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Is it worth buying utopia for only listening with a portable DAP as QP1R?
And: is it worth buying elear for only listening with a portable DAP as QP1R?
I listened to both from my QP1R at the recent Chicago meet and it does a fine job driving them. It's not as refined as some of the kick-ass desktop systems that were at the meet but for a simple portable rig I thoroughly enjoyed it. I only skimmed a a few of my test tracks on the Elear and learned that it wasn't to my tastes but I sort of hogged the Utopia for several minutes because they're something else. That said, the Utopia only shined brightest on a killer desktop system. It's kind of similar to how the HD 800 sounds good out of the QP1R but incredible out of a DNA Stratus or Liquid Tungsten.
Focal Utopia Review -
I thought I would post my impressions to add to the collective community experience. Through this experience I've found many helpful suggestions and wish to contribute.
Top line - The focal Utopia is truly a spectacular achievement in every sense. I've been a long time HD800 user, upgrading to the HD800s when that was released. As a background, I'm very much a listener who is in search of the "as close to the microphone feed" as possible. Tonal accuracy, detail retrieval, microdynamics, transients among other things are what I look for. I do not look for colored presentations, excessive base etc. The HD800 has been a spectacular companion through the years. I found the treble peak to be well managed by improving my audio chain. At least some of the difficulty with listening in this region is that many portions of the audio chain create noise and over emphasis in this region - similar to the horrible CD players of the 80's. This is somewhat of an artifact though and is not always inherent or as bad in the source material as we realize. Therefore I was able to live well with the treble peak of the 800s for many years. Other headphones unfortunately could not bring me as close to the microphone feed as the HD800s.
Enter the Focal Utopia. From the first moments of listening to this headphone I knew things had changed for the better. And as good as the Utopia is in single ended, it is notably better in balanced configuration.
The Utopia has a remarkable character of sounding balanced from highs to lows. Gone is the treble emphasis of my HD800s, looking back I think wow that was so artificial. Cymbal sheen on the Utopia is remarkably accurate - just like I hear them live. They sound natural, not over emphasized. Also, gone is the weak lows of the HD800 - my goodness I have not heard bass sound like this ever (including when I tried the Abyss). The Utopia has significant heft as well as all the fine nuance of the real instruments. It carries the music in a way that is just fun to hear. For me - it opens all my recordings to something I have never heard - and I'm listening to them all like they are new.
As mentioned, the treble region is clean, clear, accurate with no over emphasis. Sounds natural to me.
Mid range is well balanced integrating perfectly and smoothly in a natural way with the rest of the music.
Bass - just great. Accurate, full, natural. EDM bass is spectacular. Acoustic Jazz bass - sounds close to the real thing. Rock/pop same. Classical I've found also benefits providing an excellent foundation.
Microdetails/resolution - an area of interest for me. Surprisingly, I find the Utopia has surpassed my HD800s. I am hearing deeper into the music then I have ever before. The small cues of hearing the musician grunt, or the opening / closing of the sax keys are now all right there for me to hear without trying, easier and more natural than I've experienced.
Soundstage - curiously for me, in this configuration the soundstage is just as wide and deep as the HD800s. Not sure why, as this is contrary to Innerfidelity's review. Never the less for me I prefer the soundstage on the Utopia. It is broad but as the Utopia is presenting the instruments in such pinpoint location the Utopia casts a vision of a true group of musicians before me. The soundstage in the end depends on the recording for me. Some are truly out the head experiences unlike any I'd experienced with my HD800s. Others are more closed in - again depends on how it was recorded.
I just love these headphones. I do indeed just stop thinking about any of this and just enjoy the music!
Currently - Utopia is on balanced Nordost cable - great cable and trumps the stock cable by a wide margin with better resolution and soundstage, balance, etc. Running fully balanced with Lau.
And as a side note - the headphones take time to break in. They gave me a headache for 2 days! Over stringent treble and bass was over emphasized.
Thank you for your contribution and welcome to the community. I, and surely many others, appreciate your willingness to share your impressions!
Thank you very much for your review that match what I heard with the Utopia out of the WA8 in London. Almost a mini-Stax
Can you tell us what DAC/AMP you used for this review of the Utopia ? Only the Lau ?
I used my Berkeley reference dac into just my lau, so only have those to report.
Some $$$$ DAC.
Mmm.....Good review. Which Nordost balanced cable did you use? Heimdall 2 or something else in the Nordost line? Tia.
Hi Tia - I use the heimdall 2 - a truly wonderful cable - more neutral and balanced with higher resolution then many...
What volume did you use on the LAu melb0028? I'm guessing you have the Berkeley connected to the LAu with the higher voltage balanced out.
ROFLMFAO I dont think his name is Tia......
Yes, I do use balanced from my Dac to the amp. I have the amp volume about 1/4 of the way to full volume and pretty much don't need to change it much.
Thanks. I thought it would be on the lower end of the volume range. The Utopia is quite easy to drive. I have a LAu coming in from the final production run