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What Can a High-End Audiophile Company Bring to Affordable Headphones?

Focal is best known for its $200,000 loudspeakers. Now it’s launching $69 earbuds.

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Chase Pellerin

Visit Focal’s website and you’ll see a variety of futuristic-looking, floor-standing speakers that you can’t afford. The Frech audio company, which has been making speakers since the ’80s, made waves last summer when it put 40mm beryllium dome drivers — the same ones found in its ~$220,000 loudspeakers — in a pair of $4,000 open-back studio headphones. Now, with the launch of the Spark ($69) and Spark Wireless ($99) earbuds, Focal is becoming more accessible. So, the question is: what can a truly high-end audio company bring to affordable headphones?

Across its loudspeakers, car audio systems and headphones, Focal’s calling card is accurate and rich sound with zero distortion. The Spark — Focal’s most affordable headphone ever — is designed within those same parameters. “Opening up to a larger audience doesn’t mean renouncing our values,” says Romain Vet, Focal’s global headphone category manager. “All audiophiles have the right to great sound. [We] want to offer high-quality headphones to everyone wishing to listen to music wherever they are and whenever they wish. The most important thing is to stay in line with the high-quality spirit of our products: sound, comfort and design.”

Specs: Focal Spark

Driver: 9.5mm Mylar
Impedance: 16 Ohms
Sensitivity: 103dB
THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): <0.3%
Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20KHz

Buy Now: $69

Spark isn’t Focal’s first pair of in-ear headphones, though. In 2015, the company released Sphear, a $179 pair of earbuds (today, you can find Sphear heaphones for $90 on Amazon). Sphear was positioned more toward the traditional audiophile crowd; with a larger, more sophisticated driver, it’s a pair of buds optimized for portable hi-fi players and/or hi-fi streaming services like Tidal. While you can obviously use the Spark the same way, Vet says it’s designed for “younger music lovers who don’t necessarily have access to high-definition music, which is generally only available on more costly music platforms.” Basically, plug these into your smartphone.

In the headphone industry, hi-fi earbuds hovering around the $100 mark are a staple gateway product into the world of hi-fi audio; scores of renowned hi-fi companies like Shure and Sennheiser have their own $100 earbuds, and newer hi-fi audio companies like Echobox are also in the mix. So a $69 pair makes for a solid non-wireless step up from Apple EarPods.

Focal has also announced an updated build of Spear and a wireless version of its over-ear Listen headphones: Spear S ($129) and Listen Wireless ($299).

Spark: $69 Spark Wireless: $99

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