Focal Elear and Utopia Impressions at Source AV

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by Marvey, Jul 7, 2016.

  1. Marvey

    Marvey Loves sex and records

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2015
    Likes Received:
    25,671
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Calabasas, CA
    First order of business: pictures. Everybody loves pictures. Here they are.

    20160707_132031 (Medium).jpg
    20160707_125941 (Medium).jpg

    The Source AV is a great place to check out high-end headphones and amps. If you live in SoCal, and are in the market for expensive headphones and/or headamps, this is the place to go. HD800, HD800S, HE1000, LCD-X, LCD-2, Ether, Ether C, Cavalli Audio, Woo Audio, Moon Audio, McIntosh, and many others. It was a pleasure talking to the owner Jason Lord. Wayne was super cool setting up the stuff for us. They pretty much left us alone and gave us absolutely zero pressure to buy. Because of this, I decided to purchase the Elear from them. I could have gotten the Elear for less from one of those outfits in NY to avoid paying tribute to the CA political machine, I mean state sales tax, but I chose not to. Please support your local brick-and-mortar stores like Source AV or Minidisc (in Sydney Australia) if you enjoy this privilege. Don't always be a dick and buy something for the lowest price.

    Now let's get on with it. Both the Elear and Utopia are deserving of high-fi or summit-fi (as it is called on HF) status. If anyone here chooses to buy one of these headphones us an upgrade to a mid-fi headphone, we won't be mocking him/her for side-grading and remaining in mid-fi purgatory. Both headphones are sufficiently resolving that amps and source did make a difference. I was worried at first, as the Utopia was especially un-resolving from a very expensive tube amp fed by a Sony digital player. In the end, OJ and I decided to use the McIntosh MHA100, which was clearly the best sounding amp there, at least to our ears. We used a Denon CDP and the highest-end A&K player (the one with the AKM4490) as sources.

    Before I say anything about the sound, the Elear and Utopia are fantastically built. There is certainly an element of the audio jewelry thing going on. This is quite a nice thing, particularly for the Elear, because it is quite affordable at $1000. The cups are a bit heavy, but nothing straining like the Audezes, and the comfort is fantastic. It's good to see a company care about things like this. Focal is French, so we can be assured that they wouldn't have the gaul to put a high-end gear together with boogers and spit, and charge thousands of dollars for it, like what many Ch-Fi companies do.

    The Elear and Utopia are not totally comparable to each other because their frequency response is different. The Elear has a strong mid-bass presence and believe it or not, a little bit more air and openness than the Utopia. The bass emphasis only slightly intrudes into the mids. The Utopia mids are clearer than the Elear mids (and also HD800 mids). It's hard to say if this is because there is less distortion, or because of how the frequency response is different. The Utopia's bass sounds neutral. It's not lean. It's not warm. Bass quality wasn't particularly spectacular, but it wasn't bad either. I'd say about on par with HD800 or perhaps a teeny teeny bit not as articulate. Elear bass was punchier than HD800.

    The Elear might have a bit of mid/upper treble emphasis, whereas this region on the Utopia is more subdued (and also more refined / smoother). The Utopia had a bit of a upper mid / lower treble hardness and glare very similar to that of the HD800/S. The extent of this was definitely less than the HD800 and maybe even a smidgen less than the HD800S or HD800SDP/SBAF modded. It's there and it bothered me a little bit. I don't think @OJneg was as sensitive to it as me.

    To say that the Elear has a similar tonal response to the stock unmodded HD650 wouldn't be totally off. The small differences from the HD650 would be that Elear does sound more scooped in the mids, has a bit more emphasis in the tape hiss region / mid treble, and is maybe one or two db louder in the mid-bass. (These are all subjective calls). There didn't seem to be any treble irregularities in the lower treble (glare, stridency, nasties, etc.) at all. If there is one thing I'd do with the Elear, it would be to lower the broad mid-bass bump two db. (Since everything is relative, this would also bring out the mids). The Utopia can be thought of as less V shaped sounding HD800s. I far prefer the tonal balance of these headphones to the HD800.

