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Ultimate Headphone Showdown: Focal Utopia 2022 vs. DCA Expanse vs. Meze Elite vs. Audeze LCD-5 Flagship

Today, we will compare the new Focal 2022 Utopia open-back flagship headphones against the DCA Expanse, Meze Elite, and Audeze LCD-5. 

This article will primarily discuss how the 2022 Utopia stacks up against each of these headphones from a sound quality perspective and briefly discuss build quality and how comfortable the headphones are.

Each of the headphones discussed in this article have its own video on our YouTube channel. If you are interested in diving deeper into any and all of those videos, you can do so by clicking on the following links: 


For my impressions, I utilized Amazon Music HD, Qobuz, and Tidal for streaming, with the latter two services being used with ROON. I listened to several amplifiers and digital-analog converters. For the tube amps I currently have in the house, I listened to the McIntosh MHA200 with stock tubes and the Woo Audio WA23 with stock tubes; for Solid State rigs, I listened to my reference Chord Hugo TT2, Chord Hugo 2 as well as the Chord Annie fed by the TT2.  

I also listened to the Michi X3 integrated amplifier, which uses an AKM chip for the DAC, the Audio Research I/50 integrated fed by the Michi X3 for its DAC, and the Marantz 40n, which uses a Sabre chip for its DAC. 

Utopia 2022 vs Dan Clark Audio Expanse

With that out of the way, let's compare the Utopia 2022 vs. the Dan Clark Audio Expanse. Both headphones are made tremendously well from a look and feel perspective, with the DCA Expanse being far more comfortable to wear with its lighter weight, less clamping force, and superb headband system. 

The Expanse is also the more transportable of the two, with its ability to fold up thanks to DCA’s killer gimbal design. However, the DCA Expanse is also the more current hungry of the two headphones and requires, in my experience, at least the Chord Hugo 2 or better for portable devices to deliver the current it needs to sound its best.

On the flip side, the new Utopia is much easier to drive and, like the Expanse, includes a travel case. Visually the new Utopia has a bit more flash to its design in typical Focal fashion; however, the unique grills of the cups of the Expanse with the pops of blue are also very cool looking. This will come down to your personal preferences.

From a sound perspective listening to Fear Inoculum from Tool, the Utopia sounds fast with an open-sounding yet relatively intimate soundstage with good depth and superb imaging. Drums have a good impact with a satisfying body to their sound. Cymbals easily stand out on the mix as the guitar rips with pleasing tonality across this epic track, with Vocals' sounding present and intimate.  

Listening to the DCA Expanse, the sound stage width is more prominent than the Utopia, with more body and presence to the vocals. The guitar also has a bit more girth as it rips across the track. Both headphones have tremendous detail retrieval ability and imaging; however, the Expanse outperforms the Utopia slightly in this regard. Vocals still sound intimate across the song but with a bit more clarity and fullness.  

Around the 4:20 mark, the layering of all the instruments, the imaging, and the air around everything is more impressive from the DCA Expanse. Both headphones display a good sense of punch or slam when the drums are struck and are extremely fast in their presentation of this track.  

Listening to Motherboard from Daft Punk, both headphones sound fantastic; however, the DCA Expanse is a step ahead of the Utopia for layering and image separation, which I believe is due to it being a planar magnetic headphone as well as the incredible AMT tuning technology found in them.

The Utopia still possesses a slightly tighter punch to its sound and can be much more easily driven from a DAP or less powerful headphone amplifier than the Expanse. The Expanse truly needs a powerful current delivery system to sound its best. Only my Chord amplifiers in-house and the Woo Audio WA23 tube amplifier did the Expanse true justice. The TT2, in my experience, is the best pairing of the amps I have in-house and fully fleshes out the dynamics and slam possible from the Expanse.  

Listening to one more song for this comparison, Crimson Tide 160 BPM Live from Prague from the one and only Hans Zimmer, a thrilling 12-minute track that takes you on a journey allowing you to hear so much detail, instrument timbre, speed, dynamics, imaging, and soundstage presentation.

The 2022 Utopia is impressive for a dynamic driver headphone, with superb imaging, detail, sound stage layering, and speed, offering an emotional presentation of this track. Listening to the DCA Expanse provides even more detail, with additional body and warmth to the low end.  

Final Verdict

Both headphones are tremendous, and if you value sound stage, imaging, and detail retrieval above all else, you may lean towards the Expanse; however, if you love a tighter punch, a bit more sense of speed, a more intimate sounding soundstage and the ability to more efficiently drive your headphones with numerous amplifier options the Utopia is a solid choice.  

Both headphones are slightly warmer than a neutral sound presentation, not sounding overly analytical, and can be enjoyed for hours without listening fatigue, at least for my preferences.

Utopia 2022 vs the Meze Elite

Comparing next the Utopia 2022 vs. the Meze Elite, listening first to Dreams (2001 Remaster) from Fleetwood Mac.  Stevie’s vocals sound good for the most part, with excellent definition and presence from the Utopia. Her vocals could be a bit fuller sounding, and depending on the amplifier pairing, they can sound a bit thinner than I prefer and use a bit more resonance.  

Listening to the Elite, her vocals sound a bit fuller with good presence and definition, making the Elite my preference for vocals on this song.  The upper midrange sounds a bit more forward along with the treble region noted by the edges of Stevie’s vocals, the more energetic defined guitar strings, and the cymbals, which possess more presence and splash on the track from the Elite when compared to the Utopia.

The Elite is the slightly more analytical sounding of the two headphones, especially in the treble and upper mid-range when listening with the Hybrid pads, which I used for this comparison. I prefer the more relaxed upper midrange and treble of the Utopia at times, depending on the track for pure music enjoyment; however, for some tracks, when analyzing music or for those of you who are more analytical listeners, you will likely prefer the additional energy in these regions from the Elite.

