Focal Spirit One Page 3

Focal Spirit One ($279)
The Spirit One was designed as an around-the-ear, sealed, mobile headphone for use on the move with smartphones.

This is a pretty good looking headphone, but it looks better in pictures than in the flesh where it appears just a bit clunky and plasticy. Looks are deceiving though as this is a pretty nicely designed and well buit headphone from what I can tell. There are a number of metal parts in it's construction, and the materials look very nice. For example the black rubberized earpieces have a good feel and are nicely finished off with a chrome strip around the earpiece next to the earpad mounting. None the less, as you can see from the exploded diagram at the top of the page, there are a LOT of parts in these headphones, and numerous seam lines are apparent, especially in the headband construction. I'd say the look if these cans is good, but not great.

Comfort of the Spirit One is likewise good, but not great. Here one has to keep in mind the desire for these cans to work well as a mobile headset. The earpiece is somewhat small around the ear---those with large ears should probably shy away from these cans and have a look at the Sony MDR-1R. The caliper pressure of the headband is also fairly strong and these can hug your head a bit excessively. Earpad foam is ample, but a little stiff; headband padding is ample and just about right. In sum, however, these headphones are very secure on the head, and provide excellent isolation from outside noise---both desirable atributes of a mobile headset, but because of the somewhat tight fit, these are not headphones that can be worn for many hours continuously.

Focal_SpiritOne_Photo_InCase

Accesorization is quite good, the Spirit One comes with: a hard sided carry case; a soft carry bag; 1/4"-1/8" adaptor; and airline adaptor. It also comes with two fabric covered cables, one 4 foot cable with three-button Apple remote, and one four and a half foot plain cable without remote. Both cables terminate at the left earpiece with a slender 1/8" stereo plug, and are terminated at the player end with a rather larger 1/8" stereo plug with threads for the 1/4" adaptor. Personally, I'd like to see the plain cable quite a bit longer for better mobility around the workspace in the home or office; the length of the short cable is just right for mobile use. I'd also like to see a more slender, 45 degree angle mini-plug for the player end of the cables. The current connector may be too large to fit into the jacks of players and phone buried in protective cases.

Sound Quality
While visiting here, Focal's lead engineer for the Spirit One, Ludovic Uhring-Cadart, spent quite a bit of time explaining the Titanium/Mylar diaphragm design, which included some finite element model animations of physical driver deformation while in movement. One of the special features focal brings to the table with these headphones is this very stiff diaphragm design. While the exact design is proprietary, this is a multi-layer part, and there are multiple stages in the manufacturing process to complete the diaphragm. It's not surprising in the least that the OEM manufacture had a tough time with this part, and, in a way, it's probably a good thing troubles occurred with it as it will keep attention tightly focussed on the part's performance. I say that because I do find these cans to have some positive and somewhat unique characteristics that are likely attributable to this part.

The Spirit One is a tight and punchy sounding headphone. The bass is very slightly emphasized, I'd say it's right on the money delivering heft in the lows without any sense of blurring or bloat. The bass is also very well extended into the lowest octaves. The mids are nicely balanced with the bass and the transition is good, but the mid to treble transition leaves a bit to be desired. It seems to me the upper-mids/lower-treble between 1kHz and 2kHz needs a bit of lift as voices lack a bit of presence in this area. The treble is nicely balanced and articulate, but may suffer from a bit of what I would call grain. It just seems to lack a bit of refinement. That's pretty much the nature of the beast with small sealed headphones, they're rarely open and refined sounding. You've got to pay a price for the isolation somewhere. I would say that the Focal Spirit One negotiates this problem as well as anyone, and the overall sound is very good in this category.

Conclusions
It saddens me no end that what would have otherwise been a remarkable first entry into the headphone market by Focal has been marred by a glitch in the manufacturers process. Thankfully, that appears to be behind us now, the problem has been identified and eradicated, and Focal has all the pieces in place to ensure everyone who purchased their Spirit One headphone will end up with a nice piece of kit.

While I think the look, sound, and comfort of the Sennheiser Momentum is a bit better overall, the Spirit One's bass and mids are tighter and more impactive, and they will provide superior isolation when used as a mobile headset. And while I think the Sony MDR-1R is dead sexy looking and more comfortable than both, it doesn't quite live up to either in terms of sound quality. Bottom line: the Focal Spirit One is a competent and competitive headset for the mobile listener, delivering very good isolation, good looks, and very good sound quality from portable devices. Sure, I'll recommend it!

Resources
Focal home page and Spirit One Product page.
Focal page giving instructions for Spirit One owners.
Head-Fi Focal Spirit One thread.

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

COMMENTS
Chrisknos's picture

Hi Tyll, 

I just want to know which of the 6 headphones mentioned above would you prefer the most, regardless of whether they're portable or not.

BTW You're reviews are the most accurate in my opinion.

Thanks.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

The Momentums for sound quality. MDR-1R for comfort and looks. The UE6000 gains a lot of ground due to their lower cost. The Spirit One is possibly the best suited for actual use under mobile condition, and maybe best sounding in loud environments.

hannakimmi's picture

I had read a lot of information and it gives me a lot of ideas and knowledge. Thank you for taking the time and effort to put this article together. Keep up writing!
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Marcello's picture

I picked these up after being impressed with the Focal XS Book computer speakers and hoped the company would also make good headphones. A little naive maybe, but I was not disappointed. I like the Spirit One almost as much as the Momentums, and the Focal's superior sound isolation makes it my portable headphone of choice. I have also been testing the Sony MDR-1R for two days now. It sounds slightly boring compared to the Focal and the Sennheiser, but still very nice. The Sony sounds absolutely non-fatiguing and the headphone is almost obscenely comfortable, it feels light as a feather. This level of comfort should be a benchmark for over-ear headphones.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

..."obscenely comfortable" is a good word for it.  Flat out gorgious as well. I'm surprised how much I can forgive somewhat poorer sonic performance in light of the comfort and good looks. It's not easy to justify how one adds up all the variables that make up headphone satisfaction...in the end it's which headphones your hands grab for. At night, in bed, watching Netflix? Those MDR-1R are aweful tempting.

