Two in the Strike Zone: Focal Spirit Professional and Spirit Classic

Focal Spirit Professional ($349) and Spirit Classic ($399)
Focal is pretty new to the world of headphones. They had a bit of a stumble with their Spirit One initial headphone offering a year and a half ago, but they seemed to have learned in the process—and learned a lot—as evidenced by their lates offerings in the Spirit Professional and Classic. These are two very fine headphones. Amazingly good actually, considering how new Focal is to the category. I'm reviewing them here together as they're quite similar in many regards—one is not better than the other in my experience, it's more a matter of deciding which would most likely suite your tastes.

Similarities
Both the Spirit Professional and Classic are around-the-ear, sealed headphones largely of plastic construction but very nicely implemented from my perspective. Ear-pads are protein leather covered memory foam and ear-cup dimensions are a little on the small size. (Focal inside ear-cup dimensions 48mm X 38mm, Sennheiser Momentum is 48mm X 34mm). Ear-pads are attached with an adhesive tape ring, and I've been told that replacement ear-pads will be available in the not too distant future. The caliper pressure (how much the headphone squeezes in on your head) is also a little high. As a result of ear-cup size and caliper pressure these headphones can be a little uncomfortable out of the box. I did find, however, that the ear-pads do tend to break-in some over time, and the headband can be stretched a bit to provide relief (see video). After about a week of wear I found the cans still fit closely to my head, but have become quite a bit more comfortable. This close but reasonably comfortable fit can be quite advantageous in professional and mobile applications where a secure fit on the head allows greater freedom of movement. None the less, for those who have large ears the NAD VISO HP50 (inside cup measurements 61mm X 38mm) may be a better choice.

I also found that the tilt and rotate adjustments on the headphones are slightly tight. For long listening sessions I found myself making some small adjustments so that the ear-pad pressure around my ears was evenly distributed. I recommend care be taken to manually adjust these cans for an exact fit early in your listening session, and you'll be able to listen for longer.

Both headphones have a folding mechanism that allows the earpieces to fold upwards and in toward the headband, and both come with a simple drawstring carry bag for transport and storage. The box the headphones come in is also very nicely designed for long term storage with foam cut-outs for the headphones, cables, and accessories.

Cables enter the headphones at the left earpiece with a slender 3.5mm plug—there is no locking mechanism so it's possible that after-market cables may be used, but the plug body must be 0.237" (6.04mm) in diameter or less to enter the jack hole in the earpiece. Both headphones come with two cables: one 56" long straight cable with one-button remote terminated in a 3.5mm plug with threads for the supplied screw-on 3.5mm to 1/4" adapter; and one 4 meter cable similarly terminated (straight on the Classic, coiled on the Professional). I liked the long cables for around the office as they give you plenty of room to move around without getting the headphones yanked off your head. My only gripe with the cables is that the plug body on the player end of the short remote cable is quite fat and may not reach in through some protective cases to seat properly in the player jack.

Styling has become an important factor in headphone design these days and there are some truly beautiful headphones in this category (B&W P7, Sennheiser Momentum, Sony MDR-1R). I don't think the Focal Spirit models quite measure up in this area—the hinge mechanism sticks out from your head some and appears a bit awkward—but I also think they're a big step up from the gray/black plastic blobs of old. The choice of colors and finish on both cans is handsome and understated, and considering the fact that the mechanics work well and the cans fit close and securely, and more importantly sound so good, that I think their slightly pedestrian looks are perfectly fine.

Differences
The Spirit Professional is a headphone designed for audio pros and as such focusses on durability. The finish on painted parts is jet black spackle-paint where the spackle bumps are gloss and the underlying black paint is semi-gloss. The remaining parts are either semi-gloss or matte black.

The headband is in three major parts: a central headband with pad that provides flexibility, and rigid slider receiver assemblies to either side. The headband cushion attached to the central section is protein leather over memory foam that provides ample comfort for the top of your head.

The Spirit Classic is designed primarily for home and office use (though it works well as a somewhat larger than normal portable headphone) and sports a rather more traditional headphone look. The headband is completely wrapped with a dark brown protein leather covered padding. Ear-pads are a matching deep brown. The remaining parts of the headphone are subtly varying shades of bronze. Again, a classic conservative look.

Let's get on with the best part: Sound Quality.

COMPANY INFO
Focal's US Distributor: Audio Plus Services
156 Lawrence Paquette Industrial Drive
Champlain, NY 12919
For support: mrousseau@audioplusservices.com
800.663.9352
ARTICLE CONTENTS
Share | |
COMMENTS
Leo's picture

Hi Tyll, excellent write up as usual. I really look forward to your reviews. Well. I'm looking for a new pair of headphones and was wondering how these compare to the Sennheiser HD600s. I have a Ray Samuels Audio SR71A headphone amp fed from my iPod Classic line out. For this kind of setup, which headphone would you recommend? Thanks.

