The Focal Utopia has long been recognized as one of the greatest headphones of all time, with incredible detail, resolution, and imaging and a tuning that’s on the incisive side of neutral. After creating a standard bearer for flagship headphones you might say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But Focal said, “how can we take this to the next level?” And so the Utopia 2022 was created. Is the new Utopia revision truly next level? Or is it more of a lateral move from the original? Let’s find out.
Build and Design
Internally, there are a number of changes. The materials for the voice coil have been updated for added durability of the driver, and enhanced reproduction of treble and bass frequencies, and the grille materials have been redesigned. The included accessories are largely similar to what came in the Utopia’s 2020 package: a “mobile” 3.5mm cable with screw on adapter, a longer balanced cable, and a travel case.
For a moment, let’s put away the comparison to the original Utopia and talk about the Utopia 2022 on its own terms.
Utopia 2022 creates a genuine sonic paradise with its combination of transparency, detail, imaging, and resolution. The sound is at once spacious and intimate, with excellent dynamics on both the micro and macro levels: it delivers the subtleties of the attack of a single violin bow as well as the swell of the entire orchestra, as well as the full texture of the electronic bass and the slam of a bass boosted 808 kick in equal measures.
The midrange demonstrates full body and neutrality, with natural timbre, and a sense of separation and layering that doesn’t lose the forest for the trees. You can at once hear each individual sonic thread while appreciating the whole. The treble is a masterpiece, crisp, fast, and providing excellent extension and air, while avoiding sibilance or peakiness.
Utopia 2022 presents a large soundstage that provides a sense of width, depth, and height. There’s an encompassing, three-dimensional feeling to the stereo image, that creates an immersive listening experience. The imaging is precise and holographic, giving you a sense of real physicality to the instruments and voices – and really goes beyond just hearing the voice or instrument, to being able to perceive the musician or singer.
Like most Focal headphones, Utopia 2022 works well with just about any device you care to connect it to, from your phone dongle to a high powered headphone amp. We tested it in the office with everything from the aforementioned dongles, to the Burson Conductor 3 GT, the Weiss DAC502, and the Astell&Kern SP2000T. Since the power requirements are low, the focus should be on getting the best possible DAC to pair with it, rather than massive amounts of power.
“Herald of the Change” from the Dune soundtrack is the perfect demonstration of Utopia 2022. The soft ambient textures that start the piece have a sense of vast distance while the slowly rising orchestra feels like an unstoppable force moving towards you across the open expanse. Utopia 2022 lets you get lost in each small part, as there’s such depth to the detail provided, while also lending a massive feeling to the wall of sound that closes in on you.
Utopia 2022 isn’t limited to orchestral pieces of epic scope, and can also make for a more “fun” listening experience – giving you a seat in the studio for a detailed, energetic performance. Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow” is a great example of a somewhat messy feeling, high-energy rock song where Utopia 2022 can capture the detail in the guitars, the emotion of the vocals, and impact in the drums, weaving together all the energy into an in-your-face listening experience. The crispness of the cymbals is particularly notable through the entire Ten album, as well as the fact that Utopia 2022 presents Eddie Vedder’s voice so clearly that you can actually understand what he’s saying.
King Crimson’s “Starless” is a prog rock song with a bit of everything: a relaxing start with smooth saxophone solos and soft vocals that gives way into intense polyrhythms, atonal guitar solos, and a bit of sheer insanity. Utopia 2022 masterfully presents the rich textures of the synthesizers – and sometimes the deliberately harsh visceral stabs – the various shades of guitar and bass, along with the incredible drum performance. Utopia 2022 can facilitate deep analysis of a complex piece of progressive music and let you rock out to at the same time.
“Army of Me” by Bjork opens with a driving beat and deep synthesized bassline. There’s a nice touch of physical impact to the drums and a low rumble to the synth. Utopia 2022’s imaging places the rhythm section on the back of a stage surrounding the listener, while Bjork’s voice is right in front of your face, eerily separated from the rest of the music. Utopia 2022 provides the physical sensation of up close vocals without falling into sibilance, delivering the pained sound of the singer’s voice without causing pain to the listener.
Comparison: Utopia (Original), Meze Elite
Okay, so Utopia 2022 is great – amazing, incredible, or whatever other superlatives you want to throw at it. How does it compare to the original Utopia or some of the competition to come out since? To answer that we brought out an original Utopia and a house favorite Meze Elite for a comparison.
In terms of the build, honestly… just… wow. All three of these things look and feel amazing, and seem like they’d last forever as long as you don’t throw them off your roof or something. There’s sure to be some conflicting preference between the headband styles or the solid vs fenestrated leather pads, but overall, you won’t be disappointed with the build or craftsmanship on any of these headphones.
For the comparison of the original Utopia and Utopia 2022, there are two noticeable shifts in the tonality. One is that Utopia 2022 provides a harder, faster impact in the bass, along with a slight elevation in overall bass presence. This elevation seems to be mostly in the subbass where the original Utopia has a small amount of roll-off while Utopia 2022 feels more linear.
The other change is in the execution of the treble and the way the two headphones balance being “revealing” and “unforgiving.” Both are highly revealing, but the Utopia 2022 retains that revealing sound without becoming unforgiving to a breathy vocalist, or a rough-around-the-edges recording. The original Utopia can become harsh or sibilant in the highs particularly with a tenor pop/rock vocalist like Chris Martin (Coldplay) or Thom Yorke (Radiohead) or the sort of higher range female vocals that are popular in k-pop or j-pop. Utopia 2022 delivers these sorts of vocals with all the detail, but no sibilance.
In an older version of the comparison between Meze Elite and the Utopia, Elite would have been the clear preference for rock, pop, and jazz while Utopia would have the edge for classical and possibly soundtrack type music. While there’s still some truth to this, Utopia 2022 has made some steps towards greatly versatility for music with a greater emphasis on guitar, bass, and drums. Elite still gives you a bass that’s bigger and faster, and also gives you a warmer, more personal vocal delivery.
Overall, I’m sure some people will prefer the original Utopia’s more incisive treble and not care too much about the subbass extension, but to my ears, Utopia 2022’s stronger extension and less fatiguing treble makes it an all around improvement over the original. And while Elite is still the stronger pick for most pop/rock listeners, Utopia 2022’s improved versatility makes it an option for a wider variety of music.
The Bottom Line
While the updates to Utopia seem subtle at first, when you add them all up, the sum ends up being pretty large. Between the physical improvements to the durability of the drivers, to the improved bass and refined treble, for most people, Utopia 2022 represents a clear step forward, and earns its spot as Focal’s flagship headphone.