Focal Bathys headphones review: Transcendent wireless cans

Focal Bathys headphones review: Transcendent wireless cans

MSRP $800.00

“The Bathys from Focal are the best-sounding wireless headphones I’ve heard yet.”

Pros

  • Exceptionally open sound
  • Highly detailed
  • USB DAC
  • Solid battery/fast charging
  • Bluetooth multipoint

Cons

  • Fairly heavy for long wear
  • Moderately effective ANC

Audiophile wireless headphones. Some (mostly audiophiles) would say that’s an oxymoron. That’s because Bluetooth is, by nature, a really narrow pipe that was never designed to hold the massive amounts of knowledge that CD-quality sound requires. That has forced all the wireless headphone industry to heavily compress the audio it sends over Bluetooth, and in case you start with a compromised signal, then the whole lot else down the chain can even be compromised indirectly. Garbage in, garbage out, right?

Well, sure, there’s some truth to that. There’s no effective technique to fake your way as much as CD-quality from a lossy, bit-starved Bluetooth audio stream. But that doesn’t mean that Bluetooth can’t sound higher than it often does. That’s the premise behind the Focal Bathys headphones, the French audio outfit’s first take at a wireless noise-canceling headphone.

(Editor’s note: For my audio geek friends on the market, let me quickly acknowledge that I’m aware of the existence of aptX Lossless. I’m also aware that only a few source devices support it at once. )

Focal’s position is that, through the meticulous design and engineering of each component, and by fastidiously balancing lively noise canceling (ANC) and digital signal processing (DSP), it is feasible to maximise the potential of Bluetooth audio. In a conversation with Focal, I used to be told the corporate’s aim was to develop wireless headphones that sounded as near the corporate’s vaunted Celestee headphones as possible. I don’t know the way close Focal got to the Celestee (which I loved), but I’ll say I’m pretty thrilled with how the Bathys sound.

Focal Bathys headphonesCaleb Denison/Digital Trends

Relating to speaker and headphone design, trade-offs and compromise are certain to be involved, and so it’s with the Bathys. They’ll certainly not be all things for all people — a goal which the Sony WH-1000XM5 strive to satisfy — but that’s by design. More on that in a moment. Let’s discuss what you get while you spend $800 on the Focal Bathys, and whether or not they’re well worth the investment.

What you get

At $800, the whole lot in regards to the Focal Bathys should feel premium — and so it’s. The carrying case is roofed in a soft textile harking back to cashmere, and real leather is used on the headscarf and earcup padding; hell, even the included headphone and USB cables feel premium. There’s no carabiner included, but there’s a seriously stout ribbon loop made for clipping the carrying case to a backpack. You’ve got enough carabiners kicking around anyway, don’t you?

In a sea of recognizable Sony and Bose cans, the Bathys stand out

You’ll also get just over 30 hours of battery life with ANC turned on, and a whopping 5 hours of life out of quarter-hour of quick charging. The Bathys support SBC, AAC, Apt-X and Apt-X Adaptive, and a built-in DAC (more details below) delivers as much as 24 bit/192kHz resolution.

Near as I can tell, though, the Bathys would not have built-in wear sensors, as they don’t pause music playback when faraway from the pinnacle.

How they appear

The Focal Bathys have a particular, premium look. Once I wore them on a recent flight, I caught a couple of fellow passengers eyeballing the headphones as I wore them. The dimpled finish on the earcup exterior calls welcome attention to the headphones, while the optionally illuminated Focal “fire” logo glows a cool white when the headphones are powered on. In a sea of recognizable Sony and Bose cans, the Bathys stand out in a cultured, sophisticated way.

How they feel

No getting around it: The Bathys are a bit heavy, especially when weighed against the Sony WH-1000XM5 and Bose QC45. Nonetheless, so are the Bang & Olufsen H95 and Master & Dynamic MW75. The added weight is probably going a byproduct of the premium materials in use, so in a way, I find it desirable as I hold the Bathys in my hand. But after I put them on my head, I immediately wish they were a bit lighter. In no way are the Bathys uncomfortable for shorter-term wear, but I did notice the load bearing down on my crown about three hours into my recent flight. The burden is somewhat offset by fastidiously considered clamping force that I enjoy, but I actually have to stop in need of saying these are a traveler’s delight. I used to be wonderful wearing them for 2 to 3 hours, but not 5 or 6 at a time. After all, your mileage may vary.

How they work

The Bathys manage to be highly capable without being complicated. If all you wish is to show the headphones on, connect via Bluetooth, and begin listening, they’ll try this. If you need to toggle between ANC and transparency mode, there’s a button for that, too.

In the event you prefer a wired connection, you’ll be able to go that route with a typical 1/8-inch headphone cable, however the Bathys also offer a direct digital audio connection via USB-C for even higher sound quality. While iPhone owners might want to purchase a Lightning-to-USB-C adapter, Android owners can just plug the Bathys directly into their phone. In any case, whether using a mobile device or a PC, this direct digital connection allows the Bathys to make use of its own top-tier DAC, moderately than whatever DAC is built into your device. This was a wise move, because the DAC built into most phones, laptops, and desktop PCs is normally a really weak link within the audio chain.

