My Focsl Utopia Sound Dull and Constrained out of the Box. Possible Causes?

This is the first time I am listening to any headphones through my SN3. I decided to go with the Focal Utopia. My streamer, NDX2 with XPSDr and the Utopia headphones were all installed this week. I am using the Cardas Clear Beyond headphone cable (4.5m) which is also new.

The headphones sound constrained and muted highs. Based on what I read about the Cardas Cable and Utopia headphones, I am quite surprised.

I don’t sense this when listening to my Spendor A4 speakers. Only with the headphones.

Could there be a significant break in for the Utopia headphones and headphone cables? So far I am not impressed.

I’d just use the stock cable before ever even thinking of alternatives…
Did you hear them beforehand, or is this your first hearing? If the latter, it might just be they’re not yo your taste. If you’ve heard before and they were great, what, if anything, was different with the rest of the kit?

I don’t have a lot of experience with headphones, but Zi’d expect them to be like speakers, which have the greatest contribution to sound character of any [loudspeaker based] system, with every model sounding different, such that in my experience only maybe 20% are bearable and less than 10% Rwally listenable.

1 Like

@Innocent_Bystander the stock cable was never an option. I need 4.5 meters to listen on the couch. Focal would not make a long cable. My dealer felt strongly about these headphones. Can the headphone amp on the SN3 need a break in? Can the headphones need significant break in? Same for Cardas?

What bothers me is the volume difference. I need to raise the volume for headphones, relative to speaker listening to make music come alive.

That certainly is nothing to be concerned about in any way whatsoever! Different headphones have different sensitivities, as do speakers. So volume control setting to be equal sound level for speakers and headphones would only be possible with particular combinations. Change speakers, or headphones, and it could be completely different.

As for “burn in”, highly unlikely in my view to make the huge difference you seem to feel is needed.

Running in of the headphones may make a bigger difference, but whether enough to fix your problem is another matter.

You didn’t answer the question about hearing before buying. If you didn’t, what makes you feel that particular headphone will suit you? If you did, what differences (if any) between auditioning system. And your?

1 Like

Hm, I do wonder about the long length of the headphone lead. Do you have a short one you can compare against to see if that is a factor?


I have the Focal Utopias with the Atom HE and they were great from the start. I have previously owned Spendor A4’s, great speakers but in my experience the Utopias gave more detail. I use the Utopia stock cables, perhaps it would be worth trying yours to rule out that the different cables are causing the issue. I have no experience of the Supernait. 3 headphone amp so can’t comment on that.

1 Like

I would use the stock headphone cable at first to see if the sound improves. It may help to play music continuously through your new headphones without them on your head for several days.

If you then like the Utopia you will know that the effect is caused by the very long cables. Other cables might sound differently, though this is a long cable run. But if you use the stock cable and sit closer to your system, you will be able to judge the sound.

@glasnaim we rejected the Atom HE as an option. The NDX2 and XPSDr combined, is simply a better streamer than in the HE.

Regarding those who question the long Cardas cable, it makes no sense to test with the standard Focsl cable. If I used the Focsl cable and it sounded better, then where would that leave me? A cable of that length wouldonly allow me to listen standing up! We asked Focsl if they would make a longer cable and they declined. Also the standard 3 meter focal cable that came with the headphones would not plug into the SN3.

I have Focal Stellia’s and out of the box they sounded very good but did also improve after a couple of months use.
Ive also used the Stellia’s on my SN3 with a 3m cable and they sound excellent so no problems with equipment compatability.
I also have to increase the volume control when listening to headphones on the SN3 compared to speakers so no problem with that either, just remember to turn the volume back down before you switch back from headphones to speakers.
Cardas make excellent cables I have an 2.5m Clear AES/EBU digital interconnect from them which is excellent, so I doubt it will be a cable problem, but you may need to up the volume with your 4.5m headphone cable.
Im thinking your system is too new to get the best from it yet, especially the headphones which need a good break in period, patience is your friend here for a couple of months or so.


@MoonDrifter Thanks

1 Like

I have never compared the streaming performance between the Atom HE and Supernait/XPS, I was only interested in Headphone performance.
I guess if you compared the stock cable with the Cardas cable and felt it performed better it would suggest it maybe a cable issue not a headphone one.

1 Like

I now see you have a completely new system. I suggest you play as much music as possible over the coming weeks, including through your headphones. I have Focal Clears and ZMF but use an Atom HE.

1 Like

Not so. If it sounds good with the stock cable, and not with the Cardas, then you know the cable is what is having the undesirable effect, and you can seek an alternative. If they sound much the same, then you know it is the headphones themselves.

But why have you not answered the question about whether or not you heard first? (I wouldn’t dream of buying headphones without auditioning first, just as I wouldn’t with speakers, given the huge variability in sound between models.)

1 Like

@Stokie its not completely new. Only the Steamer,XPSDr and headphones are from this weeks However the rest of the system is also relatively new. Since October 23, except the RegaP9/Exact which was from a previous system. The interconnects and power management are also from October.

@Innocent_Bystander i purchased based on dealer suggestion. I could not get to the shop to audition.

Hopefully the dealer will take back in exchange for something else if you’re not happy, though I would certainly recommend trying first with the stock cable for the reason given in my last post…

(I don’ know where you’re based, and I know not all countries are geared to providing auditions, but if it was me (and I do plan to get some sometime), I’d arrange a trip somewhere to audition o few before buying, even if it delays the purchase. This is based on my experience with speakers, where I simply could not live with many, despite other people apparently being happy to have them.

OK, I’m with Innocent_Bystander on this. Perhaps you will enjoy the sound after some time. Headphones are very individual and really need to be auditioned. Inserting long headphone cables can make a difference. There’s a long Show us your Headphones thread, you will see immense variety there. There’s a reason Focal don’t make long custom cables, but custom cables are available and you have some. Perhaps the sound will improve with use.

1 Like


This is from the Focal website, advising about burn in.

Plus, as others have advised, the rest of the equipment and the new headphone cable are also new, so all will benefit from burning in.

Persevere and all should settle down.



Off course it makes sense, that is why people are recommending it. It would establish whether the much longer cable is adversely impacting performance. Crikey, it would take all of one minute to compare.


@Mike_S if I were to find it affects performance, but I still need at least a 4.5 meter cable, then what do I do? That is why I can’t see the value of testing.