Headphones at a price of about 4,000 Euros are not on your ears every day. With its premium model Utopia, the French high-end manufacturer Focal is putting all its design expertise in speakers into the equation for a product of a higher spec than anything else in their headphones range.
No expense has been spared on the materials used. The Utopias are mainly made of carbon and feature an adjustable leather-cushioned headband with movable ear cups. These cups are quite heavy due to the metal frame. The padding is made of a strong layer of memory foam, while the outer skin consists of a combination of microfiber and lambskin, offering the best wearing comfort for long listening sessions. The leather also comes with micro-perforations which, according to the manufacturer, actually improve the sound quality compared to other ear pads.
The cable runs on both sides. The oxygen-free three-metre long connection cable with professional, gold-plated 6.3 mm neutral jack is connected via lockable LEMO plugs and is therefore interchangeable. It is designed for low-impedance and offers a high electromagnetic resistance. The headphones themselves are delivered in a large sturdy case with a leather covering. If you want even more elegance, you can optionally purchase a matching headphone stand.
The most special features of these dynamic open, over-ear headphones, made at Focal in Lyon, are the wafer-thin 40 mm, beryllium drivers. This material is significantly harder than titanium, but at the same time, it is lighter. This provides excellent conditions for a precision diaphragm, which in this case has a thickness of just 25 microns. The sound- transmitting mechanism is correspondingly feather-light and responsive. In addition, there is the special M-shape of the diaphragm, which reduces possible distortions and phase errors even further. The drivers have been slightly angled and shifted forward to improve three-dimensionality and reduce the effect of in-head localisation. Nevertheless, as might be expected, this does not turn the Utopia into a pair of speakers.
I tested the Utopia with the headphone amplifier Arche, also from Focal. It served as a converter and backend for various files from a MacBook Pro with Audirvana as a player, including HiRes and DSD source material.
As open headphones, the Utopia sound incredibly light and airy. Since sound inevitably penetrates to the outside with this design, this model is generally recommended for audiophile home use. At the same time, they are also aimed at professional users for the evaluation of mixes in sound control rooms and for editing work.
Words such as ‘high-resolution’, ‘warm’ and ‘silvery’ do not necessarily indicate the true qualities of reproduction with which the Utopia engages the listener in the soundscape. The equally balanced, finely detailed and enveloping sound provides an outstandingly harmonious overall result; this also, however, clearly exposes weaknesses in the source material. The bass is reproduced with excellent clarity, dynamics and tonality, with warm bass tones still present. The system masters low basses without any problems. And for the first time, I even thought I could locate the corresponding tones in the panorama.
The mids also reliably map the central auditory area. Acoustic, electrical and electronic instruments and voices provide the atmosphere of a recording. With the Utopia everything has its place in the harmonious and yet clearly separated interplay. The headphones work out the intimacy of minimalist compositions, the majestic fullness of an orchestra, the necessary force in rock, as well as – the icing on the cake – details in pop, true to the source.
As expected, beryllium also shows its strength in the high frequencies in the form of the highest detail resolution and impulsiveness, silvery airiness, and a lack of harshness on the part of the driver. The frequency has a direct effect on the superb width and clearly defined image of the stereo panorama, including the movements that occur there; lively stereo mixes like “Pan Blue” by Yello shimmer around your ears.
The Utopia also masters the issue of spatial depth, which is often problematic with headphones – reverberation flags are easily recognisable and the headphones are able to detect room volume and display it larger or smaller depending on the recording. Thus, Benny Andersson’s solo work “Piano” can be followed not only through the dynamics of his Fazioli grand piano, but also through the warmth of the recording room. Orchestra sounds can be heard several levels higher, while in rock productions they are coherent – a truly universal headphone. At the same time, however, Utopia are also a tool that gets down to business without any showmanship, revealing the true sound again and again. Mixes and recordings can thus be critically judged, which also makes the Utopia a first choice for sound engineers. These headphones enabled me to identify possible overdriving in the source material in an unprecedented way.
With the Utopia, Focal has undoubtedly succeeded in creating an ambitious-yet-outstanding product for a demanding audiophile clientele. These headphones are also recommended for professional users in sound control rooms and editing suites. At the same time, evaluating a product in this price range presents me with a challenge. The Focal Utopia sounds outstanding and in many aspects audibly superior, compared to high-quality products from the high-end category. But the extent to which these improvements justify the significant surcharge is another question. The higher prices are often associated with significant additional development and design costs. This, in turn, has repercussions on the number of units produced, which leads to higher prices for smaller numbers. Also, the fact that production is completed in France as well as the high standards required for the processing of beryllium, are impactful cost factors.
Nevertheless, I would like to note the distinction of these headphones from competitors such as Ultrasone, Sennheiser, Audeze or Stax. Even given personal tastes, the Utopia definitely ranks at the top of its class.
- Ear couplingOver-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Frequency response (headphones)5 - 50.000 Hz
- Impedance82,1 ohms
- Sound pressure level (SPL)98,51 dB
- Pressure averaged from big and small head696,5 g
- Weight with cable701 g
- Weight without cable493 g
- Cable length295 cm
What's in the box
- 3m (9ft.) OFC cable: 1 x 6.35mm Neutrik stereo jack 2 Lemo connectors
- Travel case with magnetic closure
- Optional: headphone stand