Focal Utopia 2022
Focal is known for building both reference speakers and in partnership with Naim, exceptional electronics. When I heard they were updating their Utopia with some substantial improvements, I told the good folks at Focal that I wanted to review this for my website.
Focal did some innovative things in the high frequencies. They took an already pristine high-end and made it much more transparent. Usually, products with exceptional treble extension produce a signature too bright for many enthusiasts. Focal made the new Utopia more liquid in the treble region and the best extension I have heard in any headphone regardless of price.
The Utopia 2022 has a new all black design with added silver accents. Black chrome rings are attached from the inside for a cleaner and more attractive appearance. Honeycomb patterned ear cup grilles with more open holes achieve a more open sound.
The same 40mm M-shaped beryllium dome diaphragm with a new 30% copper, 70% aluminum voice coil that accounts for the improvements in sonic characteristics (run with no passive or active correction the driver achieves a frequency response from 5Hz to over 50kHz) is used in the new Utopia 2022. The biggest enhancement the new updated driver provides is a more open soundstage. The warmer sound is more musical and brings the musicians to life with outstanding imaging which was noticeably exceptional during my listening sessions with the Utopia 2022.
Premium materials are used throughout the new Utopia 2022 design, and the carbon fiber yoke is made from forged recycled carbon. The elegant design, with its headband and ear pads made from high quality leather, make for a comfortable headphone that I used for listening sessions of 12 hours or more without fatigue, for over two months.
Focal provides excellent stock cables, including a 3-meter balanced cable with high quality Lemo® connectors and a 4-pin XLR, as well as a short (1.5-meter) portable cable in an attractive carrying case for use with portable devices. The packaging is all first-rate.
Starting with Keb’ Mo’s “Home Again” provided an exceptional listening experience. I could hear excellent bass texture, Keb’ Mo’s vocal was alive with excellent articulation and the sound was very dynamic and the Utopia 2022 came alive with excellent in-the-room response. Utopia 2022 disappeared on this track and the treble extension was divine.
Junior Wells’ track “Why Are People Like That?” from the excellent Telarc “Come On in This House” with Sonny Landreth on slide guitar makes for a toe-tapping listening session with its dynamic sound. The harmonica sounded musical and the bass drums were kicking with exceptional inner detail retrieval. I could close my eyes and see every musician in this room. Landreth’s electric slide was in sync with Wells’ present vocal. Every instrument in the soundstage was completely in its own space. I could hear all the details presented without any harshness. The musical detail of the bass strings coming through on acoustic bass was breathtaking. Amazing!
Listening to Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” from “The Wall” showcased how good the Utopia 2022 is as a rocker. Listening to Gilmour’s guitar come alive with excellent transparency, showcased music without compromise, and never sounded harsh or annoying. I seemed to keep moving my volume down on the DCS Lina system. The Utopia was easy to drive and never stressed out my system. Focal was able to tame the brightness making this iteration much more musical than the original Utopia. Similarities are there but this is an excellent transducer that made Pink Floyd come to my studio. Another wow moment.
Holly Cole’s live album “Montreal” is an exciting set. “Little Boy Blue” has exceptional acoustic bass and Holly never sounded off-key. Her acoustic jazz is a treat for me to listen to. The Canadian seductress is exceptional and I could hear bass stings and beautiful music. The bass was deep and extended and close to what you would hear in a concert hall. The balanced design was an amazing adventure into musicality. The Utopia 2022 had Holly front and center, with David Piltch’s amazing acoustic bass on the left with transparency to die for. This performance and album remind me of the two times I have seen Holly perform and when I closed my eyes I felt as if I was being seduced by her beautiful vocal. Exceptional!
Julien Chauvin playing “VIVALDI Concerti per violino VIII ‘Il teatro’” would highlight any deficiencies in the treble and the Utopia 2022 once again delivered a flawless performance of this layered orchestral piece. Chauvin’s exceptional and transparent violin was alive with body and inner detail, alongside strings that were delivered without flaw and the performance was magnificent. The Utopia 2022 presented a layered soundstage with a flawless performance. The treble extension was beautifully reproduced without any evidence of any stridence. Inner detail retrieval, once again, was impeccable.
Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” on Reference Recordings is an excellent track to use in listening sessions as the Oue conducted orchestra was layered and the tympani whacks are headbanging and defined. The crashing sounds were fast and detailed and never collapsed using the Utopia 2022. The treble extension sounded endless and the musicality was beyond reproach. The sound that I was hearing with the Utopia 2022 was as good as I have heard reproduced in any transducer. The headphones disappear and the sound is exceptional, fast, and had an excellent climax to a terrific album.
