Headphones Newbie; Senheisser HD 800s or Focal MG Clear


I'm currently down to one pair of speakers, Quad 2905's. And because these speakers are with the repair technician on a continual basis, I need a backup. While another pair of Quads or another brand of speakers would be ideal, I don't  have that kind of money at the moment. So I've been thinking about buying a pair of headphones that punch above their weight class. My local Senheisser dealer says the HD800s and my Focal dealer says the MG Clear. I really like the looks of the Focal's and am leaning in that direction. I'll just use the headphone input on my ASR Emitter Exclusive II. All suggestions are appreciated, thank you!


Go with the Senheisser's, they have been making mainly headphones for decades. Focal makes speakers...big expensive ones too.



Matt M

@mattmiller what are the characteristic differences between the two? I was told the Focal have more bass but so far, that's as much as I know.

I have the previous version of the Sennheiser - the HD800 (no S) and Focal Elex (a notch below Clear).  I have also heard the Utopia, but not the Clear. 

The HD800s is supposed to be tuned a little "warmer" than the HD800, so will be a little different than what I describe about the HD800.

The HD800 is more of a "studio" headphone, allowing you to hear everything and some find it leans a little more towards the treble region and doesn't have a lot of bass.  The Focal is warmer and will be punchier in the bass. 

I think the HD800s are fantastic and they are super comfortable.  I also like the Focals, but find them to sound somewhat "artificial".  I'm not sure I have the words to explain it exactly, they sound cool, but somehow not as "real" as the HD800s.  I suggest you listen to both if you can.  They are different animals. 

Also pay attention to how they feel on your head.  Comfort is a huge consideration, at least for me, when it comes to headphones.

While I would agree the Sennheiser HD800s are, aesthetically speaking, a somewhat acquired taste, I find the sound to be superlative in my tube system.  However, I actually find them slightly LESS comfortable than the HD6xx line (for example), but it's not a major issue; they're just a bit heavier and have larger earpads.  Sorry I can't comment on the Focals.

@big_greg so are you saying bass is noticeably lacking in the Sennheiser's? For the treble region, which would you say is easier to listen to?

@tds3371 I'm not sure why you're saying the Sennheiser's are an acquired taste, could you please explain?

@goofyfoot  I'm talking looks alone. You mentioned "really liking the looks of the Focals and leaning in that direction."  I agree:  Focal cans are stylishly designed and aesthetically pleasing.  IMHO, the jury appears to be split on the looks of the Sennheiser HD800s.  Not inherently bad - just different from many others (including the Focals). In retrospect, it probably makes little difference, since headphones should be assessed primarily on how they feel and sound - NOT how they look.  As mentioned - if possible, try both before you buy.  You can't go wrong with either selection.

If you like a lot of bass, you're not going to get much out of the Sennheisers - what you'll get is a very, very wide sound stage, details, and airy presentation. If you want more muscle in your sound, I'd suggest the Focals. 

@fuzztone I like my Quads but I'm wanting more variety. As I'm sure you know, the Quads really shine with classical music but can be lacking with a lot of rock or pop. 

@larsman I've read a few reviews on the Focal Clear MG's and it seems like they've really made improvements over the original Clear's, one being detail. One thing I'm really wondering about the Focal's is whether or not the treble frequencies can seem weak or truncated?

I do have some time before making the purchase. I've got to clear some financial matters before I do anything. Hopefully my dealer might get a pair of the Clear MG's before then.

The ERA-1s do it all. I have them for opens and Kennertons Magni s for closed backs. Very similar (neutral) sound signatures.

I’m sorry for not mentioning this but I am looking for a pair of open backed headphones. My understanding of the differences between the two may be mistaken but when I’ve had the chance to hear headphones at the dealer, I’ve preferred the open to the closed.

@big_greg so are you saying bass is noticeably lacking in the Sennheiser's? For the treble region, which would you say is easier to listen to?

The Sennheisers are not lacking in bass, they are pretty balanced from top to bottom. Both do well in the treble region. The best way I can describe my experience between the two is that the Sennheiser are more realistic and the Focals are more fun. Which one I would pick would vary based on my mood.

