Focal Spark Review (Page 3 of 4)

Page 3 - Subjective Audio Analysis

Yes, my iPhone has a headphone jack.

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). On the wired, analog side, tests were conducted primarily with the Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD sound card (Creative CA20K2 DSP/APU, National Semiconductor LME49720NA OpAmp, JRC NJM4580 signal buffers, Cirrus Logic CS4382A DAC, Nichon MUSE ES capacitors). For portable tests, I mainly used an Apple iPhone 6. 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 240 hours of break-in time -- well above typically required period -- we put the Focal Spark to the tests. All tracks were uncompressed CDs, FLAC, or LAME encoded MP3s at 192kbps or higher.

In general, I found the Focal Spark 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 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. 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 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 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, in general, feel like it was more neutral than energetic.

I expected the large 9.5mm drivers on the Focal Spark 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 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 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.

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.

Page Index
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Physical Look - Hardware
3. Subjective Audio Analysis
4. Conclusion