Spark Wireless Earphones REVIEW Great sound but poor fit
When it comes to in-ear earphones, fit is everything. It does not matter how much thumping bass, smooth perfect balance, nor volume/power a set can provide. Simply stated, none of the bells/whistles matter if the earphones are not comfortable. I personally try to see the positives in every device, but sometimes I cannot get them to work or simply do not like them. I want to share my honest opinion and I hate when the product does not stand up to my testing. I received the Spark Earphones, from Focal, and was excited about the packaging/product. The Spark earphones arrived in an attractive 6 3/4 inches tall by 3 inches wide by 2 3/8 inches thick retail package, with a clear pictorial representation of the black earphones/clear white silicone tips. As a consumer, I really like to see what I am purchasing. In this instance, the cover image was reasonable and helpful. The product name was clearly identified across the top left and the company title/logo was clearly labeled across the bottom left. Just above the tornado/spring coil logo, Focal provided information about the aluminum finish, the flat cable, and the 3-button remote. If you rotate the packaging ninety degrees clockwise, you can review the content/product specifications. Included with the Spark Earphones, you can enjoy three pairs of silicone tips (S/M/L), an incredibly short 8 1/4 inches long USB-A to USB-micro cable, magnetic battery clip, and an attractive rigid carrying case. The earphones use Bluetooth 4.1, promise a 15-meter range, 8-hour battery life, 103dB sound, 20Hz-20kHz range, single 9.5mm drivers, omnidirectional microphone and weighs 14g (0.04 lb). I was a bit let down by the back panel as it used a large amount of the real estate stating “Wireless in-ear headphones Choose your Emotion” in twelve different languages. Along the bottom, they redeemed themselves a little by providing a useful button layout for the remote.
The outer packaging felt very clean despite lacking many colors. Other than some minor red accents, the color palette was mostly black lettering on a white backing. Accessing the internal slide out box was rather difficult. You will need to cut the tape along the bottom panel and shake the box to slide the entire internal black cardboard out of the shell. The packaging was separated into two halves, an upper plastic housing for the headphones and a lower compartment for the included carry case and instruction manuals. The black 2 1/2 inches wide by 3 inches tall by 1 3/8 inches thick clamshell style case was surrounded by an 8 3/4 inches long zipper. The zipper action was smooth and easy to use thanks to the rubberized zipper pull with raised “Focal” on either side. The flat black semi-hard case was made of a nylon material and was simple yet elegant, with a single coil/tornado image on the top. Opening the case, you will find two halves, an open bottom half and a 3/4 mesh-lined upper compartment. Within the upper compartment, I found the short USB-A to USB micro cable and I found the extra ear tips in the bottom compartment.
The instruction manual and multi-lingual warning/safety manual were located below the clamshell case. Unfortunately, the manual was not very helpful. The first page provided the same button layout/diagram as the back of the packaging, which seemed like a waste. The second page showed the earphones with dual rectangular control boxes, the location of the microphone, on-off switch, battery module, and the USB charging port. Pages three and four detailed a quick start guide, charge the headphones in 2 hours, hold the central button for 5 seconds to turn on/pair and then find Focal Spark Wireless under Bluetooth on your smart device. That was basically the extent of the manual, but you can access more online information by scanning the QR code in the manual. The safety manual provided some useful information for first time headphone/earphone users, but the information was very basic: Read these instructions, KEEP these instructions, RESPECT all the warnings, FOLLOW all the instructions, do not listen to high volume, if problems with your ears stop listening, take breaks, do not drive/operate vehicle using the headphones, don’t use as ear protection, do not place near fire, etc. Each language received two pages to detail this information.
Before you use the headphones, I would recommend charging them first. They will charge over a two-hour timeframe but only required 30 minutes out of the box. The earphones measured 23 1/2 inches long and weighed fourteen grams. The tri-button remote, located 5 5/16 inches from the left earpiece, measured 2 inches long by 7/16 inches wide by 1/4 inches thick. The back displayed a silver Focal with tornado logo, and the side has a rubberized micro-USB access cover. Three and a half inches from the remote, you will find a very odd 1 3/4 inches long by 9/16 inches wide by 1/4 inches thick battery module. Between the right earpiece and the battery module/microphone Spark provided 9 3/4 inches of cable. Comparing this set to nearly every other pair of earphone that I have used, I noted two major differences. First, the control module is usually located near the right ear and secondly. I do not know why the two boxes were not symmetrically placed. The design was odd, the weight was odd and the overall feel/look felt off. When you hold the central button for five seconds, you will hear a single beep followed by two more ascending beeps. There was no verbal instruction/detail about the status. If you look at the battery module, you will notice that it has a solid blue LED when in pairing mode. Pairing the earphones with your smart device was incredibly easy, simply navigate to settings, Bluetooth and select the Focal Spark Wireless from the list. Once connected, you will hear a series of three beeps, followed by a female voice announcing “connected.”
