InnerFidelity Product of the Year

There's just no question.

Four years in the making, this all-new Beryllium dome driver headphone design from Focal has completely disrupted the flagship headphone category. The Utopia ($3999) is the best headphone I've ever heard...by a significant margin.

The Focal Utopia is a sexy beast with rock-solid build quality; looks with just the right mix of conservatism and bling; brimming with technological innovations; and sound quality to die for. Though the audio image is small and the bass just a tad light, in every other way this headphone sounds spectacularly good. Tonal balance is beautiful; image, though small is marvelously precise; dynamic punch is terrific; micro-detail is nuanced and well integrated. And everything comes together as whole so well that you simply don't feel the need to analyze...you just kick back and listen to the glorious music. You can read my full review here.

This is InnerFidelity's Product of he Year because it has redefined what world-class headphone fidelity sounds like. It really is like no other I've heard before. It's catch-up time for everyone else.

COMMENTS
ManiaC's picture

Jewish bolshit

jjgr's picture

You're an ass, but i'm guessing you already knew that.

ManiaC's picture

2nd jewish bullshit detected on this page

NickS's picture

Here is some Jewish bullshit for you. I'm writing to your employer "Acoustic-Fun Co., Ltd" to let them know that you are a rabid anti-Semite making them look bad.

Tyll - I hope you plan to ban this moron and delete his posts.

NickS's picture

Anti-Semite, poster of hate, ManiaC can be reached at zycamaniac@gmail.com. His real name is David Wei.

JimMc's picture

Hang on, he's right. When are we going to rise up against ZOG's plot to make us fork out hundreds of bucks for 'phones that don't fit under pointy hats or stormtroopers' helmets?

ADU's picture
gibtg's picture

If only it wasn't $4000

:)

tony's picture

and the darn things don't have a $675.000 price tag.

Historically thinking and speaking, my Sennheiser HD 600 ( properly tuned and set-up ) are far better than any loudspeaker system I've sold, owned or experienced. Little Tube headphone Amps ( like the Felikes & Valhalla 2 ) with carefully selected glass are the most beautiful sounding Amps I've ever experienced. My history reaches back 60 years.

I've recently experienced both the Focals and the Audeze 4, the Focals are the ones to own, no doubt about that in my old mind ( even with my compromised hearing specs. ), they're a Morphine drip, dangerously addictive, lovely, not too expensive and don't require powerful Amps.

Focal, in France, are easier to trust,

I'm certain Audeze will be releasing a revised version of the LCD 4 sometime in 2017 ( about the time sales taper off ). And I've learned, over the decades, that I don't live well with Planers ( despite how beautiful they sound ( Magnapans, Quads and all the rest ).

The $1,000 Focals display the identical sonic qualities as the $4,000 versions ( for my un-tuned & aging ears ) but the utopia version is a good bit more "seductive" and desirable.

Sennheiser have their work cut-out for them, phew!

Tony in Michigan

gevorg's picture

Happy New Year everyone!

ADU's picture

...And everyone at IF!

Jazz Casual's picture

It's a fantastic headphone but one that I'm unlikely to own due to its prohibitive price.

EdAInWestOC's picture

I wonder how the Focal Utopia stacks up against the Stax SR-009 driven by a TOTL estat driver (like the Blue Hawaii). It would be interesting to hear a head to head comparison.

If the Focal Utopia compares favorably or is a close equal to the SR-009 then it should be a pretty easy recommendation. The Stax SR-009/Blue Hawaii combo is in the $10K price range and the Focal is considerably less expensive when paired with a quality headphone amp.

I wonder if someone, somewhere, has both of those headphones with TOTL amps/drivers so a prospective buyer can sit down and make the comparison. I would be interested to compare these headphones out.

I am getting old and time is running out for me. I would love to own the best headphones available and enjoy my music produced as well as possible.

I'll never be able to afford TOTL Wilson speakers (an insane price tag) but I could swing a TOTL Stax or Focal setup. It would be worth it.

Ed

chik0240's picture

I remember I jointed the headphone community around 3 years ago, my first pair was a 2nd hand Shure SRH940 which after 1 year of use it breask, then I browsed around the web and came here, going from driving the phone directly from my Onkyo SE300 sound card's headphone output (quite good actually, from my past experience with the HD650 I think it drives it pretty good)

Then I reached here and ended up with my final setup of Hifiman HE500 paired with auralic Taurus mk II, but then in the past two years we came to ridiculous prices like this.... hope the sky rocket price can stop in the future...

no point to produce a bunch of headphones sounded really good but cost something like a decent car

tony's picture

Stereophile's Michael Fremer ( High Priest of Vinyl ) is today presenting Two Lyra Phono Cartridges with prices in the $10,000-$12,000 price range. Phew. He reports the $12,000 Etna SL to be the Company's best yet. ( presumably there will soon be something even better! )

In Mr.Fremer's Analog World, a proper turntable will cost around $10,000 ( with Arm ).

