Focal`s Spirit Professional Headphones

Focal`s Spirit Professional Headphones
ax
Fresh From the Bench
Focal’s Spirit Professional
Headphones
By
Miguel Marques
(Portugal)
Focal is a well-known French speaker manufacturer of professional audio products
as well as high-end speakers and car audio systems. Last year Focal released its
first headphones. Among the models intended for the hi-fi and consumer markets,
Focal also introduced the Focal Spirit Professional, a closed-back headphone design
built for the professional musician or recording studio engineer. We recently tested
the Focal Spirit Professional to discover what this model brings to an already
crowded and very competitive headphone market.
Focal has been developing high-end hi-fi speakers and drivers for more than 30 years. It has established
itself as one of the most prominent and valuable brands in that industry. For years, Focal also manufactured
drivers and parts for other brands (e.g., KRK, L-Acoustics and Wilson Audio) in part because the company
has manufacturing capabilities to build almost anything in its Saint-Étienne facilities.
Focal presents itself as a very engineer-driven company, with a focus on its R&D department. It has
provided the industry with several inventions (e.g., the “inverted dome tweeter,” the “W” sandwich cone,
and the beryllium tweeter). The beryllium tweeter used by Focal is manufactured by Materion Electrofusion
using the Truextent diaphragms, as is the case with the majority of transducer manufacturers that utilize
genuine beryllium in their designs. Beryllium is 10 times more expensive than gold and seven times
more rigid than titanium or aluminum, without their weight. Because of its high rigidity and low
mass, it is a perfect material for tweeters. However, Focal only uses it on its premium products
because it is expensive to manufacture.
Initially known as JMLab, Focal also has several products in the car audio industry. When the
company opened in the late 1980s, it developed and manufactured car audio speakers,
amplifiers, and systems. In 2003, Focal launched a range of professional monitors,
increasing its brand strength among audio professionals. Now, it’s fairly
common to see models such as the Focal Twin 6be and the
Focal SM9 in studios all over the world. As part of
its expansion effort, Focal released its first
headphones, the Spirit line, in 2013. The
circumaural headphone line includes
the Spirit One, which was created as
an audiophile headphone for mobile
users; the Spirit Classic, a full-size highquality product for the hi-fi market; and
the Spirit Professional headphones, the
model we reviewed for this article.
Features and Specifications
The Focal Spirit range of headphones is the first of its kind
from the French speaker manufacturer.
18 | April 2014 | audioxpress.com
The Focal Spirit Professional headphones
are sold with a high-quality case filled with enough
foam to secure the headphones and all the accessories in place. Focal carefully designed the case to serve
as a perfect storage place when the headphones are not in use. The
headphones are bundled with a detachable cord, which is obviously a
major requirement for professional headphones.
The low-impedance oxygen-free copper (OFC) coiled
cable measures 13’ and comes with a standard tip/
ring/sleeve (TRS) connector.
Focal also included a smaller straight cable with
a remote control and a built-in microphone to use
the headphones with a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. This is a nice feature, as it makes the headphones usable in more applications. It also makes
these professional headphones functional in daily
life. The headphones also come with a carrying bag
in case you want to use them outside the studio,
which is likely since the headphones include another
personal “mobile” cable.
All the contents included with the Spirit
Professional headphones are well made, with
tremendous attention to detail that provides a highquality feel to the product. Even though this is a
professional product, it feels like a premium one.
The Focal Spirit Professional headphones have
a stylish, modern look even though the all-black
design makes it a very discrete, sedate pair of headphones in contrast with the two other models in
the Spirit line. The only non-black elements are
the Focal logo and name, which are embedded on
the headphones in white. The reason these headphones aren’t as ornate as most hi-fi headphones,
including the Focal Spirit Classic, is because they
were designed to withstand the abuse that recording studio routines usually imply. They also have a
textured finish that is said to be shock-and-scratch
resistant. Only time will tell if the finish on these
headphones is as good as it is advertised, but they
do look robust.
The handling feels very solid and the build quality
is very good. We are aware that Focal cooperates
with specialized manufacturers for specific components and uses external manufacturing facilities
when it needs to be competitive. This enabled Focal
to bring these headphones to the market at very
competitive prices, in direct comparison with similar models (e.g., the Ultrasone Pro Series, using
the same driver choices).
The Spirit Professional is actually one of the few
products Focal isn’t manufacturing in France. Yet we
still are confident that they should stand the test of
time and the daily recording studio use.
The Spirit Professional headphones feature a
mylar/titanium dome in their transducers, which is
a key element in their performance. These drivers
use a mylar and titanium alloy to produce a thin and
extremely light cone that’s also very stiff and rigid.
In theory, it’s the same principle achieved with the
beryllium twitter, only with a different application.
Combined with a strong neodymium magnet, these
The Spirit Professional headphones’ closed-back circumaural design was developed for
professionals.
40-mm mylar/titanium matched transducers are
marketed as being very dynamic transducers with
an extended frequency response.
The headphones are also touted to reproduce
any audio source in great detail. The headphones
are specified with a low 32-Ω impedance, which,
along with a 102-dB SPL (1 mW at 1 kHz) sensitivity
means they should provide enough sound pressure
for most users regardless of the amplifier used.
That also means the headphones will pair nicely
with almost any battery-operated device (e.g., a
laptop or smartphone).
The drivers were also designed to produce very
The headphones use memory foam on the ear cushions and in the headband to ensure a
comfortable fit even when listening for long periods of time. A high-quality OFC corded
cable is included for the best audio quality and a shorter straight cable with remote
control cable is included for personal use with smartphones and laptops.
audioxpress.com | April 2014 | 19
ax
Fresh From the Bench
In Use
Designed to withstand the rough life in the studio, the Spirit Professional headphones
feature a shock and scratch resistant textured finish.
