Massdrop x Focal Spark Wireless (silver) Review

Focal_Spark_Wireless_Endcaps

“A fine balancing act…maybe too fine”

Price as tested: $40 USD (Massdrop special)

MSRP: $100 USD (retail)

BIAS DISCLOSURE!!! OMG HONESTY!!! 😊

I am a shameless Focal groupie. My Chorus 706V’s were my first audiophile speakers and first Focal product, and 10 years later they are still the ruler I judge everything else by (nothing better at the price point, $750, and under, fight me). So that being said, I went into this knowing I had confirmation bias (I expected a specific sound from the Sparks) and I’m pleased to report that while I did find that signature Focal sound in the Spark Wireless, it lacked the authority that it should have conveyed when appropriate among some other shortcomings.

Unboxing & Physical Characteristics:

Build quality is very good on the monitors and decent on the cable and component housings. The cable is flat, matte white, and the transducer ends have a little bit of strain relief. Focal royally dropped the ball on cable balance though and that’s both from an aesthetic standpoint as well as functional. The two plastic housings on the cable (one for the remote and associated components, another for the receiver) are of different dimensions and are not equidistant from the monitors, resulting in an imbalance. While the cable and pods are very light, there is still enough heft for there to be pull on the lighter side of the cable, dislodging the right monitor. I will note that there is strain relief at all cable connection points on the equipment pods, which should lend a measure of durability and longevity to the cable.

The 3-button remote works quite nicely for its intended functions. The symbols (plus and minus signs) are imprinted into the plastic buttons but are hard to see since they were not colored in or of a different finish. On the receiver pod, however, the branding is also imprinted but has a contrasting texture with the body of the pod, a very thoughtful and subtle touch.

 

The monitors are little metal tanks but are not super heavy. The end cap is of differing finish from the body and has Focal’s delightful little squiqqly line logo cut into it with utter precision. The monitor’s bodies wear the brand name on either side in tasteful gray, and the nozzle cap is highly polished with excellent nozzle screens and a substantial notch for securing the tips.

Focal skimps on the ear tips with only small, medium, and large clear silicone tips. They are slightly more rounded than cylindrical and require some experimentation and finesse to get a good seal. I found that using the small tips let me get a deep, comfortable, and secure insertion. I highly recommend wearing this over-ear, as the insertion angle is easier to work with. A deeper seating is definitely recommended for a secure fit. I will be experimenting with other tips with these in the future.

The little zippered carry case has the company logo tastefully imprinted on the front with a half-net on the roof of the clamshell. You get a tiny micro USB cable for charging, the 3 pairs of tips as I mentioned, and a magnetic cable keeper thingy that I had to look up on YouTube how to use (go ahead and make fun of me, I made fun of me too).

 

Shaddup with the boring part already! We want the sound!

Didn’t your mother teach you how to say ‘please’? 😀

Sound

Source:

iPhone X: Spotify Premium (downloaded)/Bandcamp (streaming)/Apple Music (320k MP3) > Massdrop x Focal Spark Wireless (silver)

Without looking at a graph, I’m not sure how to describe the frequency response (I really don’t care for graphs, they’re nerdier than I would like to be with this stuff, I just love music man…). It’s… “balanced.” You can hear everything pretty well overall, without one area being accentuated over the other. This balance is part of the sound signature Focal is known and loved for.

Sub bass

I was both happy and disappointed with the sub bass. While it is audible and reasonably detailed, it lacks authority. The woofer-wrecking bass lines of Code:Pandorum’s God and Heilung’s Hakkerskaldyr, failed to intimidate me like they usually do and were presented in a more tonally accurate fashion than a forceful fashion.

Mid bass

Now this is where I started to get happy. The Spark Wireless’ mid bass is controlled, like, seriously well controlled. Rammstein’s Los has some bloomy mid bass in it that more often than not, sounds like warbly mud through most speakers and headphones. The Sparks could not be more opposite. While again, the bass lacked authority and impact, it was controlled, tonally accurate, and musical. I will note that rapid-fire double bass pedals, such as from Slipknot’s Duality, possessed more authority than bass guitars or electronically generated bass.

Mids

Balanced, detailed, moderately energetic, tonally accurate, musical. Guitar notes, both electric and acoustic, had body and soul to them. Vocals present cleanly with incredible control and accuracy, something my 706V’s do extremely well. Imaging is pretty good, but it can appear a touchy muddy if you’re not focused on listening and distracted. It really only happens on tracks with a lot of electronic vocal effects and filtering combined with multiple and/or aggressive instruments.

Highs

This is where the Spark’s lose their…well…spark. While the treble is detailed and has good tone, busy cymbals and electric guitars can step on each other or “tsshhhh” together if you’re not listening critically. When you do listen attentively, it clears up a bit and you get a more musical feel. This isn’t to say that the Spark’s highs aren’t musical and pleasing, they could just have better distinction and separation.

Sound stage

Decidedly in the head with some decent forward projection. Vocals that are meant to sound distant, typically will; there is also some decent vertical placement, though it doesn’t go overly high or low, relative to the face. Echoing sounds present naturally and with detail, despite the limitations of the sound stage, but you can tell they want to reach farther.

Bluetooth function

Line-of-sight range is 10m or better, it always varies a little bit. Indoor use will heavily depend on the construction of the building. In my home, the Spark’s were cutting out while I was in the garage, which despite being perhaps 10-15 feet from my phone as the crow flies, suffered signal degradation from going through 3 walls. Call performance is acceptable, and the microphone picked up my voice well with the cable behind my head.

The cable has slight-to-moderate microphonics, but it is not noticeable unless listening at very low volumes while moving around a lot. Most listeners would likely never notice it.

As I alluded to at the beginning of the review, the Sparks are very balanced and honestly, I feel as if it was taken too far. While it is unfair to compare a typically $100 wireless IEM with bookshelf monitors that run anywhere from $500-$750 new, my 706V’s are representative of the signature Focal sound, which the marketing claims the Sparks possess. This claim is only partly fulfilled. Yes, the sound is balanced, yes it can be lively, but it lacks authority, energy, and because of those shortcomings, ultimately lacks the overall musicality and the “oh lord this is music!” factor.

Audio performance on videos was decent but nothing to write home about.

Would I recommend them at the MRSP? Eh, maybe? They honestly feel more like they belong in the $60 price bracket, so I feel the $40 Massdrop offer I took advantage of was a really good deal. If the build quality on the cable and pods was better as well as properly balanced, a suite of foam ear tips was included, and the sound tweaked to regain a bit of that lost energy (perhaps a modest V-shaped response?), then they would merit the full $100 MSRP.

I will likely compare the Spark Wireless with their wired version at some point in the future. I think that a better quality DAC and amplifier would make these sing without them being re-tuned.

 

 

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