Quality headphones come at a price, but the $179 Focal Sphear In-Ear Headphones prove that sometimes it's worth it to splurge. As the French company's first foray into in-ear music makers, these buds provide good sound quality; a unique, rounded design; and compatibility with just about any smartphone. While there is solid competition in this price range, the Sphears break through the noise and do a good job of standing out.
Once I saw the Sphear headphones for the first time, I understood their name. The buds have a friendly, rounded design with Peanut M&M-sized backs that are flat on one side. Focal claims this design not only allows the buds to hold a large, 10.8mm driver, but also shifts the buds' weight to the outer part of the ear for more comfort. The ear inserts jut out from the rounded side, sporting standard silicone tips.
The in-line remote also takes on this circular design, appearing as a disk at the converging point of the left and right wires. While the remote doesn't have a volume rocker, it does have a single button that you press once to take calls or pause/play music. You can press the same button twice quickly to skip a song or three times to go back a track.
I was happy to see that the Sphears don't utilize an over-ear wire design, in contrast to the $199 Shure SE315 Sound Isolating Earphones and the $199 RHA T10i Noise Isolating In-Ear Headphones. I fuss more with buds when their wires are draped over the backs of my ears, so I was relieved to avoid that with the Sphears.
The Sphears are compatible with iOS devices and "most Android and Windows devices." I used them with my iPhone as well as a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. While Focal's website advises that the "previous" function may not work on some Android devices, it and all the multifunction controls worked fine on the S6 Edge.
Comfort and Fit
The Sphears come with three pairs of silicone ear inserts and three pairs of foam ones. I wore the largest pair of the silicone inserts, but I appreciated having the foam options for better noise cancellation.
Thanks to their weight-shifting backs, the buds were comfortable and did not require constant readjustment. I also like the headphones' flat, disklike backs, which made it easier to tap the buds deeper into my ears when necessary.
The Focal Sphears create a bubble of sound in your head, immersing you in crisp audio. For example, Pharrell's "Freedom" is an emotional, chantlike song, and you must pay mental and aural attention to the artist's soft singing voice to understand the tune's meaning. The Sphears don't make you work hard to do this, amplifying Pharrell's voice just enough that you can hear each word easily, while retaining the track's subtlety.
I appreciated the Sphears' attention to detail the most. In Lee Brice's country ballad "I Don't Dance," the faint triangle sounds in the intro and the cymbals in the chorus are normally lost. But on the Sphears, these notes come through clearly, restoring the song's fanciful feel.
The Sphears have similar sound quality to the $199 Shure SE315s, but the Sphears won't block out as much outside sound as Shure's buds, unless you're wearing the foam ear inserts. You also won't get the interchangeable tuning filters that the $199 RHA T10is provide, but those headphones have softer audio quality.
The $179 Focal Sphears are top-notch earbuds you can feel good about buying. Their unique design is not only comfortable, but also convenient and easy to readjust. The one-button, in-line remote provides a quick fix when you want to pause or skip a song, and the ear inserts consistently stay put in your ears.
For better noise isolation, you can invest a little more, and get the $199 Shure SE315s. Those who want extra control over sound quality will appreciate the interchangeable tuning filters of the $199 RHA T10i. But for those who want quality music makers for a little bit less than what the competition costs, the Focal Sphear earbuds are a great choice.