Focal Utopia 2022 Headphones: Review

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Technology

Focal was very clear about its intentions when it finally entered the high-end headphone category; state-of-the-art performance and build quality that would differentiate its products from everyone else.

Having access to some of the best acoustic engineers in the world and the financial resources to develop unique driver technology has certainly played a big part in their success so far; neither one of those facts guarantees that the market will like your products but Focal didn’t jump into the headphone space blind — they had a clear road map and their ownership of Naim was part of the long-term plan when it came to system building.

Flagship headphones like the Focal Utopia 2022 are not just about offering $5,000 products because HiFiMAN, Audeze, ZMF, Meze Audio, and Dan Clark Audio are offering statement products as well.

The French manufacturer has both the electronics and Focal Powered By Naim retail experience to sell their entire lineup to non-audiophile music listeners in a way that the other brands don’t.

Focal Utopia 2022 Headphones atop Naim Uniti Atom HE
Focal Utopia 2022 Headphones atop Naim Uniti Atom HE

Audeze wisely pivoted to gaming to attract the next generation of audiophile headphone customers, but they don’t produce products like the Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition Network Amplifier that can be sold as a package with their headphones.

Let’s not mince words; $5,000 is a lot of money for a pair of headphones.

It’s probably not fair to compare the Focal Utopia 2022 to $50,000 loudspeakers because the experience is completely different — not to mention the electronics required to make that kind of investment worthwhile.

Headphone customers are not the same as the type of audiophile who would spend that kind of money on loudspeakers; they are younger, mobile, more diverse, and not necessarily always male.

Being given the opportunity to review both the Utopia 2022 and Uniti Atom Headphone Edition at the same time proved to be somewhat stressful, exhilarating, and eye-opening when we compared it to some very expensive alternatives.

Having listened to previous iterations of the Utopia headphones, we were curious to discover if the changes were smaller, more incremental ones that didn’t really move the needle in the way the Audeze LCD-5 or Meze ELITE have in the category.

Focal’s marketing campaign keeps reminding potential customers that luxury brands like Rolex and Porsche (and Focal) don’t fixate on what the 2021 911 or Submariner does better than the 2020 models.

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Focal Utopia 2022 Headphone and Accessories Kit
Focal Utopia 2022

Everything is a natural progression to a successive generation of products that offers a different kind of experience — ask Rolex collectors or Porsche enthusiasts which model is the best and you will receive a litany of answers. Ask which model is the worst and you’ll get a singular response.

Does the Focal Utopia 2022 offer all of the attributes that made the previous models so impressive or have they gone back to the drawing board and recreated the wheel?

When given the opportunity in 2016 to listen to the Utopia when it arrived on the market, it was rather apparent that Focal had figured out how to make a dynamic driver headphone that could compete with anything at the top end of the market.

It was also the only dynamic driver model, with the exception of the Sennheiser HD800s, that really offered genuine competition to the best planar and electrostatic headphones at the time.

Disagree if you must — but the Head-Fi community was very impressed.

Fast forward to 2022 and there are a few models like the ZMF Verite that compete rather well; the reality is that it is a very elite and small group of manufacturers that have taken dynamic driver technology to the same level as Focal.

Just how popular or respected are the original Focal Utopia Headphones that were released in 2016? A quick search online on Head-Fi or Audiogon shows that 6 year-old models are selling for 90% of their original MSRP.

How many used high-end loudspeakers sold in 2016 are still fetching 90% of their original asking price?

It’s a very short list of products.

Focal didn’t send me the Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition as a marketing exercise but to show off the capabilities of both components and as an example of what its customers are buying right now.

Based on my time with both products — Focal and Naim understand their customers very well.

The Great Unboxing

Before I took delivery of the Utopia 2022, I had to track down a sample of the original Utopia so that I could perform a meaningful comparison; finding someone within the Head-Fi community who would do that required temporarily trading my Audeze LCD-3 and HiFiMAN Arya Stealth Headphones to make that happen.

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Focal Utopia 2022 Unboxed

Focal goes the extra mile with their packaging and for $5,000 — one should expect nothing less.

The quasi-leather exterior and felt-lined box look the part but were also designed to provide durability for all of the contents. Opening the lid reveals the headphones packaged inside the hard case, and a separate box for the manual and supplied XLR cables.

A 3.5mm TRS cable and 6.35mm adapter were also supplied; the only thing missing from this rather costly setup was a 4.4mm cable and XLR to 4.4mm adapter which would make sense considering how many DAPs are now using the 4.4mm standard.

Focal Utopia 2022 vs. Utopia 2016 Headphones
Focal Utopia 2022 (left) vs. Utopia 2016 (right) Headphones

Putting the original Utopia and Utopia 2022 side-by-side reveals a number of significant changes.

Whilst the headband has changed very little (both have similar dimensions, padding, and shape), the gimbals and ear cups are completely different designs and the uptick in quality is very noticeable.

