This article first appeared in HWM Aug 2012.
The French audio manufacturers Focal are well known internationally for their high-end speakers, especially the Grande Utopia EM. With the Spirit One however, Focal makes their first foray into the headphones market. The headphones are a conglomeration of aluminum, rubberized plastic and leather. While the materials and looks of the product may be par for the course, both construction and assembly is surprisingly solid. Holding the headphones in your hand, you get a sense of real durability.
With regards to features, the Spirit One fares well. An in-line control pod is equipped with three buttons for controlling volume and playback. The threaded cable is tangle-free as expected, but could have been longer to facilitate usage with portable music players kept in pockets. A snap-on 3.5mm to ¼-inch converter and an airplane converter jack is also provided as part of the overall package, making the headphones versatile in their use.
Putting on the Spirit One reveals a good deal of clamp force exerted which we found to be excessive. The overall grip was too tight to be adequately comfortable even after taking into account that the headphones were brand new and had not been worn in. The ear-cups, in our opinion, were also slightly on the smaller side for a pair of over-the-ear cans.
In fact, our ears felt cramped and squished during use, and we ended up using them almost as on-ear headphones as it was simply more comfortable to do so. The leather cushioning, while plush, doesn’t really help despite being soft and supple, as we found our ears feeling the heat after a few minutes. Of course, comfort is a subjective concept, and we advise you try the headphones on yourself.
With audio performance, our experience was pretty much the total opposite, as we really enjoyed listening to music with the Spirit One. The headphones aim to deliver neutral sound, and succeed to a great degree. Sound is rendered with good resolution, with minute details and nuances of songs heard. We were especially impressed with the performance on the grunge classics "Mayonaise" and "Today" by the Smashing Pumpkins. The guitar lines cut through the mix and the various melodies could be easily differentiated. A wider soundstage however might have helped build the atmosphere of the songs more. Bass reproduction was also adequate with the lower end sounding full and round, but lacking kick.
Overall, the Spirit One checks all the marks expected from a quality audio product, with respect to sound performance. Comfort levels offered however were drastically low, which makes these headphones an odd proposition. They don’t come cheap either as the Spirit One is priced at S$399. Of course, the buying decision then would be decided on whether you find the fit to be to your liking.