The Focal Utopia was released a few years ago, and I had listened to it a couple times in the past, although not in the best conditions – either at headphone meetups or in a store. I was given an opportunity to try these out for an extended period of time from Headphones.com and the HeadphoneCommunity Preview Loaner Program and here’s my quick review of these flagship $3990 headphones.
Yea that’s a big price-tag for these, at the manufacturer advertised price. What you do get for that price is an exquisite headphone that is built-well with beautiful lines, features, and full of anodized metal, carbon fiber, and leather materials. The pads are plush and made of a perforated leather wrap that is very comfortable to wear as well. The black matte and shiny body and silver accents on the Utopia really pop with elegance and masterful design in my mind, and it feels great to hold, not just to look at.
Being open-back with only an expanded metal grill look covering the driver, the Utopia does leak out a lot of music as well as leak in outside noise and almost sounds like it doesn’t isolate much of anything. But if you’re used to open-backs, this should come as no surprise, and the added benefits of not having to deal with congested closed walls, and reflections and damping issues, as well as over-heating your ears and limited your soundstage is an easy pick for someone like me who wants the best overall sound quality, while still having good breathability and being able to hear the world around me, if needed.
The driver that Focal developed when the Utopia came out is similar to the Focal Elex and I went over some of that in the review back when I owned it, but of course the Utopia version came out first and is made of Beryllium. Both, however, have a very large amount of excursion distance, allowing the driver to move much more than other headphone drivers that I’ve seen and this gives the Focal headphone line, very speaker like movements and helps improve dynamics of the headphone as well as physical slam and impact when called upon as it can move a lot of air.
Beryllium is one of the key differences though, as it’s very stiff, yet also very lightweight and that can provide a unique pistonic action and also maintain control due to its inherent properties. It’s also an expensive material to manufacture and so many companies don’t use it for both cost and also safety reasons.
The Focal Utopia comes in a large box which is well padded. It comes with a lengthy long and rubbery cable that isn’t a massive issue to tangling or conformity, but it’s very heavy, which adds to the already weighty headphone. It’s not to the level of weight discomfort that I have experienced on a heavier headphone like the Audeze LCD series, most recently the LCD-X, but it’s just a little more than I would prefer, and not as comfortable to wear as the Focal Elex or the ZMF Verite, which is in the general ballpark of this headphone in price.
The Utopia also uses quick connectors made by Lemo, which looks and feels very high quality, however is not commonly used in the industry and will end up costing a lot to replace your cable with another one, whether that be stock, aftermarket or DIY.
The Utopia sounds fantastic. There is a great deal of detail and resolution in this headphone with great dynamics and a clean sound signature that really appeases to my personal preferences with a good linear-ish bass and mid-range and with a slightly elevated lower treble without sibilance. The one drawback is that the soundstage is a little intimate with not a lot of range, left and right, but has layers of depth to allow for good imaging within a smaller frame.
The bass does roll-off towards the lower frequency response with a roll-off starting probably around 80Hz, though I decided not to measure these while I was reviewing this set. My frustrations with MiniDSP EARS and its variations in measurements has put me off using it currently. But anyway, the Utopia does not slam and bump and knead your skull with bass waves, but does provide impact when called upon and has a nice clean bass response, and a slight roll-off. I don’t mind this roll-off, as it’s got enough punchy bass to keep me satisfied and it’s clean, quick microdynamics lend well to my preferences.
The mid-range is forward and very revealing. The Utopia has an intimate soundstage that’s not super wide but this let’s me focus directly on vocals with great accuracy and detail. I found both male and female vocals to be on the same level playing field, with only perhaps a slight focus on upper mid-range. I didn’t like this particular headphone for certain types of female-led pop music, where higher pitched and nasally vocals can become overly strained and over emphasized with the Utopia.
The treble region plays well with my preferences. To me, it’s smooth and tuned how I like it. It doesn’t seem to have any real issues in this region. Some may find that there’s a slight peak in this region, around 7K but it doesn’t bother me at all, especially coming from headphones such as the Arya previously. This little bit of bump does increase some of staging and pushes certain harmonics forward, and I think that contributes to the depth and layering that I find is top notch on this headphone.
While I love the Utopia’s sound signature and its technicalities, as well as it’s stunning and marvelous design, I personally am not going to add it to my collection. This primary reason comes down to two things for me, personally – it’s cost – at $4K it’s pretty pricey. Accessories for it are also on the upper end of the scale if you want to upgrade, since it has unique Lemo connectors, and just replacing their pads can cost more than the top notch Sennheiser HD6XX. The other main factor is that it’s just slightly beyond what I can wear comfortably for a long period of time due to the weight of the headphone and the weight of the cables.
I don’t think the weight will be a problem for everyone, as it is much lighter than some other lines of headphones, most notable the Audeze LCD series, however for me, I prefer the max weight of headphones to be around 450 grams to be comfortable and this is just above that threshold.
Other than those two things, I would be extremely happy to add this to my collection, and be very content as something that I can enjoy for any genre, any time, and not really have a need to consider an alternative.