The gimbals are now made from carbon fiber which is more rigid and also lighter than the previous models; the industrial design is also very sleek with the lattice structure visible on the surface.

Unlike some other products that utilize carbon fiber and have a rather rough looking surface, Focal use a forging and polishing process that gives the yokes and gimbals an almost porcelain smooth finish.

The ear cup geometry is also different and while the two models are roughly the same size and can share pads, those are about the only two things carried over.  

Focal Utopia 2022 Headphones Earcup
Focal Utopia 2022

The port that was part of a pillar on the older version is now embedded in the lead edge of the cup with a slight forward angle. The vertical pillar of the older version is omitted entirely on this newer version.

Likewise, the horizontal pillars that ran from the cup edge to the driver ring are more subdued with no bright stainless grilles or rings around the driver frame.  Instead, the diamond driver grille matches the new honeycomb outer grille with a matte black with a slight red finish that bleeds through the black of the driver grille. 

Focal have also removed the screws that adorned the driver cover plate on the original which gives this new version a more polished look. Looking at the ear cup from the inside shows a new M shaped inner grille that mirrors the driver diaphragm and improves linearity.

Focal Utopia 2022 Headphone Earcup Outside

Technology

The Utopia 2022 have been updated with a newly redesigned driver. The 40mm size and Beryllium M-shaped diaphragm of the original have been retained but the suspension has been tweaked and the voice-coil upgraded.

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The new voice-coil is a 30% copper and 70% aluminum hybrid for improved performance while retaining low weight. 

According to Focal, it’s actually a touch heavier than the original and the weight was offset with the introduction of carbon fiber to keep the overall weight roughly equal.

Focal Utopia 2022 Headphones Inner Earcup

The result of the redesign is a driver with a frequency range of 5Hz to 50kHz and a measured sensitivity of 104dB SPL /1mw @1kHz and a nominal impedance of 80 ohms.

While the Utopia has always been fairly easy to drive, it still benefits from top-end sources that offer both great detail and good power.

I found that the Utopia 2022 worked well with portables like the A&K SP2000 and FiiO M17 DAPs but the best combinations were the Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition and my Pass Labs HPA-1/RME ADI-2 FSB combination.

Focal Utopia 2022 Headphones Back

Sound Quality

On the plus side, the Focal Utopia 2022 are easy to drive and more forgiving than other headphones in the category — but that high level of performance is also very dependent on the source and headphone amplifier on the other end.

Poor source material or substandard amplification will be exposed from the moment that you start listening.

It’s probably an exaggeration to call the Utopia 2022 brutally revealing, but color me surprised when a number of recordings that I’ve always felt were well mastered had some apparent flaws that I had never heard before.

The Utopia 2022 certainly don’t gloss over mistakes, but when you are spending $5,000 on a pair of headphones — you expect the highest possible levels of resolution and detail and these do not disappoint in that regard.

The sub-bass is exceptionally well defined even down into the 20Hz range; percussion and other timpani strikes are delivered with enormous impact and very accurate timbre.

Focal Utopia 2022 Headphones on Stand

The ability to differentiate individual notes and instruments in the low end was a very different experience and made me reach for more difficult recordings to see if the Utopia 2022 could reproduce the same level of performance across the board.

Rock, classical, large scale symphonic works, and electronic music had that extra level of definition and impact that even some of the best headphones fail to deliver.

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The mid-bass exhibited a nice layer of warmth and weight whilst retaining a very high level of transparency and detail. Focal headphones are very good when it comes to both in the mid-bass and we never felt that it was emphasized over the sub-bass or upper bass range. Notes were tightly defined with more than enough impact.

If you’re looking for a headphone that puts more emphasis in the low end, you might be disappointed with the Utopia 2022; Focal have chosen quality, speed, and texture over quantity and we can’t find fault with their decision to do so.

The lower midrange has excellent resolution, presence, and timbre; male vocals are articulate, warm, and cut through the mix without sounding too aggressive.

The midrange presentation is pushed slightly forward overall, but I’m convinced that what I’m actually hearing is higher levels of detail and clarity. Piano notes are delivered with breathtaking accuracy and weight; a task that many headphones struggle with.

Guitar has excellent presence with a very fine edge on rock recordings; the same applies to violin strings which had the right amount of energy, texture, and decay on most classical recordings.

Focal Utopia 2022 Headphones Headband Outer
Focal Utopia 2022 Headphones Headband Inner

Female vocals were not pushed forward of the mix and had just enough detail and texture to stand out; male vocals had more body depending on the recording, but these are very strong performers if you listen to a lot of vocal-centric music.

One of the best headphones I have tried so far using a dynamic driver in that regard.

The treble is extremely detailed but does not achieve this by pushing the treble forward to create the illusion of detail. Instead, the treble takes a very small step back from the midrange and may be perceived as being somewhat polite.

