Focal Utopia vs. HIFIMAN HE1000
Nov 19, 2018 at 8:42 AM Post #121 of 146

tunes

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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.
 
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Nov 20, 2018 at 12:22 PM Post #124 of 146

dleblanc343

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I for one owned both the Utopia and HE1000v2 for a week prior to making my pick. I immediately preferred the HE1000v2 and have been a proud owner for over a year.

I am now doing the upgrade program to the HE1000se, which I am told has an ever-so-slightly narrower soundstage (to present better image), and a tad more oompf than the V2 - two little tuning nuances that should make it the strongest iteration yet of my favorite TOTL "affordable" headphones.

Will report back, and possibly do a shootout with Empyrean by Meze in the coming month or December.
 
Nov 21, 2018 at 2:18 AM Post #126 of 146

tunes

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I for one owned both the Utopia and HE1000v2 for a week prior to making my pick. I immediately preferred the HE1000v2 and have been a proud owner for over a year.

I am now doing the upgrade program to the HE1000se, which I am told has an ever-so-slightly narrower soundstage (to present better image), and a tad more oompf than the V2 - two little tuning nuances that should make it the strongest iteration yet of my favorite TOTL "affordable" headphones.

Will report back, and possibly do a shootout with Empyrean by Meze in the coming month or December.
Please PM me when you ever get a chance to compare your new HE 1000se to the
Empyrean with impressions. BTW what DAC/Amp is driving them?
 
Nov 21, 2018 at 9:34 AM Post #128 of 146

JaZZ

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Interesting review, relatively informative – although as always you have to factor in personal preference of the reviewer.

In short: The HE1000 SE wins (realism, [treble] resolution, LF extension, soundstage), followed by the Empyrean (dynamics, midrange, treble smoothness), third is LCD 4Z (bass power), last is Ether 2 (slight lack of transparency compared to the others).
 
Nov 21, 2018 at 10:59 AM Post #129 of 146

Arniesb

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Interesting review, relatively informative – although as always you have to factor in personal preference of the reviewer.

In short: The HE1000 SE wins (realism, [treble] resolution, LF extension, soundstage), followed by the Empyrean (dynamics, midrange, treble smoothness), third is LCD 4Z (bass power), last is Ether 2 (slight lack of transparency compared to the others).
From what i read about planars that they have big problems to headphone acoustics... Seems like Hifiman with stealth magnets is no joke and it probably solved these problems that Planars had. Se and Susvara have those so that would be ez pick for me if i have cash... Meze probably have less problems in acoustic department cause of hybrid design driver that have excellent acoustic properties.
I think if Fang wouldn't be such money grabber and if he wouldn't cheap out on build and qc his cans would be best sellers in every price range...
People would probably buy Meze just because of build alone over Chi fi man...
 
Nov 21, 2018 at 5:27 PM Post #130 of 146

Gibson59

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I think if Fang wouldn't be such money grabber and if he wouldn't cheap out on build and qc his cans would be best sellers in every price range...
People would probably buy Meze just because of build alone over Chi fi man...

Suggesting that someone would buy a potentially inferior sounding headphone (The Meze might be AWESOME btw, just making a point here) because it may look better or be constructed of slightly "better" materials (obviously "better" is debatable and subject to bias)? That sounds insane to me. Do you primarily put headphones on because how they look and feel when in your hands or because what you're going to hear and how they will feel when they're on your head? I'm very much in the latter category. Don't we hope that once on your head the headphones disappear entirely and you get lost in audio nirvana? Or are you sitting there in your listening chair when music is playing thinking about what materials the headphone is made of and how it looks on your head and feels in your hands? Actually the only time I fall into the latter category is if the headphone fails to disappear on my head and therefor I do find myself wondering about it's construction. This happens to me when I wear the Utopia among some others (such as Audeze), I just can't get lost in the music when listening to them. Utopia feels a little heavy, a bit too much clamping force, it's rigid and thus feels unforgiving on my head... it doesn't have an organic feeling of comfort, which I strive for and the HEKv2 provides me with. When I wear Utopia i'm constantly aware it's on my head. Btw I have a very average sized head and ears so comfort shouldn't generally be an issue. I will say that while Utopia doesn't present my preferred sonic characteristics, I can totally appreciate it's strengths. However Utopia's sonic weaknesses (not saying there are excessive weaknesses, but there are some TO ME) in conjunction with how it feels on my head are a deal breaker for me. I could care less what it looks like hanging on my headphone stand if it doesn't disappear on my head and sound impeccable.

