In 2015, Focal introduced their first pair of in-ear headphones. Headphone enthusiasts waited anxiously, wondering if their performance could replicate the same level of hi-fidelity audio equipment the brand is known for.
Chances are, you ended up here because you saw a video on YouTube that peaked your interest, heard about these on a forum, or did some of your own research and are curious about whether or not they live up to the hype.
How well can a pair of in-ear headphones actually perform? Do they have passive noise isolation? Are they ideal for someone who wants to experience hi-res audio in compact form?
Our Focal Sphear Review will cover all of that and more. We’ll walk you through each of the most important factors to consider and why they’re important.
At the end, you’ll see a review table that lays out the main pros/cons, our final rating (out of 10), and our criteria for the rating they received. Are you ready to get started?
Focal Sphear Review – Hi-Res Earphones
Features & Technical Specs:
- Noise isolating, in-ear headphone design
- Features an omnidirectional in-line microphone (with an L-shaped 3.5 mm plug)
- Includes the following: Compact zip carrying case, 3 memory foam/3 silicone ear tips (S, M, and L)
- Single button remote (controls music/phone calls) on the Y junction
- Impedance: 16 Ohms
- Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
- Driver Type: Mylar electro-dynamic
- Driver Size: 10.8 mm
- Dimensions: 1.97 x 5.91 x 2.76 inches
- Weight: 0.48 ounces
Now that you’ve scanned the basic features and technical specs, let’s start with their sonic performance. How do they perform?
Sonic Performance – Hi-Res Audio Playback
Out of the thousands of people who own a pair of these, the majority of users agree that these ‘phones are nuanced, detailed, and also provide accurate imaging. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect from each range of frequency.
Bass Response – Is It Muddy?
We’ll start with the bass response. The low end frequencies are deep, detailed, punchy, and bright. They exceed expectations in this area since the electro-dynamic drivers manage to keep the lows balanced.
Each earphone contains a bass reflex system plus an acoustic chamber which helps provide (and improve) tonal balance. The general consensus is that the bass response isn’t too quiet or too loud – and definitely not muddy.
Mids – Do They Get Drowned Out?
The mids are very crisp and sit nicely next to the upper and lower range frequencies. There is a great deal of detail separation which prevents the mids from being drowned out by the lower and upper ranges.
Highs – Are They Clear, or Piercing?
In the upper range, the highs also perform very well, leaving users with very little to complain about. When listening to many pairs of headphones, distracting sibilance can often occur.
Here’s a brief description of sibilance if you’re not familiar with the term:
Sibilance is the term used to describe the piercing sound effect made when you hear “hiss”, “pssst”, or “shhhh” sounds.
On certain recordings, or when listening with certain pairs of headphones, these frequencies tend to stick out which creates a piercing effect inside your ear. (It’s definitely not the most comfortable experience.)
In-ear headphones are especially prone to excessive sibliance since they fit directly inside your ear canal. In this case, the Sphear produce zero (if any) issues with overwhelming sibilance.
Ear Tip Considerations – For Audio Quality
One more factor that’s important to keep in mind is that the ear tips you choose will have an effect on the quality and precision of your audio – especially for low end frequencies.
It’s important to use the earbud tips that best fit inside your ear canal since they should create a tight seal that’s pretty snug. Sometimes the importance of finding the right fit is overlooked even though it plays an essential role in maintaining optimal sonic performance.
Passive Noise Isolation
The included memory foam ear tips might be more comfortable for some, but most find that they don’t provide as much passive noise isolation as the silicone tips. Unless you already know which material you prefer, it will take a little self-experimentation to find out which style you prefer.
It’s also worth noting that while these do offer decent noise isolation, it’s nowhere near the same level as a quality pair of IEMs.
For example: mowing your lawn with a pair of Shure SE315 will completely isolate you from the sound of the motor. If you try using the Sphear while mowing the lawn, you will have to turn the volume up a lot higher (and even then you won’t be as isolated).
