Focal Utopia Open Back Headphones Review

Focal Utopia Review

Focal is one of the largest and best-known loudspeaker manufacturers in the world. So naturally, when such a manufacturer starts to produce headphones, one can expect great things – that was already clear with the first models of the Spirit line. But with the new flagship Focal Utopia, the French are setting a fragrance brand that should throw worry lines on their foreheads even among established competitors from Audio Technica, Beats, Sennheiser & Co.

On the one hand, Focal has a large and well-staffed development department. But, on the other hand, the French have something of a technological edge when it comes to materials: no other manufacturer is so successful in using beryllium in the high-frequency range.

PROS:

  • Rockstar cosmetics
  • Amazing sound
  • Ultra-high-quality materials

CONS:

  • Very expensive

When used correctly, these domes sound better and finer than any other type of domed cap. And coincidentally, the Utopia tweeter is almost the size of a headphone driver …

Let’s make a long story short: With the Focal Utopia, for the first time, the sonically suitable, but unfortunately very expensive (because it is extremely demanding in terms of processing) beryllium is used as a membrane material in the headphone sector.

Here are a few clever figures: The density of beryllium is 2.5 times lower than titanium and 1.5 times lower than aluminum. But, on the other hand, the stiffness of beryllium is three times higher than titanium and five times higher than aluminum. This means that a beryllium dome with the same mass is seven times more rigid than one made of titanium.

The beryllium driver of the Focal Utopia measures 40 millimeters in diameter but is only 25 μm thin. Therefore another number: The mass of all moving parts in the Utopia – i.e., membrane, voice coil, and clamping – is 135 milligrams.

That is extremely little, and one can assume that such a lightweight construction can follow impulses very well, especially if a clever magnet construction drives it.

Focal Utopia: Too good for iPhone & Co.

The Beryllium drivers – like all models of the Utopia loudspeakers and the Utopia headphones – are manufactured by hand in the local Focal factory near Lyon.

Only here, the French believe, can they guarantee the extremely high-quality standards of the Utopia idea because on-site production allows them to intervene directly in the manufacturing process.

The processing of beryllium, in particular, requires the greatest effort: with dust-free clean rooms and perfectly trained professionals. So for the new beryllium drivers in the Utopia headphones, Focal has modified the classic shape a little.

Seen from the side, they resemble a flattened M-profile. The advantage of this shape is that it causes almost no phase errors despite the short listening distance because it is mostly flat and only rises at the edge.

But of course, the other components of this driver have also been optimized in long research and simulation series and are of exquisite quality: The bead is only 80 μm thin and extremely light, the neodymium magnet has a considerable flux density of 1.15 Tesla.

The Focal Utopia is a circumaural (over-ear) headphone “open” design. This prevents compression effects and flow noise but has the disadvantage that a possible neighbor will hear a lot of the music you are listening to.

That is why the Utopia – like almost all ambitious over-ear headphones – is more of a stationary listener. However, its nominal impedance of 80 ohms would still allow operation on iPhone & Co.

But that would be nonsense: headphones of this quality require more than a smartphone as a source and amplifier.

Accordingly, the accessories include a solid, 4-meter-long symmetrical connection cable with a large jack plug, promising optimal signal transport.

Listening to headphones is not all about the best sound; The weight, the skin-friendliness of the ear pads and temple protectors, the weight distribution, and ultimately the fit also play an important role.

The weight is quite high at almost a pound (490 grams), but the other points are solved convincingly. For example, I was able to wear the Utopia for more than three hours without any problems without pressing anything – I would have feared worse.

But the well-made temple and its soft, leather-covered upholstery distribute the weight quite well.

I am a little surprised that the Focal Utopia is so heavy at all. Because the French were very weight-conscious with most of the components: the temples and the auricle holders and the auricle itself are made of highly resilient but light carbon.