What's funny is I feel like people try and attack the HE1000 because at it's price point they believe build quality should be "better," but the Utopia gets a pass on it's sonic deficiencies (fatiguing and small sound stage) even though it's priced even higher than the HE1000 at cant come close to the level of comfort which is critical. I would argue all day everyday that of all the factors one weighs when making a purchase at this level of high-end headphone, the absolutely primary factor should be sound quality. So based on that, TO ME, the sound quality deficiencies of the Utopia are far more critical than the build quality deficiencies some claim about the HE1000. And the HE1000 is cheaper... So ummm, no brainer to me which to pick.

I'm sorry but the HEK build quality argument is stale and overblown and the differences between it and competitors are negligible and truly depend on personal taste. Because of the lightweight materials and gimbal construction the HEKv2 falls into place on my head and just sits there. I have a feeling that if the HEK were built with heavier materials and the gimbals were more rigid people would have the perception of "better" build quality. The irony of course is that it may very well take away from the comfort of wearing them. So I wouldn’t change a thing. I think the yammering about build quality and quality control is incredibly overblown. The only thing I ever noticed on my HEKv2 is that there is a slight bit of wood filler in the seem between the wood strip that surrounds the ear cup where the wood meets the metal. But the filler is very faint and distributed evenly around the ear cup so it's hardly noticeable and doesn't hurt the look of the headphone at all. I'm really nitpicking here.

I’ve owned the HE1000v2 for two years, had the chance to audition them and the version 1 numerous times, and never had a single issue with quality control. I've continued to audition other headphones and I do have the means to purchase Utopia etc if I wanted to. Outside of the Susvara and Sennheiser HE 1, if I bought other headphones it would be a waste of money to me because a properly driven HEK outclasses them all sonically IMO and comfort wise (again, IMO) every time. Now with the increased efficiency and the ebony wood of the HEKse I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on them.

Sorry this ended up being quite a rant. I'm probably coming off like quite the Hifiman fanboy and stronger than I initially intended but so be it. I do very much enjoy other headphones for various reasons including aesthetics and sound quality. I would really like to own the ZMF Eikon at some point for a closed back headphone compliment to the HEK. Some have unique tonal strengths that best the HE1000. But as far as owning one single tonally versatile and pleasing open-back headphone that can play nearly perfect across the spectrum sonically and at the same time disappear on my head, nothing under $6k bests the HEK series in my eyes.
 
Nov 21, 2018 at 5:54 PM Post #131 of 146

Arniesb

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Suggesting that someone would buy a potentially inferior sounding headphone (The Meze might be AWESOME btw, just making a point here) because it may look better or be constructed of slightly "better" materials (obviously "better" is debatable and subject to bias)? That sounds insane to me. Do you primarily put headphones on because how they look and feel when in your hands or because what you're going to hear and how they will feel when they're on your head? I'm very much in the latter category. Don't we hope that once on your head the headphones disappear entirely and you get lost in audio nirvana? Or are you sitting there in your listening chair when music is playing thinking about what materials the headphone is made of and how it looks on your head and feels in your hands? Actually the only time I fall into the latter category is if the headphone fails to disappear on my head and therefor I do find myself wondering about it's construction. This happens to me when I wear the Utopia among some others (such as Audeze), I just can't get lost in the music when listening to them. Utopia feels a little heavy, a bit too much clamping force, it's rigid and thus feels unforgiving on my head... it doesn't have an organic feeling of comfort, which I strive for and the HEKv2 provides me with. When I wear Utopia i'm constantly aware it's on my head. Btw I have a very average sized head and ears so comfort shouldn't generally be an issue. I will say that while Utopia doesn't present my preferred sonic characteristics, I can totally appreciate it's strengths. However Utopia's sonic weaknesses (not saying there are excessive weaknesses, but there are some TO ME) in conjunction with how it feels on my head are a deal breaker for me. I could care less what it looks like hanging on my headphone stand if it doesn't disappear on my head and sound impeccable.

