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Focal Sphear review: An audiophile-grade in-ear headphone for less than $200

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Performance

While the Sphear is considered a noise-isolating headphone, it does let in a bit more ambient noise than your typical noise-isolating headphone. Even so, sound quality is excellent. The bass is ripe and full, treble is pleasantly crisp, detailed and clear and midrange presence and body are exceptional.

Steve says that those qualities made classical and acoustic music of all types come alive over the Sphears, and that's hardly a given with most similarly priced in-ear headphones.

Listening to the Kronos String Quartet the sound was never strident; string tone had just the right balance of body and detail. Vocals were also unusually well treated, so they sounded more natural than most in-ears do in this price range.

The one-button inline remote is at the Y-junction, separated from the integrated microphone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A lot of richly balanced headphones sacrifice midrange and treble detailing, but the Sphear's clarity never faltered. Antonio Sanchez's hard-hitting drum solos from the "Birdman" soundtrack had plenty of impact and punch. Sanchez's mighty kick drum was cleanly defined.

We also compared the Sphear to the Bose SoundTrue Ultra , another in-ear we like a lot for its comfort and sound. The Sphear is a more revealing, exciting headphone, with more bass. Playing Michael Brecker's "Midnight Voyage" and Ryan Adams' glorious-sounding "Live at Carnegie Hall" it had more immediacy and presence than the Bose. On certain tracks, however, the Focal's added transparency magnified the flaws in poorly produced tracks or heavily compressed recordings like Keith Richards' new "Crosseyed Heart" and gave the music an edge that bordered on grating. Sonic accuracy can be a double-edged sword.

Conclusion

This a headphone you can wear for long stretches at a time without experiencing listening fatigue and it works well with a variety of music genres. It's well worth considering if you're looking for an audiophile-grade in-ear headphone for an affordable price.

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