Drop Focal Elex

Drop Focal Elex

17 May 2021 0 By Petros Laskis

The Most Affordable TOTL Headphone on the Planet

Pros: – Reference neutral tuning
– Reference performance
– Speaker like dynamics and presentation
– Clear and agile
– Textured and layered
– Wide and coherent soundstage
– Build quality
– Affordable replacement ear pads
– Two cables

Cons: – Could do with some extra body
– Cables could be of better quality
– Without carrying case
– Limited availability

The headphone is in a long term loan kindly provided by Drop.
Drop never asked for a favorable review and here I present my honest and subjective evaluation of it.

Introduction

The Elex is an exclusive to Drop+ made by the well known French brand Focal.
Made with Focal’s brilliant engineering and extraordinary attention to detail, the Elex headphones take a fundamentally different approach to dynamic drivers—and deliver a better measured performance across the board than headphones several times their price.
A refinement of the $1,000 Elear with elements of the $1,500 Clear, they boast several improvements to the sound, build, and aesthetic, too.
The perforated microfiber ear pads bring the bass down a bit, the matching perforated microfiber headband ensures breathable comfort, and the colorway has been simplified to a subtle, mostly matte black.
The Drop+ Elex is available here

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Technical parameters

The Elex features the company’s newly developed 40-millimeter full-range dynamic driver with an aluminum-magnesium “M”-shaped cone.
Meant to sit about 2 inches from the ear, this driver is unmatched when it comes to impulse response, transient response, and low distortion.
The driver excursion (how far the driver travels at maximum power input) is 10 times greater than most dynamic drivers, allowing the Elex to extend down to 5 Hz without roll-off: something no other headphones can claim.
All its drivers are QCed to within 0.5-decibel tolerances.

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The drivers are assembled by a handful of technicians, and every part is tested and QCed at every stage of the assembly process.
The glue used to attach the driver diaphragm to the surround (the black material around it) is a custom formula created by Focal’s chemical engineers.
Developed to allow maximum driver movement, the surround is 80 microns thick compared to the 200-micron-thick material available elsewhere: a testament to Focal’s belief that, when it comes to making the best products out there, every detail counts.

The impedance is 80 ohms
with a sensitivity of 104 dB SPL / 1 mW at 1 kHz.
The frequency response is 5 Hz–23 kHz with a THD< 0.3% at 1 kHz / 100 dB SPL.

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What’s in the box

The Elex comes in a big luxury box which also substitutes as a storage case for the headphone and the two cables.
Drop have replaced the Elear’s 9.8-foot rubberized awful cable with two 6-foot cloth-wrapped cables.
One with a quarter-inch connection and one with a four-pin XLR plug by Neutrik.
The cables are quite stiff but offer a lot better handling than the Elear ones and are absent of microphonic noise.
The ear cap end plug is a 3.5mm mono and it is very easy to find after market alternatives.
The hard carrying case that is found inside the Focal Clear package is not included.

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Build quality and wearing comfort

Build quality is immaculate as the headphone is made from the best materials and assembled with great care and finish that oozes luxury.
The ear caps are made with hard and scratch resistant plastic with an outer metal protective grill.
The yokes are heavy duty aluminum and attach the ear cups to the headband which is one of the most sturdy designs we have ever encountered.
It is padded inside with memory foam and reinforced with metal then wrapped with real leather at the outer part and microfiber at the inner.
The ear pads are from perforated microfiber stuffed with memory foam.

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One issue common to all Focal headphones is the discoloring of the microfiber material that is used at the headband and the ear pads.
The black color was a wise choice not only because it is very beautiful and contemporary looking but also because it helps to disguise the discoloring.
Now the good news is that when the pads do wear out , Drop is offering original replacement pads at a very affordable price here.
The bad news is that the headband – as is the case with all Focal headphones – is a very expensive part and not easily replaceable by the user.
So if you have greasy hair or sweat a lot we do recommend using some kind of a protective textile cover that you can find in various forms available online.

The headphone is not very lightweight as it weighs 450gr(15.9oz) but thanks for the excellent ear band the weight is evenly distributed so we didn’t notice any discomfort even after a couple of hours of continuous use.
The ear pads are roomy and breathable so they can accommodate quite large ears without touching the driver and they always feel cool and comfortable.
This is a headphone suitable for extended use without seriously affecting the overall experience.

Listening set-up

The Elex which is rated at 80ohm with a sensitivity of 104db is not power demanding and can be enjoyed from portable and desktop gear alike.
We have listened with daps like the FiiO M11 Plus or the iBasso DX300 and dac/amp combinations like the Schiit Hel 2 or the EarMen TR AMP and of course with separate desktop components.
Namely the Drop THX AAA , Schiit Vali) 2+ , iFi ZEN CAN and some higher end stuff like the Violectric V550 which was to our disposal for reviewing purposes.