What's funny is I feel like people try and attack the HE1000 because at it's price point they believe build quality should be "better," but the Utopia gets a pass on it's sonic deficiencies (fatiguing and small sound stage) even though it's priced even higher than the HE1000 at cant come close to the level of comfort which is critical. I would argue all day everyday that of all the factors one weighs when making a purchase at this level of high-end headphone, the absolutely primary factor should be sound quality. So based on that, TO ME, the sound quality deficiencies of the Utopia are far more critical than the build quality deficiencies some claim about the HE1000. And the HE1000 is cheaper... So ummm, no brainer to me which to pick.

I'm sorry but the HEK build quality argument is stale and overblown and the differences between it and competitors are negligible and truly depend on personal taste. Because of the lightweight materials and gimbal construction the HEKv2 falls into place on my head and just sits there. I have a feeling that if the HEK were built with heavier materials and the gimbals were more rigid people would have the perception of "better" build quality. The irony of course is that it may very well take away from the comfort of wearing them. So I wouldn’t change a thing. I think the yammering about build quality and quality control is incredibly overblown. The only thing I ever noticed on my HEKv2 is that there is a slight bit of wood filler in the seem between the wood strip that surrounds the ear cup where the wood meets the metal. But the filler is very faint and distributed evenly around the ear cup so it's hardly noticeable and doesn't hurt the look of the headphone at all. I'm really nitpicking here.

I’ve owned the HE1000v2 for two years, had the chance to audition them and the version 1 numerous times, and never had a single issue with quality control. I've continued to audition other headphones and I do have the means to purchase Utopia etc if I wanted to. Outside of the Susvara and Sennheiser HE 1, if I bought other headphones it would be a waste of money to me because a properly driven HEK outclasses them all sonically IMO and comfort wise (again, IMO) every time. Now with the increased efficiency and the ebony wood of the HEKse I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on them.

Sorry this ended up being quite a rant. I'm probably coming off like quite the Hifiman fanboy and stronger than I initially intended but so be it. I do very much enjoy other headphones for various reasons including aesthetics and sound quality. I would really like to own the ZMF Eikon at some point for a closed back headphone compliment to the HEK. Some have unique tonal strengths that best the HE1000. But as far as owning one single tonally versatile and pleasing open-back headphone that can play nearly perfect across the spectrum sonically and at the same time disappear on my head, nothing under $6k bests the HEK series in my eyes.
No point of arguing much with a fanboy... I probably would buy 1000 Se, but many people would just buy Meze instead considering Hifiman reputation. People who buy exotic items want everything up to par. Not just sound... Look at Fiio. Also chinese company, but build quality and care of their products is like from German company or something. If there is a ton of comments about build issues then its hard to trust company...
 
Nov 21, 2018 at 6:29 PM Post #132 of 146

Gibson59

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No point of arguing much with a fanboy... I probably would buy 1000 Se, but many people would just buy Meze instead considering Hifiman reputation. People who buy exotic items want everything up to par. Not just sound... Look at Fiio. Also chinese company, but build quality and care of their products is like from German company or something. If there is a ton of comments about build issues then its hard to trust company...

Haha i intentionally called myself a fanboy first so as to diffuse your name calling :p
 
Nov 21, 2018 at 7:02 PM Post #133 of 146

up late

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Suggesting that someone would buy a potentially inferior sounding headphone (The Meze might be AWESOME btw, just making a point here) because it may look better or be constructed of slightly "better" materials (obviously "better" is debatable and subject to bias)? That sounds insane to me. Do you primarily put headphones on because how they look and feel when in your hands or because what you're going to hear and how they will feel when they're on your head? I'm very much in the latter category. Don't we hope that once on your head the headphones disappear entirely and you get lost in audio nirvana? Or are you sitting there in your listening chair when music is playing thinking about what materials the headphone is made of and how it looks on your head and feels in your hands? Actually the only time I fall into the latter category is if the headphone fails to disappear on my head and therefor I do find myself wondering about it's construction. This happens to me when I wear the Utopia among some others (such as Audeze), I just can't get lost in the music when listening to them. Utopia feels a little heavy, a bit too much clamping force, it's rigid and thus feels unforgiving on my head... it doesn't have an organic feeling of comfort, which I strive for and the HEKv2 provides me with. When I wear Utopia i'm constantly aware it's on my head. Btw I have a very average sized head and ears so comfort shouldn't generally be an issue. I will say that while Utopia doesn't present my preferred sonic characteristics, I can totally appreciate it's strengths. However Utopia's sonic weaknesses (not saying there are excessive weaknesses, but there are some TO ME) in conjunction with how it feels on my head are a deal breaker for me. I could care less what it looks like hanging on my headphone stand if it doesn't disappear on my head and sound impeccable.

