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Focal Spirit One
Portable Headphones
© 2012 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

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Focal Spirit One

Focal Spirit One (32 Ω, 8.1 oz./230g, about $280). larger. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link to them at Amazon and at B&H Photo-Video when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.


October 2012  Headphone reviews  Focal Reviews  Audio Reviews  All Reviews

2014 Update: The Beyer T51i don't cost much more, but sound much better and are built much, much better and travel better, too. These Focal are more accurate, while the Beyerdynamic T51i make music sound absolutely glorious.


Introduction         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear.

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

The Focal Spirit One were the world's best portable headphones for a couple of years until the Beyer T51i came out in late 2014.

Of course all headphones, even Stax that need plug-in-the wall high-voltage tube-amplifiers, are "portable," but in this case, I'm referring only to folding headphones with a iPhone/iPod/iPad remote on the cord.

Other headphones like the Beyer DT880 sound better for about the same price, but they don't fold and have no remote. Other headphones like the professional Audio-Technica ATH-M50 sound as good and fold even better for half the price, but they have no remote control on the cord.

These Focal Spirit One headphones are among the best-sounding, best-built and most convenient headphones I've ever used, especially if you need them to fold flat and have a remote control. They also include a microphone in the cord.

The Focal Spirit One are among the most neutral closed headphones I've ever heard. They have no presence boost, and only a mild deep-bass boost.

The Focal Sprit One sound about the same as the $1,000 Ultrasone Edition 8 with less of a low-bass boost, for only $280, and add better quality cords and connectors, as well as full remote control for Apple iPods, iPad and iPhones — and a built-in microphone! The Edition 8 doesn't fold, either.

My favorite day-to-day headphones have been the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 because they fold flat against my iPad in my bag, and also sound about the same as the Edition 8, just a bit brighter.

These new 32 Ω Focal are much smoother than the ATH-M50, without the slight upper-midrange-treble boost, and have about half the deep-bass boost of the ATH-M50 and Edition 8. All three of these headphones have very high sensitivity, perfect for iPods and iPods with no need of any extra amplifiers.

The Edition 8 sound best, but don't fold and have only a molded plastic plug. The ATH-M50 are brighter if you like sparkly highs, while these Focal are much smoother than the ATH-M50, without the boosted highs.

Except for not using vinyl instead of leather, the Focal Spirit One are made better than the Edition 8; the Spirit One have cloth cables and metal plugs.

Which is best depends on personal preference for voicing, but if you need a corded iPod remote, these Spirit One are the best I've heard.

If price matters or you want brighter highs, get the Audio-Technica ATH-M50, but for smoother sound better for symphonic works, as well as better build quality, remote control and a mic, the Focal Spirit One are the best the world has to offer at any price.


Specifications         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations



Around-the-ear, isolating closed headphones.

40mm sculpted mylar-titanium driver elements.

Ultra-Light & Sturdy Aluminum.

Pivoting & Articulating Ear Cups.



32 Ω, rated.

I measure 30.5 Ω DC.



104 dB SPL at 1mW at 1 kHz.

1 milliwatt at 32 Ω is 179 mV, which means 119 dB SPL at 1 volt.



> 20 dB.



< 0.3% at 1 kHz at 100 dB SPL.


Frequency Response

6 ~ 22,000 Hz, no conditions specified.


Cord and Plug

Detachable, cloth-covered OFC Anti-Tangle cord.

4-foot (1.2 meter) straight cord, no extension provided.

Metal 3.5mm plug with included screw-in ¼" adapter.

The gold ¼" adapter appears identical to the adapters supplied with Beyer headphones.


Apple-Compatible Remote and Mic

Focal Spirit One box

Focal Spirit One and corded remote and mic.


Focal Spirit One box

Focal Spirit One corded remote and mic.


Focal Spirit One remote

How to use the Focal Spirit One remote and mic.



Fake leather.



8.100 oz. (229.7g), without cord.

0.960 oz. (27.2g), cord alone.

17.160 oz. (486.5g), cased with all accessories.

8 ounces (225g), rated, without cord.



Made in China.



Spirit One headphones and detachable cord.

Printed instruction sheet.

Molded carry case and bag.

¼" adapter and airplane adapter.

3.5mm remote-cancelling cord (in case your device won't work well with a standard 4-conductor iPod plug.)

Focal Spirit One box

Focal Spirit One box. bigger.


Focal Spirit One box

Focal Spirit One semi-hard case. enlarge.


Focal Spirit One box

Focal Spirit One suite. enlarge.


Focal Spirit One box

Focal Spirit One, folded.


Focal Spirit One box

Focal Spirit One, folded flat.


Performance         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations



The Focal Spirit One are very smooth and natural sounding, in fact, they are the most neutral closed-back phones I've heard.