Long time listener's picture

Tyll, let me first say I'm an avid reader of InnerFidelity and that this is an invaluable resource. This site has given me a lot of great information and knowledge.

Secondly, let me say that you're all over the place when it comes to defining what frequencies constitute bass, midrange, and treble, and that (as a decades-long reader of Stereophile and their measurements) you also define them very differently than Stereophile does.

My understanding is that the "presence region" is a narrow band, in the very upper midrange and lower treble, where the ear is most sensitive, defined by Stereophile as about 2-5 Khz. You define it here as 800 - 2000 Hz, then in a later paragraph as 800 - 3000 Hz. That includes virtually all the midrange, which to my understanding is not at all what is intended by the term "presence region." (The notch seen in virtually all headphones between 2 - 6 Khz, to avoid sounding too aggressive, reflects the ears' sensitivity in the presence region.)

In a much earlier review of Sol Republic headphones, you referred to a deep notch at 400 Hz as "Right smack dab in the middle of the mid-range..." Sorry, 400 Hz is upper-bass, lower-midrange. 1000 Hz, a little over an octave higher, would be closer to "right smack in the middle." You also noted in the same review "a rise in distortion which coincides with the mid-range notch ... though I heard it as lower in frequency." You heard it as lower in frequency because it is lower in frequency. You ears were right; your definition of the frequency location wrong.

Your ears are great; your measurements are great. But from my perspective there seems to be some distance between the two at times. Cheers, LTL

 

ms142's picture

Re: Long time listener... I'm not sure your note about midrange is quite right. Remember the violin tunes at 440Hz, and the middle C is 256Hz. Thus it'd be fair to say that the upper bass starts at below 256.

AustinValentine's picture

I could be wrong, but I've always gotten the impression that Tyll is uses definitions of bass/mid/treble that are more or less in line with this Interactive Frequency Chart:

http://www.independentrecording.net/irn/resources/freqchart/main_display...

Sub-Bass: 10-60Hz; Bass: 60-250Hz; Midrange: 250-2kHz; Treble: 2kHz to 20kHz (with Upper Mids from 2-6kHz). 

It's been my understanding for a while that Stereophile's definitions for these ranges deviate pretty far from both general industry standards and practices. The definitions in their glossary are pretty far out from the norm.

Willakan's picture

The current way that Mr Hertsens refers to sections of the spectrum seems perfectly consistent and reasonable to me. One Head-Fi guide declares that sibilance can be caused by irregularities in any region from 6 to 16 (!) kHz: a bit of precision and consistency with pre-existing definitions is a welcome contrast!

Long time listener's picture

This does make sense, and is pretty close to my thinking:

Sub-Bass: 10-60Hz; Bass: 60-250Hz; Midrange: 250-2kHz; Treble: 2kHz to 20kHz (with Upper Mids from 2-6kHz).

Except that it includes the 2-6kHz range in both the treble and the midrange, which doesn't make sense.

Anyway, by the above definitions, 450 or 500 Hz is not "smack in the middle of the midrange," but is lower midrange, as I said, with 1 Kz a good octave above. And 1 Kz would be roughly the "middle" of the midrange (depending on where you think its upper limit is), also as I pointed out. I still think Tyll is pretty inconsistent, and also needs to figure out what is meant by the presence region.

PierPaoloG's picture

Hi Tyll,

It's strange that you do not take in consideration this HP. In my opinion (and I am not alone, here) it is one of the best closed HP in the field, also compared to the Focals and the NAD.

Any opinion?

Thankssmiley

PP

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...I've contacted Sony to get a pair in for review. I continue to hope as I've also seen a LOT of good comments about the 7520.

John Grandberg's picture

...is that it didn't show up in Sony's USA catalog until very recently. I spoke to their PR people as recently as December, and they had no idea it even existed. Sending them links to the Sony UK or Sony Japan websites is no help - PR firms tend to be engaged on a regional basis, so they aren't inclined to promote "foreign market" models.

Now, I see the 7520 on Sony's USA website, so perhaps it will be easier to get a pair.

Kierkes's picture

I hear stories about both the Spirit Pro's and the 7520's. It will be nice to hear from someone who's heard both.

Paul Williams's picture

Hi Tyll,

Great review and comforting to know you also rate the Focal Spirit Professional. - I bought mine about 3 weeks ago.

I also found the ear pads to be more on-ear than around the ear - but after 3 weeks of use they have become very comfortable and the close fit certainly seems to help the bass. (I still can't wear them with glasses though.)

