling in the middle, and the ATH-2000Ti feeling a little bass-light. In the midrange, I found that the ATH-AWAS can get slightly congested in the lower mids sometimes, while both the ATH-2000Ti and Radiance retain more coherence. For the highs, Audio-Technica’s treble tunings never cease to blow me away with bright clear highs that give you tons of air and space without sibilance. By comparison, Radiance’s highs feel a little smoother, without the same sense of air.

Focal Radiance

For the soundstage and imaging, the ATH-2000Ti demonstrates the largest soundstage, while the Radiance and ATH-AWAS feel about the same. The imaging is similar, with the ATH-2000Ti demonstrating the clearest imaging of the three, and the Radiance and ATH-AWAS being a little bit more situational. I found the ATH-AWAS to demonstrate stronger imaging in classical pieces, while Radiance’s imaging feels stronger in more modern music.

While this comparison is pretty much a toss-up between the three, with each having small edges in one category or another, it does demonstrate that the Radiance is more than just a pretty limited edition headphone, and its design and performance are strongly competitive in its price range.

The Bottom Line

Radiance is a limited edition collaboration between Bentley and Focal, but it’s not just a gimmick or a logo rubber stamped onto any old pair of headphones. It’s a real standout that’s worth your attention. Radiance shines with a great balance across the full spectrum and very strong performance in a closed-back headphone.