It’s not often a new product captives me to the point that I start jotting down my thoughts before it’s even in my hands… but something about the Focal Bathys Hi-Fi Bluetooth Active Noise Cancelling headphone has managed to do just that. I’ve read a bit about the French company Focal that has been making some of the best high-end dynamic speakers in the world. Their in-house speaker driver design is unparalleled. It’s that same design prowess that has quickly made them a leader in the high-end headphone market. So, when I read that they now have a Bluetooth ANC headphone, I was ecstatic to say the least. Could this be what I have been looking for in a wireless headphone with the added benefit of a built-in USB-DAC and can be used wired? My only question is with that $799.00 price point. Is it really a 1-2-3 knockout punch combination? We’ll have to see.
The Bathys (pronounced “Bath-ees”) comes in a white box with mostly gray-silver print of the headphones, features and other relative information. Laying the box flat and flipping the magnetically held lid open reveals the triangular grey-black semi-rigid case inside. It’s nothing fancy or flashy having a black Focal flame symbol on the top and the white ‘FOCAL’ labelled zipper tab as the only identifying markings. Opening the case shows its minimalist design that also displays the headphone in its laid out flat position along with one USB-C and one standard headphone cable. There’s also a mesh pocket inside along the top portion of the case that can hold an extra cable or two but nothing much more substantial. Under the case lay the quick start guide and a brochure giving you a glimpse into Focal’s ethos. The full instructions and further information can be viewed or downloaded from their site via an easy to use QR code printed inside on the lid of the box.
Focal has its own design language when it comes to headphones and the Bathys is no different. Many of its design cues are derived from both of Focal’s open- and closed-back offerings. Starting with the construction of the aluminum frame of the headband that’s wrapped in memory foam and covered in leather and microfiber, to the magnesium yokes that hold the ear cups. The exterior of the ear cups uses Focal’s signature design code consisting of a distinct pattern of holes circling around the Focal flame symbol in the middle identifying it as a closed-back headphone. The symbol on the Bathys differs from their other headphones as it is lit by white LED that can be controlled via the Focal & Naim app. The right ear cup is where you’ll find the majority of the controls including the USB-C port and 3.5 mm audio port. The left ear bud has only one button for controlling the active noise cancellation. The other side of the ear cups are nicely finished with removable ear pads filled with a much lower density foam and wrapped in a supple leather.
Inside this beautifully engineered exterior is Focal’s custom designed aluminum/magnesium 40mm “M”-dome speaker driver and formerless voice coil. Some of the other electronics sharing this tight space are the Bluetooth radio, DAC, battery, 8 microphones and amplifier. The Bluetooth 5.1 chip supports aptX & aptX Adaptive, SBC and AAC codecs. The USB-DAC (possibly a AKM) is capable of full 24bit/192kHz resolution audio and the battery is rated to last for 30-hours when used wirelessly with ANC.
Daily Usage Experience
So, what’s it like using the Bathys? Wirelessly, it’s just like any other bluetooth device. Once you turn the headphone on and go through the pairing setup you’re good to go from then on. What the Bathys doesn’t do, is automatically pause when the you remove it from your head or automatically turn off after not being used for a certain amount of time. On the wired front we get two ways to do so. The first is by using the standard 3.5mm audio cable which turns it into a regula wired headphone with the only exception that you have to turn the headphone on to use them. Remember this is an active-headphone not the usual passive-style headphone you’re use to using. So, it must always be turned ‘ON’ to work. The second way is with the USC-C cable which gives you access to the built-in USB-DAC. To do this you move the power button to the “DAC” position (not “ON”) otherwise the headphones will not work. Using the DAC Mode increases the Bathys’ dynamic range and allows for the full rendering of hi-res 24bit/192kHz audio files. This is a much nicer experience even when listening to standard CD quality (16bit/44.1kHz) audio files.
After spending the past two weeks using the Bathys with my smartphone, DAP and laptop I find the sound to be spectacular regardless of which device it was connected to or how it was connected. That being said only the DAP slightly edged out the others mainly due to its ability to play much higher resolution audio files. I also found each of the three connection modes wireless, wired and USB in that order upping the immersive experience. Overall, the soundstage is extremely good with an airiness to it that gives it a feeling of spaciousness. It’s large frequency range of 5Hz – 50kHz gives the Bathys enough head and floor room where music doesn’t sound confined or restricted while still delivering that deep smooth punchy bass when needed. Clarity and detail is spot on. For example, from the opening guitar strumming of Adele’s ‘Rolling In The Deep’ to hearing the slight but natural raspiness of her voice at the end of her notes easily heard without being analytical. This was my experience with all the genres of music I listened to from adult contemporary to world music. Balance wise the Bathys falls on the slightly warmer side, living up to its HI-Fi sound allowing you to enjoy the music instead of listening to it with a critical ear.
When it comes to active noise cancellation I find the Bathys is just fine. The one pet peeve for some might be that there is no actual off mode. It’s only on, with just 3 modes consisting of transparent, soft and silent as choices. Soft is probably the closest mode to being actually off.
The Focal & Naim app while not necessary for the headphone to operate, does give you access to features such as the 5-band equalizer and the LED. I used the equalizer initially but then settled on no equalization at all as I felt the sound quality was more than sufficient and didn’t really need much in the way of fine tuning. The LED of the headphone is also controlled from here. You can set the LED to full brightness, low and off. Both the equalizer and LED settings are saved in the headphone with the one exception of that the LED can’t be turned off when used wired. The ANC can be controlled via the app or the ANC button on the left ear cup.
I generally used the Bathys almost every day for about 1-3 hours at a time. The rated 30-hours of wireless use with ANC was more than enough to get me through two weeks worth of listening and only dropped to about 70% when I finally decided to recharge it. So, if you’re using it to commute for an hour or two each day or during business or vacation trips you will have more than enough power left to get from that bus, train or plane to your home or hotel room. Of course, using it wired extends the battery life even further but at some point you will have to recharge it. When that time comes just use the same USB-C cable it came with and any 5v/300mAh AC adapter. If you’re looking for fast charging the Bathys can do that too as long as it’s plugged into a 2-amp (2000mA) AC adapter.
A Few Final Thoughts
This is Focal’s first wireless headphone with ANC and I think they definitely knocked it out the park. Although, it’s not cheap, it’s also not overly expensive. You get a custom designed speaker and an integrated USB-DAC resulting in superb sound quality with ANC. All with the freedom of wireless along with two wired options all in one package. Compare that to finding and purchasing a quality DAC that you like, a good headphone, a cable to connect the DAC to your phone and carrying that setup around every day. The Bathys allows you to have the headphone wirelessly attached to just your phone or your phone and a DAP if that’s how you roll. Everything can go in separate pockets or bag while still being able to use your phone with nothing physically attached to it. I see that as a win, win, win if you ask me. So, The Bathys is a keeper for me.
I know not everyone will want to spend this kind of money on a headphone, but if you are the type who really enjoys music, at least give the Bathys an in-store try. It just might change how you listen to music in this wireless world.