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Manufacturer's Description: Utopia are THE reference high-fidelity headphones manufactured in...

Focal Utopia

Rating:
4.56667/5,
Tags:
  • Manufacturer's Description:

    Utopia are THE reference high-fidelity headphones manufactured in France by Focal. They are the result of 35 years of innovation, development and manufacturing of high-end speaker drivers and loudspeakers. Equipped with exclusive technology, they offer striking realism, neutrality, dynamics and clarity, for sound with unrivalled purity. Utopia are unique they are the world’s first audiophile headphones to be equipped with totally open-backed full-range speaker drivers with pure Beryllium ’M’-shaped domes. They meet all the requirements expected of high-end headphones due to their sophisticated and elegant design and to purposeful materiality, such as the carbon fibre yoke and true lambskin leather ear cushions.

Recent Reviews

  1. The Correlation
    Fantastic TOTL Sound That Is Still Not Perfect
    Written by The Correlation
    Published Oct 28, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Overall Balance, Transient Response and Dynamism, Midrange Seperation and Layering.
    Cons - Small Soundstage, Weird Midrange-to-Treble Transition, Price.
    20181027_222910.jpg
    So, this pair is actually not my own, but I had a chance to listen to it on my own system at a meet at my place. On hand, I had my LCD-3, AH-D7200, HD800, HD650 and MH-40. I have heard the Utopia several times before at shows and in-store, but I think this occasion has finally allowed me to refine and solidify my thoughts on them.

    I will make this more of a comparison, as describing the Utopia as having ‘fast bass and smooth mids’ doesn’t really tell you much. The test tracks used are all on my Modern Audiophile and Electronic Audiophile playlists. Some specific reference tracks are:

    - Skylar Spence - Fall Harder
    - Lenno - Collect My Love
    - Jarreau Vandal - Rabbit Hole
    - Billie Marten – La Lune
    - Jonah Nilsson – Coffee Break

    Bass Texture and Impact:

    Really quite fantastic here. The texture is better and the bass hits harder than the HD800, which I thought was the gold standard for Dynamic headphones with regard to bass. It still doesn’t hit quite as hard as something like the D7200, which approaches bass-head levels of slam, but it is much more textured and resolving. The speed is also fantastic, akin to the LCD-3. I found the LCD-3 to have more realistic kick sounds however, due to the perfect sub-bass extension. This is apparent on Coffee Break, where the acoustic drums show more realism and body on the LCD-3 due to the more solid lower registers.

    Bass Quantity:

    Hmmm, this is interesting. On some tracks, such as Rabbit Hole, I found the bass quantity slightly lacking on the Utopia. On the other hand, I found the bass on something like La Lune more than enough to give the song the body and depth it needs. I guess this has to do with the fine resolve and excellent distortion characteristics of the Utopia’s bass, which makes it very transparent to the track, rather than artificially boosted or lean. Moreover, I did not detect an obtrusive mid-bass hump, like on the 650 for instance, but the mid-bass does appear to have greater quantity than the sub-bass. This is typically of open back dynamics. Overall, I would have maybe liked 2 dB more bass for harder hitting tracks, but these sound very neutral and balanced for acoustic tracks in this region.

    Midrange Neutrality and Tonality:

    Not surprisingly, really quite fantastic. The mids are more forward and intimate than the HD800, but not as forward (and boosted in the lower mids and dipped in the upper mids) as the LCD-3. In fact, listening to all the headphones in my collection, apart from my beloved HD650, makes the midrange timber issues of the other headphones very apparent. For instance, a dip in the lower mids of the MH40 and AH-D7200 became quite clear after switching from the Utopia. I still, however, stand by the 650 in that it presents the mids with a more satisfying timber than the Utopia. For instance, the vocals and guitar on La Lune, played on the Utopia, sound clean and coherent, but still somewhat dry in comparison to the 650, which has fuller tonality here. Yes, I know that the 650 does indeed have some additional warmth (arguably past neutrality), but I think this is necessary to give vocals and live instruments sufficient and realistic body.

    Midrange Clarity and Separation:

    Here is where the Utopia stands out. Whilst the overall sound is quite intimate and concentrated, the layering of instruments is phenomenal. Listening to Fall Harder, the wide-panned, reverb-heavy guitars and effects sit coherently and confidently in the mix. The 650, whilst having a similar stage width, sounds congested and slow in comparison. The somewhat drier nature of the Utopia, detailed above, helps with this. I also find the midrange separation and layering better than the HD800 here, which sometimes sounds too separated and diffuse. Listening to Collect My Love, the wide panned synths after the drop sound crispy, clean, textured, and more defined than any of the headphones in my collection.

    Midrange-Treble Transition:

    Hmmm, this is where things get a bit messy. Whilst many talk of the ‘razor-sharp 6K bite’, I did not think its elevation was the issue here. I can hear that it is definitely hotter and more aggressive in this region than something like the HD650, which is buttery smooth, but there’s something else that is bugging me. I found vocals and cymbals that lie around this region tonally weird. Listening to Skylar Spence’s vocals as he sings in Fall Harder, the ‘sss’ sounds don’t sound as crispy as I would like, and don’t sit into the mix as nicely as I was expecting. It’s not that there is an elevated or harsh sibilance to my ears, it’s not like the HD800, but it just sounds off. It reminds of the HE1000 in this region. That headphone was exceptionally soft and not sibilant, but the 6-8K region still sounded weird. To be honest, this is the first time I’ve been at a loss of descriptive words for this.

    Treble Cleanliness and Quantity:

    Truly TOTL and on par with something like the HD800. The extension is lovely and special effects and artefacts in tracks, such as the wide-panned hits in Rabbit Hole and the tremendous SFX in Fall Harder, come through clearly and with good balance. This is better than something like the LCD-3, which can be somewhat hard sounding due to a 10K peak and elevated ‘air’ above it. Really wonderful for acoustic tracks as the air of guitars and overtones of vocals shine through with confidence. For instance, the atmosphere presented in La Lune is portrayed clearly without any dullness or over-bearing resonance and reverb. The AH-D7200, for instance, can be a bit ‘over-sharpened’ here, forcing details and air out in an unnatural way.

    Transient Response and Dynamism:

    I think it’s the exceptional dynamism and TOTL transient response that give this headphone its character. The transient response is still not as surreal as the HD800, which can make instruments pop, float, and snap around you, but it is close. The dynamism also adds great presence to acoustic tracks, such as the strumming of guitars, but it could sometimes be too much for electronic tracks, where synths could cut through too aggressively. You might be thinking, ‘surely EDM benefits from good dynamism?’, but I promise it could get tiring real quick, even at moderate volume. I actually find bass impact to be more important to the enjoyment of EDM, rather than the slam of synths, which can already be quite compressed and aggressive.

    Soundstage:

    Intimate and small for an open back. It is actually very similar to the 650, with that same height and width. This is good for the midrange definition, as mentioned previously, in comparison to something like the HD800, but a bit more width would still be nice. Not a big deal really, but I was expecting better at the price.

    Final thoughts:

    The Utopia definitely competes at the TOTL. It is a TOTL piece after all, with a price above many other flagships. I still have a problem with a headphone at this price, though. I understand that in this territory, £1000 may only get you minor increments in performance. Hell, look at my own collection of gear and you’ll see that I am willing to make such an investment, but not for the Utopia. I simply feel that, while it does have strengths over the HD800, its other aspects, like soundstage and the mid-to-treble weirdness can still be improved, objectively. Sure, you might say that no headphone is perfect, irrespective of price, but pricing something this high should make me come away with a product that doesn’t make me go ‘hmmm, this needs a decent improvement in this aspect’. The HD800 also leaves me with this thought, but it’s special qualities like incredible transients are truly unmatched, and you can buy one for far, far less than the Utopia. In conclusion, I would still take an HD800 and LCD-3 combo over one Utopia, and still have some spare change. At least I will have two different sound signatures to keep me interested in different genres, with unique strengths and problems to match.
      volly likes this.
  2. gLer
    The view from the summit: my time with Utopia
    Written by gLer
    Published Oct 21, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Excellent build quality
    Superb resolution
    Smooth midrange, outstanding treble
    Cohesive and refined
    Cons - Too expensive at full retail price
    Lacks the punch of other headphones
    A touch too polite
    Needs expensive sources to make the most of its abilities
    summitview.jpg

    It’s not often that one gets to meet a real celebrity; someone whose fame cuts right across cultures and households. In the real world, names like George Clooney and Julia Roberts come to mind. In the head-fi world, few are more famous than Utopia.

    Focal’s flagship dynamic headphone has only existed for about two years, and yet ask most headphone devotees to name the headphone that sits right at the top of the tree and many, if not most, would say Utopia. That’s partly a consequence of the hype train that rolled into town when the French audio maker unveiled the double-whammy of its high-end dynamics, the ‘mainsteam’ Elear and flagship Utopia, and partly because of Utopia’s eye watering price tag of $4,000 at a time when most statement headphones were still selling for half that, or less.

    Fast forward to today, and the Utopia is still the headphone I associate with the exclusive ‘summit-fi’ tier of head-fi audio equipment that only a select few enthusiasts can afford, let alone experience. As an enthusiast myself, I could never have imagined my climb up to the higher echelons of this devastatingly expensive but supremely enjoyable hobby would be so swift, and yet the headphone gear I now use and consider my ‘endgame’ is probably sat at Camp 2 or 3 compared to Utopia’s Everest summit.

    The Utopia in person

    As an Elear owner I am intimately familiar with Focal’s headphone design and ergonomics, so seeing the Utopia for the first time was pleasantly unsurprising. I’ve read reams of reviews and participated in many discussions with Utopia users, but there was still a feeling of privilege handling and opening the large display-style box the Utopia was housed in. Not dissimilar to the Elear’s box, it was black and bulky, but finished with a matte black skin and red trim that imparted an understated sense of prestige.

    The Utopia itself was, as expected, very Elear-like, though it felt slightly lighter in the hand. The leather finish of the headband and earpads is uber-soft, clearly made of a much finer grade of leather than the excellent Dekoni Elite sheepskin pads I use with my Elear. The memory foam is also much softer, though not as soft to the touch as the suede-like Elex pads I use as an Elear alternative (more on that later). The Utopia’s carbon fibre yokes have enough flex to sit the cups comfortably on your ears, but unlike the Elear the yokes and headband don’t creak when twisted.

    The latter isn’t an issue for me personally - there’s no creaking when the Elear is worn - but it does show the extra level of detail and build quality that went into the Utopia’s design, despite the similarities of look and feel with the Elear, that bestow it with its flagship status.

    On the head, the softness of the Utopia’s leather translated to added comfort, and despite not having a suspension strap (an oversight in heavier headphone designs), the headband didn’t immediately leave any hotspots on top of my usually sensitive scalp. It doesn’t exactly ‘disappear’ when worn, but it also doesn’t feel like you’re wearing a motorbike helmet, a-la the Audeze LCD-3.

    First impressions

    I’ve been anticipating Geoff’s visit all week, and so diligently prepared a list of test tracks I was hoping to hear through Utopia, running the gamut of my musical preferences from girl with guitar to male crooners, modern pop, classic rock and electronica.

    First up was Heidi Talbot’s intimately beautiful ‘If You Stay’ (watch here) from her Love+Light album, a track I’ve listened to countless times with almost every headphone I’ve owned and auditioned. Heidi’s innocently sensual voice and breathless delivery lend the song an ethereal quality that can sound edgy with the wrong headphone and compressed when the source is too digital. There was never any risk of that happening with Audio-gd’s exemplary R-28 all-in-one ladder dac and headphone amplifier, and even though the Utopia was using the amp’s single-ended output (I unfortunately did not have balanced Utopia cables to experiment with), the analog-like qualities of the source were immediately apparent.

    ‘If You Stay’ starts off with a series of lower register guitar plucks that should, ideally, reverberate and resonate around your head, and give the simple intro a sense of palpable weight and warmth. That’s exactly how Utopia delivered it, with every nuance of the guitar clearly and crisply articulated. Heidi’s opening verse was perfectly separated from the instruments that continue to play around her, and I could immediately get a sense of both depth and intimacy, as if she were sitting in the same room, singing her song to me.

    Having said that, the Elex is no slouch, and so having ‘calibrated my brain’ by first playing the track through the Elex, I was left a little underwhelmed when the Utopia hardly deviated from what I’d just heard, minutes before. In a blind test I would be hard pressed to tell which headphone was which, other than the obviously cooler Utopia pads around my ears.

    Similarities aside, the reason I keep going back to this expertly-mastered track is because good gear will almost always render it correctly, and any deviation is a solid strike against. So far, so good, but the first view from the summit was one I’d already seen before. Also, you may have noticed I used Elex to describe the Elear above, because having switched to Elex pads, that’s exactly what the Elear becomes. Since the Elex has a very similar FR graph to Utopia - and is often described as a ‘baby Utopia’ - I wanted to compare apples with apples, rather than use the more strident, dynamic and punchy Elear.

    Change of pace

    Strident, dynamic and punchy was exactly what I was looking for from the second test track, AC/DC’s seminal ‘Thunderstuck’ (watch here). Again a gorgeously mastered track, with good gear you should be able to get a real sense of stage width and space as the iconic guitar riff slowly builds up and around you, followed by the ‘kick’ of the kick drums - even before Brian Johnson’s unique delivery is heard over the backing vocals. Being treble sensitive, I use this track to test for glare in the higher notes of the screeching guitars, and as a bass aficionado, I want to feel the drums in the mix, not just hear them. This isn’t always an easy trick to pull off with headphones, but the really good ones will find just the right balance, even at higher volumes, without causing fatigue.

    The three most obvious qualities immediately apparent in Utopia’s presentation of the track was its remarkably clean highs, superb instrument separation and ink black background. The sound appeared ‘out of nowhere’ and disappeared from the stage with equally stealth-like speed. I’d read all about the Utopia’s fabled ‘speed’, but didn’t really understand what that meant until I heard this track. You could almost slice the details with a scalpel, but at such speed that it would be humanly impossible to do so. The fastest headphones I’d heard prior to this was a higher-end Stax electrostatic, and this was every bit as fast if not faster.

    Speed isn’t the only trait the Utopia seems to share with electrostatics. Not known for moving much air, ‘stats specialise in the delivery of tight, clean and detailed bass that often lacks the weight of real instruments or the rumble of electronic drums. This was a disappointment when hearing my first Stax, and likewise when hearing Thunderstruck through the Utopia. While not specifically a bass-driven track, I’ve heard the kick drums in the intro and the cacophony of drums in the body of the track conveyed with a real visceral impact on the likes of ZMF’s Atticus and the LCD-3, and even the Elear has a certain dynamic punch that makes Thunderstruck’s kicks stand out in the mix. The Utopia, while perfectly articulate, just didn’t do that for me. It was almost a sanitised rendition of bass, like one might expected from the likes of a Sennheiser HD600 or HD650, albeit a touch fuller than Sennheiser’s midrange models, and certainly more detailed.

    But where you sometimes want to let your hair down and rock out to a track like Thunderstruck - or similarly styled tracks like Joe ‘Satch’ Satriani’s ‘Always With Me, Always With You’ (watch here) off his ’Surfing With The Alien’ album - you’re more likely to sit and clap to the beat while tethered to the ‘oh so polite’ Utopia. And that’s ok; the Utopia is not, as far as I can tell, a balls-to-the-wall headphone, and that’s by design. There’s just too much detail, nuance, and subtlety in its approach to really bring on the grunge. For many audiophiles that’s a plus, and my penchant for tastefully elevated bass isn’t something these folks will lose much sleep over.

