Focal Elear and Utopia headphones book-end the two extremes of the Focal Hi-Fi headphone range. Elear representing a high-end headphone at an attainable price, Utopia representing the very best that Focal’s engineers can deliver
We tested both models and delivered our verdict on these superb headphones from Focal’s stable of audiophile headphones.
Focal – French audio masters
Focal has built an envious reputation for manufacturing high-end transducers; from studio monitors to car audio, from Hi-Fi speakers to headphones. Focal’s design and manufacturing expertise are evident in all of their products.
Founded in 1979, Focal has carved an enviable reputation for designing and manufacturing audio products of extremely high quality and high performance. The vast majority of Focal’s range is produced on-site in their hometown of St Etienne in France.
Focal’s range of audiophile headphones is amongst our favourite Hi-Fi headphones, here at Audio Affair. We felt it long overdue a review and comparison between their popular and justifiably lauded Elear and Utopia headphones.
Using Audio Affair’s superb headphone demonstration facilities, your reviewer employed the excellent Sennheiser HDV820 headphone amplifier, connected to a MacBook streaming Tidal over USB. It was time to load up some tunes and pump up the volume!
First-up for today’s listening tests, was the Focal Elear; an extremely handsome and good-looking headphone, the build quality and engineering is immediately obvious the moment one places the Focal Elear upon one’s head. Once there, they’re comfy and give the impression they’ll remain so for many hours of happy listening!
The first tune to be cued up was Daft Punk’s Lose Yourself to Dance. An immediate character is obvious from the first few bars of the song; the Focal Elear has a deep, warm low end with a smooth treble and A reserved mid-range. This all adds up to a comforting and entertaining performance.
Propaganda’s 1980s masterpiece, A Dream Within A Dream is loaded up and once again, demonstrates the deep bass, smooth treble and exciting rhythmic delivery the Elear deliver in spades. These are headphones which really crank and are very enjoyable to listen to.
A 24/96 recording of Luciano Pavarotti performing Puccini’s Nessun Dorma was a remarkable experience. The warm, larger than life character of the Focal Elear amplified the emotion of Pavarotti’s voice whilst the strings were beautifully smooth and silky.
Are the Focal Elear the last word in transparency and detail? Possibly not. They have an overwhelming character to them which is warm, smooth and entertaining. These are headphones which always want to party, and if you’re down with that, then you won’t be disappointed!
If the build and finish of the Focal Elear were superb the Focal Utopia are positively fetishistic in their rampant use of high-end materials and quality of finish. A riot of carbon fibre and leather, even before the first note has played, the Focal Utopia are an event in themselves.
Once again, that fabulous performance of Nessun Dorma is cued up; where the Elear was entertaining, the Utopia is jaw-dropping. Reproduction of Pavarotti’s voice is remarkable, with enough detail to be able to hear the wetness of his lips and palette.
The presentation is immediately much more balanced than that of the Elear; the high end is noticeably more extended and detailed but is never cutting. The brass in the orchestra is bright and open and never “honks” or unpleasantly harsh.
Daft Punk illustrate just how deep and wide the Utopia’s bandwidth stretches; it’s like having a nightclub wrapped around your ears! The presentation is neutral, erring on the side of being warm and smooth, something of a Focal trademark.
Playing, once again, Propaganda’s Dream Within a Dream, we’ve reached a level of transparency which begins to highlight deficiencies in the early digital recording itself. Non the less, the Focal Utopia displays it in the best possible light.
There can be little doubt that the Focal Utopia is amongst the very best headphones that money can buy. If you’re in the market for a headphone which is detailed and revealing, yet still smooth enough for hours of enjoyable listening, then the Focal Utopia should be at the top of your list.