Focal Bathys Review: Overview
(out of 5)
- Headphone Type: Closed-back, wireless, with ANC (active noise cancelling)
- Drivers: Dynamic, 40 mm, aluminum/magnesium m-dome
- Frequency range: 15 Hz – 22 kHz
- Battery Life: 30 hours with ANC on, 35 Jack Mode, 42 USB DAC mode
- Weight: 350 grams
- Bluetooth Codecs Supported: SBC, AAC, aptX, AptX Adaptive
- Audiophile-level sound in ANC cans
- Dynamic punch that transmits the emotion of music
- Very comfortable
- Premium build quality
- Okay Noise Cancelling
- Cheap, short included cables
ANC (Active Noise-Cancelling) Headphones that are joy to listen to. If sound is your ultimate priority, look no further.
Introducing the Focal Bathys
Focal, the French audio company that specializes in high-end speakers and headphones, has ventured into the murky waters of ANC (active noise-cancelling) Bluetooth headphones. Audiophile purists dare not go here because of the sound quality compromises that usually come with Bluetooth and Noise-cancellation.
For a company that keeps most manufacturing in-house and maintains high-quality standards with all their products, would this move into commercial headphones taint the waters?
Can you get audiophile-level sound with ANC cans? Are these headphones worth it? We got our hands on the Focal Bathys and gave them a thorough testing to see if they could deliver.
Who are the Focal Bathys Headphones for?
The Focal Bathys are for anyone in search of quality Bluetooth, noise-cancelling headphones with exceptional sound. With premium build quality and a focus on sound, these cans are targeting audiophiles who are fed up with mediocre cans on their daily commute.
Who are the Focal Bathys Headphones NOT for?
Although the detail resolution and overall sound of the Focal Bathys is exceptional, these are not recommended for critical listening.
For critical listening, we would recommend open-back headphones with a more neutral frequency response like the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro or the Sennheiser HD 600. See here for more info on headphones for critical listening.
Alternatives to the Focal Bathys
The Focal Bathys and Bowers & Wilkins PX8 move ANC headphones into a new price range, both currently priced above USD 600. Then come the rest of the headphones in the 300-500 USD zone – Sennheiser Momentum 4 at the lower end of that zone and Apple AirPods Max at the higher cost end. (See here for a direct comparison: Sony XM5 vs AirPods Max)
Bowers & Wilkins PX8
Reportedly excellent sound and great noise cancellation (Haven’t reviewed yet) Built with premium materials. Pricey.
Sennheiser Momentum 4
Best value ANC headphones in our book. Great sound, excellent tuning out of the box, massive battery life.
Tied for best noise canceling (with AirPods Max) Very good sound.
Apple AirPods Max
Tied for best noise-cancelling, very comfortable with very good stock tuning.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Great Noise-cancelling, decent sound, competitive price.
The Focal Bathys are simply a joy to listen to. I loved them as soon as I pressed play and I found myself very reluctant to send them back after the review. You’re getting a heavy dose of the dynamic punch and detail resolution that get from something like the Focal Celestee.
They are also very easy to listen to for a long time. They lack the fatiguing, hyped tuning that most competitive ANC models have.
Let’s dive in the details of their sound…
The overall tuning of these cans out-of-the-box is outstanding. They are easy to EQ with the Focal & Naim App, (or with the EQ of your choice) but I only wanted minor tweaks here and there.
I found the top end satisfyingly tame, giving a warmer edge to most recordings.
What impresses me is that the gentler treble is never at the expense of its detail retrieval. The Focal Bathys deliver the finest detail resolution of any of the ANC headphones we have heard.
The gentler treble also keeps your ears from fatigue on longer sessions.
The midrange is very prominent. The combination of the dynamic punch and forward mids makes climaxes in music especially exciting. Vocals are brought forward and instruments articulate independently in the mix.
The bass on the Bathys is punchy with fast transient response. In recordings where the bass is melodic, like for example, in The Strokes’ track Trying Your Luck, this punchy clarity is exciting and satisfying.
