Unless you’re really into audio you may not have heard of Focal (unless you read my review of their Spirit One S headphones) but they’re a solid brand who have a great name in overseas markets. They’re nothing like a newcomer to the audio game, for the last 30 years they’ve been making pretty much anything you can think of from professional DJ equipment, Car Audio and Home Theatre equipment to headphones and earbuds. We’ll get this one out up front, they’re not a cheap option but their uncompromising attitude toward audio performance stands out the instant that you first listen to them. As a bit of an audio enthusiast, I have been very skeptical of the capabilities of in ear headphones for some time – the physical size of the driver just doesn’t lend itself to producing decent, let alone good sound and I’ve never had success in finding a pair that produce reasonable sound and are comfortable. With all of this in mind, when the opportunity presented I thought I’d take the chance to check out the Focal Sphear in ears in the hope of being proven wrong.
What immediately made me pretty happy when I opened the box for these headphones is the fact that they have the foresight to understand that not everyone has the same size ear canal, meaning that a generic size fitting on the earpieces aren’t going to be suitable for more than a select percentage of the population. That was a really promising start, what was even better was finding ear fittings that not only fit perfectly for me but were genuinely comfortable immediately. Perhaps my view has been jaded by poor experience with various in-ear sound; my old iPod, Samsung and Sony buds that came with phones and even a reasonable quality pair of Sennheiser in the past – So my hopes (despite the positive start with comfort) were not high that the listening experience would be good.
It was immediately apparent when I started up some music that my previous experiences with in-ear headphones were simply a case of I bought the wrong gear. The sound quality is superb, not just when taking into account the fact that you’re listening to in-ear audio but outright; its superb and its clear to see where your AU$220 (that is of course RRP, shop around – you’ll find a bargain) has gone.
The depth of sound is close to matching similar priced on-ear headphones and the clarity is nose to nose with all reasonably priced, good quality headphones. The high register sound is very clean and handles anything from orchestral sounds to the fattest of guitar licks. The mid range sound is brilliant; a lot of rock and pop music really rely on good quality sound in this frequency range, suffice to say you’ll be happy with your purchase if thats your preferred genre. Can you believe they have managed to produce bass on these things?
Believe it or not, they have and it has some punch too. The technology sounds quite sci-fi “spherical ported bass-reflex enclosure, delivers fast, tight and realistic bass” and they’re right. The sound quality is excellent at any volume; at extremely low volume you’re not going to get the punch from bass or the power of vocal output but you don’t get the flat and lifeless experience that other headphones give at low volume. When you really crank it up, the sound remains clean and distortion free giving the listener a really good experience but its not just the sound that they produce that makes the experience so great.
There isn’t any fluff or artificial input like a finely tuned equaliser to get the best out of them, you’re going to get a great “out of the box” experience without the necessity to go tweaking things. You’re also going to lose a lot of background noise that would otherwise invade your listening experience. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not noise cancelling headphones – in fact far from it. They are designed though, to fit nicely in your ear instead of ‘rest’ in your ear which means much of the background noise is filtered for you, but you can still hear what is going on around you well enough for it not to be a safety concern depending on your situation.
I honestly am really pleased with the sound quality of these headphones and would recommend anyone who is after some great sound from in-ear headphones to seriously look at these. They’re not wireless, they’re not absolutely mind blowing and they’re not the best sound you can get on the market. What the Sphear in-ear headphones are is well designed, comfortable in-ear headphones that offer an excellent listening experience to users at a reasonable (not cheap) cost.
If this is sounding like something you may like to check out, being something of a niche market at the moment your best bet is going to be check out the local stockists in your area and head in store for a listen.
Do you prefer the sound in-ear or on/over-ear headphones?