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Focal Elear, Utopia turn heads at Hong Kong High-End 2016

  • What a pair of slamming hotties! No, this isn’t The Benny Hill Show and no, I’m not talking about the booth babes employed by Focal to handout promotional literature from their Hong Kong High-End show stand; I’m referring to the first fruits of the French manufacturer’s high-end headphone project: Elear (US$999) and Utopia (US$3999). The more mobile-centric Listen was MIA.

    Both on and off camera, Focal’s product marketing manager Nicolas Debard explained that Elear and Utopia are “super-open” headphones designed to better approximate (as much as is possible) the physicality of the loudspeaker listening experience.

    That led Focal to developing an in-house manufactured “M”-shaped-dome” dynamic driver – one that’s both ultra-light and ultra-rigid – and securing it to a completely open-backed housing with a 75 micron thick driver surround.


    Explaining the large price differential between the two models is the choice of driver material: on Elear we get a 4cm aluminium-magnesium driver but inside the top shelf Utopia that 4cm driver is made from 25micron-thick Beryllium, which, according to Debard, is 2.5x thinner than the finest human hair and 40-50x more expensive than the same weight in gold. The 5mm wide voice coil is also designed with low mass in mind.

    The Utopia and Elear both offer 32 Ohm nominal impedance so in theory should play fine and dandy with more modest amplification but in Hong Kong Focal were taking no chances. Demo versions of their two new babes were fed by a combination of Aurender music server and Goldmund DAC/headphone amplifier.


    Robust dynamics I could make out but show conditions are never ideal, no matter where you are in the world. This Hong Kong event is particularly busy and the hustle and bustle of Focal’s listening booth, which enjoyed a steady stream of would-be headphonistas, precluded any proper judgement from yours truly.

    CNET’s Steve Guttenberg reckons Utopia might be the finest heaphones in the world right now and Inner Fidelity’s Tyll Hertsens has called out both new models as genuine scene disruptors.

    Guttenberg and Hertsens’ findings certainly tally with my own observations at the show. Whilst filming the video below, TWO well known headphone manufacturers came for a nose at Debard’s driver samples and on the second day, before I’d even attempted to listen to either new model, another Stateside headphone manufacturer – not the one seen in the video – said he wanted to “disabuse me of my Elear fetish”.

    Clearly some competitors already see the new Focals as a strong challenge to any existing status quo. Plus ça change.

    Further information: Focal


    DAR 750 x 290




    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. Glad you managed to have a listen. I went to the show with the intention of committing to a certain stateside planar headphone, and wasn’t even tempted to seek out the focals as I found the chrome bits too ostentatious for my liking, and dynamic drivers are so 20th century 😉

      but since they were only one or two booths away, I decided to give them a go… (the speaker demo crew were thankfully out to lunch) … I can’t remember trying a headphone that sounded as inately *right* as the Elear (to me). That and a sense of *liveliness* that made the listening palpable and visceral.

      I was excited enough to return the following day to listen again.

      my current plan is to sell my LCDX and hd650 to cover the Elear and alternate cables for them.

      LCDX still does a lot of things that the Elear doesn’t (scale, bass, authoritativeness etc) but there’s also the weight issue, as well as a fractionally less fluent upper mids than the Focals.

      • Bro, I want to decide between Focal Elear or used LCD X. I want a musical headphone with good soundstage, little laid back sound, details, better bass but I don’t want in your face sound. which one will suit me better? Also i will be pairing them with either chord mojo or theorem 720. Pls help me.

    2. btw

      both according to the website both utopia and Elear are rated 80ohms nominal and not 32 Ohms

      (feel free to not publish this message)

    3. “Impedance plot shows a headphone with a nominal 85 Ohm impedance, but at the primary resonance hump at 50Hz impedance ascends to just over 300 Ohms. Headphone amplifiers with an output impedance of over 10 Ohm may begin to emphasize this hump. If done judiciously this may give these headphones a tasty bit of umph in the lows. This headphone is worthy of a great headphone amplifier, and I’m thinking careful matching with a killer tube amp might deliver a very special experience”.


      Never trust graphic designers rushing a deadline ;p (I know, as I am one lol)

      • I’m normally a huge fan of Tyll’s work, but that Utopia review just isnt worthy of his talents. The masturbatory fantasy he seems to have built around Ms Krall would look more at home in a piece written for TAS or his Stereophile buddies – we really need to get help for middle-aged audiophiles who cant extend themselves to anything beyond the usual cliches.

    4. Been curious about the Elear. Wonder if they’ll ever do a closed version of it, as I live in an old, loud apartment that leaks noise from the street.

    5. Slamming hotties…?
      You’d be referring to the white and yellow floor-standers; they look the business, innit?!?

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