Having owned and spent good time with the Focal Utopia I thought it would be helpful to do a review comparing my HE1000 which has been my favorite headphone of all time.
I've had my HE1000 for over a year and it's been the first headphone I've owned that has quenched my thirst for upgrades. Before the HE1000 my favorite headphones have always been from HIFIMAN with the HE-400/HE-500/HE-560 and HE-6. What the HE1000 does better than those headphones are soundstage, imaging, and top to bottom frequency response and extension.
However after owning them for more than a year, some of the shortcomings become evident. The main issue I have with them is the dynamism and impact. The laid back characteristics work in its favor for relaxed or long term listening, however some music demands the extra punch that the HE1000 falls short on. For example in close comparisons between the HE1000 and their previous flagship the HE-6, it's apparent that while the HE1000 reaches lower in sub bass extension, the HE-6 hits harder in bass and has more realistic attack on strings. I listen to a lot of electronic music and some genres of electronic just don't sound completely at home on the HE1000.
Where does the Utopia fit in? In short, they're almost the complete opposite of the HE1000. Extremely punchy and dynamic, a more closed in soundstage and almost never laid-back. Let's go into detail:
Bass: The Utopia is very hard hitting in bass and with lots of texture and detail. It's similar in my memory with the HE-6. For a dynamic headphone the bass is remarkable. I've owned the HD800 and sold it because of the lack of bass extension. The HE1000 extends noticeably lower. However the impact is subdued, almost as if the drivers are restraining itself or don't have the excursion to push hard. At the same time the extension of the HE1000 provides a more solid foundation in bass heavy tracks that's noticeable and welcome. Neither headphone is perfect here, a combination of the Utopia punch, detail and texture with the extension of the HE1000 would be the winning combination.
Mids: Both are balanced and similar however the HE1000 has a warmth to the mids while the Utopia sounds neutral. The Utopia is very similar to my Mackie HR824 studio monitors. The sub bass extension of the HE1000 with warmer mids provide a nice tone, even if not as completely neutral as the Utopias. For generally listening I prefer a headphone on the warmer side and the HE1000 sits perfectly here.
Treble: I always liked the HE1000 treble, even if it can sound slightly peaky. It gives it a nice treble crunch and never sounds sibilant. The Utopia treble extends much further and is much more prominent in its sound. However it rarely sounds sibilant and is very smooth. I've read a review of the Utopia where someone mentioned it pushes 99.999% of the way to where it would be too much and sibilant but restrains itself at the edge. This is the perfect representation of the Utopia treble. The treble on the Utopia sounds distinct, sharp, and extremely clear. I've never had an issue with the treble on the HE1000 but compared with the Utopia its less extended, detailed and clear. Some of the apparent detail and clarity may be due to technical performance (speed, attack) and some may be due to the treble extension and emphasis.
Soundstage: I've considered the soundstage on the HE1000 to be perfect. I've owned the HD800 and considered the soundstage to be artificially wide and diffuse. I've never heard a headphone to have as perfect a soundstage for my tastes as the HE1000 and this still holds true. The soundstage on the Utopia is noticeably more closed in and in-your-head. This isn't an issue once you get accustomed to it but it's very apparent when switching between the two.
Imaging: This is where I've found the HE1000 to hold its strengths, even against the HD800 which has a wider soundstage but less pinpoint and more diffuse imaging. I've not heard a headphone compete with the HE1000 on imaging until the Utopias. While the Utopia has a smaller soundstage, I'd say the imaging is even more precise than the HE1000. Instruments are located in a smaller space but with more vivid and distinct placement.
Resolution: Both feel equally detailed but the Utopia presents the detail more vividly. Part of this is from the closer soundstage and extended and more apparent treble as described above and part of it is from the dynamism the Utopias have. The HE1000 is just as detailed but due to the softer attack and laid back nature are in less sharp relief. When listening to orchestral, or string guitars the HE1000 doesn't have the attack and dynamism to make things sound as real and present. The bite of strings or brass are a bit too soft in comparison to the sharp and vivid sound from the Utopia.
Clarity: The clean neutral frequency response, speed, dynamism and treble qualities make the Utopias the most clear headphones I've ever heard. Everything else sounds slightly hazy or muddy. This is also true compared with the HE1000. Some of this is purely due to frequency response. The HE1000 has extended bass, more bass foundation and a warmer tone. This creates a warmer atmosphere that tends to make it sound a bit hazy. I've never found this to be an issue and it's only in direct comparison with the Utopia where this is evident.
Build quality: Unlike many, I've never found an issue with the HE1000 build quality. However it never felt like a headphone worth its price in fit, finish details and solidity. My standard for build quality was the HD800 and the Utopia is just as good or better. The build quality of the Utopia is simply in a different class than the HE1000.
Comfort: Both are very good, but due to weight neither approaches the comfort of the HD800. The HE1000 takes a slight edge over the Utopia because it's lighter and the larger cups are less noticeable for hours of listening.
Overall: The Utopias have an unbeatable clarity, dynamism and punch. They sound very neutral and balanced and remind me of my studio monitors. On the other hand the bass extension compared to planars is lacking and the soundstage a bit small for my tastes. The HE1000 have an impressive soundstage and extension in bass however lack the dynamism, punch and attack of the Utopias. The attack and punch are their main shortcomings. It would be a very difficult decision if I had to choose only one, but I would still lean very slightly to the HE1000. Its deficiencies are slightly easier to live with. The Utopias are very impressive for concentrated listening however can be fatiguing for long working listening sessions where the impact and immediacy can become overwhelming. Still, I can see my opinion change day to day as the clarity and dynamism of the Utopias are unbeatable and I would miss it greatly if gone.
I've read some early reviews of the HE1000 v2 that claim they are more dynamic and less soft sounding. I hope to be able to do some direct comparisons between the HE1000 v1, v2 and Utopia and update this thread and review.
Can you get a hold of a pair of HE 1000 se and make same comparison. I think you will be amazed.