Ladies and gentlemen, in tonight’s main event, an upstart heavyweight contender for the TOTL belt.
In 2016, Focal threw down the proverbial gauntlet and challenged all comers to do battle for headphone superiority. Focal’s Utopia headphones offered jaw-dropping sonic performance, luxurious design, and a nearly unheard-of price tag. For six years, the Utopia have battled the best-of-the-best contenders.
Although the original Utopia still shows far more grace than the typical aging, shopworn prizefighter, Focal decided it needed some younger blood in the ring to contend with recent releases from the likes of Audeze and Meze Audio.
Cue the ring entrance music. Clear the isles. Put your hands together. The Utopia have arrived.
Yup, the Utopia are replacing the Utopia. Has the name changed at all? Nope. How about a v.2.0 or something of the like? Still, no.
The original Utopia underwent a refresh in 2020 (with an additional cable and a new case), but nothing significant changed.
That is, until now.
The Utopia (2022) are updated to be aesthetically in line with the revised Focal Clear Mg, modifying the concentric circle pattern on the ear cups to a distinctive honeycomb shape. The black with hints of red colorway remains essentially unchanged. The grill over the driver is now M-shaped to follow the driver’s contours.
Internally the voice coil has changed from all aluminum to an aluminum-copper blend, although the technical specs stay pretty much the same.
So, the Utopia (2022) are still a Utopia. Refreshed and tweaked to be sure and intended to hold onto the end-game tier prize belt.
Are the changes enough to be the champion in 2022? Can they go the distance?
Put in your mouthguard and lace up your gloves. Let’s see if the new model has got the grit and guts to claim glory in today’s TOTL ring.
Founded in 1979 and located in Saint-Étienne, France, Focal specializes in designing and manufacturing high-end audio loudspeakers and headphones. They develop all their products on-site and perform the majority of manufacturing in-house.
Focal states their ultimate goal is to reproduce the artist’s work as faithfully as possible by crafting products capable of ultimate audio fidelity. All the while, they maintain a stunning design culture that is distinctively their own.
“Flawless performance with a distinguished style.” – Focal
- Form: Open-back, Over-ear
- Drivers: 40mm Beryllium dynamic drivers, ‘M’-shaped dome
- Impedance (Ohm): 80 Ohms
- Sensitivity (dB): 104dB SPL / 1mW @1kHz
- Frequency Response (Hz): 5 Hz – 50 KHz
- THD: <0.2 % @1kHz / 100dB SPL
- Removable Cable: Y
- Source Jack: 1.5m TRS cable with 3.5mm, 3m 4-pin XLR balanced
- Cup/Shell Jack: 2x Lemo connector
- Mic: N
- Weight (g): 490g
Opening Focal’s higher-end packaging all but ruins the unboxing experience for other companies. You know you’ve got your mitts on high-end gear from the moment you encounter the monolithic “leather-effect,” felt-lined, black box.
Slide the top up and off, and you’ll find Focal’s standard zippered case and a second box containing the balanced 4-pin XLR cable and paperwork. Inside the travel case, you’ll find the Utopia (2022), a shorter 3.5mm TRS cable, and a 6.35mm adapter.
In the box
- Utopia (2022) headphones
- Zippered hard case
- 3.5 TRS cable (1.5m)
- 4-pin XLR cable (3m)
- 1/4” (6.35mm) adapter
The two cables are classic Focal design, featuring logoed metal connectors and y-split, with a sturdy feeling rubber sheath. Unfortunately, the robust cables tend to hold their shape and remain zig-zag bent when uncoiled.
The Lemo connectors attach with a satisfying click but are only labeled with small, hard-to-see, debossed L and R indicators in the black rubber boots. A color-coded band would go a very long way to simplify the channel identification process.
Both cables work fine and are relatively resistant to microphonics, but I can’t help but wish they were a little more supple to help them sit flat and hang straight. This is the TOTL category, after all.
If you, like me, are a fan of the Focal design, you’ll find that the Utopia (2022) fit right in and feel like the pinnacle of the lineup’s aesthetic.
The severe and meticulous design reminds me of the Ferrari supercars. The black colorway with red highlights feels more aggressive than the softer browns and blues in their other headphones.
The design builds upon the original Utopia, changing the cup’s exterior venting screen design to hexagons, like the Clear Mg. Reportedly this design improves airflow and ‘openness.’ Donning the headphones with nothing playing reinforces this claim, as external noises pass right through with essentially no isolation. Open, indeed.
The yokes are made of carbon fiber flakes, yielding a subtle patina as different pieces within the material catch the light.
Materials, construction, and design simply don’t get any better than this.
The Utopia (2022) do a great job conveying intrinsic worth and feel every bit of their TOTL status.
The soft perforated lambskin leather headband and ear pads feel perfect on the head. As is typical with Focal’s headphones, the cups exert more pressure along their bottom edge, which can be somewhat uncomfortable on your jaw until your head or the headphones break in and adjust.
I’m used to it, but some may be surprised upon first wearing. The benefit of this hearty clamp force is that the Utopia (2022) stay put on your head and are unlikely to take a tumble.
At 490g, the Utopia (2022) are not lightweight and feel substantial when wearing. At about a pound, this is near the sweet spot for headphones to seem robust and well-crafted without becoming too heavy for extended listening sessions.
