Focal Spirit One S – Review
As you may know, I think that both Focal Spirit Classic & Professional are one of the best closed headphones in that price range, and I do own a pair of Classics myself.
Focal did a excellent job entering this market and they want to show us that they’ve been quite busy lately, as they came up with yet another very interesting headphone: the Spirit One S. It is the same price as Spirit One, actually a bit cheaper than it. While I expected to be in the same league with it’s older brother, this headphone was quite a surprise to me. Hang in for the details.
Build quality and presentation
This is the fourth headphone Focal made and it looks like an evolution indeed. One S is meant to be portable, and it does a great job at that. It is just as portable and it takes the finesse and strong build quality from Spirit Classic. It certainly looks better and it is also more comfortable than Spirit One. The cup size is bigger than on Spirit One and the same size as Classic and Professional. However, the pads are softer, making it the most comfortable headphone from Focal I’ve tested yet.
One S kind of the same specs as Spirit Classic, but from what I’ve read from Focal’s website they made a few modifications :
Spirit One S is designed with portability in mind. Its frequency response has been improved in the bass to provide a perfect equilibrium of tonal balance in noisy environments. Rich mid-treble, spatialisation, exceptional acoustic definition and high dynamic are here for the taking thanks to drivers which have a large diaphragm (40mm/19/16″) with exemplary lightness.
The tests have been done with Audio-Gd Master 9, MSB Analog Dac, AG500 Power Regenerator, Focal Spirit Classic, Focal Spirit One .
My jaws fell on the floor. I was kind of sleepy when I started this review. The energy and slam of the song with One S were absolutely amazing. Those electric guitars, the bass, voice, drums blended in a perfect energetic beam that inserted life in my vains, kind of a hulk moment or Popeye the Sailor Man with his spinach. The bass had more slam and depth than Spirit One, the voices had better presence and extension. Also the soundstage was deeper and the sounds had more space between them.
The Handsome Family – Far from any Road
The first thing you notice when you come from spirit one, is a bigger, deeper soundstage, a grander sound overall. The bass impact is bigger, presenting better punch and better depth. The voices are better textured, better extended, with a lush, warm tonality. They are not the most natural voices, sometimes being a little too well extended in the lower frequencies region, but very pleasant and fun to listen to. The drums and the other instruments have a very nice tactile feeling that give a very energetic feeling to the song.
Pearl Jam – Nothing as it Seems
The dynamics are great on these headphones. The guitar on the left channel has an incredible tactile feeling, as it was plucked right there, near your ear. While this guitar is tickling your left year, the electric guitar on the right side is very well extended and gives the song a very holographic feeling, showing good layering and instrument separation. The voice is very intimate and very well textured. When both electric and normal guitars start getting serious, the One S becomes extremely fascinating. Loved this song so much on it that I’ve listened to it twice. The extension of the guitars was more realistic and better extended than even on Spirit Classic.
The slam, detail and depth of the bass are amazing, as it’s not slow at all, being quite fast and keeping excellent control. Not to mention the energy of all the instruments and the lush and full voice made the song extremely enjoyable.
Leonard Cohen – The Old Revolution
Again, the plucks of the guitars are incredibly tactile and have a great and deep extension. The voice is there with you, invading your thoughts and mind, hypnotizing you with it’s very good extension, lush tonality and texture.
Infected Mushroom – Project 100
This song was made for Focal Spirit One S. The heavy electric guitars hit you with their deep and impactful tonality. All the energy of the song was sent to me, making me head bang throughout the whole song.
Andre Rieu – Bach’s Air on a G String
Well, One S handled this song better than I expected. It actually had a deeper soundstage than Spirit Classic. It also has a decent amount of details, good instrument separation and layering. However, Classic did have a clearer sound, with a taller soundstage and overall more detailed presentation (except for the lower frequencies, where One S did better).
Vivaldi – Autumn – Allegro (La Caccia)
This was indeed a very interesting surprise, as I think I slightly preferred One S to Classic here. The soundstage was clearly deeper and overall bigger than with Classic. The extension of the instruments was very well extended and the decay was longer but seemed more natural to my ears. This clearly shows that One S can also handle classical/instrumental music very well.
