Published on December 9th, 2012 | by Greg0
Sounds Of The Season: Focal Spirit Headphones Hit The Mark
The personal audio market is certainly crowded. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for one more, offering a unique blend of styling and audio quality. Aiming for the upper-mid-end of the market, Focal comes from a pro and car audio background. But they’ve released a new line of headphones that reflect some priorities that we share: audio quality and design, durability and sound isolation.
The Focal Spirit One headphones (available now, in black of white) attempt to aim for the audiophile-one-the-go market with these closed-back, over-ear models. Faced with a choice between on-ears and over-ears, the latter offer better isolation, which can mean a nicer experience while traveling. They don’t offer active noise cancellation (check out the Audio-Technica pair we just reviewed), but we found they did a great job of blocking most exterior noise. And they don’t offer quite the easy portability as, say, the folding Bowers and Wilkins P3s or the AIAIAI Capitals, but offer better comfort than either.
Thus, we’d recommend these most for someone in the market for something a bit unique and a little different, who is looking for an incredibly solid set for urban environments but wants but durability and sound performance. These aren’t lightweight like on-ears or earbuds, and they aren’t as comfortable as many over-the-ear pairs which are often meant for home use or a situation where size doesn’t matter. But they’re remarkably great-feeling for a couple of hours- we took them on the subway and used them on the street, and thanks to the dual-pivot system, they didn’t squeeze and pressure was even and balanced, even for those with larger or smaller ears. And their aluminum parts should hold up better than the plastic ones on cheaper models.
Of course, style counts. And we found the industrial design here fairly compelling, with a definite tilt away from minimalism, a bit old-school, still classy. The cloth-wrapped cable sets it above some other competitors, as does the detachable cable (a nice touch especially for mobile use, where yanking on a cable can lead to damaged headphones). There are the usual sets of adapters included (1/4 inch stereo, airplane) as well as a basic soft carrying bag and a pretty nice harder pouch. There are Apple-compatible in-line controls and a microphone for smartphone use, but as you might expect, these are slightly better than average- decent call quality, nice-feeling metal controls. And dual cables, a feature becoming more common, means you can switch out a basic cable for one with controls or vice versa, depending on your needs.
Sound performance was a good-to-great, and though a bit uneven, a heavy-hitter in a couple of musical categories. 40mm drivers offer plenty of oomph, but booming-bass lovers should find a different set. As should those looking for truly even, natural sound, as these offer a little bit of emphasis towards the ends, with both higher frequencies and lower ones feeling a bit boosted. Distinct and clear, they were perfect for rock and anything with twang; we loved listening to tracks like the Black Keys’ “Gold on the Ceiling” and The Mountain Goats’ “Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1″ (both of which will appear on the forthcoming TrulyNet Best of 2012 playlist). Operatic and bigger sounded recordings lacked a little depth; the soundstage was a bit restrictive, even while listening through a headphone amp and using FLAC or lossless files. We’d describe it as a detailed, tighter sound, and certainly comparable to anything else in this price range.
Speaking of which, the Focal Spirit Ones are available now, for just under $200. A contender for the segment, we welcome the well-designed and solid-feeling new entrant to consumer personal audio.