These were not cheap chains. I was able to check two of them: (1) Chord Dave → GS-X Mini and (2) Holo May → LTA’s TOTL $7K amp.
I drive my utopias from a similar chain. Rockna Wavedream instead of the May and with the LTA Z40+ and I’d be surprised if someone finds the 22 piercing. YMMV of course.
I don’t think it’s about being cheap FWIW.
I’d expect the GS-X to blow out the treble FWIW, Gilmore amps tend to emphasize it, it’s a presentation that makes me actively dislike most of them, even though I appreciate what they do.
I would have expected better from the LTA, but I haven’t heard it specifically.
I’ve liked it, and not really found the treble problematic on a DNA Stratus, a WA33, and an Eddie Current Studio T.
Perhaps it is because of my age-related high frequency hearing loss, but I find the Utopia OG to be accurate and enjoyable; no piercing at all.
- Roon Nucleus > Matrix Element X > Transparent Ultra + Balanced XLR > Focal Utopia OG
And possibly the ear listening to it. We each have a different HRTF after all.
Isn’t this tuning change similar to the revision of the Clear? I know many people prefer the OG Clear and find the current one a little dull. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Clear amplifier setting on the Focal Arche also tame the highs a bit. I guess Focal prefers this tuning or at least thinks most buyers do.
Yes, but the difference with the Utopia is it very much can lean bright/harsh on the wrong chain, but I agree it’s hard to know why people hear what they hear.
I perceive that the Utopia holds clean high frequency notes better than most other products, and surely better than almost all studio equipment used to create the music in the first place. It isn’t necessarily bright (as in louder or having excess treble content), and discomfort follows from success in making pure notes in the highs. Most other products allow treble to fade into harmless hiss or can’t even reach extreme high notes and generate nothing at all.
Going back to this… This is such a weird chain imo. Why were these selected together?
HeadAmp had a slew high-end headphones laid out across two long tables at the show…all connected to the amps they sell. This included the GS-X mini and Blue Hawaii, and some that I’m forgetting or didn’t check. I specifically asked if the Dave was used as the DAC when trying the Utopia, Stealth, and Meze Elite on the GS-X mini, and was told yes. However, the quite youthful booth staff may have been chosen for their low pay rather than technical knowledge.
Indeed. This tends to be forgotten at times…
Price can be used as an indicator for a quality product but I find synergy is the most crucial element in building a personal end game rig. The Utopia is very easy to drive but often quite finicky especially with it’s slightly bright tilted signature and tendency to sound dry and possibly metallic if paired with similar dry sounding sources. A highly resolving dac like Dave or Wavedream can sound excellent but tonally I’d prefer something wetter and more warmer or more rounded like the original Yggdrasil or perhaps a Wavelight. Ultimately the OG Utopia is still a bright tilted headphone so I would advice against getting it for people sensitive to treble. The revision may fare better but like you’ve mentioned it may not work either.
OG Utopia on DNA is absurdly good. Whilst I’ve not heard the Studio T with Utopia I can certainly attest that it’s wetter sounding sibling, the Studio B, synergises perfectly with it.
I’ve listened to the Utopia (G1 or G2) on at least 8 amp combos ranging from cheap to expensive and from solid state to tube. Random treble stabs never went away on any setup. Issues arose and bothered me on the mildest vocals I could find. As such, I’ve sadly given up on synergy as realistic for my personal hearing (@AudioTool, @Nuance). I would have bought the Utopia a few years back if not for the treble, as it’s head-and-shoulders better than most headphones in all other ways.
My Utopia 2022 review is published now for those interested: Focal Utopia (2022) Headphones Review - Beryllium Speaker Drivers! | TechPowerUp, complete with a couple of shoutouts to Headphones.com!
Very excited to see what difference the famous Lazuli reference makes to OG Utopia. Just need to wait for the “oh so long” 100 hour break in period.
Awesome cable, I have one for my Nutopia. Hope you enjoy it!
