Focal Utopia vs Audeze LCD-4 Headphones

I spend a lot of time listening to headphones. My source is either direct from an ND555 or A/V out of my NAC 552. My headphone amp is a Violetric V281.
I have Sennheiser HD-800S and Audeze LCD-4 headphones
Both headphones are equipped with Nordost Heimdall balanced headphone cables with optional extensions.
I like the sound of the LCD-4’s, especially the bass and Audeze provide filters for Roon. However, I simply can’t get the LCD-4’s to fit correctly. They won’t stay put on my head. No matter what I do, any quick movement and they slide around. They are also much heavier than the HD-800’s.
So, I’m looking for a pair of headphones to go with my HD-800S and to replace the LCD-4’s. The most obvious suspect is the Focal Utopias.
I would like to hear of anyone’s experience with the Utopias vs other cans in their price range, especially including the LCD-4’s.
I would replace the Utopia’s cable with Nordost balanced cables because I can use the same extension I use with the HD-800’s.

I’ve only briefly tried the Utopias when I was demoing headphones and they are excellent. What I would say, based on your liking of the bass of the Audeze headphones, you may want to demo a pair of Meze Empyreans. They have excellent bass, detailed and very comfortable. As with most things, you’ll need to demo them but I would certainly add them to that demo list.

I had the same issue auditioning headphones. I loved the Audeze sound but my god, they were uncomfortable to my head. The HD-800 were light as a feather on the head.

A lot of people are praising Empyreans as the hot new high end cans.

Is there a reason you feel the need for two pairs of high end cans? I recently changed headphone amp away from a HL2/HCdr to a Luxman tube amp and found my HD-800 do things like never before. They just needed the perfect match.


Interesting if you like the sound of the Audeze LCD4 then I would really try the Meze Empyreans… they are magnetic planars, but are relative light and comfortable, and are also quite easy to drive.
They offer phenomenal performance like Audeze. [Note the Empyreans require 100 to 200 hours to open up…try and demo a well run in pair. Initially from brand new they sound treble soft and bass heavy… but over a month of more or less solid play you notice them opening up and balancing out… might be something to do with the elasticity of the planar diaphragm.]

I have spent some extended time with the Focal Utopias, and as good as they are, to my mind they are not in the same league as the Empyreans… just compare the upper mids and treble neutrality… and the sense of sheer naturalness … and that spooky effect… where it feels like someone is talking to you in the room.

With regard to Roon Audeze filters, good as they are, on a hyper revealing DAC and quality open and fast headphone amp like the Dave, you actually hear a subtle retrograde step in naturalness with those filters applied… best keep off if you can and the master warrants it… and of course many don’t … as the SQ pinch point is at the front of the chain, not the end.
With high end headphones and amplification, you do find a quantum leap in sound replay performance.

I have a Violectric V280 which I am using with Sennheiser balanced cable into HD800S. Before settling on the HD800S, I had extensive home trials of both Meze Empyreans (with silver blanaced cable and leather earpads) and Focal Utopias. In the end I felt neither of them had the same superb synergy with the V280 as the HD800S. If you search through the reams of feedback on headfi, you’ll find varying opinions as to which headphones work well with the V280/281. One of the handful that most people seem to agree on is the HD800S. Others reckoned to be a good match include Focal Clear, Hifiman HE1000-SE, Abyss Diana v2 and the ZMF Auteur. Interestingly, one of the headfi community (Ichos) who originally claimed the Meze Empyreans worked well with his V280 has more recently changed his mind and ending up selling the V280. I found the same deficiencies with the V280/Empyrean combination.

That’s interesting, I hear the V280 is a warmer side of neutral sounding amp, and in my experience the Empyreans shine on fast neutral or even slightly cool of neutral amps.

