The audiophile world is filled with wired headphones that can bring the excitement of live music straight to your head. They can deliver the dynamics of the studio experience without having to worry about the acoustics of the room or waking up your spouse. But there is one problem with many of those tried-and-tested headphones: who the hell wants to be tethered to a wire with your headphones? Not me. Not in the real world. Not in the third decade of the twenty-first century.
Focal is one of my absolute favorite audiophile speaker manufacturers and one whose products I wished that I still owned. My pair of Focal Sopra No. 2 audiophile floorstanding speakers ended up being the closing element when I sold my last house here in West Los Angeles and I am itching to get another pair, since comparable Magicos, Bowers & Wilkins, or Wilson Audio speakers that compete nicely but are far from superior are in fact double the price.
Focal’s also has a whole host of headphones that range from open back to closed back, but always wired, audiophile headphones. That is until now.
The Focal Bathys headphones are $799 (buy at Amazon) and borrow from the industrial and internal design of the company’s wired offerings, but this time Focal has brought a Bluetooth 5.1 platform into play, freeing you from the wired connection(unless you want one: which we will talk about later with the Bathys’ DAC Mode).
With lots of serious competition in the luxury over-ear headphone space from some of the most lauded audiophile companies, as well as from companies that you likely own stock in as part of your 401K, this is a big-time game. Can a French audiophile speaker company who makes killer wired headphones compete? We are going to find out.
What Makes the Focal Bathys Wireless Headphones Special?
- More and more headphones are trying to exist in this luxury/performance/fashion category of consumer electronics and many players, like Apple, have done a spectacular job at coming to market with compelling, higher-end wireless headphones. With that said, the Focal’s industrial design, fit and finish, as well as its overall look is every bit as elegant as any product on the market today.
- Smartly, the Focal Bathys comes with options to charge with a USB-C (I am tired of those USB-C to Micro cables and adapters) as well as to use a 3.5mm jack for DAC mode, if, if you wanted to use a wired connection. These Bathys cans give you the best of both worlds in terms of flexibility.
- DAC mode supports 24/192 level performance, which is nice even if you run them traditionally wired from a modest, portable DAC/HPA. Alternatively, you can use the USB-C cable (included) to run the headphones wired but in “DAC mode” to get an even better sound than most Bluetooth headphones.
- Bluetooth 5.1 is pretty close to the state-of-the-art of a fast-moving Bluetooth platform. Newer (or future) versions of Bluetooth 5 are allowing for more interactive ways to use wireless technology not too dissimilar to that of what you would see at a top museum tour or at say the United Nations when in session with ambassadors from around the globe. Of course, you can make cell phone calls on the Bathys if you are in the mood to take a call while kicking it with your jams.
- The Focal Bathys have a Transparent mode in their three-level ANC (noise cancelation), which I first fell in love with on the Apple AirPods Max. This cancels out some sound but not all, so that if you were walking down the street in Greenwich Village, you don’t have to lift your headphones (which pauses sound automatically on most wireless headphones by design) to make sure that you aren’t about to get creamed by a maniac driving a dinged-up Suburban for Uber. On an airplane, their stronger ANC is excellent and well recommended.
- The metal work and leather on the Focal Bathys is just gorgeous, as any Focal fan will expect.
- Focal’s app is shared with their sister brand, Naim, and offers a lot of functionality, including a well-received five-band EQ that I used to get a much more enjoyable sound out of my headphones. You can adjust the LED light (which I like to see when the headphones are charging) and some other basic features in the App.
- The case for the Focal Bathys is pretty much like everybody else’s case these days, unless your Apple AirPods Max (buy at Amazon) $549 either love or hate their “rubber oven mitt” case. The Focal case is a worthy travel companion, as these headphones were meant to see the world.
Why Should You Care About the Focal Bathys Wireless Headphones?
Have you been on an airplane recently? Have you ever sat near to a crying baby or had to endure an intolerable conversation from your random-ass seat mates? The Focal Bathys take you from that nightmare to audiophile paradise in a one-button pairing with the device of your choice. They also make the gym less miserable. The Focal Bathys allow you to focus on your tasks at hand when your work environment might be a little louder that you had hoped for. These are luxury headphones that nevertheless don’t skimp out on utility.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the Focal Bathys Headphones
- The Focal app is very nice but it is intertwined with their sister brand Naim, which can be confusing at times. At 1.9 out of 5-stars rating on the App Store, their app is a little maligned but once you download it and figure out how to click on the Focal section, you are in good shape. The ANC (noise cancelation) is built into the app. So is the five-band EQ that I used to my advantage with these headphones.
- Out of the box, the Focal Bathys headphones are pretty bass heavy. They might not have as much junk in the trunk as the original Beats, but the headphones come voiced for pop and hip-hop. If you are looking for that more Sopra-like sound, head to the EQ and take a little energy out of the low end. Easy.
- The fit on the Focal Bathys’ is tight to the head but by no means the tightest out there on the market. A tight fit makes for better bass but it also can cause physical fatigue over time. I have a pretty big head but this wasn’t a deal breaker on the Bathys for me, but worthy of a mention.
Listening to the Focal Bathys Bluetooth ANC Headphones
Looking for an open-sounding song that has a strong bass line brought me to “Could You Be Loved” by Bob Marley from the Legend Album (1440 AIFF – CD Resolution) (buy at Amazon on vinyl or CD). The highs sounded lively and the mids were nicely open on the track. In the Focal-Naim app, I went into the EQ and adjusted the bass to be about -1 dB on the two lowest registers, and it lighted up a little of the bloat that I heard in the low end and made for a much more enjoyable experience. I know most users won’t use the app but it really is a useful tool to get these luxury headphones to sound just the way that you want them.
