Focal Sphear in-ear Headphones Review
These compact headphones sound every bit as good (or better) then $300+ over ear models I've heard from Yamaha, Denon, and Sony.
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Going after Beats, Sony, and Bose in both quality and value, Focal (pronounced foe ‘cal) wanted to bring their signature sound to the in-ear headphone market—and at a price point that was affordable. The thought—and this makes a lot of sense—was that they could also then potentially win those customers to their other lines. Focal had already released their Classic line of headphones, but to really hit all key users they targeted a wide array of products to fill all major price points and needs. Specifically, they wanted to hit the consumer at home (Spirit Classic), on the go (Spirit One S and Focal Shpear), and in the studio (Spirit Pro). The Focal Sphear in-ear headphones are a beautiful and innovative solution to getting over-the-ear sound in a compact package.
The Focal Sphear in-ear headphones are no exception to the balancing act of having to juggle price point and quality. Focal also wanted to combine the comfort of earbuds with the bass response capabilities of in-ear monitors. To combine these things (comfort and bass), Focal started with an entirely new design (they kind of had no choice). They took into account the God-given design of the ear to create an in-ear design that rests outside the ear for a more comfortable fit but which also provides the bass associated with a sealed in-ear monitor. And it truly is comfortable. I’ve clocked over 9 hours straight with these headphones just to see what would happen (they weren’t always playing, but I kept them on). I’ve never had any phones in or on my head that long without feeling their weight or some discomfort in my ear canal. The Focal Sphear in-ear headphones are truly a comfortable product. Get the right size ear tip in either the provided (S/M/L) silicone or memory foam tips.
Focal Sphear Specifications
- Type: In-ear headphone
- Impedance: 16-ohms
- Sensitivity: 103 dB SPL ([email protected])
- THD (1mW, 50Hz-10kHz): <0.03%
- Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz
- Driver: 10.8mm electrodynamic Mylar
- Microphone: Omnidirectional
- Weight: 0.53 oz. (15 g)
- Includes: 3 pairs silicone ear tips (S/M/L), 3 pairs memory foam ear tips (S/M/L), airplane adapter, zippered carrying case
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Focal Sphear in-ear Headphones Driver design
Most in ear headphones are using drivers with a diameter of 9mm or smaller. Focal went with a 10.8mm Mylar electrodynamic transducer with 103 dB SPL sensitivity. They’ll play quite loud as a result—but you probably won’t need them to. The Focal Sphear headphones are tuned like a bass reflex speaker, with small ports on both sides of the main chamber to enhance bass accuracy. Check out the diagram to see how these are put together.
The earbuds have three sizes each of silicone tips and memory foam tips included with each pair. My preference has always been memory foam for in-ears as they make for a better seal, but with the Focal Sphears you don’t really need to seal them to get good bass, so the silicone tips work wonders (and they’re very comfortable). There’s an omnidirectional mic for taking calls and an iOS/Android/Windows-compatible inline remote is “hidden” as a round logo button on the cord. Press it once to take or hang up a call, and you can also use it to Play/Pause (1x), Skip forward (2x), or Skip back (3x) with your music tracks. Conveniently, the 1/8″ connector and strain relief is set at a 45 degree angle to avoid breaking when you’re listening to your music from a smart phone and you bump against the top.
Focal Sphear in-ear Headphones Listening Tests
I queued up and played about 3 hours worth of music on these headphones in my first sitting. I subsequently wore them on a plane, in the comfort of my treated home theater room, and in an office environment. There are a few things of note with respect to the sound that I’d point out right up front. First, you will have a difficult time with these headphones if you’re playing back compressed music with crunchy top end frequencies. The reason is that the Focal Sphear in-ear headphones handle high frequencies with the authority of a Sabian cymbal. They are precise, crisp, and able to articulate a level of airy and intimate minutiae you never thought possible in a pair of headphones. Feed them compressed high frequencies, however, and your ears will scream in pain. For that reason, it’s easy to set the bar high right up front and state that these are audiophile quality in-ear headphones that demand good quality source content.
To hear just how detailed these are, listen to the beginning of “Janie’s Got a Gun” by Aerosmith. That repeating bell strike in the beginning hits and reverberates with such precision and detail. Many headphones and speakers will render the sound two-dimensional, but it truly has a lot of depth and richness, and the Focal Sphear headphones let all that detail ring out with a lengthy sustain that wasn’t clipped or trampled underneath the rest of the track.
You’ll also want to try and listen to some great tracks from The Who. There’s so much going on in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” you might get lost if you don’t focus. Pay attention to the rolling bass line and the hyperactive snare. Listen for the synth in the right channel as it hammers out 1/8 notes in rapid succession, but with a richness that ceaselessly weaves in and out of the mix. During the break, I loved how the Focal Sphear in-ear headphones rendered the guitar solo—and you can hear the hand claps over the mic clear as day as Roger Daltrey waits to kick into the final verse.
In listening to Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You”, the matched up bass and kick were so rich and deep that it stunned me how this sound could be coming from a pair of hybrid in-ear headphones that weren’t using a fully sealed ear canal design. I noticed this again when listening to Fleetwood Mac “Dreams”. The truth is, the Focal Sphear in-ear headphones redesign the way you can achieve bass in a headphone.
You can pick up a pair of Focal Sphear in-ear headphones for $179. For some that may seem steep, but these compact headphones sound every bit as good (or in many cases, better) then $300+ over ear models I’ve heard from Yamaha, Denon, and Sony. They’re clean, they’re comfortable, they’re compact, and they produce incredibly detailed sound for a very reasonable price. For more information visit the Focal website.