Focal Spark in-ear-headphones review: Refined audio and French style on a budget

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Pondering things quintessentially French evokes thoughts of fine wine, elegant cuisine, and romance. That’s all well and good for Francophiles. When audiophiles think of France, venerable speaker manufacturer Focal is likely to come to mind. And while Focal’s speakers can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, the company builds some amazingly affordable headphones. The Spark in-ear (as well as the wireless headphones reviewed in this story) are cases in point.

The wireless models sell for just $99, and the wired models reviewed here are even less-expensive at $69. Those price points normally scream “Budget!” with all the price-to-performance tradeoffs that label infers. You won’t find that with either of these two products.

The Focal Spark are light to the point where I would frequently forget that I had them in my shirt or pants pocket. They weigh a mere 14 grams, which is a tad more than Apple’s ear buds, which tip the scales at 10.2-grams. Focal’s Spark comes styled with a bullet-shaped ear plug with an aluminum finish. Inside you’ll find a 9.5mm-diameter electrodynamic mylar driver that Focal says delivers frequency response from 20Hz to 20kHz. With an impedance of 16 Ohms and a sensitivity of 103dB, you’ll have no problem driving the Spark with just about any mobile smart device or digital audio player.

Unlike most in-ear headphones, the Focal Spark come with a flat, rubber cable. The cable has a great fit and feel to it. It will also reject transferring rubbing-induced noise. I pulled the cable across clothing and ran my fingers up and down the cable without any noise coming through.

Focal says that the cable is supposed to be anti-tangle; however, that doesn’t mean I never had to untangle the cable. It never got into a Gordian knot, a phenomenon that Apple’s headphones are notorious for, but it did help mitigate the extent of the tangle. In my experience, unless a headphone comes with a high-quality nylon braid or a coated surface, it will always catch to some degree.

The Focal Spark has an inline remote. Focal

The Focal Spark has a thin, flat cable with an inline remote.

The right cord has a traditional three-button remote. The middle button toggles play/pause modes, while the top and bottom buttons adjust volume. Clicking the center button twice advances to the next song while triple clicking reverses. Clicking and holding the play/pause button will activate Siri. The volume buttons will mysteriously stop working if you use Apple’s 3.5mm-to-Lightning adapter. Therefore iPhone 7 users will have a problem. Focal confirmed with me that the issue exists, but did not say when or if this would be fixed.

The inline remote’s barrel is substantive and easy to hold in your hands. The buttons are well spaced, so that even though they are the same shape, you can make them out by touch alone.

The inline remote doubles as an omnidirectional microphone. I conducted several calls without issue and people on the other end of the call could always hear me clearly. The microphone was simply excellent. That’s no small feat for an in-ear-monitor.

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