The Mighty Utopia: Focal Utopia Revisted

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by purr1n, Aug 13, 2020.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Ahh, it's nice to have friends who can loan you gear. The problem is that this makes you insane and want to spent more money. The Focal Utopia was collectively reviewed on SBAF many years ago: https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...view-collective-stream-of-consciousness.2669/. I figure it's time to re-measure it on the EARS miniDSP and also examine the burst response attack and decay envelopes. I'd also been wanting to re-assess whether it still belongs in my personal top-five headphones list (I never bought it for myself because of its price): https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...-incorrect-audio-blog.7261/page-9#post-267274

    It's good to be reminded. The Utopia is just as amazing as ever and definitely belongs on my top five list. However, I don't use it.

    You know why? It's because from a great amp, I cannot put the headphones down! I don't have much free time these days as I need to concentrate on my RL job and SBAF, so I try to get as much listening in to music as possible. The Utopia is one of those headphones which is "eh, pretty good" on modest gear, but boy once you pair them up with a True Hi-Fi™ components, it can just suck you right into the music and you will get absolutely no work done. I tried, but I just had to take them off every time because I couldn't get that network architecture document or executive PPT presentation done! I got distracted from work every five seconds.

    Focal Utopia with Eddie Current 45 Studio Custom Amplifier and Schiit Gungnir "A2" Multibit DAC
    IMG_20200812_131632.jpg

    Sure the HD650 sounds great from the above. So do the Grados. Those are distractingly good. But the Utopia is on a whole 'nother level that sucks you in and won't let go. Not just that, we get a new perspective on the recordings, e.g. "What the heck was that? I never heard that effect before on Get Lucky, etc."**

    I not going to say much more about the subjectives because these have been covered ad-infinitum, but I do want to address two common criticisms. On the overly dynamic part, it's just a matter of pairing with a source and/or amplifier, at least one component, that is less square and more rounded sounding. I'm not saying slow transients, as components can sound fast and still have a rounded character (see below of list of amps). For example, the EC Ultralinear would be horrible with the Utopia too square. Secondly, on the beryllium timbre, this is much over-exaggerated. Every material has its characteristic, whether it be paper, plastic, aluminum, etc. I'm not saying there isn't a sound to this material, but after a second examination years later, it's quite good as implemented here. As far as metal drivers, the Be is smooth, elegant, creamy even, and wholly on another level compared to the Clear and Elear.

    The best components to pair with the Utopia are this:

    Donald North Stellaris or Eddie Current Studio Junior. Both are SET but have a different sound. DNA is wetter, more bloomy, bassier even - very much a classic SET sound. The EC uses feedback and is less tubey. EC is no longer, but may have a final run of a Studio B (same as Studio Junior but in a Balancing Act Chassis). Personally, I would request the EC in 2A3, unless you really really want a 300B. There was one guy were some miscommunication results in the 2A3 version of the Junior, but in my opinion, he scored.

    There are a lot of good solid-state amps, but the only one I can recommend is ECP DSHA 3F with consideration towards the warmer sounding nickel core input transformers. The ECP DSHA 3F plays to the Utopia's strengths, its speed and mid-range transparency.

    Anything less means you are leaving stuff at the table with regards to Utopia. I tried Utopia from the Magnius today, and really I don't care for it. The idea is that you must give the car a good driver or the driver a good car. You can put me in a Corvette and Alonso in a Camry on a windy racetrack, and Alonso will still outrace me. Don't waste your money on the Utopia if you have modest gear. Consider the Clear, Elear, or Elex.

    Honorable mentions: DNA Starlett (still leaving stuff at the table, but close enough). Schiit Vali (OG and OOP). The Vali leaves the most on the table. But it is a $119 stopgap wait you wait for your amp to be built. Because it is OOP, it leaves some mystique. And also because I am being an asshole.

    DAC / source: The DAC and source is your pick. Since the above are True Hi-Fi™ fine amps, it's unlikely that anyone buying them will have poor taste in DACs*. I choose not based on what is "da best", but what offers the best synergy or the sound I want to achieve. There are many DACs betterer than the Schiit Gungnir Multibit above, and I have almost unlimited access to what I can choose, but I chose this because it does what I want.

