Focal Utopia Review (collective stream of consciousness)

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

  1. murray

    murray Friend

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    Tyll has the dimensions of the Utopia pads in his review: "... earpads have a generous 60mm x 50mm openings and are about 23mm thick with some additional depth in the rear due to the angled driver".
     
  2. chakku

    chakku Friend

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    Luckbad's measurements for the 650 came in at roughly 70mm x 40mm. I just don't know if my big ears will agree with anything smaller than the HD800 cups now, my DT880 may as well be on-ears at this point. :confused:
     
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  3. MuppetFace

    MuppetFace Sultana of Seafoam Green - Moderator

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    Some quick impressions regarding the Utopia. Keep in mind that while I've owned just about every headphone in existence, I've pretty much sold them all over the years with four exceptions.

    1.) The Stax SR-007 mk1. My favorite e-stat of all time. Yes, more so than the SR-009, the Orpheus 1, and the Jade (RIP). Something about the 007 and BHSE combo just feels "right" to me sonically. The epitome of a listen-for-hours-with-minimal-fatigue headphone. Also it's still the best headphone ergonomically for me, a headphone that wasn't just designed for a big male noggin. Additionally, thanks to surgery to replace part of my jaw, a lot of headphones are really uncomfortable and cause tension headaches; the 007 is one of the few I can still wear comfortably.

    2.) The Abyss AB-1266. My favorite ortho of all time. Its sense of presence and bass performance are second to none. I personally think it's the epitome of a "fun" or "exciting" sound signature without compromising technical performance. It's like a ridiculous niche sports car that can start and stop and turn on a dime, will get your heart racing, but has no air conditioner or radio or floor mats or seat padding or trunk. It looks like it came from Frankenstein's lab and feels like it too. I can't wear these for more than 30 minutes now unfortunately, but I refuse to part with them.

    3.) The Code X. This headphone managed to combine the listenability of the 007 with the more fun qualities of an ortho sound, tho inevitably minus the technicality and punch of the Abyss. It's like a studio monitor if it went out and had a few drinks. The overall balance is very agreeable to me, and I actually found it pressing a lot of the same buttons for me as the HEK, though while the HEK had more air and detail from memory, the Code X has more heart and soul. Sorry, am I being too Mercer-y there? I probably would have kept the HEK too if it weren't for the ridiculous fit, finish, and build quality given the price.

    4.) The Jecklin Float QA. Um... no comment.

    So, on to the Utopia. First off this is one of the few mega bucks headphones that actually looks and feels like a mega bucks headphone. The only others that compare would be the old Sony R10 and Qualia, the SR-009 (that headband assembly tho...), and maybe the Fostex TH900, but only due to the cups. The Utopia just puts stuff like the HEK to shame. Every part of it just feels like quality. It's also comfortable, though I haven't spent enough time with it yet to say if it's free of wear fatigue.

    Sonically the Utopia is balanced, balanced, balanced. Others are right when they say nothing stands out as problematic. This is one of those headphones that, for me, doesn't come right out and try to "wow" you, which I find is a good thing; its qualities really become appreciable when you switch to another headphone and realize just how spot on the Utopia is by comparison. To me the balance is similar to the Code X and HEK, but the Utopia just performs better. Which is nice considering its price point. I'm still keeping the Code X tho, because it's still fun to listen with in its own way.

    And on that note, I still think the Abyss is unmatched in the bass region for a headphone. The Abyss has a much more "powerful" sound, whereas the Utopia is more intimate and tends to disappear over time. They both do their own thing and do it well. Gonna need to spend more time listening to the 007 + BHSE combo to say anything definitive there, however.

    The Utopia conveys musical subtleties very well. It's detailed. It images with pin point accuracy. Shit, son, what's there to say that hasn't been said before, really? It doesn't have a cinematic presentation. It doesn't rattle your skull. It's the headphone equivalent of an open window.
     