Suggested spatiality

To create the illusion of a larger space, the 40-millimeter drivers in the Focal Utopia are offset forward in the chamber – slightly angled as far away as possible from the ears, see the sketch.

This trick is becoming more common; It was also used in the Sennheiser top models HD 800 and HD 800 S or the large B&W P9 Signature headphones.

The background: If the drivers sit completely flat in front of the ears, there is usually a strong left/right and in-head localization.

Focal, however, is a loudspeaker manufacturer and, with its headphones, would like to suggest a sound that appears to come from a pair of loudspeakers from the front.

For Utopia, Focal has completely rethought the subject of headphones in many places. In addition to the driver design, the greatest attention was paid to the design of the auricle and the acoustic coupling of the driver to the ear.

Because with such short distances, everything is decisive for the sound. So the developers came up with small holes in the leather of the ear pads.

Underneath is a pad made of memory foam, which can be shaped and then maintains this shape. The foam and the holes in the leatherwork together like an absorber, which is supposed to ensure greater linearity in the transmission.

But can that be? The ear pads? But hello. Thankfully, the Focal Sales Music Line also provided me with the (same-sized) earpads from the smaller Focal Elear model. These lack micro-perforation, and they are completely fabric-covered.

Focal Utopia in the hearing test

And with them, the Utopia sounds completely different: a little more powerful in the bass, but rougher and no longer elegant at all. The bottom line is that with the poorer tires, it is at least one class below the Utopia with the original upholstery.

I wouldn’t have thought that so much would happen totally at this point. But logical because every detail is decisive in such a small space.

Other manufacturers should also listen to these differences and get inspiration from them; there is still some sound potential left unused …

But I am happy about the classy “basic equipment” of the Focal Utopia, and with the leather upholstery, I plunge back into the plump Utopia world. Mahler’s 5th Symphony under Claudio Abbado has it all: the urgent power of the double basses, the energy of the violins and violas, and a magnificent illumination of the entire recording.

The superiority of the beryllium membrane is particularly noticeable in the treble. What you can hear there, with what ease the Focal pulls even the tiniest details out of the recording, is outstanding.

And the new Focal top listener can do that like no other: You put it on, and all the constantly scrambling questions of the test tube (wasn’t it a nuisance, a little exaggeration, wasn’t he cheating there …?) Immediately fall silent after putting on. As a result, the Focal sounds are absolutely effortless and open and wonderfully comforting and pleasant.

Comparing two of the best over-ear headphones on the world market, the Sennheiser HD 800 S and the Stax SR-L 700, should show where the Focal is ultimate.

The Sennheiser, still comparatively cheap at 1,600 euros, is a product of neutrality and natural timbres; its accuracy in reproducing voices is great.

Yet, the Focal Utopia was even more convincing when it came to reproducing voices. He mastered critical S-sound passages even more smoothly, and his superiority in the treble made the recordings with him even more lively and eventful.

The electrostatic Stax SR-L 700 (1,700 euros), together with the matching OTL tube preamplifier SRM-007t (2,925 euros), is priced in a very similar league, something like the sonic alternative to the Focal.

The idiosyncratic Japanese over-ear inspires with breathtaking detail and center accuracy – a cornucopia of information. That is also a terrific experience.

However, the Stax is significantly slimmer in the bass, and although it is certainly one of the best in the treble, it does not have the lightness of the Focal.

It is ultimately a matter of taste which of these two characters is preferred; In any case, the French have a better majority.

Conclusion

Is that why the Focal Utopia is the best headphone in the world? No, this crown will probably be awarded to the HE 1 (Orpheus), the large Sennheiser headphone project, for 50,000 euros for many years to come.

But in the struggle for second place, Utopia has the best cards. At the moment, I don’t know any other over-ear listener who combines such transparency and lightness with such a rich and timbre-strong naturalness. You want to hear that.

Focal Utopia Open Back Headphones Review
Focal Utopia Open Back Headphones Review

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