World's Best Headphone: The Focal Utopia Measurements

Click on graphs image to download .pdf for closer inspection.

Raw frequency response plots show some significant change in response between 200Hz and 2kHz with movement on head, the biggest range of change occurred between 1kHz and 2kHz. In listening test I clearly heard changes when moving the headphones forward and back on my head. When my ears were in the front of the cups it got brighter, when towards the rear of the cups it became warmer.

Raw frequency response plot can be read as this headphone having a very broad and flat hump between 10Hz and 500Hz, and then rising nicely to the peak at 3kHz...but, everything is pretty shallow and smooth, so I'd say it looks pretty flat. Target response would probably want the peak at 3kHz to be a few dB higher. Thing is, this headphone sounds so coherent and whole that I don't think I'd even want the Focal engineers to start tweaking suff around any more strongly if it would take away from the wonderfully integrated sound of these cans. I'll just EQ in a little more bass and call it good.

One interesting note is the two peaks at 3kHz and 4kHz that coincides with a little wiggle in the impedance and phase curves. My guess is there's some subtle tweaking going on here; I didn't hear anything amiss here in listening.

30Hz square wave shape is good for an open, dynamic driver headphone. Swayback is small for a headphone of this type, and distortion figures are likewise excellent. It doesn't have the slam of an Audeze, but it's damned good.

300Hz square wave shows a first overshoot of about the right size, then a subsequent ring and modest noise. Impulse response likewise shows good overall shape but some modest ringing at a few of frequencies. 300Hz square wave has nice horizontal overall shape indicating good tonal balance in the treble. These are good results, but not great...and the headphones sound great. I think with the Utopias we're really beginning to enter the territory where the measurements aren't telling you much about how good the headphones really sound.

Distortion is ridiculously low. These headphones sound ridiculously clean.

Impedance plot shows a headphone with a nominal 85 Ohm impedance, but at the primary resonance hump at 50Hz impedance ascends to just over 300 Ohms. Headphone amplifiers with an output impedance of over 10 Ohm may begin to emphasize this hump. If done judiciously this may give these headphones a tasty bit of umph in the lows. This headphone is worthy of a great headphone amplifier, and I'm thinking careful matching with a killer tube amp might deliver a very special experience.

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drm870's picture

How does this compare to Sennheiser's new Orpheus version?

drm870's picture

Whoops, forgot the Orpheus is an electrostat (and would presumably be included in your lump "Electrostatics" comparison, then). Sorry!

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I've only had a couple short listening sessions with it. I wouldn't want to lump it in with the others out of hand, but I can tell you that I was personally more impressed with the Utopia when first exposed to it. $55000 is a VERY high bar.
drm870's picture

About what I expected you to say. :) I mean, regardless of which you thought was better on absolute terms, I figured the Utopia pretty much had to be the better value (to put it lightly).

brax's picture

I would love to hear your opinion of the Utopia in direct comparison with the Stax SR-009 and one of the better electrostatic amps you yourself reviewed in 2012. As in 'The Big Sound' your only having one electrostatic amp, one nobody would have claimed as the best at bringing out the best in the Stax SR-009 that you are basing your present opinion on - and - that almost a year removed -? As both phones you rated as 'the world's best headphone', with your extraordinary perspective your objective opinion of one against the other - set up competitively - would be extremely useful.

EvenR's picture

Which ones are best with the elear and utopia?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I test all headphones on the Simaudio HA430.
shp.jc's picture

I heard the Focals with the Simaudio 430 at the Focal event at The Source AV and the combination was fantastic.

sunnydaler's picture

typical close-miked and heavy-handed 'popular music' recording are not good for imaging test in super near-fielding listening.

thekorsen's picture

Its funny you mentioned soundstage depth being EQ dependant, I was coming to the same conclusion after experimenting to make my TH-X00s sound like my ALpha Primes. By adding a sloped EQ in certain areas, it seemed like the placement of certain instruments was changed in the vertical axis too. But overall, it seems like the presence region and the bass had the biggest impact on staging. When EQed with staging in mind, I did get my X00s to have much larger soundstage (now more out of the head than in) and got the primes to be very upfront and intimate. It really makes me wonder if this has anything to do with how the HD800 create depth, and if a depth focused EQ on the elear could bring it onto the playing field of the sound stage big boys, abeit at the cost of a great tonal flavor.

tony's picture

Dynamic Drivers
.08 milliwatt effeciency, an easy to drive 86 ohm voice coil.
A new Gold Standard.

I'm quite pleased about Equalization being a part of this Review, it's about time the Consumer folks to realize it's importance.

$4,000 should be easy for those 'collectors' who've already spent far beyond this level ( time for Ebay to do it's closet cleaning job ).

Betcha these things would be useful for evaluating various Electronics and Recording Sound Quality for guys like Bob Katz, I hope to hear his input on this.

Thanks for sharing the good news!

Tony in Michigan

ps. A high-tech advancement from a Socialist Economy, one we've never gone to war with, hmm, something strange about all this.

