Focal Utopia Review
See the coil shaped logo? If you know, you know. We’re checking out a new open-back release from Focal today: the Utopia 2022 edition. Focal is known by Audiophiles for its legacy in creating excellent loudspeakers, as well as some of the highest-end headphones on the market. With the Utopia, Focal sought to combine the best of both worlds, giving a listener the accuracy of a near-field monitor listening experience in a pair of headphones. Originally released in 2020, the company is re-releasing the Utopia with new state-of-the-art coil build and a new look. Did I mention the Utopia is going for an eyebrow-raising $4,999? I expect the world from a pair of headphones at this price point; let’s see if they deliver.
What’s In The Box?
–Black faux-leather box
-Focal Utopia Headphones
-3 meter Headphone Cable with 4 pin XLR connector
-1.2 meter cable with unbalanced 3.5mm stereo jack
-6.35mm jack adapter
-Firm carrying case
Look and Feel
The Utopia has a very unique and mysterious look to it that is aesthetically in line with other Focal headphones. The open back of the cans have two layers of metallic grid with a prominent hexagonal shape. The sliding arms are made of a lightly patterned carbon fiber, bringing a much appreciated light weight durability to a pair of headphones that would give you nightmares if broken.
The axis at which the cans connect to the sliders have a unique spring loaded pressure that strikes an equilibrium with the clamp pressure to ensure a very balanced fit. It’s a little hard to describe, but you’ll see what I mean if you get a chance to check them out. The ear pads and headband are both made of a memory foam interior with a lambskin leather exterior, and are porous to provide ventilation that’s perfect for long listening sessions. I found the Utopia quite comfortable and had no problem having it on my ears for hours at a time.
The Utopia’s isolation is virtually non-existent, which is a conscious design choice that maximizes the true phase characteristics of a mix by allowing for ample frequency crossover between the left and right ears, as well as virtually eliminating unwanted resonant frequencies by giving them a big escape hatch. If you were to disassemble the Utopia (I obviously advise you to not do this), you would see that the back of the driver is so open that you can touch the back of diaphragm with your finger.
Heightening the the speaker-like listening experience is a massive one inch coil, the widest coil to diaphragm ratio of any headphone thus far. Focal used some new materials to construct the 2022’s coil, such as aluminum and copper to increase its reliability and decrease its weight. This coil works in conjunction with an incredibly light, rigid and absorptive M shaped beryllium dome to mimic the planar waveforms produced by loudspeakers. As another first-of-it’s-kind feature in the Utopia, the coil is formerless, meaning that unlike other headphone coils it isn’t wrapped around anything. This results in an ultra light weight, which makes for extra-accurate high frequency representation.
Though the weight of the Utopia remains unchanged from the 2020 edition at a meaty 490 grams, a new carbon yoke gives a more even distribution and balance to this new edition.
Impedance: 80 ohms
Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 50 kHz
Sensitivity: 104 dB SPL / 1 mW @ 1 kHz
Loudspeaker: 40 mm Beryllium “M” Shape Dome
Weight: 490 grams
Focal put it best when they described the Utopia as “two full sized loudspeakers over your ears.” During my first few listens in a quiet room, I noticed something I have never experienced with any other pair of headphones: actually hearing the presence of the room reverb in the mix. I find this incredibly exciting and seriously innovative, as it adds a whole new variable to consider in terms of sound staging. The sonic image literally took on the subtle tone qualities of my listening environment, incorporating the outside world like no other headphone I’ve used. This feature was most noticeable in quieter songs with fewer parts; room size and listening volume will also have it’s effect on how dominantly this characteristic is experienced. As for “traditional” imaging, I found the Utopia adequately wide and extremely accurate with some degree of height, though I can’t say it was the deepest sonic image I’ve experienced. Again, I would argue the real value of it’s depth is derived from it’s one-of-a-kind, extra transparent open back quality.
Also of very special note was how incredibly precise the Focal Utopia was in its left-right balance. Every little asymmetry of a mix is not only heard but also felt in the speaker-like vibrations that are subtly expressed through the ear pads. This, too, was a one of kind experience that can be credited to their state of the art and meticulously fine tuned design.
One of the Utopia’s greatest strengths lies in its balance and layering, which is some of the most natural and transparent that I’ve experienced. It gives the elusive “I never noticed that part before!” experience sought after by hardcore audiophiles, something many headphones try to claim but few deliver on. Acoustic recordings really made this characteristic shine, especially acoustic drums: the detail in the transients was so intimate that I could practically hear whether the drummer was using nylon-tipped or wooden-tipped sticks. Cymbals rang through mixes totally unobstructed by any high frequency attenuation.
Though this was certainly a case of hearing lows more than feeling them, it would be incorrect for me to call them quiet. Subs still rumbled (hard, if I may add) when they had to, and their lack of wrap-around-your-ears forcefulness seems like a calculated feature that come part and parcel with extreme open-back accuracy. There is, however, a nice low end physical sensation that gets felt through the ear pads on boomier tracks.
The Utopia has a remarkably even handed approach to the middle of the frequency spectrum. I found the most exemplary quality of the mids in vocal tracks, which presented themselves as if the singer was in the room with me. The warmth of male vocalists low-mid fundamental was fully present and coexisted in harmony along with their equally present “fry” overtones higher in the mids. The harmonic energy of guitars, pianos and synths came through in a rich layer without any distortion or masked obscurity. The earcup vibrations present in the lows carries well into the mids, giving them a similar physical quality while still maintaining precision.
By now you may have noticed a certain theme in this review: naturalness and accuracy. This is no different for the highs, which the Utopia ran effortlessly. I would venture a guess that some listeners would at first perceive the Utopia as slightly bright, but I would counter that all too many headphones that we’re used to using shy away from the highest, squeakiest frequencies in fear of harshness. Utopia, however, has nothing to fear as its driver and new coil are specially designed to take on this challenge. Acoustic guitars, cymbals, and the reverbs applied to them shimmered in vaporous glory. Aggressive sawtooth synths took on new teeth as the Utopia produced their highest, buzziest harmonics with bold and pointy accuracy.
The Focal Utopia is going to show you everything a mix engineer wanted you to hear – and probably some of the mistakes they didn’t ever think you would ever hear. But of course you’re going to hear them: they just didn’t know you were going spend $4,999 on some of the most accurate and cutting edge headphones in the world. Yes, the Focal Utopia is a small fortune, but what you get in return is a small treasure that brings an exceedingly unique and detailed near-field listening experience. If you’re looking for a crown jewel headphone with sonic and design qualities that currently cannot be found in any other headphone on the market, you’re going to find it with the Focal Utopia.