I have been an admirer, part-time/full-time owner of the Utopia, 2016/2020 variants (U16/20) for well over a year, as such I recently purchased the latest 2022 Focal Utopia (U22). I want to express a huge thank you @taronlissimore and the headphones team for their assistance and prompt service. My U22 arrived mighty quick clocking in at just over 24 hours from time of submitting the order, to being unpacked and having its cherry popped
An aside and unrelated to anything meaningful to the headphone but a note/rant on nomenclature
I refuse to use the various names applied to the 2016/2020/2022 models such as OG, Nutopia, etc. one comes across a Nutella which I enjoy on toast, and the other is pretending to sound tough and hip. If you have to toss in OG then you have no idea what that actually means.
Back to my story, the first time I heard the U20 was off a DNA amp nearly 18 months ago. I was patiently waiting for my DNA amp to be completed and was lucky enough to hear them off a buddy’s Stellaris. I was blown away by the balance in tonality, the sheer speed of transients, and details portrayed in its staging where there was just enough space for every sound be it vocals, strings, percussion, or a digitized sample. Balance, nothing too far out and nothing too cramped together.
A few months later I was able to borrow my friend’s U20 and had the time to put it through the paces as my DNA Stratus arrived, along with other key pieces added since my first date
Primary Chain: Sonic Frontiers SFD-2 Mkii SE+ → DNA Stratus V4 → U22
Secondary Chain/Component Alternatives:
Vinyl Rig → DNA Stratus → Utopia
Chord TT2/M-Scaler → Utopia
DAC-> Bryston BHA-1 → Utopia
Other amps and DACs typically available are on loan, typically used for other headphones due to preference; Black Widow 2, Pass HPA-1, Chord Mojo/Poly, Musical Fidelity X-DAC V3, yada, yada, yada…
As one can see from the designated primary chain, tubes and Utopia are like peanut butter and jelly sandwich with sliced bananas. Maybe even a salted caramel flavored peanut butter if one enjoys the savory/sweet combo as I surely do. My preferred sound signature is left of neutral with a tinge of warmth, while maintaining the treble peaks.
Fast forward to this past fall, I was hedging my bets on a new Utopia release given there was much talk on various forums during the several Canjams of 2022. Each one came and went, and nothing. Lo and behold information began trickling out ahead of SoCal CanJam, and while I would have loved to get out there to try the U22 and compare directly with the U16/20 versions it was not meant to be. The impressions shared from those who attended SoCal Canjam, along with the reviews posted after the official announcement gave me pause on U22.
I personally found the U16/20 to be the most complete headphone for my needs. With any debate folks appeared to choose a side, where U16/20 owners held their ground as their model being all they needed and the U22 crowd of owners mixed with those who auditioned expressed praise for it “fixed” the perceived flaws of the older generations.
So yeah a lot of noise with speculative theories based on graphs and press releases and short of empirical information. As with most aspects within this hobby and responsible decision making, I often learn the hard way, one must experience for themselves to decide to add top of the line gear in this luxury of a hobby. I choose my words on luxury with intention, as this hobby is a luxury and many times the community collective seems to forget. So be grateful
In October I decided to pick up a used flawless U16 unit, and immediately I was brought back to my time with the U20. I literally had goosebumps, and proceeded to spend several hours each day reacquainting with my favorite tracks. The punch, the clarity, the sense of space, the bass hitting just right, with treble snapping in and out of focus when called upon. All the traits I enjoyed from the Utopia during previous demos and home trials. My logical next step was to bring the U22 into this madness of an audio experiment, learn how the subtle hardware changes translated into sonic traits and determine which Utopia variant was best suited for me.
(Will refrain from packaging, build quality, visuals, etc because in the big picture none of that means Jack Shite and has already been posted about elsewhere. I do see the irony given my narrative is akin to George R.R. Martin trying to explain one scene from the Song of Fire and Ice book series)
With little patience on day one, I immediately turn my rig on and begin to listen. Immediate reaction and no time to process coherent thoughts, my gut reaction is I do not sound like this updated Utopia. I had that look of….
