Two in the Strike Zone: Focal Spirit Professional and Spirit Classic

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Focal Spirit Professional ($349) and Spirit Classic ($399)
Focal is pretty new to the world of headphones. They had a bit of a stumble with their Spirit One initial headphone offering a year and a half ago, but they seemed to have learned in the process—and learned a lot—as evidenced by their lates offerings in the Spirit Professional and Classic. These are two very fine headphones. Amazingly good actually, considering how new Focal is to the category. I'm reviewing them here together as they're quite similar in many regards—one is not better than the other in my experience, it's more a matter of deciding which would most likely suite your tastes.

Both the Spirit Professional and Classic are around-the-ear, sealed headphones largely of plastic construction but very nicely implemented from my perspective. Ear-pads are protein leather covered memory foam and ear-cup dimensions are a little on the small size. (Focal inside ear-cup dimensions 48mm X 38mm, Sennheiser Momentum is 48mm X 34mm). Ear-pads are attached with an adhesive tape ring, and I've been told that replacement ear-pads will be available in the not too distant future. The caliper pressure (how much the headphone squeezes in on your head) is also a little high. As a result of ear-cup size and caliper pressure these headphones can be a little uncomfortable out of the box. I did find, however, that the ear-pads do tend to break-in some over time, and the headband can be stretched a bit to provide relief (see video). After about a week of wear I found the cans still fit closely to my head, but have become quite a bit more comfortable. This close but reasonably comfortable fit can be quite advantageous in professional and mobile applications where a secure fit on the head allows greater freedom of movement. None the less, for those who have large ears the NAD VISO HP50 (inside cup measurements 61mm X 38mm) may be a better choice.

I also found that the tilt and rotate adjustments on the headphones are slightly tight. For long listening sessions I found myself making some small adjustments so that the ear-pad pressure around my ears was evenly distributed. I recommend care be taken to manually adjust these cans for an exact fit early in your listening session, and you'll be able to listen for longer.

Both headphones have a folding mechanism that allows the earpieces to fold upwards and in toward the headband, and both come with a simple drawstring carry bag for transport and storage. The box the headphones come in is also very nicely designed for long term storage with foam cut-outs for the headphones, cables, and accessories.

Cables enter the headphones at the left earpiece with a slender 3.5mm plug—there is no locking mechanism so it's possible that after-market cables may be used, but the plug body must be 0.237" (6.04mm) in diameter or less to enter the jack hole in the earpiece. Both headphones come with two cables: one 56" long straight cable with one-button remote terminated in a 3.5mm plug with threads for the supplied screw-on 3.5mm to 1/4" adapter; and one 4 meter cable similarly terminated (straight on the Classic, coiled on the Professional). I liked the long cables for around the office as they give you plenty of room to move around without getting the headphones yanked off your head. My only gripe with the cables is that the plug body on the player end of the short remote cable is quite fat and may not reach in through some protective cases to seat properly in the player jack.

Styling has become an important factor in headphone design these days and there are some truly beautiful headphones in this category (B&W P7, Sennheiser Momentum, Sony MDR-1R). I don't think the Focal Spirit models quite measure up in this area—the hinge mechanism sticks out from your head some and appears a bit awkward—but I also think they're a big step up from the gray/black plastic blobs of old. The choice of colors and finish on both cans is handsome and understated, and considering the fact that the mechanics work well and the cans fit close and securely, and more importantly sound so good, that I think their slightly pedestrian looks are perfectly fine.

The Spirit Professional is a headphone designed for audio pros and as such focusses on durability. The finish on painted parts is jet black spackle-paint where the spackle bumps are gloss and the underlying black paint is semi-gloss. The remaining parts are either semi-gloss or matte black.

The headband is in three major parts: a central headband with pad that provides flexibility, and rigid slider receiver assemblies to either side. The headband cushion attached to the central section is protein leather over memory foam that provides ample comfort for the top of your head.

The Spirit Classic is designed primarily for home and office use (though it works well as a somewhat larger than normal portable headphone) and sports a rather more traditional headphone look. The headband is completely wrapped with a dark brown protein leather covered padding. Ear-pads are a matching deep brown. The remaining parts of the headphone are subtly varying shades of bronze. Again, a classic conservative look.

Let's get on with the best part: Sound Quality.

Focal's US Distributor: Audio Plus Services
156 Lawrence Paquette Industrial Drive
Champlain, NY 12919
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