Focal Utopia - not a fan, am I nuts or missing something?
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yolosauce

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It's a very revealing headphone. If a song isn't recorded well enough the Utopia will highlight the flaws. From the artists you have listed (Queen, Pearl Jam, Led Zepplin) I can say from experience that their songs can sound rough on certain headphones. Either the drum cymbals are harsh or the vocals have sibilance. I could enjoy these bands using the zmf aeolus, verite, and susvara. However I did not enjoy them when using the focal clear, arya, and he1000se. Rage Against the Machine sounded good on everything.
 
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Loujetlag

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Many thanks for everyone's input - it has definitely reinforced what I was assuming is the case: with better amplification (and it sounds like I gotta reach for the stars), I'll come to appreciate the intricacies of these cans - but that's not to say I won't still find them "metallic" or prefer the lower end "fun" of my bass-thumpers over the high-end "boredom" in the reference sound that comes from the Utopia.

I must say, I have learned much reading everyone's comments, and I probably have more questions for you all individually (and damn, there are some great quotes here from you folks - I knew I could count on you Head-Fi'ers to school me without making me feel like an idiot - dig it). All-in all, I have a couple of interesting trade offers, but I am now leaning towards upping my amp game and giving them another chance before I write them off as not my cup of tea.
Hi Dave, I think you’ll find that “upping your amp game” will give you good results on many levels. You weren’t kidding about there being a backstory. What a wonderful (and maddening) hobby! Enjoy the music! Cheers! P.S. I’m on a similar quest, and you have effectively put the brakes on that and encouraged me to enjoy what I have (Stax, Senn, HifiMan, Audioquest NH & NO Carbon) a little longer...:)
 
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theMillerdave

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[...]I’m on a similar quest, and you have effectively put the brakes on that and encouraged me to enjoy what I have (Stax, Senn, HifiMan, Audioquest NH & NO Carbon) a little longer...:)
Lou, I hope I didn’t ruin the quest for you - so in the event I haven’t: if you haven’t yet wrapped a pair of ZMF phones around your head, I would highly suggest you give them a try (especially if you like the HifiMan sound).

Taking the cues from the other folks here, I have taken the first couple of steps on amping up my amplifier setup. I have a Violectric V280 and an upgraded Woo audio WA-7 fireflies coming in - if that doesnt get me to the point where I can at least benchmark my cans without the fear of the amp holding them back, then I will likely have to go a little harder.
 
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Strayngs

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I first heard them at the RMAF and it was it under whelming experience. Didn’t really think about them much. I then had opportunity to obtain a pair in a trade. The previous owner was like you and was just not liking them. I thought I’d give them a try as the resell on them Was good and they would be easy to move. At the time I had a Trafomatic Head 2 And the current primaLuna EVO 300 Integrated Which I still own. What I found as it was meh on the Trafomatic But simply the best headphone I’ve ever heard on the primaluna. I was using the same source on both amps. Moral of the story is the utopia is extremely dependent on its chemistry with the amp being used. Unfortunately until you try it with an amp, there is really no way to know.
 
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theMillerdave

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I first heard them at the RMAF and it was it under whelming experience. Didn’t really think about them much. I then had opportunity to obtain a pair in a trade. The previous owner was like you and was just not liking them. I thought I’d give them a try as the resell on them Was good and they would be easy to move. At the time I had a Trafomatic Head 2 And the current primaLuna EVO 300 Integrated Which I still own. What I found as it was meh on the Trafomatic But simply the best headphone I’ve ever heard on the primaluna. I was using the same source on both amps. Moral of the story is the utopia is extremely dependent on its chemistry with the amp being used. Unfortunately until you try it with an amp, there is really no way to know.
This is what I've come to understand. Very curious as to what you have to say about the Vérité in comparison once it lands with you...
 
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Strayngs

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I promise to give you a detailed comparison. I’m number 35 on the waiting list now LOL.
 
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inthere

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Former Utopia owner here. I returned a pair after i heard clipping. I put a video here showing them clipping. It appears some may be defective, so I'd strongly suggest returning those for a good pair. Once I got a new pair, it was really dependent on the source. On average amps it sounded average. But on my HoloAudio Spring LVL 3 and My Liquid Gold Amp they sounded spectacular. Soundstage was a bit too small for me though and ultimately led to me selling them.
 
