Focal Bathys

Focal Bathys: two-minute review

Let’s get it right: sonically, the Focal Bathys are more than worthy of their enviable heritage. And aside from the quality wireless listen, chuck in the USB-C cable in DAC mode and you’ve got hi-res up to 21bit/192kHz too. Oh, and in case it needs to be stated, they’re utterly stunning to look at. So, why the four-star review instead of five? It’s not that simple at this price – and the competition is fierce. 

The Focal Bathys are not the French audio specialists first foray into beautiful cans – indeed, the company makes some of the best over-ear headphones we’ve ever had the pleasure of placing over our ears. But this is Focal’s first foray into wireless headphones and (there’s no easy way to say this) the Bathys are expensive. We understand the reasons behind the asking fee – 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 – but they’re more expensive than the AirPods Max and the new Bowers & Wilkins PX8, which is significant and comes with it no small amount of pressure to perform. 

Put them on and you feel beautiful, buoyed up by their detail, insight and clarity, but deploy ANC (you get ‘silent’, ‘soft’ and ‘transparent’ options) and you might find you want a little more – which you can’t tweak. 

None of our gripes regarding the Bathys pertain to their sound, irrespective of the noise-cancellation profile you select – and although the cheaper Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless (launched in August 2022) boast double the battery life at 60 hours versus 30 hours, the Sony WH-1000XM5 (which launched in May 2022) also come bearing 30 hours of stamina and that is more than sufficient for us. 

The Bathy’s companion Focal and Naim app (you swipe right for Focal or left for Naim, like some sort of audiophile dating app) is also likeable and has every necessary feature to aid your listening pleasure, including a five-band EQ tab with helpful presets. 

Perhaps confusingly, our issues refer to the build – odd since we’ve just said how beautiful they are, but stay with us. The on-ear physical buttons feel a bit flimsy and prototype-esque, and we do find them hit-and-miss during use. Also, the headband occasionally clicks during wear which impacts the otherwise excellent sound. 

Again, for this kind of sonic prowess, we’re prepared to forgive most things – for us, sound is paramount. But the big selling point here is wireless listening, so we do need to point out these minor shortfalls in what is still a glorious-sounding set of over-ears. 

Whether the backlit flame is illuminated or not, they’re good-looking cans  (Image credit: Future)

Focal Bathys review: price and release date

Released on October 4, 2022$799 / £699 / €799 (around AU$1,210)

The Focal Bathys are available now, priced $799 / £699 / €799 (around AU$1,210).

This makes them more expensive than all of the class-leaders in this space, including the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 ($699 / £599 / AU$1,150), Sennheiser’s Momentum 4 Wireless (at $349 / £300 / AU$549) and the class-leading Sony WH-1000XM5, which will set you back $399 / £380 / AU$550. 

And let’s not forget that the aformentioned Sennheiser over-ears boast double the stamina of the Focal Bathys (and the XM5, and the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 while we’re on the subject) the pricing feels bordering on arrogance… 

But it isn’t – because whatever else we’re about to say, the sound quality here is exceptional and worthy of the price-point. 

The on-ear controls are just a little flimsy for us  (Image credit: Future)

Focal Bathys review: features

USB-C wired DAC mode for glorious hi-res audio ANC is standard rather than exceptional On-ear controls are unreliable during testing 

The big draw here is the bundled USB-C to USB-C cable, because it grants you access to decoding in up to 24bit/192kHz, depending on how good your file is. We grab our Samsung Galaxy S21 and plug in, switching the slider on the Bathys’ right earcup to ‘DAC’ and start listening to Fontaines D.C., downloaded in High-Res Lossless on Apple Music. It is sublime – but it’s interesting to note that the glorious wired performance is a major selling point given that this is billed as a Focal wireless product. 

Perhaps it is best to think of Focal Bathys as premium wired over-ears that merely offer the option of wired listening, because this is Focal’s inaugural set of wireless over-ears and it does show. Focal devotees won’t care, but if you’re used to wireless listening gear from the likes of Sony, there are things you’ll miss. 

