Focal Utopia Open-Back Headphones - Official Thread

I see far too few people making paralells between the watch and hifi/vinyl world. It’s such an obvious case of history repeating. The quartz crisis of the 1970s is the exact blueprint for the digital crisis of the 90s/00’s. And what emerged was an industry that transitioned from commonplace utilitarian consumer devices to distinct luxury - exactly what is happening now with hifi & vinyl. I’m genuinely excited to see someone else draw the comparison. :slight_smile:


I think an important distinction is that (most) high-end audio products actually perform their primary function (making sound) better than lower-end products. High-end watches are jewelry. Those “beautiful” and complicated movements actually tell time worse than a digital Casio, and have far less functionality than a smart watch. To be clear, I have no issues w/ high-end watches or those who partake in the hobby. I just think that it’s a meaningful distinction that you’re paying for better “primary function” in audio. I think cameras or cars are a closer analogue, where more expensive (in general) means better primary function.


You’ll run into HOT disagreements that high-end audio delivers a better primary function should you visit a certain website with an abbreviation that begins with A and ends with R. High-end audio can be superior, or it can be arty for the sake of being arty, or rare, or exclusive, or have artificially low production (Bang & Olufsen, McIntosh, and my poster child wonky-but-pricy brand Oswalds Mill Audio).

Distinguishing between performance and price can be very hard for all of us, hence double-blind testing and all sorts of complex measurement methods. Some brands (e.g., Sennheiser) don’t care much about looks or building with anything beyond plastic and aluminum (function) while ZMF and Focal do (fashion + function).

Off topic now, so I’ll stop.


I counter that there’s something “artistic” about hifi/vinyl that just isn’t present in the more consumer-oriented commonplace offerings in digital and standard fidelity audio products, and it is precisely that artistry that is propelling the hifi & vinyl market to unforeseen heights. I fear we’re getting off topic here, but the parallel is supremely obvious to me and I’m baffled why no one else ever sees/mentions it. We’ll discuss at our future mini-hifi meet. :wink:


Agreed we should not get too far off topic, but as a quick follow up, I concur that there are no absolutes - however - we also don’t need to overthink this. In general a random person will prefer the sound characteristics of a random headphone that costs 3x as much as another (though, certainly not always), just as in general a random person will prefer the driving characteristics (comfort, acceleration, control) of a random car that costs 3x as much as another (though, not always). All I’m saying is that none of us would wager a penny on a watch that costs $10K telling more precise time than a watch that costs $500. You might prefer the $10K watch, but at that point, it’s all aesthetics - which is totally cool, but I just think it’s a valid distinction.


Partially because I find it hilarious that these exist, and partially to feign being on topic… :laughing:

Patek Philippe


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Here we get to the point of diminishing returns and real-world versus optimal performance criteria. This applies to cars and headphones. Watches do have a technical performance curve but the G-Shock moved it down to $100 or so. With cars (and audio), not everyone wants the maintenance and fussy issues of a Rolls Royce, Ferrari, etc. Some want a simple functional appliance vehicle and value that more than performance.

Bringing this directly to the Utopia, my own review (above in this thread) compares it to the Clear, Elex, and HD 600. I also considered value, and quite seriously would have purchased a Utopia if it was a knock-out winner. But that treble. Ouch! Per my review comments, the Clear is more tolerant of my real-world use, mediocre listening environments, and sometimes poor sources (i.e., bad studio production). The Clear fails toward painless hiss, grain, and grit while the Utopia fails toward piercing brightness.

Do you want a nice all-around appliance vehicle or temperamental exotic car? That’s the rhetorical question.

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Yes, but this is an entirely separate discussion. I will never ever argue that a Utopia (or Clear) are good value to a non-audiophile. To your point, that’s like recommending a Bugatti Chiron as a good car. Well, duh it is (considering only driving performance). But most people can’t afford one, and even those that can may not want to deal with it.

My point was merely that most headphones discussed on this forum slap around “consumer” headphones on audio performance, while expensive watches don’t do the same on telling time (and that that’s okay, but just that it would not be my preferred analog because of that). Value or preferences are a totally separate.

Personally, I’d like them to improve texture throughout (especially in the bass). I think the utopia can sometimes smooth things over a bit too much (although it can be sometimes favorable depending on the recording) in the sense it ends up sounding less authentic. For example, harsh trumpets sound pleasant on the utopia, while harsh trumpets sound harsh on the d8kp. Still a fan of what it does well though.

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I can never remember if there are 1 or 2 “S” after the “A” in that… :wink:

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The Steampunk vibe their stuff has is pretty cool though, but I know nothing of the brand…

I found them randomly several years ago from a documentary video. The owner/representative said things like “old equipment sounds as good as modern equipment.” He came across as highly confident and not open to data or testing. Apparently OMA started out by rebuilding old theater audio – such as stuff from the 1950s or 1960s – as large scale home systems.

The steampunk look is fine, and appearance surely drives their sales. My point was they combine function with fashion…and function stands to lose in that battle. This is similar to the B&O product strategy, but OMA aims higher in price.

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Anyone pulling the trigger on this?

If you are, please share your thoughts! I’m very curious how it would tilt the utopia. I don’t particularly think the utopia needs improvement that a simple pad swap would accomplish, so I’m very doubtful it would be as good as the stock. Well, at least it’s way way cheaper! Lol


Just ordered a pair. Don’t have Utopia though.
Going to try them on my Clear and RS1e.


I wasnt aware these were a thing. Id be curious as to any sonic changes too.

Definitely a cheaper option than getting originals. My pads still seem fine so any purchase of this would simply be out of curiosity.


@Resolve - would love to hear your thoughts on the ZMF Focal+Sub pads if you try these - since you’ve been using Utopia pads with an Elear.

Apparently Zach didn’t have a utopia when he made these… so… uhhh… that’s not very reassuring to me


Hmmmm, if true that isnt reassuring, I guess all he did was go off the dimensions.

Would have been interesting if he was trying to voice the Utopia a little differently.