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Focal Utopia headphones...with Beryllium driver


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I believe he uses material that he has mastered, so he should have a pretty good idea of what it sounds like.  He IS a mastering engineer, after all.

Yeah, so what? All this tells me is that he is used to processed sound. They don't normally try to make a band or performer sound just like they do in the studio, but better. Hence auto tune and all sorts of gimmicks.
His "beloved O2" also colors my view a bit though :)
I do trust Tyll's reviews and would probably buy something based on his recs.


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not going to create a new thread... figured i'd drop some simple thoughts on the Focal Elex that arrived last week. i decided to grab these after reading ample comparisons to Sennheiser and the notion

I could have said that just as easily as you did, and suspect that many other people feel the same way about it. It's like any hobby, I guess. There is that initial phase when you're all into it an

I'd suggest trying them on a Cmoy to see if a superior amplifier might help. 

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1 hour ago, Pars said:


Yeah, so what? All this tells me is that he is used to processed sound. They don't normally try to make a band or performer sound just like they do in the studio, but better. Hence auto tune and all sorts of gimmicks.
His "beloved O2" also colors my view a bit though :)
I do trust Tyll's reviews and would probably buy something based on his recs.

That seems like a rather flip comment.  

 

Consider this.  You've heard live unprocessed sound, right?  So you think you know what a live piano sounds like?  A few years ago I was shopping for a piano.  Every piano I played sounded a little different, some dramatically so.  And that is true of EVERY acoustical instrument.  Every live venue sounds different - Chicago Symphony Hall does not sound like Boston Symphony Hall.  Different locations in the same hall sound different.  I'm very used to the sound of a live piano - I have an excellent 7' grand piano at home.  But the sound of a piano at the player's bench is not the same as the sound of the piano for someone listening to it seated several feet away.  

 

The first Stereophile test CD had J. Gordon Holt reading an article he had written, recorded using several different microphones.  His voice sounded different on every microphone.  So when you're listening to an "unprocessed" piano recording which you THINK sounds like a piano - what microphones were they using to record it?  What hall was it recorded in?  Where did thy place the microphones?  What did that specific piano sound like?  If you think about it, there is a processing step in even the most purist recording, and that is what microphones are chosen to do the recording, and where those microphones are placed. Because every microphone sounds different, and every location for those microphones sounds different.  Those are the choices of the recording engineer.  And by and large, we as consumers have no fucking idea about either, because that information is rarely published, and even if it were, most of us wouldn't know how to interpret it anyway.  At best, the most we can say is, "gee, that sounds like my memory of what A piano sounds like."  Note I say "A" piano, as most of us have never heard THE piano that was actually recorded.

 

A mastering engineer is at least several steps closer to the original sound than you or I will ever be, unless you record your own reference material.  They at least might have heard the original sound, in the studio or hall, perhaps chosen the microphones, have some idea of what was laid down on the tape.  And, Katz has said that although the majority of his masterings have required some "sweetening", some have not, so he has certainly heard and mastered unprocessed recordings.  And even if he is using "processed" recordings, he at least should know better than most what the recording "should" sound like.

 

Look, I'm not saying that Katz is the be all and end all.  I am saying that he is a very successful and experienced sound engineer and his descriptions and opinions are well worth listening to.  Specifically I take his evaluation of tonal balance seriously because that is something that mastering engineers tend to be very particular about.  But for the rest of us, who are using recordings where we don't know what microphones were used, where they were placed, what the original instruments really sounded like in the acoustic space they were recorded in, well...  And that's assuming we are using acoustic instruments recorded in a live space for reference, and not a processed studio recording that never had an independent existence to begin with.  

 

Sure, one can criticize what amp he has chosen to test the headphones with, etc.  That's perfectly legit.  Any subjective review is only a guide, anyway.  My tastes and priorities may be different, my reproduction chain is almost certainly different, there is definitely room for honest disagreement.  What a dull world it would be if everyone agreed with me!  :lol:

Edited by JimL
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3 hours ago, JimL said:

what microphones were they using to record it?  What hall was it recorded in?  Where did thy place the microphones?