    *Then again, some asshole here on SBAF pairs expensive bourbon with items from McDonalds and Oreo cookies.
    **I am so sick of Eagles Hotel California, but still enjoy Random Access Memories. The bass line on Get Lucky is easy enough! The hard part is mastering the embellishments without it seeming that you are trying too hard or trying at all.


    measurements forthcoming
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2020
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  2. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Focal Utopia
    Frequency Response
    EARS SBAF Compensation (3.2)
    upload_2020-8-13_20-5-57.png

    Focal Utopia
    Frequency Response
    Flat Plate Coupler (no pinna) with Compensation
    upload_2020-8-14_17-36-33.png


    Focal Utopia 2020 vs Focal Utopia 2016
    Frequency Response
    Flat Plate Coupler (no pinna) no comp
    GRN/RED = 2020 BLU/ORA = 2016
    Compressed Y-axis
    upload_2020-8-13_20-11-53.png

    Holy cow! Has it been four years! How long have I known some of you guys? We are overdue for a meet after all this COVID stuff boils over.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2020
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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Well, this is what we've really been waiting for, the burst envelopes

    Focal Utopia
    Attack and Decay Envelopes from 10-Cycle Burst
    B1696 Utopia.wav Burst.jpg

    At a glance the decay envelope doesn't look any faster than Elex, which is already quite fast. The small difference is the leading edge, the initial overshoots on the attack? It this what gives the Utopia it's "fast' character. The Elex burst is included below. The Elex has a bit of this attack overshoot, but not quite to the extent as the Utopia for the 1500Hz and 4800Hz burst.

    Focal Elex
    Attack and Decay Envelopes from 10-Cycle Burst
    B1696 Elex.wav Burst.jpg
     
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  4. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    More measurements later tonight. Doom Patrol time with the family.
     
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  5. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Indeed. The Feliks is OTL, which has a luxurious sort of sound, is a good rec. Likewise the EC ZDS (OOP) also an OTL, less bloom, would also be a worthy match.

    Mentioned of Feliks gives me PTSD because of its fanboys. Like the dude on HF who accused me of leaking proprietary information when I posted the Feliks Elise innards with the bottom plate off. Yes, people on HF really are that retardo.

    <puts Voldemort hat on> Oh you are. You just haven't lived with this gear at home for an extended period of time and dialed everything in. Starlett is close to Stratus, but very far away from Stellaris. In a way, Stellaris is a bargain. <puts Voldemort hat away>
     
  6. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Like it your not, you are tuning it, or may have stumbled into it. I prefer to think that you found the right synergies. I have an idea how the Wavelight sounds like. Personally with the 3F, I'd opt for the amorphous to maximally play to its strengths, and pick the Wavelight as the source because it knows when to be mellow. I'd hate to think what it might sound like if you used X-Sabre as the source.
     
  7. wbass

    wbass Facebook Friend

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    Utopia is still my favorite hp. I'd concur with all of the above and just add that with a good tube amp I don't hear them as lacking bass/bass impact, another common complaint, and the stage is plenty wide for me, too. I've found that they do scale with amps, as Marv describes above. So, essentially... here, here.
     
  8. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    Welp, I'm staying far, far away from the Stellaris then (sorry @Donald North; I don't want to be financially ruined).
     
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  9. Phantaminum

    Phantaminum Friend

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    I've been meaning to post a write up on several pieces of gear, especially the Utopia, but I find myself dragging the hell out of my feet.

    So I'll add this: The Focal Utopia and the EC Studio Jr 300B are a great match. I find myself with the headphones on, doing work, and just enjoying music. At times, I'll stop working to start bobbing my head and don't realize 30 minutes have gone by.

    Another amp that sounds great with the Utopia is the Pendant. As long as you have a warmish driver tube (the default JJs lean on the bright side) it plays on the strengths of the Be drivers and immediacy of it. Very satisfying.
     
  10. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    About these burst measurements: at higher frequencies, does it seem that the results are harder to keep consistent from run to run?
     
  11. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I could care less about headstage because even great headstage is crap compared to a bad soundstage (from speakers). As for lacking bass or bass impact with Utopia: get better gear. The Utopia is will be completely unimpressive from any of those zero point zero zero zero amps. I recommend HiFiMan HE400 variants with those amps.
     
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  12. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Here is a second burst set that was run. There are some minor differences.
    B1696 Utopia 2.wav burst.jpg
     
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  13. Koth Ganesh

    Koth Ganesh Friend

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    Thanks @purr1n. The Utopia has been my go - to headphone for a while and I have dialed-in my preferred chain to be PI2AES > Convert 2 (or Gungnir A1 MB or Modius, both Schiit DACs are balanced outs only) > Jensen 1:1 > Mogwai SE. Amazingly, to my ears the 3 DACs sound very similar (but a more detailed post is probably more relevant in the DAC threads) and my only genre is rock. This is my only legal way to feel that I am steroids when I'm listening to music:D.
     