    It all comes together

    Normally when I audition a headphone, lack of impact is one of the first things I notice, at which point I generally lose interest. But the Utopia was doing too many things too well for me not to pay attention - including the way it described rather than viscerally delivered the bass in the mix. Owl City’s electronically layered ‘Saltwater Room’ literally invited me to walk in and explore the different points of sound emanating all around the space Utopia created. Every layer was separated like an onionskin at the hands of a master chef, and expertly arranged so that the parts were never removed from the whole. On brighter headphones that lack a sense of nuance or control, the sweetness of Breanne Duren’s supporting vocals - which really steal the show from lead singer Adam Young - can be lost in the mix. Instead, the Utopia let me meander through the treble-laden track as if it were lush and rolling midlands, with Adam and Breanne walking with me and around me. It was quite magical really, and prompted me to write in my notes: “best treble I’ve heard in a headphone.”

    Cohesiveness is probably the defining character of this headphone. Whether your leaning is more synthesised like Owl City and Daft Punk, or soft rock like Def Leppard, the Utopia presents you with a sound that is both richly detailed and highly musical, without favouring any parts at the expense of others. It’s impossibly smooth, lush and clinical all at once; and unwaveringly musical to my ears. Unlike other high-end headphones that specialise in doing some things well - the space and resolution of the HD800, the speed and transparency of the Stax, the warmth and weight of the LCD-3, the natural realism of the Auteur - the Utopia takes all these elements and melds them together into its own unique sound.

    Of course it’s not without its faults, small as they may seem at these dizzying heights. Daft Punk’s ‘Contact’ (listen here) from their masterpiece album ‘Random Access Memories’ is a typical slow-burning, quickly building piece of artful electronica that goes from spartan emptiness to crazy mayhem in a few short minutes. There’s a frantic energy conveyed by the sudden advance and attack of the ‘aliens’ that Utopia’s measured approach somehow fails to grasp. With all the elements neatly intertwined, it almost holds itself back from giving any of the crazy effects prominence over another, but that’s exactly what you want to hear, and many less poised headphones will give you just that.

    Utopia is also too fast, in my opinion, at conveying decay, which can make it sound a little dry at times. The droning decay of the deep drums that softly underlie Katie Melua’s ‘Red Balloons’ is a case in point, as are the big, bold booms in Dadawa’s ’Sister Drum’. In both cases Utopia lets you know what you’re hearing - heck it’s so detailed you can probably read the label on the backing material of the drums used in the track - but the size is all wrong. Perhaps it is Utopia’s expensive and exotic Beryllium drivers at play; the Elear and its equally sized drivers doesn’t seem to have too much trouble with the drums in those tracks. It could just be that a buttery smooth rather than hard edged articulation is exactly the sound Focal was seeking, in which case they’ve nailed it.

    Back on terra firma

    Later that day, after my climb down from the summit, I was reflecting on the experience with my brother, who’d extensively listened to the Utopia in days gone by. In his own words, “the Utopia’s refinement has an incredible way of dissecting the music yet presenting it in an incredibly musical way, so it is articulate all the while being delicate and pleasing, and not sanitised like so many ‘audiophile’ headphones.”

    I couldn’t have said that better myself, so I didn’t. What I will say is that, combined with the right system, the Utopia earns its praise and position among the very best of the best. While I consider my system to be of a very high standard, there’s no question a headphone like Utopia will benefit more - and give you more - from a system more commensurate with its price tag. That’s not to say the system I’m using was necessarily a limiting factor, but that there are more gears to be shifted if you have the means to do so. Add to that the mysterious effect that synergy may yield with different components, which Utopia is undoubtedly transparent enough to respond to.

    Closing thoughts

    Which brings me to the reason I decided, in the end, to take leave of the summit, regardless of how stunning I found the view. Truth be told, the difference between high-end and summit-fi is not nearly as large as you’d imagine based purely on how much it will cost you to walk those extra few steps to the top. If, like me, you’re willing to spread your listening between two or more headphones, each of which does something different or better than the other and is therefore more suited to different types of music, then putting all your eggs in one very expensive basket like Utopia is not necessarily the best way to spend your money.

    Then again, if money is no object, and the price of Utopia doesn’t make your palms sweat and eyes twitch, then few headphones I’m aware of can elevate your music to extreme levels of fidelity like Utopia can. It may not get you up and dancing, but it will make you cry - and not because you had to sell your car to buy it.
      xenithon likes this.
  3. glassmonkey
    Detail and separation monster, not perfect
    Written by glassmonkey
    Published Jul 19, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - detailed, revealing, outstanding depth and instrument separation, punchy engaging listen, speedy like a coked up F1 driver
    Cons - compact soundstage for a flagship (small width/height), poor accessories, long-term comfort, listening fatigue, $$$$, sensitive to accessory cables (you’ll probably buy at least one)
    List Price: £3499 (UK, Audio Sanctuary), $4000 globally

    Product Website: https://www.focal.com/uk/headphones/home/utopia

    Acknowledgment
    Thank you Matt, at SCV distribution, for supplying a Utopia on loan. I really wanted to compare this to the Susvara, you made it happen. The opinions expressed in this review are my own and in no way influenced by SCV distribution or anyone else.

    This review was originally published on Audio Primate.

    Introduction
    The Focal Utopia is widely regarded as one of the best headphones on the planet for technical capability and sound quality. I’ve reviewed what I believe is the best headphone on the planet under $50k, the HiFiMAN Susvara, but I hadn’t spent any time outside of shows listening to the Focal Utopia. At shows, I’d found that I didn’t like it out of everything I listening to. I thought it paired well with the Naim amp I first heard it on, and badly with the Dragon Inspire IHA-1 tube headphone amp. Next time I heard it, it was another Naim amp, and it sounded different once again, with north of neutral bass and a bit of lift in the lower treble.

    I’ve got a good relationship with SCV distribution, so I was able to get a loan of the Focal Utopia for some time.

    Useability: Form & Function
    Unboxing
    [​IMG]

    The box looks fancy, nice leather display box with excellent padding throughout and compartments for each component, but no case, and only one Manute Bol (he was 7'7") sized cable. Where is all the good stuff that comes with the Clear? I’m of the opinion that after releasing the Clear with a travel case, one normal sized cable, and two over-sized cables (including a balanced cable), all the other Focal headphones should have immediately got the same treatment, but this did not happen. The $1500 Focal Clear has better accessories than $4000 Utopia. Fix it Focal.

    Again, the presentation and packaging are excellent, but the functionality of what’s in the box is kind of nonsense. The included cable is 3 meters long. Did they actually talk to headphone users, or did they just assume that the Utopia would be used in the same position as their 2 channel speakers (which are really nice by the way)? Focal went to the trouble of making it so the Utopia can be adequately powered off most decently endowed DAPs, but then they didn’t include a 3.5mm terminated cable or for that matter a cable made for humans. I’m imagining Wun Wun wearing this cable and thinking it’s perfect length and girth (expressed as a deep rumble). There is also not a balanced cable included. Sometimes, it’s the little things that kill.

    [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="1024"][​IMG] The 3 meter cable would make a nice sports cable for Wun Wun.[/caption]


    More unboxing pictures can be found here.

    Build, Aesthetics and ergonomics
    The cable is a good thickness cable with excellent conductors and it is built balanced, just without a balanced amp connection (why!?). It’s a high quality cable, just not pitched to the audience this headphone is really for: headphone audiophiles. I don’t think that the Utopia is really pitched for music producers, and balanced connectors are basically ubiquitous in top tier cans for audiophiles. I kind of understand why they don’t have two cables with the Utopia, Lemo connectors are expensive ($70 to add them to a Double Helix Cable Prion 4). Lemo connectors are of extremely good build quality, there’s a reason why the connectors cost so darn much. They have well-built moving parts and are basically impossible to remove without intent. Lemo connectors are sturdy with a very secure and a good contact surface area.

    The Focal Utopia comes in all the colours you want if you want black, but it is stylishly done, with nice silver accents on several nicely placed bevelled edges, steel screws holding the carbon fibre gimbals to the drivers, and a precision stamped silver grille exposing the eye of the beast—the driver looks like a beast eye looking out at you with a grey centre and red spider for the 40mm solid beryllium driver. The pads are made with a high quality leather with perforations for ventilation and sound tuning. The cups have a small pivot built into the headband (probably 20⁰ front and back). I found this pivot inadequate to get the full surface of the cups flush with my head. The head pad is also perforated and nicely cushioned. The left and right side of the headphones are labelled on the headband, and faintly noted by the Lemo jacks. I would have very much liked if they used red colour coding to signify right. Much of the cup assembly is made of high quality plastic, which is probably necessary due to the weight of the magnets in these.

    [​IMG]

    I found the Utopia to cause pressure points on my jaw where the clamp force is focused due to my inability to get the cups to sit completely flush due to the limited range on the cup swivelling. I can’t just put the headphones on and forget about them like the HiFiMAN HE-1000 v2, HiFiMAN Susvara, or the Sennheiser HD600. These are comfortable enough for a normal listening session (couple hours), but we are audiophiles, we aren’t normal. We listen for stupid lengths of time. I’m on hour 5 at 2AM as I write this.

    [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="1024"][​IMG] These two stands are nearly identical, note HiFiMAN Susvara sits flush, while Utopia applies more pressure at the bottom.[/caption]
    Audio quality
    The desktop setup:

    • Dell Inspiron running JRiver (source)
    • Vertere Acoustics D-Fi DD 2 wire USB cable (split power and signal)
    • iFi Micro iUSB3.0
    • LH Labs Lightspeed 2G (split power and signal)
    • Questyle CMA600i or Aune S6
    • Vertere Acoustics D-Fi XLR to RCA interconnect
    • XIAUDIO Formula S (Eleven Audio) or Aune S6 (no interconnect) or Questyle CMA600i (no interconnect)
    • Headphone cables: all Atlas Zeno.
    I started my listening using the Wire-on-Wire Experience 680 RCA interconnects and switched to the Vertere Acoustics DFi after I was noting a hardness in the upper mids/lower treble of the Utopia. I was getting fatigued quickly. I think the Utopia has a little bit of emphasis in this area, and the added emphasis of the bright Wire-on-Wire cable was too much. The Vertere Acoustics DFi cable is less bright, while still maintaining excellent detail resolution. I could have also tried the Wire-on-Wire spacers (they lower treble output), but I didn’t do that.

    For listening with the Focal Utopia low gain was always used. I never had to take the volume past about 30%. The Focal Utopia is easy to drive as flagships go. The HifiMAN cans were played on High Gain (on the Formula S only). As volume matching open cans is hard to do via measurement, I did it by ear. Feel free to take my observations with a grain of salt, but I recommend you try using only an SPL meter to volume match open cans with different dispersion patterns. I think that you’ll probably find that you'd do the same as me.



    Amplifier/DAC Pairings
    All amplifier pairings were done using the balanced output on each amplifier, except for the Questyle QP2R. The cable used with the Utopia was the Atlas Zeno cable with termination in two 3-pin XLR with a dual 3-pin XLR to 4-pin XLR Vertere Acoustics Pulse HB adaptor, except on the pairing with the Questyle QP2R. Even though the dual 3-pin to 4-pin XLR conversion is unnecessary on the XI Audio Formula S, I maintained this connection for consistency. For the Questyle QP2R pairing, the stock cable was used with a Sennheiser 6.3mm to 3.5mm adaptor. I used white noise to volume match, holding an SPL meter in one hand and the Utopia in the other, being careful to try to replicate microphone position on the SPL meter and grip on the Utopia to try to make the measurements as consistent as possible. Here is the volume match table for all sources, so that you can at least attempt to replicate my observations should you have a similar set-up.

    Source Gain Volume SPL
    XIAUDIO Formula S Low 1/3 78.1
    Questyle CMA600i -- 6.75 78.2
    Aune S6 -- 59 78.3
    Questyle CMA600i -- 8 78.2
    Questyle QP2R High 102 78.3


    Aune S6
    Listening to 2Pac – God Bless the Dead, the bass has great richness on the S6. Deep and bold. Nice. The S6 drives the Focal Utopia with plenty of headroom. Compared to the Questyle CMA600i, the stage is more forward with less depth on the S6. The S6 still allows picking apart the image, with the excellent resolution characteristics still showing. The S6 isn’t quite refined enough for the Utopia. The CMA600i is better.

    Questyle CMA600i
    The mids are a bit clearer on the CMA600i on God Bless the Dead, but the lows don’t have as much body as the S6. On Leonard Cohen – Leaving the Table, the bass has more texture and the separation in the mids is greater with better detail. The CMA600i drives the Utopia effortlessly with great space in the stage. On Outkast – Ms. Jackson, the details pop beautifully on the track with excellent separation in the tightly layered mids. Dog barks, laughing, layered guitars and percussion are all nicely separated. I love the funky bass guitar line here. Instruments have remarkable spacing, better than the S6.

    Compared to the XIAUDIO Formula S, the Questyle CMA600i is more forward. Kate Bush’s vocals are thrust upon you in Cloudbusting more than on the XIAUDIO Formula S, where they are a touch further back. Bass is nice and chooglin’ on The Beach Boys – Sloop John B (DSD64). Because the stage depth is less than the XIAUDIO Formula S, it the reproduction sounds more forward.

    When listening to Why? – Sod in the Seed there is little difference between the presentation of the CMA600i and the QP2R, which leads me to believe that both drive the Utopia equally well.

    Questyle QP2R
    Why? – Sod in the Seed comes off a bit sharp in the high guitar notes. The detail is spectacular, as with every other pairing. Fleetwood Mac – Dreams has a bit forward sounding cymbals, and the decay is a bit quick, leading to a bit of a tinny sound, this is replicated on the CMA600i in single-ended operation. I think these probably benefit from an upgrade to the included cable, as the Utopia with Atlas Zeno sounded better on the CMA600i.

    XIAUDIO Formula S
    [​IMG]

    The XIAUDIO Formula S, fed by the Questyle CMA600i as DAC (unity gain), is smoother and less punchy than the CMA600i as the DAC and amplifier. Stage depth is a bit greater on the XIAUDIO Formula S. The stage width is also greater on the XIAUDIO Formula S compared to the CMA600i when listening to Kate Bush – Cloudbusting. Likewise, the stage width and separation are more impressive on the XIAUDIO Formula S. Tonally both the Formula S and CMA600i produce a similar presentation. I think the difference are primarily due to better stage performance on the Formula S, though if I had to state any tonal difference I would say that the sound is more forward on the CMA600i. Rush – The Spirit of the Radio further highlights the differences in stage depth between the two amplifiers. Neil Peart’s drum kit is further back in the stage with much more separation from Geddy Lee’s vocals and the ambuscade of drums has more resolution and spacing. On Pixies – Where Is My Mind, the stage is bigger and more clearly defined on the Formula S than the CMA600i. The observation was replicated when listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album. The Utopia does benefit from a better amp, in spite of not being incredibly demanding as flagships go.

    Headphone Comparisons
    All headphone comparisons were done on the Formula S using Atlas Zeno cables. The Focal Utopia was hooked up with dual 3-pin XLRs (appeared to be silver pins). The HiFiMAN HE-1000 v2 and the HiFiMAN Susvara were connected via 4-pin XLR (brass pins). It would have been nice to have the same connector, but you work with what you got. Thanks for the loaner cables SCV and Atlas Cables.

    HiFiMAN HE-1000 v2
    First up, some non-sonic stuff. The HE-1000 v2 are way more comfortable than the Utopia. The larger swivel radius of the cups on the HE-1000 v2 means there are no pressure points, the cups sit flush even pressure distribution. The larger pad surface area and grill surface area also means that weight and heat are better distributed. The HE-1000 v2 are lighter, with a better distributed load due to the design of the strap. They don’t look as tough or prestigious as the Utopias, but they are more functionally minded in their design.

    Overall sound impressions. The HiFiMAN HE-1000 v2 is smoother and more natural sounding than the Utopia. It has a more open sound with a wider and taller soundstage. It has a very real feeling. The Utopia has a deeper soundstage than the HE-1000 v2. The small size of the soundstage gives a clear disconnect from the feeling of reality over headphone simulation. The Utopia has a remarkably black background. When listening to the Tom Waits – The One That Got Away the silence between instruments and notes is impressive. So clean and clear. Love the stand-up bass accuracy and separation between the instruments. The whole album has a live feel to it and it’s especially apparent on this track. The HE-1000 v2 has a little lighter touch on the mids. On the Utopia, the decay is stand-up bass is more natural, it’s a touch fast on the HE-1000 v2. Saxophone sounds a little rougher and reedier on the HE-1000 v2, the Utopia is smoother through the mids with a bit more body. There’s a bit more texture in Tom Wait’s voice on the HE-1000 v2.