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  4. sorrodje

    sorrodje Carla Bruni's other lover - Friend

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    Borderline but let's say it's OKish.:p
     
  5. MisterRogers

    MisterRogers Ethernet Nervosa

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    Mutec 3+USB/Custom Linear PS->Pavane -> Studio->AVVT Mesh->Utopia doesn't suck ;)
     
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  6. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    nice! @Hands and I will plan on sleeping together in your listening room this weekend!

    edit: (hm, that didn't come across exactly as I intended.)
     
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  7. Gravity

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    Are you sure? ;)
     
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  8. MisterRogers

    MisterRogers Ethernet Nervosa

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    Another early / quick impression: 'disorienting' is a good way to describe moving from HE1K as my primary to Utopia. Very different presentation.
     
  9. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    At first I was :headbang:

    But then I saw your edit and was :(

    The next CO SBAF meet can't come soon enough!
     
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  10. RKML0007

    RKML0007 Friend

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    My first successful DIY audio project!

    Balanced Utopia sounds sweet through Yggdrasil > Jotunheim!

    Thanks @Marvey for the inspiration, @Out Of Your Head for sharing the pin config over at HF, and @bazelio for the vote of confidence and late night help finding the correct neutrik parts!
     
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  11. Azteca

    Azteca Friend

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    Tyll's review talked about the same thing. Seems there can be a lot of adjusting. Tell was asking "is it too dynamic?" But after some brain burn-in it many appreciate it (at least so far).
     
  12. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    I bet moving from bright and rough headphones like the HE1K and HD800 to the Utopia, which seems pretty balanced/less bright based on impressions, could be disorienting. ;) I kid, I'm sure there's a lot more at play here. I'm hoping I can get a feel for what he means and articulate that once I get a chance to hear them and/or the Elear.
     
  13. bazelio

    bazelio Friend

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    I get busy for half a day and by the time I get back to the thread @RKML0007 has run out to buy a soldering iron and does this as his first project, @Hands and @jexby have made plans to sleep together, and @velvetx comes through with a second round of the Utopia special program... Just phenomenal stuff all around!!!
     
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  14. MisterRogers

    MisterRogers Ethernet Nervosa

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    phenomenal... and a little scary :)
     
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  15. velvetx

    velvetx Gear Master West/Vendor Spotlight Moderator

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    I have been at home with the Utopia for a few days and I must say I am impressed. Easily one of the best headphones I have listened to period. Tyll's impressions being right on the mark except for a few things which I will get to later in my review.

    The Utopia is one of the best headphones I have had the pleasure of hearing. Like many have said it doesn't seem to do anything bad. The only thing I could fault it for is the lack of an HD800 like soundstage but that doesn't even matter with the Utopia since the instrument separation is excellent. This headphone is very balanced and neutral. There is no imbalance and the bass notes are for me not light but also not as abundant as other headphones like the he-6. However, I think the bass is more evolved. Tight and punchy. There is nothing loose about this headphone. It's dialed like a @shaizada turntable. No mistakes made and everything is precise. The mid range is excellent and the highs don't have any bite. There is no fatigue with this headphone.

    The Utopia is how any headphone should be and definitely sets the bar. You should think gear last and music first. That is exactly what the Utopia does. At first I wasn't impressed with it. Then after an hour it took hold of me and I just experienced a journey into the depths of my rock collection in a way that shocked me. You just hear so much detail and everything is just so right. The best part is also there is no genre of music I threw at it that was too much for this little [email protected] It works well with everything. From Stone Temple Pilots to Paul Simon to Black Label Society, to DJ Tiesto. It does it all well in a way that many other headphones struggle with.