A useful Phono Pre-Amp will range in the $15,000 ( Audio Research Reference 6 )

The above is just for starters, we still need to purchase those pricy cabling, Pre-Amp, Amps, Speaker Cables and $16,500 Wilson Speakers.

Who do they sell this stuff to? :

1). A 6 Billion World Population has the Top 1% numbering 6 Million. Surely they would be potential customers to try reaching for. ( maybe they simply order "Live" musicians and don't bother with electronics )

The Top 10% number in the 60 Million, this group is known to own Music Systems, why not High-End Audio stuff for the McMansion?, something as good as the Levinson stuff in their Cars.

We "regular" ordinary folks can achieve greatness with a modest Bottlehead Crack & Sennheiser HD600, we can own the finest transducers known to mankind for another $3,000.

Chasing those Gigantic Big Bucks hasn't hit the Headphone World. We can have fine music reproduction and keep our money, lucky us!

Who the hell spends $15,000 for a Pre-Amp?, for god's sake.

Tony in Michigan

drbobbybones's picture

The world population is 7.5 billion people.

The top 1% of this includes 75 million people.

The top 10% of this includes 750 million people.

I bet a few of those could afford $4000 headphones. Even if only 10,000 of these headphones are ever sold, that's $40 million in sales. Not to shabby for Focal.

drbobbybones's picture

"not TOO shabby..."

Can't edit on this stupid comment tree.

tony's picture

Egads, 7.5 Billion, phew, where are they hiding em? My little town in Michigan has about 12,000 of mostly older folks. I'm moving to a Florida Town of 22,000 winter / 9,000 Year-Round residency. If my ancestors weren't a bunch of Criminals ( escaping/emigrating to the US) I'd probably be living in Sweden or Mother Russia, lucky me!

I'm one of the 300 Million US citizens that Won life's lottery.

Tony in Michigan

drbobbybones's picture

I am one of those that won life's lottery as well-my ancestors immigrated here a generation ago.

Anyway, after listening to these headphones on a Chord DAVE (which I already own), I don't think there is anything better sounding at any price. I will likely pick these up someday.

tony's picture

Transducer design and manufacture is progressing. I suspect Sennheiser and other outfits will task their Physicists with further development.
Back in the Vinyl days it hardly mattered.

Today the recording, mixing and mastering engineers can produce digital music files for home reproduction gear capable of phenomenal performance levels.

Much of todays Dave level of performance will ( and is ) migrating into the Smart Phone's Feature Sets!

I suspect the we are less than 5 years away from "everyman's" handheld device becoming a full fledged "Audiophile-level" Music Center.

The Utopia Focal ( and the Elear ) are ultra efficient and fit well with low power amplification devices.

It's all coming together as we sit and watch. Phew!

Today, my little Etymotic or my Sennheiser HD600 are rather "entry" level, yet they are better than any of the High-End Transducer Systems I Imported, Retailed or Manufactured in the mid 1980s' ( all of that being Analog Vinyl based ).

Bon Vivant,

Tony in Michigan

Bennyboy's picture

I picked up a mint Orpheus 2 for a couple of quid in a car boot sale over the weekend and it sounds pretty good.

sszorin's picture

I'll buy Orpheus II from you for 4 dollars - you will make 100% profit.

MessiaaH's picture

Hello, i'd just like to comment on some earlier comments about diminishing returns, and the thought that a 4k$ headphones arent worth it.

I own the following headphones : Grado SR80\SR325, Hifiman HE350\HE1000, Senn HD6xx, Denon D5000\D7000, Focal Utopia, Abyss AB-1266

SO i own a wide variety of headphones, from $100, all the way up to $5500

Back in the day i was very much a supporter of diminishing returns, going from a 500$ D5000 to a 800$ D7000 was very minimal in improvement. But over the past few years the advancement in headphone technology was so substantial that the gap between the low end/budget cans and the high end greatly improved imo. The difference between the very good Senn HD6xx and the HE1000/Focal Utopia/Abyss are dramatic, and to my ears, they are not even remotely close. Once you get to the high end, its a matter of personal taste. Some may prefer the sound of the HE1000, some may prefer the sound of the Abyss. Buts it clear that either of those high end cans destroys the headphones sub 500$ that i've heard.