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theMillerdave

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I promise to give you a detailed comparison. I’m number 35 on the waiting list now LOL.
I am eagerly awaiting ZMFNovember for the B-Stock sale when I plan to pick up literally everything I don't already own from Zach.
 
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SilverEars

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Lou, I hope I didn’t ruin the quest for you - so in the event I haven’t: if you haven’t yet wrapped a pair of ZMF phones around your head, I would highly suggest you give them a try (especially if you like the HifiMan sound).

Taking the cues from the other folks here, I have taken the first couple of steps on amping up my amplifier setup. I have a Violectric V280 and an upgraded Woo audio WA-7 fireflies coming in - if that doesnt get me to the point where I can at least benchmark my cans without the fear of the amp holding them back, then I will likely have to go a little harder.
ZMF headphones are not like Hifimans. I really have no idea what they are like, they have their own characteristics and I can't say they have accurate tunings, but leans toward colored. I've tried their closed version and I found the mids bloom, not a good turning. Auteur, nothing special in terms of resolution. I think people like the look for the wood, as for the sound, it's questionable. I'm not paying that price to look at wood that's for sure.
 
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bluecar

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I'm fortunate enough to have the Utopias, and have used them both with a dave on SE, and then through the Dave feeding an HPA4 and the utopias connected with the same SE connection.

Driven by the Dave, they are great but not amazing. Sound is satisyfing, but slightly narrow of stage. Driven from the HPA4, they still sound great, but staging is wider, and the overall sound is more involving....

So, in an entirely unscientific test, it may be that (despite sensitively) the Utopias really do benefit from being driven by a humping great solid state amp :D
 
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elisiX

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For me, Utopia is amazing out of my RME/V281 stack, but lacks some body from the RME on its own.
 
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Am I alone in my distaste for the Focal sound?
Not at all. The upper-mid forwardness makes them great with classical and jazz (to a degree) but also emphasises the flaws of cheaper gear. Given the music you listed, and less so the gear you're using, they are not really going to be amazing with either. In my system, that would retail about $7-8k before the headphones, I can make out the difference between interconnect cables between the DAC and amp using the Utopias. If I were to cut everything down to just a Hugo 2, I'd probably find the result a bit thin-sounding for preference.

My set-up is usually: Roon → Raspberry Pi (with DietPi) → USB Isolator → Schiit Yggdrasil A2 with Unison USB or Chord Hugo 2 + 2go → Moon Audio Silver Dragon → ALO Audio Studio Six. The tube complement in the Studio Six skews towards being euphonic slightly.
 
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malcolm.mcintyre

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I struggled to love my Focal Utopia for quite a few months. Yes they were super detailed, highly resolving, but they didn’t create an easy listening experience. I mainly used my EAR HP-4 tube amp, as I thought this would give me the best option.
Almost in desperation I bought a Focal Arche dac/amp and hey presto! Using its own dedicated Utopia filter was a revelation, a totally natural sound. Very easy to listen to but more resolving than any of my other cans.
It probably should be regarded as a weakness, but in my opinion the Utopia Arche pairing is essential.
 
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bagwell359

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The Clear >> Utopia

Still, the Utopia is better than 3-4 cans on your list IMO, but not worth the $. But what is in the "high end"? Not much.

I do ask that you get some test recordings, because the 4XX bass drops starting at 60 and is 5 db down at 40 Hz and 8 db down at 20 Hz.. The designers try and make up for it with a +2-3 rise from 60-120 Hz. The timbre isn't that great (although at the money, there are many worse). You are getting a 560? I'd advise a HE-500 instead, since the 560 strikes me as a lot closer to the Utopia - bass better but a big spike in the treble.
 
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Devodonaldson

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So far, I am struggling to find something I like better than the ZMF soundstage, clarity, and warmth. I was more shocked at my distaste for them given the caliber/price point and general consensus on performance (which I think you've echoed in your second assesment) than anything else. Perhaps my expectations were unrealistic?
Heard them on several occasions. I feel the same way. Shrill, and no low end. I've always felt the same way about their car speakers as well
 
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