Focal Utopia Review (collective stream of consciousness)

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

  1. nachocheese70

    nachocheese70 Facebook Friend

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    It sounds like you’re hearing the microdynamics that EC is famous for, and AF specifically strived for. And it’s definitely (if you follow @purr1n) a sonic characteristic.

    Check out this informative post:
    http://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/the-audio-101-thread.3214/page-2#post-96125

    EC (in my case 2A3 MK2) + Utopia is a very good pairing, both working together to deliver oodles of microdynamic and microdetail (plankton) across the frequency range.

    Not everyone cares/appreciates/heads this and there are no objective measurements for microdynamics (at least I’ve come accross), but for me this is so addictive I am willing to sacrifice other characteristics (such as bass quantity, even some quality) for this. IMHO the NOS RCA 2A3 tubes may be less warm and have more treble energy than new stock PSVane WE275 (haven’t tried others), but to me they have better microdynamics and plankton. I’d take that any day (and worst case slightly 1/2 dB EQ to take a little edge of treble).
     
  2. BillOhio

    BillOhio Friend

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    Is there such a thing as Too Much plankton? Listening to Utopias reminded me a little of dating a chick who identifies as being hot, fun at first but lot of work in a hurry and expensive in the not so long run.
     
  3. nachocheese70

    nachocheese70 Facebook Friend

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    Haha this is true. On some passages I would almost say it maybe slightly too exaggerated (almost sounds like the violinist or celloist trying too hard to force extra emotions into the piece). Almost - I am addicted to the plankton/microdynamics.

    But I love your example! I’m sort of paying the price by having it out for maybe 1 month for repair, if not 2 (and since I only had them 2 months, it’s a steep time price).
     
  4. ToonMechaMan

    ToonMechaMan Rando

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    Anyone try the Utopia with the Kenzie Encore?
     
  5. bclark8923

    bclark8923 Rando

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    Has anyone used the Little Dot Mk8 or 6 amp with these?
     
  6. Collusion

    Collusion Friend

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    Hi folks, I'm quite sure I'll be purchasing Focal Utopia's at the upcoming weekend. Which balanced cable should I get? Will those low-end cables sound any good? (~ $100 ish). I'll be running them out of an SPL Phonitor 2.
     
  7. zonto

    zonto Friend

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    Could just have the stock cable reterminated. @fraggler did a wonderful job on mine, and observed that the stock cable is likely white labeled Mogami 3106.
     
  8. Forza AudioWorks

    Forza AudioWorks MOT: Forza AudioWorks

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    Could be. Off spool Mogami is quite popular where I live, not a surprise that some headphone manufacturers use it as a stock option.
     
  9. Collusion

    Collusion Friend

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    Now seriously contemplating of making the cable myself. A couple of Lemo connectors ( FGG.0B.302.CLAD52 ), a three meter stub of Mogami 3106 and a 4 pin XRL female connector total well under 100 euros. I don't feel like 'ruining' the stock cable, might actually need it sometime in the future.
     
  10. cskippy

    cskippy Creamy warmpoo

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    The stock cable really weighs down the Utopia. Best upgrade was an aftermarket OCC copper cable for me. Impact Audio, BTG Audio, Norne and ZMF are all cables I’ve used in the past and enjoyed, and would all be upgrades in terms of ergonomics over the stock cable.
     
  11. k1arg

    k1arg Facebook Friend

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    Agree 100% re excessive weight of the stock cable. FWIW I’ve been very happy with the flexibility, weight and sound of the copper cable @Forza AudioWorks made for me. It’s pretty too. ;-)
     
  12. Zhanming057

    Zhanming057 Friend

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    If you're open to building it yourself, go with that option.

    The stock cable is hypothetically worth $1,000 (that's the quoted part cost from Focal, but of course available at a significant discount) and cutting it up might lose you some resale value down the road. Safer to build a separate cable specific to your need.
     
  13. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    Lol, there's nothing special with the stock cable, beside it being way too long and weighing 1kg ...
     
