Focal Utopia Review (collective stream of consciousness)

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

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Focal Utopia Review (err, well some subjective impressions)

    Measurements: http://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/focal-utopia-measurements.2670/

    I'm sitting here with some super expensive headphones, and I'm like wow! (I'll be teasing you guys for a bit.) But wow in terms that what we have done as a community. Call me an old fart, but I'm not really a big fan of what the Internet has become. I cringe at all the weird Twitter Facebook nonsense; I am saddened at what Amazon has done to brick and mortar stores; I am pissed at how PayPal effectively operates as a bank but is not subject to many banking regulations (so at least we can get some customer service.) I remember when a coworker showed me Mozilla and the World Wide Web in the early nineties. There was none of this shit. I imagined the Internet as a force more for good, to disseminate information, to teach, to learn, and less for commerce. You know, stuff like the Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5.

    And the Utopia sitting here in my lap (which will go on loaner tour after two weeks) reassures me that there is still good on the Internet. All of you guys made this happen! This very concept of a group of people with shared interests, putting their minds, money, and energy for the purpose of sharing information and helping each other in their journey to find good sound has become a reality. SuperBestAudioFriends.org has exceeded my expectations. This is real. We are real. Thank you!

    DSC_2829 (Medium).JPG

    Tonal Signature

    Similarities to UERM, @LFF's Code-X, @ohhgourami's HE-6, STAX Omega 1. This is more for people who have been around for a while and have heard these headphones. I can't think of anything else today that sounds quite like it in terms of tonal signature. There is a very evident middle-midrange bump however; and I am not sure if @Serious would like this, but the overall balance is definitely not as "off" as the Elear. Personally I don't mind it. The bump seems narrow affecting certain recordings more than others.


    The higher treble region seems smoother and more refined than the Elear. Still not as smooth as HD650 or Andromeda. Upper mids and lower treble can be emphasized depending upon recording, but nothing near how difficult a stock HD800 can be. Thankfully, there does not appear to be any suckout in the upper mids as on the Elear. Bass appears neutral with none of that "warmfag" that @Psalmanazar seems to immensely dislike. I could probably use another 1 or 2 db more below 50Hz, but this is a nitpick.

    DSC_2827 (Medium).JPG

    Technicalities

    Seems a little bit less explosive than Elear. I think it's less efficient, but being a traditional dynamic driver, you won't be hearing any of that planar compression. I'd say on the level of the HD800 in macrodynamics, possibly better. Impacts are very tight, solid, and sudden.

    The Utopia's greatest trait is that it does not immediately bring attention to itself. It doesn't scream "hear how clear I am" while being extremely clear sounding. It doesn't shout "look how resolving I am" while bringing us all the layers of musical information that is often missed while louder sounds are being played back. It doesn't squeal "look how fast my transients are" while pulling off that tight articulated Moffat bass or separating the high hat hits or fast strings plucks. The transients of the Utopia remind me most of the HE-6 transients. Fast, tight, and solid - but without that etchy crap. Impressive indeed! These are manly transients. Not that effeminate ethereal girly-man STAX crap. Traditional dynamic grain is actually on the low side, less than the HD6X0.

    Headstage doesn't seem to be as oddly wide, left / right as with Elear. The stage is more narrow with much better depth. I'd say the stage is similar to HD6X0. Personally, I have no problems with this because I've come to dislike diffuse headstages or headstages that are too wide in relation to their depth. I know some people will not like the intimate staging. However, the sense of openness is very good. At no point did I feel closed in. Layering and separation are not as good as HD800 or even Andromeda.

    DSC_2833 (Medium).JPG

    Don't laugh at the recording. It's a fanciful production of the early 80s, but it was engineered well and is way less processed (meaning more plankton) than the Michael Jackson recordings that came after it. The imperfect nature of the recording and the layers of synth and other effects allow for a good assessment of the Utopia. This is the vinyl mastering and John Taylor proves an awesome bassist.

    P.S. The Utopia sounds good from the Schiit Vali 2 / Modi AKM4490 stack too. It's a synergistic combination. Vali 2 is slightly laid back. AKM4490 has slightly recessed middle-mids and is warm sounding.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2016
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  2. Serious

    Serious Inquisitive Frequency Response Plot

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    Given Tyll's measurements I expect the Utopia to be an even worse offender than Elear and SR009 to me, but the Utopia seems to depend a lot on the position on the head. The Elear measurememts actually didn't look all that forward at 2kHz at first. With the bass and middle mids, the Elear almost sounded like it had a suckout in the fundemantals (like TH900?). The Utopia doesn't have as much bass so right now I'm imagining something closer to SR009.

    I've thought about it and I think it might be worth a try to make a passive EQ for the Utopia, but this time around for the midrange. LOL.

    Does the Utopia have the material coloration of the Focal Beryllium tweeters? I could never get over that (along with other things like the crossover) with the expensive Focal speakers.
     
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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Not as lean as SR009. From Vali 2 / AKM4490 Modi, actually some warmth. The TT + 4x45 amp was neutral. But none of the limp-dick SR-009. I'd say it's like HD600 bass.
     
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  4. Griffon

    Griffon 2nd biggest asshole on SBAF

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    The Utopia impressed me with its soundstage presentation. Not necessarily super big like HD800, but Utopia immediately strike me with its enveloping soundstage, that its presentation goes well behind my head - probably others may call it out-of-your-head effect. The size of soundstage might be on par with Andromeda, and is definitely smaller than HD800 or TH900 IIRC.

