Customer Review of Utopia 2022
Focal Utopia 2020 (with extra accessories, so technically the 2021 version) ($3.990 MSRP) and 2022 ($4.999 MSRP)
In 2022, Focal released the new version of their flagship headphone, the Utopia. At $4,999 MSRP, the new Utopia adds a few physical, and tonal differences compared to the 2020 Utopia. In this post, I am going to try my best to review and compare both headphones, and after, I will give you my opinion as to which Utopia you should buy. Should you save money and go with the last gen, or spend a bit more, and get the new gen?
The build on the 2020 Utopia is clean, relatively sleek, and feels very durable. The carbon fiber on the headband is a great touch, and I love the way it looks, in contrast to the whole package.
The red undertone in the middle of the headphone is absolutely mesmerizing, but a bit light, and as you look through the headphone, you can see it’s very see-through. This means that an open design, dynamic headphone, that’s built in AND with high quality materials, really makes you something great.
The 2022 Utopia brings the build to another level. Although it is very similar to the 2020, the 2022 brings out the strong points of the build, and makes them look even better. The red accent in the middle is even more apparent, and the camo type carbon fiber headband adds an extra touch I didn’t know I wanted. The connectors are placed a bit differently than the 2020, but I do not see this as an issue, nor upgrade.
The black accent to the 2022 version, makes it look far more luxurious and high quality, than the 2020 version of the Utopia. This, of course, is my opinion alone, and I still do think that the 2020 Utopia is still a seriously good built headphone.
The grill on the 2022 is a bit more detailed, and more unique. The 2020 grill does look nice, but is a bit boring, or bland, compared to the 2022 version. The 2022 version has a camo type background to it, and it's really satisfying in the light, as it exaggerates the finish of the headphone. I do not think this is a deal breaker for the older gen, but if you are very serious about the newest and nicest look and material, the newest version is without a doubt, the one you should pick.
Also, on the outer ring of the headphone, the 2022 version has a matte finish, while the 2020 version has a glossy finish, which is a fingerprint magnet. You may find yourself using a microfiber cloth more, with the 2020 version.
Just to compare build to other flagships, I will mention that the Meze Elite and Empyrean, are very well built as well, and feel as high quality as at least the 2020 Utopia. The weight, and feel of the Elite was premium, and the leather on the headband strap and pads are very nice and fancy.
The LCD5 has leather as well, but it feels a bit cheaper, and less durable, as “Every part has been re-engineered, using materials such as magnesium, aluminum and acetate which offer light weight and high rigidity.” This actually makes the LCD5 feel a bit cheaper when holding them and inspecting them, and they feel a bit light, and can feel a bit clumsy at times. When they are on your head, you do not notice, or feel anything that you could consider cheap, or lacking in material quality. With that being said, I do think that the Focal Utopia is better built overall, compared to the LCD5.
Again, the 2022 Utopia really went hard on the build this time, and I do love the way it feels and looks. As I believe that the 2022 Utopia (Possibly 2020) is better built than the LCD5, it's a tough one for me on which one is better, compared to the Elite. Both Utopia’s fare very well in this regard, though, and you would not regret it, even when comparing it with other headphones.
Comfort varies heavily depending on the person, so you may experience something different. I would say I have a big head, so other big heads may have similar experiences as I did.
Compared to the Audeze LCD series, (LCD X, or 5), it is stellar. I was able to wear them for at least 8 hours, and I did not get any hotspots on my head, nor did my ears get sweaty, or hot. I had gotten a mild headache, but I was able to handle it far better than, for example, the LCD5. The LCD 5 has a comfort problem that, to me, is unacceptable. The clamp force is so strong that after about 20 minutes, I start to get unbearable sharp pains in and around my head. I take the headphones off, and even that hurts. I do wear glasses, but I do not think I should have to change what I wear, in order to listen to music out of 4K+ headphones.
The Utopia gives me exactly what I want, with the right amount of padding, and the right amount of clamp, as well as the seemingly perfect fit to my big head, it's very comfortable to wear. The pads on these headphones are soft, and very very satisfying to wear. It feels high quality when wearing it on your head. This goes for both 2020 and 2022.