The DAC used was our entry level reference , the superb Denafrips Ares II which is provided as a long term loan by the official distributor KVS Audio. (KVS Audio)
The Drop Elex is immediately enjoyable from entry level and mid tier stuff but climbing the ladder higher yields astonishing results as the headphone responds extremely well to upstream gear.

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Sound impressions

The Elex is neutral with an excellent tonal balance and top notch clarity across the whole frequency range with a touch of extra energy at the presence area.
There is a great equilibrium regarding sound warmness and the headphone is not warm neither cold , not cozy nor too distanced but sits right in between.
Sound is transparent and faithful both to the source and the raw material with a revealing nature that is going to highlight all the best parts of a recording and expose all the bad stuff.
It can follow very well the electronics behind it so the user can match the performance to his needs with smart choices of the related gear.
For example with the Drop THX AAA it sounded linear and flat but switching to the Vali 2+ it warmed things up a little bit and added a more intimate feeling.

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Bass is extended with a straight , reference tuning up to the mids.
There isn’t the slightest hint of mid bass coloring , bleeding or masking effect and aided by the exemplary clarity the user can easily hear and distinguish every last note.
Layering is perfect and we can tell apart all the low instruments while playing together be it a solo bassoon moaning over heavy double bases or the lower notes of the viola blending together with the cellos.
Presentation is fast and tight although not as full sounding but not very lean either , somewhere between but still not dry.
The headphone may lack a little in bass body and weight but the performance is counterweighted by details like the rendering of every membrane hit , the touch of the bow to the strings or the fingering of the harp.
Dynamics are shuttering with great rise and fall times while the unique suspended driver performs at a very realistic way similar to a speaker and not a headphone.
There is a great sense of space and bass reverb and although we don’t get that rumbling effect of other more bass heavy headphones we are always sure that the Elex is ready to hit hard when the music calls for.

Moving up to the mid region we hear voices and instruments pulsing with presence also blending together with fine articulation and the most natural voicing.
Presentation continues to be on the airy side and the listener can sense lips whispering , instrumentalists breathing and wind players blowing with all the harmonies blending together in an eerie way.
Upper mid range seems a touch emphasized and sometimes certain notes can sound a little shouty but not in an annoying or disturbing manner.

Higher frequencies are greatly extended and sound crisp with luminous presentation breathing full of energy without overdoing it.
The presence area although it is a touch accentuated and not as smooth as some users might have liked , still it never sounds bright or piercing.
There is no such thing as listener fatigue and the only downside is that there are some traces of metallic timbre and a bit of body loss relative to the rest of the frequencies.
Detail retrieval is top notch – and not only in the higher registers – but Elex does present them with finesse in an easy flowing and well behaved manner so as not to sound analytical or artificial.

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Soundstage feels extended and airy with ample space and exemplary precision that permits the listener to pick every individual instrument with astonishing accuracy.
The headphone can cope with the most busy and full passages never loosing it’s pace or sounding congested and it is characterized by excellent depth layering and naturally proportioned scene which is adapting like a chameleon according to the recording venue.

Compared to the Focal Clear OG

This was one of the most difficult comparisons we have ever done because the two headphones sound so close together that are almost impossible to tell apart at least when we talk frequency response.
Truth is that the overall balance and tonality are quite identical both headphones sounding neutral , transparent and with almost the same deviations from the target response.
Of course frequency response is not the only factor to judge performance and after a while the differences start to emerge as so to make clear that we have two siblings with different personalities.

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The Clear is a fuller sounding headphone with added bass weight and more body across the whole frequency range.
Lower extension is a touch more for the Clear with added rumble while we can hear more present and rounded vocals that are finer articulated as is the treble.
The Clear is a bit more warm sounding and the overall projection feels more intimate and in your face like sitting in the first row while the Elex is more distanced and second to third row.
So according to the music selection the user might prefer the one over the other but as a whole and especially for classical music the Elex projection sounds more natural and not too close to the performers.
What came as a surprise and astonished us is that despite its name the Clear is not as clear and clean sounding as the Elex.
Yes , it’s not a typo , the Elex is the more clear headphone.
This extra clarity combined with the ethereal nature of the Elex adds to the detail retrieval and the soundstage rendering which is greatly extended and better defined with more accurate positioning and air around the instruments.
At the end – as always – it comes down to individual tastes and users that favor a more warm and intimate presentation with added weight might favor the Clear OG which is now discontinued.
Later on we are committed to add a comparison with the Clear MG which is incoming for a review.
Of course potential buyers should also consider selling prices and in that perspective the Drop Elex has the clear advantage.

At the end

Plain and simple the Drop+ Elex is the least expensive headphone in the market that truly deserves to be called Top of the Line.
With a reference tuning and reference performance matched by the great build quality it’s not of a surprise that Focal has restricted it’s availability for the US market only.
If you are lucky enough to be located in the US then go ahead and grab one now.

Test playlist

Copyright – Laskis Petros 2021