    [​IMG]

    Listening to Slayer – Necrophobic the mids are a bit thicker and less textured on the Utopia. The decreased width of the soundstage reduces the ability to resolve the band in space. With Talking Heads – Psycho killer the Utopias have a bit of thickness in the vocals that deadens a little bit of the dynamics in David Byrne’s voice. The HE-1000 v2 are more natural and timbrally accurate. They also have a wide stage.

    Listening to Shostakovich Symphony No. 1, the Utopia does a beautiful job of rendering the depth of instrumentation. Instruments are clearly separated in y-axis (moving from the listener perpendicular to the face), but the width (x-axis) is not sufficient to get a good idea of the scale of the orchestra, the stage height (z-axis) is also not exceptional. The HiFiMAN HE-1000 v2 has better stage dimensions. There is a nice sweetness to the violins. Strings in general sound beautiful with just the right amount of weight given to each part of plucked and struck notes.

    Roger Waters’ album Amused to Death is one of my all-time favourite albums for sound quality. When listening to the album I found that the 40mm dynamic driver gave my ears a pretty good thrashing at similar volume to comfortable listening on the HE-1000 v2. I think that because the driver area disperses the sound more on the HE-1000 v2 that there is less pressure on any given area of the ear, while the Utopia is a piston driving pressure directly at my ear-drum. The HE-1000 v2 also imparts more breathiness into Roger Waters – Three Wishes. However, it should be noted that the Utopia sounds more impactful on Three Wishes.

    Overall, I think that in most areas, the HE-1000 v2 is more to my liking than the Utopia. It has a bigger stage, it is more comfortable, it causes less listening fatigue. It is also less expensive. Matched with essentially the same aftermarket cable, the Atlas Zeno, the HE-1000 v2 is the better buy at $2999 and, to my ears, the better sounding headphone. Some will prefer the more impactful and intimate sound of the Utopia. Both headphones are very detailed but the HE-1000 v2 sounds more natural to me.

    [​IMG]

    HiFiMAN Susvara
    This isn’t likely to go well for the Utopia, as the HE-1000 v2, which isn’t as stellar as the Susvara just beat the Utopia. I’ve given this a couple days rest to wipe clear my memory. The amp is on, warmed up, and my ears are ready to make the attempt at volume matching by ear—I don’t have the set-up to match two different open cans, dispersion differences change measurements.

    Listening to Why? – Waterlines the bass is a bit less punchy on the Susvara. The overall ambience of the Susvara is bigger. The harp strings pluck in space with delicious delicacy, whilst wood blocks have a rounder impact, and snare snaps have more air dispersion around them. The opening strings are in a more compact space listening to the Utopia, whilst strings are more enveloping on the Susvara. Tambourines are more present on the Utopia and Yoni Wolf’s vocals are also more forward. Wood block hits are more compact and snappy. Overall the sound is sharper and more compact on the Utopia, and more expansive and inviting on the Susvara.

    Stepping into Dave Brubeck – Take Five, the Utopia is tighter with greater impact on drums, but a bit hard sounding compared to the Susvara. The Susvara presents similar detail and shape but the thunderous drum solo in the middle of the track doesn’t have the same violence that the Utopia displays. The Utopia fires off the drum riff like a volley of machine gun fire in a thunderstorm. These are alternative tonal presentations of the same sounds, and both headphones call up the same detail and maintain the same speed. When listening to cymbals the Utopia is a bit more forward with shorter attack and decay. As with the previous track, the stage width and depth are superior on the Susvara.

    Diana Krall’s voice smacks with tiny details as her dry mouth draws breath between notes on the Susvara. Little clicks of her tongue percolate to the surface on The Girl In The Other Room. Those same little clicks are there too, on the Utopia. The soundstage is smaller and Diana Krall’s voice is more forward on the Utopia. Cymbals on the Susvara sound soft and smooth compared to the Utopia, whilst not being particularly soft. Upper mid and lower treble percussion is more snappy on the Utopia. Both headphones have a realistic feel.

    Outkast – Ms. Jackson has some surprisingly complex mixing, and the Utopia does a modestly better job keeping everything in the complex scene organised and clear. The track can get confusing, and the Focal Utopia keeps up a bit better with the dispersed signal.

    Bass test time. Kick it Pac. Bass on the Utopia is tight and controlled on Troublesome ’96. Such a groovy bassline. Never gets old, especially when listening on such stellar headphones. The snare drum retains the violence observed on other tracks. There’s a touch more texture in the bass on the Susvara. It’s actually revealing some unpleasant distortion artifacts in the bass. It’s harder to listen to than the Utopia. The bass is cleaner, without distortion showing up as much in the bass on the Utopia. The bass line has more weight. The distortion is still there, but it isn’t as clear on the Utopia. Piano has nice delicacy on the Susvara. On Max Richter – Dream 1 (before the wind blows it all away) the Utopia goes impressively deep and handles the power of the bass piano notes, including the low sub-bass notes with nice gravity. The Susvara is richer with more developed bass texture. It goes just as deep but gives more texture and amplitude in the lower sub-bass while being a bit less impactful in the upper sub-bass. The sub-bass on the Susvara has more rumble than the Utopia. I don’t have measurements, but I would guess that the Susvara has more energy between 10Hz and 40Hz than the Utopia, but the Utopia has more energy between 40Hz and 60Hz. The structure of the bass notes is just a bit different. The Utopia has a more clean and precise sound, while the Susvara is deep with natural sounding linearity. I think while the Susvara has more rumble, the clarity of the Utopia bass puts it on par.

    When I reviewed the Susvara, I found that a bright interconnect, the Wire On Wire Experience 680, gave the Susvara that bit more detail throughout the spectrum, but added a touch of fatigue. The Experience 680 made the Utopia sound harder with some tones entering into harsh territory, it was not an ideal pairing. I think that both headphones have quite a bit of potential for synergy with different set-ups. I think if I put the Wire On Wire Experience 680 back in with the Utopia, the distance between the two headphones will be larger as the synergy with the Susvara of the Experience 680 is excellent (and can be tuned to drop out the tiny bit of fatigue on the pairing). As is, with the Vertere Acoustics D-Fi XLR to RCA interconnects they are fairly close. The Vertere Acoustics softens the Utopia somewhat, and I think it is doing the same to the Susvara. When I put the Wire on Wire Experience 680 back in with the Susvara, the Susvara burns up the quarter mile and takes those pink slips. Instrument separation is on par or better, complex passages are handled with the same intricacy as the Utopia. The sound is more natural than the Utopia. The bass detail is substantially better than the Utopia with some serious rumble. The soundstage is still superior on the Susvara.



    For long-term listening, the Susvara is more comfortable from an ergonomic and listening fatigue perspective. The more impactful sound of the Utopia, whilst engaging, can also be fatiguing. It will get your toes tapping like mad and your head banging or grooving (as is appropriate to your choice of music), but not for as long as the Susvara. I think the Utopia has a hair more detailed and precise sound, but the Susvara has more linearly extended bass and a significantly larger sound stage. I find the sonic portraiture of the Utopia to be vibrantly engaging, whilst the Susvara is more neutral and absorbing. The Susvara lets you melt into the sound a bit more than the Utopia, which demands your ears stand at attention for the next spat of violence.

    Cable Pairings
    Headphone cables
    The stock cable is a good heavy-duty cable. It’s just too darn long. It has right and left sides, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing as the markers are in faintly imprinted small impressions on the rubber strain relief of the Lemo connectors. There is no colour coding for right and left and no physical cues. Focal clearly didn’t expect that people would disconnect the cable often. That’s actually a pretty reasonable assumption. How reviewers interact with gear is not at all normal.

    Cables were volume matched using an SPL meter. Volume matching on the same open headphone between amps and cables is consistent. The amp was the XIAUDIO Formula S. There was no volume difference between the Atlas Zeno (£250-£300, couldn’t find price with Lemo connectors) and the Vertere Acoustics Pulse HB (£1400). Both the Zeno and the Pulse HB used dual 3-pin XLR connectors. The connectors on the Zeno appear to be silver, whilst the Pulse HB uses gold-plated brass.

    The switching time was substantial as the Lemo connectors are right bastards to deal with if you want to switch between setups quickly. They need to be flawlessly aligned and they have little spring-loaded rings that are a bit finicky. I didn’t have two Focal Utopias on hand, so I did the best that I could switching between them, but the time lag means that you have to trust my hearing and hearing memory over my process, so take any observations salted to taste.

    To be honest, given the cables that I’m working with, I just don’t have confidence that my memory is good enough. I did repeated switches back and forth between the Zeno and the Pulse HB, but my observations were inconsistent, which in the absence of any other evidence is reason to conclude that it is likely that the sonic difference between the cables is either non-existent, or tiny. If I had to say anything about sonic differences with low confidence it would be that the Pulse HB sounds a bit drier.

    [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="1024"][​IMG] Atlas Zeno, Utopia cable champion in this review[/caption]

    From a build quality standpoint, both the cables are beefy, with very nice looking build quality. The Pulse HB is a bit tougher looking, and has chunky-super-heavy-why-am-I-so-damned-heavy-because-it-screams-premium XLR connectors. They are stupidly heavy. They do not need to be this heavy. This is silly. The Atlas Zeno has normal weight 3-pin XLRs, which is to say lightweight. The Vertere Acoustics XLRs use the right and left labelling on the strain reliefs to tell you which way is up on the 3-pin XLR connectors, while the Atlas Zeno uses the screw to show you which side is up. I found that the Vertere Acoustics way of marking was harder to use than the Atlas method. The right and left indicators are potentially covered by your hand when you are inserting the XLR, while the screw on the Atlas connectors is not. I like ergonomic and well thought out designs. Neutrik XLRs use imprinted branding to show which way is up on their jacks. Clearly, the best place to mark which way is up on an XLR is to do so on the upper half of the connector, the part you are looking at when you insert it.

    [​IMG]

    The Pulse HB has beefier wires, but this probably doesn’t matter too much to the Utopia, as it is relatively easy to drive, so doesn’t need a bigger highway, so to speak. I think that this might not be the case with the Susvara if I were try the Pulse HB for it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a Pulse HB terminated for the Susvara on hand. As is, I’m not hearing a significant enough difference between the Pulse HB and the Atlas Zeno to put forth any substantial claims with the Vertere Acoustics DFi interconnects running in-between the CMA600i and the Formula S. This would mean that spending £1400 for the Vertere Acoustics Pulse HB cable is likely not justified for the Focal Utopia. The Atlas Zeno does an excellent job at substantially less money and doesn’t have paperweights at the end of each wire.

    Interconnects
    But what about with the aforementioned Wire on Wire Experience 680 interconnect? I found that the sound was more revealing and more bright with this pairing, on any headphone cable connected. Listening to Kate Bush – Running up that Hill the sound was immediately much more detailed and impactful than the Vertere Acoustics DFi. When the thunderous drums come in, the Vertere Acoustics DFi sounds more distant while also having less overall depth. The noise floor of the recording is also more apparent on the Wire on Wire Experience 680. The Experience 680 also makes the Utopia more fatiguing, so with the Utopia, I prefer the Vertere Acoustics DFi interconnect over the Experience 680 in default setting. It should be noted that the Experience 680 can be tuned by adding spacers and that the spacers basically tune treble presence (see impressions from Indulgence Show 2017), but without having two of the cable, I wouldn’t be able to make reliable comparisons at home.

    Specifications
    Specifications
    Price $4000
    Driver type 40mm pure Beryllium dynamic driver
    Impedance 80Ω
    Sensitivity 104dB SPL / 1mW @ 1kHz
    THD <0.2% @ 1kHz / 100dB SPL
    Frequency Response 5Hz – 50kHz
    Weight 490g (17.28oz)
    Accessories 3M 6.35mm single-ended OFC cable terminated with Lemo connectors (balanced wire configuration, single ended termination), padded display box, manual and warranty cards


    Acknowledgment
    Thank you Matt, at SCV distribution, for supplying a Utopia on loan. I really wanted to compare this to the Susvara, you made it happen. The opinions expressed in this review are my own and in no way influenced by SCV distribution or anyone else.

    Conclusions
    The Utopia has outstanding instrument separation and stage depth, but limited stage width and height. The Utopia has excellent frequency extension with sub-bass notes driving deep, and highs well extended. The bass extension on the Utopia, while impressive is not as linear as the HiFiMAN Susvara. The Utopia falls a bit short of the Susvara in technical performance (stage, frequency linearity) and signature neutrality. The Utopia is less natural sounding than the HiFiMAN HE-1000 v2. Both HiFiMAN sets are more comfortable than the Utopia.

    I found that the Utopia was sensitive to interconnect changes in my set-up. The Wire On Wire Experience 680 made the Utopia sound hard and a bit harsh, leading to relatively quick fatigue. This same pairing with the Susvara is bright, but not overly fatiguing and gives more resolution and texture throughout the frequency spectrum. With a softer, smoother interconnect like the Vertere Acoustics D-Fi, the Utopias more emphatic tendencies were tamed somewhat.

    The Utopia is a technically proficient headphone that gets deep into details on tracks and is very engaging to listen to. Sometimes it borders on too engaging. While I enjoy the Susvara and the HE-1000 v2 more, as I prefer a more organic neutral sound, I could easily see preference going the other way. I don’t think the Utopia is the best headphone under $50k for me, but it is a spectacular headphone that will put a smile on your face and keep your toes tapping.

    [​IMG]

    Rating Disclaimer: ratings are subjective. Audio quality and value do not mean the same thing across all prices. A headphone with a 5 rating on audio at $5 does not have equivalent sound quality as a 5 rating at $500. Likewise, value at $5 is not the same as value at $5000 dollars.
      Liu Junyuan and B9Scrambler like this.
  4. zellous
    Utopia
    Written by zellous
    Published Mar 24, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Detail, mids, precision, lows, musicality, separation, dynamics, realism, life, timbre, enjoyment, transparency, treble, imaging, padding, punchy, comfort, vocals, revealing, intimate, insightful, magical, genre agnostic, emotive, unique, easier to drive than some flagships
    Cons - Very expensive. The stock cable is too thick, heavy and long (and just OFC, no 6N/7N pure copper), some plastic used for the ear cups, a tiny bit of creaking from the headband/yokes, a little bit of clamping pressure (which will most likely go in time), not the widest sound stage, no carry/travel case and XLR balanced cable included like you get on their cheaper Clear headphones
    My audio connective trail and setup:

    16 & 24-Bit WAV lossless files,

    Foobar2000 with WASAPI event output,

    Nordost Blue Heaven USB type B cable/Oyaide Neo d+ class S USB type B cable/custom Nordost USB type B cable,

    iFi micro iUSB purifier,

    Nordost Blue Heaven USB type B cable/Oyaide Neo d+ class S USB type B cable/custom Nordost USB type B cable,

    Fostex HP-A4BL DAC connected to a iFi iPower 12 volt power supply/HRT Music Streamer Pro DAC/Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital,

    Nordost Heimdall RCA cable/Oyaide Neo d+ class S RCA cable,

    Beyerdynamic A1 amplifier (with a HiFi Tuning internal fuse)/Burson Soloist SL MK2 connected to a custom Nordost Vishnu power cable (with a IsoClean 24k gold-plated plug, a Furutech FI-11 gold-plated IEC connector and HiFi Tuning gold-plated fuse),

    all connected to a custom Russ Andrews Yello power mains extension with a Supra gold plated UK mains plug with a gold plated AMR fuse inside.


    Hi everyone.

    I will keep this brief initially and will update in time.

    My cans have been burned in for a minimum of 50 hours but they are so amazing and outstanding I have to write something!

