Page 3 - Subjective Audio Analysis
Even though my iPhone has a headphone jack, the Focal Spark Wireless will allow you to live without.
Reviewing audio devices require extensively trained ears and lots of experience. Even for audiophiles, it may prove challenging at times to obtain an accurate evaluation of a product without a thoroughly familiar product to use as a simultaneous reference. While I am not going to even try to claim that I am the only trustworthy or best reviewer for sound, it is fact that most computer review sites have editors who are insufficiently trained in reviewing audio equipment. Give them practically anything and all you will read about goes along the line of "good bass, nice midrange, awesome treble, really clear sound, 10/10". While there are many knowledgeable audio reviewers at various respected online media outlets, they are by far the minority.
As I have mentioned in my past audio reviews, there are really no true objective measurements for speaker sound quality. As the reviewer, however, I will put it through a series of subjective tests to try to come up with the most objective rating possible (Yes, it is quite a paradox haha). For portable tests, including wirelessly via Bluetooth, I used an Apple iPhone 6 and Google Nexus 9. These are some of the best consumer sound equipment out there in the market today, and will reduce its potential to be a limiting factor in our auditioning.
After over 30 hours of break-in time -- well above typically required period -- we put the Focal Spark Wireless to the tests. All tracks were uncompressed CDs, FLAC, or LAME encoded MP3s at 192kbps or higher.
In general, I found the Focal Spark Wireless to have a generally neutral sound character with a slightly dark overtone. This was created by its slightly accentuated bass, slightly pulled back midrange, and slightly dark treble output. This made the Spark Wireless reasonably balanced and acoustically pleasant to listen to, but it comes at the expense of energy.
Starting from the bass, it was delivered in a deep, solid, and rounded manner. The smooth transitions were not distracted by every hit that was faithfully reproduced in a punchy and defined sense; making everything was well articulated in this region. I particularly like the fact its bass was powerful without overwhelming the listener.
Moving up the frequency range, the midrange was certainly not the highlight of the day, but it was far from being a weak point with the Focal Spark Wireless. When listening to music on these earphones, voices were reasonably natural and warm. The slightly pulled back midrange as aforementioned was of average thickness with acceptable saturation and richness. The spanning range was about normal as well -- no surprises here, although clarity was excellent -- and the Spark Wireless was also able to reproduce wooden resonance well for piano based songs.
When it comes to the treble, even though it was on the darker side, the Focal Spark Wireless still delivered a nice level of sharpness and tightness. Every hit on a drum's high hat was wet, crisp, and clear; in the same way, instruments that claim an output in this region was very cleanly reproduced. Even though the treble was immediate, again, it was shadowed by a darker overtone, making the Spark Wireless, in general, feel like it was more neutral than energetic.
I expected the large 9.5mm drivers on the Focal Spark Wireless to be a star in soundstaging. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The soundstage was not very defined; where its width and depth was turned out to be quite narrow. If there is anything the Focal Spark Wireless really lacked on, this would have been it. That said, imaging was fairly realistic; about what you would expect to be from the original recording in a neutral manner.
Closing off with the auxiliary auditioning results, the layers were precisely produced with a high amount of detail. The resolution was nearly perfect across the range, as it picked up practically everything and anything in a quality encoded track. Deriving from this, the frequency separation was excellent, too. Again, every detail was very well reproduced across the range, even for complicated tracks, thanks to its clear, high definition, and clean separation. At the same time, the entire spectrum was cohesive with no transition effects, making it some of the smoothest earphones I have heard here at APH Networks. I was also very impressed by how clean the sound came out to be.
The Focal Spark Wireless is a closed IEM, and comes with three different sized sleeves for maximum compatibility. The earphones had a good fit in my ears, provided great seal for excellent environmental sound isolation. The microphone also worked very well for calls on the go.
Compared to its wired counterpart, the Spark Wireless sounded a very tiny bit harsher. The wired Spark was ever slightly richer, warmer, and had more detail for cleaner output, even when plugged in to my iPhone. I had an extremely hard time telling the difference between the two though, and unless you are deliberately trying to pick out the difference by using them side-by-side, one could say both are basically the same thing.
The Focal Spark Wireless suffered from a problem common to all products in this category: Background hissing noise when turned on. You probably will not be able to hear it when you are on the train or the bus, but you will definitely be able to pick it up it in quieter locations. In terms of lag, I did not notice any significant delay; audio appeared to be properly synchronized to videos I was watching on my iPhone.
The Spark Wireless' rated wireless range is about 15 meters, and from my tests, it seemed to be very idealistic unless you have a perfect line of sight environment with absolutely no shadowing or interference. I could walk a couple rooms over in my house and still maintain a reasonable consistent connection. That said, in busier areas, such as usage on the train or bus, I experienced some wireless inconsistency issues when paired to my Apple iPhone 6.
The company estimates the battery to last around 8 hours on a single charge. At around 50% volume, this was almost bang on according to my tests. Note I did not press any buttons on the remote in the process, which may reduce the battery life. One annoying thing about the Spark Wireless was its inaccurate battery reporting. For example, it would drop from 40% to 10% all of a sudden. Also, when the battery capacity drops to 10%, the Spark Wireless will interrupt your music periodically to announce "battery low".
Overall, the Focal Spark are smooth and acoustically pleasant earphones to listen to, with a generally neutral character that carried a slightly dark overtone. Its smoothness was the real highlight, although its soundstage -- or lack thereof -- was not.
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Physical Look - Hardware
3. Subjective Audio Analysis