- 2/18/21. Article/link cleanup.
Hi there friend and Welcome aboard!!
Before we get into the Focal Utopia review, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…
You’ve come to the right place!!
What I will bring you in this review
- Video Review
- Amp/DAC requirements
- Who these headphones benefit?
- Thoughts from Stu’s notepad
- Final Word
Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!!
- Type: Open back, dynamic.
- Fit: Circumaural.
- Impedance: 80 Ohms. What is Headphone Impedance?
- Sensitivity: 104 dB/mW. What is Sensitivity in Headphones?
- Total Harmonic Distortion: <0.2% @ 1kHz / 100dB SPL.
- Frequency Response: 5Hz – 50kHz.
- Driver size: 40mm. What is a headphone driver?
- Weight: 1.08 lb. (490g).
- Cable length: 13.1 ft. (4m).
- Connectors: 1 x Jack 1/4“ (6.35mm) stereo
2 x 3⁄8“ (9.5mm) Lemo®
- Included Accessories: HUGE BOX. Lol. And some documentation.
Wow, where do I begin with these monsters? Yeah. They’re $4,000. That’s like 4.5 rent payments. Yeah. I’d be homeless and in lots of debt. Oh boy, where do I swipe my credit card! That’s quite a Debbie downer, but get glad because if you do get a chance to listen, you’ll be in for a real treat. Rarely are headphones exceeding $600 worth it, but $4000? I will attempt to convey my thoughts about these and tell you if I personally think they are worthy of the asking price.
Learn more about why astronomically expensive headphones are rarely worth it: The Law of Diminishing Returns
First off, this puppy feels amazing to the touch, in every facet. They’re built like a tank, but don’t fold or rotate in any way. For me this is okay, as they’re meant for the studio and nowhere else. You’re absolutely never going to carry these on your person unless your desire is to get mugged, shot, stabbed, set on fire, and left for dead. Lol.
It speaks volumes (no pun intended) when you’re nervous even taking them outside to the car for transport. I kept thinking someone was going to sneak up behind me with a baseball bat and end my life. Okay, it wasn’t that serious, but I was a bit uncomfortable carting them around, even though most regular folks won’t even know how much they’re worth anyway. That said, if I see a big fancy box sitting on the passenger side of some chumps car, you can bet your bottom I’m gonna break in and gank that ish! It’s still a lot of money homie!
The materials used here tell the story: Lambskin leather, Memory foam, Carbon fiber, Beryllium, black anodized aluminum, Black metal mesh, brushed aluminum, and a Neutrik chord that weighs about as much as a small elephant. Phew!
Every part of them demands respect, from the plush headband padding to the spacious ear-cups, and everything in between.
Comfort is also on point, as I didn’t have to adjust them hardly at all. They’re heavy, but not like an Audeze. It doesn’t feel like if you fart, that you’re going to break your neck or anything. Lol. Clamp force is perfect as well, and for the most part, there isn’t anything too cumbersome to speak of, that is until you get to the Wire.
My God this thing is like an Anaconda on steroids. Well not that thick, but you get the point. The dang blasted thing is so heavy that plugged into my Magni it actually pulls the darned thing right off of the Modi if you sneeze wrong (I have them stacked). It was actually pretty funny but not really. I had to put my Samson C01 barbell on top just to keep the Magni in place. Yeah, these headphones are not for the faint of heart. Learn more: How to choose a headphone amp!
Sound-wise is where they start to pick up steam again. Ever had a unicorn puke rainbows into your ears? Yeah, that’s what the Utopia feels like. Haha. It’s like Homer Simpson that time he smoked weed. “Caution: Sounds may seem more edible than they actually are.”
“Wow, that saxophone would make a great pipe.” It’s so sad how accurate that statement is about potheads. Lol, not that I used to be one or anything. Speaking of saxophones, check out my article on The best headphones for Jazz!
