Focal Utopia - not a fan, am I nuts or missing something?
- Thread starter theMillerdave
- Start date
Oct 1, 2020 at 7:21 PM
- Sep 2, 2014
- Reaction score
- Santa Rosa, Laguna, Philippines
- Sep 2, 2014
- Santa Rosa, Laguna, Philippines
No EQ can reproduce the sound of a Utopia / SET amp (with 8 ohm OI) pairing with just EQing a solid state amp with <1 ohm OI 100% verbatim sonically even with tube sound/distortion DSP addedLol something is wrong with your cans or another part of your system if high OI sounds better than low OI assuming it’s the same amp with high/low OI switch. You might as well use EQ, which is more accurate and less guess work.
Oct 1, 2020 at 8:03 PM
- Sep 18, 2013
- Reaction score
- Sep 18, 2013
Did you try balanced output on the Cavalli? I find that Cavalli purposely gimps single-ended outputs. I've never heard crappier SE than Cavalli. I don't understand why his SE is crap?Update: I was wrong.... deeeaaaadddd wrong
After giving the Utopia another shot with some different sources and amps, I have come to the conclusion that the Massdrop x Cavalli liquid carbon x amp is a giant piece of junk, and I should have never judged the Utopia being feed by that thing - and the Asgard 2, while it sounded better, didn't let the Utopia shine either.
HOWEVER, even with the modest upgrade to a Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies, I totally get it now (and before you jump on the fact that the WA7 is not a great amp by any standard, it is still WAY better than the other 2 I was using - My Schiit Bifrost 2 landed the other day, and I am patiently waiting at the mailbox daily for my Violectric V280 to show up and REALLY knock my socks off). Literally all of my previous gripes immediately disappeared, and the things I love about my ZMF and Audeze cans now sound muddy in comparison (and the tinny/sibilant highs that were my primary complaint before, have mellowed out dramatically)... Although the Auteurs are fantastic at well under half the price of the Utopia.
I'm not sure how much can be attributed to break-in, as the Utopia have under 50 hours on them in total (I have put about 20 on them since first posting), but at this point - who cares? I have gotten great suggestions from you folks, and I'm still interested in hearing more of your endgame pairings for the Utopia (for me: endgame is a journey for refinement towards perfection, not the mythical destination some claim is truly attainable - there is always going to be something better). So far, I have gleaned that the Chord Hugo 2 and Dave (my heart sings to get a sick piece of equipment with my name on it... ) are marvels in and of themselves, let alone their near-perfect unity with the Utopia. And don't you worry, I'm sure I'll have more to say about these once the Violectric arrives.
I wish Utopia's impedance was on the level of Sennheiser's making it more versatile for tube amps. I prefer 300ohm or above headphones with tube amps. One exception is TH900 however, it's an odd one.
It can't be the OI since Carbon X is very low OI.Output impedance has a similar effect on the Clear. A popular Youtuber was reviewing the Clear and used an amp with very high OI (~140 Ohms) vs. ~30 Ohms on the WA7 vs. <1 Ohm on the Liquid Carbon X, and that raised the bass by something like 14 dB. He ended up not liking them and comparing them to Beats due to the quantity of bass.
Oct 1, 2020 at 8:59 PM
Good comments in this Utopia thread. IMO Yes Utopia is End game in the likes of Abyss 1266 and Susvara but can see why there is love/hate in the community. Let me add some of my perspective here,Update: I was wrong
In my search for endgame cans, I recently picked up a pair of Focal Utopia from a local Head-Fi'er - having seen the glowing reviews of them being touted as a top contended for the finest pair of headphones, I was quite confident I would be in for an other-worldly listening experience... at the very least, I would have expected there to be a noticeable improvement over the other phones I have in my collection (currently: ZMF Atticus with mag chassis, Audeze LCD-2 Closed Backs, Campfire Andromeda v2, Campfire Orion CK, Campfire Nova, HiFiMan HE4XX (with a pair of HE560s on the way), MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Closed, and a few others not worth mentioning). If my title wasn't enough of a giveaway, I am underwhelmed, disappointed, and baffled - as it seems I am alone would choose any of the aforementioned cans over these in every (sonic) aspect.