Is Any “Burn-In” Time Required?
If you pull these out of the box, plug them in, and find that they don’t perform as well as described (right out of the box) it’s most likely due to the slight “burn-in” time needed to fully warm them up.
Once you start to play hours and hours of audio through these ‘phones, they’ll start to sound better and better, until they’re performing at their best.
Not all headphones require this treatment but many of the higher-end models do and these are a prime example.
For Use With Streaming Services or Low Quality Digital Audio Formats
One thing that sometimes tends to be overlooked is the quality of the streaming service or portable player you’re listening with. The quality of the audio files uploaded onto some of the most-popular streaming services isn’t always exactly hi-res.
Although Tidal offers hifi audio formatting on their platform, services like Spotify and Amazon Music Unlimited have yet to join in on the fun.
If you use one of the non-hifi services, here’s the possible downside – you will probably start to notice a decrease in audio quality when you’re listening with these ‘phones.
As you start to use high-quality earphones, you’ll begin picking up on more details and flaws within a track. This isn’t to say that you can’t still enjoy your playlists on Spotify, it’s just another common piece of feedback to consider.
Plus, the good news is that it also means you’ll start picking up on other small details (you might’ve missed before) that add to the song.
Omnidirectional Microphone & Call Clarity
The omnidirectional microphone is in-line and fixed near the top of the left earbud. Calls come in loud and clear and there have been very few complaints about microphone clarity.
The placement of the mic isn’t absolutely ideal for some. There have been a few complaints about the mic weighing down the left side of the cable. In some cases, it has gotten to the point where the earbud has actually fallen out of the listener’s ear.
As you can probably guess, this feature alone will keep this model from being included on most of the “best earbuds for working out” lists.
Volume Control Button Functions
There is only one control button on the entire setup. It can be used to adjust volume as well as a few other purposes.
Here are the single button controls featured on the Y junction (as well as the functions they perform):
- Press the button once – play/pause/answer calls
- Press the button twice – skip to the next song
- Press the button three times – skip back to the previous song
The volume control function will work with most portable players, but some users have had issues controlling the volume on their particular smartphone (in this case an iPhone 6s Plus).
If you usually listen to music on your smartphone and you’re someone who doesn’t like reaching into your pocket to adjust volume or skip tracks, this could be a slight drawback.
Overall, the headphones themselves work fine across a wide range of players, with the volume control button being the only compatibility issue.
Silicone vs. Memory Foam Ear Tips – Finding The Right Fit
There are 6 different ear tips to sort through and choose from. 3 of them are memory foam and 3 are made of silicone. Each material type comes in small, medium, and large.
Most users find that the included tips fit well and are extremely comfortable. One user reported that they stayed comfortable the entire time during multiple 4-5 hour flights on an airplane.
Although this is true in most cases, some people almost always have trouble getting earbuds to stay in their ears (so if that describes you, you’re not alone). Is there anything you can do to make sure they stay securely in place? Take a look at the section below to see some of the most common fixes for this problem.
Will I Have To Buy Replacement Ear Tips?
Regardless of how much they just spent on a new pair of IEMs or earbuds, some listeners prefer to buy replacement ear tips right away.
They usually choose to take this route because:
A. they’re betting on receiving low quality (or ill-fitting) included tips
B. They realize that their ears don’t like to cooperate with most stock earbud tips
It seems that Focal is very aware of how often this experience occurs which is why they included multiple materials and multiple sizes. Luckily, replacing the ear tips on these ‘phones usually isn’t necessary. If you try every single size and material and still find that the fit could be better, you can always grab some of the best-selling replacement tips here.
Once again, the variety of tips included work just fine for most people, but there are always a few outliers.
Comfort & Build Design – Long Lasting or Short Lived?
We briefly mentioned comfort above, but we feel it deserves some extra attention and detail. The Sphear are extremely lightweight, weighing only 0.48 ounces.
