FOCAL UTOPIA - MOST BELOVED

This can be taken as impressions or just a blog post about my favorite headphone. This headphone has been disruptive for good reasons, reviewed by the best, and covered by many so expect to read no new information as I just share my opinion. I remember clearly when I first heard the Utopia. It was at a time when they were first released along with the Elear. Me and another fellow were the first of a few owners of the Elear. I had read that the Utopia had less bass than the Elear and the was also more bright. I was simply supposed to post some impressions of the Elear and Utopia sent to me from TSAV. I almost asked them not to send me the Utopia because I honestly don’t like lean and bright. Well for another reason I wish I had never received the Utopia; it made the Elear sound pretty bad.

The first thing I noticed what that the music sounded really natural with no immediate issues popping out to me right away. The other thing I noticed was that the bass, just a little shy of neutral, was very responsive to what the recording had in it; something the HD800 was not able to do with its under neutral presence. I ditched my Elear and it only lasted in my stable for about a month after I read and noticed the upper midrange dip that became bothersome. It is a capable performer but it’s balance wouldn’t succumb to my terms even after tedious eqing.

So after several months I was able to finally purchase a Utopia, and as an owner of it, get to see how I really felt about it over time.  My appetite for bass is substantial. I want hard dense bass even if it has some extra decay or doesn’t have the cleanest leading edge. The Utopia after a while kept leaving me wanting a harder and more solid bass that something like the TH900 or a planar would give me. It is decently controlled but compared to the rest of the spectrum it doesn’t measure as clean nor does it sound like it is the best part of the headphone. I think the extension is most definitely adequate for my needs and it even does decent on some EDM. It is responsive, punchy, and relatively fast just a bit soft for my liking. Still, I find it better than most dynamics for sure and it is usually only within the context of itself do I begin to complain. As soon as I compare the bass to another headphone I am quickly reminded of its good quality. Yet and still, upright bassists don’t sound as imposing in size and presence as I enjoy with my Atticus or even the HD650 (not saying the Atticus is as good overall) which sometimes has the effect of disconnecting me from the music. 

The Midrange opens up voices like no other headphone I have heard. They don’t sound richly saturated or lush and the midbass kinda warms things up down there in the lower mids compared to some other headphones like the HE-6. But the air and presence along with the excellent dynamics allows for every vocal run to carry out into the air with a resolving and natural projection that hardly any other headphone can deliver. In this regards, energy and air, it reminds me of speakers that instantly convince you of the songs intentions. Sure I could go on and on about micro detail, macro dynamics etc but many other people have already acclaimed the Utopia it’s merits. It is well beyond its flavor of the month season and has established itself as the new staple for technical performance, leaving the HD800 needing a true successor. I also love how guitars sound on the Utopia; the vibrations and plucks are so clear and involving that I can never call it a dull sounding headphone. 

The thing that can be just a bit annoying is the lower/mid treble. I find it just a shade overdone in that area when I sit down for long listening sessions. I’d (personally) prefer it to lay back there just a bit like the HD650 but the speed, and punchiness of the treble is nice. High hats sound clear and detailed. Brushwork shimmers naturally through the Utopia and cymbals don’t sound harsh or unnatural to me. The clarity is wonderful and most importantly the headphone sounds clean. After wearing the Utopia I can hear grain, distortion and looseness from other headphones a lot more. 

What I found early on is that the soundstage was not that wide and only average in depth but the precision of the imaging was excellent, even if the images sound a little small to me. At first the image sizes were a bit too small it seemed but after a while I became used to them and didn’t even care anymore. 

So the short story is that I am in agreement with those that call the Utopia the best headphone out there. But what would the ideal headphone sound like to me and feel like to me?

I would:

  • Take the Utopia with its wonderful build and lighten it by just a bit. I would also give it a little more flexibility in the gimbals etc. to allow it to conform to my head with less stiffness. 
  • Add more density to the timbre of the bass and give it just a bit more body and solidity, particularly in the Sub-bass.
  • Trim a bit of that mid-treble
  • Add just a bit depth and width to the soundstage and make the images larger.
  • Drop the price to about $1999 because as is it is about 2k MSRP overpriced. I am of the camp that believes that no headphone should cost over 2K USD especially when you can buy studio monitors for around the same price of a new Utopia that sound better and cost much more to make. 
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