When it comes to audio equipment or any hobby in particular, the old saying applies: “There are levels to this.” And there really are.
There’s mainstream, then an entry-level enthusiast section, mid-tier, high-tier, grails, and the top-of-the-line. Of course, the divisions between each of these differ highly based on personal perceptions of pricing and segmentation.
What others consider to be endgame may be solely established on the most they’re willing to spend on a piece of technology or whatever that may be. Experts also state that beyond a certain point is a section of diminishing returns, where only seasoned listeners can tell the difference.
Of course, at the end of the day, listening is all subjective.
What would happen if I, your average, run-of-the-mill audio enthusiast, were to try out the heralded 2022 Focal Utopia that retails for $4,999?
Keep in mind that I haven’t tested anything remotely within this price range, with my personal go-to’s being the Hifiman Sundaras and the Moondrop Blessing 2:Dusk IEMs. While those are respectable, they’re nowhere near the same stratosphere that the Utopias are competing in.
I also decided to bring a friend with absolutely ZERO Hi-Fi experience with me to try them out as well. We each decided to get around ten minutes with the headphones in-store to gather up our thoughts and impressions.
Keep in mind that we let the store clerks handle the source but, apparently, it was an enthusiast-level setup worthy of these grail headphones.
How Focal Utopia Sounds
First and foremost, let’s get this out of the way: the Focal Utopia deserves every bit of the hype that it gets. I’m not exactly sure if it’s worth the price as I haven’t really heard any of its competitors in its price range but it did blow my mind in terms of technicalities and detail.
At some point, you really do believe that you’re willing to settle for something less than the top since it “works for you.”
And honestly, most of the time, ignorance is bliss. I realized this when my eyes were opened to things I had never heard before in all-too-familiar tracks. It was like listening to them again for the first time – the vocals, instruments, and everything else were fresh.
As expected, the Focal Utopia is the furthest thing from what will satisfy bass heads – even if it does have a tight punch. There are tons of other cheaper options for that.
Normally, I have something to say about every piece of audio equipment I review, such as strong points, compromises, and other things to keep it fair. But with the Focal Utopia, I don’t have any negative things to say – probably besides the fact that I can’t afford them.
I can understand why this is considered endgame but it’s also likely that there are things that other brands do better (such as the Hifiman Susvara, Meze Audio Empyrean, Audeze LCD-4z, and the significantly more expensive Sennheiser HE-1/Orpheus).
To my ears, though, it’s something to aspire for even if there’s a high chance that I’m missing out on certain improvements of the Utopia over not only its previous iterations but also headphones just a tier lower. Those full-range 40mm Beryllium dynamic drivers are no joke.
Surprisingly, despite its weight, the Focal Utopia is well-padded and comfortable. Of course, I only wore them for ten minutes but there are some headphones that start to feel uncomfortable even before that time limit arrives.
Those minutes flew by in a flash. The store staff offered to give me more time but I didn’t want to be so convinced as to make a terrible financial decision on the spot. I decided to check out the more accessible Focal Clears while my beginner friend had his run with the Focal Utopia.
After his time was up, he admitted that his impressions were very much affected by the price. If he didn’t know how much they cost beforehand then he could’ve listened to them more objectively. However, he did agree that there were a ton of elements in certain tracks that he’d never noticed before.
The technicalities weren’t as apparent but they still shone through to an absolute newbie. That’s unbelievable.
Trying Out More Stuff
Thanks to the friendly staff at the store, I was able to give the Hifiman Susvara a test run. Yes, the ones that retail for around $1000 more than the Utopias.
When we asked which one sold more, our guide replied that it depends on whether the buyer has the setup to accommodate the Susvara. Apparently, one would need a higher-end system to drive these headphones – which may or may not be true, but I’m declaring it here as per our guide’s experience.
It would be unfair to compare the two since the Susvara was using a completely different source.
One thing I noticed though was that these somehow managed to transcend the very high bar set by the Focal Utopia fifteen minutes ago, detail retrieval-wise at least. Maybe it comes down to the Utopias having a dynamic driver arrangement and the Susvaras with its planar technology.
Despite my pointing it out though, I’m still unable to quantify how big the difference is. It’s enough for a mid-tier guy like me to notice but others may be less or more sensitive to it than I am. My friend didn’t notice the distinction between the two at all.
Overall, it was an amazing day to try out top-tier cans and see what they’re really like. We ended the day with my friend purchasing a pair of IEMs instead for his first step into audiophile territory.
I’ll be reviewing these FiiO FA9 IEMs soon!
As someone who is very passionate about all things tech, Nath loves breaking concepts down into simple terms for even beginners to understand. In his free time, he travels, indulges in his automotive hobbies, or simply looks for new jams to listen to.
This post was last updated on 2023-12-02 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.