I typically switch between my Sennheiser HD800s and my Focal Utopia’s. They are both great headphones. But the Focal are a lot easier to drive. The Sennheiser did not not sound as well balanced and natural until I put about $15K of outstanding electronics with a tremendous tube amp (a 300B Woo headphone amp) behind it.

I definitely recommend the Focal… easy to drive, great resolution and bass… even tonal balance. If you have got the power and natural organic electronics… then the Sennheiser (I would not count on a tap on a preamp… typically you need a dedicated head amp to drive a great headphone like the Sennheiser HD800.


I listen to my sennheiser 800s more now… but Focals before my I bought my tubed Woo amp.. with $2K of 300B tubes.

Here's the technical data for my amp but I'm not sure where the headphone plug fits into this;

Technical data (according to manufacturer):
Output power: 2 x 250W/8Ω, 2 x 450W/4Ω, 2 x 800W/2Ω
Total harmonic distortion: <0,02%
S/N ratio: >90dB (1W/8Ω)
Frequency response: 0,2Hz-500kHz (-3dB)
Input impedance: 10kΩ
Dimensions: 570 x 440 x 230mm (amp) + 2 x 460 x 320 x 160mm (power supplies)
Weight: 47kg (amp) + 2 x 32kg (power suppli

I think the main issue here is the output impedance of the headphone socket from your amp. If it's high, you're better off with headphones that have a flat impedance curve so that the overall tonal balance isn't affected. Usually this means a planar headphone from the likes of Audeze or Dan Clark Audio.

I just sent my Focal Clear MG back to Music Direct. I tried for 2 month to break them in and they did not sound that great!!

@viablex1 Could you explain what sounded objectionable. Were you using a preamp, headphone amp, etc...?

@yage I wanted to get away from planar headphones as I have Quad Electrostatic Speakers and wanted something different.

Headphones are very sensitive to the quality of the input. Less than great electronics and great headphones and you are going to hear it.


I now have about $15K of incredibly naturally sounding electronics behind my headphones… they all sound fantastic… Focal Utopia, Sennheiser HD800, Beyerdynamic T1, Audiez LCD, Ultrasond Edition 9, and Denon 5000 (?)… etc. You can see my headphone system under my user ID.

@ghdprentice I have a highly thought of amp but still I'm under the impression that certain headphones/speakers match better than others and I can only afford one pair of headphones. But yesterday my car was totaled from a hit and run accident so now I need another car.



Sorry to hear about the accident. Hope you were not injured.

I have had many headphone amps, streamers and DACs… many highly regarded. The headphones performance typically very different depending on the electronic / headphone. I found the difference in headphones accentuated by say, too little current, or high frequency hash, or cold presentation… etc. headphones are in your ear… so any deficiencies in the signal combine with the character of the headphones. I am constant surprised how similar my Sennheiser HD800 and Focal Utopia now sound. I guess my only point is that the whole signal path is important in what you get out. 

@ghdprentice I’m fine, a sore knee and neck but nothing serious, thank you.

Unfortunately, I am without a headphone amp and I’m reliant on the plug input on the front of my amplifier. However, I may enjoy good results regardless. If the Focal Clear MG’s require less power to drive but are still hifi sounding phones, that seems like a more hopeful option.

I was using a Quicksilver Audio Headphone Amp with the focals. Initially they sounded really muddy etc. I asked a few people on a head phone forum about that.


"I was surprised it took about 75 hours before they settled in.

I even went to Dealer compared my new with Demo version and there was a big difference. They need time to breath out. 75-150 hours."

After this response I just let them play for about a month strait not super high volume but loud enough without clipping. I would check in on them and sometimes they would sound pretty good and then muffled. It might be that I didnt burn them in enough. Not really sure. They sounded muddy and undifferentiated to me. I am still a little in disbelief because I think I am in the minority a lot of people cant say enough good about thses.

Many good tubes require 150 hours or more to sound their best; that's down to the tubes more than the amp. 

Maybe it probably wasnt enough time I did try other solid state sources and got the same result. It was frustrating but definitely a first world problem.

@viablex1 Yeah, when the time comes, I'm going to make a request that my dealer have a demo pair to listen to before I purchase them.