  14. Zhanming057

    Zhanming057 Friend

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    I agree, but that's what focal is quoting for the part, and when I sold mine with a shortened cable I got lots of questions about why I did that and finding a replacement.
     
  15. Forza AudioWorks

    Forza AudioWorks MOT: Forza AudioWorks

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    Thanks! Much appreciated!
     
  16. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth Planar Hater

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    **Huge thanks to @Bloom for letting me audition these at home and making this happen. You're a real OG.

    Intro:

    Despite my well-documented fanboying over anything ZMF, the Utopia was always a headphone that piqued my curiosity, even from the time I was new to the hobby. Back then I never thought I'd ever save enough to buy a Clear or any of the gear I own now (I had a Massdrop SDAC, a Wyrd, and a Magni 3 with a HD 6XX). How things have changed since then, but one thing that hasn't changed is my damn curious nature (which I hope to curb sooner rather than later). And when I saw that Marv had the Utopia in his personal top 5 headphones, it only made me want to audition the Utopia properly more. I mean, how much better can it be than Clear (which is a headphone I still like?)? And now that the Utopia is a few years old, can it hold its own against the new stuff?

    Well, it's been said numerous times on this forum (and I've repeated this statement myself many times) that good gear doesn't become shit just because new stuff came out, and the short story is that statement applies to the Utopia. I can hear why some called it the "one headphone to rule them all." I'm not sure if I would call it that, but it is a top-performer and worthy of consideration if you like the Focal sound.

    Sonics:

    To me, the Utopia kind of sounds like a Clear+ (yes, I know the Clear came out later. Maybe I should say the Clear is like a Utopia-). It's more resolving, more dynamic, more detailed, better layered, smoother sounding, and slightly less metallic sounding (the Utopia also seems to have better bass, but I'm not 100% sure on that). If the Clear is thought of as neutral, the Utopia is tilted slightly bright, but not by much and I actually prefer the Utopia's tonality over the Clear. This surprised me because I generally like slightly dark headphones (like ZMFs), but it should be noted that I'm not treble-sensitive.

    The Utopia's greatest traits are in its dynamics and transients. Transients are fast and very well-defined; unsure if it's faster than Verite, or if the Verite's more rounded transients are fooling me, but regardless the Utopia's speed is top-tier for dynamic drivers. The attacks of notes are startling and have immediacy that makes it sound very modern and super hi-fi. Despite that, it has very good microdynamics; it retains a decent amount of nuance and inflection in notes. And in macrodynamics, this headphone can hit hard. It makes for a super dynamic, athletic presentation.

    The biggest thing for me is that the Utopia doesn't seem to have any real weaknesses. There are a few bright spots in the treble, but the upper treble performance is top notch (the best I've heard) and the bright spots are not dissimilar to the Auteur's 6k hill; doesn't bother me one bit. The characteristic Focal midrange shout is present, but I acclimated really quickly and it doesn't bother me. I also did not find the slight metallic timbre off-putting or offensive. Any one of these weaknesses could be potential deal-breakers to some; however in general the Utopia is exceptional in dynamics and transients, and very good to good in most other areas, with a few potential nitpicks.

