Review Focal Bathys – The First Hi-Fi Noise-cancelling Headphones
Let’s be clear: sonically, the Focal Bathys more than live up to their illustrious legacy. In addition to the high-quality wireless listening, you can also enjoy hi-res up to 21bit/192kHz by plugging in a USB-C cable in DAC mode. Oh, and they are quite gorgeous to look at, just in case it has to be said. Why then only four and a half stars as opposed to a thunderous five? At this pricing, the competition is great, so it’s not that easy.
The Focal Bathys are not the French audio company’s first attempt at making attractive headphones; in fact, the Focal brand produces some of the greatest over-ear headphones we’ve ever had the pleasure of donning. Nevertheless, the Bathys are pricey and this is Focal’s first attempt at making wireless headphones (there is no simple way to describe this). They’re more expensive than the AirPods Max and the new Bowers & Wilkins PX8, which is significant and brings with it no small amount of pressure to perform. We understand the reasons behind the asking price – those patented aluminium/magnesium “M”-dome speaker drivers are made in France using technologies from the finest Focal headphones don’t come cheap; neither does the backlit flame emblem in the center of each beautiful earcup.
When you put them on, you feel stunning, lifted by their clarity, insight, and detail, but when you use ANC (you get “quiet,” “soft,” and “transparent” settings), you can realize that you wish for something more, which you are unable to adjust.
Review of FOCAL Bathys: Features
The main selling point of this product is the included USB-C to USB-C connection, which, depending on the quality of the file, enables decoding at up to 24 bit/192 kHz. The right earcup slider on the Bathys is set to “DAC” as we take our Samsung Galaxy S21 and plug it in. We then start listening to Fontaines D.C., which we got in High-Res Lossless from Apple Music. Although this is advertised as a Completely wireless device, it’s fascinating to observe that the superb wired performance is a key selling factor.
Given that these are Focal’s first pair of wireless over-ears, it may be easiest to think of the Focal Bathys as premium wired over-ears that just provide the option of wired listening. Focal fans won’t mind, but if you’re used to wireless audio equipment from brands like Sony, there are certain features you’ll miss.
The Focal Bathys’ spec sheet is adequate, but not exceptional given the Bluetooth-only competition that will be available in 2022. Examples include the inability to modify the two ANC profiles and one transparency option, the lack of wearer detection, which prevents your music from pausing automatically when you take off your headphones, and the lack of options for enhancing the microphones or voice pickup during calls (beyond Focal’s implemented Clear Voice Capture tech). These are minor errors, but they are to be expected at this price point. Anybody used to their audio halting when they lift an earcup will quickly notice it when it doesn’t.
There is an auto-standby feature that puts the headphones into a low power state after a certain amount of inactivity, as well as a button to call your preferred voice assistant. On each earcup, the Focal flame sign is lighted with a white lighting that can be turned off through the elegant but entertaining companion app from Focal and Naim.
Then there is the user-friendly five-band EQ tab, which has presets and can also be manually adjusted. We particularly like this feature. The’standard’ 30-hour battery life may not have been enough for us, but it still outperforms the Bose QuietComfort 45 and Bose Noise Cancelling 700, which have battery lives of 24 to 30 hours. We can attest to the claim that a short 15-minute charge gives you five hours of playing.
As you might expect, Focal has taken a traditional approach to the on-ear controls here in that they are all physical buttons. On the right ear cup, there are buttons for volume, playback, power, and a dedicated button to access your voice assistant of choice (Alexa, Google Assistant, Bixby, and Siri are all supported), plus an ANC button on the left ear cup that allows you to switch between “silent” (the highest ANC the Bathys can muster), “soft”
Fascinatingly, Focal advises that you “be on the DAC position” to get the most ANC while not listening to music, but this simply means turning off Bluetooth so that your headphones are no longer connected to your phone. This results in you losing access to the app and being forced to use the Bathys’ left earcup button to cycle among various profiles, which doesn’t let you know which profile you’re on. Whilst we believe we are in “silent” mode when we do this, we still hear automobile engines outside the office window, even though there is undoubtedly some noise cancellation going. Although it’s not the all-pervasive bubble of stillness you might be looking for, it’s also not nauseating (you may laugh, but some solutions are like a vacuum tunnel).
