If you are a speaker or a car audio enthusiast, the name Focal might ring a bell. The France-based company has made a name for itself by selling a variety of high quality audio products since 1980s, although their presence in the Middle East is limited at best.
Back in 2012, they ventured into the competitive market of headphones with the Focal Spirit One, an audio device made to “deliver Focal performance on the move, as well as at home”, according to the company. It’s a closed-back circumaural headphones that caters to the audiophile market with its neutral sound, and while also providing some consumer focused features such as an iOS-compatible cord and special ear padding that were designed after “extensive research” to control sound leakage and block external noise.
So, why are we talking about a product that released six years ago? Well, the Spirit One just became available earlier this year on Souq.com, and we hope that this means their other range of headphones also become available soon in the region. The Spirit One was priced at $279.99 (approx AED 1,030) at launch, which pitted it against the mid-tier audiophile range of headphones. However, the headphone has seen a price cut since then, and at AED 569 delivers excellent value for money and a fine taste of what the world of audiophile audio has to offer.
Focal Spirit One Price & Availability
The Focal Spirit One is available on Souq.com for AED 569. This serves as an excellent price point for users that want to get into audiophile sound without forking out a ton of cash.
Competing in this price bracket - and which are available locally - are the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro (AED 499) and Audio Technica ATH M50x (AED 699), both of which are extremely popular and highly regarded.
Design & Comfort
Stylistic flavor for headphones has changed over the past few years, but the Spirit One holds up quite well. It’s a fairly robust and functional design that features minimal flair, and a more meaningful attention to its structure. The earcup hinges can go 180 degrees flat (and fold inwards for compact storage), giving users room to adjust to their preferences, while the faux leather earpads works well to block external noise and maximize bass impact.
The noise cancellation isn’t battery powered like some modern headphones, so don’t expect complete isolation. However, wearing the headphones immediately cancels out a lot of background noises and encompasses you into a tiny bubble, where when music is played, should completely block out any distractions whatsoever. Sound leakage at mid-high volume is minimal at best, so the headphones can be used in public spaces without forcefully sharing your playlist with the world.
However, passive noise cancellation such as this almost always comes at a cost. While the earpads on the headphones are plush and sufficiently soft, the clamp force from the headband exerts enough pressure on the sides to create discomfort after a while.
Your mileage may vary depending on the size of your head, but for us, we couldn’t use it for lengthier sessions without removing it multiple times to give our ears a break. The comfort might improve over time as the headband loosens up and adjusts to your head size, but that’s not really convenient for this review as it would require weeks of continuous use.
The Spirit One comes with a detachable, cloth-covered cable that features in-line controls and a mic for iOS devices. The controls can be used to adjust volume, change music tracks and answer calls, and they seem to work just as well as you would expect them to. The only gripe we have with this is that the controls are placed a little too high on the cable for my liking, causing us to reach further towards our ears rather than near our chest which is where the natural position should be.
The cable is a standard 2.5mm connector, so in theory it is replaceable if you do not like the default one or want to use a custom wire. The cable fits reasonably secure into the left ear cup but the lack of a locking mechanism means that it could be yanked out easily if the cable gets stuck on the corner of a table, or gasp under a rolling chair.
The Spirit One sports 40mm Mylar/titanium drivers with a 32 ohm impedance, meaning that they are easily driven by an average setup (laptop, mobile phones, etc.) and requires no further amplification from a DAC.
The most noticeable thing about the headphones is how well balanced they sound, delivering the tone and texture of the music with richness and clarity. The mid-range has plenty of detail and comes through really well, and is backed by impressive low-end frequencies that brings the right amount of punch to the music without getting overbearing.
The high frequency has a lot of brightness, which may or may not be a good thing depending on the kind of music you normally listen to. There is a tendency to become a little synthetic and harsh, especially with a lot of arrangements in the music, which mashes the tune together and causes it to lose a lot of detail.
Being closed-back, the stereo imaging on the headphones is fairly compact where you can just about separate the instruments around your head. This was pretty evident when listening to Yosi Horikawa’s Wandering, which is an excellent album to test a headphone’s ability in soundstage and separation.
The Spirit One is a fairly great first attempt by Focal in creating a audiophile headphone, but that’s to be expected from a company as experienced and skilled in audio products as them. It has accurate sound representation and enough bass to power most tracks, and with an affordable price point becomes a very compelling device for those that want to venture into a high-class listening experience.