    Now many of you may be thinking oh after hearing this that means the BHSE + 007 MK1 is out of a job. That is not true in the slightest. Though this headphone is probably what most would use (especially if your favorite headphone is the Stax 009). However, I still felt like the tonality with the 007 MK1 was more natural. No it didn't pick up all low level details that the utopia did but overall I felt that the slightly warmer sound suited my tastes a lot more than the Utopia. Listening to both on vinyl I felt the 007 mk1 was still a winner for my enjoyment. Utopia may have more technical chops but I feel that music sounds more natural with the Mk1. The Utopia is more neutral and balanced but I feel like the 009 and Utopia share the same hyper realism where I find that the music sounds so good it's almost like it's fake. I would say the enjoyment level of the MK1 and Utopia if I had to choose 1 would probably be the Utopia but only because something better I listened to last week exists. Knowing that this headphone exists is the only reason why the MK1 would meet it's demise.

    @n3rdling HE90 clones were a blessing for me and I was able to get a week to listen to them. The clones in my opinion takes my 007 and greatly expands everything I thought was possible with Stax even further. The tonality is met with low level details and an even a greater sense of tonality. Things sound much more natural than the 007 with a wider sound stage which could benefit the Utopia (no it's not hd800 level but it's larger than the utopia). To me this was the evolution of something between the the 009 and the 007 and makes it my favorite to date headphone I have heard. The Utopia may be the perfectly polite monster but the Clones is the big beautiful dragon you always wish you had when you were a kid. Flying free in the sky without a care in the world.

    Anyway I know some may disagree and I know everyone who got a utopia is very excited (I am too). This headphone if it was in @Tyll Hertsens Big Sound 2015 I think would have taken the top spot above anything else. After reading the reports from Big Sound I think that is where it would stand unless the Clones were also present.
     
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  16. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Do @jexby and I fall under the phenomenal part or scary part?
     
  17. Huxleigh

    Huxleigh Almost "Made"

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    Wonderfully stated, seriously. :headbang:
     
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  18. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

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    Initial chain, for reference:

    Roon -> Aries -> AES/EBU XLR -> Yggdrasil -> WA5-LE Mk2 (Takatsuki 300B & 274B, Sylvania 6SN7GT)​

    Primary headphones (to baseline my current auditory conditioning):

    Abyss, LCD-4, HD800S​

    First thoughts:

    Clean, predominantly neutral, dynamic, detailed, honest, un-exaggerated, transparent, pure, engaging.

    Not "exciting" or "fast" in the way that the Abyss can be, and not slow like the "LCD-4" (or HE-1000) can sound. Essentially, they just disappear and let the music flow. Which is, I guess, what you want from an ideal transducer (nothing added, nothing taken away, no awareness that it is even there).

    Best reproduction of the piano I've ever heard in any headphone. With this instrument the bottom octave lacks a little substance coming off the Abyss and LCD-4 (and from playing the actual piano itself). Abyss conveys the spatial elements of the notes being played (i.e. where, left to right, the note is struck) more vividly (projects wider), but precision favors the Utopia. Attack/transients with aggressively/discordantly played notes seem to just favor the HD800S, but there's not much in it and the overall tonality of the Utopias keeps it ahead everywhere else.

    I've one or two recordings where I know there is sibilance present but that doesn't get rendered via the LCD-4 or Abyss. It's evident with the Utopia and the HD800S. Note that the Utopia and HD800S are not ADDING to it, just revealing it - where the Abyss and LCD-4 are covering it up.

    When first listening the mid-range seemed a tiny bit forward, but that's coming off months with predominantly using the Abyss and LCD-4, both of which are slightly recessed there, and this very quickly transitioned to seeming correct.

    Lots of detail, with no sense of artificiality. None of the treble "haze" that I find in some places with the Abyss. Bass gives up some substance/depth to the Abyss, but makes the LCD-4 sound exaggerated in the lower-registers. Mid-range is liquid, without sitting back in the mix, and is easily as, or more, fluid than the Audeze's can manage.

    Easily bests both my flagship planar cans with classical/large orchestral works - everything is where it should be, albeit not with such a broad projection, and instrumental/timbral separation is superb. Not much of a fan of planar for classical at the best of times, but these are ahead of my so-far-favorite dynamics as well.

