Full disclosure: I am a huge Focal fan. I have equipped my cars with full Focal speaker systems and have nothing but praise for the sound quality. My friend owns a pair of Focal Utopia Be speakers and they are downright stunning in music reproduction. So my purchase of the Focal Spirit One was based on what I have come to expect from their traditional HiFi offerings.
With that out of the way, let me say that I am extremely excited Focal decided to pursue the audiophile headphone market. If you are not familiar with Focal, they are a French manufacturer of audiophile home and car speaker systems. It was a longtime desire of mine to someday see Focal produce a pair of headphones that would provide the quality listening experience that is known for their existing products.
Well, when I learned that they finally did, I literally JUMPED and purchased a pair from Amazon.
Let me cut to the chase. The headphones have potential, but there are some problems.
First, when I received my order, I immediately connected them to my iPhone 4 to get an overall idea of what they sounded like straight from the box before any break-in. Unfortunately, I encountered problems.
First problem was an obvious rattle in the right driver. It happened during bass reproduction at normal listening levels, I definitely wasn't pushing the volume by any means. I had to even change tracks, and switch to my other pair of headphones (Grado SR-80, B&W P5, Monster Beats Solo) to make sure the music I was listening to wasn't actually recorded that way. Unfortunately the Spirit One was the problem. After researching this problem online, I saw others had experienced the same.
The other issue was with the cord. While of high quality in appearance, for some reason they did not allow my voice to be heard during a call. I swapped cables with the control cable from my Monster Beats Solo HD (which fit fine) and problem was solved. So, for whatever reason, a bad cable also shipped with this pair.
Fortunately Amazon's exchange process is fantastic and I elected to swap them for a new pair.
New pair in hand, I immediately tested again and listened for any issues with rattle. Fortunately none this time. Then I tested the cable to make sure the Mic was working properly for a call. This worked fine as well. BUT...as soon as I took off the headphones to plug them into my computer to play random music to break them in, I noticed there was a silver collar sliding along the cable. This turned out to be the silver cover over the soldering connections for the mini-jack that plugs into the headphones. The cable appears to not have had the proper adhesive to secure this part. An odd thing that I have never encountered before.
From my experience thus far, I really started to question just how well these headphones are made.
Online the product looks stellar in photos. But when actually touching the headphones and using them, areas of concern (for me at least) are the quality of materials for the headphone band and articulation points.
The silver areas in the photos "look" like metal, but I think it is actually a faux metal plastic. It does not feel cold to the touch. I really don't know, but it doesn't feel like metal.
The otherwise beautiful-looking joints where the Focal logo is embossed has a creaking plastic sound sometimes when slightly stressed.
The matte soft-touch finish (rubberized?) for the black areas looks great, but attracts dust and I suspect would scratch easily.
I have no qualms over their size, but keep in mind these are a pretty bulky pair of headphones. Also, people with large heads may find these have limited adjustment. I would say my head size is somewhat large, but not as large as some of my friends, and even for me, at full headband extension, they fit perfect, but there is no more room for adjustment had my head been larger.
I know I focused a lot on the negative. But let me also balance this review by saying aside from the problems I had, the most-important thing I should note is the actual sound quality of the Spirit Ones.
Let me say that without any break-in, I was actually very impressed.
As I mentioned, I have several other pairs of headphones from Grado, B&W, and Monster to compare. I would say that the Spirit One easily sounds better than the Monster, and is a touch better than the B&W P5s in overall staging and accuracy of sound. The difference seems to be with the bass reproduction. The Focals have larger drivers which makes sense. This not only adds bass, but the bass is tight and articulate. The Grado I have is not the comparable model to the Spirit One (that would probably be the Grado SR-325i in terms of price), but IMHO the Grado SR-80 just edges the Sprit One in terms of overall sonic accuracy and staging. The Grados have this uncanny ability to sound three-dimensional with staging that sometimes appear to exceed the confines of the drivers. In comparison, the Focals sound excellent too, but you never lose the fact you are listening to headphones...the soundstage is pretty defined between your ears and in your head. But the Spirit One easily has better bass response than the Grados. OF COURSE, this is subjective, so please take this with a grain of salt.
The hardshell case is excellent, although it does decrease the portability as the case takes significant space. A softcase is also provided which is basically a cloth bag with drawstring. This is a nice touch. All headphones in this price range and style should come with both IMHO.
The addition of an airline adapter is nice, although I don't see much need for that anymore.
The extra thin extension cable with slim jack is good for those with odd phone cases that may not allow the cable to normally plug into the phone. This cable is of average quality and it obviously shows next to the much nicer standard cable included.
Theere is a provided 1/4" headphone adapter. The nice thing about this is it is a screw-on affair. Probably unnecessary, but it adds to the overall "high-end" image these headphones strive to provide.
Foam cushions around ear cups and headband are very soft and comfortable. The Monster Solos have a similar feel, but the Focals offer more generous padding.
The headband clamping pressure of the Spirit One is acceptable. It is not loose, but has enough clamping pressure to keep these bulky headphones in place. In contrast, the B&W P5s have much more clamping force which can be fatiguing and uncomfortable after long listening periods.
So what I would conclude with my limited time with the Spirit One (I ended up returning them) is that they are a fantastic first effort from Focal in terms of sound quality. Provided you get a pair that works. You definitely need to test them and make sure.
I would have kept them had the quality of construction been more convincing to justify the price. Of course, this in itself is subjective. But IMHO, hands down the B&W P5s have stellar construction which Focal should have used as a benchmark in producing a headphone in this price range.
Hopefully Focal will release a next gen headphone that can address these concerns I raised. I'm sure they can, as the sound quality is there (as to be expected from Focal's reputation). I just think they need to sort out the manufacturing issues, work on quality control, and use higher-grade materials for the overall construction.