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The Focal Utopia is a tremendously musical headphone and one of the very best open-back dynamic headphones ever produced. You would expect crazy praise for such an extremely costly high-end headphone, but its deep comprehension, beautiful balance and consummate detail shocked even the most experienced members of our headphone.com review team. Audiophiles wanting the most holographically precise sound with absolutely no excess, bloat or coloration need to hear the Utopia as soon as possible.
Like a headphone teleportation device from the future, the Focal Utopia beams you up and materializes you right into the inner reality of a performance. Maybe the best analogy we can make is the Focal Utopia headphone is the closest thing to participating in a studio recording session or sitting in the most acoustically perfect seat at the show. Talk about an enveloping room sound, the Focal Utopia listening experience is a riveting Virtual Reality session for headphones.
At the beating heart of the Utopia’s sound quality are 40mm pure beryllium drivers featuring Focal’s patent-pending ‘M-shaped’ dome design that allows for astonishingly fast straight-line driver excursion rates. The strict linear movement of the driver dome and surrounding materials reduces distortion specs to negligible rates while increasing the power and extension of the Utopia’s low-end response. The open earcups eliminate undue loading or backpressure within the driver enclosure which can result in a blurry or smeared sound at critical frequencies. The combination of these scientific advances contribute to the expressive, lovely sound of the Utopia which has the most wonderfully simple, spacious clarity of any high-end reference headphone.
The Focal Utopia is indeed stunningly clear and tonally precise, but don’t think its a clinical or analytic-sounding headphone. Just the opposite, the Utopia couples its penetrating resolution and quick transient speed to a full-bodied warmth and lush timbre that actually sounds like real live music with all its subtle delicacy and emotion intact. And it’s all presented within the most stable, atmospheric soundstage image we’ve heard in any headphone.
The Utopia’s huge deep-field imaging is not overly spread out or too thinly populated. Instead, it has an infinitely layered, richly detailed perspective that allows the subtlest musical or production nuances to shine through with a fully realistic ambience and an almost tactile sense of dimension. The Utopia is an immensely exciting headphone, but not because the presentation is over-amped, exaggerated or hyped up in any way. The chills and thrills come simply because of the previously obscured details you now get to hear with the Focal Utopia every time you listen to your favorite music. What can we say, it’s just a truly joyful headphone.
Clearly, the Focal Utopia’s bone-rattling 5 Hz up to a ‘dogs-only’ 50,000 kHz frequency range specs and speed-of-light dynamic range quickness are amazing technological achievements. But instead of a clinical hard-toned audio reproduction like with some other reference headphones boasting uber-fast transient response times, the Utopia always sounds silky and warm with a serene presentation that stays uncluttered even with busy or dense recordings. The Utopia excels at decoding and simplifying complex sonic salads down to a comprehensible musical whole while not sounding like its performing some kind of open-heart headphone surgery on the recording. In short, it’s a perfectly smooth, perfectly balanced sound that precisely reveals the interior of the music without ever getting aggro or edgy.
Among the Focal’s many sonic strengths is the assured extension of the upper highs where the Utopia never appears disorganized or scattered. Cymbals in particular have a truly natural shimmer and decay without the faintest trace of glassy harshness; we’re not sure we’ve heard difficult upper treble frequencies sound so realistic and well-defined before. Vocals also sound as human and real as we’ve ever experienced on big speakers and the Utopia really allows you to hear the breathiness and grain of the voice in its original recorded state. Studio production effects are laid plain and the Utopia’s mastery of quiet/loud dynamics and light/dark shadings is impressive and highly nuanced.
Despite its uncompromising accuracy, the Utopia can be listened to for hours on end with no discernible fatigue setting in, a testament to the emotional access this headphone grants listeners looking to connect with pure musical bliss. We’ve heard no other headphone that lives and breathes with the music any better than the Focal Utopia. It’s one of just a handful of cans in our memory that transfixed us with its ability to make old familiar music seem almost unrecognizably new again. The Utopia has a sound that’s somehow both analytically transparent and musically juicy and it begged our ears for frequent repeated listenings to anything we could throw at it. You’ll likely lose some major sleep enjoying the Focal Utopia late into the wee hours discovering hidden details in basically every bar of your favorite tunes.