I told some pals these sound like a pair of Beats, where the hell is the balanced tonality, the expression of the frequency range from low to high. It was literally a wall of noise with checking my ears, comparing against other cans at home, etc. Much could also be attributed to the this being a long day, I was pretty wiped out, and the physiological effects were in play. While I believe in burn in for some pieces of audio gear, or in the case of physical/mechanical components such as drivers I believe in break-in. The best analogy I could come up with is when you buy a new car, say a finely crafted German made sedan/coupe for the Autobahn. Yet upon the first few thousand miles must be cautious to allow for mechanical parts to be properly lubed and break in day to day use.
This is how I perceived the U22 with its Be driver and updated Cu-Al voice coil would need to be approached over the next several days. I went about setting a playlist on repeat using a classical music compilation, low-mid volume, six hours on/six hours off for the next several days with nightly checks on changes. Day 2, very little improvement and was not until Day 3 I begin to notice a bit more open up and the flat wall of sound slowly begin to show cracks with crumbling. As much as I wanted this to be the German sedan/coupe ready to hit the Autobahn after a few short days, it was not.
I visited Cap AudioFest in the midst of breaking in the U22, luckily there were a few tables where the U22 and U20 were present, while I am not able to determine if these U22 had any break-in it was evident the two variants distinctly sounded different on the different amps and DACS they were connected to.
So where am I now nearly two weeks later after receiving my U22? If you made it this far and wondering when I am going to actually post something meaningful, you will be disappointed. The U22 still comes across as having a wall of sound, with a warm tilt in tonality. Is it different from day one, yes it is and for those wondering why after nearly three weeks of break-in there has been little noticeable change? I must confess I lacked discipline after four days of the process, life interfered and a week later I have finally been able to put them on again for nightly sessions.
So I am at a crossroads with the U22, will the sound change in the right direction with more break-in? My gut tells me not by much more, it is a warmer and less coherent presentation compared to the U16/20. Perhaps my esoteric nature interprets this latest model as being more consumer friendly, aimed at allowing a variety of music to all sound slightly better than average. Wheres the U16/20 would be absolutely ruthless with recordings, similar to data analysis where crap in translates into crap out, the U16/U20 is honest to a fault. Do I want a TOTL headphone to smooth out the rough patches, hell no. That is why I have other headphones in the stable, for those days when smooth is decompression therapy.
Perhaps there is a place to have the U16/20 and U22 in my collection only time will tell…
Stay tuned for updates to this journey as I am a stubborn bastard who has a hard time giving up. If not for more thoughts about the Utopia, at the very least watch this space as one never knows if I am going to be coming in hot
Mine definitely needed burn in. Initially they seemed dull, flat, blunted bass, very odd. After some time they opened up. Bass came alive and nothing but positive since. Definitely an easy listen. The highs get to that point where it’s almost too much but they never reach it. Comes off smooth where it needs to be.
Im sure some will just prefer the OG when it’s said and done though. And that’s cool. I don’t think I’d want these any brighter in the upper FR personally.
Great writeup. I’ve compared the U20 and U22 side by side. I prefer the former by a margin that isn’t razor thin. The U22 has less treble, more bass. However, the most noticeable differences go beyond frequency response.
The Utopia is at it’s best when it doesn’t shy away from being impressive and relentless. I’ve had superlative listening experiences with the U20. The U22 has less energy, less speed, less dynamics. I reach for the Utopia to have my world tastefully rocked. The U22 is less able to do that.
Notwithstanding, the U22 has a wider stage and better separation among the performers. I found it slightly harder to drive, which an industry insider also observed. The U22 may not be able to be parachuted in to replace a U20 in a system optimized for the latter.
My view is that the U22 was deliberately tuned to cater to a larger audience with what is probably a more consumer friendly tuning that is more forgiving and does well with a wider range of sources, preferred by some. That’s a good business decision, but the U22 may not have the highest sonic ceiling for certain ears and pairings.
Looking forward to checking them out in home!
Looking forward to your impressions. I definitely would like to try out the OG. I still think I’d be annoyed by anything higher in the upper FR, but definitely want to give them a shot.
I was using the HD800S off the stratus for weeks and went right into the Nutopia comparison. Never felt the Nutopia was dull or too colored in comparison (after I let them burn in for over 24hr straight). Nutopia had much more clarity and detail IMO too.