    By the way, I preferred using the Oyaide class S USB cables with the Project S2 Digital connected to the Beyerdynamic A1.

    I may not have heard electrostatic cans like other audiophiles but these are, without question, the best headphones I have ever experienced! I feel my open-back headphone experience is vast and varied, have a looksee at my profile if you wish.
    Sonically speaking I find them perfect, the details are in my pros.
    It is really hard to put in to words how realistic they emit sound, extraordinary! And doing so without being boring or analytical, I have to stress those factors.

    The most immediate quality I noticed (which was instantly) was the level of insight. The old cliche of "hearing things I have never heard before on very familiar songs" applies here. World class.
    When I heard some classical music, it was just magical. That is the only thing I can say, it transported me to audio Utopia.

    It doesn't seem to matter what type of music you play, they just sound sublime and utterly unique. Very special cans.

    Just note, if you seek unanimous and universal perfection from a headphone irrespective of price, I'm pretty sure you will never find it but I do hope I am wrong.

    Yes they are very expensive (I am pleased I did not pay the RRP £3500 for them). But I urge all who care for audio to try and give them a good listen and make up your own mind.

    The best headphones ever made by mankind? Maybe not.
    The best headphone in the world? Maybe.
    The best dynamic headphones created? I would say yes. For me more perfect than the HD800S, T1 and GS2000E which is not easy to achieve.

    Is that not worth it then? Go and have a listen, sit back and get lost in the music : )

    A massive well done to Focal for the accomplishment in a relatively short space of time in comparison to the very established, keep up the revolutionary work : )

    Update 1.
    Probably burned in for 100 hours.
    These are a masterpiece, a triumph of engineering and absolutely incredible!
    My GS2000E may be more lighter, more airy, more spacious, less clamping and more comfortable but for me these cans have no rival.
    One thing I wanted to raise and mention is that when we go to the cinema, the environment and mood is set for us. Mobile phones off and lights dimmed, distractions are reduced to a minimum.
    But with headphone listening, the onus is on us to do so. I find for the best experience you should listen to a well recorded song with high production values, with good equipment. And close your eyes, that is important for focus and concentration.
    Other open back headphones I have heard let you hear the music but these headphones, they let you feel the music.
    I would have to say that is the biggest difference compared with all other cans.
    They are supremely balanced, I cannot hear an emphasis on a particular frequency.
    Unrivalled highs and detail, true to life vocals and mids along with stunningly deep and impactful bass. All simultaneously delivered with such cohesion and musicality.
    With the right music, they evoke emotion. Utterly mesmerising and captivating.
    I don't know how Focal have done this, they are not perfect headphones but I believe the sound they produce is flawless.

    It is not good that they do not come with a travel/carry case and a XLR balanced cable like their cheaper Clear headphones, hopefully they change that soon.
    One of my big regrets is that I did not hear them balanced, as I recently changed my set up to fully balanced.
    But they are legendary dynamic cans : )
      Aslshark, Meitza and Malfunkt like this.
    1. Malfunkt
      Nice review - and simply put. I’m having the opportunity to audition them at length. They are worth the price.
      Malfunkt, Apr 1, 2018
      zellous likes this.
    2. zellous
      Thank you, I hope you really enjoy them : )
      zellous, Apr 3, 2018
    3. RogerWilco
      Very nice !
      RogerWilco, Apr 18, 2018
      zellous likes this.
  5. Lan647
    The french take on the state of the art.
    Written by Lan647
    Published Dec 10, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Outstanding resolution, precision and high frequency extension. Awesome dynamic abilities. Deep bass for an open electro-dynamic. High-end build. Superb comfort considering heft. Easy to drive.
    Cons - Slightly hyped up low-mid treble hinders ultimate realism and can render bright material unlistenable. Unnecessarily hefty cable. Slight mid-bass bloom. The price is too high.
    Utopia.jpg

    The clarity and resolution really is impressive. That, in combination with the explosive dynamic range makes for a lively, vivid sound experience. All that detail can get fatiguing though as the crystalline (but very pure and refined) treble can easily draw too much attention to itself with anything less than top-notch recordings. It's not a peaky nor harsh treble, but it is a prominent feature of the Utopia.

    Bass extension is better than any other non-planar open back I know of. Bass quality is very good, albeit *slightly* lacking in heft with just a touch of mid-bass emphasis/bloom compared to something like an HE-1000 or SR-007. But punch is strong and it's well integrated into the mix.

    The mids are superb. Pure and transparent with great presence and body. Male vocals sound great. Imaging is as precise as a german optical instrument.

    I love the look and feel of the Utopia. It feels expensive, nice leather and detailing. Nice presentation overall. Only negative is the carbon fiber arc assembly which feels a little fragile (even though it's not really, carbon fiber and all...) and can creak on some pairs I've used. The headphone is a bit heavy but the pads are so supple and the weight so evenly distributed that it doesn't matter in use.

    The cable is too looong and too heavy. Not a problem in practice though as it's easily manageable. And it's a great quality cable.

    Overall certainly a premium product and a strong offering from Focal. Just be aware that the treble might be too much if you're particularly sensitive and not prepared for such ruthless articulation.
  6. Whitigir
    Focal Pride and Proud Headphones, the Utopia
    Written by Whitigir
    Published Jul 4, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Transparency, beautiful performances, references, easy to drive
    Cons - Nothing I could reasonably found, probably cables length and prices
    Owning the Utopia is such an honor to me. I remember that I couldn't believe what Focal was announcing a year ago about Utopia and the price point, yet $3999 can have me a beefy gaming computer, a set up for Virtual Reality game, a Home Surround system...etc...etc. It was very hard to fathom the idea of such a Headphones can be astronomically expensive. However, knowing Focal is like a Ferrari brand with years of experiences and reputation into the speaker and stereophile worlds, it would also be hard to think that Focal just want to step into the Headphones hobby to just rip off customer and or to ruin it reputation. Therefore, I kept on looking out for different point of views that is being reported in around the Internet, from people that auditioned it, and even friends and people who auditioned the ELear. Please be advised that this is my sole impressions and experiences with Utopia personally. I hope this can help you in your decision making

    IMG_1152.JPG
    Finally, I decided to buy the Utopia and to hell with it, there are 3 main reasons why I wanted to buy it regardless of it price:


    1/ Focal reputation is far exceeding their own products in audio quality on speakers. They know their stuff.

    2/ Utopia craftsmanship is just beautiful and very exotic

    3/ Utopia is reportedly being easy to drive from almost any sources, but it has the ability to retrieve unbelievable details. It will absolutely show the weakness from your sources and gears, and from the system that it is on.
    IMG_1168.JPG
    The thing I seek for most from headphones is the ability to slam and jam while my family is asleep, music is a therapy to me that brings away the stress, the resistances, and whatever that was left with me during the day of work and being busy in life. I also would love to plug and play from many different things but with the performances that just don't make me say "Yuck!" In a short word, I want an easy to drive + high performance headphones. One of the symptoms that can tell you that your headphones is not being driven properly is the extinction of bass.


    So, my Utopia finally arrived, and I was so eagerly waiting, also having such high expectation with doubts. The doubts that was brought about because I love bass, the authentic authority and realism from a drum play, could this references Utopia be lacking of it like others ? What about brightness ? Could it be bright also ?

    IMG_1618.JPG

    Out of the box, I was greeted with a very sophisticated build, just as I expected, a Ferrari level of craftsmanship: Very rugged, thick leather band, Carbon fiber, Red accents on the vents, Stainless steel cover, Metal mesh housing. Everything has pros and cons rights ? And yes, Utopia was not designed in a way of any typical Headphones, the housing is not rotating, but it rather stays fixed, just extend it out, open it up and put it on. The housings can tilt in and out to help adjusting it fitting on my head. Because of this build, the Utopia will tend to pop, or crack, and can scare me, but once I get used to it and figured out why, I am pretty happy. Part of the reason is due to the oversized and overweighted the Voice-coil magnet is. Using the Flower patterned design just like their top of the line speakers is, it has 4 different pieces of thick, long, heavy, magnets put together to form the voice coil. Basically, stronger magnet on the voice coil is better performances on theory. Therefore, it is better to let the headphone housing stay fixed to contribute into the clamping forces and in sacrificial of the ability to let it rotating. Is it uncomfortable to wear ? Absolutely not, it is rather surprisingly comfortable due to the thick, plush headband and pads. Do I feel the weight ? Of course, and at first it may feel a bit there, but understanding what goes into the Utopia, and I quickly realized that Focal sacrificed this light weight for one of the most uniquely build voice coil, and is only one of it kind on the market at this moment. Super thick, weighty, deep excursion to help produce the unique sound performances. However, Focal doesn't forget about the comfort abilities, so we also have Carbon fibers. Yet, Carbon fibers has different forms, cost, quality, but when done right, it is very strong and lightweight, and is the chassis of many super cars. Could I say "awesome" ? Yes, the build quality is awesome, it is an art with every aspect and detailed thought throughout, the unique performances from the voice coil, the lightweight attribute and exotic of carbon fibers, the comfortability of leather and thick foam, the ruggedness of stainless steel. There is no short cut, and no overlooked details.

    *cons* I could totally criticize the Utopia on it weight on the head and or the cracks and pops from opening it before putting it on. However, since I understood why it was designed this way, I could not criticize upon it. I could also criticize it on the pricing, but since everything out there is out to get a burning in my pocket, I think Utopia pricing is just right the way it is due to some very unique aspects of the Headphones performances, designs. But honestly, the price could be a bit easier to swallow.
    IMG_1617.JPG
    So what is about the drivers and it physical ? The free-edge surround, it resembles the surround of speakers, and it helps the driver to move more freely without being un-evenly dispersed upon high frequency vibrations which creates distortions. That deep excursions, and most specially, the beryllium diaphragm. The diaphragm was made from pure Beryllium , the man made exotic metal that is poisonous during the processing, and or burning, but safe to use. But due to it potential hazards, Focal disclosed it in the manual book as well. So, what is so special about this alloy ? It is the lightest of all alloys, also very durable and rigid with the highest sonic velocity property, put it simply, Beryllium is the hardest metal that can be made super thin to be a driver diaphragm with the fastest speed to help achieving high-fidelity sound performances. Yes, when done right, it is much more expensive than Gold. Now, what makes the Utopia drivers even more unique and special ? The experiences from Focal, the years of developments, the researches and all the crazy things that common folks won't even know. Certainly the technology to produce Beryllium drivers here is uniquely Focal. Yes, other manufacturers may apply this same materials to their own design, but a sure thing is that they won't get the performances of the Utopia. Why ? The voice coil is Focal proprietary, the experiences from their engineers, and the knowledges. This is probably good enough about the build quality from Utopia.


    IMG_1619.JPG
    Oh, just one second before I get into the sound performances. The stock cables while being very long in my Utopia. It is well thought and designed 1/4" plug. It has a proper braided body shielding with large gauge parallel wires inside 4x for balanced application. This is for the lowest inductive capacitance and for the best shielding. I had since converted my cables to Balanced to use it with my WM1Z

    IMG_1621.JPG
    How about the sound ? Immediately, I realized that the Dynamic prowess is superb. It is punchy, tight, controlled, and super vivid. This Dynamic is the "inner fidelity" of a tonal body. It determines how powerful a Drum Slam is, a hand thwack....etc. Utopia shows it through and through. Does it lack bass ? Nope, it has plenty of bass. So then, is it a bassy Headphones ? Absolutely not. Utopia is very balanced and flat out neutral. Then how come it doesn't lack bass ? That is because the Dynamic prowess of the Utopia is just "pure awesome", when a drum is being slammed on, you can hear it strong energies within being unleashed, and this is exactly what the Utopia is telling. This bass is the kind of "true fidelity bass" and not the common kind of bass that use the boom, the bang, the resonances and muddiness to mimic.


    Yet, the Utopia soundstage is so intimidating, it is closer up front for an opened back, mid spectrum and vocal can get closer, and this could be a good or bad thing depend on personal preferences, which makes it ideal for pairing with the gears that can achieve the biggest soundstage presentations that you can find. It has pin-point accuracy and presentation. I love soundstage, and this may be a bit closer, but it doesn't lack any depth or width at all, it also gives mid spectrum more details and layering. The only kind of soundstage that I just can not accept is the kind of un-even spherical shape. The Utopia is totally spherical and intimidating. It shows the potentials to achieve even better soundstage presentation from any superb amplifier that has huge soundstage. I witness that the Utopia soundstage scale up and away from WM1Z in comparison to TA-ZH1ES, and the TA-ZH1ES is not the top of the line yet of Dynamic Amp.
    IMG_1623.JPG
    Transparency, Utopia is very transparent, it will tell every changes that you make on the system, amp, cables, USB cables....etc....more over, the transparency of the sound performances is very clear. Imagine crystal clear.


    Speed ? Superb, the ability to retrieve details from complex plays in bass and treble without being distorted or sibilants while displaying the nuances details and extensions. The decays are spot on. The layering is simply outstanding and vivid. Very superb.


    How about musicality ? Oh, yes, it is very musical and with a lot of excitements. It can slightly be altered depends on what you pair Utopia with but Utopia is never lacking in term of musicality and excitements.

    IMG_1625.JPG

    Power requirement ? Now, this is another unique aspect about Utopia, I can plug it into IPad and have it slamming away...if I can tolerate the low dynamic range and bad Signal to noises ratio...sure....However, I can slam away with WM1Z, Opus 2, Opus 3 in Balanced connection. Yet, it shows the limit of soundstage, detail retrieval weakness of each players so clearly, but the performances is Jaw dropping. The Utopia is so easily driven to perform, and I can not stretch this enough. But not only this, it has the ability to scale up with your gears, the kind that if your gears has higher performances, the Utopia will take it and show it. Utopia will grow with your arsenal performances, period, and while you can also take it on the go to plug into your favorite portable player of your choices.


    How about treble details and extensions ? Treble details is also superb, lower treble is very detailed with a small section of the upper extension of this lower treble being tuned down a bit to control the harshness and or sibilant attribute which is the only problem uniquely presented to Headphones due to how close it is sitting to the ears. I asked myself, how did Focal know exactly which tolerances and where is to tune it this way ? The answer is that Focal knows almost everything in existence about speakers and it performances, and it is true, Focal only sacrifice a very little bit of this sections while having the rest very detailed. If you have great gears and high-end system, your system will be very smooth and detailed. My favorite read was from a user in head-fi as quoted "chicken poop in but chicken soup out". Why do I agree ? Utopia will show the harshness of your bad recording, but the harshness and sibilant won't pierce your ears, it is only enough to let you know that it is "unacceptable", and while the rest of treble is just beautifully achieved and reproduced. This is an "art" which is a fruitful product of a company that understood and spent their time with dedications to produce with pride and proud.

    IMG_1627.JPG

    To put it in a simpler term for imagination. This is like me moving away from the best of 1080 into the best of 4k HDR Television.


    Now, why does it take me so long to get this detailed review up ? Well, while I am certainly confident in my ability to tell quality performances, I feel that on this level, I would need a more concrete comparison to confirm my findings, and so I went ahead and get myself Stax 009 with Kevin Gilmore amp (grounded grid) for the hell of it and confirm it to myself, and or others about this Utopia performances as well.


    You may ask, then would you keep both Stax 009 and Utopia ? Hell yes, long and short, Utopia is the only dynamic headphones that can get closer to the realm of Electro Static performances, but uniquely being easily driven out of portable source. I can not have my Stax anywhere I want to, but there is always my Utopia, an art from The French Pride and Proud.


    Thank you Focal teams and the engineers behind this Utopia. A very unique piece of gem for Headphones performances in the high-fidelity world.


