Focal Utopia Review (collective stream of consciousness)

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by purr1n, Aug 25, 2016.

  1. traehekat

    traehekat New

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    Received my Utopias today. My rig is the Auralic Aries --> AES Black Dragon --> Yggdrasil --> RCA Blue Dragon --> Valhalla 2 (stock tubes). In the spirit of "stream of consciousness," I will just start typing and see what happens...

    These live up to the hype. I was worried I would be underwhelmed as some other have been, but these are fantastic headphones. Coming from the HD 800 (stock), I was worried about the smaller soundstage. Yes, the soundstage is definitely smaller than the HD 800, but the instrument separation is much better and the image feels a little more three dimensional. The HD 800's soundstage is very wide, but the Utopia's soundstage sounds maybe a little deeper, and just maybe a little taller? It's definitely a different image, and it is pleasing for different reasons. I never thought I would say the HD 800's soundstage is TOO wide, but after listening to the Utopia I could see how people might say that.

    The first "negative" I noticed (IMHO) is that I think the vocals could be a little more forward. Maybe the vocals on the HD 800 are overly forward and I am just reorienting myself? They just sound a little laid back to my ears.

    The details and dynamics are top notch. It didn't take long for me to start noticing little things I have never heard before in songs I have listened to hundreds of times. Where a series of plucks or taps sounded generally the same on the HD 800, I am noticing little differences in guitar strums, strikes to piano keys, whatever ("Oh, that key was struck harder than the last one," etc.).

    And of course, these seem to have significantly more bass than the HD 800. But it isn't overwhelming; the level seems just about right. Could be me, but the bass sounds maybe a TAD muddled? I feel like the HD 800 has very detailed bass, but it just doesn't hit hard. The Utopia hits harder, but maybe is a bit less detailed?

    Conclusions so far... with the details, dynamics, 3D image/soundstage and instrument separation, these are amazing headphones. To my ears, they are better than the HD 800, which I love and have listened to almost exclusively for 2+ years, in almost every respect. As many others have commented, these babies have no weakness. They also look and feel like premium headphones (but for the price, I suppose that anything less would be a bit disappointing). I'll check back in as more thoughts develop.

    By the way, thanks to everyone in this thread for their insight. I carefully read through the whole thing (in addition to just about every review I could find) before finally pulling the trigger on these. Hope my ramblings help someone else trying to decide whether to pick up a pair.
     
  2. cskippy

    cskippy Creamy warmpoo

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    I bet you'll see a huge improvement in the bass quality with a better amp. Valhalla 2 is great but it doesn't have the detail retrieval that the big boys do. Even Jot would show a little more "resolution". Great impressions.
     
  3. kevnin

    kevnin #facetweeting - Friend

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    I don't think it's actually less detailed, but I get what you are saying. More so than HD800, Utopia needs an amp with strong but very clean bass. For example my Kenzie was perfectly fine on bass with HD800, but with Utopia it was a little too bloomy, even a bit muddled. Valhalla 2 is an awesome amp for the price but bass impact and macrodynamics are its weaknesses. To get the best bass out of Utopia (without sacrificing elsewhere) you really want something like an EC tube amp or a good hybrid.
     
  4. phaeton

    phaeton Acquaintance

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    I'm using a somewhat "peculiar" 300B SE, since it has a vey high anodic load and an LC coupling, but I'm not hearing any bloomy or muddled bass from Utopia, even when compared to HE6, which in my collection are the cans with the tightest and most detailed bass.
    what I do remember though is that out of the box Utopia's bass is somewhat shy, maybe some burn-in hours are just needed to show the real performances?
     
  5. traehekat

    traehekat New

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    I actually have a ZDS on order that should arrive sometime in April, so I'll have to wait and see what it does for the bass. The ZDS will pretty much complete my upgraded rig, save for maybe a power conditioner.

    One more thought: Instruments sound much more realistic! Maybe its the increased detail/dynamics at play, but things like cymbal strikes sound less digital and more nuanced, if that's the word.
     
  6. Artasia

    Artasia Friend

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    The ZDS is an outstanding pairing with the Utopias. The answer to your question, however, lies in whether you have other transducers you wish to drive in addition to the Utopia, such as planars, which the ZDS will largely not excel with. If you also have something like an HD6xx or HD800, the ZDS would be a very sensible choice. It is possible EC's upcoming amp, which is to replace the BA, would be worth waiting for. I am personally very curious about how the Utopia pairs with hybrid amps such as the Cavalli Liquid Crimson and secretly wish Craig would design a hybrid amp himself. I recall you owning the Rag at one point. How is its pairing with the Utopia? It seems we lack impressions with this combo.
     
  7. Rthomas

    Rthomas Friend

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    Hello Everyone,

    Yesterday I got to spend a couple of hours at Audio Sanctuary in London listening to the Utopias and comparing them to my humble HD650s. I just had a few thoughts to share:

    Chain: Roon(flac files only)>Chord Dave>Utopias/HD650

    Comfort: I was pleasantly surprised at the weight distribution and comfort for a 500 gram headphone. They really thought things through.
    Build: It put every other flagship at the store (they have them all) to shame. This looks like a 'best in the world' product.
    Sound: My first impression was similar to a lot of others here. It sounds balanced and nothing sticks out or irritates. Well, the great amount of detail and punchy bass do grab your attention.