Many users have reported leaving them in all night long or using them for extended periods of time without any complaints about them becoming uncomfortable. They have also received additional praise for being more comfortable than the 1More Triple Driver headphones (which have also gotten many positive reviews).
Comfort-wise, the main area of concern are the ear tips in order to achieve maximum comfort. As you’re most likely aware, using the right earbud tips plays a major role in your overall listening comfort.
Stainless Steel & High-Gloss Finish
The outside of each earbud is covered with a stainless steel ring to help prevent against major scratches and other regular wear and tear.
The nozzle of each earbud (the part that goes into your ear) has a high-gloss finish. Aesthetically, Focal designed a pretty impressive-looking and sleek pair of ‘phones. You might be thinking, “Okay they look good, but are they durable?“
Are There Any Major Durability Concerns?
Featuring stainless steel on the outside of an earbud isn’t very common but it does help improve overall durability. If you accidentally drop them on the floor (or they fall out for some reason) you don’t have to worry about them cracking or shattering.
Would we suggest running over them with your car? Definitely not. Are there any other major durability concerns (When it comes to durability – dropping them, keeping them in your pocket, or accidentally sitting on them won’t cause any major damage.
Zip-up Carrying Case For Easy Transport
This is especially true if you keep them in their zip-up carrying case (included). It’s recommended that you keep them tucked away in the carrying case if you’re taking them with you in a backpack, pocket, purse, or luggage. It has enough reinforcement to keep it safe and protected from most mishaps.
The headphone cable itself is thicker and sturdier than your standard iPhone earbud cable, while maintaining a lightweight presence in your ears. As long as you take care of them, it will last a lot longer than the ‘buds you’re used to getting with a new phone.
Durability Comparisons – What To Expect
If you were to compare their build quality and durability with other ‘phones (like the Aftershokz Trekz Titanium), they might not necessarily come out on top.
If you were to test their water-resistance and level of dust-proofing, they wouldn’t stand a chance. After all, that wasn’t meant to be the main intention for this specific model.
What’s The Final Verdict? – Weighing The Pros & Cons
Let’s do one final wrap-up before taking a look at the final checklist and our rating out of 10. In general, the positive feedback from other reviewers and users far outweighs the negative complaints.
They have an almost-perfect sonic performance (especially in this price range). Each earbud has a built-in bass reflex and acoustic chamber system which helps regulate each frequency and create detailed, dynamic hi-res playback.
Finding the right fit is made simple since you have 6 different ear tips (in silicone and memory foam) to choose from. Although the passive noise isolation isn’t quite perfect, it does a pretty good job of keeping out most loud noises.
Where they lack in noise isolation, their impressive sonic performance picks up the slack and provides more than you could ask for.
These in-ear headphones are highly rated across a wide range of other headphone review sites, and have gotten over 150 positive customer reviews on Amazon. During the first year of their release, they were awarded a Hi Fidelity Best Product of 2015 award.
We hope our Focal Sphear Review gave you plenty of details about the most important features and overall performance of these hi-res in-ear headphones. If there’s anything else we can do to help you weigh the options, leave your question or comment below! We always do our best to respond to questions and comments as quickly as we can.
Take a look at the review table below to see one final checklist, the main positive (and negative) features, as well as our final verdict. Use the link here or the button at the very bottom of the review table to see more customer reviews, star ratings, and/or pricing info on Amazon.
Thanks for stopping by to take a look at our review, we look forward to hearing from you! If you enjoyed this review, you’ll also appreciate listening to 10 of The Absolute Best Headphone Albums here.
Sonic Elevation: Ride The Waves.
Focal Sphear Hi-Resolution In-Ear Headphones
Comfort & Fit9.5/10
Build & Durability9.0/10
Passive Noise Isolation8.0/10
- Very Strong Sonic Performance
- Long-Lasting Comfort
- Impressive Tonal Balance & Detail
- Compact & Lightweight
- Zero Sibliance
- In-line Microphone Placement
- Noise Isolation Could Be Better
- Burn-In Time Required For Best Results