The Focal Bathys’ spec sheet is fine, but given the Bluetooth-only competition out there in 2022, excellent it is not. For example, the two ANC profiles and one transparency option cannot be tweaked, there’s no scope for optimizing the mics or voice pickup when you’re in a call (beyond Focal’s implemented Clear Voice Capture tech), and there’s also no wearer detection, so your music won’t automatically pause when you remove them. These are small omissions, but at this premium level we would expect them – and anyone used to their music pausing when they lift an earcup will soon miss it when it doesn’t happen. 

There is auto-standby (which sends the cans into low power state after a period of inactivity) and a button to access your voice assistant of choice. Focal’s flame symbol, illuminated with a white backlight on each earcup, can also be switched off in the slick yet enjoyable Focal and Naim companion app. 

Then, there’s the intuitive five-band EQ tab, which includes presets or can be tweaked manually – and which we really enjoy. Perhaps we might have wanted a little more stamina than the ‘standard’ 30-hour battery life, although this beats both the Bose QuietComfort 45 and Bose Noise Cancelling 700, which offer between 24 and 30 hours. Also, a quick 15 minute charge gets you five hours playback – a claim we can vouch for. 

As you might expect, Focal has adopted a traditional approach here to the on-ear controls in that they are all physical buttons, with volume, playback, power and a dedicated button to access to your voice assistant of choice (Alexa, Google Assistant, Bixby and Siri are all supported) on the right ear cup, plus an ANC button on the left ear cup, which scrolls between ‘silent’ (the highest ANC the Bathys can muster), ‘soft’ (low-level noise-nixing) and ‘transparent’ to filter external noise in. 

Interestingly, Focal suggests that if you want maximum ANC but aren’t listening to music, to “be on the DAC position”, but this essentially means switching the Bluetooth off, so your headphones are no longer paired to your phone. This in turn means you lose access to the app and are limited to scrolling these profiles using the button on the Bathys’ left earcup, which doesn’t announce which profile you’re on. For us, while there is certainly a degree of noise cancellation happening when we do this (and we think we’re in ‘silent’ mode) , we still hear car engines outside the office window… it’s not the all-encompassing bubble of silence you might be hoping for, but then again, neither is it nauseating (you may laugh, but some solutions are like a vacuum tunnel). 

The Bathys’ Bluetooth 5.1 codec includes support for both aptX and aptX Adaptive for the best Bluetooth (and lowest latency) wireless resolution currently available – oh, and in case you were wondering, the name Bathys comes from the word ‘bathyscaphe’, the first submarine exploration vehicle. What you won’t get is support for Sony’s higher-resolution LDAC codec – but that’s a relatively minor issue what aptX Adaptive is on the menu. 

Features score: 3.5/5

There’s a dedicated button for ANC, but it doesn’t announce which profile you’re on (Image credit: Future)

Focal Bathys review: design

Stunning ‘backlit flame’ illuminating ear cups Very comfortable Buttons feel a little flimsy

When worn (especially with the backlit flame on each ear cup illuminated on ‘high’) this is a striking set of cans indeed. 

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, but although the build-quality here suggests high-ticket jewellery, the magnesium and aluminium combination feels a tad insubstantial rather than strong (dare we say plasticky?), and that real leather headband, although well-padded, does click a bit during use, which in time impacts the overall enjoyment. 

Bathys’ foldable design means the ear cups lie flat to fit neatly into the included carry case, but note that the Bathys echo the current move towards cans with cups that do not fold up entirely into the headband, including the Bowers & Wilkins PX8Sony WH-1000XM5 and Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 (over the older, foldable Sony WH-1000XM4, say). 

Within their hard-shell, fabric covered carry case, we also find a USB-C to USB-C cable for both charging and for the USB-C DAC mode (which incidentally nets you an extra 10 hours of battery for up to 40 hours of listening), a 3.5mm to 3.5mm headphone jack cable (which gives you 35 hours of playtime – yes the mode must be in ‘on’ to use this, so you’re not listening passively) and a USB-C to Lightning dongle.  