I also had a better quality cable made-up (partly because I don't like coiled cables) and I felt it improved the sound considerably - clearer definition and cleaner at both bass and treble extremes. It would be interesting to see the effect cables have on the measurement graphs.

Thanks

Paul W

John Grandberg's picture

I have to chime in and say I completely agree with Tyll's assesment here. I covered the Spirit Pro and some other sealed models here, and the Focal was the best of the bunch as far as generally neutral headphones go. If they offered some pads which expanded the fit (similar to XL pads for VMODA M100) I'd be a happy guy. 

 

Can't wait to see what they come out with next. I'd pay good money for this same exact sound in a more upscale frame, with larger earpads. 

xander01's picture

Great review, Tyll.  I'm really impressed/glad to see that the Classic got such fair treatment following your measurements article - other reviewers would be too quick to let their personal preference or application creep in and declare one of the two an outright 'winner'.  Seems we've got a potential HD600vs650 type of tradeoff to debate for some time to come.  Two quick fit/ergo questions: 

Do you understand the internal makeup of the Classic's headband to be equivalent to what we see in the 'uncovered' Pro headband?  [And if so, does it seem like either one is conducive to bending inwards around the 11 & 1 o'clock positions, for improving the on-head looks you critiqued?]

Also, nice to hear about the plans for replacement ear pads - have you any indication from Focal on the potential price level for those sets?  With heavy usage, it makes a big difference in long-term TCO if we're talking about $30 (reasonable) vs the more ridiculous $80 (cost-prohibitive).

Thanks

mikeaj's picture

Now that I think about it, would you mind listing earpad dimensions (inner and outer) on every new review? Maybe you can chuck it in a table with weight and some other physical attributes like cable length. This is important info that is often a bit tricky to find.

ednaz's picture

As someone with the double-whammy of a large hat size head, and ears that match the size of the head, I've had a lot of headphones that I really liked that I could never get adjusted to where they were comfortable.  It's hard to try before buy these days because the big box stores carry mostly fashion-focused headphones, and the few remaining audio shops carry one or two headphones at best. And sometimes trying them in the store doesn't give you a good picture - I tried out the V-Moda LP2, thought it was a fun sound and after 20 minutes standing around in the store listening, bought them.  What I discovered a few days later was that somewhere around an hour or so, my ears start to hurt where they're pressing up against the insides of the pads.

I'd never heard of "presence" before reading this (and some follow up reading), but there's a similar concept in digital image processing.  If you use a "clarity" adjustment, it boosts contrast in the mid and upper mid areas of dynamic range while leaving alone the brightest and darkest areas. It makes for a photo that "pops" - it seems more real and 3D.  Similar to presence tweaking, if you adjust clarity too much, the image will get artificial and crunchy looking.  We're probably wired to be attuned to those mid ranges of sound and sight because that's where all the important survival information lives.

I wonder now if playing around with that presence range is what gives Ultrasone headphones their unique sound signature.

dAd's picture

Tyl:

Another great review and hits head on to what I hear with the Focal Pro and HP-50. While I grabbed the Sony 7520 first, I did take your RMAF advice and picked up the NAD HP-50s as well.  

I like the new perceived response graph from Dr. Olive and thanks for putting it on the site.  I do believe it is more close to what I would call a neutral perception from headphones.  I think the slightly faster and consistent rise of the Spirit Pro vs the HP-50 from about 300-1000 may give the impression of slightly more forward sound of the Pro.  I like both a lot.  

I particularly like your description of the treble of both the NAD and Focal. The Focal does not do anything wrong but the NAD just seems a bit more detailed in the upper region.  Conversely the Sony seems the more detailed in the lower treble.

And I amazed that the dimenionss on some of the best sounding cans in ages are so darn small.  I cannot be the only dumboesque oddity with 68 mm top to lobe ears.  I guess we are supposed to use the natural suppleness of the ear to get a bit taco like and fold them into the cups :)

Thanks for the measurements and impressions, they are very valuable.  Can't wait to see what the 7520 does.  It is may favorite of the bunch but like the NAD and Focals too.

Sinocelt's picture

> I cannot be the only dumboesque oddity with 68 mm top to lobe ears.  

No, you're not. *wave hand*

How can 48 mm be even called circumaural??

(Very curious about the MDR-7520, too!)

northfaceseen's picture

How do the new sealed Shure's sound compared to the NAD's and Focal's?  I think the Shure's look very comfortable.

MGGWhite's picture

I tried the Shure 1540 and I returned them after 4 days. To me they sound bass enhanced and not that transparent. Boring sound. For sure I did not find the SQ impressive for the price. From the confort, and built quality, they are superb. It is unfortuante teh SQ was not what I expected.