The Focal Utopia arrives at its breathtaking level of acoustic performance by incorporating many aspects of Focal's large room speaker designs into headphones. The Focal Utopia uses the same rarified beryllium driver material as their giant multi kilo-buck room speakers. Focal engineers at the company's St Etienne, France headquarters employed similar design approaches building the headphones as they would the company’s near-field reference speakers. That means the Utopia comes loaded with fresh innovative ideas and unique materials science that all contribute to its unparalleled sound, fit and finish.
First off, the Utopia’s full-size headphone frame is a super-light carbon fiber developed and manufactured from scratch by Focal at their in-house labs. The aesthetically cool midnight black look is elegant but not overly showy save for the silver cosmetic grill work covering the dome driver. The adjustable headband is covered in a very plush lambskin and exerts a near-perfect clamping force on heads of various sizes including smaller noggins. Luxurious deep well lambskin earpads feel gentle on the earlobes and will generally cover the entire ear on most wearers. The deep pads also help to maintain the proper distance relationship from the speaker drivers which helps with the sense of air and musical space heard in the Utopia. The soft memory-foam lambskin leather earpads are easily user replaceable when needed.
The detachable Utopia headphone cable is also a proprietary balanced/shielded construction by Focal and extends for a long 13 ft terminating to a high-quality Neutrik ¼” stereo plug (a mini 3.5mm plug adapter is not included. We recommend the Cardas ¼” to ⅛” adapter). The cord securely connects into the headphones using 3-pin LEMO-type plugs. The thick headphone cord is a bit on the heavy side and probably beefy enough to double as a tow strap in emergencies. Focal has over-built the Utopia cable to eliminate any potential for internal fraying or braid damage and it will assuredly last the lifetime of headphones. The Focal cord can be effectively re-terminated for balanced drive amps. The Focal Utopia headphones arrive in hard-sided padded storage box with a magnet lid and interior red-lined sash. It’s secure and not too fancily overdone like some other high-end headphones where the packaging box seems to represent a significant fraction of the expense.
Given its stellar audio performance, the Focal Utopia is a fairly efficient headphone at 80 Ohms impedance with 104dB sensitivity specs, so any great headphone amp should do it full justice. We listened to it with an array of amps including our own new little wonder, the HeadRoom Standard Amp, and the Utopia sounded pure, strong and confident with any set-up we tried. Keep in mind the Utopia is a completely open-back earcup construction with the dome driver transducers placed close to the vented outer grill structure, so sound will leak out from the cans when listening at average to loud volumes.
To conclude, we’ll say again we rarely find ourselves getting so caught up in the music as we have with the Focal Utopia. We tend to talk a lot about getting “inside the sound” and experiencing the music just like the musicians or producers did on the original takes. The Utopia brings that exacting, intense level of precision and impact you hear at the concert or at the studio to your headphone listening. Its probably the most deeply dynamic and smooth headphone we’ve heard. And somehow it also manages to genuinely project the human feelings behind the music and the artist better than any other headphone currently available. That’s a complete intangible, of course, but we were able to actually feel and experience our music in new and wonderful ways with the Utopia, which is surprising stuff for those of us who work around great headphones all day!
So, yes sure, the Focal Utopia is a terrifyingly expensive headphone. But for serious music lovers who need to have the best sound quality possible, we think its well worth its extravagant price. And should you want some further justification, just remember you’ll probably own the superbly well-built Utopia headphones for dozens of years to come so its amortized cost over time is really actually a total bargain [ er, nice work! -ed.]. When presented with some helpful creative accounting, the Focal Utopia has a perfectly acceptable ‘WAF’ ! (‘Wife Acceptance Factor”).
All kidding aside, we’ve yet to have one person - even those skeptical friends who are not particularly into headphones - try the Utopia and not be completely bowled over by the sound. We think humans of all sexes, creeds and dimensions will be wowed by the Focal Utopia. For discerning audio and music freaks who can appreciate the best sound quality possible today, we firmly believe it’s a painfully pricey headphone that is well worth saving up for.
The Focal Utopia comes with a free ‘repair or replace’ manufacturer's warranty when purchased only through authorized Focal headphone dealers, like us right here at headphone.com. We have been selling the very best headphones online since 1992, always located in beautiful Montana USA.
We know its not easy deciding among all our ridiculously great audiophile headphones, so please feel free to give our expert headphone.com team a call or shoot us an email and we’ll be glad to attempt to break it down even further. And keep in mind our easy 30-day return policy ensures you’ll love what your ears hear - or your money back!