Anywho, back to the Utopia haha. Can you tell I’m having a lot of fun with this review? An over-the-top price tag calls for an over-the-top assessment! Is good! You like!
What makes these so fantastic is that they do pretty much nothing wrong. They don’t have any glaring flaws, and in fact, have no flaws to speak of in my estimation.
What they will do first off is expose flaws in the recording because of how brutally transparent they are. What I mean by transparent is if a fly took a dump in the studio, you’ll hear it with laser-like precision. 😛
Just kidding, but seriously: the micro details present in the Utopia is one of the main aspects that stood out to me, along with the fantastic instrument Timbre, and propensity to reveal lesser-known band members with shocking clarity. We’ll delve into all three one by one. What is Timbre?
In my video review, I talk about this as a sort of doorway type of analogy. With music, there are generally 3 doors of sound. The first door reveals pretty much everything that you know about a song: The main instruments/riffs, and solos, as well as the more well-known band members who play said instruments. The stuff that 99.9% of headphones reveal is in Door #1.
The second door is akin to something like an HD600 or an HE400i. This is where you start to get a feel for what the sound is supposed to sound like, as things start to open up and bloom like a flower. Voices become more distinct, and instruments have better separation, which allows you to take a deeper glimpse into the song.
Door 3 is very rare, and the Utopia is really one of the only headphones to reveal what’s layered behind the other layers. Opening this door allows you to finally hear just about 100% of what’s going on in the song. The smallest of artifacts suddenly become a big deal, down to sighs, lost voices, ad-libs, and anything you can imagine that was never heard, much less thought to be relevant. The Roots’ “The Next Movement” is a prime example of this. Imagine someone sprinkling garlic powder on the song. Those individual grains of tasty goodness represent all of the various stuff that’s truly happening that you previously had not heard. Everything has a crisp, controlled, and smooth character, reminding me of an LCD-X, but a lot better. Learn more: Audeze LCD-X Review!
The second morsel of goodness comes in the form of the amazing instrument Timbre. Everything sounds so natural and true to life, that sometimes it can be overwhelming, while at other times the Utopia tends to give you a blank stare. “That’s it?” you ask. Yeah, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
Lol. You may expect more to be there than is actually present, or you may have thought a particular instrument should have sounded a certain way and didn’t. You might have walked away angry like Colonel H. Stinkmeaner. But it’s something you’ll have to accept about this headphone. It goes back to honesty. These aren’t in the business of hyping ANYTHING. One look at Tyll’s graph will make this apparent.
That said, it’s also what makes them so good. You’ll hear music as is, which can be both a blessing and a curse.
The Lost Ones
I grew up listening to both Pink Floyd and Yes, but back in the early days Richard Wright was almost never on my radar. He was just another band member, and never got much attention. It was all about Roger Waters and David Gilmour, because guitar and bass. I mean who cares about the keys? As I got older, they became more and more important to me. Richard Wright had an immense impact on Floyd when they were coming up, and a headphone like the Utopia truly gives him his due. The same can be said for Tony Kaye. Who the heck is that you may ask? Exactly. He was the keyboardist for Yes, and on Starship Trooper his Hammond Organ sounds sublime.
What I’m getting at is that with these headphones, those instruments are highlighted with magnificent intensity and ferocity. They not only become important, but necessary in evaluating the song as a whole, and how the artists relate to each other. Hearing the crescendo in Part I of Starship Trooper was almost breathtaking because I was truly able to understand the song on a deeper level. It made more sense to my feeble mind. There was a moment that stood out at 2:42 when Jon Anderson pleads “Mother life, hold firmly onto me.” At that moment, with the Utopias, you can clearly hear the Hammond organ come into focus with startling clarity and precision. I promise you, I’ve heard Starship Trooper about a thousand times and it’s never come through hardly at all, much less like it does with these headphones.