“Appalachian Spring” from the same album showcased musicality from the Minnesota Orchestra and was soothing music for the soul. Reference Recordings captured this orchestra and provide a musical journey in Copland. The Utopia 2022 nailed this performance as well and provided a peace to my soul that I get while listening with excellent systems.
Switching the cable is a snap and I started using the Moon Audio Silver Dragon and found the transparency in the upper frequency was more alive in the treble but never bright. The Silver Dragon cable is an easy recommendation as the cable is less clunky than others and can be tailored to your individual specifications. The sound was excellent and the soundstage more defined. Stay tuned for a full review of the Silver Dragon.
Supertramp’s 1977 “Even In The Quietest Moments” sounds as fresh today as it did back in ’77. “Give a Little Bit” propelled this supergroup into another stratosphere and the musicality was exceptional. The band sounded fantastic while listening to them through the Utopia 2022. I could see them on stage and visualize their presence as once again the Utopia 2022 seemed to vanish and left me with musicians in their own space with separation and synergy, The sound was once again another movement in time for me that brought me back to 1977 and a supergroup as good as any,
“Wish You Were Here” closed my listening sessions. Pink Floyd’s tribute to Syd Barrett, the sound was incredible. The sound was alive and what I heard live in the performances I attended. The acoustic guitar strings were alive, and the strumming of the guitar was amazing, and the vocal was to die for and consumed me. The perfect song to end a listening session and Utopia 2022 treated me to a live performance from the greatest rock band ever. Emotionally this album is an exceptional recording but the Utopia 2022 took away the recording and made this a live performance. “Two lost souls living in a fishbowl year after year”. Emotionally the lyrics are alive and the musicality is exceptional.
When I started my journey in 2008 there were few reference headphones. Stax was always a reference headphone but lacked bottom end. Sennheiser came through with the HD800 which in my opinion was also bass light, and then Audeze and Hifiman introduced planar designs that would change the industry.
Mavericks like Dan Clark and Zach from ZMF tinkered until they started creating new and revolutionary designs. Companies like Spirit Torino introduced high quality Isobaric Dynamic headphones adding designer bling to their designs. Antonio Meze created a partnership with a unique driver designer and developed a ground-shaking design.
What a time for the headphone enthusiast it is in 2022. Listening to Dan Clark Audio’s EXPANSE and Focal’s Utopia 2022, the two best headphones I have heard this year, both are examples of what is possible and in a category by themselves. EXPANSE with a deeper bass and Utopia 2022 with a more expanded treble. Listening with the DCS Lina showcases for me what is possible. Both these magnificent headphones came to the forefront this year and made 2022 my most exciting since I have been involved with reference headphones.
Focal’s new Utopia 2022 is a significant upgrade over the previous Utopia, much more musicality, better bass extension, and a superstar treble. The Utopia 2022 when paired with reference systems will allow you to experience a true reference headphone and are worthy. Expensive yes, but products like this do not come along that often, and the scale of sales is less than for less expensive headphones. Impressive for me was the balanced musicality that the Utopia 2022 offered. Is it perfect? Well, there are no perfect headphones, but this Utopia 2022 and the EXPANSE come as close to perfection as I have heard and sit in another class entirely.
Never did I feel fatigued while listening to the Focal Utopia 2022 and it has been on my head since CanJam Socal. If you are looking for the best in class for 2022, the Utopia 2022 should be on your auditioning list. All I can say is Focal really nailed the performance and made this a musical transducer that will bring the musicians home. Exceptional performance and merits strong consideration for best I have heard in 2022. Our product of the year will come out in November and picking between this and EXPANSE will be a tight race. Both are exceptional and I love both of them. What a time to be a music lover with all the outstanding designs that keep coming out. The Utopia 2022 is an exceptional performer that never failed and showcased no weakness. Another super product from Focal.
Type: Circum-aural, open-back headphones
Impedance: 80 Ohms
Sensitivity: 104dB SPL / 1mW @ 1kHz THD <0.2 % @ 1kHz / 100dB SPL
Frequency response: 5Hz – 50kHz
Speaker driver: 19/16″ (40mm) pure beryllium ‘M’-shaped dome
Weight: 1.08lbs (490g)
Cable provided • 1 x 5ft cable (1.5m) with 1 x 1/8″ (3.5mm) asymmetric TRS Jack connector and 2 x Lemo® connectors • 1 x 10ft cable (3m) with 1 x symmetrical 4-point XLR connector and 2 Lemo® connectors • 1 x Jack adapter, 1/8″ (3.5mm) point socket – 1/4″ (6.35mm) point plug
Carrying case included 9.8×9.4×4.7″ (25x24x12cm)
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