gear, modulating her phrases upwards in pitch and suddenly stepping up dynamics to sing with considerably more force and vigor. The effect is that of seeing (and of course hearing) two different sides of the singer’s personality, and what’s impressive is that the Spirit One seems equally comfortable as it reproduces both of them is sharp juxtaposition.
Still, you can hear hints of the “relaxed, easygoing” qualities I alluded to above on “Pride and Joy.” I have noticed that through some headphones (and with some amps in play), Carlile’s vocal can exhibit traces of a certain glassy-sounding, unnatural upper midrange and treble sheen (it sounds impressive in a way, yet wrong). But with the Spirit Ones in play, that glassy quality never materializes—not even in passages where Carlile is singing at full voice and with serious gusto. This is an instance where Focal’s clever voicing choices plainly work out in the listeners’ favor, capturing delicate inflections and vibrato where desirable, but without imposing more upper midrange/treble detail than we bargained for.
But there is more to the Spirit One than suave midrange delicacy, because this is a headphone that is ready, willing, and able to handle more boisterous, full-range music should the mood strike you. A good example would be the potent, upbeat, forceful instrumental blues track “If You Love Me Like You Say” from Debbie Davies’ Holdin’ Court [Little Dipper]. Davies’ howling Stratocaster is, as you might expect, the centerpiece of this song, but to my way of thinking the engine that really drives the song forward would be the terrific rhythm section of Davies’ band. The Spirit Ones do a terrific job of reproducing the sound of the drum kit (and in particular the hard, crisp, yet surprisingly deep “pop” of the snare drum), while also giving the powerful yet also articulate voice of the electric bass guitar it’s due. Many headphones I’ve heard have tended either to underplay the power of the bass guitar (perhaps because they just don’t have enough low frequency “oomph” to do it justice), or else give the bass a loose, overblown, larger-than-life quality (perhaps because they are trading away bass quality for quantity). But the Spirit Ones are different in that they give the sound of the instrument an appropriately full measure of weight and heartiness yet also reveal the agile, bouncy, infectiously syncopated qualities of the lines being played. With foundations like these, it’s hard to listen to “If You Love Me Like You Say” through the Focal without experience a certain impulse to get up boogie in time to the music.