You can see in the frequency response diagram that the bass is lifted slightly, like other commercial ANC headphones. But, on the Focal Bathys, it’s done right. Here you get clarity and slam where competitors like the Sony XM5 give you overpowering bloat.
What the Focal Bathys deliver better than any other ANC headphones is dynamic punch. This dynamism expresses the emotional quality of music – no small achievement for a pair of headphones! As energy swells in a song, that energy is transmitted to your ears through this dynamic punch.
Some headphones have super fast transient response, some have fantastic detail in the highs or mids, but if you can’t feel the weight of the drum stick or guitar pick, there’s a lot that your ears are missing.
On the softer dynamics, especially on acoustic instruments, you can feel how soft it is. And as it gets louder, the clarity on the Bathys headphones remains, without any distortion or blending of the instruments.
The soundstage is generous for closed-back ANC headphones. This is helped by the extra distance between the driver and the pinnae of the ear.
You’re not getting the kind of expansive space you might hear on open-back cans like the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, but they match that of most closed-back wired headphones.
The experience of the Bathys’ soundstage feels a bit like listening to quality speakers in a large vocal booth.
The active noise cancellation on the Focal Bathys is the one area where competitors like the AirPods Max or the Sony WH-1000XM5 win. That said, the Focal Bathys still do a good job eliminating unwanted rumble – just not as good as the competition.
Using eight dedicated microphones, the Focal Bathys can attenuate most of the low-end city rumble and most of the high frequencies as well. In the midrange (around 1 kHz), especially outside voices talking come through.
That said, I quite liked having the option for a softer ANC experience. ANC headphones with ANC switched off, typically sound strange. Most ANC cans are built assuming you will use the cancellation, and the hardware is built with this in mind.
But the Bathys offer a middle road with the ‘soft’ mode – in other words, ANC that won’t suck your brains out. For those seeking a more subtle noise reduction, the ‘soft’ mode caters to their needs, providing a gentler level of active noise cancellation, making it ideal for users who find traditional noise-canceling too intense.
And like many other models, there is a ‘transparency’ mode that allows ambient sounds to pass through.
Build / Design
The Bathys have the same premium look and feel that you might expect from Focal headphones. The ergonomic design sports magnesium yokes (the y-shaped bit that holds the earcups), a real leather headband, and the signature Focal aluminum grilles.
The Focal logo is backlit, which makes you look like Lando Calrissian’s assistant in Empire Strikes Back. If you don’t like that look, this light can be switched off with the Focal & Naim app.
The drivers, modeled after the Focal Celestee drivers, are 40mm aluminum/magnesium m-dome drivers. These drivers boast a performance with less than 0.2% harmonic distortion (@ 1 kHz). In our tests, we could confirm this down to 0.5%, which is still pretty great.
The only weakness in the design for me is the black plastic around the earcups. Of course, plastic is used with travel in mind, keeping weight to a minimum.
The lighter weight is appreciated and necessary but in an ideal world, I’d like the same premium feel here like the rest of the headphones.
The cans come with a rather elegant carry case including USB-C and standard mini-jack cables, both 1.2 meters long. The cable quality is not consistent with the quality standards of Focal and 1.2 meters is an annoyingly short length.
One of the best aspects of these cans is how comfortable they are.
The design employs even weight distribution. Weighing in at 350 grams, I don’t feel the top headband much at all when they are on.
The earpads, composed of pleather for a tighter seal, are plush and cushy and sit comfortably further away from the pinnae than other ANC cans.
The clamp force, out of the box is a little tight for my big head, but that is something that would ease with more use.
Overall, the Focal Bathys are like comfy slippers on your head, built for long sessions.
The ‘DAC mode’ on the Bathys allows audiophiles to bypass the compromises of Bluetooth compression and listen directly with a USB-C cable.
To offer this mode of maximum fidelity, the headphones are equipped with a built-in DAC to deliver 24-bit/192 kHz resolution.
The right earcup has a power button that switches between on, off, and DAC modes. And three buttons for volume up, volume down, and play pause hands-free controls.