Depending on the source/amplifier, that level of restraint will be more/less audible — but that does not diminish the transparency or nuance that one experiences through the Utopia 2022 headphones.

There is enough top end energy that percussion snap is crisp and cymbals have appropriate energy; those looking for an airy sounding pair of headphones that don’t stray too far and become fatiguing, will love how these headphones accomplish that task.

Sennheiser HD 800 Over-ear Headphones
Sennheiser HD 800

Competition

The Sennheiser HD800 have been replaced by a updated version and whilst they really don’t compare anymore to the current Focal Utopia 2022 overall — we were very curious to see if the French headphone could recreate the soundstage proportions of the classic Sennheiser design.

The HD800 still hold the edge in that department, delivering a cavernous sounding soundstage that stretches well beyond the edges of the headphone. The Utopia 2022, however, recreate a more natural sounding soundstage with excellent depth, width and height.

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There is a tendency to be seduced by the HD800 in that regard, but is its reproduction of space accurate? Listening to recordings like the Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Sessions, one gets an accurate sense of the recording space without thinking that Margo Timmins’ voice cut through the walls and was audible to the pedestrians on the street in Toronto.

Audeze LCD-5
Audeze LCD-5

Godzilla & Kong Climb the Eiffel Tower

But how do they compare to the Utopia released in 2016 and Audeze LCD-5?

Both Focal models share a similar tonal balance, excellent detail retrieval and speed, and reference quality clarity.

Neither headphone recreates an enormous soundstage, but the imaging and stereo separation are first rate.

The Utopia 2022 has less low end impact than the original model, but the definition and overall tonal accuracy is superior. Texture was somewhat lacking in the sub-bass on the 2016 Utopia; the Utopia 2022 offers a lot more and is slightly more detailed as well.

The midrange is a toss-up and it was one of those scenarios where one had to go back and forth between the high-end sources like the Naim and A&K DAP to really discern any significant differences.

The treble performance is smoother on the Utopia 2022; detail is easier to discern with faster transients and improved clarity overall. Bright recordings are not treated with kid gloves by either headphone, but the 2016 Utopia is less tolerant in that regard and can become somewhat strident if the recording leans in that direction. 

Comparing the Utopia 2022 to the Audeze LCD-5 was fascinating because it proved that two reference quality headphones can offer a completely different perspective on the music and still be enjoyable.

Focal Utopia 2022 Headphones Side

The Utopia 2022 has a warmer tonal balance, and more engaging presentation that pulls you in like the Death Star’s tractor beam. The LCD-5 comes across initially as something thin sounding and perhaps somewhat harsh in the top end.

But that begins to change over time and the technical prowess of the LCD-5 begins to show off why it is considered to be one of the top headphones in the world.

You hear everything with the larger Audeze LCD-5 Headphones and it makes you wonder why anyone would want a pair of loudspeakers when you get the entire system dialed in. The LCD-5 need really high-end sources and amplification to show off what they can do — but it’s definitely worth the effort.

The Utopia 2022 offer a stronger low end, but the definition is about the same and I would have to give the LCD-5 the nod when it comes to overall resolution.

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The Utopia 2022 have a warmer sounding midrange and come across as being more “effortless” in their presentation. The LCD-5 has such divine resolution and transparency, that you almost can’t believe that a pair of headphones can achieve this level of performance.

The LCD-5 exaggerates the soundstage somewhat, and I’d call the Utopia 2022 more realistic sounding in that regard.

If you are recording or mixing music, the LCD-5 is the more accurate sounding headphone and it doesn’t gloss over anything. It may not deliver the low end weight of the Utopia 2022, but you’re hearing every last detail.

For music listening only, the Focal Utopia 2022 has a more natural sounding presentation, sweeter sounding treble, and far more midrange warmth.

Focal Utopia 2022 Headphones Angle

Conclusion

$5,000 is a significant investment in a pair of headphones and for us to enthusiastically recommend the Focal Utopia 2022 over some of the best headphones in the world from Audeze, ZMF, HiFiMAN, and Meze Audio — it would have to deliver something more than just technical brilliance and excellent build quality.

The Utopia 2022 is a more balanced sounding headphone than its predecessor and works with a wider range of DAPs and headphone amplifiers as well.

When forced to battle with what we consider to be the best audiophile headphone currently available, the Focal Utopia 2022 walked out of the ring holding the belt.

Both the LCD-5 and Utopia 2022 offer world-class sonic performance and combined with the Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition, the Focal headphone kept us engaged for hours at a time.

Whereas the Audeze flagship offers a more neutral sounding presentation that lets you hear everything on a recording, the Focal Utopia 2022 draws you closer to the music with more texture and tone — and tugs a lot harder on the emotional side of music listening.

One of the best headphones we’ve certainly ever tried. Well done Focal.

Where to buy: $4,999 at Amazon | Crutchfield

For more information: focal.com

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