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by Andrew Lissimore November 07, 2017

The Simple Answer?
Yes They Are

I won't keep you in suspense.

The Focal Utopias are currently my favorite headphones in the world.

Focal came out of nowhere with the Utopia's. Better known for making worldclass loudspeakers and car audio gear they arrived late to the headphone game. Their first few headphones were half-hearted shots at the Bose & Beats market. Not half hearted because they were bad products, just half-hearted because there is no way a company like Focal was excited to compete with the likes of Beats by Dre. Then Focal dropped the Utopia's. This is something they can be very proud of.

As CEO of Headphones.com I get to try way more incredible headphones than I deserve and of everything I've experienced so far the Utopia's are unmatched. 

I finally got a pair in the Headphones.com office two months ago. I had heard them at a few audio shows but this was my first opportunity to listen to them in a quiet environment.

After two months with them on my head during most of my workdays, the Utopia's are the first pair of $4,000 headphones that I would actually support paying $4,000 for.

PACKAGING & PRESENTATION

Focal nailed the presentation and packaging. The packaging is simple but luxurious without trying too hard (i.e. IWC not Breitling). The box is covered with a soft tactile leather. There is a little red tab which you pull up to open the box. The foam lining looks like the acoustic treatment on a studio wall which is a cool detail. The headphones are displayed perfectly in the box. The whole presentation is a work of art.

A downside to the awesome box is that it's huge ande not portable at all. During the 2 months I spent with the Utopia's I found myself tossing them (gently) in my laptop bag without protection because I didn't have a better option. I wish Focal included a hard travel case with the Utopia's. It doesn't feel great to have $4,000 headphones flopping around in your bag.

DESIGN & BUILD QUALITY

To me, the Utopia's have the best looking design of all the flagship headphones. They are luxurious and technical looking without giving off a tacky vibe.

Focal backed up their awesome design choices with quality materials. The memory foam headband and earcups are covered in soft lambskin that is satisfying to touch and smooth against your face.

The rest of the Utopias use a combination of metal and carbon fiber which should make a well cared for pair last for decades.

The Utopia's are known to creak when you flex them and this pair was no exception. Some people hate this - In fact our only Utopia returns have been for this reason. However, to me, the creak represents solid, stiff build quality. There is no squeeking once their on your head which is what matters.

SOUND

Time to see if the Utopias backed up their good looks! 

I plugged them into my Naim DAC V1 running Tidal Lossless from my Dell XPS 13. 

The first song I played was "Bubble's" by Yosi Horikawa...

Holy shit! 

(As an aside, if you haven't listened to Bubbles on your favorite headphones, do it now) 

After the first few weird sounds of the track, I was in love with the Utopia's. I could hear every detail. I know you've heard that tired line in many headphone reviews: 

"I was re-discovering my favorite music and hearing things I had never heard before" 

Well this time it was absolutely true. 

The Utopia's reveal hidden gems of sound in many of my favorite tracks. Not in an annoying analytical way but in a musical and deeply satisfying way. 

Generally headphones are either detailed and bright bordering on shrill or they're warm and muddy. The Utopia's are both bright and warm at the same time, but without the traditional downsides of each. They have incredible detail in the high range, so you'll be able to hear the high-hat perfectly, but you'll also be able to pick out each bass note at the same time. 

I listened to many different genres of music on the Utopia's and everything sounded better. From classics to classical to top 40, everything was enhanced on the Utopia's. 

Well mastered tracks really shine when it comes to the Utopias (Hotel California by the Eagles, Get Lucky by Daft Punk both come to mind) and if you can get your hands on some good DSD files with a great DAC you'll be in heaven.

For those wondering about my setup, here's the gear I used:
 

  • Dell XPS 13 > Audioquest Diamond USB A to USB B Cable à Naim DAC V1 > SPL Phonitor X
  • Music Sources for Dell XPS 13: Tidal Hi-fi & MQA, Roon, Flac 24/96
  • Portable Audio Player: Pioneer XDP 300(R)
    Andrew Lissimore
    Andrew Lissimore


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