    PS: My current favorites Portable High-fidelity setup is now very simple, a WM1Z with balanced connection for Utopia.
    IMG_1164.JPG

    If one have reached this level of performances from prices, and experiences, congratulation. Please, do not forget that at this level of fidelity and performances, the Headphones has the ability to achieve and reproduce details of another level, and so it "will definitely" tells you that there is something wrong in your chain. Harsh treble ? Lacking of soundstage ? Well, the fun of this hobby is to find out the best pairing and matching synergy for you whole system using your favorite headphones isn't it ? Please take the time and responsibilities to look upon your DAC, your Power source, USB cables, Interconnect...etc. I had the ability to pair Utopia with Gold-silver USB, Silver Powercord, silver-gold upgraded cables. The Utopia is described as what I have heard above, Crazy Dynamic, good bass, balances, transparent, detail retrieval with beautiful treble details and extensions and not harsh at all. The hardest thing to bring about from Utopia is the soundstage, and TA-ZH1ES is not the best of the best for it as just yet, but it is good enough.
    IMG_1151.JPG

    The above picture is the moment that my decision to buy the Utopia was the best decision of my experiences from this Headphones fidelity hobby. Thank you for your time that you shared with me to get some idea of what Utopia may be. Finally, I would heavily recommend that you get to audition and try this "gem" out before making any purchases.
      benpitt, Aslshark, gtbrown50 and 6 others like this.
  7. Dillan
    Focal Utopia
    Written by Dillan
    Published Mar 29, 2017
    3.0/5,
    Pros - Beautiful craftsmanship and build materials, innovative technology, easy to drive
    Cons - Price, weight, sound, cable length too long

    Focal Utopia​

    By: Dillan Archer​
    Photographs by: Regan Hulvey​
     ​
     ​
     
     

    Introduction

     
    I have spent the greater part of my evenings the last few days (and this morning) listening and comparing these gorgeous new flagships from Focal. I have been doing a lot of review programs lately and I was probably most excited for this opportunity above all the others. Why? Because this brand new release has generated an unbelievable amount of respect from almost everyone that hears them and there is so much buzz going around you almost can't help but water at the mouth for a bite of Focal pie.
     
    Todd was nice enough to put me first on his list to try his Utopia and I am definitely grateful for the opportunity. His website (http://www.ttvjaudio.com/) is a warm inviting place for anyone to browse. I would definitely look at some of his unique tube amplifiers too. He was always really quick to answer any of my questions and if you were looking for a place to buy the new Utopia or Elear - I would look his way.

    Box, Accessories & Build Quality

     
    The box is a beautiful leather with red stitching. I definitely thought the experience of opening this was a notch above most, even for high-end flagship standards.
     
     
    Focal definitely wanted the unboxing experience to be magical. The black foam engulfing the Utopia proves a protective environment when you want to move these $4000 headphones around. I feel the leather box with red splashing did a good job of both protecting the gear and creating a beautiful housing of representation. I wish all boxes were this pretty!
     
    Inside of a hidden flap you'll find a very long cable. To me this is too long - I think there needs to be a happy medium somewhere in between in regards to cable sizes. In my opinion if you want something unnaturally small or long then you should buy those separately through a custom vendor. If I had to guess I think some people will be sitting far from their amplifier or rack, but most will not take advantage of this very lengthy 13ft cable.
     
    The headphones themselves look very lovely. I feel like they have an aggressive masculinity with a modern technology-esque twist. Kind of hard to describe.. but beautiful to look at. Looking through the back you can see light right through them. These are incredibly open headphones. The grille is a mesh metal and a protective shinier metal sits right above the driver. You can see the red magnets at an angle looking inside.
     
    A ventilated leather padding is used for the headband and earpads. These are actually very comfortable and have a memory comforming material underneath the leather. This wraps around lightweight carbon fiber which serves as the yoke. Overall these are comfortable and great to look at.

    Sound

     
    So lets get to the important stuff shall we? Let me start off by saying these headphones have generated so much hype that I didn't know whether I needed to put on a seatbelt and helmet before listening to these. If you were to go off reviews alone then you'd expect your toes to pop off when pressing play. I think this expectation bias actually served negatively in my experience, but I certainly didn't leave completely unimpressed by any stretch.
     
    This is the first piece of audio equipment from Focal that I have had the pleasure of listening to. Focal is most known for their floor standing speakers which go up to six figures in pricing. Focal owners usually feel pride in what they buy from this French company as usually their products are both expensive and of high quality. Regardless of my impressions on sound - I do think the Utopia is beautifully made with a sound signature that a lot of people would enjoy.
     
    Bass: The bass on these are good. Not pronounced, not audibly extended.. but just good. Listening to Master Blaster by Stevie Wonder gave me the impression that when the track calls for it, you hear it. I have read quite a few reviews so far and most impressions leave the listener slightly wanting in the bass department. Some tracks I got this impression, but for the most part I heard (not felt) their presence just fine. The sound through all frequenciy ranges on the Utopia is wide open. These are extremely airy and open sounding headphones and this definitely includes the bass. That open quality make for good transparency, but the grunt of the low end fell short consequently. Out of all of the excessive bass testing I did on these: Drums, deep voicing, low note cello playing and even some electronically produced tones - I enjoyed them all about the same. Nothing really stood out to me and that can be good or bad depending on the listener. I would say bass listening through all genres is pretty consistent which is good for those who have a wide range of musical preferences. The soft unexciting nature of the bass reproduction was overall quite accurate, but less detail than the SR009 or HD800s. Hearing drum solos showed me where the general direction of the drums were, but it almost sounded like a thin cloth separated the instrument from me and the player. The bass wasn't veiled - just soft with a low impact lushness.
     
    Midrange: The mids on these were again good, but not the enveloping warmth that I am used to with my Audezes. As I pinpoint each individual variant of sound through the Utopia headphones I find a noticeable consistency. Nothing stands out whatsoever and almost everything I describe about one frequency range can somewhat be applied to the next. Maria Callas singing "Carmen" was very reminiscent of listening through an HD800S in certain characteristics. I personally enjoyed the HD800S' midrange especially in voicing. I think both have the same detailed, open and accurate "style" which lacks musicality, but promotes transparency. One good thing about the midrange was I felt like instruments and voices were present and absent when necessary. I don't feel comfortable describing this as "attack and decay", but I just was very pleased with how the mids didn't linger or bleed ever. The bad part was how thin they sounded. Overall the sound signature is partially thin so if you like listening to a sound that engulfs you with a warm, thick lushness then I would look the other way. The mids were like what you would find out of a modern (not the original veiled release version) HD650, but with more detail and accuracy.
     
    Treble: The treble was quite nice for me when coming from some of the headphones I am used to. I always felt my (now sold) HD800's were too bright. I think the SR009 are one of the best reference headphones on the market, but to me they too are sightly bright. One of my favorite headphones to date are the LCD-4's, which oddly enough have both too much and too little treble. I think having an emphasized top end will give you better imaging and also help create a transparent sound. The higher frequencies are what help shape the sound of the entire range and can usually be the sole factor in what gives you a warm or cold signature. Focal really did an outstanding job here in the fact that the top end is definitely present, but at a sweet spot that allows great imaging without introducing fatigue or harshness. This is one of the best ways of handling this range that I think I have heard. The soft nature of this headphone probably helped with smoothing the treble/high frequencies. Personally I liked listening to the clashing of cymbals the most, but other things like the high end of piano and violin were enjoyable as well.
     
    Transparency: Focal created a very transparent headphone. Do I think it is the most transparent? No. But it's pretty good. I noticed some complicated sounds such as Olafur Arnalds orchestral ensembles were a lot easier to follow with the Focal than it was with my LCD-4, albeit less enjoyable. This may sound harsh or hypocritical, but the transparency was about on par with my Grado RS2e. People will think "Oh so this flagship is on par in regards to transparency with a headphone that cost $3500 less?" .. Well yes it is, but I think the RS2e is very transparent. The Focals are like looking out of a window on a clear day while the SR009 is like not having a house between you and "it" at all. To me the dynamic softness help to hide some things which should be more clearly exaggerated. If you were to simply listen to a triangle being played you can understand. A simple tone has less transparency due to the nature of this signature.. while more complicated music has a separation and transparency due to the soft dynamism.
     
    Accuracy/Detail: I would say the Utopia can be proudly called very accurate with an extension of detail rivaling most mid-level headphones and almost better than other flagships near its price range. I feel like the bouncy, dynamic softness should be quite forgiving of low quality recordings.. but that wasn't the case. I think this is a testament to how good it is at detail and transparency. I could hear every guitar note during a complicated "Muffin Man" by Frank Zappa. A recording that also showed the flaws in the quality of the album. I was not blown away by the detail compared to some of the best headphones in the world. I was also not disappointed.
     
    Soundstage/Instrument Separation: I think the separation of instruments were impressive, but at the very least it was expected. It's very hard to describe the way instruments and voicing are placed around you while listening.. so to me it is necessary to describe the Utopias soundstage as confusing. It isn't large, but isn't small. I could tell you the direction of what was playing, but not pin point it like I can with most other flagship out there.
     
    Overall sound signature and comparisons: Switching between various headphones gave me a much better understanding and opinion overall.
     
     
     ​
     
     
    It honestly is pretty hard to describe the sound of these because they're bouncy and dynamic, but still sort of boring and the opposite of "in your face" (is there a word for that?) No matter how loud I played the Focal Utopias, I still felt like they were too "quiet". I would say these have a very rare quality in that they do not put their own spin on the music as much as they just spit out what you play. Nothing more nothing less. The Utopia is not cold, but definitely not warm. I say they actually have a good neutrality and allow hours of unfatigued listening.
     
    I can't stress enough how open these sound. Although the separation between voices and instruments weren't mind blowing - it definitely was there. The astonishing quality is the audibility of the separation which might sound confusing, but must be brought up. You can almost feel the air between the different instruments which actually makes for a unique listening experience.
     
    Compared to the HD800S I personally overall was left respecting Sennheisers headphone more. I was more objectively impressed with the sound and I could not hear at any point in time the reason for Focal charging a lot more than double the price. Comparing to the 800S just begged the question of what can the Utopia do better than others out there? If I wanted a detailed and accurate sound then I would reach for a Sennheiser HD800 or an electrostat. If I wanted heartfelt vocals and a grunting bottom end then I would grab the LCD-4. The list goes on..
     
    The thought process I kept having was "If I wanted a soft musicality then I would spend a lot less and get a more enjoyable experience from Hifiman's HE1000." I thought the HE1000 was about the same comfort level and had the same soft, dynamic signature to them. The Utopia was not leaps and bounds ahead of the HE1000 in any category so why bother?
     
    Compared to my RS2e was admittedly a slight favorable response to the Utopia, but with the difference of price/build quality/RND how could it not be? But keep in mind it was only a slight preference to the Utopia. The Grado was more raw and articulate, especially on the top end. The bass was about the same and the mids were about the same. If I nitpicked each frequency I might actually prefer the RS2e, but I felt the overall package of the Utopia was better. I liked the uniqueness of Focal having punchy AND "reference" sound.
     
    My LCD-4 will definitely stay in my inventory after this review. The LCD-4 has more of almost everything. Changing back and forth left me quite bored with Focal's Utopia which is surprising. I would actually describe the LCD-4 as boring in and of itself, but for different reasons. I think the LCD-4 has a warm, laid back signature while the Utopia doesn't necessarily have a "signature" at all. The Utopia has no prominent twist on songs other than maybe add some noticeable attack/decay.. they just "play music". Which for some people could be a great thing.. For me I like the euphonics of different signatures. I like matching headphones to genres and amplifiers and with the Utopia I couldn't really have fun doing that. The only thing I would like to take from the Utopia and give to my LCD-4 would be the treble. The Utopia beat the LCD-4 in high frequencies.
     
    I actually rushed this review and was only given a week with the Utopia so perhaps my opinion could have changed with more than 4 or 5 days of listening, but these were already broken in so that was not a factor. I would post a much more detailed review such as my LCD-4 review - but this was a very short trial to see if I were interested in buying these and if I looked at the $4000 price tag and compared it to headphones I own and have heard.. they just aren't worth it. The Utopia is certainly the flavor of the month (year) and many people are pretending like it is the second coming of Jesus, which could be part of the reason I was left so unimpressed. If I were just handed these and told to give them a listen with no previous acknowledgement then perhaps I would've been more pleasantly surprised. This isn't to say that bias was a key influence however - because I completely listened critically with no emotion and almost no subjectivity.
     
    Gear used was wildly changed in order to give a more even playing field. I wanted to review the headphones not the amp or the DAC. I listened with my Vi DAC Infinity, PSAudio Directstream, AmpsandSounds (a pre production, unveiled amp) and the Agartha. Also even swapped out the Lessloss Echos End DAC here and there. (look for a future review of all of these units)
     
    Again, this is not a full review - just impressions. If you want to ask me anything please do and I will do my best. I will not be buying the Utopia, but if I were I would definitely be going through Todd for his honesty and professionalism. For only having a week to listen and a few hours to write this quick write-up, I definitely didn't explain some of the details I wanted to.. but I feel like you guys can still get a good idea of my impressions.
     
    Considering price I would give the Utopia a 2.9/5 and without price in the equation I would give a 3.7.
     
    Thanks for reading!

    1. View previous replies...
    2. Dillan
      Thanks Joseph!
      Dillan, Mar 30, 2017
    3. ezekiel77
      I too would agree that this is a sidegrade compared to other flagships, not leaps and bounds (certainly not "best headphone ever") above the others. I enjoyed HE1000 significantly more.
      ezekiel77, Mar 30, 2017
    4. Imusicman
      I must congratulate you on your interesting and honest impressions. Very refreshing!.
      I also found the LCD 4 to be quite boring when I A/B them with the Utopia out a Chord Dave. Interestingly I would not pay the asking price for the LCD's and I would have priced them at half their value if I didn't already know the MRRP. I would also say this about a lot of gear though so LCD 4 owners please don't your knickers in a twist over this comment. I own the Utopias and came away from demoing the Dave a very happy man, so much so I purchased the Dave. I think if I had a limitless budget I can see the advantage of owning a wide collection of headphones and matching them to different genres with different equipment. Not only would this be cool and fun I can see how some would have a certain synergy with a particular song or even genre of music. Kind of like if I wanted to do some off road driving I would be better off with a 4x4 or if I wanted to do a track day I'd probably be better off with a sports car, however most of us don't own a fleet of cars in our garage and this is for me is where the Utopia comes into play. For me one of it strength is whilst it doesn't necessarily outperform every other flagship headphone in every area it's never far behind when its not in front so the overall performance makes it a winner as it delivers a potent mix of being consistently very, very good or excellent all at the same time. IMHO YMMV
      Imusicman, Apr 2, 2017
  8. Currawong
    The Focal Utopias deliver an amazing amount of resolution and impact if you have a top-of-the-line system behind them.
    Written by Currawong
    Published Mar 23, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Incredibly resolving of music and upstream components. Incredible driver speed and ability to perceive width, depth and the movements of sounds.
    Cons - Incredibly resolving of music and upstream components. Sound a bit closed-in if not used with a top system. Bass a bit weak.
    [​IMG]

     
    I first had the chance to audition these at the Wikia meet in San Francisco, taking them around and trying them in different rigs. For $4000, they had a lot to live up to. 
     
    While on the outside, the Utopias look like fairly conventional headphones, up close the quality and precision of the parts and assembly are very apparent, down to the hexagonal-shaped holes of the plate in front of the driver and the carbon fibre yokes. 
     
    The cable uses high-quality Lemo connectors which click in with precision. The yokes extend in a manner that ensures an equal pressure on one's ears despite one's head size, important as changing the pad shape or contact can negatively affect the sound. The head pad and ear pads themselves are soft and comfortable and good for long listening sessions. 
     

     
    They are very much open-backed headphones to the degree that light easily shines through them. Included is a very long cable -- likely so for 2-channel system owners for whom their amp may be some distance from their chair. For the most of this review I used them with a Moon Audio Silver Dragon or Black Dragon kindly lent to me by Drew for this review, partly because the stock cable is too long, and partly because it made it easier to compare other headphones.
     