The 2020 Utopia does have a creaking problem when putting the headphones on and off, and the 2022 version seems to have the same issue out of the box. This may have been the specific unit that I used, so you may experience something different.
To contrast with another high end headphone, Meze Empyrean and Elite are the most comfortable headphones that I have yet to try. They were on the extreme of comfort, and nothing has been able to surpass, or even match the levels of blissful comfort they offer.
The LCD5 headphones are far less comfortable.
The Fostex TH900 Mk2’s are a bit less comfortable.
To me, most of the Focal headphones feel about the same. They really mastered the clamp force, and it’s even glasses friendly, which is such a relief.
I cannot tell you which focal is more comfortable, but the Clear MG was very comfortable as well. I used it for a couple months, and it was totally amazing. The material on the pad is different on the MG, so maybe that is why I liked it so much.
I find that you can absolutely wear the Focal Utopia for as long as you want. You may find trouble taking them off, actually, as they are so comfortable, and to me, sound amazing.
Can I run them?
Both 2020 and 2022 Utopia’s have the same Impedance and Sensitivity.
They are very easy to drive, and you can run most DAP’s and portable sources out there. This would probably work with the Schiit Modi and Magni stack, but the Utopia’s scale, of course, so you would want to get yourself a nice system to play your music out of.
I have the iFi iDSD/iCan Pro Signature stack. I mainly run the stack in solid state, but for this review, I did use the tubes on both the iCan and iDSD at one point.
The iCan has way more than enough power to run this headphone. I am using a balanced cable, though, to try to get the best out of the chain.
The 2022 and 2020 Utopia have the same Impedance and Sensitivity, so you should not notice a difference in volume levels, when comparing and contrasting both headphones.
In the real world, I think the 2022 Utopia’s come off as a bit more sensitive. I think they are a bit louder at the same volume compared to the 2020 version.
I used the list of review tracks I created, to get a relative reference point. These songs vary from genre to genre, so I can really test as many aspects of the sound as possible. I may add more songs in the future, but as of now, I am very familiar with these songs, so I am most comfortable being able to pick out differences with them. Although they may not be the most audiophile mastered songs out there, these songs may be listened to more often, even with a high end audio system. The genres include, but are not limited to: Pop, Jazz, Rap, and LoFi. Below is a list of the review tracks I used.
The imaging on both Utopias are stellar and top notch. I can hear everything precisely where I want it. It does pinpoint the sounds, but it’s a bit more forgiving. For example, strings, and pads are placed in such a way that you can hear exactly where they are, but to me, it’s a bit more laid back, and relaxed with the imaging. I don’t think they were going for “The guitar is LITERALLY 2MM to the left and you will hear this ONLY here” and I am so happy they didn’t go for that. The imaging is good enough for me to be thoroughly satisfied with any song or genre. I can’t really notice a big difference in imaging compared to both, but I will say that the 2022 would have the upper edge if you HAD to pick.
The soundstage is about the same. I can’t tell any major differences between both headphones. The soundstage is narrow, but deep. I hadn’t really known what people were talking about when they said “You can hear sounds in front of each other, but with detail and precision”, but when I got these headphones, I quickly understood what people were talking about. Both headphones layer VERY well. You can hear reverbs bounce in the recording room, it seems like. Simply put, the soundstage is not too big, but not too small, just right for most people, I think. You will probably not like the soundstage if you are looking for an HD800(S) type sound stage.
The tuning on the 2022 Utopias, are without a doubt, more enjoyable to my ears. They sound a bit more full within the mids and highs compared to the 2020 version. When I am directly comparing, the 2020’s are a bit empty in presentation, or slightly ‘darker’. The 2022 Utopia’s sound like a direct upgrade from the 2020 version, so if you like the way the 2020 Utopia sounds, you will definitely love the new version as well.
The highs on the 2022 Utopias are a CLEAR upgrade from the 2020 version. If you want clearer, more full, and ‘brighter’ highs, the 2022’s are the way to go. It’s far more apparent on some songs, whereas other songs don’t give you that much of a difference. The 2022 Utopia makes the 2020 sound ‘dark’, dare I say. Also, when you put the 2020 version on, it almost sounds veiled in the highs. You put the 2022 on, and they open up more. It’s like they are letting more ‘sound’ in.