On that theme, I got this very interesting link from @mdr30

http://www.monoandstereo.com/2016/11/direct-to-disc-brahms-cycle-sir-simon.html?m=1

I guess in purist terms; one processing step only, no mastering involved... :)

https://youtu.be/qBf3OBMjRAg

 

 

 

 

Edited by MLA
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On the opposite side of the spectrum, some performers like Glenn Gould were/are avid proponents of studio editing and getting heavily involved with the process. Bit of a funny dichotomy to his inability to stop humming and gesturing during recording. He even fashioned his entire public persona from this same mentality, with many alter-egos and especially in his "interviews" which were all pre-coordinated and more like performance art. He was also a hyponchondriac with no real feeling for temperature (probable fibromyalgia), who took a ton of meds for problems that didn't really exist. What is real is what you perceive to be real, I guess is the takeaway. 

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Katz may be very successful and experienced, but I've never heard of him, other than innerfidelity. Then again, I don't really listen to jazz, which going back to his reference recordings, seems to be where he exists. This isn't the first of his articles that I have read; guess he's just not my cup of tea.

My undergrad is in music (percussion performance) and I spent quite a bit of time playing with symphony orchestras. I'm well aware that different examples of the same acoustic instrument sound different.

My idea of a natural sounding recording would be this one, which in my opinion (and my brother's (trumpet)), is a recording that sounds to both of us like the CSO in orchestra hall, back when they had a phenomenal brass section (Herseth/Jacobs, et. al.).

81296-SqlzL._SX355_.jpg

That said, I would rather listen to a so-so recording of a great performance than a SOTA recording of a so-so performance.

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4 hours ago, MLA said:

On that theme, I got this very interesting link from @mdr30

http://www.monoandstereo.com/2016/11/direct-to-disc-brahms-cycle-sir-simon.html?m=1

I guess in purist terms; one processing step only, no mastering involved... :)

https://youtu.be/qBf3OBMjRAg

Direct-to-disc was the way that all recordings were made prior to WW II.  Pros: minimal processing, short recording path, cons: if you made a mistake it was there forever.  Some classic recordings from that era include the Schnabel complete Beethoven piano sonatas, among others (classic comment on those: "He got less of the notes and more of the music than any other interpreter.").  The cons sometimes made for cautious playing due to fear of making mistakes.  After WW II, when we discovered that Germany had developed a magnetic recording process, which Ampex and others perfected, nearly everyone went to analog tape until Doug Sax and a few others rediscovered direct-to-disc again, but the number of recordings made by that process were almost vanishingly small.  Telarc put out a few DTD then switched to digital recordings.

 

OTOH, editing also has its benefits.  As mypasswordis has pointed out, some like Glenn Gould was an avid proponent of tape editing even and would patch and edit several playthroughs together in an attempt to get the "perfect" interpretation, whereas other artists would prefer to have a recording reflect their single best take, reserving editing only for wrong notes.

 

But the one interpretive step that every recording has is: what microphones, and where are they placed?  I would venture to guess that different recording engineers recording the same orchestra in the same location might choose different microphones in different locations.  In the case of the cited recording, they are definitely using a "purist" technique with Blumlein "single point" microphones at a spot chosen to reflect their subjective notion of the "best" spot for catching the orchestra and the acoustic.

 

 

6 minutes ago, Pars said:

Katz may be very successful and experienced, but I've never heard of him, other than innerfidelity. Then again, I don't really listen to jazz, which going back to his reference recordings, seems to be where he exists. This isn't the first of his articles that I have read; guess he's just not my cup of tea.

My undergrad is in music (percussion performance) and I spent quite a bit of time playing with symphony orchestras. I'm well aware that different examples of the same acoustic instrument sound different.

My idea of a natural sounding recording would be this one, which in my opinion (and my brother's (trumpet)), is a recording that sounds to both of us like the CSO in orchestra hall, back when they had a phenomenal brass section (Herseth/Jacobs, et. al.).

