Any number of high-end loudspeaker manufacturers have entered, or contemplated entering, the high-performance headphone marketplace, and it is easy to understand why. For an entire generation of music enthusiasts, entry-level “hi-fi” systems are now more likely to be based on headphones than on speakers. Recognizing this trend the powerhouse French speaker maker Focal has now joined the ranks of latter day headphone manufacturers with its lovely new Spirit One headphone ($279)—a product that in many ways aims to embody the firm’s sonic values and overall design aesthetic.
I first saw the then-unreleased Spirit One as a design study mock-up the 2011 CEDIA show, and from the outset I felt it was a bit of a sleek, European looker. I’m pleased to report that all the little textural details and nuanced design elements that made that initial static demo model look so cool have found their way into the full production model I now hold in my hands. But more importantly, the Spirit One captures a meaningful measure of the traditional Focal sound—a sound characterized by unforced natural warmth and a certain suave, sophisticated presentation.
I won’t try to tell you that the Spirit One is the sonic equivalent of Focal’s mighty (and mighty expensive) Grande Utopia EM flagship loudspeaker, which would be an implausible stretch. But, I will tell you the Spirit One might very well be the most appealing, accessible, and cost effective “entry-level loudspeaker” that Focal makes. And that, as you’ll see in a moment, is a very fine thing to be.