Welcome back to Golden Ears, our regular review column exploring the world of high-end audio for PC users and audio enthusiasts. Today, we’re looking at the best Bluetooth noise canceling headphone of the year with the Focal Bathys. At $799, they don’t come cheap but offer great noise cancelling, amazing sound quality, are compatible with your PC, and are the new high water mark for what to expect from a premium Bluetooth headphone.
They’re firmly Golden Ears territory, so join us as we explore just what that aspirational price tag gets you.
- Current Price: $799 (Amazon)
Focal Bathys - First Impressions and Key Features
Focal has been a major player in the world of high-end audio for decades, but it’s only been over the last ten years that its found its place as a major player in the world of premium headphones. Based out of France, its designs are wholly unique. Their headphones feature a level of artistry and craftsmanship that make them immediately recognizable. They’re also built with premium materials, so though they’re certainly in the upper echelon of their respective pricing categories, they do a good job of setting themselves apart from the competition.
That same thing carries through to the Bathys (pronounced “ba-TEESE”). At a glance, they’re immediately recognizable as part of Focal’s line-up thanks to their striking, precision-milled aluminum grilles. Each oval earcup is lined with holes around its circumference that get smaller with each encircling ring. Eventually, they reach a logo piece in the center that illuminates with a tasteful white glow when the headphones are powered on.
The use of aluminum and in such an artistic way is quintessentially Focal, but it doesn’t end there. The yokes are built from magnesium for improved durability. The headband made from real leather and the pads from high quality leatherette. Even though the headphone is a bit heavier than the competition at 350 grams (the Sony WH-1000XM4 is only 254 grams, for example), they’re lush and comfortable to wear, even over extended listening sessions.
Inside their gorgeous exteriors, the Bathys uses Focal’s acclaimed M-shaped drivers, handmade in France (the rest of the headphone is made in a factory). You can find out more about the “M” structure here, but they’re more rigid, which improves clarity and resolution while decreasing distortion. Like the chassis, the drivers themselves are made from aluminum and magnesium, which also supports their rigidity, leading to crystal clear, crisp, lively sound.
The headphones didn’t spare any expense with the technology applied either. Even though they’re Focal’s first noise-canceling headphones, you wouldn’t guess it based on their performance. The Bathys effectively targets mid-range frequencies in addition to the usual low-end hum even basic noise-canceling headphones can filter out. In my school, they blocked out almost all of the perpetual hallway noise, as well as most of the sounds of my typing. It’s not the absolute best noise canceling you’ll hear; Sony and Bose still win the day there, but play a little music along with the ANC and you’ll find the outside world fading away around you.
The headphones also feature an effective transparency mode. Like the ANC, it isn’t the most realistic and natural among over-ear headphones, but it still works well for monitoring the world around you. With a push of a button, you can pipe in your surrounding to quickly have a conversation with a coworker.
The Bathys also have another important trick up their sleeve: DAC mode. Using a standard USB-C cable, you can connect them to a PC and have them act as an external sound card. This instantly enhances the quality of the audio you’re hearing from your computer and ensures that you’ll be able to have the same high-quality listening experience across your devices. It also supports standard analog audio for when you want to connect to traditional audio equipment or your Switch or PS5.
When connected over Bluetooth, Focal rates the headphone as having 30 hours of battery life with noise canceling turned on. That jumps to 35 hours over 3.5mm analog and 42 hours in USB DAC mode. That does mean that you’ll need battery power no matter how you’re listening, however, so be aware that you can’t completely avoid recharging these headphones. In my experience, manufacturers tend to overstate battery life a touch, but that wasn’t the case here. The headphones get nice and loud, so I rarely had to listen above 50% volume, and was able to go about two weeks between recharges. If you do run them dry, 15 minutes plugged in will return about 5 hours of listening.
As a pair of audiophile-grade headphones, they also support high-resolution wireless listening using a selection of modern high-bitrate codecs. For Android, it supports aptX and aptX Adaptive. For Apple devices, you'll be able to connect using AAC. There is no support for LDAC or ALAC, which is disappointing.
The headphones also support multipoint connectivity and work well for taking calls. Multipoint works reliably and quickly, so I was able to stream music from my Fiio M11 Plus ESS digital audio player and also take a call as soon as it came in from my normal smartphone. The caller on the other end said I sounded crisp and clear, though there is still the usual compression that's common with embedded microphone designs, so I would still look into an external microphone for important conference calls or live streaming.
The Bathys are full-fledged smart headphones. When I booted them up for the first time, my Android phone automatically detected them and began the process of pairing them with Google Assistant. Using voice commands, you can summon your choice of voice assistant and use it to monitor notifications and complete basic tasks, like reading incoming text messages.