    The only negative I can find (this may be due to my purely personal preference) is that there is a slight 'thinness' to the sound.

    I read a post by Marvey about a Be coloration before my listen which may have influenced me (I wish I hadn't) but it sounds a bit metallic.
    This could be my imagination or due to knowing what the driver material is but I preferred the tone of my HD650.

    Over time I'm realizing that tonality seems to be of supreme importance to me for enjoying the music and the 650 beat the Utopia in this respect.

    Also on stuff like female vocals and music where bass is not extremely important I can say that the 650 is very close.

    Overall without a longer listen, to my ears I'm 80% of the way there with the 650 in performance terms.

    Rant Alert (please ignore if you wish)

    I know that many are excited by this headphone and it is amazing. However I'm disappointed by the fact that I need to pay 15 times my 650 price for a not insane jump in performance/listening engagement.

    In every other industry I can think of like computers/mobile phones/cars etc you have engineers hard at work giving us more and more for the same or a similar amount of money. Except for our industry where they love to fleece customers and charge exorbitantly with only small improvements in performance over the last 10 years. Small improvements in performance but a 700% increase in the price of the TOTLs.

    I lay the blame on Headfi and gullible customers. If the main forum in the hobby held manufacturers to a higher standard instead of pouring adulation on every mediocre product we would not be in this state.

    It's like giving every mediocre student an A+ which ensures that they never improve and that's evil in and of itself. Doing so for financial gain just makes it worse.

    The price for the Utopia is insane for the performance jump from a 10 year old standard like the 650. At $2000 I would take a close look but even at that price it is not a 'no brainer'

    Now that I've auditioned 'the best' I've lost my desire to own it. I think the sensible way forward for me would be to look at something like the ZMF Eikon or the Audio Zenith PMX2 which will most likely get me to 95% of Utopia at 33% of the price.
     
  8. Ash1412

    Ash1412 Friend

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    Well, those are very mature and highly demanded industries, vs our "niche in a niche in a niche" industry, which is not a fair comparison at all. When you have a very mature and competitive industry, the companies are able to put more r&d effort into making stuff with a much higher chance of recouping their invesment, also with other companies to study from and copy (water proofing is in lots of new phones now, also smart drive features) leading to standardized design goals/consensuses (pretty much every phone company is doing annual release cycles now, OnePlus didn't with the 3T and got a lot of shit from customers for it). Doing r&d for headphones is much more of a crapshoot, with fewer people buying your stuff and not as much common design goals (teenagers who listen to pop and edm are actually more into "crispy" grado/beyer treble than smoothness unlike we here at SBAF). Lack of consensus and demand can drive prices up sky-high/lead to marketing over actual engineering for any company that's doing it just for the money, not just in this industry even though it's among the worse cases. Not many engineers do work straight out of passion like Mike and Jason of Schiit or Ken of CA and charge for close to production costs. Schiit just happened to also have great marketing as well which played a huge part in their success (probably modi and magni carried the entire company and put the Schiit name on the map).

    Honestly, it's a rough industry that I wouldn't want to work in. Even Senn is moving more into marketing ("hip" bassy/v-shaped headpphones to attract teens, statement headphones for businessmen/upperclass people). Just be glad that we have reliable stuff/people like Schiit , Ken/CA and Senn HD6xx series around for now and that people are starting to notice overpricing even at Head-fi (Hifiman ED6).

    End of counter-rant. Back to topic folks.
     
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    Last edited: Mar 5, 2017
  9. AllanMarcus

    AllanMarcus Friend

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    Opinions sought.

    Schiit Mojo2 or build a Mainline from bottlehead. Budget is $1000 for a good tube amp.

    I'm also subbed to the < $1200 tube amp thread, but since my cans are Utopia, I'm posting here.

    Bifrost Multibit DAC.
    Utopia headphones
    Mostly rock, some classical
     
  10. brencho

    brencho Friend

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    Just buy @Greed's torpedo3!
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2017
  11. AllanMarcus

    AllanMarcus Friend

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    Very tempted. There is also a Mojo2 with extra tubes for $800. I also really enjoyed building g a crack, which is why I'm leaning towards a mainline. Just curious if there is something I'm missing here.
     
  12. brencho

    brencho Friend

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    Yeah if you wanna build then go for it. That T3 with mods at that price will handily best most amps until you reach zds tier (with non planar phones)
     
  13. cityshlacker

    cityshlacker New

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    I received the Utopia today, and I'm very happy with my purchase.
    I got them for two thirds of the price, 2300 GBP instead of 3300, due to someone on head-fi not wanting them, and their supplier already having ordered them at a discount with some speakers.
    I don't understand what happened exactly, but I accept.

    A bit of backstory: I was very hyped up by the ETHER Flow headphone thread on head-fi, and when I received them I was severely disappointed.
    Tyll was spot on with his assessment: they play in a sort of distant space of their own, which is why they could be said to sound 'etherial'.
    I didn't know, but I hate that characteristic with an absolute passion, maybe I also hate Planars, I don't know, but I remember liking my LCD-2 when I first got it ages ago.

