Katz’s Corner Episode 14: Guest Listeners Shoot out Audeze LCD-4 vs. Focal Utopia Matt Davis
Matt Davis’s Listen/Eval
Morph The Cat by Donald Fagen:
LCD-4: Fuller and warmer low mids. Lows are definitely rounder than on the Focals.
Utopia: Have a somewhat hyped upper band 7k+. Air frequency transient response is absolutely there.
Both cans have great air bands but the LCD-4 is more natural there. “Punch” is good on both. Both headphones are articulate. Our main distinction is their tonal contour. Both headphones sound incredible.
You Lied by 52nd Street Blues Project (Chesky Records):
Great natural live recording with a “you are there” feel.
Both headphones have good localization. The Focals seem to have better localization, but not surprisingly because of the air band where the ears pick up on spatiality. It’s amazing how biased you get to the headphone you start with on a track. I think the upper midrange is in the right place for both but a little sweeter on the LCD-4s. My preference is the LCD-4.
Ray Charles and Norah Jones, Here We Go Again:
The loudness matching [Bob adjusted] can to can for this test is perfect. This song is endemically a warmer, fuller track, a great mix. I appreciate the lows in the LCD-4s whereas on the Focals the organ solo sounds thinner. The Focal draws your attention and focus to the upper register instruments in the mix. The snare in both cans is timbrally different, transients are rounder and sweeter in the LCD-4s while in the Utopias they are more defined but they are also a bit brittle compared to the LCD-4s. There’s something going on at 6k in the Focals that’s not esthetically pleasing.
FB Pocket Orchestra, I Lost My Girl from Memphis:
I remember how this sounds on the Dyns [BK: See episode 13 for a description of the reference Dynaudio loudspeakers]. The 6k brassiness is very evident on the Focal in this song, so material which is already bright becomes harsh. The transients are there in the vocals in both headphones, a little more emphasized in the Focal but more natural in the Audeze. Although the lows are thinner in the Utopias, it’s very detailed in both. I can hear the air coming off the bass drum in both cans. Oh.... as soon as I put this song on the LCD-4s, the LCD-4 sounds so much better.
Alejandra Robles, Angelitos Negros:
Focal: Great showcase of how drivers respond to dynamics. I was on the lookout for vocals to have the potential for “grating” and perceptually the vocal was grating on this can. [BK note: On an inferior system, Alejandra’s voice can sound grating, but on the Dynaudio reference system it’s pure and beautiful.].
LCD-4: Vocal sounds just as up front in the mix, but it’s smooth, sweeter, less brassy. It’s an accurate representation of what I remember from the Dynauadios. The vocal is supposed to be up front but it does so in a nuanced way, it is not an assault on the ears on these cans.
Lindsey Webster, Back To Your Heart:
Focal: This is the bassiest track in the test set as far as deep bass instrument goes. Even on a bass-heavy track like this the Utopias feel anemic and lacking in dimension/depth. The Focals are more forward, it depends on whether the listener wants to get hit in the face with detail.
LCD-4: I went in trying to decide if the strong bass on this cut might mask the detail in the upper bands and it definitely does not. I think the crux of this comparison is going to be the audience’s threshold in different spectral bands and their masking, people’s preferred contour [BK note: spoken like a true degree graduate acoustic engineer!]. The LCD-4s are warm and rich but without hindering detail, but when I switched I may have noticed a comparative loss in detail, but this is the instantaneous psychoacoustic effect when switching to a brighter presentation.
Doors, Love Her Madly:
Great 60s aggressive panning due to a minimal number of tracks which means a lot of tracks are mono and panned to one side or the other. This is a litmus test to hear how premium headphones react to non-audiophile tracks. On this track it’s a close call, a tight race.
Focal: On a track like this that is kind of eroded in detail it’s kind of nice to hear a track reproduced on headphones that bring out detail. So even though the Focals sound thinner, they add something to it. I think this is the first track that I prefer the Utopias on in terms of detail. However...
LCD-4: Despite that I like the extra detail provided in this track from the Focals, I somehow like it better overall in the LCD-4s, because the cut just feels good, there’s a mojo in these cans that the Utopias do not have. [BK note: I wonder if the “mojo” Matt is referring to is the unique LCD-4 bass punch, which I think helps this tune rock.]
Matt general comments: A person’s preference is according to their application. Both headphones have clear strengths. The Utopias are very detailed/revealing. I can see them as great for QCing, clinical. But if I’m at home listening to records I prefer the LCD-4’s for that, even though slightly less detailed.
Matt Davis’ Ratings
Scale 1-10, with 10 being the best it can be.
|Attribute||Audeze LCD-4||Focal Utopia|
|Comfort||10- cushier, better padding, the weight doesn’t bother me||9|
|Accuracy bass- sub 20-40||9 because may be too strong||7|
|Accuracy Mid bass 50-80||9, maybe slightly pushed but very nicely and enjoyable||7 (thin)|
|Accuracy Upper bass 80-110||10||8.5|
|Accuracy Low mids 200-1k||10||9|
|Accuracy mids 2k-5k||9.5||10|
|Accuracy Upper mids 5k-8k||10 smooth||7 - harsh, their weakest link|
|Accuracy Treble 9k-12k||9||10|
|Accuracy Extreme Treble 13k+||9.5||9.5|
|Stereo Imaging||8.5||10 - because of the treble|
|Size of Image||9||9|
|Dynamics, Wow factor||9.5||8.5|
|Any harshness (10 means none)||10||7.5|
|Design and look||10, love the wood grain||9.5...both headphones are beautiful|