Headphones and Earphones
- Written by Chris Heinonen
- Published on 20 August 2012
Introduction to the Focal Spirit One Headphone
Many people now listen to their music through headphones. On their commute to work, at their desk, in the gym, or anywhere else, you're very likely to find people using headphones. As part of our headphone roundup, this review covers the Focal Spirit One Headphones, which are of the design that, generically, are called "Over the Ear", which means they completely cover the ear in a chamber, which may be sealed on the outside or open to the surroundings. The Focal Spirit One's are sealed.
A reference class headphone setup is far cheaper than a speaker setup, and can be assembled no matter how little room you have available. Perhaps spearheaded by the ubiquitous use of earbuds with iPods and other portable music players, most speaker manufacturers are rushing into the headphones market.
FOCAL SPIRIT ONE HEADPHONE SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: Circumaural, Closed-back Headphones
- Driver: 40mm Mylar/Titanium
- MFR: 6 Hz - 20 kHz
- Sensitivity: 104dB SPL / 1mW @ 1kHz
- Noise Reduction; 18 dB @ 1 kHz
- Nominal Impedance: 32 Ohms
- THD: <0.3% / 1kHz / 100dB SPL
- Cable: 3.94ft with iOS controls
- Plug: 1/8" Gold-plated
- Weight: 0.5 Pound
- MSRP: $279 USD
- Secrets Tags: Focal, Headphones
Focal is one of the leading speaker and driver designers in the world so it is no surprise that they too have entered the headphone market. Their first entry is the Focal Spirit One, a closed back design with integrated iPod/iPhone controls. With a metal finish, nicely covered ear-pads, and a high quality removable cable, the first impression is good. The replaceable cable with iPhone controls and a microphone is a nice touch, as replacing a whole set of headphones over a damaged cable is a major annoyance. The cable also includes a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter that screws on, as well as a dual mono to stereo 3.5mm adapter for airplane use. All of this is contained in a nice travel kit for easily taking your headphones and accessories with you.
The Spirit One uses a single 40mm driver for each ear with a mylar/titanium dome and neodymium magnets. They are a low impedance phone at 32ohm, but also sensitive at 104dB for 1 mW that makes them easy to drive without an amplifier. The ear pads provide close to 20dB of noise reduction, so while not able to totally shut off the outside world it will be a quarter the volume that it is outside of the headphones.
I used the Focal Spirit Ones with an iPhone, MacBook Air, and a NuForce HDP headphone amplifier to test them in a wide variety of circumstances. With the integrated iOS controls it is likely they will be used for a portable music system most of the time, but some people will certainly want to bring out the best by using a dedicated amplifier.
The Spirit One is an easy headphone to drive with the iPhone and HDP having no issues at any volume level. The opening bass beats on "Psycho Killer" from Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense Remastered are deep and clear, but the bass did not obscure other instruments and the balance is very good. Instruments are well defined in their own space in the mix, though soundstaging is limited to left to right with no depth because of the closed nature of the headphones.
HD Tracks has been releasing a lot of wonderful high-resolution albums recently, and Norah Jones Not Too Late was recently made available in 24/96 and 24/192 resolutions. Played back on the Spirit Ones there is a stunning amount of clarity and detail to the strings and piano on the album. Compared to open-backed headphones you lose some space and soundstage with the Spirit Ones, but you gain a quieter background with the extra isolation offered. The only headphones I have close by that are as easy to drive as the Spirit One is the Grado SR60, and it is outclassed in every way. The Focal was more detailed, with better bass and strings, more distinct vocals, and a far more natural sound.
Returning to some more bass-heavy tracks like Massive Attacks "Teardrop" or Bjork's "Hyperballad", the Focals continue to impress me with their balance. Most headphones on the market seem to either push the bass too much to appeal to those listening to rap or hip-hop, or absolutely require a headphone amplifier to coax the bass out of them. The Focal Ones manage strong, deep bass but don't obscure other instruments, and manage to do so straight from portable audio devices with their miniscule power amplifiers.
The ear pads on the Spirit Ones are good at reducing outside noise, but I don't find them to be the most comfortable I have used. The material is good at keeping out sound, but it also keeps in heat and leads to my ears getting warm in a short time. The size of them is also too small for my ear with a little extra pressure being exerted that isn't comfortable for long periods. Having multiple sizes of ear cups or using a different material might eliminate these issues, but also might lead to less isolation from outside noise. I recommend that you try on the Spirit One yourself for a bit before purchasing to see how the fit works for you, as that will be a personal choice.
In the end the Focal Spirit One is a very nice headphone, and one that is easy enough to drive with your iPhone or other portable device for daily listening. The bass is strong but kept in check with the other instruments instead of being overpowering. The ear cups reduce the outside noise a good deal and the iOS controls on the replaceable cable do their job well. The build quality was very nice overall and looks to be able to hold up to the abuse that headphones can take.
My main reservation is about the fit of the headphones, which is an important factor for anyone. With my head, they are a bit tight and my ears get warm. For others they might fit just right, but you should still try them out first. For their first effort in the headphone world, Focal has done a fantastic job on the audio and produced a sound that lives up to their name.