I am not a bass head. If you remember, I wasn’t a big fan of Sennheiser Momentum, as it had too much bass. Well…I’m fascinated with the bass on One S as it is very deep, but managing to keep excellent control. I never felt for one second that it invaded other frequencies. Also the speed, detail and slam of the bass are incredible. Overall, in this department, I think it is my favorite headphone from Focal yet.
The mids are lush, but detailed and very pleasant. Also, the voices are very well extended and textured, giving a very good presence in the sound. This is a very important step up over the Spirit One, where the voices had less presence.
Again, this is a step up over Spirit One, as it is more linear and better extended. However it’s not quite in the Classic’s league here.
I feel like the One S has the deeper soundstage of all 3 headphones. Instruments go further in the scene, having a more natural decay and feeling. Because of this, on some classical/instrumental music, it gives a more natural sound presentation.
Classic, having better extended treble, has a taller soundstage sometimes, but not as deep, and in comparison it sounds a little closed in compared to One S.
One S, keeps the energetic signature found in all it’s brothers. On some songs it manages to transmit the energy so well that it makes you dance while listening to them.
The attack is explosive and the decay is better extended than on all it’s brothers, giving in my opinion, a very natural and extended sound presentation.
All the Focal headphones have this quality, but One S is a little different, as with the others the impact is more sparkly, One S adds more body, making the sounds tactile but fuller and more impact.
Even if it excels at rock and electronic music it proved to be excellent with instrumental and vocal music as well.
Compared to Spirit One
While Spirit One has faster transients that make the guitar plucks and other instruments more sparkly, the One S was clearly superior as it had better extended bass, considerably bigger soundstage, better extended treble, more present and extended voices. Besides that, it has bigger and more comfortable cups. I wouldn’t think too much until I pick the new One S.
Compared to Spirit Classic
This is a tough one. Spirit Classic is a little more detailed from the middle of the mids and on the treble section, while One S has more detail in the lower frequencies. Classic has a faster bass, while One S has a deeper and punchier bass. I like the bass one One S as it was sometimes more engaging and fun and ended up being hypnotized by it . Classic also has better transparency and is overall more detailed. The voices on One S are more present, but seem more natural on Classic. The soundstage is deeper on One S, but taller on Classic.
Classic is overall faster, but One S has some awesome instrument extension. Spirit Classic has a closer to neutral sound presentation, while One S has a warmer but very pleasant tonality.
Considering the price difference between the two, I think that One S is a serious competitor. I personally love both headphones.
When I first heard Focal’s first headphones I knew they have great potential. They had a very refreshingly different sound signature and very good perfomance for their first try. The first thing that I noticed was their energy and impact.
They didn’t disappoint me with their next models either, and worked their way up the top of my preferences ladder in the closed headphones section. Their latest addition was another very pleasant surprise, as it exceeded my expectations by a good margin, and all this at the same price of Spirit One.
Remember when I say that Focal will have a great future in the headphone department. I can’t wait to hear their next generation headphones, as I have the feeling that they were just playing and testing this new market segment. I really hope that they will make some open headphones to compete with the heavy guys like Sennheiser, Audeze, Hifiman, etc.
Spirit One S, might be my new favorite closed headphone for the moment, being in the same league with Focal Spirit Classic and in some ways even over it.
- good build quality and design
- more comfortable than all the other focal headphones
- excellent deep, controlled and punchy bass
- natural decay and exploding attack
- tactile presentation
- very good instrument and voice extension
- lush, present and textured voices
- very energetic sound signature
- good treble extension
- deepest sounstage from focal headphones till now
- excellent price/performance ratio
- good packaging
- doesn’t have a cable without microphone
- not neutral -> this might be seen as a con by some
I’ve only just found this wonderful site, after doing a search for reviews on the Spirit One S, and I just wanted to firstly tell you that I love it. It is lovely to look at and your style of writing is wonderful and so easy to read and enjoy.
I will come here every day now. It is possibly, in one fell swoop, my favourite headphones place on the net and I applaud you for your taste and efforts and energy in maintaining it.
