Focal Bathys Review – Moving the Goal Posts

Sound –

Tonality –

The main appeal of the Bathys is surely the tuning as this headphone far more resembles your typical audiophile wired headphone than a portable noise cancelling one. That means you get great overall balance including a good amount of top-end energy and detail presence alongside a clean, clear midrange. There has been no blunting of the treble in the pursuit of listenability rather, a proper balance has been upheld meaning fatigue isn’t a huge issue all the same. Focal has always abided by the Harman curve and this is broadly the case here too. The Bathys has mostly deep to sub-bass emphasis giving its low end a weighted feel and keeping warmth in good measure. Bass is well contrasted to the midrange providing strong separation and clarity alongside relative tonal transparency. There’s a small dip around 4kHz that provides a slightly denser and more easy going presentation than your typical Harman implementation. And finally, the top-end offers a relatively even experience without huge peaks or troughs. Notable emphases do exist around 5 and 7 kHz to my ears however they are small in magnitude and don’t overshadow other regions. The result is a well-voiced headphone that has great genre versatility and a capable driver with the convenience of a wireless, closed-back form factor. Given this, I have tested the headphone mostly using a wireless connection after 100hrs of burn-in, but will make comments on wired performance in its own section.

Bass –

This is where the Bathys delineates itself from the majority as its low-end is well present but not overwhelming in the slightest; a refreshing change from the majority of warm, bassy competitors. As emphasis centres around the sub and deep-bass frequencies, the note presentation is bold and well-structured but not exceedingly warm. It does retain some warmth alongside satisfying punch and fullness with a degree of sustained emphasis into the mid-bass though, as the upper bass falls off after, it upholds a clean bass/midrange transition. While I am personally not a huge fan of sub-bass focused sounds, I can appreciate the merits and restraint here as the Bathys’ note presentation isn’t rounded or bloated at all. There is a little congestion creeping in on complex tracks as, on occasion, the added sub-bass thump can encroach upon fine texture and detail in the mid-bass. Still, it doesn’t pound the head with excessive pressure and separation remains an admirable performer.

Combined with the balanced quantity of bass, the Bathys also boasts a very capable driver. This is especially so considering the added burden of noise-cancelling functionality, double-so over a wireless connection. The Bathys won’t match a similarly priced wired model in terms of nuance and resolution with these features active. However, impact is solid, and decay is controlled. Notes have very respectable definition and plenty of texture as a result. While note definition is reduced over Bluetooth, the headphone remains a responsive performer able to maintain pace during the vast majority of tracks. Considering from an apples-to-apples perspective, the Bathys is appreciably more controlled and insightful than competing premium noise-cancelling headphones I’ve tested. With higher raw driver quality the ceiling is similarly elevated over a wired connection, permitting superior scaling when used as such especially relative to competitors. The Bathys’ strength lies in this advantage alongside a sensible tuning that takes best advantage of it even with the burden of noise cancellation.

Mids –

So too is the midrange a great performer, a standout in class to my ears. While different bass and treble tunings are a preference, I do feel many people can be critical of the midrange tuning given human voice is something we are all intimately familiar with. In this regard, I find most ANC headphones to be overly coloured; serviceable, but not something that would hold up under critical listening. The Bathys is a departure, being a genuinely inspiring performer. The tuning is excellent, with great separation from the bass and good tonal transparency. Head gain is appropriately progressive and centred around a hump at 3kHz which offers a well-balanced image between male and female vocals. Vocals do take some precedence over instruments but not to an excessive extent. Room is slightly reduced which gives the impression of a more vibrant, contrasted image and improved separation. When introducing personal biases, I am a fan of the Bathys over traditional Harman implementations too. This is due to the slight dip at 4kHz which prevents the headphone from sounding too bright or forward. To me, this is a far more sensible way to minimise fatigue than by turning down the treble as the Bathy is able to uphold a relatively articulate nature whilst introducing additional density and smoothness.

This means small details are brought more to the fore and are more readily available for the listener to enjoy but they aren’t pushed too forward or intimate, working to the advantage of listenability and soundstaging. The voicing, to me, is highly natural and consistent in turn. Some may want for greater extension and vocal clarity as found on a typical Harman headphone, but I did find that note body in the midrange was appropriate and the level of clarity was also well-considered for longer listening sessions. The tuning works in tandem with the high quality driver to provide an insightful and layered presentation even over a wireless connection; small mouth sounds and vocal harmonisations are well realised and very clearly presented. While the Bathys isn’t an especially revealing headphone and you shouldn’t respect such, it doesn’t swing too far in the opposite direction either. This is ultimately just a slightly more coherent take with enhanced listenability. For those wanting a slightly smooth and highly natural sound with great definition and a clean tone, the Bathys manages this with aplomb.