If you buy the Shure be sure to get them from a place with good retyurn policy, just in case you feel about them like I did.

MGGWhite's picture

Great review. Thaks indeed. I am in serch of a portable can with great sound quality but not boosted bass and not rolled off highs. These appear to fit the bill. I have two quick questions:

  • These are low impedance headphones, but I read at other fourms that they are too power hungry to run out of an iPhone. Have you tried to drive these with an iPhone/iPod and how is the sound level, wuality of the presentation?
  • I have at home the Focal Scala Utopia speakers, very dynamic, clear and transparent sound that I love. Which model would you say sounds closer to a Focal Speaker?

Thanks again for your great review.

Stefraki's picture

I am coincidentally on the bus home from work, listening to the Spirit Classic from my Samsung Note2, and I can say they sound exceptionally good, and volume is no problem either. The same can be said of the Sansa Clip +.

Do they sound better from a good hifi or dedicated headphone amp? A little, yes, but that is more to do with the quality of the circuit than the power at hand. They still sound great, and can gwt too loud with no distortion, from a phone.

You will always find people out there saying that x, y, z headphones (that by all specifications should be fine with a phone) absolutely need a powerful amp, in 99% of cases it is gross exaggeration. 

xander01's picture

I was able to find a dealer with a Spirit Pro demo and took my Rockbox'd Clip+ along as I'm kind of in the hunt for exactly this type of studio+mobile headphone.  Maybe that particular mobile cable was a dud, but the TRRS to Clip+ jack connection was really poor & finicky - lots of problems.  No such problem with the coiled cable going into the same jack, but that cable is too big/heavy for mobile use.  I would assume the Pro & Classic mobile cables are identical.

Sound was incredible aside from the mobile cable issue, but I was a little disappointed in the build quality.  Semi-cheap feeling, a little 'creaky', and a weird thing going on in the headband joints between the three segments - they aren't solid and kind of 'open up' when you start to pull the cups apart.  Sort of an asterisk/footnote more than a serious complaint, but something to consider if somebody expects their application to really test that headband's durability.

Stefraki's picture

I have the Spirit Classic rather than Pro, but as you suggested, I assume they have the same TRRS cable - but mine works perfectly with the Sansa Clip + headphone socket.

Maybe they changed the TRS socket they use at some point in production?

The TRS socket on my Just Audio portable amp is another matter though - I need to pull the plug out just a little from the socket for it to work.

AustinValentine's picture

The plug works in my amp, phone, and macbook - but it wiggles considerably in the jack of my Clip Zip and won't play correctly unless it's pushed all the way in.

Best solution, IMO, is to replace the mic/remote cable with a V-Moda Audio Only Cable or a NuForce Transient Cable and call it a day. Both work great.

Byrnie's picture

I only found the 1540's bass to be a little accentuated. I use mine all the time and I love how neutral they sound.

northfaceseen's picture

and in my opinion they are extremely nice sounding.  Compared to my HD650's the mids sound more life like and the treble is more lively.  I do not find the bass all that intrusive into the mids and it seems quite balanced.  My only grip with the SRH1540's is the split headband seems to add 2 points of pressure on my head, and also I have to wear the headband fully extended to fit my ears.  For comparison sake my HD650's are on click 8 of 16 on each side, so I don't believe my head is abnormally large.

TKG's picture

Hi, as a relatively new reader thanks for the reviews.

A few questions. I am looking to upgrade to a decent headphone for home use, preferably over-ear with a neutral sound, definitely not bass-heavy or too harsh/aggressive.

The Focal Spirit are of interest, but more expensive than I was planning to spend, but I could perhaps be persuaded, epsecially as they are going for under Euro 200 at present.

I am currenlty using bargain basement Superlux 668bs plugged into a Fiio E10, listening to PC-based CD rips and streamed music (mainly from Youtube). Also have Shure SE102 IEMs. So would I gain much from a substantial upgrade to something in the Focal Spirit league? Any suggestions for other options?

Thanks for any suggestions

TKG

Tyll Hertsens's picture

You would gain quite a bit.  I'd suggest a look at the NAD VISO HP50 as well...it should be a bit cheaper.

TKG's picture

That was quick! Thanks.

I read the review of the NAD HP50.and they seem of interest, but more expensive (around Euro 300). The Focal Spirit Classic can be had for around Euro 220 currenlty, the Spirit Pro for Euro 200. Others in the same price range are Philips Fidelio X1, L1 (a bit cheaper) and Sennheiser Momentum (Euro 230). I note the AKG K550 is going for Euro 140.

phototristan's picture

Which do you like better? Focal Spirit Classic or NAD HP50 ? 

Pages

X
Enter your InnerFidelity username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.
Loading