Controlling the headphones is simple using a series of buttons on each earcup. A switch on the right cup allows you to choose between On, Off, and DAC modes. There’s a trio of buttons above that control volume, track navigation, and calls. There’s also a dedicated smart assistant button on the bottom to summon Google or Alexa. On the left earcup is a single button to control your current sound mode. It cycles between ANC and Transparency mode with nothing in between.
Taken as a whole, the Bathys feels every bit as premium as its high price indicates. They feel solid and well-built. Even though the use of metal makes them a bit heavier, they also feel much higher quality than any other Bluetooth headphone I’ve been lucky enough to try, including the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 that I reviewed last month.
And, though we could argue about how important such a thing is with a pair of headphones, the Bathys is just a gorgeous headphone. The design details are immediately eye-catching without looking gaudy. It’s clear that a lot of time went into honing their design and that effort pays off with the final product. The Bathys is stunning.
Focal Bathys - Listening Impressions
It’s beauty is more than skin deep. It’s also the best-sounding Bluetooth headphone I’ve heard yet. Focal knows its stuff when it comes to delivering audiophile-grade headphones and applies every bit of that experience here. Adding on top is a bit of extra bass for mainstream listeners and a resilience to EQ that makes it incredibly versatile for different musical tastes and even gaming.
Out of the box, the bass reaches low. It’s not the most powerful bass you’ll hear on a pair of wireless headphones, certainly not a set for bassheads, but can be tuned to be as I’ll get to soon. Instead, what you get is a detailed bass that makes pop tracks like Ed Sheeran’s Shiver thrum with lifelike tactility. Stan by Eminem’s bassline is well contained but powerful. The speed of the driver really drives the bass on these headphones with precision and it sounds great across genres and types of content.
Vocals, on the other hand, come right forward and put the singer closest to you. In games, that means your friends on Discord, dialogue, and team callouts will also sound closer to you and cut right through. There’s a rise in the upper mids that gives instruments more brightness and edge. Acoustic guitars sparkles throughout songs where they might otherwise hover in the background. Details in this range also step forward, particularly where they might be lost, like in busy sections with layers of distorted guitars (Dopamine by Angel Vivaldi).
Highs on the Bathys are well extended but are well contained with the stock tuning. It seems clear that Focal wanted to avoid any over-brightness with this, it’s most approachable mainstream pair of headphones. They aren’t sharp, sibilant, or fatigueing. At the same time, a couple of well placed rises throughout the treble register minimize the sense that details are being veiled. You can hear high treble details well, like the attack and decay of cymbals, but they’re not cutting and are eminently listenable.
With the stock tuning in mind, the Focal & Naim app really allows you to customize the sound of the headphones to our taste. It comes with a 5-band equalizer and two presets (confusingly named Home and Loudness), and the ability to create and save your own. I cranked the sub-bass on mine to add extension and presence while also increasing the highs to completely remove the veil. These changes didn’t add any audible distortion or weirdness to the sound. Swapping back and forth between stock, it sounded just as high quality but with my own coloration. Tweak to your hearts’ content, the Bathys is up for it.
Where they really excel versus the competition is in their technical performance. I’m a big fan of Sony’s WH series, but even as a fan, the Bathys is operating in another realm of clarity and sound quality. The detail retrieval is leagues better, lending them better clarity and a higher resolution listening experience. They also do a much better job of giving each layer of sound breathing room and space, so you’ll never lose details just because the bass or highs are roaring at any given time.
For gaming, they do a respectable job in USB DAC mode. Their excellent clarity and well-rounded sound make all kinds of listening more enjoyable, but their added detail makes picking up important cues like footsteps easier, especially in noisy, mid-battle moments. Even in slower-paced games like MMORPGs, their presentation is immersive and engaging.
Where they won’t win any exceptional award is for soundstage. They don’t sound constrained or intimate, but they’re not very wide either. I found enabling Dolby Atmos made a big impact on the sense of space they’re able to provide, so I would highly encourage doing the same. Atmos also makes a big impact on the tuning of the sound for some reason, so I would disable it again for music.
Overall Impressions and Final Thoughts
At $799, you would expect their performance to be tremendous, and the Bathys live up to every bit of the hype. They’re an audiophile’s Bluetooth headphone and won’t make sense to most people that aren’t already audio enthusiasts, or for pure gaming. But, if you want the best-sounding Bluetooth headphone with noise canceling available today, this is it. The Focal Bathys sound, look, and feel amazing to use. If you’re in the market for a top-tier pair of wireless headphones, look no further. You’ve found them.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes. Articles may include affiliate links from which we may earn a small commission to help support the site. Authors do not earn affiliate revenue or commissions.