Focal Bathys – true audiophile headphones with incredible perks, at a price
Listen wirelessly, over a traditional analogue cable, or at up to 24-bit,192kHz with onboard USB-C DAC. Are these the ultimate headphones for audiophiles?
Focal Bathys headphones. Image: Sylvie Bessou
⊕ Noise cancelling is highly effective br>
⊕ Stellar battery life br>
⊕ Three connectivity options br>
⊕ High-end build and finish br>
⊖ Pricey compared to higher-end consumer models if you don’t really covet the DAC mode br>
French audio expert Focal has a proud history of designing high-end hi-fi speakers and pro audio monitoring systems. It also makes premium wired headphones. With the new Bathys, the brand finally steps into wireless terrain – but with a twist. The headphones boast a wireless option, a wired analogue connection and more unusually, a fully digital USB-C connection providing up to 24-bit, 192kHz listening.
Focal is striving to cover all bases by offering the convenience of wireless and the fidelity of full-quality audio transmission. Their £699 price tag might seem extravagant but some of Focal’s other models cost over £4,000, and audiophile headphones rarely come at under £1,000. So what’s Focal’s play here?
The headphones come in a hard carrying case and are supplied with two 4-foot cables, one 3.5mm jack and one USB-C, which can also be used for charging. The Bathys’ battery life is impressive, with 30 hours of full noise cancelling playback, 35 hours over analogue connection (they still need to be powered on), and a stunning 42 hours when used in USB DAC mode. They’re fast-charge compatible too, so a 15-minute top-up will give you five hours of use; handy if you’ve forgotten to charge them before a journey.
Focal bills the Bathys as portable headphones and, while they don’t fold down to a very small size like some models, they certainly don’t feel bulky, weighing just 350g. The finish is excellent too, with an aluminium and magnesium frame, leather and microfibre headband, and soft, replaceable earpads. In use, they feel comfortable to wear even for long periods while also securely fitting to the head.
Google fast pairing is supported and the headphones sport Bluetooth 5.1 – it’s not the newest, but Bluetooth 5.2 and 5.3 standards mostly contain features that aren’t relevant for the Bathys. What it does provide is a signal range of up to 15 metres and, crucially, multipoint connectivity. The latter lets you switch between several different devices without re-pairing. So switching between a laptop and a smartphone, for example, is a seamless experience..
Happily, the Bathy’s companion app is relatively simple compared to the likes of Anker’s app, which packs a ton of tweaking options, hearing test personalisation and more. With the Bathys, it’s more straightforward. Noise cancelling can be set to off, ambient, medium or strong, and there’s also an EQ section with six adjustable bands of +/- 6dB. There are a couple of presets and you can also store your own.
The EQ here is quite subtle and while some competitors’ EQs produce fierce boosts or cuts, this one makes sympathetic changes. It’s nicely implemented and you may find a few small nudges will tailor the sound to your personal preferences.
The headphones have eight microphones built-in for making phone calls – where we find voice clarity to be excellent – and noise cancelling, which can be toggled either from the app or using buttons on the headphones.
A transparency mode lets some ambient sound through for when you’re using them while travelling, for example. Soundguys’ review found the noise cancelling less impressive, but we find the noise cancelling on the Silent setting to be immensely effective, helped by the over-ear design – sound isolation is comprehensive even in noisy environments. The medium cancelling setting works as described, though we find no real use for it.
The Bathys use 40mm drivers with a frequency response of 15Hz-22kHz, slightly wider than the 20Hz-20kHz found in many models. The sound reproduction is superb, exhibiting quite a revealing, neutral character. Like many of the best headphones, they stay true to the source material without colouring it in any appreciable way. Differences between albums, in terms of stereo separation, the loudness levels and so on, are quite apparent but that’s a positive – there are plenty of ‘phones that will simply approximate every track down to the same tonal shape for playback. The Bathys’ low end in particular is robust and rich without ever becoming boomy or overwhelming.
So what about connectivity? It’s there aplenty, but it’ll depend on your device. SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive and aptX codecs are supported, but Apple products only support SBC and AAC; these sounded up to scratch in our tests. Switching to the 3.5mm wired connection sounded essentially the same except for a noticeable drop-off in the maximum volume achievable.
Turning to the USB-C connection and switching into DAC mode, you have to remember firstly to go into your computer’s audio settings and manually switch up the sample and bit rate for the headphones to use the maximum 24-bit/192kHZ option (by default, they run at 16-bit, 48kHz).
Remember also that you’ll only notice the full benefit if your source material reflects these high rates – lossless files, full-quality WAVs and even DAW projects that have been recorded at higher-quality settings. USB mode sounds impeccable, and when playing back lossless files we can discern a noticeable increase in the overall depth and sharpness of the playback.
The Bathys are excellent headphones that actually sit at the more affordable end of Focal’s lineup. In its review, Wired concurs that we’re sort of playing in a different league where Focal is concerned. They are relatively unusual in offering three methods for connection – wireless is commonplace but fewer wireless headphones have a wired option, and even then, it’s almost always analogue rather than digital. Apple’s ageing AirPods Max (£549) have an optional USB-C to Lightning cable though the Lightning standard is likely about to be phased out. Master and Dynamic’s MW75s come with USB-C to analogue and digital cables for up to 24-bit, 96kHz playback, also for £549. So you’ll pay a premium over those models for having this choice but, if you want it, you probably will do so willingly.
The Bathys straddle a line between premium consumer headphones – like Airpods Max – and the more rarefied arena of audiophile hi-fi, where people consider paying thousands for a product. They could be an entry point to the audiophile world, for people who appreciate excellent fidelity but aren’t ready to go all-in with a huge investment.
Sonically, these are gorgeous headphones. For the price, you will be serious about your audio and want the unusual offering of three different connection methods. They’re a taste of the higher end of the hi-fi world without the full cost of admission, and with enough tech to satisfy today’s listeners.
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