    Build:

    Absolutely gorgeous. If the LCD-4 build is synonymous to how BMW or Mercedes build cars, then the Utopia is built like an Aston or Bentley.

    Comfort is superb - much like the HD800S they just seem to disappear on my head after a few minutes. I'm one of those weird types that doesn't find the Abyss uncomfortable or awkward. I'd rank the comfort as my fiancés-thighs > Utopia > HD800S > Abyss > getting-my-dry-suit-collar-stuck-around-my-ears > LCD-4. (In fairness, I can wear the LCD-4 for hours without any real issues, I'm just quite aware that I'm doing so).

    For fun:

    While bass articulation and resolution on the Utopia compete well with the Abyss (I suspect the Utopia has more actual resolution), extension and slam aren't quite at the same level. Flipping the impedance switch to "Hi" on the WA5-LE rounds out the bottom end quite a bit - not that the Utopia needs it - but it does make for slightly more weight and "excitement" and results in an apparent increase in depth without loss of articulation.

    ---

    Lots more listening to do ... including what'll probably amount to an all-up comparison between the Utopia, LCD-4, Abyss and HD800S, and possibly across a series of amps (Vali 2, Lyr 2, Ragnarok, WA5-LE Mk2).

    Quick and Dirty Pictures:

    All-Up.jpg

    Utopia.jpg

    Random Tracks that Caught me Off Guard:

    Since this is stream-of-consciousness ... and I don't want to be spammy with lots of posts ... a few tracks that, as I'm listening, have stood out in some way; mostly in terms of tonality, timbre and resolution.
    • Just a Little Lovin' (Shelby Lynne, Just a Little Lovin')
    • Beautiful Love (Shirley Horn, You Won't Forget Me)
    • Show Me the Place (Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas)
    • White Foxes (Susan Sundfør, White Foxes)
    Percussion in "Just a Little Lovin'" is precise enough you can easily hear the different impact points - not just in terms of the change in timbre but spatially as well. That doesn't happen often for me.

    On "Show Me the Place", resolution of Leonard's voice is remarkable. At this point I wasn't listening critically ... just letting some music play while I finish up some work. And even so, the detail ... down to very subtle changes in the resonance and, for want of a better word at the moment, vibrato and overhang in his delivery ... is not something I've ever heard in this recording before even when I was listening critically*. Need to revisit this and see if, now that I've heard it, I can hear it on my other cans.

    *Now that I've heard this, I can readily discern it with my other headphones as well, though I'd swear it had never registered before. It's much easier to hear with the HD800S and HD650 vs. the Abyss or LCD-4. Abyss is more obvious than the LCD-4.

    In "White Foxes", bass in the intro demonstrates, quite nicely, the top-to-bottom integration of the Utopia. Powerful, controlled and not overblown ... but unmistakable all the same. This is overpowering on the LCD-4, and distracting on the Abyss. Here it's just startling, coming, as it did, out of casual listening ... but once noticed not intruding on the overall mix and just demonstrating that the Utopia isn't really lacking in the lower registers in, and of, itself.

    ...

    More switching between the HD800S and Utopia is narrowing that gap. HD800S is still taking it on transients and soundstage, and I still prefer piano on the Utopia, but it's closer than I would have called it a few hours ago.
     
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    Last edited: Sep 2, 2016
  19. MisterRogers

    MisterRogers Ethernet Nervosa

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    K2 recording of Desperado, Hell freezes over - I've never heard a better reproduction of the timbre / tone / resonance of a piano.. Ha! Just refreshed and saw your piano comment. Spot on.
     
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  20. gbeast

    gbeast Mighty Moral Power Ranger

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    Good to read this thread and feel some validation.

    The Utopia is the main reason I sold the Elear, will sell my Code-X that I bought with the funds from the Elear, and will have a tough time settling for another headphone. I am curious for the new Sony flagship and may buy one but that's only because I anticipate living in a purgatory until I can afford a Utopia.
     

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