The Mighty Utopia: Focal Utopia Revisted

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

  1. Rthomas

    Rthomas Friend

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    You're impressions are spot on, I couldn't agree more! Just wanted to expand on some points and add a few things.

    + Utopia is the only headphone I've ever owned where I'm asking myself: Can a headphone be too detailed? So detailed where the music stops being a cohesive whole and the separation of components is so obvious that it takes away from the enjoyment? I think the Utopia gets close to this issue but it becomes a marvellous feature with well recorded music.

    + Utopia is pushing me towards ''audiophile'' music. I'm not a big fan of classical but this headphone is so detailed, dynamic and sounds so much like real instruments playing next to my ears that classical music becomes more engaging. HD800S did this for me to a certain extent but it lacked that last bit of dynamic punch. A lot of Pop and Rock music sounds like shit now. I find myself using my PSB M4U8s for these genres while out and about the saving the ''best'' music for the Utopia.

    Brief comparison: Utopia vs LCD4 with Oratory1990 Harman EQ applied to both headphones.

    Chain - RME ADI2 DAC>THX 789

    I've wanted to do this comparison for a very long time. Without EQ these headphones are obviously like chalk and cheese. Utopia is annoyingly bright and LCD4 sounds muffled and wrong.

    With EQ their tonal balance becomes almost perfect. What surprised me was that even with EQing to the same target both headphones retain their original character. (This must be obvious to experienced Friends but I've never tried this before)

    LCD4 is smoother and more forgiving but Utopia is a step ahead in clarity and realism of the instruments. For longer sessions with a wider variety of music the LCD4 becomes the better choice. I'd always pick the Utopia for shorter focused listening sessions with very well recorded music especially acoustic and classical. LCD4 wins hands down for EDM and Rock.

    With the benefit of EQ it's impossible to pick an overall winner here. Both are magnificent headphones and it comes down to preferred genres and how one listens. I'd be happy with either but I'm keeping the Utopia as I want to explore Classical a bit. Also really excited to see how ECP DSHA-3F affects the Utopia. (future hopeful owner of the amp here :D)
     
  2. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    Have you tried the Utopia from another chain? I can't help but wonder how much of your EQing, comments about recording quality/genre, and detail perception has to do with this particular dac/amp combo. I have nothing against EQ and use it regularly with the Utopia myself, and I certainly know what you mean referencing quality, genre, etc. Still, I speculate that much, even the majority of what you are hearing is the quality of this upstream chain more than the Utopia itself, which is not in-of-itself "annoyingly bright", though it will reveal a chain that needs a muffled HP to make up for its inherent dac and SS amp "steal".
     
  3. Rob the Comic

    Rob the Comic Facebook Friend

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    I’ve heard both and went with the Phonitor XE. The guy from the audio shop whose BH1 I listened to said he also preferred the Phonitor with the Utopias, but not enough to sell the BH1. My chain is Yggdrasil - Phonitor XE with a Marantz CD6006 as transport. Although @k4rstar has me thinking about looking for a nice refurbished Philips mechanism or something from Jay’s Audio. I think the Yggdrasil and the Phonitor have good synergy and fit well with the Utopia - and most of my other Headphones.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2020
  4. Rthomas

    Rthomas Friend

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    This is definitely a possibility. My plan is to wait for the DSHA3F. I can put up with the current chain until then. I just think I'm a bit treble sensitive.
     
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  5. Claud

    Claud Living the ORFAS dream

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    Un Fucking Believable !!!!!!!
    Best $3000 I have spent on audio. Got about 200 hours on my Norne/ Focal Utopia headphone combo and moved to my Stratus/ Schiit Yiggy CD system. Put on Faithless and it sounded real good. Changed to Sade Ultimate hits and WOW, just WOW!! This is the sound I paid the serious money for.
    If you don't have a DNA or EC or..... tube system, you just ain't gettin the best from your Utopias.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2020
  6. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    newsflash: the 3F is not going to roll or dampen treble of the Utopia. that's not what 3F does.
    nor does 3F open the sound stage of Utopia.
    if you want the best of tone, balance, speed, details of Utopia, 3F delivers that in an SS pkg.

    Am glad many folks are enjoying their new Utopia these days, seems a second wave of hype is rolling.
    am only here to warn future readers of this thread to mentally pump the breaks as if Utopia is the bees knees for everyone.

    personally owned Utopia for a good while, early on. Yggdrasil A1 and A2, EC tube amps and BW2, heard it with 3F and probably other stuff I can't even remember. point being- once the honeymoon was over sold Utopia and without a moment of regret.

    areas where Utopia may not satisfy are:
    small sound stage. intimate is putting it nicely.
    lack of bass slam or impact when called for. it's merely gentle.
    metallic sheen of the Be at times.
    possibly being stuck behind a long chain of inefficient Focal company warranty and/or dealer support BS
    overpriced replacement ear pads or other parts

    TL;DR
    Utopia delivers technicalities, yet does not ace the presentation nor value proposition IMO.
     
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  7. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    ^ This.

