When it comes to headphones and in-ear headphones, there are more choices than you could shake a metaphoric stick at. Put simply, it can be difficult to make a good choice given the sheer amount of different options out there. The choice becomes more difficult when you want something that sounds good, is comfortable and fairly easy-going. In-ear headphones are often either very audiophile-focused such as the MEE Audio Pinnacle P1 and RHA T20, or offer too much style over substance, such as the Master & Dynamic ME05. French speaker and headphone brand Focal, might just have created the best of both worlds in their Sphear in-ear headphones. Read on to find out why.
Features and Specs
The Focal Sphear are the French firm’s first foray into in-ear headphones, however they’ve been making expensive – and highly-praised – speaker gear for a long time now, so these had better be good. Starting with the specs and what’s included the box, let’s have a run down:
- 10.8mm Mylar electro-dynamic drivers housed in a bass reflex design
- 16 Ohm impedance with 103dB sensitivity
- 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz frequency response
- 3 pairs of silicone ear tips, 3 pairs of memory foam ear tips
- 1 airplane adapter
- 1 hard carrying case
- Inline omnidirectional mic with one-button universal remote control
Packaging wise, these look well-presented and the hard carrying case is very compact, which makes it difficult to carry all of the ear tips in the case, but that’s not the point of the Sphear, I think. The inclusion of memory foam ear tips here is a great choice (more on why, later) and there’s the usual included information and such, too.
Design and Comfort
Focal being a French company – that’s Faux-cal, for pronunciation, by the way – it’s unsurprising to see them go after a good look and feel above anything else, and for the most part I think this approach has worked well. The sort of flat, bulbous design of the ear buds themselves look strange when not placed in someone’s ear, but when they’re on, the only thing an outsider will see is a pleasant piece of stainless steel with the Focal logo etched into it. It’s pretty plain to see that Focal weren’t looking to score any design awards with this pair of in-ear headphones as the overall look and feel is well, pretty standard. However, that doesn’t mean that these are a boring pair of in-ears from a looks standpoint. While these aren’t as flashy as the Pinnacle P1 or as recognizable as a pair of Beats, the Sphear’s cut their own path. The Sphear are good-looking in their classy, understated look, and this will appeal to those that want a pair of earphones that sound good, but don’t look they should, either. This will suit practically any sort of style or wardrobe, and that’s a very good thing. People often choose in-ear headphones to stay away from shouting “I’M WEARING HEADPHONES!” and the Sphears neatly stay away from that current fad.
Comfort, was for me, a bit of a mixed bag. The included ear tips are what saved the overall fit and comfort for me. The silicone ear tips included were too small at the smallest size (something that rarely happens to me) and the medium size – while a good fit – offered fairly standard noise isolation. Enter the memory foam ear tips. I’ve used Comply tips before to great effect, but the ones included here weren’t quite Comply, but cut from the same cloth. The medium foam ear tips were an excellent fit for me, they expand in your ear as they heat up, and they not only make for a better fit, but also drown out more sound, too.
There’s no funny business going on here with the cable, either. We’re talking about a standard design and a standard fit. These just plug in to your ear, and sit there. There’s no cable around the ear or anything like that, and while this is usually a downside to most in-ear headphones, the flatter design and build of the ear buds themselves make these a good fit. Thanks to this, they don’t hang out of your ear as other in-ear headphones would do. They did feel a little on the large side in my ear lobe, but after getting used to them, I found them fairly comfortable for a standard design.
“Standard” is a word used here with respect, and I feel it’s actually a selling-point of the Sphear. Focal have developed a pair of in-ear headphones that simply plug in and then get to work playing whatever it is you’re listening to. There’s no need to mess around with the cable or any filters of any sort. These are a pair of in-ear headphones made for people just want to plug in and listen to whatever they want, which is something we can say about all earphones, but it’s nice to see an established Hi-Fi brand show restraint here.
On Focal’s official website, the firm promise “pronounced bass for mobile use” as well as “astonishing tonal balance has never been heard before from this family of headphones”. Strong, fighting words from Focal, and surprisingly words that – mostly – ring true.
The first thing that you notice when listening to anything with the Sphear is the overall warmth of the sound signature. That means that there’s some added bass in the low-end and lower mid-range is often pronounced as well. Warmth is the key word I’d use describing these to anyone considering buying these, but Focal have put together a pair that aren’t at all muddy. They’re nice and detailed as well, with otherwise unnoticed details in the likes of Adele’s “Hello” and Zara Larsson’s “Lush Life” shine through and make the track take on a more multilayered sound. No matter what you listen to with these however, there’s always a lot of warmth and a lot of bass included, which may or may not be a turn off. For someone like myself that prefers a warmer signature, these were a pleasant treat for my ears. Imagine, a standard-looking pair of earphones that exhibit much more clarity and detail than they appear to with a warm signature that doesn’t get too bassy and you get the idea here.
Those worried about where the high-end has gone, shouldn’t be, as the detail in the Sphear applies to the whole spectrum. All of those high notes are still here and well-represented, but they are certainly a little subdued. When a guitar string or cymbal needs to ring out and extend it does so, but that sharp jab from high notes is rolled off and replaced with an almost tube-like representation.
Bottom line is that the Sphear were definitely designed for the modern listener that expects and demands some added bass from whatever they’re listening to, but it doesn’t do away with any of the detail. The bass here is never too strong or overpowering, and the mid-range has all the details and vocals you’d wish for. Of course, those looking for a more neutral tone should definitely look elsewhere, that’s an unfortunate fact of the Sphear.
Focal have developed a good name for themselves in the speaker and headphone game, and for good reason. It’s hard to realize that the Sphear are actually Focal’s first and only pair of in-ear headphones that they offer as they sound much more than a first attempt. What Focal have achieved here with the Focal is a compromise of pretty much everything. They’re easy and comfy to wear with no fuss or added hassle, they’ve got bass and warmth without becoming muddy and they’re portable and lightweight.
Ticking pretty much every box going, the Sphear are perhaps a little on the pricey side of the in-ear headphone spectrum, but those looking for a quality pair of in-ears without the hassle will enjoy these. They could do with being a little smaller in terms of physical size when talking about the ear buds, but aside from this niggle, the Sphear get mostly everything right. They’re not for those looking for a neutral sound signature, but more for a modern listener that wants some added bass, but also wants all the detail and high-end without compromising on a warm signature.