    My first impressions at the meet were that the Utopias accurately portrayed the nature of both the music and upstream components. The tonal presentation is a bit bright of neutral, the upper mids and treble coming through a bit strongly for preference, not helped by comparing them with the more bass-strong Sony MDR-Z1R. This lead me later to experiment with a +4dB shelf boost below 100 Hz. Now that people have tested them with Elear pads, which give a bit of a boost down low. If I ever buy a pair, I will definitely go with this mod.
     

     
    Out of most equipment the Utopias sound a bit closed-in, yet very fast. There were only two set-ups that I used them with where I didn't feel this. First was out of a Cavalli Audio Liquid Tungsten prototype at the meet. From that set-up, the amp had delivered a sense of huge space and it was very easy to make out the character of the Astell & Kern server that was feeding it. Very clear, but definitely with a slight Sabre DAC character. 
     
    The second was my own system. When I first plugged them in, the Studio Six and Yggdrasil had only been switched on a few hours. Initially, I had the same, somewhat closed-in impression of the Utopias, but this disappeared after my system had been on for a day. Strongest was the feeling that the Utopias deliver music with such effortless speed that every other pair of headphones I had on hand -- Sennheiser HD800, HiFiMan HE1000, MrSpeakers Ether Flow and Sony MDR-Z1R -- were veiled in comparison. It was such that after listening with the Utopia, the HD800 felt like it was only delivering a wall of sound.
     

     
    The Utopias delivered such precise and deep layering of sound at all distances that with excellent 2-mic recordings, it was possible to hear an instrument play a note, and the sound of that note travel across the soundstage. If the recording had sufficient bass, the whole experience was profoundly wonderful, a sense of the headphones getting out of the way of the music. Not just "a window to the music", but smashing the window altogether and nothing in between. A good parallel might be the way an Audio-gd amp seems to disappear, imposing no signature of its own. 
     
    With my favourite psychedelic electronica, Shpongle, I could hear all the way into the mix, as individual samples started and stopped. It was in many respects, too good, too much detail. Modern binaural recordings from Chesky records I could hear so much further into the space that was only bested by a Chord DAVE/HiFiMan Shangri-La system I'd listened with in Tokyo, which made the instruments sound genuinely like they were in the room, outside the headphones.
     
    The downside to this was that any harshness present in the music was delivered, albeit politely, to one's ears. The slight tilt towards the upper ranges, like the HD800, emphasises harshness in a way that isn't the most pleasant, and pushes one towards better recordings. I listen to Radio Paradise in the car and often select music I'd like to try later on TIDAL. Getting home, I very often find a great track was recorded or mastered poorly or unsuitable for high-end listening.
     

     
    Compared to other headphones, apart from the HiFiMan HE1000 V2, which has an electrostatic-like delicate delivery character, while it can deliver uncanny realism to low notes such as drums, and equally seems to require a TOTL system, it didn't have quite the ability to deliver layering the Utopia could. What is more the Utopias can deliver the full punch of notes like a dynamic driver, yet without the low bass distortion.
     
    Sony's MDR-Z1R is a different beast altogether. Darker, with strong bass and yet a somewhat forward midrange, it is very detailed, yet quite coloured. It's very good at bringing the music to you, spacious when required, up-front when you want to rock out, but is outclassed by the Utopias in the purest sense, even if excellent in its own right.
     
    MrSpeakers' Ether Flow has the bit more bass to be the better all-rounder, yet not the clarity, even if it has the similar trait of sounding like what it is plugged in to. If anything it might be challenged by the Elear.
     
    Some time ago I imagined that planar driver headphones would eventually catch up with electrostatic and deliver the kind of effortless detail they do, yet with the punch of a dynamic driver. Little did I imagine that Focal would come out with something different, effectively a speaker driver inside a pair of headphones and that it would seem to best both. The Utopias are uncannily close to the "perfect" headphones -- ultra-resolving, yet able to deliver the spirit of the music even out of a portable rig (if not at its most capable).
     
    Someone recently asked if the Utopias were really worth $4000. Considering that the legendary Sony R10 cost the equivalent of more than that in 1989, and the Stax SR-009 costs around that now, given their incredible resolution, I think they are most worthy of their price. 
     
    Thanks to Anakchan for lending me his pair for a couple of weeks.
     

    1. View previous replies...
    2. reddog
      A great review Amos,
      reddog, Mar 30, 2017
    3. Whitigir
      009+carbon is the winner easily
      Whitigir, Apr 2, 2017
    4. canali
      thanks for this detailed and comparative review, Currawong...much appreciated.  At almost double the price of the Sony Z1R, the cans i'm about to buy (my best cans are the senn 650s) you'd expect the Utopias to be better...but if you're not a critical listener, yet still want all those better qualities we demand from  higher end gear (air, 3D, soundstage, separation, detail etc) then the Sonys sound sig, in theory anyway, is more appealing to me.
      canali, Apr 4, 2017
  9. Aornic
    Current pinnacle of the dynamic driver
    Written by Aornic
    Published Feb 16, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Extreme clarity and detail, easily driven, good build quality, not lacking in any frequency, dynamic and impactful sound, weight distribution
    Cons - Price, only a 1/4 terminated stock cable included, stock cable heavy and unwieldy, bit on the heavier side overall
    [​IMG]
     
    The dust has settled, in my opinion, a bit since the summer of 2016 – when the two new dynamic-driver headphones by Focal exploded onto the market. The Focal Elear and Utopia were the biggest draw of the show floor at Can Jam London 2016, and the latter was named the best headphone in the world by Tyll over at InnerFidelity.
     
    Such a statement had been met with a small amount of backlash, with some in the headphones community calling the Utopia overpriced at $4000 and overhyped. More than this, to my eyes, the Utopia is being seen as the next step in dynamic-driver headphones, bringing renewed interest to the category after years of high-end offerings being dominated by planar magnetic headphones, mostly, and electrostatics. I was very impressed when I heard it myself at the London Can Jam 2016, but I wished for an opportunity to hear it in a quieter environment – the show room is no place to properly evaluate an open headphone.
     
    Fast forward to February 2017, a hi-fi store in my area that I frequent (and bought my Elear from back in September) finally has a display unit of the Utopia. This was my chance to get a good sense of what made these such a hot topic.
     
    I would like to extend my thanks to Audio Sanctuary/Unilet in London for letting me listen to these for long periods of time to gather impressions – and even letting me film the video component of the review in-store. They can be found at https://www.audiosanctuary.co.uk/.
     
    Specifications
     
    Type Circum-aural open back headphones
     
    Impedance 80 Ohms
     
    Sensitivity 104dB SPL / 1mW @ 1kHz
     
    THD <0,2% @ 1kHz / 100dB SPL
     
    Frequency response 5Hz - 50kHz
     
    Loudspeaker 137⁄64“ (40mm) pure Beryllium “M” shape dome
     
    Weight 1.08lb (490g)
     
    Cable length 13.1ft (4m) [reduced since]
     
    Connectors 1 x Jack 01/4“ (6.35mm) stereo / 2 x 03⁄8“ (9.5mm) Lemo®
     
    Carrying case 1253⁄64“x1015⁄64“x629⁄64“ (326x260x164mm)
     
    20170211_144658.jpg 20170211_144642.jpg 20170211_151015.jpg 20170211_151043.jpg
     
    Build Quality, Comfort and Features
     
    I’m glad to say that the excessive creakiness that was present in the review unit given to InnerFidelity is entirely missing from the one in-store. Made using a good amount of carbon fibre, I found the build quality to be quite sturdy. It isn’t built like a tank, like some headphones that I’ve come across in all price ranges - but it isn’t a flimsy affair either. There is quite some heft to these headphones too, as without the cable they weigh 490g, compared to the 450g of the Elear. Holding it up next to the likes of the LCD-3, LCD-X, LCD-XC (especially) and LCD-4 made it feel light by comparison – but this is no featherweight headphone.
     
    However, the weight distribution is done very well – with the leather headband resting comfortably on the listener’s head with ample cushioning. The earpads are made of lambskin leather and differ quite a bit from the earpads of the Elear. They are softer and yet provide more cushioning to deal with long listening sessions. They are removed just as easily as the Elear’s as well, pulling off and snapping back into place in a simple manner. I found the clamp of the headphones to be very similar to my Elear, to which I’m quite used to after several months of near-daily usage. However, as with the Elear, this is not a headphone to use lying down as it puts a lot of pressure on the lower-back area of the ear - which can be fatiguing over time. Sitting upright, or at a slight lean or recline, the Utopia maintains its comfort quite well – given suitable neck strength.
     
    20170215_105202.jpg 20170215_105124.jpg
     
    The included features of both the Utopia and Elear are quite bare. They come in a very nice looking black box with the cable…and that is it folks. The cable is a very thick and solidly built affair, and I was pleasantly surprised that Focal shaved down the length from the one I received with the Elear – which was so long and cumbersome that I sought out an aftermarket cable for it. However, for the price that the Utopia retails at, I would greatly prefer if Focal included another cable as well – a balanced one terminated in a 4-pin XLR plug. It should be mentioned that the cable, despite its reduced length, is still a long and slightly heavy affair – but it is well built if nothing else. Unlike the Elear’s 2.5mm connectors, the Utopia uses LEMO connectors – which I found very sturdy and easily locked into place without the necessity of turning it to a side.
     
    Aesthetically, I really like how the Utopia looks – although I will admit that I prefer the Elear’s more subdued design on the cups more. It is because of the Utopia’s beryllium drivers that the cups look in the way that they do, and I have indeed heard many complaints from people who think it is an eyesore – but I disagree. The whole headphone has a look of class about it, all while being firmly entrenched in an industrial design – and it is only the Focal x Tournaire $100,000 gold and diamond version that is really trying to appeal to the hyper-upscale crowd by doing away with this.
     
    Driver.jpg
     
    Sound
     
    The Utopia is an experience that can best be simplified as “anti-aliasing for your ears.” Tuned quite a bit brighter than the warm Elear, the headphone succeeds in making some of its competition seem veiled by comparison. Impact and dynamics are the strongest that I have heard yet from a headphone of any form factor, driver technology or use – besides electrostatics.
     
    Despite having a soundstage range, based on feeling of distance of instruments and vocals, that is more intimate than many open-aire headphones that I have heard in the past – the Utopia manages to do more with its “space” than other offerings in its price range. Simple, almost amateurish, thoughts popped up while I was listening to this headphone – and this case the question was “how is it that there are more instruments clearly audible on the Utopia than on the Sennheiser HD800/800S. The one cymbal you never noticed before in a song that you’ve been listening to for years upon years is suddenly allowed its own place in the mix that didn’t seem possible before, and it doesn’t sound forced or unnaturally emphasized, which can be the case with the Sennheiser flagships – especially if we are talking about cymbal emphasis in a mix, if it lands right on the infamous 6k treble peak.
     
    This feeling of the natural emphasis of instrument tracks was very apparent in the kick drum recorded by Lars Ulrich in Metallica’s Ride the Lightning album. Buried under layers of heavily distorted and reverb-soaked guitars, I had often heard the presence of the bass drum track – but never actually experienced it in a manner that felt live or even realistic. It might as well have been a drum machine on many setups. The Utopia managed to dig deep and find a way to present it so that it sounded more like it should.
     
    The Utopia’s manner of doing this actually reminds me, in some way, of the Sennheiser HE-1 Orpheus. While the Utopia does not quite have the immediacy of the Sennheiser electrostat, both manage to add some “context” to what is being heard. By context, I mean the audible knowledge that there is a clear beginning and an end to any piece of recorded music. A kick drum strike has a hit and a decay, and too often in audio will it sound like you are just hearing the loudest milliseconds – the basic requirement of rendering it audible on any piece of audio gear. What the Utopia does is bring forth the moment of impact and the decay after in clarity, giving a strike that merely “clicked” before suddenly have the whole “thud” sound. Perhaps it is a bit excessive to dedicate a paragraph to this explanation, but I felt that it was needed.
     
    Listening to Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra’s binaural acoustic album Up Close on the Utopia, I did immediately feel a lack of distance between the instruments that I am used to with my HD800 at home. The separation of the instruments was stellar, however, and the imaging was quite good – but I really might have to give the edge in this regard to the HD800. I feel that there were a few pans that did not move as precisely as I am used to with this album. Adding to the earlier discussion about kick drums, a track on the album has a section that introduces hand clapping – and these sound far more realistic on the Utopia than on my Elear or HD800 due to a lingering sensation that follows each one and the dynamic impact of each.
     
    20170215_111801.jpg 20170215_131522.jpg
     
     
    The bass of the Utopia is punchy and quite fast, extending decently low. It possesses a “full” sound that I feel is lacking with the Sennheiser HD800/HD800S, to my ears, that lets it keep up with any genre of music that I throw at it – whether it be orchestral or EDM. That being said, the bass is not bloated nor loud in volume, and this headphone will definitely not satisfy the staunchest basshead – who might look to the Elear instead for that fix if they insist on buying from Focal. As with the HD800, the precise nature of bass guitars on the Utopia is stellar, except it is even more audible than on the Sennheiser by a significant amount. Once again, I turned to Metallica’s 1980s albums (which have the reputation of burying the bass in the mix) and found it more noticeable than I have ever heard before – without devolving into mid-bass and midrange bleed like on the Fostex TH-X00. For more electronic genres, the Utopia keeps up with tracks such as The Weeknd’s Starboy and Daft Punk’s creative output pre-2013. The sub-bass extension was not immense, but the impact of each hit was undoubtedly present and accounted for.
     
    It was a Daft Punk song that showed me the strength of the lower midrange as well – which is not overbearing but very precise once again. The song in question is Da Funk and it consists of a driving beat that continues throughout most of the song with added instrumentation piling on top of it – very much in the vein of the 1990s French House era that it came from. How the instruments pile on top of one another is an important way for me to decipher the capability of a headphone’s reproduction of audio and detail. Some headphones do well with the bass and drum aspect of the track, such as the Fostex x Massdrop TH-X00, but fail to bring out the detail in the rest of it. Some do an incredible job with the fine detail, such as the HD800, but struggle to provide a full enough bass thump to give the song its fullest drive and groove. I find that most headphones are somewhere in between these two examples, but none has balanced the two quite as well as the Utopia.
     
    I am, thanks to owning a HD800, used to hearing the “air” around stringed instruments and horns in music – upper range frequencies. However, I am not quite used to hearing the air around very synthetic bass-synths. When those entered in Da Funk, I must admit that I was quite astonished. Every note had such bombast, and would announce its arrival and departure without making the overall transition of the beat muddy or overdone. I can’t imagine just how much of a balancing act tuning something to sound like this must be, it’s honestly quite astonishing.
     
    The midrange itself is quite a departure from a limitation that the Elear has, a dip in the upper mids that can make female vocals sound distant. I found that female vocals had a lot more body than I am used to than with my HD800 and Elear. The separation of vocal harmonies and layering was also very well done, with each new entry into the mix being effortlessly audible. Guitars, both electric and acoustic, sounded as they should in a live setting. Due to the dynamics of the Utopia, softly played guitars sounded as laid back as they should while more aggressively strummed power chords sounded as impactful as they should. I would not characterise the midrange as being especially “liquid,” a word I have used to describe the presentation of Hifiman’s now-discontinued HE-500. The experience of the Utopia is what you make of it with the music playing, because it is not especially smooth or relaxing – it can hit hard so come prepared.
     
    The treble is probably my favourite of the three in this situation, which is the opposite of what I usually come to enjoy in headphones. Yes, I would very much prefer that there wasn’t a stiflingly rolled-off treble in all that I demo, but I often pay more attention to a fun and “bassy” experience along with a rich midrange. This is why I enjoy the Meze 99 Classic as my portable setup headphones if I ever want more than IEMs or earbuds outdoors. A detailed treble extension can do wonders for more intricately recorded music, as my time with the HD800 has taught me, but the Utopia does more without any painful peaks – to my ears. It is still a rather bright headphone, but not one that is gutted in the low end at all. I can safely say that the detail that is shown with instruments such as strings, horns, cymbals, snare drums and others shows that the Utopia is fearless in how it approaches anything that has the tendency to be buried in the mix on lesser headphones – given that the source is high enough bitrate (CD quality ideally). As mentioned before, it brings out immense detail in just about any recording and has a sound that can best be described as “awake.” Outside of electrostatic headphones, I have not heard music being presented in such a dynamic fashion before – and it does it in a better way than what I previously had this sense from, the Focal Elear.
     
