The Mighty Utopia: Focal Utopia Revisited

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

  1. poohlikehoney

    poohlikehoney Facebook Friend

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    I'm expecting a starlett within the next month or 2. If you are interested to hear it we could work something out.
     
  2. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF's Mr. Bean

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    ECP DSHA-3F. I wouldn't pair with a DNA if you want incisiveness; DNA stuff is amazing and I f***ing love my Starlett to bits, but a word I'd never associate with it is incisive. DNA sound is more along the lines of being calmly composed, gentle, and slightly tubey (but not warmpoo or relaxed like some of the old ampsandsound and Cavalli stuff).

    If you absolutely need get a hard-on for tubes, perhaps something like ZMF Pendant would be fine. I've heard some good things about it, and since the Pendant is an ultralinear amp, it should have sonic character more along the lines of being clean and straight (a lot like DSHA-3F). I have not heard this amp personally though, but hope to get a chance to hear one in the near future.
     
  3. Darkstar1

    Darkstar1 Facebook Friend

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    Incisiveness is a great term for describing the Utopia sound. I personnel really like the headphones ability to be incisive yet completely musical and effortless in sound. It so smooth between frequency changes but somehow avoids becoming so liquid to sound artificial even if that can be pleasant.
     
  4. smileraidcall

    smileraidcall New

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    Many thanks to purr1n for providing really good advice for the amp selection for the Utopia. After trying out a lot of DACs, AMPs, and cables, it only strengthens my decision of using the Luxman P750u amp for the Utopia. It is really a solid choice as it is a great solid-state amp and somehow adds more emotion to the vocals and smooth out the entire spectrum. Really solid choice.
     
  5. ColtMrFire

    ColtMrFire Writes better fan fics than you

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    There's something very weird about this headphone. It's extremely resolving, eeking out those last bits of musical information, and it was exciting to hear that level of resolution and micro detail.... but it presents it in such a way that seems like it is being "faked". This is hard to describe, but it just doesn't sound like "real music" to me in a traditional sense. I remember somebody at a meet years ago mentioning that it sounded "processed", and now I know exactly what he was talking about. This is not necessarily a negative, because there are lots of headphones that sound "colored", but Utopia is by the far the most guilty of this that I've heard... to the point where I was having a hard time staying in the groove, as it was quite distracting. It is more like having a lucid dream of the music, rather than the real experience. It was harder and harder for me to jive with this the more I listened over the course of a few days and I ended up switching back to my Elex and sent Utopia back to its owner a day early.

    Utopia also has this rounded quality that makes everything sound slightly soft. It hits hard when called for and its lack of compression is extremely impressive, but the rounded nature kind of takes away from this. Elex is more muscular and brawny with its macrodynamics.

    I wouldn't say I was let down, but I definitely wasn't expecting it.

    Bifrost 2 > EC 445
     
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  6. animus

    animus Almost "Made"

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    I would never under any circumstance call Utopia rounded, that just seems incredibly odd to me. If anything I would like for it to be more rounded, it's transients are simply too hard edged for my taste. As for processed, I can't say I've ever heard anything like that beyond the usual complaints about timbre and transients and yadda yadda that really need no repeating. Then again maybe it's not my place to comment given I pretty much never use my Utopia these days.
     
  7. Koth Ganesh

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    @ColtMrFire , I have to disagree as well. Sticking to the point that you brought up about rounded transients, I wonder if the rest of the chain has anything to do with it. I run the Utopia through the Auris Nirvana amp (and previously the Mogwai) and my DAC is the Convert-2. I find the attacks are consistently sharp but for the type of music I hear, I much prefer it that way. I own the Verite (Open) as well, and that HP does make the same music comparatively softer. I had the Elex as well but got rid of it a while ago because of the "lack of excitement". Amazing how we differ on the same HPs!:)
     
  8. Erroneous

    Erroneous Friend

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    I find Utopia quite distracting if I'm trying to do anything else while listening to music.
    This has to be a chain synergy mismatch.

    As far as resolution and microdetail being faked, I think the insane pinpoint imaging in particular can denounce that. I have yet to hear another headphone that images as well as Utopia. And I'm not a fanboy, I sold my Utopia. I just don't hear what you hear and I chalk it up to differences in the chain.

    I tend to agree with your reviews, but your chain has changed so much since you posted many of them.
    If you get your hands on the Utopia again, let me know. I'll bring some DACs over to your place and we'll see what sort of changes they make. I still have yet to hear your amp. I think we should make sure you come to our next local meetup and bring it .
     
  9. ColtMrFire

    ColtMrFire Writes better fan fics than you

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    The resolution and detail aren't being faked. I didnt say that. They are actually stunning and true as any other headphone.

    To elaborate, the overall presentation FEELS artificial to me, but it's hard to quantify this. I simply hear it.

    It's possible the presentation feels rounded as a result of the Bifrost 2, as that is a rounded DAC.

    But that's why it's important to post your chain during reviews, as we are only ever reviewing headphones in conjunction with other gear. There's no such thing as an unbiased review in this regard.

    Let me see if I can dig up the old "processed" quote.
     
  10. ColtMrFire

    ColtMrFire Writes better fan fics than you

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  11. JeremiahS

    JeremiahS Almost "Made"

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    I currently have a Utopia loaner and seems DAC choice is a bit critical for this headphone. I tried it with Chord Qutest (I actually quite like this DAC, it sounds very neutral and resolving) but the combination is fatiguing and too much detailed. With the Schiit Modius the treble is a bit rough and has a flat, 2D soundstage.