    The Utopia stages like the HD600/650 but with more depth. I know many people will bitch at this. I actually like it and it appears to stage like speakers. The Elear stages a bit wider with the less depth. It's possible this is because the Elear's top octave is less subdued. Neither of these headphones have the expansiveness of the stock HD800, but they do image more precisely. I think the SBAF modded HD800 images the "best", at least for me, and the Elear is quite close to that or perhaps even meets it. The Utopia definitely stages more narrowly.

    Past frequency response, where the Utopia really separates itself from the Elear is with transient response, focus, precision, separation, and refinement (smoothness.) The Elear is a little bit less focused. However, I should point out that that both headphones seem to have faster transient response to the HD800, at least to my ears (I've never felt the HD800 driver was particularly fast sounding.) Do not expect STAX SR-009 / T2DIY speed though. And in any event, the dynamic drivers have a different coloration. The most similar presentation I'd say is something along the lines of the Accuton diamond tweeters.

    As far as resolution, retrieval of low level information (not to be confused with "detail" or macrodetail), I'd say these equal the HD800. The HD800 may have an artificial advantage because the treble is lifted, and this helps us perceive the ambient cues, trailing tails of strings, "plankton". Again, the resolution thing is so good on either of these headphones that the quality of amps and sources will be very evident! Where the Utopia separates itself from the Elear in technicalities (past frequency response) is the faster transient response and better overall clarity. Microdyamics and nuance seem a tiny bit better on HD800.

    Overall, I actually slightly preferred the Elear. No doubt, the Utopia was the "better" headphone, but there was something about the Utopia that seemed more restrained, more damped, more stately, afraid of embarrassing itself. The Elear sounded like it just lets go. I wonder if the Elear is a bit more efficient, has a more pliable surround, or something like that.

    Finally, these are initial impressions.


    I'll let @OJneg add his comments. Also taking questions.

    P.S. Source AV is expecting a shipment from France on July 9. I asked them to ship it to me, so hopefully I will have it by the middle of next week. This is going on the loaner program after I get measurements. East coast first.

    OJ's stream of consciousness:
    http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...pia-impressions-at-source-av.2402/#post-62217

    Marv's to-the-point checklist:
    http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...pia-impressions-at-source-av.2402/#post-62231

    Regarding value, market placement, and timbre:

    http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...pressions-at-source-av.2402/page-2#post-62239

    Tonal gradient relative to known references:

    http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...pressions-at-source-av.2402/page-2#post-62242

    OJ comments on Marv's thoughts:
    http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...pressions-at-source-av.2402/page-2#post-62249

    OJ's summarized thoughts:
    http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...pressions-at-source-av.2402/page-2#post-62267

    Tyll revs the hype machine:
    http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...pressions-at-source-av.2402/page-3#post-62306

    The n3rdling strikes back:

    http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...pressions-at-source-av.2402/page-7#post-62600

    The Mercinator chimes in:
    http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...pressions-at-source-av.2402/page-9#post-62662

    @Mithrandir41 jumps on the train:
    http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...ressions-at-source-av.2402/page-10#post-63100
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2016
    econaut, zonto, tuxbass and 30 others like this.

  2. Merrick

    Merrick Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2016
    Likes Received:
    3,688
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Portland, OR
    What amps would you recommend, aside from that McIntosh, for these headphones?
     
  3. jelt2359

    jelt2359 Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Nov 8, 2015
    Likes Received:
    147
    Trophy Points:
    43
    How big was the difference between the Utopia and the Elear, in terms of the transients, focus, etc?
     
  4. OJneg

    OJneg The Most Insufferable

    Friend Banned
    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2015
    Likes Received:
    3,079
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Chicago
    Stream of conscious from Discord.