Richard Wright gets this same sort of favor. His Wurlitzer electric piano, Arp String Synthesizer, and Mini Moog all reveal themselves as you’ve never heard before. There’s simply a startling revelatory quality that each possesses, and it makes Have a Cigar all that much better. 🙂
By and large, the background instrumentation in all songs will become clear to you, to the point of you wanting to go back and see what all the hubbub is about.
- Incredibly clear, accurate, articulate sound with absolutely incredible decay.
- Extremely comfortable.
- Rugged build. All-star materials.
- Bass with impact.
- Elegant packaging, A+ presentation.
- The wire is ridiculous.
- Not portable.
My Video Review
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Click to see the Utopia!
At 80 Ohms and high sensitivity of 104dB, you may not think you need an amp. But because of the 1/4″ termination, these aren’t meant for portable devices. You’ll want a good desktop amp, and dare I say don’t cheap out on it either for obvious reasons. Because I was simply demoing them, I used my Schiit Magni/Modi. They still sounded fantastic, but there’s something really disrespectful about powering a $4000 set of headphones with a $200 setup.
Also, I was excited to try them out with the Oppo HA-2, but because I needed a 3.5mm adapter, I had to plug a huge beefy cable into a small Amp. Not sure what happened, but I had the headphones plugged in correctly but layers of the tracks were missing and I’m not sure why.
So to sum it up, you’ll have to feed these properly, and you should be prepared to spend some decent money on an amp if you plan on purchasing these anyways. How to choose a Headphone Amp!
I also used a $2500 NAIM DAC V-1.
Who these headphones benefit?
They will do well with all genres:
And anything in between. Because of their balanced and revealing signature, you can pair them with anything and it will sound good. Just know that they are pretty transparent and honest, so the source material is important.
Thoughts from Stu’s notepad
- The wire is very cumbersome, and in my video review, I mention how it was so heavy that it pulled the Magni off of my Modi. Schiit Magni 2 Review!
- The headphones are large and bulky and do not fold in any sort of way. That’s okay, as they’re meant to be used in the studio and nowhere else. You will want a really good amp for these, something roughly the weight of an airplane will do. Lol.
- Over the Hills and Far Away by Led Zeppelin > Weird, unexplained artifacts. “What is that?” is what I kept asking myself when listening.
- Flaws in mix exposed.
- Extra synth on Starship Trooper was exposed. This is actually the Hammond Organ that we discussed.
- Sufjan Stevens’ “Come on Feel the Illinoise” beginning rhythm was exposed and heard on a deeper level.
- Revealing micro details.
- Timbre excellent especially for hats and symbols.
- Scintillating separation of voices.
- The theme seems to be vocals and instruments are forward, the bass is articulate and deep but controlled, with an incredible sense of space and depth.
- BACKGROUND INSTRUMENTATION.
- Like a flower.
- Music really breathes, exposing unseen elements in the far background.
- Electric Guest – Glorious Warrior was more fully fleshed out.
- Kllo – Predicament. A weird voice heard on the right side.
- Starship Trooper. Tony Kaye’s Hammond Organ*
- Wish you were Here – Pink Floyd Acoustic guitar incredibly realistic.
- Have a Cigar. Richard Wrights Wurlitzer electric piano, ARP string synthesizer, and Mini Moog/Hohner Clavinet D6 all come through with startling clarity.
- Brought to tears on Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy”.
- Phish – You Enjoy Myself sounded better. You got a sense of how the band related to each other. Everything seemed more fleshed out and complete. Decay on instruments in general is astounding.
The Focal Utopia has struck an almost perfect balance of sound quality, build, and comfort, to a degree unheard of in the industry. This will in most cases be your endgame, as they have somehow made the $4000 investment worth it, given that you plan on investing in proper amplification. A real winner all around!
I’ve talked enough.
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Focal Utopia Review.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please leave them down below or Contact me!!
What do you think about these bad boys? Worth the price? Too expensive? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…
All the best and God bless,