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The previous paragraph held a hint. Pierre Maillard knows of my high-performance focus. This put me at ease to put his Spirit One at unease. Potentially. Push beyond its basic mobile aspirations. Yes it taps performance and prerequisites which elude a solo iPhone. But it does show what the Focal is capable of. Think iTransports from Cypher Labs and Cambridge Audio (their iD100 beats the Pure and Onkyo); the tube-powered Continental portable amp; and the mighty Eximus. My canventory lacks direct Spirit One competitors. That's because over the years I've focused on acquiring statements like the Audez'e LCD-2, Sennheiser HD800, Beyerdynamic T1/T5p, HifiMan HE500/HE6, Grado GS-1000 and Audiotechnica W5000 (the latter two since gifted to friends without anything decent).
The closest playmates I had on price were AKG's K-702 ($399) and Ortofon's e-Q7 ($329) which I use outdoors. As I said, nothing really close. For my sealed reference I'd reach for my bedroom T5p recabled with ALO Audio leash. Running the Spirit One in various maxed-out stationary and mobile scenarios would show peak performance. Afterwards I'd jack directly into an iPad and iPod loaded with AIFF files for real-world use. Commenting on predictable offset—the jury was out on the delta of difference and specifics— might later motivate upgrade-itchy owners to attend to their electronics or file quality before suspecting their Frenchies of necking the bottle.

Folks who think tweeters—headphone drive units are similarly sized after all—to extrapolate Wilson Audio and Focal's inverted Titanium dome tweeter will have misguided expectations. Ditto those who anticipate a treble-lit 'Gallic' sound à la Triangle Electroacoustique or who make presumptions from Focal's own bat-eared Beryllium tweeters. Headphones that from my gallery and to my ears more closely approximate such notions would be Sennheiser's stock HD800 (their lit-up voicing can be mellowed with an after-market leash) and HiFiMan's HE-6.

By clever design given the routinely MP3-fed iMates targeted, the Spirit One sports a slightly soft top and strategic bass lift. But don't misread fat into that. That'd require stout Eximus boost though tautness and damping will override real bloat even then. True, few will ever hear Focal's involved bass tuning to that macho extent. It requires superior source material, superior amplification and deliberate bass EQ (analog with the Eximus). But when all the moons align, the Spirit One shows itself to be engineered for astonishingly virile bass whose true focus is never maximal weight but deft articulation.

Normal use nets the same qualities of course. Ideal(ized) circumstances simply scale them up. The Spirit One is no fashionista catering to a bumpy low-rider bass balance - the kind certain pimped-out wheels with all their windows closed broadcast through the hood by driving slow as snails. Focal stays true to hifi ideals. They simply apply small twists. Those are performed as invisibly as possible. In the treble the small softness means that Andy Narell's malletized pans even in their flashy top register never get uncomfortably steely. That's a good thing when you're dealing with transducers inches away from your ears.

The perhaps crowning touch here is Focal's refusal to compress the soundstage inside your skull. I'm uncertain how exactly this was achieved. Many other design too manipulate the directivity or sound-wave arrival angle yet don't avoid that particular 'beamed into the brain' sensation to the extent the Spirit One does. I'm not suggesting any true out-of-head experience. But you do have to concentrate hard to mock up sufficient feedback to actually feel the sound inside the head. It's there of course. But not in quite the usual etched way. The usual brain freeze so many despise with headphones has been nicely relaxed.

Even though it's one of those more intangible hard-to-define qualities, that's big. It also prepares the target audience for an eventual speaker experience. Those already coming from there tend to remain quiet on how it can get very expensive very quick if, in the acoustics of a real-world living room, one wants to replicate the non-boomy nicely extended and always well-defined bass of affordable but properly engineered headphones like the Spirit One. Headfi done properly is a smart way to get at the 'high' in fi for far less than honest audiophiles know to be true. A good showcase would be Jamshied Sharifi's stunning album One. It continues where A Prayer for the Soul of Layla left off. Again we have densely layered virtual soundtracks filled with thunderous drums, tribal chorus, incandescent exotic lead vocals and sophisticated instrumental settings. Many speakers make a mess of it. The Spirit One completely kept its cool.