Focal Bathys headphonesCaleb Denison/Digital Trends

Wired or wireless, the built-in DAC is only the start of what makes the Bathys different from other headphones. Focal designs and builds its own drivers for the Bathys, just because it does for its other headphone models and its renowned loudspeaker lineup. The corporate claims it has also implemented a robust headphone amplifier to drive those transducers. These measures on their very own should help contribute to excellent sound quality, but Focal claims the tough decisions it made around ANC implementation and the selection to avoid heavy-handed DSP are key to how the Bathys are capable of sound higher than their competition.

In a conversation with Focal, I used to be told that the corporate spent countless hours finding the appropriate balance between ANC effectiveness and sound quality. The more heavy-handed it was with the noise canceling, the more the audio fidelity suffered. When it went too hard in the opposite direction, though, the ANC wasn’t effective enough to call it a product feature. Ultimately, Focal strove for the sweet spot, where noise-canceling was made just effective enough to maintain ambient noise from dirtying the sound, but not a lot that it crushed the headphones’ natural tendency toward premium audio quality.

How they sound

Since appreciation for sound quality is extremely subjective, I’ll stop in need of saying that the Bathys are the best-sounding wireless headphones I’ve ever tested. But I haven’t any qualms with saying that they’re, by far, my personal favorites.

I do think it will be significant to be clear on the purpose that the Bathys’ noise-canceling prowess is nowhere near the extent offered by headphones just like the Sony WH-1000XM5, Bose QC45 or Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 4. As I’ve just explained, that’s by design. The Bathys’ ANC isn’t designed to create a dome of silence across the listener, so that they aren’t the very best selection for traveling on an airplane or noisy train, nevertheless it is effective enough to permit the headphones’ excellent fidelity to shine through. Given this was Focal’s goal, I’d should say that it was wildly successful.

The Bathys are deeply satisfying and intensely fun to hearken to.

As I bounced between the Bathys, the Sony XM5, and the Bowers and Wilkins PX7, all in wireless mode, I used to be struck by how rather more open, airy, and spacious the Bathys sounded. By comparison, the Sony and B&W sounded closed in, almost claustrophobic, which is curious because I’ve never described either as sounding that way up to now. It took hearing the Bathys to disclose how much I’d been missing after years of listening to wireless headphones with forceful ANC and heavy-handed DSP.

The Bathys also sound expertly balanced, with only a little bit of added warmth within the bass, a totally transparent midrange, and a few of the most articulate, accurate treble I’ve heard from a set of wireless headphones. Truthfully, it was hard to consider I used to be listening via Bluetooth. But then I switched to the wired digital connection using the Bathys’ onboard DAC, and I spotted just how significantly better the Bathys could sound, given a higher-quality signal.

While treble certainly not sounded raspy or garbled in the best way it does when listening to a low-quality mp3 file, I heard a direct improvement to high-frequency fidelity once I switched from wireless to digital wired connection. Within the wireless mode, Vinnie Colaiuta’s hi-hat and percussion work within the opening seconds of Sting’s Seven Days held together nicely, with a pleasing presence of shimmer and attack not easily audible on other wireless headphones. Once I switched to the wired mode, nonetheless, I could hear more tone within the cymbals, and the transient response of the drumstick hitting the drummer’s hi-hat had a more pronounced impact. The typically barely audible buzz from the nylon-stringed acoustic guitar also presented more texture. Briefly, moving from wireless to wired, the sound escalated from great to excellent.

What I like most about how the Bathys sound, though, is how they resolve complex brass overtones and the organic grit of reed instruments like saxophone and clarinet. These wind instruments just sound more realistic and present, which makes for terribly engaging listening sessions when having fun with bands like Earth, Wind, and Fire, Corey and the Wongnotes, and Snarky Puppy.

Focal Bathys headphonesCaleb Denison/Digital Trends

I also must call out how dazzling the Bathys’ stereo separation and soundstage might be. Any track with a guitar playing through a chorus pedal feels like liquid gold, and the opening chords from the Fender Rhodes on Phat Phunktion’s Integrity rattling near made me dizzy. I’m here to let you know: The Bathys are deeply satisfying and intensely fun to hearken to, wired or wireless.

I don’t mean to shortchange the Bathys’ bass performance — they’ve excellent bass response, deep and tuneful, but not overbearing — it’s just that the clarity, detail, and overall integrity are inclined to steal the show here.

If there’s any drawback to the Bathys’ performance, it’s that they very clearly call out any deficiency in your streaming audio files. While the Bathys do wonders for wireless sound, they’ll’t fix how crappy, low-quality mp3s sound. So, in case you’re not paying for Spotify Premium (which remains to be only 320kbit/s, but way higher than the max 160kbit/s from the free version), then prepare to pony up for the subscription, switch streaming services, or simply don’t trouble with the Bathys. Fortunately, Apple Music’s Lossless streaming sounded just wonderful, as did high-fidelity streams from Tidal and Quobuz.

Who can purchase them

I struggled to reply this query for some time. I believe I’ve covered that these aren’t meant for business travelers — the ANC isn’t strong enough, plus call quality and transparency mode are only OK.

I also think that, at $800, the Bathys aren’t for more casual listeners. These headphones are for audio enthusiasts. But what type of audio enthusiast is craving wireless headphones? I believe there are more on this camp than some may suspect.

I think there’s a band of audio enthusiasts on the market who, out of peer pressure, may poo-poo wireless listening and music streaming in public forums, but secretly crave modern convenience and flexibility identical to everyone else. And for those folks, the Bathys are considered one of the most popular tickets on the town.

Editors’ Recommendations



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