Focal Utopia

The Utopia is the current flagship model from Focal, retailing at $4000.  It’s a very expensive headphone, with great build – leather headband and cushion, fiber carbon headband, beryllium drivers, Lemo connectors. The stock cable is very stiff and long, an abomination.
It’s not too heavy, and relatively comfortable. The leather ear pads are very plush and there is more headband padding compared to the Elex/Clear.
The Utopia isn’t very hard to drive and even a phone can get it loud easily, but it’s a very revealing headphone that will sound quite harsh and bright on leaner amplifiers/DACs. A lot of people seem to like using the Utopia from tube amps, but I didnt have the occasion to test it.

○ Release : 2016
○ Current status : In Production
○ Type : Over-ear / Open-back
○ Measured weight : 497g
○ Impedance : 80 Ohms
○ Sensitivity : ~104 dB/mW
○ Average used price : $1800-2300

Sound Impression
The Utopia is for sure an impressive sounding headphone, and I like it a lot. But not sure it is $4000 good, or even worth its price used (around $2000). The Elex (around $500-700 depending on used/new) or Clear ($800-1000) are great values, and they come 85-90% close to the sound of the Utopia. 

It’s a very dynamic and punchy headphone, with fast transients and sharp attack. The overall presentation is extremely impactful, maybe the best I’ve heard so far. It’s definitely not a relaxing or smooth sound. I generally have a small preference for punchier headphones, but I have some issues with the Utopia.

The bass and midrange are excellent. Bass hits relatively hard, with tight control and realistic decay. Sub-bass (below 40-50hz) is a bit shy and I am generally more pleased with the sub-bass impact of planars. I would have liked ideally around 2 dB more quantity around 50hz on the Utopia. Midrange is slightly emphasized around 1 khz, but it’s barely offensive and does not bother me on most tracks. The overall midrange tonality is very solid, with good upper-mids, not too forward or dipped.

The treble is a bit rough sounding. It has a rather annoying peak around 6 khz that bothers me more than the rest. It’s less elevated than an HD800, but still peaky enough to make me tired on very bright recordings. And generally the treble is not very pleasant – it lacks some finesse to my ears. There is a bit of “spashiness” to the treble which, combined with the metallic timbre of the drivers, is not the most sweet sounding.

Resolution is amazing, especially in the midrange. The amount of micro-details extracted from the music is impressive. More so on well recorded songs. The soundstage is on the narrow side (more than most high-end headphones I have heard) but it doesn’t not bug me too much, since the presentation is very precise and sharp.

The Utopia reminds me of a dynamic version of the Hifiman HE-6. Both headphones are agressive sounding with excellent macro-dynamics and a relatively good and “neutral-bright” frequency response. I think I have a small preference for the HE-6 because the bass is more satisfying and the treble can be controlled with pad swap and / or mod. On the other hand, the Utopia has greater resolution, a very small advantage in midrange tone and dynamics.

I can totally see people loving the Utopia for its sound, because it’s a great headphone with no major flaws, that sounds very engaging and punchy. I personally couldn’t get used to the treble and metallic tint of the sound, to the point that it distracted me from enjoying my music on some occasions. 

 

Measurements & Resources

Very solid frequency response. Wide mid-bass / low-mids bump centered around 100hz, typical from a dynamic headphone and giving a bit of warmth and body to the midrange. Slight 1.3 khz bump, but not too offensive. Upper-mids until 4 khz are pretty linear. Treble is a combo of rather uneven combo of peaks/dips, and the 6 khz peak is (to my ears) the worst.

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