Headphones, Impressions

IMPRESSIONS: The View from the Summit – My Time with Utopia

IMPRESSIONS: The View from the Summit – My Time with Utopia

It’s not often that one gets to meet a real celebrity; someone whose fame cuts right across cultures and households. In the real world, names like George Clooney and Julia Roberts come to mind. In the head-fi world, few are more famous than Utopia.

Focal’s flagship dynamic headphone has only existed for about two years, and yet ask most headphone devotees to name the headphone that sits right at the top of the tree and many, if not most, would say Utopia. That’s partly a consequence of the hype train that rolled into town when the French audio maker unveiled the double-whammy of its high-end dynamics, the ‘mainsteam’ Elear and flagship Utopia, and partly because of Utopia’s eye watering price tag of $4,000 at a time when most statement headphones were still selling for half that, or less.

Fast forward to today, and the Utopia is still the headphone I associate with the exclusive ‘summit-fi’ tier of head-fi audio equipment that only a select few enthusiasts can afford, let alone experience. As an enthusiast myself, I could never have imagined my climb up to the higher echelons of this wickedly expensive hobby would be so swift, and yet the headphone gear I now use and consider my ‘endgame’ is probably sat at Camp 2 or 3 compared to Utopia’s Everest summit.

The Utopia in person

As an Elear owner I am intimately familiar with Focal’s headphone design and ergonomics, so seeing the Utopia for the first time was pleasantly unsurprising. I’ve read reams of reviews and participated in many discussions with Utopia users, but there was still a feeling of privilege handling and opening the large display-style box the Utopia was housed in. Not dissimilar to the Elear’s box, it was black and bulky, but finished with a matte black skin and red trim that imparted an understated sense of prestige.

The Utopia itself was, as expected, very Elear-like, though it felt slightly lighter in the hand. The leather finish of the headband and earpads is uber-soft, clearly made of a much finer grade of leather than the excellent Dekoni Elite sheepskin pads I use with my Elear. The memory foam is also much softer, though not as soft to the touch as the suede-like Elex pads I use as an Elear alternative (more on that later). The Utopia’s carbon fibre yokes have enough flex to sit the cups comfortably on your ears, but unlike the Elear the yokes and headband don’t creak when twisted.

The latter isn’t an issue for me personally – there’s no creaking when the Elear is worn – but it does show the extra level of detail and build quality that went into the Utopia’s design, despite the similarities of look and feel with the Elear, that bestow it with its flagship status.

On the head, the softness of the Utopia’s leather translated to added comfort, and despite not having a suspension strap (an oversight in heavier headphone designs), the headband didn’t immediately leave any hotspots on top of my usually sensitive scalp. It doesn’t exactly ‘disappear’ when worn, but it also doesn’t feel like you’re wearing a motorbike helmet, a-la the Audeze LCD-3.

1 comment

  1. Nicely written, laid out thoughts and examples, oh and photography!
    I heard the Utopia at a dealer in Costa Mesa Newport Beach area. Along with Elear, and Clear. Utopia was next level, though the others were certainly likable and satisfying in their own light. Hearing them playing via the Dave at CanJam, I heard some grain that bugged me… might have been the headphone amp in the dave? … gravitated to the Auteur Blackwoods for an all around solution.
    The Utopia lit the spark that triggered the search 🙂

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