JacktheMac's picture

Why on earth should a socialist economy not produce high tech items ?

You sound as if you’re confusing a socialist economy with a Soviet economy. America is getting so loony tunes right wing that socialism is a dirty word. Perhaps you should visit Europe where most countries have free health care, higher educational standards and top rank literacy rates – and socialist parties either in power or the main opposition.

I don’t want to go off topic, and this will be my one and only post on the subject, but remember there is a real world outside the US where socialism and liberalism are perceived as Good Things by a large percentage of the people.

tony's picture

I quite agree, I visit Europe often and am rather envious of the Europeans. I'm working to bring those European qualities to the USA.

I included my little snipe to remind folks that France and Socialism is a very good thing creating very good things.

Your response warms my heart.

Annnnnnd, America is getting Loony Tunes, I'm glad you noticed!, Europeans I work with are amazed at how "nuts" American consumerism has become.

I hope to meet you, one day. I stand with the JacktheMacs of the World!!!

Thanks for writing,

Tony in Michigan

ps. I've been part of the Bernie Sanders infrastructure

JacktheMac's picture


In my haste to condemn I misread your comment. Apologies !

I was in NYC last month (I've lost count of the number of times I have been to the US in the last 35 years) and I guess the polarisation of GOP and Democrats scared me.

Anyway, whatever our political or economic cultures, how the heck are we are going to afford these headphones ! My Philips Fidelio IIs will have to last a while yet, though I'm intrigued by the eLears...

And yes, if I was American I'd be Bernie all the way.

tony's picture

Patience is a virtue,
posses it if you can,
seldom in a Woman,
often in a Man!

shakesphere ( i think )

Someone will buy the el-ears and then decide to buy the Utopia.
The Elears will appear on Ebay for 60%-70% of Retail, ( beautiful condition ).
You've saved and are ready.
Viola, you'll have them.

In the mean time you'll have had the advantage of letting "Impulsive - Compulsive" tendencies fade to manageable levels.

And you'll have the advantage of noticing Sennheiser's response to these new Driver technologies, perhaps creating an even more attractive set of options.

What's the hurry? Our wonderful TTVJ ( up in Montana of all places ) aptly describes how we are now rapidly advancing.

Of course, Tyll's endorsements of these transducers is causing all the up-roar, who'd believe anyone else on these matters?

Have a quick look-see at his next Wall of Fame and up-grade accordingly.

Tony in Michigan

JacktheMac's picture

I think even 60-70% of $1000/£800 would probably precipitate divorce proceedings in the JacktheMac household !

Tyll keeps dangling these sublime goodies on my screen. Get thee behind me !

tony's picture

That's a good one but don't try saying that to a Woman!

On the entire World Scale, you've made it up to a Quality Audio system, you are one of the "Lucky Few"!

Tony in Michigan

JacktheMac's picture

I know. Time to appreciate what we have. The Fidelio X2s knocked my socks off, and they can now be bought for under £200/$350.

Plus I just took delivery of a new Canon 80D to replace my ancient 30d, so I can’t complain !

tony's picture

Very nice camera, 1080P Video @ 60 frames.

Seems like we all have a Camera love.

I've limited myself to the tiny pocket Canons, I own two, an Orange Elph 100HS and the better S110. I have owned much larger Digital as well as Medium Format Film Cameras.

My view ( or take ) on headphones is that they are Dopamine activation devices. Since I'm a bit of an addict on these things and would like to "manage" my addictions, I've limited myself to the Sennheiser HD580/600/650 level. I love the HD800 and feel that "Eargasm" that Tyll talks about, the HD800 might be too addictive.

I feel compelled to own the intricate renderings experience being reported about these Elears & Utopia, plus, I'd love to own something French. The Focal people have been Siren calling me for quite some time. The Focals seem to be "Future proof" in that they are so amazingly efficient. The future, I see, is our Phones being our Hi-Fi system. ( I realize the iPhone 7 will not have a headphone jack ) Seems like a little DAC ( Mojo ) will suffice for all things musical.

With the Economic Crash of 2007 nearly 10 years behind us, I'm noticing a flood of technological advancements arriving. It has always taken a decade for Economic Bubble burst recoveries, it's about time to expect wonderful things, again! ( except for Greece, I suppose ).

Just today I'm investing in PEX expansion tubing systems for my home renovation. I've taken up plumbing as "one more hobby". I'm buying the Milwaukee M12 Pex expansion tool and a range of 1/2" and 3/4" tubing & fittings from Supply House. com. I just ( 4 days ago ) failed to properly solder up copper for a laundry sink installation, darn stuff keeps leaking. ( although I thought I knew how to solder )

Bon Vivant,

Tony in Michigan

JacktheMac's picture

I’m gobsmacked by the capabilities of the 80D. Even the photos I take with my ageing Sigma lenses are vastly improved, and the camera can do just about anything. I can’t imagine how anyone new to photography could easily get to grips with tech like this: I’m used to DSLRs, but the leap to the 80D was huge - even after owning it for a couple of weeks I’m still finding new facets.