    I think this headphone is just a bit picky when it comes to your audio chain. My old HD800S and Susvara were also like this.
     
  12. Walderstorn

    Walderstorn Friend

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    I also didn't appreciate the Utopia's to the point that i just didn't dedicate too much time with it. So much strenghts (imaging for example) but, at least, with my system, it just didn't sound good enough to consider a great experience (as i would expect from something that costs this much).

    Heck i have more enjoyable moments with my Verum's than i had with the Utopias...maybe it's something with Focal and me since i really disliked the Clears (although i can't say i disliked the Utopias at all).
     
  13. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    The Utopia is the most chameleon-like headphone I've heard. It can completely transform with the chain. The term “synergy” doesn’t really do the effect justice. DACs can make a huge difference. Yggdrasil A2 can make it overly abrasive, Spring 2 takes the edge off with an organic presentation. I agree with @animus that the Feliks Euphoria made it the gooiest I've heard. MHA150 with the internal Sabre DAC made Utopia feel like a steel razor.

    If only we were all closer and could listen on each others systems! I’d like to hear what you’re hearing, @ColtMrFire . While your impressions don't match mine, I can't write them off due to the shape shifting nature of the Utopia.
     
  14. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    What @dubharmonic says, but I do think there is something to the timbre quality that @ColtMrFire is pointing to. I like the "processed" description of what little "color" the Utopia has rather than the usual "metallic" descriptor most folks use. That said the Utopia's coloration is so little compared to most other headphones, and it is so revealing of upstream gear, in my opinion most folk never really get to the point of distinguishing it from the rest of their chain - instead hearing their chain "as if for the first time" as the audiophile cliché goes. Heck, I even agree with @ColtMrFire that the Utopia is "rounded" compared to the Elex and just about every other HP, as it has so little of the "grain" we are all so used to a HP/chain sounds unnatural and off without it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2021
  15. Failed Engineer

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    I'm not sure where all the Texas SBAFers are (I think noticed a concentration around Austin in other posts) but I'm happy to bring along my Utopia chain(s) to a meet from Houston. Dallas would be a tough one but Austin or San Antonio is definitely do-able on a weekend.

    The Utopia, more than other phones I've extensively auditioned or owned, are chameleon like particularly in regards to the DAC and a bit less so to amplification. While I've not made a change to my system in a year and have no itch I completely understand why others move on from the Utopia. With so many other good choices in the flagship bracket either you really love the inherent character of the headphones and keep and optimize for it or move along to something that aligns better with your listening preferences.

    I use a Wavelight-3F in my leisure room and Walnut-3F in my office. I'd love for others to try it out. My wife says it's overwhelming at times and I get it. She likes listening to it only after the kids are asleep and she's not working and just relaxing. And even then she's more partial to the Grado HP2 on both chains.

    Ultimately, it's too finicky a headphone to keep around if there's something nagging you about it as there's a very thin line between annoying and brilliant when it comes to its sound.
     
  16. AdvanTech

    AdvanTech Friend

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    +1 for Wavelight-DSHA3F-Utopia setup. If you work on getting the whole chain aligned with your preferences, the Utopia can be immensely rewarding.
     
  17. Rob the Comic

    Rob the Comic banned from ASR

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    I know some here have become disenchanted with it, but IMHO in years to come the Utopia will be looked back on as a ground breaking classic of the time, like the HD600’s.
     
  18. JeremiahS

    JeremiahS Almost "Made"

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    I am reading a bit about the DSHA 3F and is it correct to say that this amp is optimised for Focal only?

    If you guys don't mind I want to share my story a bit. Some time ago I had to sell a lot of my audio gears and Susvara because of personal reasons. I am a bit sad because Susvara was very close to my ideal sound signature but some things are more important than audio.

    So now I am trying to get a similar experience to the Susvara at a lower price point. Utopia has been doing a pretty good job in that scope but amps that seem to do well with my previous headphones don't seem to match well with Utopia so now I'm back to testing things again.
     
  19. Erroneous

    Erroneous Friend

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    The F in the DSHA-3F stands for "Focal", so this would be a good pairing with the Utopia. Depending on DAC, of course. Can't go wrong with the ECP Walnut, designed and made by the same people.
     
  20. OJneg

    OJneg The Most Insufferable

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    I started typing up a comment regarding the issue of "fakeness" but I backed all that out upon reflection that I don't have anything insightful to add on the topic. I feel no need to defend the Utopia. Over the past few months I have been too busy rediscovering my music collection to listen in the critical audiophile style that I use when judging components. Outside of my speakers (which are mostly used for background music while doing chores), I have been living with the Utopia alone. I recovered over 300GBs of music on an old HDD that I haven't listened to since I moved out of CA 5 years ago. So I am hearing a bunch of music that I am distantly familiar with, but was nonetheless formative for me as an audiophile. Obviously these recordings are going to sound different than I remember as a noobie on a mediocre system. Do they sound markedly better? Maybe, but the bad stuff still sounds bad and the good stuff is good. As cliche as it sounds, the Utopia is letting me listen to the recording.

    I will add, and this might not be what @ColtMrFire is getting at, but the Utopia delivers a headphone experience. It doesn't aim to sound like loudspeakers, binaurial trickery, or "the real thing". It's an unabashed headphone experience. IMO, it's the best headphone experience that can be had. There might be a sense where a lot of guys are looking for more than that, and that's understandable. But for me the Utopia just has to be an awesome sounding headphone. A reference class workhorse that I can pick up and tackle any recording. And it's still delivering for me.
     

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