81296-SqlzL._SX355_.jpg

That said, I would rather listen to a so-so recording of a great performance than a SOTA recording of a so-so performance.

Well, most of us haven't heard of most recording or mastering engineers.  If you do a Google search, you'll find that he has written a text on audio mastering.

 

I am in complete agreement with your last statement.  One of my favorite recordings is Richter's live performance of Pictures at an Exhibition taken from a mono AM radio broadcast. There are times when the music-making just flat transcends the limitations of the media.

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I love that about Schnabel, because it was one example of many of his uncompromising musicality. He had a stronger forward drive and sense of pulse than anyone, even Richter. Probably overdoes it a bit in the onslaught that is his Hammerklavier, though O0 Anyone who wants to delve a bit into his methods should check out on youtube The Teaching of Artur Schnabel with Eunice Norton. 

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15 hours ago, JimL said:

(snip)

The first Stereophile test CD had J. Gordon Holt reading an article he had written, recorded using several different microphones.  His voice sounded different on every microphone.  snip

 

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I have the test CD and the liner notes have the text and describe where in the track text the microphone changes were made.

Edited by wink
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  • 2 weeks later...

Had a second listen.. damn these two Focals punch like there is no tomorrow. Dynamics are awesome and bass reach is great. They are very clean and rich/full sounding, the sound is very upfront and not very wide. 

Did notice the Utopia can be a little bit hard/shouty in the treble at higher volumes. My STAX doesn't do that, it's more natural. Would call the Focal bright-ish rather than bright, but O2 owners need not bother I think. 

The Elear kinda won me over though. It's not as refined and textured as it's blingy big brother but oh my does it rock when you turn up the volume. It's quite surprising really how fucking hard that thing slams. I want one for general use around the house :D

 

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Curious about the Elear.  The Utopia won't work for me just like I don't bother with the 009.

I listen to two dynamics:  the HD650 from my GS-1 with dynalo+ boards upgrade (I listen to this chain most lately) and then the TH900 on occasion but the GS-1 is too sharp up top with them so I listen to them via a WA-7.  I guess my hearing just doesn't do peaky treble anymore.  I tend to the warmish.

Is the Elear worth the climb vs say these two dynamics note above^^^?  I need a listen.  Local meet coming up in May, but only Utopia will be there so far....bummer.

HS

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OK, dudes time for a reality check...    as in, go big or go home.......   B)

 

Forget your Sennheiser HE-1 and Hifiman electrostatic wimps. Only circa US$50k......   bus fare territory......   :blink:

 

The new kid on the block is the uber special Focal Utopia Tournaire Edition.....   :wub:

 

I mean, only US$120,000..!!!  What's not to like..??   :rolleyes:

Even the headphone stand is only a paltry US$12,000 for this artistic marvel... Roll up, roll up, one and all... Sign on the dotted line.. Don't delay - or you will miss out...  :ph34r:

 

http://www.pocket-lint.com/review/139921-focal-utopia-by-tournaire-preview-yes-these-really-are-a-120-000-pair-of-headphones

Focal Utopia Tournaire.jpg

Edited by wink
added glorious piccy for the rubes
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19 hours ago, wink said:

OK, dudes time for a reality check...    as in, go big or go home.......   B)

 

Forget your Sennheiser HE-1 and Hifiman electrostatic wimps. Only circa US$50k......   bus fare territory......   :blink:

 

The new kid on the block is the uber special Focal Utopia Tournaire Edition.....   :wub:

 

I mean, only US$120,000..!!!  What's not to like..??   :rolleyes:

Even the headphone stand is only a paltry US$12,000 for this artistic marvel... Roll up, roll up, one and all... Sign on the dotted line.. Don't delay - or you will miss out...  :ph34r:

 

http://www.pocket-lint.com/review/139921-focal-utopia-by-tournaire-preview-yes-these-really-are-a-120-000-pair-of-headphones

Focal Utopia Tournaire.jpg

That must be the Louis XIV edition.