What's funny is I feel like people try and attack the HE1000 because at it's price point they believe build quality should be "better," but the Utopia gets a pass on it's sonic deficiencies (fatiguing and small sound stage) even though it's priced even higher than the HE1000 at cant come close to the level of comfort which is critical. I would argue all day everyday that of all the factors one weighs when making a purchase at this level of high-end headphone, the absolutely primary factor should be sound quality. So based on that, TO ME, the sound quality deficiencies of the Utopia are far more critical than the build quality deficiencies some claim about the HE1000. And the HE1000 is cheaper... So ummm, no brainer to me which to pick.

I'm sorry but the HEK build quality argument is stale and overblown and the differences between it and competitors are negligible and truly depend on personal taste. Because of the lightweight materials and gimbal construction the HEKv2 falls into place on my head and just sits there. I have a feeling that if the HEK were built with heavier materials and the gimbals were more rigid people would have the perception of "better" build quality. The irony of course is that it may very well take away from the comfort of wearing them. So I wouldn’t change a thing. I think the yammering about build quality and quality control is incredibly overblown. The only thing I ever noticed on my HEKv2 is that there is a slight bit of wood filler in the seem between the wood strip that surrounds the ear cup where the wood meets the metal. But the filler is very faint and distributed evenly around the ear cup so it's hardly noticeable and doesn't hurt the look of the headphone at all. I'm really nitpicking here.

I’ve owned the HE1000v2 for two years, had the chance to audition them and the version 1 numerous times, and never had a single issue with quality control. I've continued to audition other headphones and I do have the means to purchase Utopia etc if I wanted to. Outside of the Susvara and Sennheiser HE 1, if I bought other headphones it would be a waste of money to me because a properly driven HEK outclasses them all sonically IMO and comfort wise (again, IMO) every time. Now with the increased efficiency and the ebony wood of the HEKse I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on them.

Sorry this ended up being quite a rant. I'm probably coming off like quite the Hifiman fanboy and stronger than I initially intended but so be it. I do very much enjoy other headphones for various reasons including aesthetics and sound quality. I would really like to own the ZMF Eikon at some point for a closed back headphone compliment to the HEK. Some have unique tonal strengths that best the HE1000. But as far as owning one single tonally versatile and pleasing open-back headphone that can play nearly perfect across the spectrum sonically and at the same time disappear on my head, nothing under $6k bests the HEK series in my eyes.
While sound and comfort are the two highest priorities that I look for in a headphone, I also value build quality and design aesthetics - especially in an expensive high-end headphone. The Utopia meets those criteria for me. I think I have an average sized head and I know that I have a low tolerance of headphones that exert clamping pressure, and I have no issue with the Utopia's comfort. I do agree that it's on the heavy side, but it's so well padded that I don't find that to be an issue either.

It's been so long since I auditioned the HE1000 that I'm hazy on the sonic details. I do recall it being light weight and comfortable, which is a plus, but it didn't exude the deluxe fit and finish of the Utopia imo.
 
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Nov 21, 2018 at 7:23 PM Post #135 of 146

Gibson59

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While sound and comfort are the two highest priorities that I look for in a headphone, I also value build quality and design aesthetics - especially in an expensive high-end headphone. The Utopia meets those criteria for me. I think I have an average sized head and I know that I have a low tolerance of headphones that exert clamping pressure, and I have no issue with the Utopia's comfort. I do agree that it's on the heavy side, but it's so well padded that I don't find that to be an issue either.

It's been so long since I auditioned the HE1000 that I'm hazy on the sonic details. I do recall it being light weight and comfortable, which is a plus, but it didn't exude the deluxe fit and finish of the Utopia imo.

Wow you were nicely succinct, i need to practice that lol. Yeah honestly I don't think the Utopia are uncomfortable per se as in I couldn't possibly bare them on my head. I probably came off too strong on that. I guess just in comparison to the HE1000 I think it's no contest.

I also agree that the fit and finish of the Utopia is just fantastic. They built a beautiful headphone that exudes luxury. I just don't get all the hate for the look and feel of the HE1000, I really do think it's a sexy, high-class headphone as well. Totally different look obviously, but I like it's uniqueness.
 

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