I hardly know where to start with these Focal Utopia headphones, heralded as the world’s best headphones. At £3,500 a pair, I think you need to start digging out the thesaurus, cleaning your ears out and finding your favourite music on HDTracks or the like. After that you will need to refine your seating position, I’m normally 3-4 meters away from any given player. Finally it is time to choose a player, in my case my Naim NAC-N 272 or a T+A DAC8? In this price bracket, I am short of a decent headphone amplifier (at which point you would ideally reach for the Moon HAD 230D or 430HA or even the Oppo HA-1) so I’m using my MAC that has all of my Hi-Res 24 bit stuff into the T+A DAC8 to start with which is a pretty accomplished start.
Very first impressions of the Focal Utopia headphones
First impressions of these Focal Utopia headphones are dreamy, there is no hint of harshness and the clarity and space are mind blowing
Where do you go when you listen to these Focal Utopia headphones for the first time? Surely, this is a ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ moment or an ‘Amnesiac’ moment. In the end I choose a 24 bit, 48kHz recording of ‘The Numbers’ from ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, then I listen to the whole album in a daze, such is the music’s quality in production and rhythm. First impressions of these Focal Utopia headphones are dreamy, they are definitely on the softer side than expected, there is no hint of harshness and the clarity and space are mind blowing (reaching for my Thesaurus, I get ‘astonishing’, ‘hallucinatory’, ‘staggering’ and ‘stunning’, all of which I could have used). The initial feel is beautiful, the lambskin cups and circum-aural design is so comfortable, there is no overbearing weight to concern the listener and a good head shake, in the negative, retains the headphones in the positive position.
The packaging is exquisite. A substantial shipping package reveals a sumptuous soft feel box with an intriguing ted tag on the side. Opening the box reveals a foam interior into which are nestled the Utopia’s. It is all very sumptuous and inviting. But really you want to just get on with it. I daren’t touch the literature so it was straight to a running in period of 20 hours or so (a Tidal playlist on repeat, starting with Chopin’s Nocturnes and Ryan Adams and ending up with Jay-Z and Zomboy!) as my demo headphones were brand new!
As I have already mentioned, these Focal Utopia headphones are of circum-aural design, they are over and not compressing my ears. They are ‘open backed’ to allow full speaker decompression (and no reflection) and are therefore designed for quieter listening. The circular pads have 20 mm of memory foam and the outer is made of a lambskin and microfibre fabric. The headband is leather and it contains the adjustment mechanism for head size and ear cup rotation. The yoke over the head is carbon fibre and is very flexible, light and curved with no harsh edges. Each cup of the headphone has two shielded 9.5mm (03⁄8“) Lemo® connectors with a self locking bayonet system. The cable is a 9.8ft (3m) Oxygen Free Copper with a single 6.35mm (1⁄4“) Neutrik® stereo jack at the amplifier end.
The loudspeakers feature a Beryllium M shape dome, 40mm in diameter, they are rigid and very lightweight. The Beryllium technology is featured in the Sopra No. 2s, that I was lucky enough to have recently. The Sopras have the Infinite Horn technology behind them enabling excellent dynamic response and the open backed nature of these headphones facilitates this innovation.
There is no hint of compromise from the box to the ear in respect of comfort and performance
These Focal Utopia Headphones exude quality as you would expect. From the soft feel lambskin leather and the leather headband there is a very high quality feel. But the key standout for me is the overall look. My samples are black with black lambskin pads, black yoke and a subtle black on black Focal logo on the side. They are light too, I’m guessing the carbon fibre yolk is a key weight saver and the beryllium cone is also very light in weight. The cables from the cups are heavy and long, this is fine and implies longevity to me. There is no hint of compromise from the box to the ear in respect of comfort and performance.
Type Circum-aural open back headphones
Impedance 80 Ohms
Sensitivity 104dB SPL / 1mW @ 1kHz THD <0,2% @ 1kHz / 100dB SPL
Frequency response 5Hz – 50kHz
Loudspeaker 137⁄64“ (40mm) pure Beryllium “M” shape dome
Weight 1.08lb (490g)
Cable length 9.8ft (3m)
Connectors 1 x Jack 01/4“ (6.35mm) stereo 2 x 03⁄8“ (9.5mm) Lemo®
Carrying case 1326 x 260 x 164mm
I’m using a streaming T+A DAC8 with a decent headphone output so it is fine but at this price possibly not ideal as you may want a properly amplified headphone output, balanced probably, for this kind of product. However the DAC8 is a fine performer so we press on. My source is a MAC with various 24 bit and other reference tracks using JRiver software. The DAC8 gives me the sample rate so I know where I am at any given time. I’ve also been listening with my Naim NAC-N 272 from which I get equally good results, if not better.