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One French mag sent in a pair of Elears for measurement the other week. Wasn't too shabby, dug pretty low for a dynamic open back, the treble peak wasn't too painful.

1717233.png

The garden hose cable was annoying and I didn't like too much the upper mid suckout. With the overall treble happiness of higher end headphones I was pretty content with these. Build quality was superb unlike the Spirit Pros, which crack and creak.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Got to listen to both the Utopia and Elear while I was in SF last week. Unfortunately I was under the weather and was listening to these headphones through totally unfamiliar upstream gears in a somewhat noisy setting, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, take this impression with a large grain of salt.

Both headphones are very well made and comfortable to wear. They are definitely on the heavier side but not quite as bad as the Audeze's. The bulkiness of the cable that many complaint about actually did not bother me that much. I do wish they have come with balanced connection option though.

To establish somewhat of a baseline, I also listened to the store's Audeze LCD 2.

I am familiar with the sound of Senn HD650, Audeze LCD 2, Stax 007 and 009 (both later versions). To my ears the Elear's sound reminds me of the LCD 2 while the Utopia reminds me of the 009. They (Utoipa and Elear) have different sound signature - similar to what I think of the 007 and 009. I don't necessarily think of the Utopia as the upgrade from the Elear. The Utopia has better resolution and is more neutral yet brighter sounding to me. I do like the Utopia better overall but not sure I can justify the $3000 difference in price. Compare to other $1000 headphones I know of, the Elear is a very strong contender. Now if the Utopia is a $2500 USD headphone then we'll really be talking...

Just my 2 cents worth...  

Edited by mwl168
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Elear 

Focal_Elear.png.2ad95709f30dd3355da782d2b8e0bca0.png

Utopia

Focal_Utopia.png.a02e69ed144ad93c0dde308bed9d7353.png

 

Had the Utopia for a few days on RME ADI-2 Pro. Both headphones share the same Focal house sound with upper mid scoop and in headphone terms slight treble hype. Elear is in a good price bracket, but Utopia sits 2 grand too high imho. Stock Utopia had too little bass for my tastes with overall brighter tuning, technicalities wise it's better than Elear. The upper mid scoop on both cans keep them from reaching greatness, because many instruments end up sounding wrong. What's interesting the scoop isn't annoying.

Overall Utopia might be just about the only flagship dynamic headphone without crucial drawbacks. Like the HD800 for example. As it is it's overpriced unless the looks give you a mad boner, which would be understandable.

Elear is priced better and sits a bit below HD800. It has a more user friendly tuning, but soundstage is way smaller. Choose your poison between bass and soundstage. Uncalibrated I'd prolly go for the Elear.

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36 minutes ago, RudeWolf said:

Elear 

Focal_Elear.png.2ad95709f30dd3355da782d2b8e0bca0.png

Utopia

Focal_Utopia.png.a02e69ed144ad93c0dde308bed9d7353.png

 

Had the Utopia for a few days on RME ADI-2 Pro. Both headphones share the same Focal house sound with upper mid scoop and in headphone terms slight treble hype. Elear is in a good price bracket, but Utopia sits 2 grand too high imho. Stock Utopia had too little bass for my tastes with overall brighter tuning, technicalities wise it's better than Elear. The upper mid scoop on both cans keep them from reaching greatness, because many instruments end up sounding wrong. What's interesting the scoop isn't annoying.

Overall Utopia might be just about the only flagship dynamic headphone without crucial drawbacks. Like the HD800 for example. As it is it's overpriced unless the looks give you a mad boner, which would be understandable.

Elear is priced better and sits a bit below HD800. It has a more user friendly tuning, but soundstage is way smaller. Choose your poison between bass and soundstage. Uncalibrated I'd prolly go for the Elear.

Agreed!

I did not pay attention to the sound stage when I auditioned the Focal's and I have no familiarity with HD800 other than a very brief listening in an uncontrolled environment. Going by memory the HD800 is also a more comfortable headphone than the Focal's.

The Utopia, if priced at $2000 US, would have been a no-brainer for me. 

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