To start the testing, I used the pre-installed medium tips and navigated to audiocheck.net and tried the Low Frequency Response and Subwoofer Audio Test (10–200 Hz). The packaging promised a frequency range starting at 20Hz, which I found to be true. However, there was a high pitched whining noise that was audible from 10Hz to 30Hz. This sound disappeared from 30Hz-16kHz, at the upper range of my ability to hear (High Frequency Response and Hearing Audio Test (22–8 kHz). With this testing completed, I used the Left/Right Stereo Audio Test to prove left=left, right=right and both earpieces played on center. Lastly, if you have never tested the “Original Binaural Recording” from I would highly encourage you to do so (Stereo Perception and Sound Localization). The stereo perception will likely make you jump the first time, and I would recommend that you consider using the restroom before you try the test. During this testing, I changed between the small/medium and large ear tips. The fit of the ear tips was disappointing, as I could not find a Goldilocks ear tip. The included small, medium and large tips fit into the canal but the smooth silicone material did not stay seated. With in-ear systems, this fit creates the sound and the comfort. Since I was unable to keep the tips in the canals at rest, it would come as no surprise that I was unable to shake my head from side to side, jog, jump, etc., without the need to continuously press the ear tips back into my ears. The aluminum backing of each of the earphones had a spring/coil/tornado image along the back. When I pressed the tip back into my ear, the rough edge cut at my fingertips and was quite uncomfortable. Having tested numerous earphones, many companies use the backing as a magnetic attachment point. Normally, I have good luck with ear tips, but these would not stay in my ears. Compound this with the downward drag of the controller and the battery module and the earphones border on unusable.
The earphones lasted about eight hours of continual use and charged back to full within two hours. When the battery is low, a female voice will announce “Battery Low” and a white LED will flash on the rectangular battery compartment. Throughout the testing, I listened to my typical songs “Why So Serious, Joker Theme” from the Dark Night Rises, “Train Song” by Holly Cole, numerous songs from Johnny Cash, “Long Black Train,” by Josh Turner, The Gladiator Soundtrack, Far and Away Soundtrack and Braveheart Soundtrack. Additionally, I really like Billy Joel “The Longest Time,” “Lean on me” by Bill Withers and anything oldies. The earphones had a good soundstage ability, providing great visual clarity for instrument placement. My favorite test tracks for sound staging come from Yosi Horikawa Wandering. Lastly, I have taken an interest in Anthem Lights and Pentatonix as well. I was very pleased with the overall sound, which provided adequate bass, mids, and highs. There was some distortion between my phone/device during the above testing. If I placed my phone in my pocket or if the phone was more than about 10 feet away, there was a very noticeable crackling noise and prominent pairing issues. Despite the fit and pairing issues, I continued the testing process. The remote functions worked pretty well. The single press volume up/down and play/pause buttons were useful, and the long press for next/previous tracks worked as well. I liked the button layout, and the design of the remote, Focal did a good job with this aspect of the device. Answering calls was easy by pressing the central button once, and when finished you can cancel the call by pressing the button again. The location of the microphone on the battery module was a poor design choice because it was located at the furthest point from the mouth. Phonecalls picked up a lot of ambient background noises, and my wife sounded like I was in a tunnel.
Unfortunately, the device was marred with poor fitting ear tips, buzzing from 10Hz to 30Hz, abnormal pull from the asymmetrical modules (remote and battery), poor Bluetooth connectivity, poor microphone placement, the rough aluminum backing and short USB-A to USB-micro cable. Despite the negatives, I absolutely loved the earphone case, the magnetic lapel clip and the sound output was very good. The price seems high for the device and overall, I would not recommend these earphones. Consider the inexpensive Tribit XFly Sport Earbuds as a really nice alternative and save yourself $60.
Originally published at macsources.com on April 30, 2018.