The Focal Spirit One are very accurate, but as a closed headphone not necessarily that transparent. If you're trying to recreate the sound of the concert hall, it's as if there's a very thin layer of paper between you and the live sound. That's OK; it takes a $3,000 electrostatic headphone to make this go away; the $2,000 Audeze LCD-3 isn't much different here either.

The Spirit One have a very similar tonal balance to the Stax SR-007 Omega II, but little of the transparency.

The Sprit One add some extra warmth around 300 ~ 500 Hz.

The sound is pleasant and ungrating, but not as immediate as Stax. It is very pleasant, but you're not there. It's never harsh; everything is always listenable.

Auditioned with the reference Benchmark DAC1 HDR, the Spirit One are warm and smooth, with very slightly boosted, but mostly neutral deep bass.

With the Woo Audio WA6-SE, these Spirit One are even smoother, with slightly less deep bass. The Woo has a 15 Ω output source impedance and makes these sound glorious.

The added brightness of the Apogee Duet 2's headphone output (about +1 dB at 16 kHz) sounds wonderful, since these Spirit One are neutral to recessed in the highs. The Duet 2's 34.3 Ω output source impedance adds a little bit of bass boost.

Driven from the 55Ω source impedance of the Sony SCD-XA777ES' headphone outputs, there is a little more deep-bass boost, similar to, but not quite as strong, as the ATH-M50 or Ultrasone Edition 8.



The Spirit One offer a little more isolation from outside noise than the Ultrasone Edition 8, and even more isolation than the ATH-M50.



The Spirit One leak more sound to the outside world than most closed headphones; this probably helps add to their open sound.



The Focal Sprit one have relatively accurate bass with little emphasis, so they'll sound thinner than the Edition 8 or ATH-M50. They are fuller than the DT880.

They have a small bump at about 50 Hz, and great deep bass, even if not boosted as euphonically as does the ATH-M50 or MDR-V6.



Thank goodness, the Focal Sprit One have no midrange presence boost.

Since they have no presence boost, they are very forgiving of noise in the recording.



For enjoying movies on your iPad, the Spirit One are smooth and deep, and the sound does a reasonable job of getting out of your head.

Gain is usually optimum around 1/2 on my iPad.



The Spirit One are super-sensitive, able to play very loud very easily on any portable device, be it a DSLR, iPod, cheap portable CD player (Sony D-E406CK) or camcorder.

On an iPod, I play my Spirit One at about only 1/2 to 3/4 volume for popular music or movies, and not much higher for classical. With my 600Ω Beyer DT880, I usually need to have my iPod set to the maximum.

Forget moving the jumper on the Benchmark DAC1 HDR, it has more than enough gain as-shipped.


Materials and Mechanics

It's all plastic, except for some of the aluminum-colored bits and whatever springs are inside the harps.

There is no exposed wiring to each earpiece as with the Sony MDR-7506; the Spirit One hides the wires.



The cloth-covered cable is the ideal length: 4 feet or 1.2 meters. I'd rather the remote control would be closer to the plug than up by my ears.

If you get the cord caught on something, it will unplug from the headphones so nothing breaks.

I find the ear cups a little bit on the small side, so sometimes I need to wiggle them a little to get them off my ears. The earcups seal well, although they're not the most comfortable on my ears. I put harp further back on my head. The earcups pivot well.

The remote play control will start iTunes from sleep, even if you were last watching video.

The outsides of the earcups are made of smooth-feeling plastic.

If you get a fresh set, they smell funny for a few days.

The carry bag is ill fitting, no big deal, I never use it. I just throw these in my bag with my iPad.

Higher pressure on the cups means better sealing.

The headband keeps retracting so I keep having to pull down the earcups.


Remote Control

The remote is round, so it's not that easy to figure out which way is the front. Instead, it has a sharp tit on the play button for which you have to feel. Therefore, it's a two step process to find the tit and then the volume up/down controls.

To change the volume, it demands multiple clicks for up and down; you can't just hold it down to go up and down.


Recommendations         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations    More

Need a great set of headphones for travel with your iPad, iPhone or iPod? These are the world's best.

Focal suggests breaking these in for a few days for the best sound.

These are great for enjoying music since they make everything sound good, but bad for monitoring or mixing because they tend to hide defects and will lead you to make recordings with too much presence and too little bass.

The cords can be interchanged, but why? If you want better sound, buy better-sounding headphones like the Beyer DT880 that don't fold and forgo the remote control. Spending money on fancy cords is a waste of money; spend the money on better, less portable open headphones. What we really need if we want to spend more money is a luxe version made in France (not China), with real leather instead of vinyl pads.

For easiest access to the remote, rotate the cable so the "Play" tit is in front.

If you've found my efforts reviewing these helpful, my biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link to them at Amazon and at B&H Photo-Video when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.


More         top

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Focal's Sprit One page


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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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