Focal Sphear Wireless IEM Review

One thing the Bluetooth and wireless headphone market nowadays isn’t lacking is choice.

I’ve heard the argument made compellingly that for wireless headphones, sound quality is simply another feature. As long as it sounds good enough, the reasoning went, then it’s an adequate piece of a product for which the emphasis is on feature-set completeness rather than singular quality in any one area.

While there is a certain validity to this mindset in regards to the very lowest price segment, it leaves companies like Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic and Focal out of the equation. These are players very much dedicated to excellence in sound quality, but with the capability of utilizing miniaturized electronics to create a variety of wireless headphones. Something that remains just out of reach of more ‘mom-and-pop’ variety audiophile companies.

Just because a company has a history of being able to do good audiophile headphones doesn’t guarantee success in other markets however, and vice-versa. Focal’s audiophile headphones have seen fantastic success and are very well-tuned to my ears, whereas their mainstream offerings in the original Spirit One always left me uninterested. They were a bit like vanilla pudding; perfectly competent, no glaring flaws, but not particularly inspiring or noteworthy.

When I was sent a pair of Focal Stellia’s, my contacts at Focal also offered a pair of the Focal Sphear Wireless for review, and I figured this was a perfect opportunity to see what Focal has done with their more mainstream offerings in recent years. Developing wireless IEMs is a far cry from the boundary-pushing R&D that goes into exotic Beryllium drivers and formerless coils of their high-end headphones, so I wasn’t expecting much in the way of trickle-down technology, but what Focal has learned a lot about from my perspective, is tuning, and good tuning is a lesson transferable to any audio reproduction system.

On receiving the $130 USD Focal Sphear I opened them up and used them as an occasional travel and on-the-go headphone without doing much critical listening or inspection. I wanted to really get the feel for these IEMs in their intended context, which is to say, a set-and-forget consumer item offering above-average sound quality. Not to mention there were far more exciting pieces of equipment on my review desk, and herein lies the most compelling part of the Sphear’s sound: it is forgettable.

I’ll clarify with more specifics later on, but what I mean by that is not that it is uninspiring or unexciting, quite the opposite in fact. While I’ve heard headphones that do a better job moving me emotionally, I don’t often hear gear that simply focuses my attention on the audio at hand without loudly proselytizing it’s strengths or flaws. The first few weeks of living with gear is a big part of my review process – I want to see what I find living with a piece of gear. The Sphear were consistently a ‘set-and-forget experience,’ which is exactly what one wants from a wireless IEM. The sound quality can be adequately described as better than average, if we take average to mean AirPods, or a selection of inexpensive bluetooth IEMs.

Let’s back up a little first though. The Sphear should not be mistaken for a typical mainstream product at this price point, in fact to the average consumer these would appear almost under-spec’d. They lack any sort of water resistance rating, can’t be used for working out like some neckband style headsets, despite the selection of foam and silicone eartips, don’t sit particularly tightly in the ears, and while I think they look nice enough, it’s not an especially unusual or eye-catching design. I will say that they are fairly comfortable and the spherical housing is above-average when it comes to comfort in the ears, as I could wear the Sphear for a fair amount of time without experiencing excessive fatigue or rubbing.

The box they come in is a simple textured cardboard affair without any of the fanfare or elegant touches you’ll find in their full-size headphones. Inside are some tips, the IEMs and a little bit of literature and a very short manual. The IEMs are reasonably comfortable, though a bit loose in fit, even in my small ears, and even on a variety of phones I found a mildly frustrating Bluetooth quirk, where the Sphear sometimes had to be completely re-paired on both iOS and Android phones. Not remarkable from a usability standpoint, but nothing that would particularly bother most average consumers for use on planes or public transit.

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