    Elear is big sound, big bass, big soundstage
    slight haze or lack of refinement in treble. Not a big deal tho [ Jason of SourceA/V tells us that it goes away with 65hrs of burn in ;) ]
    I mean, compared to any ortho no one will [complain]

    Utopia and HD800 are more or less on par in terms of resolution
    HD800 has advantage of more separated treble
    more subtle more micro-information
    but resolution and clarity are similar

    I would put the Utopia in the same tier [of rezolushun]
    Don't feel comfortable making an absolute judgement
    as the electronics variables might make the difference

    in some ways the Elear was better than the Utopia mind you
    more "analog" and "fun" so to speak
    for those that want more refinement, speed and resolution....Utopia is the choice
    also less bass mind you

    like I said, similar resolution ability. HD800 has noticably more subtle and precise treble. I think the Utopia's strengths will come out over a longer listening session. I hear great midrange clarity
    I'd say Utopia is more of a "reference" sound [in terms of tonal signature contrasted to Elear's "fun" sound]
    wouldn't use the word darkish. More bassy [w.r.t. the Elear]
    > dynamic version of audeze lcds?
    that's a decent way of putting it. I think the super HD650 descriptor is even better. There's a reason Marv bought it on site I guess
    yes, you can hear the weird stuff in the mids and treble. I thought it was slightly hazy sounding as I said before
    great comfort for me
    don't overanalyze the the graphs you retards
    > do you agree with Tyll saying it's "too dynamic"?
    not sure what too dynamic even means.

    if you wants some good measurements go ahead and buy some playnar crap that measures great
    and sounds like ass
    The Elear [sounds like it] is basically tuned by Zach @ZMF, but [better because it's not a T50rp]
    I don't even remember what the spirit pros sound like. These are in a different league of refinement obviously
    they might have similar tonal balances actually
    midrange was just too effed up and "double-take" on the Nighthawk. I'd say the Elear is a fair bit more neutral.

    > IMO the Elear is the better looking headphone... the Utopia is a little gaudy
    agree with gaudiness of Utopia. Marv said it looked like something Batman would wear in BvS

    someone remind me of how the Elear measures again?
    post graphz plz
    well looking at Tyll's, I'd say that's about right
    I hear a bit more bass
    maybe a 5dB bump instead of 2.5dB
    great extension as far as I could sell. When I use the word big bass I don't necessarily mean a lot of bass, just that the bass fills up the stage (but doesn't linger) and is generally satsifying for studio recordings

    Should also remark that the Elear has great staging. Utopia was actually a bit more closed in believe it or not
    Marv agreed
    great stage, everything is fleshed out there
    that's what dynamics do that this playnar crap doesn't

    Marginally more sensitive than HD800 FWIW. That is, where you are on the volume knob with a low Z amp. Power and synergy is a different issue of course.
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2016
    Klasse, Ash1412, JoshMorr and 11 others like this.
  5. Marvey

    Marvey Loves sex and records

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2015
    Likes Received:
    25,671
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Calabasas, CA
    Eddie Current Studio or Studio Junior (which might be based on the ZD in BA chassis, but direct coupled (no interstage cap or interstage transformer) between 6SL7 and 6C33C and with the Studio Cinemag's output transformers with tertiary windings - which was a McIntosh idea originally, but their patent expired.)

    Or something like a Vali 2, Lyr 2, Mjolnir 2 for Utopia or Rag, Asgard, Vali 2 for Elear. You get the idea.
     
    econaut, jsgraha, Dr. Higgs and 2 others like this.
  6. mrweirdude

    mrweirdude Asshole lowballer - acquaintance

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2016
    Likes Received:
    147
    Trophy Points:
    43
    How's bass extension on the elear? Is the IF FR accurate?
     
  7. OJneg

    OJneg The Most Insufferable

    Friend Banned
    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2015
    Likes Received:
    3,079
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Chicago
    Huge tonal difference as Marv touched on. Also noticable difference in technical ability. Utopia is obviously better-er if you're focused on technicalities. Just faster with that treble rendering.

     
    mrweirdude likes this.
  8. Marvey

    Marvey Loves sex and records

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2015
    Likes Received:
    25,671
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Calabasas, CA
    ^ THIS ^
     
    OJneg likes this.
  9. Huxleigh

    Huxleigh Wow, I made it this far without being a friend?

    Banned
    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2016
    Likes Received:
    934
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Somewhere dry
    And I just bought the Elear!
    Goddamn, I'm a whore. :drunk:

    I like what you did there, Mr. Marvey. ;)
     
  10. Marvey

    Marvey Loves sex and records

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2015
    Likes Received:
    25,671
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Calabasas, CA
    Hahaha. Someone noticed. Well the Franks conquered the Gauls right? My knowledge of Asterix, Charles the Hammer, etc. is a bit hazy.
     
