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Focal Bathys ($799): The French Go Wireless & It Is Phenomenal

Focal Bathys: The French Go Wireless & It Is Phenomenal

Pros: Focal build
Focal sound
Crisp detailed, sound
Gorgeous looks
Did ANC their own way

Cons: Some will lament the “lack of true ANC”
Fit is a defining break for some
Expensive?
Some do not like the Focal sound
Competition

Focal Bathys: The French Go Wireless & It Is Phenomenal

Bathys

Intro: Having heard many of the Focal headphones of the past, I was quite curious about the Bathys. @audiofool reviewed this very set for eCoustics, which we both now write for. He told me I was in for a treat, and I anxiously awaited the arrival along with the B&W Px8 (review coming). Recognized leaders in the wireless headphone market would be the Sony WH-1000XM5 along with the Bose QC45 for their superior ANC technology. Sound-wise, the B&W Px7 V2 is recognized right up there along with the equally good Mark Levinson 5909.

This is Focal’s first effort into this type of ANC. While they have produced wireless headphones before (the Listen, which were average at best), they are shooting for the top in terms of sound quality, with their ANC seen has a benefit as opposed to the primary technology of the others. If their previous iterations od closed back headphones is any consideration (the Celestee are among my favorites at that price range), then the Bathys is a hit.

*TLDR: The Bathys are my current favorite wireless headphone, even against the B&W Px8; which are excellent as well.

Specs:

Type: Closed-back wireless headphones with active noise cancelling
Bluetooth technology®: 5.1 Multipoint
Bluetooth range: >15m
Bluetooth frequency range: 2402MHz – 2480Mhz
Audio codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX™ Adaptive, aptX™
Battery life: 30 hours Bluetooth® Noise Canceling, 35 hours Jack mode, 42 hours USB DAC
Voice assistants: Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa
Other features: Google Fast Pair
Speaker drivers: 1 5/8″ (40mm) Aluminum-Magnesium ‘M’-shaped dome, made in France
Frequency response: 15Hz to 22kHz
Harmonic distortion: rate <0.2% @1kHz
Microphones: 8
Weight: 0.77lb (350g)
Carrying case supplied: 9 7/16″ x 8 1/4″ x 2 3/4″ (24x21x7cm)
Control application: Focal & Naim, iOS and Android compatible
Connections: Bluetooth® / Jack 3.5mm / USB-C®

Key points
• Portable headphones with Bluetooth® and active noise cancelling
• Two optimized noise-cancelling modes and a transparency mode, ideal for any journey
• Patented speaker driver technology, made in France
• USB-DAC mode enables a resolution of up to 24bits / 192kHz
• Battery life of over 30 hours in Bluetooth® and active noise cancelling mode
• Fast charging-compatible: 5 extra listening hours in 15 minutes
• Easily enabled voice assistants: Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant
• Clear Voice Capture microphone technology for crystal clear telephone conversations
• App for accessing more custom settings: equalizer, sound controls, etc.

In The Box:

Focal Bathys
Multi-colored hard case
3.5mm to 3.5mm aux cable
USB-C charging cable


Gear Used/Compared:

Astell & Kern ACRO CA1000
iPhone 13 Pro Max

B&W Px8 ($699)
Sony WH-1000XM5 ($399)



Songs:

Hiromi
Monty Alexander
Taylor Swift
Charles Mingus
Lee Morgan
Ray Charles
Celia Cruz
Kenny Burrell

Unboxing:

In typical Focal brand awareness, the box opening is like a presentation. Opening the box, you are highlighted with the gray/black tight-knit weave of the semi-hard case. This is a slight change from Focal, with the colors matching the headphone itself. Personalizing each model with the color of the unit is a good thing.

Unzipping the case, you are presented with the typically good-looking Focal unit. In a triangular spot between the headband you find both cables neatly wrapped. The only thing I wished for here was a cover flap, much like the Sony & B&W. Once the cables come out, it is hard to get them back into the space easily.


Build/Fit:

Every Focal I have had the pleasure of reviewing has had very good to exemplary fit and finish. Some had a decent amount of plastic, but they were of a high quality, nonetheless. The Bathys fits into that exemplary category with degrees. Made of Magnesium, Aluminum and leather, the Bathys feels premium. A Magnesium yoke, Aluminum mechanical construction leads to a leather and micro-fiber covered headband, which is eminently comfortable. Typical as well are Focal’s cups, which seem to be just right in size and fit. Thicker pads help diffuse exterior noise but allow some breathing when worn.