    I also agree with Marv that Utopia ain't an attention whore. A padawan probably would disregard Utopia since it doesn't immediately show some TOTL traits. I think the best trait of Utopia is that it does everything to like 85% good - nothing falls short.
     
  5. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    For better or worse, yes. Has the same sound as those tweeters in Grand Mega Utopias and Mega Utopia juniors or whatever they are called. Personally, I don't have a problem with them. You might like them too after 132.3 hours burn in. I think CSDs might show something in lower treble. It's weird though, subjectively, the upper highs do seem silky and smooth. But I think I know what you are saying. There is a Be coloration, a shhhh shhhh shhhh, that I've heard in other Be drivers too. (This isn't a knock, every material has coloration).

    As for the 1-2kHz bump, I am sure that an absorbing layer inside the cups might help.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2016
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  6. GTABeancounter

    GTABeancounter Friend

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    Bullshit, they shouldn't require any more than 52.3 hours to sound their best... and in fact by 130 hours they lose something and it's all downhill from there. But those 77.7 hours are worth every one of those 400,000 pennies.

    On a serious note, you mentioned a touch more bass would be nice; have you or do you plan on swapping in the Elear pads? Curious if they do indeed sound "better" with them.
     
  7. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Just a touch more bass below 50Hz. I fear the Elear pads will completely fuck everything up by adding +4db from 20Hz to 200Hz+. I don't want any more mid or high bass. Then again, Elear pads might not screw everything up as Utopia are notably cleaner and don't have that wall-o-fuzz in the mid and lower bass that Elear have. Getting measurements done. Should give us a better idea.
     
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  8. brencho

    brencho Friend

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    man, similarities to Code-X seems like a huge fucking win to me.
     
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  9. Huxleigh

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

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    So much concentrated goddamn win, right here. :headbang:
     
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  10. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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  11. paranoidroid

    paranoidroid Friend

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    Interesting, the Utopia was almost distractingly clear & dynamic when I auditioned it, it was all I could focus on. I've certainly not had a reaction like that to any other headphone I heard. Really looking forward to some longer time with it.
     
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  12. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    My wife was kind of "meh". Her reaction to HEK and HD800 was much more animated.

    I like how the Utopia grows on you. It's like listening to classical compositions that take time to appreciate, instead of crap like Eine kleine Nachtmusik or Pacman's Canon.
     
  13. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

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    Nice pedestal for them @Marvey ! How fatiguing at high volume is it? You can't even crank most headphones for a full LP; I've never been able to do more than 20 minutes or so with Hifimen in meet conditions.
     
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  14. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I don't have a problem at realistic levels cranked up. I don't crank them up as much as OJ, but I probably listen at louder levels than most people. I generally slowly crank it up over twenty minutes. I don't definitely listen at 40db and most people know that at meets I will crank it up for evaluation purposes. The upper mid and lower treble issues are evident, but it's nothing unbearable for me. To give you an idea, I don't like HEK cranked up. The HEK's splashy treble gets too nasty. And stock HE-6 etch is not bearable for me at even moderate volumes.
     
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  15. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    This sounds like the exact headphone I want. Maybe if I save up for four years I can buy it and sell every other transducer I own.
     
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  16. Griffon

    Griffon 2nd biggest asshole on SBAF

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    On the other note, I heard Utopia via Onkyo DP-X1 to a modded Black Diamond to Utopia. I was expecting an ultra super duper clarity and blackground like HD800 and TH900. In reality I did not experience such thing. However, Utopia (or this set-up) managed to present every other instruments' tonality with probably the highest precision of reproduction I've heard by far.

    Out of this chain overall the notes weight was just slightly denser than HD800, and I think it's DP-X1 as source is too lightly flavoured. I'm guessing out of a more proper source, the notes weight should come closer to that of HE1000.
     
  17. Wolfgang

    Wolfgang Rando

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    Mod to the rescue!
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    Last edited: Aug 26, 2016
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  18. Gravity

    Gravity Friend

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    So, we if we look past the hefty pricetag, is this SBAF approved?
     
  19. GTABeancounter

    GTABeancounter Friend

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    Taking this question one step further.... as another poster noted above, he could save over the next couple years and sell all his other headphones and buy the Utopia, whereas I'm sure others would just add the Utopia to their stable. My gut tells me the Utopia is SBAF approved if you are among the latter, in other words if YOU can look past the hefty price tag then knock yourself out, nobody will criticize you for your good fortune :). This is all conjecture on my part and I'm really curious to see the answer to your question.

    Another way I'd phrase it though is to say that I've got $4000 to spend on headphones and that's all, should I just pick up an hd800 + Andromeda + hd650 + a $1000 closed HP instead. This isn't a $50,000 Orpheus so its not simply a "if you have to ask you can't afford it" scenario.
     
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  20. 3X0

    3X0 Friend

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    Relatively weak sub-bass and some level of midrange coloration was consistent with what I had heard albeit with the A&K/Cavalli setups in cacophonous meet settings (could be why I heard them as even more bass-deficient).

    Drawing the comparison with ohhgourami HE-6 and SR-Omega is interesting because I hear either of those as having reasonably significant bass response and relatively even midrange. Some gentleman (whom I am unfamiliar with) on HC hypothesized that Focal may have been going for the HE90 sound, which would be consistent with paltry sub-bass and some midrange emphasis. Would have been curious to compare them against Milos's Orpheus clones when we had the chance.
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2016
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