Design: Inspired, Yet Carefully RestrainedFocal was right not to rely on its name alone to sell the Spirit One. They obviously paid a good deal of attention to style as well. Decidedly modern, these headphones combine a matte black finish, brushed-aluminium imitation plastic and red colouring inside the earcups for a look that's sober, yet stylish and effective.
The only esthetic issue we have is that the swivel joints for the earcups jut out away from your head, without adding any noticeable impact on mobility. And you'll have to watch out, because like most of the body, the mechanism is made of plastic, which isn't reassuring for the lifespan of this headphone. In fact, when you take a closer look, you can see several little areas where the finishing could be greatly improved. Even more visible, there's a good deal of play between the three sections of the headband, and it's not uncommon to get a strand of hair stuck in between these parts when putting the headphones on—so you have to be careful when taking them off. Again, given the lack of flexibility and the play between the headband sections, you have to wonder how long these headphones will last.
The three sections of the headband, with play
In the comfort department, there's little to complain about. The padding's comfortable and the lining is made of high quality materials. You're not likely to forget the large-ish pair of headphones on your dome, but with nomadic circumaurals, whatcha gonna do? In any case, the 200 grammes + are more than bearable. The only problem might be the temperature, which rises the longer you wear them, but again: they're closed earcups, what do you expect?
As accessories go, it's similar to what you get with V-Moda headphones: a semi-rigid case, an airplane adapter and a mini-extension cord (see inset).
We're "only" awarding the Spirit One 4 stars for this section. Focal insists this is a pre-series model and that a number of points have been improved for the final version. We'll get our hands on one and update our review if needed.
Audio Quality: Decidedly ModernJust because you sell one of the most expensive speaker systems in the world doesn't necessarily mean you can make great headphones. But while it's no surprise that Focal has launched itself into the nomadic market, its first headphone does not disappoint.
The company chose a neutral rendering for the Spirit One, and they stand behind it all the way. This is clearly not an ultra-bassy product like Beats Audio, but the rendering isn't overly bright and shiny, either.
Focal Spirit One's frequency response: quite flat!
In action, you can tell—and the curves confirm this—that the entire spectrum is distributed extremely homogeneously, with only a few exceptions. Focal is following in Sennheiser's footsteps with a sound that tends toward somber tones and avoids over-flashiness; and the closed build only reinforces this impression.
We would have liked to see a bit more bass in this model to compensate the lack of physical sensations brought on by the "headphone" effect. The Spirit One is a step in the right direction, but the HD 650 takes it a step further. If there's one criticism to make, it would definitely be the extreme highs. The peak in the 8 kHz vicinity isn't compensated for at the low end of the spectrum, which can make the sound a bit too agressive when playing certain music at high volumes.
The Spirit One also gives impressive dynamics for a closed-back headphone, and can handle high volumes without the overall sound taking a hit. Once again, it's difficult not to think of Sennheiser, but this time it's more like the HD 25. With most music that's been precisely mixed, the Spirit One even surpasses the HD 25; the only times when Sennheiser gets the upper hand is with big, heavy music at high volumes.
Left: THD+N as a %. Right: THD in dB.
First, there was the Philips Fidelio L1. Now, with the Spirit One, Focal has lobbed a second stone into the pool of nomadic headphones. This is yet another device that follows in the path that V-Moda cleared a few months ago. Who woulda thunk it—it is now possible to make a good, stylish, powerful, high-quality pair of nomadic headphones. Attention all smartphone makers, you have been warned: you have some serious catching up to do!
- Neutral audio rendering
- Good dynamics
- That extension adapter!
Focal's first shot at the headphone game is a home run. We will definitely be hearing more about the Spirit One in coming months.