For now one quick question – have you ever heard the B&O H6? I ask as I am about to treat myself to a new headphone, which is a rare event, and as the blue H6 is available for less than £200 fom one place I almost ordered it last night, but for some reason the Spirit S is giving me pause for thought.
I have always avoided the Focals before because I have read so many stories of broken parts and whilst this may be unfair, it just has been the case ’til now. Unfortunately there is nowhere near me to actually see and hold one.
Your thoughts in this review are interesting and it certainly looks the part. I could get the Spirit One S for around £150 and the H6 for around £180, which is a good price for the B&O.
Until soon, thanks and again, your site is a beautiful place to come read about headphones.
Sorry for the long delay.
Thank you very much for the kind words. They really do mean a lot to me!
I am sorry to say that I haven’t heard the B&O H6, yet, so I don’t know anything about them.
If I have the chance, I will listen to them.
Thanks for the response. In that case could I ask you a few questions about Focal headphones, or more specifically, this new model?
I came close to ordering the Spirit Pro’s a while ago, but as I tend to take my time deciding (as funds dictate serious consideration!), by the time I had the money, I’d read a fair few negative opinions about fit & comfort issues for some folks, and then started to see photos on various different forums of either cracks developing or hinges coming apart that were glued together! The parts that were glued sealed the non-deal for me alas, as I do love their look and also descriptions of their sound signature appealed.
So, to my questions about the Spirit One S:
1. Do these fold flat, like the Spirit One? I ask as photos of the packaging show that in the case they are not folded flat, and so the case is considerably more bulky for portable use. And if they don’t, does this pertain to an improvement in construction and durability?
2. Having also read recently about build issues and breakages with even the Classic’s, are these to your mind better constructed and possibly sturdier than the Classic’s?
3. I am assuming that you have not had any build/durability issues with your Focals as you still seem really keen on their headphones, but if you accept that a good few folks have had issues, do you feel, now that they are on their fourth headphone, that Focal are improving & learning as they go and that these new models illustrate that? Do you see a noticable improvement in build quality and perceived durability? I am also asking this as even on their own website promoting the One S, Focal make a point of saying improved build at certain key points, as well as better durability for when out & about, as qualities deserving of mentioning.
4. Lastly, your review of these is glowing, and really tempts me to order a pair and just go with it and trust in Focal and in your appraisal of this model. Is there any other headphone around this same price point that you have heard that can hold it’s own sound quality-wise with the One S? In the UK at least these are slightly less expensive than the Fidelio L2′s, which again I haven’t heard but am aware that they are very highly thought of.
If you can help with any of these questions/thoughts I would appreciate it.
I have also been reading around different parts of your site (or do you think of it as a blog?) and all of it is hugely interesting, as well as entertaining. I really like the diversity of content. Kinda feel that I need to get a portable amp to go with my few ‘phones, and at the moment I have a Zo2, and was wondering if you still think the FiiO E12 was pretty much the best bang-for-buck out there?
And boy oh boy do I want want want a Hugo! I am very sure, from all I have read about it, that it is more than worth its cost, but £1400! I don’t think I will ever be in a position to get one unfortunately! But I loved the passion and enthusiasm that was bursting from every line of your review of it!
Thanks for reading, and don’t sweat on responding to all my queries! I am all-too-aware of my inclination to verbosity, and any thoughts, however brief they may be, from you will be appreciated.
Be well Dan,
Hi, first very interesting review. I’ve kept my eye on this beauty for a while but needed a bit input of it first. 🙂
Do you think the highs are veiled or are they quite in-line with the mids. My biggest concern is whether the highs are loud enough. I do not like emphasized highs but don’t want it to be veiled either but I tend to cope with slightly bit veiled than slightly emphasized highs though.
Based on the description the “need to dance”-feeling/high energy (which to me personally becomes from an up-front midrange presentation (vocalist sounds like standing right in front of you), the punchy bass characteristics (mainly comes from good quality mid/upper bass) and good soundstage depth are things that especially falls into my taste. I’m a EDM listener myself and I prefer an engaging (need-to-dance, tap my foot inducing) and boosted bass but balanced mids vs highs presence with good soundstage depth (I tend to feel depth is more important to me to create an immersive feeling that you’re “there” whether it’s for gaming or music listening).