    Comparisons
     
    Focal Elear:
    A/b-ing between the two, I can hear the difference in technology and implementation quite well. My daily driver since September, the Elear has a very dynamic sound – even more so than my HD800 and other headphones that I have owned/reviewed before. This is best shown in songs with a piano track, there is just so much depth to each note and the attack is sudden and impactful.
     
    However, the Utopia does what the Elear does in a far better manner – reminding a listener of the price difference. It is frankly incredible how listening to the same song on either can render the Elear as dull and the Utopia as the clear victor in dynamics and impact. A snare hit in a song might sound complete and fulfilling on the Elear, but compared to the immense crash that the Utopia drags out of the same recording – it thuds in comparison. The dynamics of the Elear, and the potential to surprise you in songs, pales in comparison to the Utopia – which has “no chill” when it comes to the reproduction of audio. This headphone will not back down from a recording, and always sounds like it is giving it its absolute all.
     
    The Elear is a bassier headphone however, with a lot more bass thump to its sound along with a heightened mid-bass presence that extends a bit into the lower mids – making it clearly warmer than the Utopia. When I listened to an acoustic guitar track that I recorded myself, I found that the Elear made it sound more earthy and bloomy – but the Utopia made it sound precise and brought out any flaws in my playing, exposing all. Another notable difference is the Utopia’s ability to present clean and undistorted audio at even really high volume, whereas the Elear is better suited for moderate to moderately-high listening volume – becoming a bit too shouty and harsh in its upper region if pushed.
     
    I am told that some prefer the Utopia with the Elear’s pads. I have yet to try this myself, and I will do so in a future visit to Audio Sanctuary to hear for myself. Basically, the argument is that the Elear’s pads inject more bass thump into the Utopia without taking away much or any detail and dynamics.
     
    20170215_134053.jpg
     
    Sennheiser HD800/HD800S
     
    I would make the argument that these were the most technically proficient dynamic-driver headphones on the market before the Utopia showed up. I, personally, prefer a Superdupont-modded HD800 to the HD800S. The reason for this is that I believe that the bass is more precise on the original, with it being a bit more wooly in the HD800S – possibly to make the overall headphone warmer and more palatable to a more mainstream audience. It should be noted the large price difference between the Sennheisers and the Utopia, making the former a lot more affordable to the masses – as much as you can expect in this hobby.
     
    Switching between the two, the HD800/S is the clear winner in soundstage range and imaging – continuing its reign in this regard (from what I have personally tried), as it even beat the Sennheiser HE-1. The two are the most holophonic headphones that I have heard yet, making binaural audio sound lifelike and precise. The Utopia, on the range front, is far more intimate between the two options – but it manages to utilise the space really well. At no point, even in the most “hectic” of songs, did I find that there was overlap of instruments and vocals in a manner that sounded congested. The Sennheisers have a wide canvas on which to paint, but the Utopia’s brushwork is more finely detailed.
     
    The Utopia is also not all that picky about source, and is easily amped. I plugged it into my Samsung Galaxy S6 and it still, shockingly, sounded pretty damn good. Out of my portable setup, an Aune M1s plugged into a VE RunAbout Plus, it was driven entirely with only 9-10 ‘o clock on the volume dial. It both scales enormously well, but can sound like itself from a basic setup. Compare this to the notoriously picky HD800, which can sound way too harsh and treble-glaring on some amplifiers and sources – leading many to seek out warmer solid state or tube amplifiers to tame its natural state.
     
    It would not be a surprise to me if the Utopia’s unveiling last year galvanized Sennheiser’s research and development department to get started on a true successor to the HD800 – which the 800S absolutely was not. I believe that increased competition in the high-end audio market will drive innovation and technology, even if it does not drive down prices necessarily. I will be keeping my eye on Sennheiser, who are still the biggest and most respected name in dynamic-driver headphones – but the Utopia takes the overall gold medal at this point in time.
     
    20170211_145831.jpg
     
    Audeze LCD-4
     
    Audeze’s flagship is a curious headphone for me, as based on the description of its sound signature it should be ideal for my preferences. It focuses on bass and midrange, but sports a large soundstage and detail in its upper-range.
     
    However, the Utopia may not have the same focus but is far more of a hi-fi experience to my ears. The LCD-4 feels bogged down by comparison, a lot more hazy in presentation and lacking the micro-details that the Utopia sports effortlessly. A/b-ing between the two left no doubt in my mind which headphone was the victor, because both are priced the same and I expect a lot more “wow factor” at $4000 – not just an extension of the LCD-3.
     
    20170215_135127.jpg
     
    Hifiman HE-1000
     
    Hifiman’s soon-to-be-former consumer flagship (now that the Edition 6 has been announced) is a very nice mixture of deep bass extension, soft and pleasing midrange and comfortably extended treble. Retailing for $3000, the HE-1000 is called by some as the headphone they could listen to during a migraine – and I see why. It is far more relaxed and pillowy compared to the Utopia’s trailblazing “take no prisoners” nature. I would liken the sound to an evening on the couch listening to your favourite live jazz recordings with a glass of wine – near a fireplace for good measure.
     
    However, as with the LCD-4, preferring the HE-1000 to the Utopia is purely a matter of personal preference – because it pales in comparison on a technical and detail reproduction manner. It does put up more of a fight than the Audeze flagship however, utilising its larger soundstage and punchy character. When I first saw the HE-1000 and its price, I did not think a day would come where it would be the clear underdog to another headphone that wasn’t an electrostatic, or the Sennheiser Orpheus. It just sounds veiled and too soft (in terms of dynamics) compared to the Utopia – better than the LCD-4 however.
     
    20170211_152748.jpg
     
    Source & Amping
     
    As mentioned above, the Utopia is not very picky with its sources. The best way to sum up what you choose to plug the headphones into is “just make sure it doesn’t suck.” Any halfway decent option should be enough to make the Utopia sound like the headphone it was designed to be.
     
    I spent a large amount of time at Audio Sanctuary pairing the Utopia with the Chord Dave. This absolutely bonkers top-of-the-line system provided an immensely detailed, nuanced and pleasing sound – but you really are throwing price-to-performance out of the window to be hit by ongoing traffic and trampled into the asphalt. Make no mistake, I am not downplaying the magic of the pairing – I am just pointing out that it is not needed to make the Utopia sound like itself. I also acknowledge the irony of bringing price-to-performance ratios in a review of a headphone that costs $4000 by itself, but I believe that the headphones make the biggest overall impact in a listening experience. The Chord Dave + Focal Utopia will sound like the Utopia, but the Chord Dave + The HD800S won’t sound like the Utopia – if that makes sense.
     
    To further prove this point, to myself before anyone else, I spent an even longer amount of time with the Utopia plugged into an Aune M1s digital-audio-player which was connected via line-out mode into the Venture Electronics RunAbout Plus portable headphone amplifier – a combo that is around $350 in total.
     
    Not only was the Utopia fully driven, with only 9-10 o’ clock on the dial being nearly too loud for me, but it brought out all the characteristics that being amped should. This, just like the Focal Elear, is a very easily driven headphone.
     
    Pricing
     
    It is my firm belief that, in this hobby specifically, once you cross the $1000 threshold – the law of diminishing returns goes into overdrive, with the amount spent above this yielding reduced impact than it did before.
     
    I fully realize that these are $4000, the price of four brand-new Sennheiser HD800s, or the price of a Sennheiser HD800 + Hifiman HE1000 and so on – but while I will not be able to afford the Utopia myself, I can absolutely see what justifies its price. I am not great with science, and many technical conversations of high-fidelity audio can go over my head – but I do know what I hear.
    What I hear is an experience that is head and shoulders above its competition in the open-aire headphone market. I will remove myself from the “is it worth it?” question by reminding you that, to the overwhelming majority of people out there, spending anything over whatever Beats by Dre cost on headphones is mind-boggling and without merit.
     
    That being said, if the Utopia sounded anything lesser than it did then I would have been quite harsh on them in this review (kind of like how I see the LCD-4) – but there are clear differences between it and the competition. Whether or not it’s because of beryllium drivers or whatnot, I cannot say for sure – but it’s there and it has moved possibilities forward for the market as a whole.
     
    If you feel that you could build a setup with several headphones, each competing with the Utopia on some level (if not superseding it in the case of bass thump and soundstage) for the same price while being able to pay for an amplifier and DAC – I could definitely see that. But, I don’t see an allrounder in the high-end open-aire market that competes on all fronts quite as much.
     
    Conclusion
     
    Audio Sanctuary finally had a model available for display all the way in February, after these had started being sold in September. According to them, whenever stock arrived – it was picked up or mailed out the same day due to the demand being so high and the waitlist being so populated. Handmade by Focal in France, the stock didn’t seem to be able to keep up with demand quite as much until 2017.
     
    This is a headphone that is a worthy recipient of its acclaim. If you have the cash handy, it will provide you with an experience that is synonymous with the appeal of high-fidelity audio in headphones – before making the leap to speakers if you haven’t already. On the topic of speakers, it still surprises me that Focal is known primarily as a speaker manufacturer. They went from being just that to throwing down the gauntlet at Sennheiser and others – and the audio world became a lot more interesting.
      mrtim6, slankoe, sacguy231 and 8 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. rkw
      "the Utopia manages to do more with its “space” than other offerings in its price range"
      — Other offerings in the $4000 price range include LCD-4 and SR-009. Are there any others?
      rkw, Feb 18, 2017
    3. bidn
      Excellent review!
      The sound of my Utopia is even much better than the sound of my €4000 Dali loudspeakers! If you don't have the money, I advise you to sell your other gear so as to buy the Utopia headphones
      the Utopia headphones instead
      bidn, Feb 19, 2017
    4. supabayes
      Great review. I especially like the analogy "The Sennheisers have a wide canvas on which to paint, but the Utopia’s brushwork is more finely detailed."
      supabayes, Mar 10, 2017
  10. ab_ba
    My ladder to Utopia
    Written by ab_ba
    Published Jan 2, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - The sound
    Cons - After many hours they can get somewhat uncomfortable
    Three weeks ago I walked into my local headphone store when I heard they had gotten in some Utopias, because I was curious to give them a listen. I walked out owning a pair. This was not at all my intention. I just wanted to hear them, educate myself, and maybe dream about someday owning them. The Utopias are simply different from any other headphone I’ve heard. They’re closer to perfect. In fact, for the first time, it is hard for me to picture how the headphone-listening experience could improve beyond what these provide. 
     
    The Utopias are full, sweet, and clear. Music is immediate and present. They make it easy to ride the crests and descend the valleys, and see every detail along the way. They command your attention - it is difficult to multitask (reading, working, or anything else) when they’re on. And, the more you pay attention, the more they reveal to you.  01_focalRig.jpg
     
    The Utopias are standout headphones in dynamics, detail, tonal balance, and imaging.
     
    Dynamics. These headphones punch like nothing I’ve heard. There is an immediacy and a swing from subtle to powerful that I have not experienced anywhere other than the best speaker systems.
     
    Detail. I have heard the cliche, “brings you closer to the artist’s intentions” to describe everything from remastered recordings to cables. With the Utopias, I feel I know what that expression means. When an artist is making tiny decisions, they are very close to their instrument, hearing everything in a way that their audience might not even detect. The vibrato on a sustained note, one extra quiet strum on a guitar, a vocalist moving in closer to her mic for a syllable or two, I hear these things again and again on the Utopias, even in songs I thought I knew inside and out. 
     
    Dan Clark of MrSpeakers made the comment that he judges the quality of gear by listening for cymbal hits. Is it just a haze, or can you actually distinguish one cymbal from the next? Is the sound natural, with no etched glare? I’ve heard others say that they listen for the applause in live recordings. Can you hear individual hands clapping, or is it undifferentiated, like raindrops? For both cymbals and applause, the Utopias capture the nuances and distinctions.
     
    Another aspect of detail: I love being able to precisely pick out what the other musicians are doing when they think nobody is paying attention to them. Other transducers ignore them, but the Utopias don’t let them hide. 
     
    Finally, for me, detail means being able to make out lyrics. With the Utopias I can follow the words better than I have with any other transducer. They articulate so well, it is more like I am listening to conversational speech than I’ve ever heard. 
     
    Tonal balance. Are these bass-light? Are they too bright? I had both of those concerns in the shop. The Utopias were so clear in the upper registers that I feared they could tip into being sibilant. Forward-sounding gear elicits a “wow” factor in the showroom, but it can fatigue once you spend hours with it at home. Any hint of sibilance I was picking up on at the shop has vanished at home with my own amp. The shop had them plugged in to a current-mode amp, and I already knew I don’t like current amps. My own amp is a traditional voltage amp (Violectric V281, balanced cable), and there’s no hint of sibilance here, just a wonderfully forward presentation without any fatigue after loong listening sessions.
     
    Also, I am very happy to report that the bass in the Utopias is beautifully rendered. It does not dominate the music, but bass notes can be distinguished from each other better than on any other headphone I’ve heard. There is an integration along the entire frequency spectrum that makes music more involving. Bass-heavy headphones can impress at first, but the bass boost added by headphone designers, even in top gear, is usually unfaithful to the recording, and then you can't escape the bass even in music where it was intended to be subtle. 
     
    With vinyl in particular, the Utopias are winners. Vinyl has such articulate and strong bass, and at least on my gear, an overall laid-back sound signature. On good equipment, these are strengths, but on entry-level playback gear, vinyl can sound wooly and dull. The Utopias play well with vinyl’s inherent characteristics - rendering the bass wonderfully while making the presentation a little more forward in the upper registers - to yield the most engrossing and satisfying listening experience I’ve had in my own home. 
     
    Imaging. On the Utopias, every instrument is at one specific location, and it does not budge. I have not experienced such tight localization before, and it is a thing of wonder. True, the whole soundstage is between my ears, but the imaging is remarkably distinct and tight. (Imaging, in my opinion, is different from soundstage. If you want a big soundstage, get a pair of decent speakers. If you want imaging - the localization of instruments within a spatial field, no matter how large or small that field might be, then headphones are at least as good as decent speakers in this regard.)
     
    In all, I consider the Utopias very well-priced at $4000, because they are meaningfully better than headphones that are priced in that ballpark, and because to get this level of sound quality would require a top-of-the-line speaker setup, which will cost significantly more than $4K. 
     
    By way of illustrating how much the Utopias mean to me personally, I want to compare them to the other headphones I own. What follows is part comparative review, part personal narrative, because for (almost) anybody buying a $4K pair of headphones, it is a significant life decision, which comes at the cost of other uses for that money, and it is the culmination of a long search. For me, the other headphones I’ve owned are the rungs of a ladder that led me to headphone Utopia. From top to bottom, here is my particular ladder:
     
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    Top rung: Audeze LCD-3F and Sennheiser HD 800.
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    Two years ago, I auditioned both at my local shop. After much dithering, I bought the LCD-3. There was such a tangible immediacy to the music that I could not let it go. I could perceive how the HD800 was more balanced across the spectrum, but it felt aloof to me. 
     
    Well, a couple months later, I also purchased the HD800. I felt that the LCD-3 and the HD800 each gave a different perspective on the music, and for me it has been a great joy to replay favorite songs or albums back-to-back through both cans. Ideal audio gear should impart no character of its own (right?), but I decided that that was not actually attainable - the best you could hope for was a presentation that was to your liking. And, in the absence of perfect gear, we should delight in the different perspectives on our music that are provided by different equipment. Audio gear is a mixture of engineering and artistry, and like we do for the music itself, we can appreciate the design choices that go into crafting a headphone’s sound. 
     
