Focal Spirit One headphones

The rush to sell you headphones pushes on unabated. The thinking seems to be: for the time being people are prepared to spend £200 on headphones, it won't last forever, so let's make some money. And when there's demand, you'd be crazy not to try to satisfy it.

Focal is an audio specialist, although headphones are not the primary focus of what it has done until now. Mostly it sells high-end speakers to home cinema enthusiasts, or studio monitors to recording studios. So while headphones might be new for the company, high-end audio most certainly is not. So has the company cracked it with these, are they worthy of your attention over the dozens of other pairs of over-the-ear cans on the market?

White, or even black

We're testing the white headphones, which were introduced before Christmas, but there's also a black set which are the same and have been about for a bit longer. The white headphones are, dare we say it, a shot at the fashion-conscious headphone user. We don't want to say Beats too much in this review, but let's be honest, there's a lot to be said for that firm's love of white headphones.

READ: Beats Pro review

The Spirits are quite nicely put together. There's a lot of plastic used here, but it's highly polished and it looks good. We love the red inlay on the inside of the headphones too. There's a soft band at the top which keeps them nice and comfortable on your head. The earpads themselves are well-cushioned too, and they compress to fit your head nicely too.

One thing we did notice was that the grip of the headphones against your head is pretty substantial. This keeps the headphones in place when you're listening to music, and doing a Will Smith-style head roll. That's good, but it can make wearing them for a long time quite tiring. We aren't crazy about the adjustment band, it does the job, but we seemed to struggle a lot with it. Most of the time, this is simple to adjust on headphones, but on the Spirit Ones it just seemed harder to find that sweet spot.

The Spirit Ones fold up too, so you get a compact arrangement that fits more easily in to a bag. We like the fact - as always - that the audio cable is removable too. This is easily the part of headphones most likely to fail, so when it can be replaced it means no tedious argument about warranties: just buy a new cable for a few quid.

Accessories

As with most headphones, there's a soft case included - and a hard one too, for that matter. The old airline adapter is thrown in, as a 3.5mm to 6.5mm "embiginator" - that's a real word, honest.

More exciting though, is the inclusion of the remote control cable. This is like the standard cord, but contains a microphone and controls for the usual functions. This will work on an iPhone for sure, and some of the features will also work on other devices. We usually find that the microphone is fine on phones - and laptops for that matter - but the volume control is usually limited to Apple devices. Still, you get a choice, so you can pick the one that suits your needs best.

Sound quality

First of all that terrific noise isolation really helps with the quality. Blocking out as much external sound as possible means you get to hear your music without any alteration. That's a really important thing, and scores over noise cancellation, because it does not introduce noise into the audio.

Music quality is superb too. There's quite a flat sound here, with the headphones having no easily detectable bias toward either the low, or the high end. If anything, they seem to like the mid-range, but it's nothing too devastating and the overall quality is solid and the range seems impressive.

One of the first tests we give a pair of headphones now is to play a track we know is right on the edge of acceptable when it comes to the high end. For whatever reason, there are some tracks that on some headphones just sound a mess. The Focals, however, manage it well. There's still some obvious shimmering, but that comes down to the source material.

TV and movies too, sound pretty terrific. When it comes to bass, they hide their light under a bushel to some extent, because they're quite conservative. But give them some bass from an action film and they hold up well. This is all good, because no one wants their headphones inventing bass, but everyone does want a faithful reproduction of what the musician or director intended.

Verdict

We really like the Focal Spirit headphones, they have a sound that is very appealing. If we had to be concise, we'd say they sound "just right". There's no time when we felt one bit of the sound had too much of any one component, or not enough of any part of the frequency range.

In terms of comfort, they lose a tiny bit because they aren't all that easy to adjust, clamp quite hard and have cups that are fractionally too small for our ears. None of these things is a major issue, but it might make listening for extended periods a bit more bothersome.

Overall though, we can't really fault the Focal Spirit Ones. The noise isolation is super, the sound is great and they really look great - although we'd buy in black. The only issue is that they're not as comfortable as some to wear, but if you're out and about, you'll be pleased to have them clamp your head.