With increasing battery life and better fidelity starting to peek over the horizon thanks to more efficient Bluetooth chips, the next generation of true wireless headphones may finally dig the grave of their banded wireless counterparts in the near future. For now, though, if you want something that sounds great, has a day’s worth of battery life, and skates well below the $200 price point, banded (or tethered) wireless earbuds are still your best bet.
Though banded wireless headphones have saturated the market, we’ve seen our fair share of terrible, bulky messes. Focal’s new Sphear Wireless ($129) are not. With a sleek, lightweight design, comfortable eartips, and startling clarity to enrapture you with the siren sounds of your favorite music, the Sphear – which premiere at CanJam NYC this week — will have you forgetting there’s a wire behind your head at all. While they lack workout-focused features like earfins or water resistance, the Sphear Wireless look and sound so good, they’re among the few banded wireless earbuds worth getting excited about in 2019.
Out of the box
The Sphear come in a compact black box bearing the headphones, a small velvet carrying pouch, a micro USB charging cable, and three sizes each of both memory foam and silicone eartips.
Features and design
The Sphear are easily some of the best-looking wireless earbuds in their class. Focal did well to distinguish the Sphear from the countless other banded wireless options available, using the same sparkling stainless-steel accents on the outside of each earbud as their wired counterpart, matched by a lightweight cable between the battery and control piece.
Easily some of the best-looking wireless earbuds you can buy.
Focal even opted for a splash of color — our review unit came in a very classy shade of blue, but they can also be had in green, purple, or black — which adds more style than many of their utilitarian counterparts. How French.
In terms of practicality, the lightweight design makes for a very pleasurable wearing experience. The Sphear seem to of disappear on your head in a way that many true wireless models, which are often a bit bulky and tough to seat in your ears, do not.
We found them extremely comfortable during longer listening sessions and were able to use them to the full extent of their advertised 8-hour battery life without so much as a single adjustment. That’s rarer than you might think. We wish battery life was a bit longer, but we do appreciate Focal’s focus on keeping the earbuds from getting too heavy or bulky.
Comfortable enough to wear all day without so much as a single adjustment.
The Sphear Wireless have the same three-button control piece most of us have experienced on many wired and banded wireless headphones, with a central multi-function button for play/pause, power, and pairing, and two other buttons that raise or lower volume and skip songs. It’s all very intuitive, and the included quick start guide does well to give you the lay of the land.
One cool addition is the sound-mode feature; press both volume buttons at the same time for three seconds, and the system goes into “Loudness Mode,” which helps them adapt to noisy environments like trains, busy streets, or offices.
Speaking of noise, we got significantly better passive noise isolation when using the included foam eartips, but we found the silicone tips more comfortable overall. Depending on how much you need to block out the outside world, it’s worth investigating both options — and very helpful that both are included.
A place that the Sphear Wireless could use an upgrade is in the life-proofing department: They don’t come with any waterproofing rating, making them less suitable for your sweatiest workouts.
Likewise, the headphones don’t come with earfins to keep them in your ears, though they do come with a clip to help secure them to your collar while you move around. Given that many people workout in headphones without earfins and sweat-proofing like Apple’s AirPods, this may not be an issue for most.
As expected from any Focal product (the company has made a big name for itself in audiophile circles over the past three decades), the aptX-enabled Sphear Wireless are aimed primarily at those who want excellent sound from a small footprint. And boy, do they sound fantastic.
Whether it’s crisp strings or shimmering vocal reverb, the high-end response is particularly astonishing. In fact, there are very few in-ears in this price range, wired or otherwise, that offer such stark clarity. Even subtle distortion in guitars is immediately apparent, joined by clear midrange voices and chordal instruments below them.
Bass response is creamy but not overwhelming, tending more towards the flat and clean sound that audiophiles (and our review team) lust after. Put simply, the Sphear Wireless faithfully and revealingly reproduced all of our favorite tracks. Hip hop like MF Doom’s Operation Doomsday retained its beefy punch and lo-fi vocals, rock tunes like Ty Segall’s Freedom’s Goblin growled with distortion, and folk like Brandi Carlilse’s The Joke shimmered with bright passion in the choruses.
They make it fun to listen to anything in your library, as all good headphones should.
Focal offers a one year warranty from the date of purchase that covers manufacturer defects.Our Take
What the Focal Sphear Wireless lack in features they more than make up for in sound. They are easily some of the best-sounding banded wireless earbuds we’ve heard, and they absolutely outclass similarly priced true wireless options. Their lightweight design means they also remain comfortable throughout the entire day.
Is there a better alternative?
The closest competitor to the Focal Sphear Wireless are the Shure SE215 Wireless. Frankly, we think the Focal match the fantastic-sounding SE215 (which cost $20 more) in terms of fidelity, but the SE215 do come with the added benefit of a replaceable cable. With identical battery life and similarly sleek designs (neither include water resistance), we’d go with the Focal if you plan on upgrading to true wireless earbuds in the next year or two (when the battery may start to fade). If you plan on keeping them for the long run, we’d still pay the extra money for the SE215 for that swappable cable.
How long will it last?
Focal has a long history of making high-quality audio products, and as far as we can tell, the Sphear Wireless are no exception. We expect them to last for years of daily use if treated properly.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you’re eyeing a pair of Bluetooth earbuds, the Focal Sphear offer significantly better fidelity and playback time than similarly priced true wireless options, and their lightweight design means they’re no less convenient. Add in chic styling and the Sphear Wireless are among the best wireless earbuds you can buy.