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.
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.
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.
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.
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.