The comfort levels are really very good, but during use we find the on-ear buttons just a little flimsy and unreliable. The skip-forward option (which should be as simple as a double-press of the central button between the volume up/down options) to move to the next rack proves particularly illusive for us – the Bathys either ignore us, or pause the music and resume it, which is a shame. 

Design score: 3.5/5

The Focal/Naim app is slick and likeable, but there are a few omissions in the features set (Image credit: Future)

Focal Bathys review: sound quality

Stunning musical clarity, depth and spaceUSB-C DAC mode is a joyAgile presentation across the frequencies

We stream Fontaines D.C.’s Big Shot in High-Res Lossless downloaded on Apple Music, and the rock guitar reverb in our left ear coupled with the rhythm in our right is energetic, agile and exciting. This is an angry track and no mistake, and the Bathys aren’t afraid to get with the program. Grian Chatten’s vocal is borderline mocking and brimming with emotion as it arrives in the middle of this wide and talented soundstage. 

The rhythmic joy in Hootie & the Blowfish’s Only Wanna Be With You is something else entirely in terms of tone – and it is celebrated just as effortlessly. The texture in the raucous intro is expertly layered, from the bass to the percussives, guitars, backing vocal and Darius Carlos Rucker’s relaxed vocal stylings. 

Stormzy’s Vossi Bop is a stiff challenge for the bass weight of any headphones, and the Bathys pass it with flying colors. Cymbals come through each ear as the intro sinks easily down to the grimy depths, but the Bathys deliver the low end with agility and panache. Anything we throw at these can is beautifully held in check throughout, across the frequencies. 

Our playlist continues to Big For Your Boots and the sense of the track quickly arriving and abruptly washing over you is beautifully handled. In what is nothing short of a war cry, Stormzy’s vocal is every bit as three dimensional as it should be. 

Compare them to the new class-leader at the level, the Bowers & Wilkins PX8, and we hear a marginal difference in terms of the exuberance and fun of the PX8 versus the detail, expanse and refinement of the Focal Bathys. Which you think best will largely come down to whether you prefer an integrated, detailed, expansive, refined listen (Bathys), or something boasting agility and an extra ounce of dynamic build and oomph over a fractional modicum of expanse (PX8) but again, it’s a very closely run race here – both cans are a stone cold five stars for sound.  

Sound quality score: 5/5

Just look at those illuminating ear cups with the Focal flame, though…  (Image credit: Future)

Focal Bathys review: value

High-end sound for high-end moneyANC can be bettered at the level though Good rather than excellent battery life

This is far from budget-friendly territory (remember, the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 are arguably their nearest competition, but even these premium cans are cheaper by $100/£100 – and the minor issues we had with the build quality coupled with the few omissions on the Bathys’ spec-sheet do affect the value given their high-end pricing. 

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 it’s impossible to have the ANC ‘off’ entirely – and the buttons which have us dig out our phone rather than use them also impact the judgement. 

The ace up the Focal Bathys’ sleeve is that they are essentially powered, wired over-ears which just happen to offer wireless Bluetooth listening, and the sound when listened in either way is excellent. And it’s hard to put a price on that – so if sound quality is paramount to you, the Focal Bathys should still be on your list. 

Value score: 4/5

Should you buy the Focal Bathys?

Focal Bathys
AttributesNotesRatingFeaturesGreat USB-C DAC mode, great EQ optimization, standard rather than excellent ANC3.5/5DesignBeautiful backlit earcups but slightly flimsy buttons4/5Sound qualityDetailed, expansive and beautifully refined5/5ValueIf sound quality is paramount, they’re worth every penny – but there are drawbacks4/5

Buy them if…

Don’t buy them if…

Also consider…

If our Focal Bathys review has you considering whether to buy them or to seek out other wireless over-ear headphones, take a glance at these three competing cans at the level.

First reviewed: October 2022How we test: explore TechRadar’s review guarantee

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