About the Author
Miguel Marques is a
full-time mastering
engineer who works
in his own mastering
studio in the north of
Portugal. After earning
a bachelor’s degree in
Music Production and
Technologies, Miguel
worked in commercial
recording studios as a
recording engineer. He
has also written several
technical reviews
and articles for pro
audio magazines. He
recently finished his
first book about audio
engineering, which was
released in Portuguesespeaking countries.
low distortion numbers, which according to the
brand will help prevent ear fatigue in professionals
who may use them for extended time periods. To
also ensure the comfort of these headphones over
time, the Spirit Professional contains memory foam
in the ear cushions and in the headbands.
The headphones are closed-back circumaural
headphones, which obviously presents a compromise on sound quality. Closed-back designs provide
sound to the user without letting in exterior sound
and without letting out the inside sound, which is
a mandatory feature for recording music. Because
of that, closed-back headphones typically have an
inaccurate and exaggerated low-end response and
they’re usually not detailed on the highs. With that
said, Focal said thanks to a perfectly adjusted acoustical load on the transducers, the Spirit Professional
headphones behave similar to an open-back pair of
headphones. According to the brand, users should
expect an articulated and detailed bass response.
Care has been taken
when designing the box
for the Spirit Professional
headphones. Inside the
box a lot of foam protects
everything. Separate
compartments hold the
manual and the two
supplied cables.
20 | April 2014 | audioxpress.com
The Focal Spirit Professional headphones are
very comfortable to wear. They are large enough to
cover most users’ ears and yet they aren’t too bulky
to feel uncomfortable. The headphones also aren’t
heavy as far as professional closed-back headphones
go, which is a big plus. The memory foam on the
headband and in the ear cushions is another big
advantage. It enables the headphones to sit tight
on the head without hurting or fatiguing the user.
We used the Spirit Professional headphones
extensively during this review and never found
them to be heavy or tiring. However, headphone
comfort is subjective. We can only share our own
experiences. Nor can we guarantee everyone will
feel comfortable using the Spirit Professional headphones for extended time periods.
As we mentioned earlier, closed-back headphones are not usually known for their high fidelity.
Their purpose is not to achieve the highest sound
quality possible; that’s a task typically assigned to
open-back designs. The main goal with a closedback headphone design is to assure a certain degree
of sound isolation, which the Focal Spirit Professional headphones certainly achieves.
Even though no specification is provided regarding ambient noise isolation, the Focal Spirit Professional headphones seem to be as good as any
professional closed-back models standard in the
studio, except possibly a few models targeted for
drummers that achieve even greater isolation.
When used as monitoring headphones in a
recording session, we must confess that we’re not
fans of the supplied spiral cord. It seems to add
some weight to the headphones and it may also
get in the way of playing. We’d much prefer to see
a longer straight cable to use when recording but
since it’s easy to swap the cable, there’s really no
problem with the bundled one. This is obviously a
personal preference, and some professionals may
enjoy the corded cable vs a straight one.
Despite being closed-back headphones, after
a reasonable amount of usage, we were surprised
to find that the Spirit Professional headphones
sound great. They are probably the best closedback headphones we’ve ever heard. Their level of
Manufacturer Specifications
Impedance: 32 Ω
Sensitivity: 102 dB SPL/1 mW at 1 kHz
THD: less than 0.3%/1 kHz/100 dB SPL
Frequency response: 5 Hz to 22 kHz
Drivers: 40-mm mylar/titanium
Net weight: 0.6 lb (280 g)
7052PH
Phantom Powered
Measurement Mic System
NOW 4Hz to 25+kHz
<16dBA >135dBSPL
IEC61094-4
Compliant
1dB/div
30 kHz
A soft carrying bag is included with the headphones.
detail, accuracy, and translation to the real world can only be compared with openback designs. This is an unfair comparison, they serve different applications and most
of the time different price ranges. However, it indicates their level of sound quality.
However, these are closed-back headphones. They are a bit heavy on the low end,
even though the bass response is accurate and detailed. It’s just slightly louder than
you would expect, though it may actually be a feature instead of a flaw since it enables
musicians to hear in greater detail what’s happening in the low end when recording.
Because of that, the Spirit Professional headphones don’t come out as being bright
headphones, even though they have just the right amount of top-end information to
provide very detailed and fast highs.
Their amount of detail and accuracy makes them good headphones to do quality
control and to check if a mix is well balanced when working in untreated rooms. The
fact that they provide a decent amount of isolation yet still maintain clean, detailed
sound should appeal to most professionals, because most closed-back headphones fail
in that respect. And that’s really what sets the Focal Spirit Professional headphones
apart from its main competitors.
Quality Headphones
The Focal Spirit Professional headphones cost $349, which is more than most
closed-back headphones on the market but it is still less than most comparable
European-made models. They are also better than most closed-back headphones on
the market. The headphones are a safe investment for audio professionals who need
a closed-back pair of headphones that serves many applications.
For the best audio performance, there are better options on the market, especially
if open-back headphones are considered. However, open-back headphones are usually
not an option in the studio. The Focal Spirit Professional headphones close the gap
between open-back and closed-back designs. Focal created an excellent product with its
Spirit Professional headphones, which will certainly find a place in a lot of professional
studios and with sound engineers everywhere.
For more information, visit www.focal.com. ax
Anechoic
Free Field
Response
Included
Rugged
STAINLESS
Body
Operational
<-20 to >70C
Storage
<-30 to >85C
Phantom
<18Vdc
to
>56Vdc
Removable
Capsule
Titanium
Diaphragm
www.acopacific.com
audioxpress.com | April 2014 | 21
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