The mix of leather and metallic surfaces works together well, and the black leather, under the increasing radiused holes make the “closed-back” Bathys look stunning. Of note as well is the most divisive design aspect to the Bathys, the lit “flame” logo on the outside center of each cup. Lit when connected, some have stated that this is a true distraction to the overall product and cannot be turned off. This is not the case. On the Focal/Naim app there is a button, which allows you to toggle between on, dimly lit, or off. Also, do you really care if the light is on? Maybe your partner does, but since you can turn it off, this is of no concern.

Adjusting the ear cups is straightforward, with detents acting at each “step.” I found a good fit, and pressure was fine for long wearing sessions. I found that pressure could be a bit high, while wearing my reading glasses, but when listening, not a problem.

Technology:

Utilizing an “M” shaped dome driver of Aluminum/Magnesium the Bathys shares the construction of other Focal models such as the Celestee. Angled forward slightly to give a better sound “timing” Focal states this allows the sound waves to hit your ears more directly where they need to, in your canal. The 40mm M-shaped cone dynamic driver is a patented design that was created specifically for Focal’s high-end headphone models and now finds its way into the Bathys; with some familial technology similarity to the Utopia.

With 8 microphones, you get plenty of help with the listening department, phone call wise. I did find that under noisier situations, the call quality diminished. Again, that is not the main focus here, but maybe a firmware update can accommodate that to our benefit.

Codecs covered are SBC, AAC, aptX™ Adaptive, aptX™, but no LDAC. Of course, when you use the USB-C cable, this all but becomes a moot point, since it can accommodate up to 24bits/192kHtz. Some have even purchased upgraded cables for that option. Of note with a cable, is that the unit must still be turned on regardless of listening option. In DAC mode, place the switch in that position. For all other options, the on position is required.


Functions:

Buttons are easily accessible on both earcups. Running from the bottom up on the right you have the Google Assistant or Alexa feature button followed by the on/off/DAC button. Above that are the volume up/down with the Bluetooth activate button in the middle. If you choose to use an external DAC for connecting, that middle button should be used for connecting. This allows the external DAC to do its job up to 24bits/192kHtz. The left cup runs the ANC functions from a “Silent” mode to a “Soft” mode, and a “Transparency” mode for pass-thru technology such as listening and talking. While not as “true” ANC as the Sony or Bose, which adds both low and high signal reduction; the Focal uses ANC to not diminish audio quality. First and foremost, the ANC here is to preserve audio quality, then silence the outside as a benefit. It works and is the best out there for preserving true audio quality. Period.

Battery Life:

With BT 5.1 “multipoint,” you can connect the Bathys to multiple sources, and I ran it through both my iPhone and the CA1000, with no issues. Running strictly BT, there is 30 hours’ worth of listening pleasure (verified 2x, 32 and 31 respectively), while using the USB-C cable afforded 35 hours. You cannot use and charge the Bathys at the same time either, which is a shame. On DAC mode, you can get up to 42 hours of listening, since the DAC is in external mode. A quick charge of 15 minutes gives you 5 hours of extra listening as well. Not otherworldly, but extra, nonetheless.


Sound:

Summary:

The Bathys mimicked somewhat the signature of the Celestee, but without the same note weights. Excellent clarity for a wireless headphone makes this top of the class to me. Mids were the stars, with everything from vocals to piano coming across with good weight and a slight warmth to it, personified by richness in tonality. The top rolls just like the lower end, but there is plenty of sparkle, so that the upper end not only shines, but extends the3 listening pleasures.

Soundstage is quite good for a closed-back headphone, easily as good as its competitors. To state it bluntly. This is to me the best sounding wireless headphone on the market.

Moar:

Bass has excellent definition with strong impact, but it never calls too much attention to itself. It does roll-off in the 30-32Hz range and some have noticed that a bit of the detail is lost at that point. Mid bass was on the cleaner side with good transparency and impact never overpowering the rest of the music. Kick drums had very good definition and impact. The timbre and accuracy of bass guitar’s is particularly noticeable through the Bathys; notes were clearly defined and had a very natural sound. Monty Alexander’s “Spunky” has an impactful bass line during the song and I was impressed at how the Bathys handled the percussion and piano lower notes; bass notes were very tightly defined, and the strums were strong and easy to discern within the soundstage.