I think you’re right about the iPhone 7 et. seq. being the new hifi. It’s an obvious direction to go after 4K video.

Admission: I bought a Cambridge DAC for my 5K iMac, the relevant software and a couple of my favourite albums in HD. I am sorry to admit that I couldn’t hear much difference – the money would have been much better spent on even better headphones !

My latest (rather enforced hobby) has been Mac networking (that’s using ethernet, wifi and Static IPs not socialising with fellow Apple fans). I managed to terminate both ends of a Cat5e cable the other day – something which gave me an inordinate amount of pride.

Sad really...


tony's picture

I have em too.

I'm happy (and staying) with 16/44.1

Tony in Michigan

IridiumEagle's picture

I would be curious to hear the vendor's precautions around the use of beryllium in the tweeters. Beryllium is a neurotoxin, so I guess I was a little surprised to hear it was being used in headphones.

Many speakers with beryllium tweeters carry warnings that if the tweeters are shattered you will be inhaling toxic dust. Shattering can apparently be triggered by simply overloading some speakers (e.g. (See the NS2000 reference on this page)
Once in your body, beryllium cannot be removed.

In the product manual, does Focal state if you have to do anything special in the event that you drop this headphone or your child puts it in its mouth, etc.?

tony's picture

There had to be a catch, darn.

I suppose you present good, sound reasoning for settling on the Alum. Coned Elear.

If it takes a long time to kill ya, it still might be ok, I'm quite old and on the Waiting list for Oakwood Cemetery.

I'll suspect the ultra compliant suspension provides the resolution improvements, not the Dome material type, these things easily respond to less than 1hz. breath movements.

I've used Beryllium in instrumentation diaphragms , it's pretty hard to fatigue it, it's kinda springy as I recall, very reliable.

If you are correct ( I have no reason to think you're not ) these Utopia phone packagings will come with Health warning stickers , just like we have for Cigarettes and Booze and Garden pesticides. ( and most children's toys, can't forget the children ).

Thanks for the warning, hmm, Audio bad for health reasons, who'd of thought. ( other than the many ProAudio folks that went deaf )

Tony in Michigan

Josuah's picture

May I suggest looking at impulse response measurements, specifically the amplitude of the initial positive and negative signals relative to each other, for depth. And channel separation / crosstalk and maybe acoustic phase for width. Punchy might be exposed via multi-tone THD measurements and impulse response decay.

Elen Kras's picture

Great review!

Elear vs HD700?
And we are still waiting full review hd700;)

AllanMarcus's picture

The HD700 is bad. Review complete.

Phoniac's picture

Fully agree.

Elen Kras's picture

Bad, but only for bassheads or for 1500+$ category.

In my opinion so many people think that they are bad is because they listening them right out the box or unheated.I am listening my pair of hd700 for more then 200 hours, I've seen how they have changed.

Harshness sometime, a the only my complaint, but overall they are amazing, impossible to find anything better it same price category(opened headphones, and it mean that you just can't find more natural sounding headphones at this price point)
Very musical, positive sound(enough dark when it need), lightweight, beautiful design, very comfortable, easy to drive.Bass is enough for any music style or movie.

AND, I think that there is no such thing as a flat frequency response.Flat is good only for studio.Because when we focus on something , especially for a long time , it becomes louder and more detailed.Usually we are more concentrating on vocals, that's why hd700 hole in the midrange , they did it on purpose because in the real world it is the only way to achieve a flat frequency response.Elear and Utopia not flat.Maybe in studio.But never when you are listening music, especially for long time.And I think that people think too much about the details , but in reality we are not so focused on the music that it plays a role, usually when listening we think about something , doing something.therefore 99 % of the time we do not notice the details of which are paying the extra $ 1000 +.That is why hd700 overall is the best headphones in a world.simply they have everything you need , they are balanced in all aspects , and in sound and design .270 grams!You just can't find better headphones for extended listening.These comfortable that you forget about them.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Gotta, they're just bad.
Elen Kras's picture

They are just not for your taste.Headphones are not only about the truth...They are about character too, about pleasure.!I will never buy headphones that reveal the truth!They are all bad, because most of music is bad because of bass(even my favorite artists - massive attack, nin, underworld).You love bass, I hate bass.And I love exaggerated highs of hd700, a lot of light , positivity , purity , energy , liveliness, love overall character, and how everything balanced, bass is never fighting with other frequencies, just amazing how musical they are.I don't care about what artist want to see in his track, I am only care about my taste, using hd700 I change the frequency of my favorite music to my taste.Elear is bad for me, and UGLY(especially Utopia),and weigh too much.The wall of fame is about your personal taste.I searched among all headphones and I chose hd700.Because of character, and they truthful but where !I! need.Beatiful, lightweight, easy to drive, bass is great from any source(try the same with hd650...)And when I watch movies I just making them much LOUDER - bass is incredible, very big and super clean.You forgot that HD700 made after hd800 and they are have that technology that even hd800 don't have.And yes, I forgot 0,03 % thd.Thx sennheiser.