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Focal Utopia Loaner Program - Page 5

post #61 of 64
Originally Posted by sheldaze View Post

While I would not call the Utopia bright, I would certainly classify it as brighter than HD800S. One of my favorite systems is Gumby > Carbon > HD800S. I like my systems to be neutral to slightly dark, and this setup suites my tastes perfectly. I believe the combination of the HD800S and Carbon makes this a neutral system. My balanced cables (Norne Audio Zoetic) for Utopia arrived this week, and last night I switched the headphones from HD800S to Utopia. I agree that the headphone, overall, is more balanced than HD800S. But up top, the treble is definitely brighter than what I was hearing through HD800S, using stock balanced cables.


The reviewer used a Carbon with a Hugo TT source. In a similar fashion, a couple weeks earlier, I switched from Gumby to 2Qute as a source (when trying to have a simpler setup to bring to a meet) but it brightened the HD800S sound too much. So while I do not find the Utopia bright, in the system above it is brighter than I personally prefer. And thus I can agree with the reviewer - brighter headphone (Utopia) and brighter source (Hugo TT) would not make my ears happy either.


I hope this makes sense. This seems like a sensible thread in which to post. If this is off-topic, feel free to delete.


Really? I'd still put my HD800S ahead of my Utopia for brightness. The measurements on innerfidelity show more treble energy for the Sennheisers as well:






Weird? I'm using the TT feeding my GS-X Mk2 and I hear it the other way around...but this is Head-Fi...par for the course. :smile:

post #62 of 64

Folks, the Utopia is on its way to me next, so I will be sure to discuss this aspect of it in my review. My resident chain is:

  • Ayre Codex <- Ayre Signature XLR -> Cavalli Liquid Gold <- Moon Black Dragon XLR -> HD800 (SD mod)
post #63 of 64

My week with the Utopia just ended, and I am missing them! A big thank you to Todd for this loaner program.

Since I also participated in Todd's Elear loaner program, I am going to cheat, and have you read my review of the Focal Elear before you continue. It covers my system, my musical tastes, and my conclusion about the Focal sound. Cosmetics, fit, and finish wise - all my impressions from the Elear still apply. Like everybody else on the planet, I found the cable length ridiculous.
From that review, I concluded that for my needs, a duo of the HD800 and the Elear would cover my listening preferences very well. So why did I ask Todd to be on the Utopia loaner rotation? I approached this evaluation with a very targeted purpose. Could the Utopia be a single-headphone solution to my needs? And could it do so by significantly outperforming both the HD800 and Elear to justify the substantially higher cost? Which I could offset by selling the HD800 and Elear.
Utopia Sonic Impressions
The Utopia is an amazing headphone. The first thing that strikes you is how incredibly detailed they sound. Then there's the bass. It is deep, but not fat, or overblown. And finally, the overall tonal balance is quite neutral. I'll talk about this more in the comparisons section below.
These are also the most dynamic headphones I've ever heard. Whatever the inherent dynamic range on the recording, you are guaranteed to hear it. Articulation and speed are effortless. Tyll on Inner Fidelity wasn't kidding when he called these punchy. They are.
Imaging was very good, and rock solid. However, it wasn't quite at the level of the HD800.
Comparison with the Elear
The Utopia blows away the Elear. As they should, at 4x the price. But it's not that simple. Listening to the Elear, here's what I noticed when I swapped them for the Utopia:
  • An amazing increase in clarity! Details that were hinted at on the Elear become immediately audible. It's like things snapped into focus.
  • A very tight controlled bass. But the Elear does seem to have a slight edge on bass, which may be an illusion.
  • The Utopia definitely sounds brighter. And this is where it gets complicated. On bright, harsh, less than perfect recordings, the Utopia can be unforgiving. The Elear, on the other hand, is darker, warmer, and thicker sounding, and therefore are much more forgiving.
Comparison with the HD800
This was the crux of my review. I love my HD800's! For the kind of big, orchestral, symphonic classical music I like to listen to - think Mahler, Sibelius, etc in DSD - I've never heard anything that can top them. Well, the Utopia didn't either.
Tonally, they are somewhat similar, although undoubtedly the HD800 is still a bit brighter and thinner sounding than the Utopia. But to my ears, and specifically on classical music, the mids seemed just a tad more engaging on my HD800.
But the deciding factor ultimately, was the imaging. While, in and of themselves, the Utopia has excellent imaging, it is still no match for the HD800. On music that demands the portrayal of a large concert hall, with the instruments spaced out, the HD800 just killed it. On the other hand, for music played in smaller spaces like jazz, or for rock and pop music, the Utopia's superior bass and more neutral treble won out. 
A note about earpads
In his review for InnerFidelity, Tyll talked about how good the Utopia sounded with the Elear earpads. In the interests of science, I tried the same swap in both directions - Utopia with Elear pads, and vice versa. Note - I did this very carefully, with no damage to anything. the pads just snap off and on.
Utopia with Elear pads: Yup, this definitely boosts the bass by a pleasing degree. But, to my ears, it also saps the Utopia of some of its clarity. Still, I can see this being a useful option when listening to particularly harsh music or recording. For $150, this would be a no-brainer to get if buying the Utopia.
Elear with Utopia pads: This did not impress me at all. It made the Elear sound thin and unexciting. Plus, these pads at $250 make very little sense on the Elear.
To answer the question I posed at the outset - could the Utopia outperform and satisfy me better than the HD800/Elear duo? No. If money were no object, I would want an HD800/Utopia duo. And I'd buy the Elear earpads as a companion.
But for an HD800 lover like me, without an additional $4k to spend, I am perfectly content with my HD800 and Elear duo.

Edited by austinpop - 1/21/17 at 8:47pm
post #64 of 64
nice impressions and comparisons @austinpop. i don't listen to classical music but can appreciate how the hd800's more expansive presentation would make it the more suitable choice for that music. that said, i much preferred the utopia's tonal saturation, clarity, dynamics and balance across the frequency spectrum for the music that i listen to.
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