This brings us to the Focal Utopia. They are overall the best headphones i've ever heard. The HE1000 does some things really well, and the Abyss once fitted correctly does some things really well. But i wouldnt put either of them above the other to say one is "Better" because they both do different things really well, and shine in their respective strengths. But the Utopia is..........different. It really is a game changer, and does alot more things really well all at the same time.

Which brings me to my last point, everything is relative. Someone driving a Kia may think that spending 10 times the amount on a Ferrari is "not worth it", at the end of the day, the kia gets you from point A to B. But to the guy who can afford a Ferrari, it makes sense. Now im quite sure the Guy driving the Kia would want a Ferrari if he could have it, and wouldn't consider someone with the means that buys one "wasting their money" or "not worth it"

Would i like these products to be cheaper? Of course.
But in 2016 and onward, there are a large variety of headphones available at varying price points, to suit everyone's needs.

Enjoy the hobby, enjoy what you can afford, and stop hating on the high end products, which to this utopia owner, is worth every penny.

P.S. Alot of the technology/sound in the Utopia can be found in the Elear for 1/4 the price. #Options.

ADU's picture

Thanks for posting your thoughts, MessiaaH. It helps to put things in some perspective.

I'm pretty happy with my $130 AKGs, even though they require a number of tweaks to really deliver a decent sound to my ears. But I'll put the same question to you (or anyone else who wishes to offer an opinion) that I did to Scientist1 above...

In your opinion, what $300 closed headphone would come closest to sound of the Focal Utopia or your favorite high-end headphone?

tony's picture

I'll share a trick my University of Michigan Ear people presented to me : Cover up the outside of your open Headphone and use Equalization to re-balance the sound to your own hearing curves ( "curves" because each ear hears differently and needs it's own Eq. settings ).

I did this with the Sennheiser HD580/600/650 range to good result.

What comes closest to the Utopia?, probably the Elear.

Tony in Michigan

Augustus's picture

It doesn't make sense to cover the headphones. It changes the FR, so if you EQ the covered headphones - it's not going to sound like the uncovered one you usually listen with.

tony's picture

That's right, why cover?

But it can be done if a person needs to do such a thing.

The transducer doesn't change, the reflected wave is the added new bit which enhances certain frequencies, it's effectively diminished by the Equalizer.

Eq works well with Direct Radiation so viola we have a useful application.

But, why sealed in the first place?

I'll contend that a pair of Eytmotic do a proper job of Isolation, the Ety 4 series are the best "Sealed" solution out there. The Sealed effect of the Ety 4 can be further enhanced by wearing the type of Ear Protection that Small Airplane Pilots wear ( looks like green ear muffs ). Doing something like this creates a "noise Floor" much like an Anechoic Chamber ( which I once had access to at GM ) you can hear your heart beating.

The "Pro" Audio guys work with "Sealed" headphones because of their "noisy" working world.

Still, I can live with any "solution" that Tyll suggests, he has some Sealed Cans on his famous "Wall of Fame", I think. I simply don't need more than the Ety 4 series for my work & travel ( I traveled with two pair of Etys ). Two pair fit in my shirt pocket.

Tony in Michigan

Jazz Casual's picture

Congratulations on rationalising the purchase of the Utopia in your own mind. However, I can't help wondering if someone who uses the term "destroys" to convey the difference in (sound) quality between high-end and sub $500 headphones, really grasps what "diminishing returns" means.

MessiaaH's picture

I can speak about diminishing returns in different classes. Like i said, going from an HD650 to say a Denon D7000 for double the price, is massive diminishing returns. Or going from a solid 500$ Amp (say the jotunheim) to a Ragnarock offers diminishing returns. But the Utopia really are in a different class to the HD650s, i can spend time detailing why, but there are enough articles and opinions out there. But to my ears, destroy is a fitting description when comparing those 2. I started with Grado SR60 for 60$ and worked my way up over the years, i very much understand diminishing returns, And wont recommend anyone go past say the HD650+jotunheim unless they have extra cash, a love for headphones, and ready to make the jump to flagship territory. Is going from a Kia to a Lamborghini or Ferrari diminishing returns? And if you could own a Lambo or Ferrari would you?

So much hate for high end products in our hobby, by guys who haven't actually heard any of them. Sigh.

Also, its just my honest opinion guys. To each his own.

jaredjcrandall84's picture

I am fairly new to audio but I support the notion that the extra 10% increase to sound quality adds an extra 90% in enjoyment. The difference in experience being "these sound good" to "these are really exciting, fun, and enjoyable", the latter of course being the extra 10% that pushes the sound to a desire to continue to return. Of course this is subjective as some people love hd650 with bottlehead crack--ha, speaking for myself--but I have been explored other more expensive realms because little things can be added that make the experience transcend to the latter sound i described. Just a shame that means spending so much more :(

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