    For me, the Utopias are so balanced and coherent, they don’t leave me wanting to hear music through any other headphones. They have the snarl of the LCD-3’s and the air of the HD800’s. I am about to put my other cans up for sale - I just won't be using them much anymore.
     
    The most effective gear assessments are comparative. Almost anything is going to let you get lost in your music, and at the same time, almost any gear can leave you aching for more, wondering if there is a way to get even more enveloped in your favorite music. If you really want to see how good a piece of gear is, listen down. Start with the better thing, then listen to the almost-as-good thing. I find this makes the differences more apparent than listening up (from good gear to better gear). Going from the Utopias to the HD800s, it is stunning to me how much musical information is lost. The 800s blunt the peaks of the dynamics, and they also allow the quiet details to fade into the fuzz. Imagine standing on the beach at the edge of the ocean. You experience the crash of a wave followed by the hiss of the sand around you as the tide recedes. That’s the Utopias. Now imagine standing up amidst the blankets and umbrellas. The ocean is still there, with the crash and hiss, and it’s magnificent. That’s the 800’s. You don’t perceive it could get any better, until it does.
     
    And in comparison to the LCD-3F’s, when you switch from the Utopias to them, you perceive that there is a hole in the middle, which you were unaware of prior to the switch. The Audezes have amazing bass, so tight and impactful, and highs that pop right out at you. It isn’t until you hear better cans that you realize that the LCD’s the are lacking integration across the frequency spectrum. 
     
    I prefer the LCD-3F to the HD800, and yet my recommendation for anybody at this stage of their quest should buy the HD800, simply because it is more musically versatile and accurate, and because its comfort is the best I have ever experienced, short of custom iems, and even better than the Utopias. 
     
    Sidestep 1: Good speakers (Bowers and Wilkins 805D2 driven by a McIntosh MC152).
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    In my quest for audio nirvana, I decided that two-channel reproduction was where it’s at. I visited Tyll for Big Sound 2015, and I spent a marvelous day delighting in the absolute-best headphones and gear in the world. I greatly enjoyed appreciating the nuances in presentation among the world’s best headphones: Stax, Abyss, Hifiman HE-1000, Anax-modded HD800s, Audeze, Ether Flow, Enigmacoustics, etc etc. They each had strengths and tradeoffs, and I delighted in the differences. It was a wonderful experience, but at the end of the day, I left feeling that Bob Katz’s assertion was spot-on: no headphones are perfect.
     
    The next day, I called up Todd the Vinyl Junkie, and asked if I could pay him a visit. He was such a gracious host, and to this day, my afternoon with him was the pinnacle of my music-listening experience. Todd’s setup consisted of Vivid speakers driven by Luxman monoblocks, a VPI turntable, and the rattiest and most comfortable sofa in the world. I sunk in, while Todd cued up album after album of music I thought I knew well. I had never experienced musical reproduction like this. In fact, I had never experienced music like that. The immediacy and the dynamic range were breathtaking. The soundstage was enormous and three-dimensional. The imaging was almost visual. 
     
    We are told that the ultimate goal of musical reproduction is to be indistinguishable from live, unamplified music. (The “absolute sound”.) Speakers should sound like live music, and headphones should sound like good speakers. But I’ve come to completely disagree. First of all, it is very rare that we hear live, unamplified music. When I’m at a classical or rock concert, my sense for soundstage and imaging is visual, not auditory. If I close my eyes, it falls apart, because after all, the sound is coming from towers of speakers. The soundstage and imaging present in audio reproduction are studio artifacts, and that’s fine with me - it is still an engrossing illusion and a pleasant aspect of musical reproduction. This is nothing new - artists and engineers have always sculpted music with the playback mode in mind. Bach composed so that his music would sound good in the salons and churches where it would be performed. The 3 1/2-minute-long song convention is a result of the duration of one side of a 78. Music does not exist in some pure form regardless of how it will be reproduced, and it never has. We are not so much trying to capture the original event, but rather, we are trying to create a beautiful illusion.
     
    Should headphones sound like speakers? I don’t think they ever will, and I don’t think they should. They have very different strengths, and some unavoidable disadvantages. Our body does so much to the sound we hear before it reaches our ears, that unless you mimic those effects with signal processing customized to your own body, you’re never going to get headphones to trick you into thinking the music is rendered in front of you. But, that doesn’t matter to me; I believe the very best way to experience reproduced music is on a phenomenal two-channel system, and getting there is a long-term goal of mine. But, as we already know, dollar-for-dollar, you can do much better with headphones - unless soundstage is what matters the most for you in music. So, although I love my good speakers, at least in my price bracket, speakers cannot provide the immediacy and detail that good headphones offer.
     
    Third rung: JH-13 custom in-ear monitors.
    I purchased these waay back in 2009. I was convinced they would be the only headphones I would ever need, and for several years, that was true. They still receive more listening time than any other transducers I have, since they are in my ears sometimes all day long at work, and always on my bus commute, or while getting the dishes done. They are a simply gorgeous rendition of sound. There is so much detail and clarity, and they are so comfortable. Jerry Harvey’s company is terrific to work with: when I dropped them and blew out a driver, out of warranty, they repaired them for a price I considered more than reasonable. (I am not sure they still have the capacity to do that, given their growth, but I know this company will do everything they can to keep their customers satisfied, and I respect that greatly.) 
     
    However, IEMs will lack a feeling of embodiment, and now that I’ve heard lots more audio gear, I can recognize that the JH-13’s are not neutral - instead they are tuned to make music satisfying. The best gear should not need to have a voicing of its own. Nowadays I mostly listen to my 13’s when I need to be mobile. 
     
    Second rung: Sennheiser HD650 and HiFiMan HE-500.
    I purchased the 650’s in 2008, and the 500’s in 2012. They occupy the same rung on my ladder because for me the sound is about equally engrossing from both, but they are VERY different-sounding transducers. The 650s have drive, and they are involving, but at the same time, I feel like there is a distance between me and my music. (I think “veiled” captures it.) I think the engineers’ intentions were to make headphones that sounded like good speakers - laid-back, but with growl. That made perfect sense, given the dominance of speakers at the time these were originally released.
     
    The HE-500s are clearer, but they sound too polite to me. I would say they are more tonally balanced than the 650s, but they are also less fun. For classical and electronic, I wanted the 500s, and for rock, I wanted the 650s. A great comparison between these headphones is listening to both during live sporting events. With the 500s, it’s uninvolving and distant; too clean. With the 650s, you are in the stadium, close to the action, and the applause surrounds you. 
     
    Sidestep 2: LFF Paradox, AKG Q701 / K7xx.
    The price/performance relationship in audio gear is an asymptotic curve. It rises quickly, but then levels off. I have learned that you’ve got to pay 5-10x more to pull out that next level of detail, nuance, and subtlety. Still though, it is always fun to find those special pieces of gear that offer great audio value at their price-point. 
     
    I bought each of these three headphones because I was trying to beat the curve of diminishing returns, and I would say I did. The LFF Paradoxes are a modded Fostex T50RP. I was very curious what a skilled modder could accomplish with a $70 headphone, and I was pleasantly delighted. Even as I sell off my other gear, I will be keeping these, in part because I love them for the technical marvel they are, but also because they are the only closed headphones I own (not counting iems). They sound open, it’s really quite an amazing feat. I prefer their sound to that of the HE-500, even though I would say the HE-500 is more technically accurate.
     
    I own the AKGs because I had the pleasure of hearing the HD800 soon after they were released, and at the time I could not afford them. The gentlemen at Stereo Exchange in NYC (a wonderful store that my father used to take me into, nearly 40 years ago) let me audition a pair. He unlocked a glass cabinet and used a stepstool to reach them down from a high shelf. I was transfixed by the clarity and air of the 800’s, and the defined bass, that sounded like the music was playing somewhere in the room around me. Later on, when I read that the Q701s were like “little 800s”, I ordered a pair from Amazon. Sure enough, the air was there. The way the 701’s rendered female vocals, and picked apart complex musical material (My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” began to make sense to me on the Q701s.) However, I returned them to Amazon, because I knew I would not listen to them instead of my HE-500s. I just needed some bass.
     
    I missed the Q701s, so when Massdrop offered the K7XX, I hopped right on board. I now own both again, so I can directly compare them. These are lovely headphones, and I use them to show my friends what can be gained by climbing the headphone ladder. When you start with either of these, it is hard to say there’s anything missing. The K7XX does indeed have more bass than the Q701s, but I actually feel that the added bass detracts from the clarity in the upper registers, somehow. I fear this may be happening again with the Sennheiser HD800S. Consumers will always ask for more bass, and manufacturers will be wise to respond to the demands of their customers. However, a well-designed sound signature is a carefully-balanced thing, which reveals itself through extensive listening. Adding in moar bass will have obvious immediate appeal, but it may actually diminish long-term enjoyability.
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    First rung: Shure SE-535 / E-530 in-ear monitors.
    My sister gave me an iPod for Christmas in 2003. I really didn’t think I needed one. At that time in my life, music was background - something to do while you did other things. Car stereo, a countertop stereo while I cooked, some headphones from Best Buy while I worked in a crowded cubicle office. I still cared about quality music and sound quality, but I would put a favorite CD on repeat, and not interact much with it after that. It didn’t make any sense to me to just sit and listen. And now, that is one of my life’s greatest pleasures. I thank Apple’s Steve and Johnny and their wonderful iPod for getting music back to where it belongs in my life. 
     
    I knew right away that the earbuds that came with the iPod would not be enough. I farted around with some better earbuds at the Apple store, until I stumbled across head-fi, in 2004 (“sorry about your wallet”). There, I read raves about the Shure E-530 in-ear monitors, and I made my first major audio purchase. I can still remember unboxing them when they arrived (gorgeous brushed aluminum box), and plugging them in to listen to my favorite album at the time, the White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan. I don’t know how to describe the experience - disappointment initially, but then a transition to something more satisfying. I think I was expecting the music to sound fundamentally transformed, like the closeness of the musicians or the tone of the music would somehow change. Of course, it didn’t, and in those moments I began to understand that there are really no “night-and-day” differences between audio gear. Rather, there is gradually getting closer to how the music must have sounded to the studio engineers, mixing it on the best equipment money can buy. Good gear is all about clarity, subtlety, nuance, but even crummy earbuds, or music playing on a car stereo with the windows down, can still render for you the melody, instrumentation, and emotional tone of music. 
     
    But, oh how I struggled with the 530’s. Although they were better than anything else I had listened to at that time, I could just tell there was something missing. First, I went through a bunch of foam tips (comply, etc), looking for the richness I could get when I pushed them deeper into my ears with my fingers. I tried Etymotic custom ear molds from an audiologist. I tried different amplifiers (RSA Hornet; Headamp Pico), but there was always something missing. Also, they kept breaking. Shure even replaced them once or twice after they were out-of-warranty, but at last, I received a curt letter from them saying this was the last time they would replace them. It was time to move on, and that’s when I took what felt like a once-and-forever plunge, and ordered the JH-13’s.
     
    Ground level: Bose Quiet Comfort, a car stereo, and my dad’s speakers.
    Why do I care about good-quality music reproduction in the first place? Everybody here has a moment when music captivated them, and to an extent, we’re all chasing that experience. It seems to us that better and better gear can make those breathtaking moments more reliable. For me, there are three experiences I can recall that created within me the desire to always have well-reproduced music. First, when I was a child, maybe 11 or 12, it occurred to me to sit very close ton one of my dad’s speakers. It was probably Willie Nelson’s Stardust, or maybe Ella and Louis, on the turntable. I was amazed to discover a whole other world in there. I could hear the crackles of a voice, and the mechanics of playing a guitar, or the levers on a trumpet, things that just weren’t audible from the sofa. I was transfixed, and I’d often repeat the experience of sitting with my ear pressed against the grilles, with the music playing very quietly. Second, when Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came out, my girlfriend and I listened to it over and over. On the first track, “I am trying to break your heart”, around 40 seconds into the song, there are two strums on a guitar to kick things off. Once, as we drove down a California freeway, windows open, stereo cranked, those chords leapt out at me, shimmering in free space. The experience transported me, and I have never been able to re-create it. Third, my boss loaned me his Bose QuietComfort headphones for a trip I took in 2005 or so. I was into the Black Eyed Peas’ album Monkey Business at that time. When the bass hit in My Humps, I was stunned. I did not know headphones could make a sound so big and full. I wanted a pair of my own, but some online research led me to head-fi, which warned me away from Bose. (I’ve come to feel that Bose does not deserve the backlash they receive from us. They may be overpriced, but their stuff usually sounds perfectly fine.) Instead, I went with the Shures, and I’m glad for that, because it began a journey that has culminated somewhere truly wonderful. 
     
    So there you have it - from ground up, my own 15-year climb to headphone Utopia. It is hard for me to imagine a better headphone coming along, at least not for quite some time, and it is hard for me to imagine coming to feel there is anything missing in my experience of music, as provided by the Utopias. I may upgrade my two-channel system someday, but of course I’ll start off by auditioning some Focal speakers. I can make a strong “buy” recommendation for the Utopia. If you have the means to do it, just get them. They are underpriced for the sound quality they deliver. Alternatively, if you want to work your way up to them, then enjoy your own particular ladder (and let us know what you find along the way!) And who knows, by the time you are ready to climb to that last step, maybe there will be something even better available to you.
     
    A final thought: The era of the $4000 headphone.
    Some people are choosing between the LCD-4 and the Utopia. I look forward to hearing the LCD-4, but until then, I can offer no comments on that choice, except to say that I welcome the fact that $4K headphones are now available to us, and not only that, but we actually have options at that price point. Just ten years ago, I dithered for months on whether or not to spend $500 on Shure IEMs, but a purchase of Utopias took me less than an hour to decide on. This is true for many of us - obviously, because there is a market now for $4K headphones. Here’s why this is a good thing. First of all, speaker makers, like Focal, are taking notice of the headphone marketplace. More and more of them are bound to move in. These are major players whose TOTL gear is in the $100K+ range. Their knowhow and facilities will transform what’s possible with headphones. Second, there will always be technology trickle-down, and $500 headphones are only going to sound better and better as time goes on. I for one welcome the continual improvement in the personal audio that we have the privilege of living through. And, to state the obvious, none of this would be happening if it weren’t for head-fi.
     
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    Associated gear:
    Music: Electronic (Radiohead, Nicolas Jaar, DJ Shadow, etc.), Jazz (Madeline Peyroux, Bill Frissell, John Coltrane, etc.), Rock (Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Fleetwood Mac, etc.), Classical (Alfred Brendel’s Beethoven sonatas, Monteverdi madrigals, etc).
     
    Amplifier: Violectric V281. Balanced cables for Utopia (Nordost), HD800 (Cardas), LCD-3 (stock). Single-ended for HE-500, LFF Paradox, HD-650, AKGs, JH-13.
     
    Sources: Violectric V800 DAC for FLAC, running Audirvana on a Macintosh. For analog: clearaudio concept turntable / Violectric V600 phono stage.
      Malfunkt, mrtim6, slankoe and 6 others like this.
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    2. alpha421
      Outstanding read.  It deserves a standing ovation - seriously, well done.
      alpha421, Jan 3, 2017
    3. ab_ba
      Hey everyone, I seriously appreciate your positive comments on my review. Your feedback means a lot to me, it's really encouraging. 
       
      Hey Satir, I can tell you I had the pleasure of hearing the Ether C Flow last week. I loved it. I found it rich and also shimmering. Plenty of spaciousness, despite being closed. A slightly dark and laid-back presentation (speakers-like) but if I needed a closed headphone (for work, an apartment, etc) I'd seriously consider that one. I also want to listen to those new Sonys.
      ab_ba, Jan 4, 2017
    4. snk8699
      Thank you so much for sharing your audio journey with us.  Before I knew it, I was swept along for the ride and engrossed in your story.  Quiet kids!  Daddy's trying to read and relate to another audiophile.
      snk8699, Feb 23, 2017

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