Listening right now to Beatles Abbey Road 96/2 master into NDX2, mscaler, Dave, Meze silver plated copper unbalanced headphone leads, Empyreans(leather pads)… and the whole feel must be like being in a time machine… it’s just so spookily connecting… the music and creativity is just so transparently laid out in front of you, … the saturated level tape tracks of the day just adds to the feel, you even notice wow and flutter on some tape loops damn it, it really is what music replay is all about for me.

[and the Roon Core server is wifi connected!. It really makes no difference]

If I could have only one pair of headphones they would be my HD-800’s. However I’ve found that the Audeze sound better with some types of music/instruments. Cellos for instance.
Ideally, keeping the LCD-4’s would make sense but you’ve nailed the reason I’m looking for an alternative.

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I’ve owned a Dave with Upscaler. I prefer the ND555/V281 to the Dave.
As for the Roon filters, it isn’t a key feature one way or another to me.

The reason I’m interested in the Utopia’s is that my long time Naim dealer sells them along with the Nordost headphone cables I use. There are economic and convenience reasons for dealing with him.
I prefer the Nordost Heimdall headphone cable system to others I’ve tried. He sells both the Utopias and Nordost headphone cables.
I will have him send me a pair of Utopias if it appears they are worth it. He’s 2,000 miles away. Right now I’m trying to find out if it’s worth the trouble.

Sure it’s all about what floats your boat… that combo sounds like it might work well… it certainly does for you… as I say on balance I have preferred neutral or cooler amps with my Empyreans, but warmer amps have certainly sounded might fine… it’s certainly not a ‘broken’ sound one way or other.
They are stockingly good headphones aren’t they?

With Utopias I was offered a well run in demo pair at a good price by a dealer… so bargains are to be had… but you will likely find them very different from the LCD-4s or Empyreans as I did… and they have a lift in the vocal consonant and sibilance frequency range… which on some poor masters and poor mic technique recordings I found unduly irritating… but I suspect that is a personal thing… and of course truly good sound recording engineers properly manage and deal with at the expense of production time… this was the main reason I declined my Utopia purchase… and absolutely underlines the importance of demoing.

I really should demo the Utopias with the Nordost cable but It can’t be done. The Utopias have a unique termination. I’ll have to use the stock cable.
As I say, it would be best if I could keep the Audeze LCD-4’s. It’s the perfect compliment to the Sennheiser’s.

Have you tried the Audeze LCD-4z? They are lighter and easier to drive, but sonically largely the same as the 4… just a thought given your comment on the weight of the LCD-4.

Thanks for the tip. Frankly, I think the problem with the Audeze is more than weight. I need to find a way to get them to clamp tighter to my ears. I think I’m going to demo the Utopia’s and if that doesn’t work out, I’ll probably stick to the LCD-4’s.

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I have a pair of Utopias and they are so light and comfortable I forget about them. Sound quality is excellent.

Thanks, that’s good to hear. Do you have the original cable or something else?
I just emailed my dealer and asked him to send me one to try.

Utopia is fantastic headphone, it is accurate like hs800 and confortable as well, it offers a punchy accurate sound with tight bass, superb details, quality feel

It is like better version of hd800 with fuller sound and bass

Empryean is also fantastic one, confy with headband, accurate maybe slightly warmer and a click less open sound than utopia

In my humble opinion

I would go with Utopia with v281 to balance warmer signature of the amp to reach headphone nirvana:))

LCD 4 is nowhere comfortable as the other two for longer listening, the build quality is not the same level but it got its particular advantage of planar sound if you like it… I don’t

I found the Utopia’s OK but not amazing. Likewise LCD 4.
ZMF Verite I do recommended…fantastic!

Standard cables but are plugged into Chord TT2 headphone amp.

All heads are different obviously, as I find both my Audeze very comfortable.
Intrigued to hear an LCD4…

My longtime Naim dealer convinced me to buy the Utopias. He’s never put me wrong in the many years I’ve known him.

I told him to get me a pair.

I’m going to see how the OEM cable works before thinking of getting Nordost Heimdall cables for it.