Last year I got the chance to test my first pair of Focal ear buds (The Sphear) and was blown away by the quality and low price point. Focal as some of you may know is a high-end speaker manufacturer that specializes in audiophile speakers that can run in the tens of thousands. With such a premium brand image it was surprising that Focal would introduce headphones that cost so little, but maybe that was exactly the point.
This year they have dropped the Spark / Spark Wireless, an even lower price point bud line coming in at $69 for the wired and $99 for the wireless model.
We are dangerously close to Skullcandy territory with these prices, and this is where I stop paying attention. Most models in this category ($99 and under) are made for tweens, weekend warriors or people that just don't care much about sound quality.
The team at Focal have bucked the trend once again and delivered some buds that sound exceptionally solid for this usually unpleasant grouping.
The build on the headphones is better that you would expect with flat cables to prevent tangling and an aluminum finish.
Both Spark models are also incredibly light, which is helpful when working out or frequent traveling. Unlike the Sphear, the Sparks are a more traditional bullet shape and house a 9.5mm electrodynamic mylar driver that is easily powered by any smartphone.
Both models come with a 3-button remote and omnidirectional mic, which is pretty standard even at this price point. The mic is a lot better than I thought it would be and sounded great on both Skype and cellular calls.
Note: If you own and iPhone 7/7+ and are using the Spark wired model with the lightning adapter the volume control on the remote does not function for some reason.
The buds come with a nice little hard case to prevent them from getting crushed, three silicone tips (s, m, l), a charging cable (wireless), and sports clip (wireless). The case is a nice touch and is small enough to put in your pocket with ease unless you are wearing skinny jeans you hipster you.
How do they sound?
Both the wired and the wireless models sound fantastic for their category and most people will quite pleased aside from the more hardcore audiophiles. I tested the Spark with neo-classical, jazz, ambient, house, techno and indie rock and both models delivered well across lows, mids, and highs with very nice balance. The buds struggled a bit with heavy sub-bass, and more technical guitar and jazz licks but that's to be expected with buds in this category. The thinner midrange is what most sound nerds will notice, but your average music fan will be thrilled overall with the smooth and sparkling performance.
The wireless model doesn't lose much dynamic quality surprisingly but if you are looking for the best sound possible, the wired is always the better bet, and it's $20 cheaper.
If you are looking for reasonably priced earbuds to use with your smartphone, tablet or laptop, these are an excellent bet. The audiophile DNA from Focal makes a big difference, and the fact that they can deliver a product with this kind of sound for under a hundred bucks is pretty stellar. You will be hard pressed to find anything better in either a wired or wireless bud, and they are light, stylish and comfortable to boot.