The mid range is very clean and clear on both headphones. As stated before, I can hear a more sophisticated, or put together mid range, compared to the 2020, meaning it’s a bit more filled in, and satisfying to the ear. Female vocals are just a bit more smooth, and lush. Male vocals sound similar, but have a bit more clarity to them. Both headphones do well with separating the instruments within the mid range, but the 2022 version adds a bit of authority to the sound. They are telling me with confidence, what is happening in the music, as the 2020 version sounds a bit more closed off.
I think the low end sounds about the same on both headphones. Pretty basslight, but still engaging. You can groove to these all day. You can hear the details in the low end, as you would expect in a flagship headphone. The LCD5 is more accurate, but less punchy and engaging.
I think Focal found the line between dynamics, and bass quality. The Focals are punchy and to me, it seems like you can hear it all. Sometimes too much detail is not fun, and I found that the LCD5 bass only really shined when I EQ’d and xBass’d them. I do not EQ the Utopias, and the xBass is more fun on them too. Both the 2020 and 2022 react to xBass pretty much the exact same. I could not find any differences in the low end other than the mids and highs as stated.
If you like and want more bass, they would benefit immensely from xBass from the iCan. These make both headphones incredibly punchy, and low end responsive. It can become TOO much sometimes, so I have the xBass turned to the 2nd setting. It seems to be the sweet spot. It will make all that sub bass and low end shine, but it won't bloat the rest of the presentation. Both Utopias in question are bass gods when you put the xBass on, so if that is all you are going for, the 2020 version is the way to go.
On a side note, the xBass knob is some of the most fun I have ever had in this whole hobby. It changed every headphone to MY taste and wants. Quality sound, with heavy bass. All headphones I tried with the iCan reacted well to the xBass. Some of which include, the Focal MG, Th900Mk2, Utopia’s, and LCD5.
SUMMARY / THOUGHTS
To me, these headphones are a ‘Jack of all Trades’ kind of can, but I think they can cater to Jazz, Light Rock, and Alternative (etc.) I tend to not enjoy super fast music as much, and I think it falls behind on speed compared to other flagships like the LCD5. So, keep in mind what music genres you mainly listen to, as you may need to look for something else entirely.
I think the new 2022 Utopia brings a better experience to the table compared to the 2020 version. It is a clear upgrade from the upper-mids and on. If you are a bass-head, I suggest you don’t buy these unless you plan to EQ, or you have xBass. This is a lifesaver, and any headphone that is bass-light, won’t be anymore. This completely changes the game and shows you the actual capabilities of the low end on your headphones.
I didn’t really get into this at all, but you can absolutely use tubes with these. I put the tubes on both the iCan and iDSD, and it did add a bit of sauce, but it was so slight, I couldn’t really tell. I do not have an OTL amp, so I can’t really tell you how well they react to tubes, but I know that others have said a lot about it. I personally love the way it sounds on solid state, with the xBass. It’s pretty much the exact sound I want.
Should you buy the new version if you have the old version? For $5K, no. I don’t think you should have both at the same time, as they sound so similar. If you have the 2020 version, and you are on a budget, then stick with what you got, as you still have something absolutely stellar. If you can, say, trade, or sell your 2020 version for a certain amount of value, and you get the 2022 for cheaper, I say you would love the upgrade, as it looks physically different, and does sound better, depending on what you listen to. The new version’s red accent on the cups are very sexy, and satisfying. When looking at both headphones at the same time, the 2022 looks more luxurious, and high quality.
I checked and saw that the 2020 (2021) version is about $2500 or less, second hand. For that price, the 2020 version is a very good choice. If you have money to spend, and you are balling out no problem, there is no reason not to get the 2022 version if you were looking to buy a Utopia.
TLDR; The build looks a lot better, and luxurious on the 2022 Utopia. Comfort wise, both utopias are about the same. The 2022 has noticeable differences in the mids and highs, and I personally think it sounds better and the presentation is more full. Both headphones have a similar soundstage. xBass on the iCan Pro Sig made both of these bass cannons with quality. In my opinion, If you have a 2020 version, don't upgrade, unless you can trade + cash, or sell your 2020, or just love Focal so much, you want 2 Utopias.- Big AL