Focal Sphear review

Focal’s first in-ear headphone impress

TODO alt text

Our Verdict

Focal’s first in-ear headphones offer clear and balanced sound at an affordable price. While not as bulletproof as some of the competition, the Focal Sphear sound so good it’s hard to get upset over its plastic build and average noise isolation.

For

  • Comfortable for long periods
  • Rich, mid-forward sound
  • Lightweight

Against

  • No volume control on remote
  • Average noise isolation
  • Plastic build

Focal, an audio company based out of France and most well known for its superior quality loudspeakers, wowed the world with the introduction of its line of headphones. The $4,000 Utopia shook up the audiophile headphone market and the equally impressive budget-friendly Focal Listen helped introduce amateur AV enthusiasts to a brand they might not have ever known.

So what is the company doing about the portable listening audience? For them, Focal created its first ever in-ear headphone, the Sphear. These $150 (£100, AU$220) headphones look and sound great and are perfect for anyone looking for lightweight, portable headphones with a touch of class and rich sound.

Design

The Focal Sphear feature bulbous black driver housings which give the headphone ample room for its Mylar drivers. 

The earbud housings are made of plastic with a handsome brushed stainless steel grille that helps the headphones feel more expensive. Overall, the design of the Focal Sphear is understated and mature but the Klipsch Reference X6i feel better made with its die-cast Zinc housings and beefier cable. 

Speaking of the cable, Focal's cord terminates in a Y-connection where you’ll find the headphone’s single button remote. This means you’ll be able to play/pause, skip/rewind tracks and to summon your voice assistant with a long press. This single buttons means you won’t be able to control volume, but that’s the price to pay for a pair of headphones that work with both Apple and Android devices. 

On the other end of the headphones, the cable terminates in a 45-degree 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a good compromise between a straight and L-shaped plug, helping to relieve some cable stress of a fully straight connector. If you have a tight case, you’ll be happy to know that the slim 3.5mm connector should fit most cases with recessed headphone jacks. 

Included in the package are various foam and silicone tips that are very comfortable during extended listening sessions. That said, if you want the most secure fit and maximum noise isolation, you’ll want to use the foam tips. Just note they’ll need to be replaced as they get gunked up by ear wax. Also included is a nice hard case that will protect the headphones while traveling.

Performance

The Focal Sphear share the same mid-forward sound as its over-ear sibling, the Focal Listen. This makes them a great companion for acoustic and vocal music. Its mid-forward presentation doesn’t detract from the highs and bass either, offering a nice amount of energy in the highs for instruments like the violin. 

Bass has good extension but could use a bit more impact for electronic and rap music. Bass lovers should check out the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear for added bass response or, for even more bass, check out the Klipsch Reference X8Ri, which offer thicker and more refined bass than the Sennheisers. 

Sonically, we really enjoyed the rich sound quality of the Focal Sphear. Compared to the excellent Klipsch Reference X6i, the Sphear has an in-your-face presentation that makes music sound more exciting. The Klipsch Reference X6i offer a more laidback approach and a flatter tonal curve, giving them a slight edge in terms of sound to our ears.

Unfortunately, while noise isolation is good with the silicone tips you’ll still be able to hear the bustle of a busy coffee shop. For better isolation, you can use the foam tips but regardless the Focal Sphears can’t match the excellent noise isolation of the Shure SE215, despite being much more comfortable. 

While the Focal Sphear feel well made, they aren't designed for sweat so we don’t recommend using them at the gym. If you want a pair of headphones for a heavy workout, check out the wireless NuForce BeSport3, which have an IP55 dust and water resistance rating that will stand up to abuse while at the gym. 

Verdict

For a first attempt at making an in-ear headphone, Focal knocked it out of the park with the Sphear. They sound great with all types of music and offer an exciting, mid-forward presentation that will make your toe tap with the music. They may not be the best built or best isolating in-ear headphones on the market but for the commuter looking for a comfortable and great sounding pair of in-ear headphones, the Sphears check all the right boxes. 

For about the same money, you can get the excellent Klipsch Reference X6i, which feel better made and offer a more laidback and balanced musical presentation. Unfortunately they’re designed for Apple devices so don’t expect the volume controls to work if you have an Android device.