I'm sure those more educated in the nuances of sound and equipment will have loads of follow-up questions and suggestions if I stopped there, and I wholly expect a ton of scathing comments criticizing my sophomoric acumen and inability to use the proper terminology and/or completeness in describing what I feel to be obvious shortcomings of these top-of-the-line headphones by arguably one of the best companies in the game.... but I will do my best - please be gentle.
First off - how am I driving these, and what am I listening to?
Audio: FLAC lossless 2ch audio from my Macs (2019 15" MBP, 2018 Mac Mini) running Pure Music as well as on my DX200. My test track recently has been "Time" on the latest album "03.15.20" by Childish Gambino, but I have also listened to some Caravan Palace (the Robot album), Goldfish, Justice, Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam, Sam Cooke, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Kendrick Lamar, Biggie Smalls, Mark Ronson, Adele, Trombone Shorty, Rebirth Brass band, Mingus, Monk, Coltrane - music from basically every genre I listen to (which is almost everything except Country and Classical)DAC: I have tried both my relatively new Schiit Modius (dual 3-pin XLR balanced connection out) as well as a Music Streamer III (RCA out) on my Macs, and the iBasso DX200 built-in DACAmp: I've got a Drop x Cavalli Liquid Carbon X (with the balanced dual XLR coming from he Modius), and a Schiit Asgard 2 (being fed over RCA from the Music Streamer III)Cable: Cardas Audio 1/4" SE with genuine LEMO FGG.0B.302 connectors (the cable alone goes for what "normal" people would consider spending on an entire rig)Ok, so what don't I like about the Utopia
I can't at all complain about build quality, comfort, or aesthetics (given I don't complain about the gargantuan anchors that are the LCD-2 Closed Backs, comfort is unlikely) - so my focus will solely be on sound.The Utopia claim to have a flat / reference response. If that is the case, there is something wrong with my ears, as I do not hear enough low end, and the high-end sounds shrill, distorted, and entirely too pronounced.Sure, I understand these are high-impedance headphones that demand a beefy amp, but with the high-gain setting on both of my (arguably capable) amps - I hear what I can only describe as clipping / distorted peaking in the mid-to-high treble frequencies at every volume level, and the low-end just seems to be lacking in presence (worth mentioning, and this might be indicative that I need a better amp: the Liquid Carbon X **** itself and turns off if I turn the dial past the half-way point - the Asgard doesn't struggle, but has the same sonic flaws).Putting on even the entry-level HE4XX gives me what I feel to be a more even treatment across the spectrum (perhaps I'm a bass-head, but that doesn't account for the cringe-worthy highs)
Yeah, so, what do I want to know?
Am I alone in my distaste for the Focal sound? (I am assuming it is intentional and characteristic of these Francocans)Are my ears just shot to the point that I am missing subtlety, crave more bass because I can't hear, and/or listen to my tunes too loud?I use balanced cables almost exclusively for my other headphones, and have yet to get/make one for the Utopia - don't tell me it could possibly be THAT simple of a fix. Could it?Am I just a moron for thinking top-of-the-line Z-rated tires will never get the same performance on a Buick as on a Porsche (even if I'm driving them both the same way using the least-common denominator)? This of course is an analogy in reference to my relatively pedestrian (Buick) ampsIs this merely a subjective assessment / opinion of the "Focal Sound" where I happen to deviate from the majority?Thanks folks, I am really looking forward to the discussion that follows (regardless of whether I take action to become happier with them or happier without them)
You mentioned about Focal signature.. Utopia being fast and Stellia being an easy listen, they do sound different with many more contrasts so difficult to box Focal signature.