    DSHA3F does not conform Utopia into something that's right for "treble sensitive" folks (this includes myself). What the DSHA3F does is take full advantage of Utopia's strengths, its transient response, fidelity, and transparency, for a solid state amp. TBH, most will be better off with a DNA amp which does conform the Utopia into something that more tonally even and agreeable. The EC Studio 45 Custom that I used in revisiting the Utopia lies somewhere in between the DNA and ECP amps. It straddles between them in terms of conforming the tone of the Utopia.

    In terms of support, and this may seem like a shameless plug, but we do have a two long time members of SBAF who also happen to represent retailers. This may provide some reassurance in terms of support, or at the very least allow you to virtually strangle someone should satisfaction not be obtained. Focal is very retailer dependent, and your support experience will come down to the retailer.

    Finally, I advise no one to ever pay retail. This is the way (of SBAF)

    P.S.

    I don't own one myself because I am a cheap bastard. My Grado RS-2s with TTVJ pads scratch my transient response itch. I like my SET amps more than I like headphones or DACs. This is my way. There are many other ways just as valid depending upon your priorities. I will write an entertainment piece on the different ways.
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2020
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  8. Rthomas

    Rthomas Friend

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    All points carefully noted.

    During my first go with the Utopia in 2018 I had no idea how to implement an EQ but after discovering Oratory1990 and the AutoEQ project on reddit I had to give the headphone another chance.

    So far I'm 95% happy with the results. I think changing my chain to Bifrost 2>DSHA-3F (Nickel transformers) may deliver the slight change in character to get to 100%.

    Note on the cost of gear cycling:

    To echo Marv's point above I bought my first Utopia for 40% off from an authorized dealer. Sold it for what I paid.

    Second Utopia I bought lightly used (10 hrs) for 48% off the MSRP in the EU. The transferable 5 year warranty really helped make up my mind to try this headphone again.

    I'd say never buy TOTLs at MSRP unless you want to pre-order it the day Jude releases one of his 45 minute long advertisements :D
     
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  9. Claud

    Claud Living the ORFAS dream

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    Maybe its the Norne no name cable. The bass from my Utopia can not be described as "gentle" It has the best bass I have ever heard from a headphone. NOT exaggerated bass. Its slam when its called for and always articulate. In other words, real bass. This is only from my Stratus system. Breaking in on my Matrix/Phonitor E it did not have the visceral punch of the Stratus. It was OK bass, but nothing out of the ordinary for decent headphones.
    The Norne no name cable is constructed of larger than normal gage strands of copper and silver. D27C1108-8F8A-449F-B9C6-7D95AEAE1835_1_201_a.jpeg
     
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  10. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    Based on my experiences with the the MHA150 and Starlett, I think it's mostly the influence of the DNA house sound that you're hearing through the Utopia.
     
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  11. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    I agree that the Starlett has a full and detailed bass, if a touch (only a touch) 'slow' in attack like everything else about the Starlett. Maybe it's a touch humped as well...maybe. When I had the BW2, it made the Clear's (did not have Utopia at the time) bass "gentle" (and diffused) and perhaps this is what @jexby is remembering, but I agree with @Claud in that the Utopia's bass can not be described as gentle, though it not going to give you the weight of some planar's in the 20-40 Hz region (what dynamic does?)

    Edit: Would you say the Utopia is light in bass out of the MHA150?
     
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  12. dncnexus

    dncnexus Friend

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    I didn't own it, but I demo'd the Utopia with MHA150 and found it a bit bass light personally. It was punchy but not high in quantity
     
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  13. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    It's not a great match. I used to use the MHA150's tone controls to bump 40Hz up by 5 db. Even then, the bass quality doesn't match the richness of the bass coming from the Starlett.
     
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  14. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    Interesting. I was listening last night to some cello concerto recordings I have and I found myself almost wanting to EQ the bass down with the Utopia/Starlett combo, as the cello's and double bass seemed a little too close miced - the balance was off...too much bass! With electronica, the Starlet/Utopia combo is all there, again excepting a planar weight (though "slam" is there IMO) in the sub-bass...
     
  15. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    @crenca what's your source? Are you using Unison by any chance?
     
  16. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    No, I am using a Pi/Pi2AES (fed via wired ethernet from Roon) > coax into Gungnir MB A2 > Saga OG (passive - for remote volume control) > Starlett. I suppose a possible wildcard is Saga OG, though I don't think that is enriching bass or anything else...
     
  17. AdvanTech

    AdvanTech Friend

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    I don't think so. One of the first things I noticed about the Utopia was how dynamic and impactful it sounded.
     
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  18. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    You're using the low impedance setting on the Starlett? Stock pads? I'm using Pi2AES with a Yggdrasil A2, which based on comments here should be a bit warmer than the Gungnir Multibit A2.
     
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  19. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    Yep, 3 ohms out (according to Donald) via TRS on low, -6db gain almost all the time. Stock Utopia pads as well. I should also add (as possible wild card) I am using XLR out of Gungnir MB A2 > Jensen PI-2XR transformer converter box, to feed the Saga/Starlett SE. Again, I don't think this conversion is doing much to the bass emphasis, other than distorting it a small amount (probably below audible level).

    Yea, based on consensus the Gungnir MB A2 is cooler than Yggdrasil A2, so you should be hearing a bit more bass emphasis - within the realm of DAC difference which is not that much normally...
     
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  20. neo_the_one

    neo_the_one Rando

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    Which headphones would have very good slam that are still in production?
     

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