Guitarist9273's picture

Any plans to review the Sony MDR-1R?

It'd be interesting to know exactly how it compares to the recent crop of good & great closed heaphones, as far as sound quality is concerned. It's much lauded comfort & relative good looks are tempting.

For late nights in bed watching Netflix or listening to other streamed media, is the MDR-1R one's best bet? 

Currawong's picture

It was fascinating to read the back-story to the issue with these headphones. I think it was definitely worth writing up as an example of how much manufacturers have to go through in produding a new product.

Now if only I could justify a pair of their speakers.... ;)

paul's picture

 

Just got the site back (made exception in AdBlock)

 

"(T)he lipstick red Micros spoke to me" and "I think the Sony MDR-1R is a dead sexy looking… "

 

Winter must be long and cold in Montana.  smiley

John Grandberg's picture

Lots of companies are working on getting their first headphone product out on the market. Some of them just go to an OEM and buy an existing headphone, slap their name on it, and call it a product launch. Nothing wrong with that I guess, but it's nice to know Focal had more invested in the process.

I definitely look forward to their next few headphone models. 

Tyll Hertsens's picture

They commented more than once that they're in it for the long haul. The Spirit One is a great start---problems not withstanding---and I'm very interested to see what they do in future.

bobxxxbob's picture

How do they compare to DT-1350 considering only the sound quality?

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...my DT1350 is warmer with more rolled off highs, but I hear often that the DT1350 varies quite a bit in the nature of their sound. They're both pretty good though.

Blok's picture

First of all, I'd like to say I really enjoyed reading this article. Well done Tyll!

I'm thinking about purchasing the Focal Spirit One for portable use and would like to use them in combination with the Pico DAC/Amp. Do you think this would be a good combination?

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Love the HeadAmp Pico/DAC!

ultrabike's picture

Great article Tyll, Thanks!

10DeeQ's picture

hi Tyll

compared to V-Moda M-100

which one is better for Rnb and pop top 40 music ?
and also which one is more comfortable.

 

another thing is that have you ever tried or reviewed the Venture craft Go-Dap ?

the DAC+amp combo for iphone ?
thank you.

DanTheMan's picture

I knew these had potential to be great cans, but all the negative reviews kept me from getting them.  These are now high on my list of headphone desires.

 

Dan

yupachups's picture

Hello Tyll,

it's been a while that i follow your reviews. I just wanted to share my experience with the Focal.

I also was an owner of the Focal S1 last summer, but i kept it only 2h before returning it. The reasons are simple :

They are ssimply too small for my big head and when extended to the maximum, you see that the hoop might break by putting it on your head repeatedly. 

as comparison, i had the Grado sr80, the senn HD 497, audio thechnica, akg 242 etc.. and they fitted well. 

Focal customer relation told me that they passed the word to their engineers for their next product.... hope it's true 

funambulistic's picture

Tyll,

Love your reviews and the site! I bought these at a discounted price last year when they were offered on Touch of Modern based on some favorable professional reviews. I loved the way they sounded (which is the most important thing, of course) but was getting worried when they started getting bashed on amateur sites (are my ears that "off"?) and reports of the problems cropping up (did I buy a lemon?). It had been many, many years since I purchased a "serious" pair of 'phones (remember the 80's Sennheisers with the yellow foam?) and thought I had maybe made a mistake (still loved the way they sounded, though). I thoroughly enjoyed this in-depth review (manufacturing warts and all) and feel a bit vindicated in my decision and my ears! If this is just the start for Focal, I can't wait to see what they have in store next.

Thanks again and keep up the excellent work!

JAP

artfuldawdger's picture

Can you give me a quick idea of how to get this guy open ? Want to get a look at the drivers and the chamber. 

Thanks !

Randy's picture

Like your style. And Gratis. We can tell you're good at what you do.

I think I'll get me a Focal, The momentum are just as you said, 

Randy's picture

Like your style. And Gratis. We can tell you're good at what you do.

I think I'll get me a Focal, The momentum are just as you said, 

NMora's picture

After reading the review I located a pair of Spirit Ones at a local dealer in Miami FL.
He carries the car audio speakers and not headphones usually.
Everything was going great, properly broken in, and slowly easing into the new cans.
Out of the blue, the right side stopped working. No sound, nothing, DEAD.
I have tried talking to Focal about this, unfortunately I cannot find a copy of the sales receipt and Focal wont help with out it.
What to do?

t3rrorbl4d3's picture

Interesting! nice share admin, I already bookmarked this site so that I can regularly visit here.

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CJ2418's picture

White!
I want to have one
thanks for the information
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MarkoPolo's picture

great job, your reviews are very clear and straight to the point!

would you mind telling us if you have compared Beyerdynamic CustomOnePro vs Focal Spirit One and what is your opinion (choice)?

thx in advance!

denny's picture

As the technology enhancing there are many changes happens in head phones and all. This is the best example for that. The video which you posted here was very helpful for me to understand its use. Hope it provides a new experience to the users.

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