I repeated the track to go through the ANC and I have to give Focal credit for having gotten it right when it comes to noise cancelation. Historically, Bose and Sony had cornered the market on the best noise cancelation. Today, newer players are using multi-mic ANC solutions that offer various grades of noise cancelation that works in all sorts of real-world applications. Transparent mode is a favorite of mine, in that it allows a little outside noise in so that you can be a little safer walking the streets listening to over-the-ear headphones with ANC on, but I like Silent Mode which shuts out nearly all outside noise, creating a very quiet environment to listen in but it is far from suitable for anything other than airplanes, work, or other stationary locations. I consider Focal’s ANC noise cancelation as good as any that I’ve heard today.
In a more modern recording from the pop category with a big bass sound, I cued up “Hey Baby” from No Doubt’s 2001 release Rock Steady (AIFF 1440 CD Resolution) (buy at Amazon). With the EQ from the app taking just a little off the low end, this track provides with just enough to be a very fun demo. The highs and mids sound great to me. With the bass under a little more control, this track was bumping on the Focal Bathys. All of the overdubs and production tricks sounded exciting and engaging. I needed to be careful with the volume because it sounded so good that I wanted to turn it up and up and up. That can be a dangerous practice with headphones, as I am sure you know, but we all do it from time to time.
- Look into the next-gen and stylish $399 Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 audiophile wireless headphones. (buy at Amazon)
- Sony’s top over-the-ear headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM5’s audiophile headphones, have some of the best ANC noise cancelation out there also at $399. (buy at Amazon)
- One of the BEST values in over -ear wireless headphones comes from 1-More Soniflow headphones (buy at Amazon)
- If Sony didn’t have the best ANC then Bose did historically and at $379.00 their Bose Noise Canceling 700 headphones ($379 retail) (buy at Amazon) keep that legacy alive even if the Bathys are now just as good.
- Apple’s purchase of Beats (and perhaps more importantly their on-staff engineers coming to their staff from Harman) have made products like the Apple AirPods Max (buy at Amazon) a relevant competitor for the Focal Bathys.
- Here’s a link to the Focal site to explore more about the Focal Bathys. (Site)
Do The Focal Bathys Headphones Have Any Resale Value?
If you treat your Focal Bathys nicely (good luck on that for me as I tend to not use the travel case and beat on my travel headphones) they should hold a good bit of their value in a category not known for such a feat. Not only are the Focal Bathys headphones gorgeous and luxurious, they also have audiophile pedigree among a group of audiophiles who tend to collect different varieties of headphones. The fact that you can hardwire these headphones and use Focal’s DAC mode adds a little value too. I would never suggest buying wireless headphones that you should expect resale value but I think with the Focal Bathys you have a bit of an exception here.
Who Is the Competition for the Focal Bathys Wireless Bluetooth ANC Headphones?
The high-end wireless over-ear Bluetooth headphone market is growing by leaps and bounds as we come to the end of 2022. Here are some of the other players that we are either already reviewing (or looking at) from other companies.
At $999, Harman’s Mark Levinson No. 5909 audiophile wireless headphones (buy at Crutchfield) come with a brand that every audiophile knows but also packing all of the internal “Harman Curve” headphone engineering that has made brands like AKG and JBL standards in the pro audio world. These are even more expensive than the Focal Bathys and don’t quite have the luxurious fit and finish physically.
Bowers & Wilkins Px8 James Bond Edition audiophile headphones ($699) (buy at Amazon) are an exact price match for the Bathys and also come in a James Bond 007 special edition model. Sonically, how much more improved will the Px8 be over the (also bass heavy) Px7 S2s that we have reviewed? We will let you know when they arrive. The fit and finish of the Bowers & Wilkins headphones is different (perhaps more colorful) but equally appealing as compared to the Focals.
HIFIMAN’s Deva Pros (buy at Amazon) ($329) are in the house and these headphones are open-back, audiophile headphones retrofitted to be connected via Bluetooth, so they have a lot of common with the Focals in terms of dual use =. These big, super-cool-looking headphones likely won’t be as versatile because of sound coming in and/or sound leaking out, but these large format headphones compete in the audiophile performance and cool-factor segments.
German audiophile powerhouse, T+A is coming to market with a $1,600 pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones reportedly before the holidays that offers a lot of high-end promise. (update: they are in-hand. Review pending)
Final Thoughts on the Focal Bathys Wireless Headphones
My need for really high-performance, comfortable, over -ear wireless headphones is strong. For anybody who exercises, travels, works in a noisy space, or who just wants to enjoy content without pissing everybody in the house off late at night, it is easy to see why any of us would want a pair of headphones like the Focal Bathys.
The Focal Bathys (buy at Amazon) perform as well as (if not better) any headphone in their class and they are priced accordingly. They are luxurious as well as high performance and that is going to be appealing to audiophiles who aren’t that willing to compromise but are pretty much tired of being physically tethered to a device. Their noise cancelation is downright excellent. They are lightweight and well built. Their app brings a useful yet simple-to-use EQ into the value proposition, which only adds to their appeal. Consider Focal Bathys apex predators on the market today in the world of high end wireless over -ear, Bluetooth headphones.