Focal Spirit Pro Stereo Headphone Review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Feb 14, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review: Focal Spirit Pro Stereo Headphone review by Dale - YouTube


    Sources: iPhone5, iPhone5 with FiiO E07k using LOD, iPhone5 with Decware Zen Head amp, various computers using the Microstreamer and Audioengine D3 DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the Spirit Pro are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - in particular the FAD Pandora VI, the Shure SRH1540, B&O H6, B&W P7, v-moda M100, Beyerdynamic T51p, and notes I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I describe how I relate to the Spirit Pro (i.e. my personal taste and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    Summarizing the sound (details below): The Focal Spirit Pro not only sounds very good, it sounds right. I came to this conclusion while listening for colorations of various kinds and finding none, but especially when hearing bass lines that seemed to render more perfectly than with the other headphones I have. Many of the music tracks listed below sound as though their final mixes could have been monitored with this headphone.

    When I first put the Spirit Pro on, I thought it sounded rich and dark, but not as rich as the Pandora VI for example, which has an enhanced signature at both ends of the spectrum. What I came to realize is that the Spirit Pro has a 'soft' high end, similar to the Shure 1540 and Beyer T51p, and noting that headphone soundstage and other properties are critically dependent on having a full treble response, I compensated for that partially with a slight increase around 3 and 7 khz. My adjustments are not based on my hearing, but on comparing the sound to the other headphones noted above, to try to be as objective as possible. In any case, whether you play the Spirit Pro flat or tweak it as I did, the overall sound is excellent - from a tight and solid low bass through an uncolored midrange to a smooth and detailed treble that's free of the sonic irritations that plague many headphones, even some of the more pricy variety.

    Although I describe the Spirit Pro as somewhat warm and dark sounding, it's not bassy nor is the bass anything but tight and detailed. This is probably very close to a true-neutral bass, but where many of the so-called neutral headphones have a deep bass rolloff, the Spirit Pro holds up well in that regard. The music samples below have comments about the deep bass that I hear and feel with this headphone, but even those comments don't convey the feeling of hearing great bass lines in tracks I'm familiar with, but haven't enjoyed as much as with the Spirit Pro. While the bass is good and detailed, people who do gaming or listen while on public transport where the background is heavy on low frequencies - those users will want a headphone with boosted bass, so for them I'd recommend something else. Like most headphones, the Spirit Pro improves noticeably with DACs and headphone amps as compared to using just a low-cost portable music player, and the Spirit Pro plays very loudly with typical iPods and cellphones.

    To appreciate the difference a good DAC and amp can make, play music using the DAC/amp first, then switch to a portable music player and hear the difference. That difference is usually subtle and difficult to appreciate the other way around: if you listen with the portable player first and then switch to the DAC/amp. I think that's because it's easier to hear what detail is lost in the former example instead of what's gained in the latter example, unless what's gained is dramatic. Isolation is above average - much better than 10 db at the treble frequencies but less less lower down, as it is with all non-noise-canceling headphones. Leakage is the lowest I can remember in a conventional closed headphone - if used in a very quiet office next to other cubicles, the people in those cubicles won't likely hear anything unless the Spirit Pro is played at extremely loud volume levels.

    The build quality is very good - mostly metal from what I can see. The headband has a strong clamp, but the earpads are very soft and squishy and have a high-quality pleather covering, so depending on a user's experience with professional headphones (and the 'Pro' in Focal Spirit Pro means what it says), good comfort can be achieved quickly when the earpads are positioned properly on the ears. The earcup openings measure approximately 40 x 48 mm, so they're going to be partially around and partly on-ear for most users, similar to the Sennheiser Momentum and other headphones that I've had. The earcups have very handy click detents, and the earcups can be extended about 1/2 inch further than where they fit my ears. Very large heads might not be able to squeeze into this headphone. The earcups don't quite contact my chin when they're fully extended and I'm wearing the headphone around my neck, so the Spirit Pro may serve as a portable headphone for users who don't want to carry a separate headphone carrycase.

    The cables (4m coiled and 1.4m straight with start/stop button and mic) are single-sided (left side) and detachable, they're rubber-coated and look strong, and the earcup end of the cables is a generic 3.5 mm miniplug. It seems that a generic cable could be substituted if a Focal cable could not be obtained. The terminator for the short cable has the extra ring for smartphones and etc., and both cables are threaded for a screw-on 6.35 mm (1/4 inch) adapter (included).

    The music tracks below have been listed in a number of prior reviews, and are a selection of my most revealing tracks for headphone testing. Since these tracks cover a wide range of genres and were selected from my tests of very different headphones, there won't be a bias toward the Spirit Pro with this music. I suggest that instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to the prior reviews and see how the Spirit Pro compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Focal Spirit Pro review part 2 - music tracks

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone with a modest weight, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The Spirit Pro plays this very well.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled perfectly by the Spirit Pro.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note for the Spirit Pro are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel some of the weight they carry.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The Spirit Pro plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the Spirit Pro.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The Spirit Pro plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The Spirit Pro reproduces the space and detail convincingly.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the Spirit Pro renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The Spirit Pro plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are detailed but not sharp or edgy.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine sounds very realistic - much better than what I hear with most headphones.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The Spirit Pro reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The Spirit Pro plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the subtle bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates a good deep-bass response. Overall, the Spirit Pro plays this music extremely well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the Spirit Pro. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The Spirit Pro provides excellent reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrumental separation and detail, and the Spirit Pro plays them extremely well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz. The Spirit Pro plays this very well.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is subtle but appreciable with the Spirit Pro.

    Phaeleh - Afterglow (feat. Soundmouse) (Electronic/Vocal): The instrumental sounds that begin this track are played very nicely by the Spirit Pro, but the voice tends to overwhelm those background sounds - until the heavy bass impacts kick in. If there is any doubt about whether the Spirit Pro will play heavy impactful bass with good detail (if such sounds are really in the recording), this track is the proof. If you were to begin your Spirit Pro listening with this track, you might think you were listening to a headphone that has a boosted but tight and detailed bass. Simply amazing.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The Spirit Pro reproduces these sounds faithfully.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The Spirit Pro reproduces that experience in a subtle but convincing way. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the Spirit Pro renders the tones and transients perfectly.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are quite strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The Spirit Pro delivers the impacts with a decent weight and great detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string tones beginning at 0:18 are fairly soft, and while the bass isn't very deep, it still adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with this track.

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