Powerful, distortion-free bass response. Lightweight, secure in-ear fit.
Lacking in the high-mids. USB port cover can pop off.
- Bottom Line
The Focal Spark Wireless headphones deliver a bass-forward sound signature that would benefit from more high-mid presence.
Focal's Spark Wireless Bluetooth earphones deliver some serious thunder in the bass department. At $99, they also offer a secure, lightweight fit and are easy to operate. That said, the profound bass response can overwhelm the mix at times, and even lovers of powerful low end might find themselves wishing for more crisp, high-mid presence in the mix. If you're a fan of the neckband-style design and booming bass, the Spark Wireless might be up your alley, but there are more compelling options in this price range—even for bass lovers.
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Available in black, white-and-silver, or white-and-rose gold, the earphones feature a flat, linguini-like neckband and earpieces that sport the Focal logo on the metallic end caps. Inside each earpiece, a 9.5mm Mylar driver delivers the audio. The in-ear fit is lightweight, secure, and comfortable, unless of course, you're not into the idea of a neckband in the first place. While the cable's surface is a matte rubber, the earpieces and inline compartments have a glossier finish to them.
Nearest the left earpiece, at roughly chin level, is the inline remote control compartment. The remote houses three buttons—a central multifunction button for playback and call management, and plus/minus buttons for adjusting volume and track navigation. (The volume works in conjunction with your mobile device's master volume levels.) We're not big fans of combining volume control and track skipping on the same buttons—it's too easy to accidentally skip a track when you meant to adjust the volume. This compartment also houses the micro USB connection for the included (but very short) micro USB charging cable.
Surprisingly, the snap-shut rubber cover that protects the micro USB port popped off—not open—fairly easily in testing, actually separating itself from the compartment altogether. You can press it back into place and reconnect it, but this is an annoyance, and a design flaw we rarely see. A weighted compartment at the halfway point of the cable sits behind the neck—this houses the Bluetooth circuitry, as well as the status LED.
The inline mic offers so-so intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we were able to understand every word we recorded, but there were plenty of audio artifacts, and the overall quality was fuzzy. This is typical of a Bluetooth inline mic, however, and for basic communication purposes, it'll do just fine.
Focal includes three pairs of silicon eartips (S, M, and L), a battery clip (it looks more like a magnetic cable cinch, but it allows you to fasten the compartment to your shirt while exercising), the aforementioned charging cable, and a small zip-up case.
Battery life is estiamted to be up to eight hours, but your results will depend on your volume levels.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the earphones deliver a powerful deep bass response and don't distort at top, unwise listening levels. At more moderate volume levels, the drivers deliver quite a thump—it should appeal to bass lovers, but there could definitely be a little more high-mid presence in the mix.
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Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the general sound signature. The drums on this track sound thunderous—they get a pretty heavy helping of deep bass response for quite a bit more thump than usual. Callahan's baritone vocals also receive a generous low-mid presence, giving his voice more richness. The high-mids feel dialed back, though—there's less treble edge on Callahan's vocals, the guitar strums have less brightness, and things seem generally shifted toward the lows. The sound signature isn't muddy, but it isn't the crisp, clear sound some listeners will be looking for.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop doesn't receive much of the high-mid presence that typically makes its attack retain its sharp edge and slice through the layers of the mix. Instead, you get a beefed up sustain for the drum loop, which gets plenty of low frequency boosting. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat also have lots of deep bass heft to them, but the track lacks the higher frequency presence that gives the overall mix better definition. The vocals are clear enough but lack their typical crispness. Again, bass lovers will not be disappointed—the earphones can certainly reproduce deep lows—but this is not a balanced sound signature that delivers lows matched with high frequency definition.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get more bass boosting than anyone seeking an accurate frequency response will want, but some listeners might enjoy the extra presence this lends to lower register instrumentation. The higher register brass, strings, and vocals retain a crisp presence despite the dialed-back high-mids, and things sound more balanced here than on other tracks we tested. That, however, is because this track lacks a powerful deep bass presence to shift the balance to the lows.
At $100, the Focal Spark Wireless earphones offer a secure fit and powerful bass response. But we've tested similarly priced models that deliver more high frequency definition along with the pumped lows. The Skullcandy Jib Wireless and the JBL Reflect Mini BT are both winners, while the more expensive Jaybird X3 is worth the higher price if you have room in your budget. And if you're looking to spend a little less, the 808 Audio Ear Canz is a solid option for its modest price. Focal doesn't get anything glaringly wrong here, but the sound signature isn't as compelling as other options we've tested.
By Tim Gideon Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear. More »
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