The Focal Utopia Headphones

Having lived with a number of Focal speakers over the last five years, the family resemblance between the Utopia headphones and their floorstanding speakers is unmistakable.


The quick, lively, accurate sound I’ve grown accustomed to is now available for personal listening.
Short story, I love them.

At $3,995, these are top tier premium phones to be sure. Yet unlike some of the other big guns, the Utopias sound incredibly good merely plugged in to my first gen Astell & Kern player or even the Dell desktop that I use to control ROON in my main system. Ditto for the iPad, so these are not like a number of other premium phones that absolutely require a major headphone amplifier to deliver great sound.

Past experience with Focal speakers (and their beryllium tweeters) shows they need a while to break in properly, sounding slightly edgy out of the box. The Utopia headphones are similar, so they stayed plugged into the Dell with music on repeat for a solid week before beginning serious listening. I suggest you do the same, or the brittle sound you start with may scare you off.

Plugging in to a number of different headphone amplifiers, Kevin Deal from Upscale Audio suggests the Feliks Audio Elise. At only $1,649, this makes for an incredible combination, where my Pass HPA-1 is still a touch forward for my personal taste. The Elise transforms the Utopias, mellowing them out that last bit. Passing from my desk to the living room where a pair of Focal Kanta no.3s are playing (via an all tube VAC i170) the sonic signature is wonderfully similar. We’ll have a full report on the Elise very soon.

The Utopia uses a single, full-range beryllium driver, and I firmly believe that this lack of crossover is a big part of the coherent, open sound these phones deliver. Thanks to the low mass of this driver, the Utopias sound remarkably similar to my favorite planar phones.

No matter what kind of music you gravitate towards, the seamless quality of the Utopias will bring it out. Tracking through a long playlist of Blue Note classics shows off how well these phones capture the fine details of acoustic instruments. Horns and piano are full of texture, and thanks to the ultra dynamic nature of the Utopia driver, drums take on a new level of realism, capturing the initial strike of the drum heads with amazing precision.

Listening to Frank Zappa’s Freak Out! reveals what makes the Utopias worth the price. Their ability to disentangle complex recordings is fantastic. Anyone who happens to be a student of Zappa knows how much he packs into any tune. The massive bass riff in the opening of “Who Are The Brain Police?” is kept in balance with all the tinkly percussion bits, surrounded by layer upon layer of vocals – with Zappa staying front, center, right inside your brain as you listen.

The Utopias do and equally enticing job with sparse musical selections. Moving all the way through Twin Peaks (Music From the Limited Event) I’m stopped dead in my tracks on Sharon Van Etten’s “Tarifa.” If you aren’t/weren’t a Twin Peaks fan, at the end of the new episodes (produced around 2017) there is a different band playing in the bar. David Lynch had an incredible sensitivity for the music featured in the original series, and continues this trend here. It’s worth a spin on your favorite streaming service, you might find a few good test tracks!

As you take the Utopias out of their supplied carrying case, you’ll quickly notice the high level of fit and finish these headphones offer – just like a pair of Grande Utopia Ems. Everything is machined to a standard that you might expect from an F1 car or fine wristwatch. With Focal, engineering and craftsmanship always serves the art. Beautiful to behold, yes. But remarkable to listen to.

Well worth the price asked, these belong at the top of the premium headphone mountain.