Hi-Fi Choice©
United Kingdom / Royaume-Uni
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Sphear in-ear headphones
WITH AN ENVIABLE pedigree as
a producer of loudspeakers, Focal
has enjoyed considerable success
in the headphone market. Now the
company has decided to move into
the in-ear sector with the launch of
the Sphear, whose name I guess is a
play on the words sphere and hear.
These sort of headphones tend to be
either ear buds that sit just inside
the lug hole or in-ears that are
pushed in further, and have a much
better bass response by virtue of
creating a sealed environment. Focal
reckons that in-ears aren’t as comfy
as ear buds when it comes to
extended listening. And so it has
tried to create a closed-back
earphone that sits on the pinna (the
outer cartilage part of the ear) but
extends into the auditory canal
using tips to form a seal, which cuts
out ambient noise and improves
bass response. One benefit of this
approach is that larger transducers
can be employed, with Focal opting
for a 10.8mm ultra-large Mylar type
that offering a frequency response
of 20Hz – 20kHz. The impedance is
a reasonably low 16ohm.
The Sphear earphones are
principally intended for use with
mobile phones, and so they sport an
inline omnidirectional microphone
and universally compatible remote
control. The latter is a smart, simple
affair that conveniently sits about
30cm below chin level, where the
left and right cords split. I find this
symmetrical arrangement of the
cord so much better than those that
have a T-shape, often with the right
cord much longer than the left and
the inline remote dangling in midair.
Push the button
Using an iPhone, you press the
Sphear’s stainless steel remote once
to pause or answer a call, twice to
skip forward, while a long press
connects you to Siri.
Unusually, the cable emanates
from the plug connector at 45°,
which Focal claims is more pocket
friendly and less likely to get
damaged than the more common
90°. You also get a handy semi-hard,
zipped, carry case and an airline
HFC_401_Focal_Sphear_Reprint.indd 107
(+33) 477 435700
adapter. Like most manufacturers
Focal provides silicone and memory
foam tips, with three sizes of each on
offer. It’s not just a question of which
is the most comfortable, as whichever
type you select will profoundly affect
the sound with silicon obviously
providing a less convincing bass
response. I try all six and immediately
prefer the memory foam for its
greater comfort, superior noise
isolation and deeper, smoother bass
response. Sticking with the largest
foam tip, I settle down to some
extended listening with an iPhone
and a Sony portable hi-res audio
player. My test includes a flight to
Hamburg in a noisy little 32-seater
plane from London City Airport.
I am surprised by the high level of
comfort and decent noise isolation.
However, I find making phone calls
far less satisfying. The incoming voice
is fine but my own is too prominent
and rather discombobulating. With
calls lasting any longer than a minute,
I have to pull the plug and use the
phone normally.
For music, however, the Sphear is a
real joy, proving itself easy to drive
and capable of delivering a well
imaged and nicely balanced
soundfield. The bass in Silent Shout
by The Knife sounds dynamic and
purposeful without being
overextended, allowing the higher
frequencies of the synth to pop along
with plenty of sparkle and zest.
Similarly, the punch from the bass
in Steely Dan’s Time Out Of Mind is
beautifully timed and the perfect
anchor for Donald Fagen’s vocals.
Subtle high-frequency sounds are
handled deftly with the hi-hat
pinging through against the
dominant layers of the electric
guitar, sax and keyboards.
Coming up trumps
Broken Bells’ The High Road is a
multi-layered blend of vocals with
hypnotising drums, guitars and a
synth that can sound like a big
splodge of a mess in the wrong
hands. Here, it sounds refined and
dynamic, and ultimately irresistible
rather than simply listenable.
In terms of absolute transparency
the Sphear doesn’t compare with
on-ear headphone models, but it
does perform incredibly well with
portable devices. Price is perfectly
pitched, making it a great buy for
music fans on the go. AJ
24/08/2015 11:16
Sélectionné par / Selected by Focal-JMlab - Tel : (+33) 04 77 43 57 00 - Fax : (+33) 04 77 37 65 87 - www.focal.com
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