Most HPs have their own sound signature and when paired with DAC/Amps, it borrows some signature from that and this mixture is the listening experience but Utopia don't strongly force a signature of its own, it is almost like a mirror to the DAC/Amps and mimics it's source. Even though Utopia is easier to drive, it sounds very different with different setups so that's why we see love/hate for this awesome HP, following are one liner impressions ( not a full review) of some setup i have used to pair with Utopia and the point i want to make is to show that Utopia sounds like different HP every time !
Sony DAP - Utopia HP sounds like a $200 HP ! you can hear the song but dull, muffled, lack luster and made no impact . Worst pairing
AK 240 DAP - Utopia sounds like a $500 HP, still drives Utopia on the go even though it struggles, it sounds acceptable. Bad pairing
Liquid Cavalli Platinum with stock tubes - Calm , nice , gentle especially good for before the bed listen. LP is not at same level as Utopia
Monoprice THX 887 AIO - Pleasantly surprised with clean sound & instrument separation at this price point. It brought out smooth, extended, sparkly Highs of Utopia and all instruments were shining in it's own space between Lows and Highs. Still not in the same level of Utopia's technical capability as Utopia was pinpointing deficiencies in its Bass layering, resolution etc.
Chord Hugo 2 AIO - Thin, Bright, Analytical, fast, good dynamics, less bass but a lot of treble. Decent for portable setup to listen at your backyard having a beer
Chord TT2 AIO - Big brother of Hugo 2 with same sound characteristics, with more details and dynamics, an external amp is recommended. Not my favorite with Utopia for $6K price point , i would use TT2 as DAC than AIO
Chord Dave AIO - Neutral, reference level, great level of clarity & resolution, Accurate, Natural, more coherent than Hugo 2 & TT2, no emphasis or lack of Bass/Mids/Treble, still an external amp is recommended. Digs all the details out of song and present it to Utopia in a platter , Utopia also scales well with TOTL DAC Dave to reproduce the details, still did not wowed me for some reason as it may be the price factor which makes to think about law of diminishing returns
Flux acoustics FCN-10 AIO - Full bodied, meaty mids, musical, fun, refined, Impactful bass slams, displays both Solid state as well as Tube like characteristics, too smooth treble to sound less lively. FCN-10 sounds great with Abyss 1266/HE1000 but did not liked it with Utopia as it killed the treble of Utopia with less sparkles/shimmers
IFi Ican Pro - Neutral, punchy, good listen, scores very good in all frequencies but not TOTL with Wow factor compared to more expensive amps. Good pairing
Focal arche - Very good pairing with Utopia, the punch, slam, dynamics are all present, Bass can be bit boomier for certain songs but it does reproduces good bass quantity in Utopia well.
dcS Bartok AIO - Very good as AIO with excellent details and sounded neutral with Utopia but again as $16K, was'nt sure
Luxman P750 - Natural sounding with great details for easy listen, but overall in-offensive presentation with smooth overlay on top of all spectrums. This Japanese Amp sounded like a Lexus car with lot of potential and finesse but is not aggressive like a Maserati, in short P750 did not gave me any goosebump moments
Simaudio Moon Neo 430 HAD AIO - This unit have mixed reviews as some call it slow and smooth but it depends on HPs used, with Utopia i liked this a lot. This is my favorite pairing with Utopia, it sounded similar to dcs Bartok with a neutral, transparent solid state amp signature. Pairing is Detailed still musical, extended gobs of Treble details flying around still non offensive, that big Sub bass thud still controlled in Utopia ( it wont make Utopia an Abyss or Planars in Sub bass but this was more than adequate to me) , can listen to both Sub bass as well as the faster Micro drum beats, Full sounding like being in a English pub, Instruments circling around your head to greet you when it is introduced, Highly resolving. In the face presentation with lot of goosebump moments
To conclude, Utopia is very source/Amp picky so please give it some time and chance without writing it off, it is indeed TOTL HP