I think, before I move on, it is worth asking yourself why you are listening on headphones? Is it to get a higher quality experience or simply to immerse yourself in peace and quiet and get lost, like a really good film or box set. For me it is to lose myself in beautiful music, so picking long running albums means you must have physical comfort and a relaxed presentation from the headphones. If you’re pulling the headphones off after an hour plus with relief, something is amiss probably. These headphones do all I want with ease.
Soundstage and dynamic presentation
The soundstage presented by the Focal Utopia headphones is wide and wonderfully open, my notes say ‘middle stump’ (it is cricket season), meaning my image is slap bang in front of my eyes and it is a sound to behold. The best example of this was listening to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (David Lean’s film Brief Encounter) where you can hear individual instruments if you care to zone into them or you can just disappear into the waves washing over you. Another example is the incredible depth of Radiohead’s ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, with layers of sounds and instruments everywhere, confirming to me that ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ this Century’s ‘OK Computer’, by several miles (what about In Rainbows? – Ed.).
I am finding the headphones very easy to drive, as I switch between devices. There is no hint of tension, the headphones are fairly sensitive and, at 80 Ohms, they need a push but no more than most. It has become apparent, in various conversations and through listening, that these headphones have so much more to give in respect of performance and a dedicated quality headphone amplifier is necessary, and I hope to be able to come back to this in the coming weeks.
Is sensational, I listen to Ryan Adam’s ‘Live at Carnegie Hall’ (my favourite release of the last few years (what about A Moon Shaped Pool? – Ed!) on an upgraded Michell GyroDec into the 272, wow! The detail from the recording is all there, literally all of it, it is slightly off-putting in the first instance when people cough in your left ear so close to you but once you transport yourself to the venue it is truly stellar.
this is not a headphone for the ‘Beats’ generation, thank goodness!
What is most interesting for me is this is not a headphone for the Beats generation. Thank goodness, otherwise we would see Premiership footballers walking around in these, this is certainly not what we need! In my view it is quite remarkable how easy on the ear, soft and bass accurate these headphones are. I’m finding the vocal and mid range to be very clear indeed. I think the fact there is so much space in the headphones’ presentation means the bass does not need to be cranked up to 11 here and the whole experience is of relief and calm, no matter if you are listening to big classical music or heavier rock music. As I have said before, one of the problems when you listen to such high quality equipment is that you lose hours listening to your catalogue of music and rediscovering it in new ways, this can be only a good thing in the long run, but it is no good if you are trying to write a review.
In listening to the headphones the vocals are very strongly presented, for example Hannah Reid’s vocal on London Grammar’s ‘Strong’ is pure aural gold and it reminds me of listening to Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘But Not for Me’ for the first time, spine-tingling. There are many such moments, including London Grammar’s new track ‘Big Picture’ but then ‘Sgt. Pepper’s remixed’ is stunning, Snoop Dogg’s ‘California Roll’ has the smoothest most sensual bass line and James Bay’s ‘Scars’ has added edge from the vinyl.
If being an ‘audiophile’ is a journey is to find your audio nirvana I thought I had found it with the Focal Sopra No. 2s last December. As a listening experience with floor standing speakers and an incredible amplifier (Naim NAP 250-2 DR) that was just about it for me. I’m sure the Sopra 3s with the Statement are better but they are just way out of reach price-wise. So that was it.
These Focal Utopia headphones could be, for me, my headphone nirvana, although I have to say I would need a headphone amplifier to reach the end of the road. They are without doubt breathtaking, the sense of space and lightness of touch, the accuracy of the bass, were without precedent. Wonderful.
A note of thanks to SCV for the loan of these incredible headphones, thank you.
Pure relaxed sound
Styling, black with everything
I had a headphone amplifier to do them justice