Based on the review it sounds like my ideal headphone would be something like bass and soundstaging of Focal Spirit One S and mids & highs balance of Focal Spirit Classic/Professional but yea you can’t have it all. =)
I have had Spirit Classic and Spirit One since more than half a a year now and neither of them developed any cracks. However, I didn’t use them every day either. To answer your questions briefly:
1. They do fold, but like spirit classic, not like spirit one. The case is indeed a little more bulky.
2. If you judge only by the looks, it’s not build better than spirit classic, but very similar (but maybe the materials used are better)
3. They seem like a company that learn from their mistakes. The first batch of Spirit One had some driver issues, issues that appeared mostly from transportation. They adapted, changed the packaging and carying case and I think also the driver. They also exchanged all the faulty units. So, they seem to learn from their mistakes, and quite fast, for that matter. It shows that they have a lot of experience gathered from the Speaker area, where they have absolutely excellent products.
4. There are some other headphones you could try. I’ve recently tried the NAD Viso HP 50 and also loved them. They sound different, but I think they are a very good competitor. You could also try the Sony MDR-1R which in Romania is extremely cheap and can hold it’s ground quite well. If I have the time I will write a review / comparison between AKG k550, k545, Nad Viso HP50, Spirit One S, Classic.
Unfortunately I’ve never had the pleasure of listening to Phillips Fidelio yet. Never heard the Zo2 either, but E12 seemed a very good portable amp for the money when I listened to it. It could drive even the big guys like Audeze LCD3 or HD800.
Hugo is excellent for the money and size, yes. Thank you for the kind words.
One final thought/question Dan …..
I’ve just read your review of the Creative Aurvana Live 2, and was interested to read your comments
concerning the lack of a ‘clean’ cable, and the subsequent improvement in sound quality once you had
replaced the stock cable.
On the original Spirit One, was there also an improvement in sound quality using the cable sans remote?
And have you been able to try the Spirit One S with a different cable? Is the connector straightforward
for connection of a different cable?
If you haven’t tried the S with a different cable can I take it that as it comes you are sufficiently satisfied enough
to not consider a different cable a priority?
I know, questions questions! This is the last!
Close to ordering a pair to be honest. If only the new headphones from Master & Dynamic (MH30 & MH40) weren’t
out there speaking to me! Lot more expensive than these (and that’s before import duties!) but oh so unbelievably
gorgeous. They look like they belong on the Nautilus!
Many thanks Dan.
P.s. Incidentally, I have already made a purchase based on your recommendation! Few days ago I ordered a
pair of the Pioneer SE-A1000! Looking forward to hearing them.
Well, I tried the cable from Spirit Classic, the one without the microphone. I found the stock cable quite ok. Actually It was a better match than the cable from classic.
So, how are the se a1000?
Hello, what is the size of the ear pad? nobody know, what is the measurement? i mean, i have a big ear, i dont know if it will fit and i cant test it here before i buy(at least on the closest store).
The inside size i mean, =]
Thanks for any info friend!
I have been very happy with the sound quality of the Focal Spirit S One for a year (of normal, desk-only use), but then cracks appeared on the articulations of both ear cups. The headphones are not holding well on my head anymore. I saw online that this was a common problem caused by a plastic quality issue on Focal’s end. I sent my headphones back but Focal declined all responsibilities. Conclusion : you can buy these for the sound quality, but be ready to buy a new pair every year. I am personally quite bitter, as I would not expect such a low quality in both products and after sales service from Focal.
Recently I bought One S. As author I prefer the lower frequencies to not be on the first line, as in most other “mobile” (they are not very compact really) headphones. Before buying, I was comparing “Listen” to them. For me there is no enought low part in “Listen” and there is to much high tones (it hurts – physically). For the price of One S, there are no better headphones for me – on-ear headphones, with this level of comfort, also level of isolation. I heard better sound in “Pryma” (Sonus Faber) but they cost 3 times more than “One S”. In my opinion to much for mobile playing and diffrence wasn’t very big. You could find bigger diffrences after using dac, what wasn’t my plan. If you want mobile headphones, to listen without DAC, in my opinion there is no competition for this model.
Indeed they are very good headphones! Enjoy!