For the greatest Bluetooth (and lowest latency) wireless resolution currently available, the Bathys’ Bluetooth 5.1 codec supports both aptX and aptX Adaptive. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the name Bathys derives from the term “bathyscaphe,” the first undersea research vessel. Support for Sony’s higher-resolution LDAC codec is something you won’t receive, but it is only a small drawback considering aptX Adaptive is available.
Review of FOCAL Bathys: Design
This is a really attractive set of headphones when worn, especially with the backlit flames on each ear cup lighted up to the highest setting.
Although the build quality here suggests expensive jewelry, the magnesium and aluminum combination feels a tad insubstantial rather than strong (dare we say plasticky?). Additionally, that real leather headband, although well-padded, does click a little during use, which over time impacts the overall enjoyment. Anyone familiar with the Focal Stellia will know that the St. Etienne-based audio specialist’s cutaway, almost web-like ear cup accents sparkle and shimmer under the light.
Bathys’ foldable design allows the ear cups to lay flat and fit neatly into the carrying case that is provided, but it should be noted that Bathys follow the current trend of headphones with cups that do not completely fold into the headband, such as the Bowers & Wilkins PX8, Sony WH-1000XM5, and Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 (over the older, foldable Sony WH-1000XM4, say).
A USB-C to USB-C cable for charging and the USB-C DAC mode, which gives you an additional 10 hours of battery life for up to 40 hours of listening, are also included in their hard-shell, fabric-covered carry case. Also included are a 3.5mm to 3.5mm headphone jack cable, a USB-C to Lightning dongle, and a 3.5mm to 3.5mm headphone jack cable.
Although the comfort levels are excellent, we found the on-ear buttons to be a touch fragile and inconsistent when in use. The Bathys either ignore us or halt the music and continue it, which is unfortunate. The skip-forward option, which should be as easy as a double-press of the center button between the volume up/down options, proves particularly elusive for us.
ANALYSIS OF FOCAL BATHYS: SOUND QUALITY
As we listen to Fontaines D.C.’s Big Shot in High-Res Lossless downloaded on Apple Music, the rhythm and rock guitar reverb in our right ear are dynamic, agile, and exhilarating. The Bathys aren’t scared to follow the crowd on this aggressive track, which is no mistake. As Grian Chatten’s vocal enters the center of this large and skilled soundstage, it is almost mocking and dripping with emotion.
In terms of tone, Hootie & the Blowfish’s Only Want Be With You is radically different, and it is embraced with the same ease. From the bass to the percussion, guitars, backup vocals, and Darius Carlos Rucker’s easygoing vocal styles, the loud intro’s vibe is wonderfully mixed.
The Bathys easily overcome the challenging bass weight of Stormzy’s Vossi Bop, which is a tough battle for any headphones. The opening readily descends to the murky depths, punctuated by cymbals, yet the Bathys deliver the bottom end with aplomb and agility. Over all frequencies, everything we throw at them may be nicely contained.
Huge For Your Boots is the next song on our playlist, and it perfectly captures the feeling of a song coming at you suddenly and unexpectedly. Stormzy’s voice is every bit as three dimensional as it should be in what is nothing short of a battle cry.
We notice a slight difference when comparing them to the Bowers & Wilkins PX8, the new class-leader at the level, in terms of the PX8’s exuberance and enjoyment against the Focal Bathys’ detail, spaciousness, and delicacy. Whatever you choose will mostly depend on whether you value agility, an extra ounce of dynamic build, and power over a little amount of expanse, or a comprehensive, thorough, expansive, polished listen (Bathys) (PX8) Yet once more, this is a very tight race; both cans receive a solid five stars for sound.
Review of FOCAL Bathys: Value
The Bowers & Wilkins PX8 are arguably their closest rivals, but even these high-end cans are $100/£100 less expensive – and the minor build quality issues we encountered along with the few omissions on the Bathys’ spec-sheet do affect the value given their high-end pricing. This is far from budget-friendly territory.
The buttons that force us to dig out our phones rather than using them, the lack of auto-off wearer detection, the fact that the three ANC profiles are limited to Silent, Soft, and Transparent – and you cannot forego them completely since the ANC cannot be completely “off” – and the lack of auto-off wearer detection all affect the evaluation.
The Focal Bathys’ greatest asset is that they are essentially powered, wired over-ears that also provide wireless Bluetooth listening. The sound quality is outstanding in both cases. And while it’s difficult to place a price on it, the Focal Bathys should still be at the top of your list if sound quality is important to you.