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Ears-on Review: Focal Utopia Open-Back Headphones

by Paul Strauss

If you’re a serious audiophile, nothing less than the best headphones will do. There are a handful of players at the very top end of the headphone market, and now French audio equipment maker Focal has joined the ranks with their ultra-premium Utopia headphones.

Priced at a whopping $3,999 (USD), these very special headphones are designed for the most discriminating of ears, and fattest of wallets. But do they live up to the price tag? Read on, and find out.

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Focal packages the Utopia headphones in a schmancy stitched, leather covered black box, lined with acoustic foam insulation, letting you know immediately that this is going to be a quality affair.

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The headphones themselves are as impressive and substantial as any I’ve ever seen, built from premium materials like aluminum, soft lambskin leather, and the pure carbon fiber yoke structure that holds the earcups in place helps not only reduce weight, but looks awesome. A heavy duty, low-impedance audio cable clicks satisfyingly into place with premium Lemo connectors – though at 4 meters in length, are a bit too long for my taste. Being over-the-ear headphones, they’ve definitely got some heft, but are still offer plenty of comfort for long listening sessions, with thick foam cushions wrapped in perforated leather.

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Of course, what you want to know is how they sound, right? Well, I’ll sum it up in one sentence: The Focal Utopia is simply the best sounding pair of headphones I’ve ever listened to, beating out my previous favorites, STAX SR-009 electrostatic headphones.

Sporting custom 40mm drivers made with pure beryllium, Focal has developed drivers which do away with the need for crossovers or passive filtering, resulting in smooth and precise audio replication across the audio spectrum. In fact, Focal claims that the Utopias replicate sound from 5Hz all the way up to 50kHz. Since I’m not a dog, I can’t hear frequencies beyond about 25kHz, so I’ll just have to trust them on the high end stats. Regardless of numbers, when hooked up to a quality amplifier, they simply sound fantastic.

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Dynamic range is spectacular, with the ability to reproduce the quietest and most intricate passages right alongside the biggest, most vibrant sounds. Their sonic profile is clean and natural, offering a great low end that’s not boomy, highs which are bright, without being the least bit harsh, and mids that are sweet and soothing. Both vocals and instruments shine, and the open-back design provides a great sense of width to the soundstage. With most headphones, there are specific musical genres which play to the strengths and weaknesses. With the Utopias, it doesn’t matter. I threw everything from Regina Spektor to Gipsy Kings to Adele to Steely Dan to Beethoven to Kanye at them, and they impressed at every turn. I dare you to find a piece of music that doesn’t sound great on these.

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So the million dollar question – or more appropriately, the $4000 question is: are the Focal Utopia headphones worth the price of admission? Well if you’re serious about your audio, and have the disposable income to afford such an extravagance, Yes. Yes they are. On the other hand, if your income isn’t quite as stratospheric, there are plenty of very good headphones on the market for significantly less money. Trust me when I say that you’d be very happy with a pair of Focal’s $1,000 Elear headphones as well. Though if the Elears score a 10 out of 10, the Utopias are a solid 15.

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Comments (4):

  1. Frank Richards says:

    I have a 500 dollar pair of Beyer Dynamics and I highly doubt these 4000 dollar ones are 3500 dollars better. I bet you couldn’t tell the difference.

    • fifolo says:

      well, now, that’s settled then

    • Stephen Slater says:

      I call you on your bet, these headphones smoke anything on the planet (excluding the new Sennheiser Orpheus Electrostats at $60,000.00).Your Beyer’s sound like door stops compared to the Utopia’s.

    • Rusty W says:

      I have a pair of beyerdynamic T 90s, which go for around your quoted price. The Elears,never mind the Utopia, smoke the T 90s. Decent performance versus near-perfection is not anywhere near equal. The T 90s have such a bright ( and not nearly as refined )signature sound,it would be easy to distinguish in a blind test

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