In their rather short foray into the headphone market, Focal has become my favorite brand for personal music enjoyment. Their line of higher end over-ears are excellent sounding and well-built tanks and I’ve enjoyed each one I’ve tried. I had yet to try any of their IEMs in their line up: the Spark and the Sphear, or their wireless and “S” models.
Recently, these models have seen dramatic price drops with the Focal Spark found for as little as $19.99, the wireless for $35, and the Sphear for $65 on many popular online marketplaces. I decided to get the Focal Spark on an Amazon third-party retailer for $24.99 (white cost more than blue), and I’m happy to say, for this price, this is a really solid offering.
The Spark originally retails at $69, while the wireless model MSRP was at $99. Even at these prices, the models can compete with the best China has to offer in-terms of quality and budget performance.
Let’s take a quick look.
The Focal Spark features a 9.5mm dynamic driver housed in an extremely lightweight aluminum body. The polished mirrored ends add luxury to this product as well as the machined out Focal wave logo which also acts as a bass port on the back. Given this design, the IEM is meant to be worn down, which is more comfortable and easier to put on for many, and I never had issues wearing these with foam tips.
The cable is not removable and replaceable. The cable is also flat, which I typically do not like, but isn’t a tangled mess like I have seen in other brands that go with the flat cable look (Audeze Sine and iSines, for example). The cable also features a mic and control module that works with Android devices to Play/Pause and adjust volume and skip tracks. This volume controls did not seem to work on iPhones however.
In addition to this, Focal added a set of tips in varying sizes and a nice fabric, zippered carrying case that is very small and compact and has the Focal logo on it. I found this case quite nice and usable.
The Spark is a V-shaped IEM, so it’ll color the sound a bit with emphasized bass and treble. The Frequency Response chart I plotted using MiniDSP EARS and Dayton IMM-6 do not fully represent how controlled the bass is though.
If you look at the chart on it’s own, it’ll look like a bass monster. And that’s why you can’t just look at an FR Curve and call it a day. There’s other things to factor in – like impulse, decay, and distortion. So, back to bass – I find the bass is definitely emphasized and has great quantity, but also has a nice speed of attack to it that is starting to feel like a Focal signature. It’s nowhere near the speed and attack or the dynamics of their high-end over-ear lineup, but it’s got a surprisingly good speed to it for ultra-budget dynamic in-ear drivers. And this allows the bass to be relatively tight and clean despite it’s obvious boost.
The mid-range, despite being recessed in the V-shape signature, sounds smooth and tonally coherent. In busy tracks, or ones with heavier bass, the mids do tend to fall a bit behind in the scene though. On occasion, the typical emphasized bass muddiness does rear it’s head on the lower mids and that’s unfortunate. This doesn’t really become an issue for me on simpler tracks or when listening at lower volumes, but as your move volume up, the sense of bass also does increase and therefore the muddiness starts to creep up a little more.
Treble is surprisingly non-sibilant and not in anyway harsh. It’s actually rather smooth, given the V-shaped signature, where this area typically becomes very peaky. Focal seemed to control this by dropping the treble spike in the typical area where harshness and sibilance can occur, around 8KHz, and this seems to help keep the general sound signature very smooth while still retaining energy and air, as the upper treble continues to climb back up.
The soundstage on this IEM is medium-wide and imaging is quite good for a $69 IEM and especially good for $20-25.
Knowledge Zenith AS10
The AS10 and Spark have similar sound signatures however I found the AS10 to have punchier bass, but more bloated as well. The mids on the AS10 sound more recessed and the treble sharper and edgier. The Spark on the other hand sounds more laid back and controlled.
Tin Hifi T2/T3
The Tin Hifi products have been extremely popular and both offer a more neutral bass and mids section than the Spark, however will have a see a sharper, and sometimes harsher treble. Both of these increase in treble as you move up the frequency chart, while the Spark drops off in the sibilance region and increases later on for more air. The Spark will definitely be more bassy and warm compared to the more cooler sounding T2 and T3s and will not compete with the details of the T3.
Knowledge Zenith ZSN
The ZSN follows very similar tonal characteristics of the Tin T2 but with a mids-area that’s more akin to the Spark as it’s slightly recessed compared to the more coherent and forward mids in the Tin Hifi products. The Spark will be more bassy than the ZSN as well, but will have less harshness in the lower treble than the ZSN, while providing more extension later on.
The V80 is another one similar to the T2 with even more upper end treble brightness, and is therefore, quite a bit brighter than the Spark which will move forward a lot of details and energy. While the V80 is slightly warmer than the T2, the Spark still tops all of these in terms of bass boost.
I found the Focal Spark to be quite an attractive and fun sounding IEM at the $25 price I paid for it and still find it a good price at it’s MSRP of $69, even when comparing it to it’s Chinese-brand competition like the KZ AS10 and Tin Audio T2/T3. I really enjoyed the bass attack on it that did not bleed as much as I thought it would into the mids while being boosted for working with genres I don’t typically listen to, and I also really liked the look of the bullet-shaped aluminum housing with it’s inscribed Focal branding and cut out Focal wave vent ports.
Where I found lacking was the occasional bass-mids muddiness and the non-detachable cable. Despite being a flat cable, which I typically dislike, this specific iteration of it is not horrible. It’s serviceable. And in general, this is quite a serviceable IEM for $25 street price right now.