Highs –

Though not perfectly linear nor as inspiring as the bass and treble tuning to me, the top-end is in good taste all considered. The company has implemented two small treble peaks to deliver that typical high-end headphone experience. These exist at 5 and 7 kHz, meaning the headphones miss the sharpness zones around 6 and 8 kHz that many listeners tend to be more sensitive to – of course, if you are aware that these are areas of issue for your ears in particular, this is something to consider. To me, this tuning provides a slightly less sharpened image with reduced bite and crunch at the leading edge. Conversely, the Bathys upholds a good amount of crispness and detail presence with treble assuming a more organic and well-bodied character. Treble on a whole also isn’t boosted with peaks sitting well in line with the bass and midrange. Though peaks are present, this means the headphone has a slightly energetic character in the treble but isn’t to be considered bright or forward. As before, driver quality is good but doesn’t match a wired headphone.

There’s a slight bias towards the lowe treble over shimmer and decay in the mid-treble. Percussive instruments tend to take the spotlight from crashing cymbals though also not to a large degree. The foreground maintains good focus and detail density if not the sharpest attack as aforementioned. Separation remains excellent despite the slightly smoother note presentation. The background is dark and clean, aided by minimal background hiss from the Bluetooth and ANC circuitry – of course, this is also further improved over a wired connection. Sparkle and extension are present but not especially so but this still gives the headphone an advantage over the vast, vast majority in-class. The Bathys performs at a level ample to deliver an inspiring soundstage but not an outstanding one. Still, you do get plenty of nuance over a wireless connection where many lesser headphones are lacking entirely.  

Soundstage –

The Bathys performs perfectly well over a wireless connection, but its full capabilities are only available when plugged into a wired source. Still, I have yet to hear a wireless model that provides a truly insightful soundstage, the Bathys performs like an above-average wired headset in this regard which isn’t bad at all considering its handicap. This means you get a good amount of width that is easily able to stretch beyond the head but also a relatively intimate depth meaning the stage isn’t especially multi-dimensional. The headphone offers a good layering performance with apparent foreground and background layers with good delineation. Imaging is also relatively sharp in terms of left-right positioning, but distance portrayal leaves to be desired. Separation is one of this headphone’s fortes due both to its capable driver and excellent tuning. Though not as strong as a wired, more Harman-compliant headphone, there is plenty of space around each note and fine details are easy to discern. The overall level of tri-frequency balance aids this impression as fine details are rarely over-shadowed, only due to the sub-bass on rare occasions.

Wired –

Of course, given the headphone is capable of wired function over two connection standards, it would be unfair not to mention this in the review. There are distinct sonic differences here that warrant a separate section in this review. This is because the tonality and note presentation are both different over a USB connection. For the most part, the difference in tuning is not profound, to the extent that I would argue it has not been intentionally altered via the in-built DSP. The character of the headphones very much remains the same with subtle alterations – generally in the favour of the wired connection as one would expect given it is not subject to the bandwidth limitations of a wireless one.

The biggest difference to me was the tighter, more defined low-end and this was evident even with ANC active. Bass is cleaner and sounds a touch less present in the sub-bass over a wired connection. The note presentation is faster and more defined, both resulting in much-improved separation and fine detail retrieval. I also felt this gave the bass a more balanced quality with less congestion and a more linear character. This also means the midrange sounds a touch more transparent if still well-bodied and naturally voiced. Overall, the changes here weren’t as large. The top-end receives similar improvements as the low-end. It is a touch more present but peaks remain in the same position as in wireless mode so the presentation isn’t vastly different. You get a little more definition and crispness but also a slightly thinner note body. I am also perceiving a little more upper-treble presence and extension providing a bump in fine detail retrieval.

USB-DAC mode also brings with it a considerable jump in soundstage complexity. The stage is much larger but the imaging performance is the main differentiator. In USB-DAC mode, the headphones offer a lot more depth and layers are far more defined. This provides a more multi-dimensional sound. By comparison, wireless sounds more classic stereo with good left-right separation but less nuance when it comes to distance and space portrayal. Vocals also appear more intimate as the headphones have less depth projection over a wireless connection despite the tuning being similar. I still think the headphones perform at a high level over a wireless connection and, at present at least, a wired connection remains king for sheer quality. The distinct quality jump means the Bathys is a good all-in-one unit that can scale with desktop/stationary use but uphold plenty of quality and great tonal balance on the road.

Driveability –

Due to reliance on its internal circuitry, source pairings aren’t too much of a consideration as the Bathys will be unable to take advantage of amping. Source colouration may subtly colour the headphone to some extent, but I didn’t find this to be a substantial factor to consider during testing. This is because the headphone clearly wasn’t designed with wired use in mind, this is one of the rare instances where using a higher-quality wired source would be a waste of money.

Next Page: Comparisons & Verdict

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Ryan Soo

Avid writer, passionate photographer and sleep-deprived medical student, Ryan has an ongoing desire to bring quality products to the regular reader.

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