There is a slight bleed from the mid bass into the lower midrange and that did add some warmth and extra weight to male vocals. Some might feel that this adds slightly too much emphasis in this range, but it never bothered me, and most recordings were reproduced with excellent clarity and accurate timbre. Guitar notes had ample energy and growl without being too hard or etched. Sustain and decay were very natural sounding.

Excellent clarity, resolution, detail, and accurate timbre ruled the signature as we moved up from those wonderful mids into the upper mid and lower treble range. Timbre was very accurate and getting violin notes to sound natural with the underlying rich signature is impressive. Focal did this right. That said, cymbals sounded quite good, but high hats did sound a bit analytical to me, detracting a smidge from the overall goodness. As one would expect, the ANC also limited upper extension, and as a result the soundstage, but regardless; the Bathys was quite impressive, especially against its competition.

Speaking of which, the ANC to me comes across as the best implementation on the market. The Px8 might have more, but the Bathys is better overall.

In terms of overall sound signature, the maturity of which Focal has addressed the sound combined with the ANC technology should have competitors addressing their shortcomings quickly.

Comparison:

Focal Bathys ($799) vs B&W Px8 ($699):

The B&W Px7 V2 was a designated target for Focal. Widely regarded as one of the best out there, including against the vaunted Sony WH-series, the target makes sense. This was also one of our most highly anticipated competitions as well. For audiofool’s excellent review on the Bathys, we followed that with a YouTube video. We both agreed that as good as the Px8 is, the Bathys is slightly better. Better sound characteristics as well as a less intrusive ANC technology makes for a tough act to beat. But the Bathys has all of that and more.

Better clarity comes across as a very clean, crisp signature; which is not usually the case for wireless headphones. That said, the Px8 has excellent bass quality, with better guttural grunt down low. Fit is a bit better to me personally as well. The Focal is very good, but those thicker leatherette ear cups tend to make for a larger fit. The Px8 simply disappear on my head.

Vocals on the Px8 comparatively are very good, where the Bathys are sublime. Upper end reach to me is a draw. The Bathys reach a bit higher and lend better clarity as a result; but the Px8 are smoother and more pleasing to my palette. If you want superb detail, the Bathys is the winner. If you prefer a smoother character, then the Px8 is the winner.


Focal Bathys ($799) vs Sony WH-1000XM5 ($399, sale as low as $298):

Widely regarded as the leader in the combined character of ANC technology and sound capabilities in the wireless headphone market, it is the target most shoot for. While not a true fair competition due to the price difference, it is still worthy due to that target.

The Sony is eminently easy to drive, the best of the lot. Fit is more on the economy side, though. So is the material construction. I understand why Sony did this, though. Making the unit affordable tends to pay dividends when looking at these (and testing) in the Big Box Store setting against its viable competition from Beats & Bose. That should not detract from what Sony has done here. It is remarkable. If a fun signature was the top category (and only), the Sony would win hands down. Excellent ANC technology and deep reaching bass makes for an excellent package.

It is when we delve deeper into the details that the Bathys separates itself. The Sony is good. The Bathys is great in terms of sound quality. Where the Sony pushes the mids forward to the front of the stage (good for commuting) the Bathys takes in the whole, enveloping the user in a finished product. The Sony is good. Very, very good. The Bathys is excellent.

Fit to me is below average as well. Those cheaper ear pads simply need more thickness and cushioning. The bottom tends to dig in when properly placed. Or when the stanchions are drawn in, while the pressure is even, the sound leaks. I am sure some aftermarket Dekoni pads would help, making this a better fit. Quality of materials is on the economy side as well.

All of that said, to me this is the market leader at the sub-$500 price. Hands down.

Finale:

Coming into this, I knew the Bathys would be good, based upon Will’s review. We share similar sound tastes and review patterns. But it wasn’t until I put them on, that I realized how good they were. Simply put, the Bathys is a superb example from a well-known manufacturer who waited the ANC game out until they could develop their own. And it is very, very good. To me it is the best implementation of ANC technology out there currently. Combine that with excellent sound characteristics and a level of detail, which resonates in the superb clarity and you have a top offering in the ever more competitive wireless headphone market.

Expensive? Yes. But if you desire one headphone, and one only based upon your needs to commute, work in the office and listen at home, then the Bathys might be an excellent choice as your only headphone. There are offerings at lower prices, which are quite good, but combined together fall behind the Bathys on one track or another.

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