Listening to Love from Lana Del Rey, both headphones have a good bass presentation, not sounding thin, muddy, or overdone. Each headphone is a bit above neutral from the bass regions, with the Elite having a bit more warmth in the mid-bass, giving a sense of more overall bass and rumble on this track.  Again, Lana’s vocals have more body when listening to the Elite, sounding tonally more enjoyable.   

Listening to Wandering by Yosi Horikawa, both the Utopia and the Elite are very fast, quickly displaying all the beats of the bass line, bird chirps, and sound production on this song. The Elite has a bit more width and depth and slightly better imaging, but it is very close.  

Final Verdict

Both headphones are tremendous sounding, with the Elite being the more comfortable of the two headphones, and both are easy enough to drive. Choosing between these two will likely come down to the fit, visual design, tonal differences between the two headphones, price, and whether you prefer planar magnetic or dynamic driver headphones. 

The Elite also has an ace up its sleeve that no other headphones in this article currently have; the ability to pad swap to their Alcantara pads for a different sound signature and the best pad-swapping system on the market. So as with the DCA Expanse vs. the Utopia, comparing the Elite to the Utopia will again come down to a listener's preference, as all the headphones in this article are terrific.  

Utopia 2022 vs Audeze LCD-5

Last but not least, I compared the 2022 Utopia to the Audeze LCD-5, listening first to Melody Gardot’s Live in Europe Album, specifically “Our Love is Easy” and “Deep Within The Corners Of My Mind.” The LCD-5 presents a more open-sounding soundstage with more air around Melody’s vocals and the instruments in the song. The stage also sounds more accurate and balanced.

The LCD-5 adds additional emphasis in the upper-midrange with less body to the bass regions than the Utopia 2022. The LCD-5 has the most neutral-sounding bass overall compared to all the headphones in this article, even if their bass is more textured and detailed than the Utopia’s, which is of particular note on “Deep Within The Corners Of My Mind” when listening to the Cello. 

The Utopia has a more intimate-sounding sound stage with a warmer tonality for Gardot’s vocals, placing them closer on the soundstage, which some may prefer for vocal jazz music.  The Utopia sounds less analytical than the LCD-5, with a more forgiving sound signature not quite reaching the level of detail retrieval, texture, and realism of the detail the LCD-5 can reproduce.

Listening lastly to Snarky Puppy's “Lingus,” the Utopia again has more body and warmth from the bass regions immediately noticeable on the opening of the track when compared to the tighter, more textured sound of LCD-5. While the detail retrieval, imaging, and separation of instruments on the sound stage of the Utopia are tremendous on this track, the LCD-5 outclasses the Utopia in these regards.

The LCD-5 is the most fatiguing to both wear and listen to for longer listening sessions of all the headphones in this article, with the most clamping force and the most forward energetic-sounding upper midrange.  

The LCD-5 also needs significantly more current than the Utopia, so while they are not as current-hungry as the DCA Expanse, they will still need more current than the Elite or the Utopia, which will make choosing an amplifier from both a sound perspective and current perspective critical with the LCD-5 even if they can be driven from less powerful amps, they tend to sound their best with more current.

Final Verdict

So if you could only choose one of these headphones, is it worth spending the most money at the time of this article for the new Focal Utopia 2022?  This is a question only you can answer. For the price of each of these headphones, you should demo them with the amplifier and DAC you intend to listen to, as they are all very transparent headphones and will be influenced by the amplifier and DAC you choose.

If you are an analytical listener first and foremost and like to analyze music when you listen, I think the LCD-5 and Meze Elite will give you the most analytical sound signatures of the four headphones; with the LCD-5 having the most neutral bass and the most forward-sounding upper midrange.

Final Thoughts

The Elite, Utopia, and Expanse are a bit warmer tonally than the LCD-5, especially from the bass regions making them more enjoyable for me for longer listening sessions. They are also more comfortable, with the Expanse and Elite being the most comfortable headphones.

Regarding the midrange, I enjoy all the headphones but prefer the Expanse, the Elite, and the Utopia the most for pure music enjoyment. In smaller doses or when paired with a warmer or more relaxed-sounding tube amp, the energetic upper mid-range of the LCD-5 is better balanced and sounds pretty impressive but can be a bit spicy at times with more analytical DAC and headphone amplifier pairings.

The build quality of all the headphones is exceptional, but from a purely technical perspective and overall design, I am most impressed with the DCA Expanse and Meze Elite. The DCA Expanse’s folding gimbals and Meta Material tuning system are superb. The Meze Elites magnetic pad swapping system and dual driver array are extremely impressive.

Suppose you are not a fan of planar magnetic headphones. In that case, the choice becomes more straightforward, and the original Focal Utopia and the new Utopia are easily both some of the most incredible dynamic driver headphones in the world.

I don’t find the treble fatiguing on any of the headphones in this article, and each of their treble presentations is tastefully done for my preferences. The soundstage is most impressive from the Expanse, Elite, and LCD-5, yet the quality of punch is likely the best from the new Utopia.

As always, I encourage you to listen to all of these headphones side by side to formulate your impressions, as we all differ on what we value or prefer in sound quality and likely have different audio rigs at home.  

We have all these fantastic flagship headphones and multiple amps and DACS in our store's headphone bar, so if you are in SoCal, stop by and hang out with us and have your own listening party.  

If you are interested in trading up your old headphones or other gently used audio gear for a new set of headphones, check out ourtrade-up program, and don’t forget we will price match other authorized dealers!  

Until next time friends, remember, let the music be your guide! 

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