  14. Hrodulf

    Hrodulf Prohibited from acting as an MOT until year 2050

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    I was awed by their technicalities, but could never get myself to love them, because I like bass. And not being broke.
     
  15. Rthomas

    Rthomas Friend

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    2015 and 2016 were good years in terms of headphone related releases and articles :)

    2015

    - Tyll did Big Sound 2015 which is the best series of (non scientific) articles about headphones ever imho.
    LCD4 released to much controversy.

    2016

    - Still remember Marv visiting TSAV to get us the dirt on the Utopia and Elear. Elear fell by the wayside but Utopia still remains legit

    - Bob Katz and Co did their famous shootout which may have received the highest levels of reader engagement of any article on Innerfidelity.

    It wasn't a perfectly arranged shootout in terms of sources and amps but I'd much rather read his opinions than that of a 1000 randos on Headfi or SBAF who may be half deaf/not know anything about how something is supposed to sound.

    Back to the Utopia:

    I wish I had a chance to try EQ on mine before I sold them but at that point I had no clue how to do it and didn't know what EQ APO and PEACE were :D
     
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  16. neo_the_one

    neo_the_one Rando

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    It would seem Eddie Current is closing down (so not too comfortable buying it, as repairs might be harder) and read somewhere that wait time for Stellaris is quite long.

    I could not find this Amp at all on the net anywhere (discontinued maybe?)

    @purr1n Any more generally available amp you might suggest for Utopia?
     
  17. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    This one is from the foam coupler that attempts to some extent to simulate a free air measurement. There could be some advantages to gaining some insights into the nature of the higher frequencies as this measurement will be somewhat isolated from ear and head reflections. This also shows us how sensitive the bass frequencies are to seal since these measurements are in effect not sealed.

    Focal Utopia
    Frequency Response
    Foam Coupler (Free Air Sim)
    upload_2020-8-14_8-46-44.png

    TBH, for this particular headphone, the Uotpia, I think this measurement reflects most of what I actually hear. Let's run CSDs in a bit on both the flate plate coupler and foam coupler for you sciency guys who actually care about this stuff.
     
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  18. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    https://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/ecp-dsha3f-ravenswood-3f.7382/

    I really can't think of a more generally available amp around if you want "da best". While there are many many other fantastic amps, what I have in my mind is synergy. For example, I love the McIntosh MHA150, but it just don't go well with the Utopia. I am totally putting on http://www.orfas.org hat on right now. Good things happen to people who wait. There is a reason why Donald's amps have a long wait.

    Note other amps mentioned from Feliks and Donald North. Maybe used EC BA or ZDS. In general, these things never die. The worst thing that happens is a solder (point-to-point wiring) gets knocked loose during International shipping. There are a few more amps that will do OK, but now we are no longer talking about "da best".
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2020
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  19. E_Schaaf

    E_Schaaf MOT: Upscale Audio; recovering HFM addict

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    If you've still got Stellia around, any chance of measuring Utopia with the solid leather pads from Stellia? I never got a chance to measure this but found the combination to suit my more basshead-leaning slammy warmslut preferences.

    edit - yes, Focal's pad prices are ridiculous. But if you're up at this level, it's a fair consideration to make if you're someone who prefers a more sloped sig.

    edit 2 - I'm having a coworker from Upscale bring me the Utopia and Stellia (serial #1 as a matter of fact!) just so we can have another data point about this, but mostly just to satiate my curiosity.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2020
  20. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I doubt Stellia pads will provide any more bass. Two reasons:
    1. The entire area around the driver is open to the back. It is literally a super open baffle. You won't be sealing anything.
    2. Note the Foam Coupler and sealed coupler (Flat Plate and EARs) measurements. There is no difference in bass. The headphone was designed to not care whether there is a seal or not.
    By the way, these are the reasons why the Focals hit peak excursion at relatively low levels below 40Hz. It's a design tradeoff to get that open baffle bass sound and transients, which not everybody likes. As such, there will always be complaints about the Utopia's bass.

    The LCD-4 is a better way to go if one wants "fast" bass that is more tactile.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2020

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