When it comes to top of the line open-back headphones you don’t get much better than the Sennheiser HD 800 S and the Focal Utopia. Both headphones promise luxurious sound signatures with wide open soundstage. And even though the prices are quite different audiophiles still want to know which headphone is better. Let’s see if we can find out with a good old headphone comparison.
|Sennheiser HD 800 S||Focal Utopia|
|Type||Over-ear / Open-back||Over-ear / Open-back|
|Impedance||300 Ohms||80 Ohms|
|THD||0.02% (1kHz 1 Vrms||<0.2% @ 1kHz / 100dB SPL|
|Frequency Response||4Hz – 51kHz||5Hz – 50kHz|
|Connectors||1/4″ (6.3mm) / XLR4 (balanced)||1/4″ (6.3mm)|
|Cable Length||9.8ft (3m)||13.1ft (4m)|
Comfort / Fit Comparison
Sennheiser HD 800 S
The Sennheiser HD 800 S is an incredibly light and comfortable headphone. The unique shape of the earcups make them very streamline and amazingly ergonomic. The headband conforms well on the head and it honestly feels like you’re barely wearing a headphone at all.
The Focal Utopia is slightly heavier and features a more traditional headphone approach. Between the lush earpads and the slick padded headband, the Utopia headphone feels more like a comfy armchair or sofa. This design is quite a contrast to the HD 800 S as it exudes a more luxurious feel.
For this sound comparison I used an iFi Pro iCan amplifier in solid-state mode with a Fiio X7 Mark II and a Audioquest Evergreen 3.5mm to RCA cable. I played a wide selection of music in flac file format. Each headphone got equal time with each track to get a true impression of how they responded to different frequencies and styles of music.
Sennheiser HD 800 S
The Sennheiser HD 800 S is especially known for 2 things… excellent bass response and wide soundstage. This is quite an accurate description. Let’s take a look at a breakdown of the sound signature.
The bass in the HD 800 S is fierce an punchy. In many cases I didn’t even need to use any bass boost at all except when listening to a few very flat tracks. This headphone especially excelled with rock and electronic based genres capturing the true essence of the mix without getting muddy.
Although dialed back a bit in the mids compared to the HD 800, the HD 800 S has impressive clarity. The amazing part of this headphone is that you can push it hard into higher SPL’s without getting piercing frequencies in the mids and upper frequencies. Instead it retains the clarity at a level more tolerable for extended listening sessions.
The frequency range of the HD 800 S reaches well beyond the ability of the human ear topping off at a whopping 51kHz. This may seem pointless but headphone makers do this for a reason. When listening to tracks I know very well I found a huge presence that you just don’t get in most headphones. It’s the reason people spend big money on high-end headphones.
The way the 800 S sits far off the ears creates an expansive soundstage that has me feeling like the music is everywhere. It’s one of the widest soundstage experiences I’ve found in a headphone so far.
The Focal Utopia is one of the most expensive and sought after headphones on the market. It’s famous for wide soundstage combined with punchy low-end. Here’s my observations on the Utopia sound signature.
The bass in the Focal Utopia was quite a bit more colored than that of the HD 800 S. It was meatier and punchier right out of the gate. Turning up any kind of bass boost got impressive results on a few tracks but overpowered the mix on some other tracks. This headphone is fun when listening to rock mixes from flat to a little bass heavy.
The mids on the Focal Utopia were similar to the HD 800 S in some ways. Although the clarity was there it felt a little dialed back in the mid-range too. No doubt in order to soften the harshness of the brightest mixes that can exhaust the listener during extended listening sessions.
The highs on the Utiopia headphone were comparable to the HD 800 S but softer and possibly rolled off just a little. Overall the high-frequencies were excellent.
The soundstage on the Utopia is one of the drawing features and it doesn’t disappoint. If you’re moving from a high-end closed-back headphone to your first open-back you’ll find the Focal Utopia to be a major upgrade. I enjoyed it quite a bit and had no major complaints. The stereo spectrum is expanded out into the room. But it did feel like it wasn’t as wide as the HD 800 S.
In conclusion I prefer the sound of the Sennheiser HD 800 S over the Focal Utopia because of the excellent frequency response from lows to highs, the comfortable fit and the wide soundstage. Considering the price it’s quite a deal at half the price of the Utopia as well. The Focal Utopia has incredible sound and comfort but the HD 800 S is simply more fun for long listening sessions and has the clarity and tight bass response that I’m looking for. Many audiophiles will disagree but just as many will also agree the Sennheiser HD 800 S is a winning headphone for the price.
Get the best price on the Sennheiser HD 800 S at the following retailers.
Audio46 Headphone Store: Sennheiser HD 800 S Dynamic Open-Back Headphones
Get the best price on the Focal Utopia at the following retailers:
Audio46 Headphone Store: Focal Utopia Open-Back Headphones
Amazon: Focal – Utopia Headphones