    Here are some more detailed comparisons I made with some of my other headphones, in order of what I thought offered the most interesting comparisons to least:
    • ZMF Verite: A prime example of how two super technically capable headphones can sound completely different. The Verite arguably meets the Utopia's transient prowess (just has rounder attacks), but the Verite is tilted dark even with the Verite pads, whereas the Utopia is tilted bright. The Verite has this unique rich timbre, whereas Utopia has a slight metallic timbre. The Verite undeniably has cup resonance, whereas Focal did a lot to try to make the Utopia sound super open. The areas the Verite smashes the Utopia is in stage size and layering, but the Utopia hits back with smoother treble, better imaging, and might be a touch better in dynamics. Both Utopia and Verite sound supremely controlled in decay. It can be thought that both of these headphones have exceedingly few sins of omission, but the Verite has more sins of commission. Incredible headphones and can easily complement each other. If anything, properly auditioning the Utopia allowed me to verify my claim that the Verite can be thought of as ZMF's take on the Utopia.
    • ZMF Auteur: In terms of tonality, I don't actually think these are that different. Just take the Auteur's tonality and tilt it slightly counter-clockwise and viola, it's almost the same as the Utopia. Auteur is not that far off from neutral; a touch warm. Utopia is slightly bright. The Utopia is at minimum one step ahead of the Auteur in almost all technical fields (especially in macrodynamics), but the Auteur has an amazing timbre that the Utopia can only dream of having. A true case of left brain vs right brain, and the Auteur is certainly no slouch in technical areas as well (I think the Auteur is equal or slightly better in layering and is only a step or two behind in plankton). Technicalities vs musicality at its finest.
    • Focal Clear: The Utopia is better in pretty much every area. The only area the Clear beats the Utopia is in its tonality; the Clear is probably more agreeable to most people. That being said, if you can afford a Utopia and pair it with a synergistic amp, you wouldn't even bother with the Clear.
    • Sennheiser HD650 (JAR versions included): I agree with Marv here; the HD650, especially the modded JAR ones, have essentially zero downsides. However, what the Utopia does well it does REALLY fucking well, and it does well in a lot more areas than the HD650.
    I also tried both Euforia and Starlett with the Utopia. The Euforia "fixes" the metallic timbre and tilts the tonal balance warmer. The Starlett doesn't do as much to fix the timbre (and is a pretty tonally neutral amp), but it allows for more layering and allows the Utopia's technical prowess to really shine. Both are fantastic for the Utopia and I'd highly recommend them, but that being said, I actually preferred the Starlett for the Utopia (with the Clear I preferred Euforia, so this surprised me. I think the Utopia is hitting the ceiling of what the Euforia can do).

    For fun, I tried these out of my phone. Minus the long cable being inconvenient for bed listening, and the fact that the Utopia just wanted to keep sliding off my head unless I laid on my pillow at that perfect angle, it actually worked shockingly well. Not as punishing towards bad recordings as you'd think either. I'm emphatically NOT going to try these out and about though.

    Count me in as a fan of the Utopia. I like the Clear, but there was always something about that headphone that stopped me from really seeking it out for a listen (and wrestling it away from my mom). With the Utopia, if I bought one it would easily find its way in my rotation between both ZMFs. That being said, the Utopia is SUPER EXPENSIVE!!! Perhaps I'm hypocritical for talking about value of any sort with the gear I do have, but this price is super hard for me to justify especially as someone who already owns a Verite (and the Clear, mind). Doesn't stop me from wanting one though.

    Endnote: Yes, I know I'm super late to the Utopia train.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2020
  17. Maxx134

    Maxx134 Dunning–Kruger effect poster boy

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    That is fine your observations are nice no matter how late as these cans are so expensive that they take a while to trickle down to others as they get sold used.
    I recently got mine like new but I am third owner.
    Once you own them you can appreciate the high level of resolve combined with speed that no other Dynamics have except for the probably only the HD800.
    The. You gotta go stax for highet speed, but as you show, speed isn't everything , and other headphones can compliment it.

    For me, no other Dynamic can compliment it as well as the Denon9200, which has similar stage and tonality amd almost same speed.
    The other Dynamics you mentioned do not have this level of speed.
    Regardless, I find that these type of headphones are great for system which need high efficiency.
    These two I mentioned have the highest efficiency of Dynamics, so they are really at the top of the game for system matching.

    I used to be big on soundstage, but in the end, musicality and transparency is key to enjoyment in this hobby.

    The Utopia will remain a top can, like the HD800 no matter what comes along.
     
  18. AllanMarcus

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  19. drgumbybrain

    drgumbybrain Science Nut

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  20. zach915m

    zach915m MOT: ZMF Headphones

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    Are you sure you're not referring to the original pilot pad? We haven't shipped any CO-Pilot pads as they were just released today.
     

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