  11. Merrick

    Merrick Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2016
    Likes Received:
    3,688
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Portland, OR
    I look forward to snagging a used Elear in a few years! ;)
     
  12. Rex Aeterna

    Rex Aeterna Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2015
    Likes Received:
    250
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Location:
    Cinnaminson, nj
    really nice impressions. interesting too. me personally will most likely shoot for an hd800 in the future after projects are done as my top end game headphone for now as on my top list. was looking at the abyss but, price and something telling me just to stick with the first choice for as of now. surprised like the little mcintosh. i always see it all the time with these audezes and something else but, never bothered with it too much. looks like it's same like the power amps where it uses autoformers. when i saw it though, i thought it was a tiny power amp cause it's huge considering it as a basic headphone amp. maybe one day i give it a try.

    EDIT: found out the mc is in fact an integrated amp. no wonder it's size haha. just odd cause it's marketed as just a ''headphone'' amp. never bother to take notice too i guess.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2016
  13. Huxleigh

    Huxleigh Wow, I made it this far without being a friend?

    Banned
    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2016
    Likes Received:
    934
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Somewhere dry
    Close! I'd more say that it was the Romans who conquered the Gauls, and then the Franks who overthrew the Romans. But I appreciate the nod to history. :headbang:
     
  14. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    4,317
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    Very nice. Thanks, you two. Gotta get my hands on at least the Elear, if not both.
     
  15. Marvey

    Marvey Loves sex and records

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2015
    Likes Received:
    25,671
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Calabasas, CA
    Despite their imperfections, I am actually kinda geeked! Headphones like this is something the entire community has been waiting for from Sennheiser, but Sennheiser never did it. They just sat on the HD800, and then did a small tweak to it. I hope Focal does really well with these headphones and others like Sennheiser take notice.
    1. Not face tweeter!
    2. High-end technicalities (speed, resolution, etc.)
    3. Traditional DYNAMIC!
    4. Fantastic build quality and luxury only the French can do. It just feels luxurious in my hands or on my head.
     
  16. TMRaven

    TMRaven Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    371
    Trophy Points:
    63
    How bout those earpad openings? Are they big enough that dumbo can fit inside without complaints? If there's plenty of ear-space, and the staging is decent enough, I just might pick up a pair of Elear instead of HD800S eventually.

    That said, I'll most certainly get my name on that loaner program.
     
  17. Marvey

    Marvey Loves sex and records

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2015
    Likes Received:
    25,671
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Calabasas, CA
    I have big enough ears that the Focal Spirit Pros caused me discomfort and pain. There is plenty of room inside. The pads are pretty thick. Seems to be more room than HD800s. The drivers are angled similarly too. Here's a close up shot. The cups are big!
    20160707_132031.jpg
     
  18. Huxleigh

    Huxleigh Wow, I made it this far without being a friend?

    Banned
    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2016
    Likes Received:
    934
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Somewhere dry
    If Focal's offerings are a hit in the market, the Deutsch will have to step up their game. This hobby could use more competition of that sort that the Elear/Utopia seem poised to engender.

    ... Still can't believe I just spent a grand on a headphone. :confused:

    Shot in the dark, but would either Marvey or OJneg care to speculate as to whether the Elear would be a synergistic pairing with the original DNA Sonett? I wouldn't think there'd be any issues, but I'm curious.

    Alternatively, to reframe my question more generally, do the Elear/Utopia seem like they might be inordinately picky with regard to amplifier output impedance?
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2016
  19. bazelio

    bazelio Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2015
    Likes Received:
    2,295
    Trophy Points:
    113
    In terms of bang for the buck:

    Elear vs HD650 ?

    Utopia vs Elear ?
     
  20. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Friend

    Friend Banned
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    1,596
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Does the upper mid and treble weirdness do funky shit with guitars and violins like the stock HD 800, AKG K7XX, and DT 770 where the harmonics are fucked up and sometimes manifest as holes in staging or guitar fundamentals being separated from their distortion?
     
    Kunlun, Audio Zenith and Smitty like this.

Share This Page