    I ran them through a broken Cavalli Liquid Carbon initially (volume pot issue), and I sent back the amp and asked for a refund - my source is a Wyred 4 Dac 1 LE with Femto upgrade (yuck Sabre yuck I know).
    I still lost 200 quid cause of import duties I had to pay, didn't want to have to pay them again so I declined to get it repaired and sent back.
    Got in touch with Schiit and wanted to buy a Rag, they were nice enough to send me a demo unit first.
    Flow on the Rag sounded MUCH better, not surprising since the Cavalli was broken, I know, but that made the Flow still not worth the price I thought.
    I finally sold them for around 1000 pounds, because I couldn't sell them for higher and I probably got ripped off at 1700 quid new anyway.

    So now I have the Utopia running through a Pathos Aurium hybrid tube amp still using my W4S, and I'm f'ing ecstatic.
    I've not been this happy since I first got my HD650 about 10 years ago and realized that music can sound really really good through headphones too.
    I don't know whether the Pathos Aurium is the best amp for this, but after reading some reviews I decided to go for it, and the amp already made my Focal Spirit Classic (which are pain incarnate by the way, avoid at all costs if you value comfort) sound really good.
    I also went for that cause the Mjo2 is still not in stock, I've been after one of those for quite a while now.

    The Utopia is everything the Flow isn't, it pulls me into the music whether I want to or not and punches my face off with great detail and big balls.
    I'm not looking for the music in some corner because it doesn't want to be too intrusive, good God no, it's right in my head, where I want it to be.

    Everything I play right now sounds really good and instruments are super nice and all BUT I when I listen to Camp by Childish Gambino, the Utopia makes it sound like dogshit.
    My Jedi Mind Tricks sounds even better though, so that's good - I'm mostly intrigued by the drum.
    I always thought Camp was a decent recording, but I guess I was wrong, a lot of the time Glovers vocals come out with SSSSSSS sounds, which could also be due to the Sabre I suppose, not sure, I can certainly live with it and I expected the Utopia to make some of my favourite albums sound worse, it comes with the territory I suppose.
    Luckily I still have other headphones, such as the torture device Spirit Classic, the Denon D2k and my trusty HD650 of course.

    All in all, really happy, definite upgrade for once.
    And I don't want to upgrade any of my other components now, very satisfied.

    Disclaimer: I owned and loved the ATH-W5k with an AT-HA5k dearly for a very long time, a headphone that is widely regarded as crap, so my taste is already fucked up big time and YMMV hard.
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2017
  14. phaeton

    phaeton Acquaintance

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    I see you're using a Taurus MKII ... IMHO Utopia-Taurus is a great combo. the synergy between the two is really high for whatever reason.... of course YMMV
    PS I'm driving the Taurus with a Vega, xlr silver cables
     
  15. sorrodje

    sorrodje Carla Bruni's other lover - Friend

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    I think there're definitely less expensive and faster methods to kill yourself...















    Just kidding . :p
     
  16. phaeton

    phaeton Acquaintance

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    actually after some tube-rolling, and following the suggestions of the amp designer, now I'm really enjoying the Utopia with my custom 300B with a Visseaux 6J5MG driver and a Mullard GZ33 rectifier, driven by the MSB Analog with rca silver cables. slightly but audibly better than Vega-Taurus combo, which IMHO remain a very good combo with Utopia, while with HEK/HE6 I much prefer the custom 300B with GEC CV1067 driver and Mullard GZ34 rectifier.

    I still have some rare problems with Utopia and some records, tipically prog and trance-ethereal (my two new passions), where energy around 10k is just too much for me. but apart from this, I find Utopia really spectacular with anything else I listen to, tipically acustic jazz and female vocalists. yesterday given a free day I have listened for more than 4 hours, and stopped just because my sweetheart trowed a jacket at me "gently asking" to go out for dinner..... :confused:
     
  17. AllanMarcus

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    Thanks. I can get most of what I with a little Eq and the tauraus. I've decided I want to build mainline, so I'm just looking for justification. At this point I've made up my mind, and I'm gonna do it. A hobby for me ain't a hobby if I'm just buying stuff; I need to build and create.
     
  18. Rthomas

    Rthomas Friend

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    Anybody else waiting for the next Katz Corner where his colleagues weigh in on the Utopia vs LCD-4?

    I've been very patient but it's been 2 weeks already :D
     
  19. TonyNewman

    TonyNewman Validated by Tyll removing Utopia from WOF

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    I have just sold my Utopias. They are a brilliant headphone technically - best detail, clarity, dynamics and punch I have ever experienced. However, for me they are just too "in your face" all the time. I can't relax and chill using the Utopia - it is too forward, too energetic - and just not what I was looking for. So mine are sold and am very happy to return to my modded HE6. A much better fit for for my tastes and gear.
     
  20. cskippy

    cskippy Creamy warmpoo

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    Wow! I still need to hear one, but it seems like it's just a different flavor, not necessarily better than HE-6 or other ToTL cans.
     

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