I prefer this on/off switch to the press-and-hold on/off button employed by models like the Sony WH-1000XM5. It’s more intuitive and I don’t have to guess things like: ‘Is this thing on?’, ‘Am I holding too long?’, ‘Is it connecting now?’, etc.
Notably, the Bathys headphones lack an automatic play/pause feature when removed or worn, allowing for uninterrupted control over playback. But I found that I could still remember to switch them off.
Focal & Naim App
I’m a big fan of the Focal & Naim App. I always prefer the simple variety when it comes to included apps with headphones – and this app fits that description.
Controls for EQ and noise cancellation in the app are basic and easy to use. There is no required login or registration; just download and go.
The battery life of the Focal Bathys headphones matches that of most of the competition. With a full charge, they last 30 hours with a Bluetooth connection and ANC turned on.
Additionally, for those times when you need a quick boost, a mere 15-minute charge offers an impressive 5 hours of listening time, making them exceptionally convenient for users on the go.
Battery Life Comparison Chart: ANC Headphones
The Focal Bathys headphones boast the usual array of extra features to enhance the user experience.
They use Bluetooth 5.1 technology and support SBC, AAC, Apt-X, and Apt-X Adaptive codecs.
Also keeping up with the competition, the Bathys are compatible with popular voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, enabling effortless voice commands and convenient hands-free functionality.
The call functions with the Focal Bathys were straightforward to use.
The audio quality of calls on the Bathys in normal, indoor conditions was very good compared to other ANC headphones.
In windy conditions, however, you can barely understand calls from the Bathys. You can hear the tests below.
Verdict: Are the Focal Bathys Worth It?
It is a feat of engineering to balance the joy and dynamic punch of these drivers with the hurdles of Bluetooth and Noise-cancelling technology. Focal have taken on this challenge with the Bathys and created a successful pair of ANC cans for audiophiles.
The Bathys are a considerable investment and very much worth it for those who value sound above all else. That said, for those who frequently fly or those whose priority is noise-cancellation, the AirPods Max or the Sony WH-1000XM5 would be a better choice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who wins the match up: Focal Bathys vs Sony WH-1000XM5?
In a direct match up, the Focal Bathys are giving you a far better sound experience than the XM5. This is most obvious in the dynamics. Although the XM5 offer more dynamic energy than most ANC cans, they simply cannot deliver anything close to the slam, weight, and delicate microdynamics that the Bathys give you.
In all other areas of the sound experience, including detail retrieval, stock tuning, and soundstage, the Focal Bathys deliver more than the XM5.
The area where the WH-1000XM5 have the edge over the Focal Bathys is noise canceling. The XM5 have the best noise canceling (tied with AirPods Max) of all the headphones we tested. The Bathys had very good overall noise canceling but the competition in this area is fierce.
Both headphones offer HD codec support, 30 hours of battery life, the ability to adjust settings and features from your phone, ambient mode so you can hear your environment, and the ability to take phone calls on it with handsfree controls.
For sound, the Bathys win. If you don’t want to pay the extra for sound and noise canceling is your priority, the XM5 win.
Who wins the match up: Focal Bathys vs Sony WH1000-XM4?
All of the comparisons above between the Focal Bathys and Sony XM5 apply when comparing the Bathys with the Sony XM4.
The XM4 offer excellent value for ANC cans out there. The Bathys give you far better sound, with weaker noise canceling.
For sound, the Bathys win. For noise canceling and value, the XM4 win.
Who wins the match up: Focal Bathys vs AirPods Max?
In this match up (and in all match the direct ANC match ups) the Focal Bathys win in terms of sound. They have dynamic slam and sensitivity, fantastic detail retrieval, extensive soundstage and excellent stock tuning. The AirPods Max just cannot match this kind of sonic excitement.
The AirPods Max offer no support for HD codecs, another area where they fall short of the Bathys.
But the AirPods Max do have the best noise canceling out there (tied with the XM5). The Bathys offer good noise attenuation, but just not as much as these competitors.
If you are an Apple person, the Airpods Max are an excellent second choice if you don’t want to pay the extra for the sound of the Bathys.
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