The engine of this supercar has received a tune-up as well. The former’s aluminum voice coil is now updated with a copper (30%) and aluminum (70%) blend. It’s still a 40mm beryllium, M-shaped driver, but the new voice coil is expected to improve durability and tonality.
The protective grill reflects the M-shape and is curved to match the driver below. First seen in the Clear Mg, this new grill shape is said to fine-tune treble reproduction.
Focal Utopia (2022) Sound
My music mix was my typical concoction of pop, rock, soul, and folk delivered at various resolutions and formats, including streaming.
As an average Joe with a realistic budget, I wish I could report that you can buy an inexpensive pair of headphones and capture everything this hobby offers. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for you, me, and our collective wallets.
The Utopia (2022) are everything that makes a pair of headphones great, dialed up a notch. Proof that sometimes quality is, indeed, in line with cost.
Effortless. Refined. Detailed. Composed. Cohesive.
Like the Audeze LCD-5, another TOTL contender, the Utopia (2022), shine a magnifying glass on the quality of the source components and music format. Detail and clarity are abundant, but unlike the LCD-5, upon first listen, the Utopia (2022) feel a bit more grounded with a midrange warmth that balances an analytical nature.
The Utopia (2022) are easier to appreciate on first impression. The leaner sound signature of the LCD-5 left some reviewers questioning a perceived lack of low-end presence. To be honest, it took me some time to acclimate and appreciate what the LCD-5 can bring to the listening experience.
Comparing the two, the Utopia (2022) are more efficient and play louder at the same power level. They are also more forward and intimate. The sound seems livelier and more filled in.
The LCD-5 project a sparser soundstage than the Utopia (2022) who seem to move the performers closer together into a slightly more cohesive whole. With pure rock tracks, such as Sloan’s Losing California, Chris, and the boys, seem to be playing on a more intimate stage on the Utopia (2022).
Nothing is unrealistically enhanced, yet the Utopia (2022) are eminently capable of reproducing frequency extremes. If the music calls for a subsonic rumble or airy sparkle, the Utopia (2022) deliver. This composed and effortless representation defines listening to these superb headphones.
With well-mastered music and a sufficiently capable source, nothing jumps out to spoil the immersive experience; the Utopia (2022) are sublimely controlled, neither boosting nor missing anything from the performance. An effortless poise that naturally presents the heart of the music.
The Utopia (2022) are a bit too warm and mid-centric to be considered true studio monitors. This is a plus, as the Utopia (2022) avoid sterility and present a euphonic listening experience. These are a fun listen, and we should recognize that strength.
Even in the heaviest tracks, the music is very well-defined. The bass descends smoothly into the lowest registers, and there is no shelf to get hung up on—just an effortless transition from one note to another. Excellent energy and punch can likely be attributed to the driver’s nimbleness and speed.
This is no thick, boomy, subwoofer-type bass, and the Utopia (2022) proves that you can have ample thump and weight without bloat. The effect is well-balanced and cohesive, as with the rest of the overall sound signature.
The Utopia (2022) are the kind of headphones where you listen to old favorites and think to yourself, “I’m hearing that differently.” The midrange is slightly elevated in the mix, giving vocals and instruments a touch more energy to stand out. It’s tastefully done, so things sound natural yet clear and articulate.
I particularly like male vocals portrayed by the Utopia (2022), as their sonic flavor adds a touch of body and presence. The singer appears ‘right there,’ and subtle nuances are easy to pick out. I can hear those little cues that make the singer sound real and distinct in the music.
These headphones are likely far more resolving than what you may listen to daily, yet it’s not achieved with an artificial boosting of high-frequencies. The treble takes a half step back from the midrange and is super smooth and easy to listen to. As a result, there is no aggressive edge to the sound, just lively detail.
The Utopia (2022) are not analytical treble scalpels. The sound is wonderfully immersive and unfatiguing. There is no unnatural airiness, and the overall presentation is grounded and natural. When the music calls for it, energy and a bit of splash are delivered, but it’s all well in control and part of the cohesive whole.
Where to Buy
Unfortunately, I don’t have the original Utopias here for direct comparison to the 2022 model. From sources I trust, reports are that Focal wisely built on the successes of the old champ and modeled the new contender in their image. A bit more bass with a fuller overall sound.
I can attest that the good stuff, the true magic of the Utopia, is here in abundance. Detail and resolution, tempered by cohesion and (for lack of a better term) musicality. Sonically, the Utopia (2022) deliver all I could wish for in a pair of headphones.
I can offer no higher praise.
Focal is tops in my book for aesthetics as well. The Focal design language is immediately identifiable and portrays luxury and elegance. It’s impossible to fault the looks of the Utopia (2022). Gorgeous craftsmanship, materials, and design. Full stop.
My nitpicks are few. Some will not appreciate the strong clamping force, especially where the lower edge of the cup presses on the jaw. The cables? They could be better labeled and hang better when wearing.
It’s all about justification. Do you want the finest materials and craftsmanship? The highest sound quality? The most comfort?
If headphones matter to you and cost is not a stumbling point, just go buy the best. The Utopia (2022) deserve to be on that very short audition list of end-game headphones. They more than justify their TOTL status.
Let those heavyweights duke it out; there are no losers in this category, only those that hit the mark closest to your personal tastes. Pound-for-pound, I’m betting that the Utopia (2022) can reclaim their predecessor’s glory.