Focal Scala Utopia III vs Grande Utopia Be

staxguy -- Tue, 05/15/2012 - 00:05

Hi. Do any Focal / JM Lab users or sellers have any comments re: the sound quality of the Series III Utopia line vs the Be (previous) line? 

I like the look of the Grand Utopia BE (not the inital version), with the wood sides and the look of the Focal Scala Utopia III in white. The price of the two (one used) and one new, is comparable.

I have been quite impressed with the general sound of the B&W 800 and 802 diamonds, and have heard that the Focal have the same detailed quality sound, but with the addition of much increased musicality.

I would buy something like the B&W's for a friend (and still may for myself...) but am really looking for something special, both audibly (especially!) and visually, to use for many years.

To my eye, these two Focals are special, in that regard. I would really like to constrain my price, given the quality I have heard now with the 800's and 802's.

JV had great things to say about the Focal Stella Utopia III in the latest German show report. Does a good portion of that quality transcend down to the Scala III? How does the BE line (particularly the Grand Utopia III) compare to the new III?

Thank you everyone for all your suggestions.


SundayNiagara -- Tue, 05/15/2012 - 15:53

Look for a used NOLA Baby Grand.

Alfetta87 -- Wed, 05/16/2012 - 02:58

 There has been a huge step between the BE series and the EM (3rd generation) Utopia series.
Sound is pretty different than from B&W, I'd say more colourful and dynamics, the B&W are more on the quiet side.
IMO I'd save some money and go for the Maestro Utopia, which is a huge step from the Scale. Scal is OK, but Maestro can be definitively classified as one of the best speakers available - price range under 100k. Heard them against the Rockport Aquila - 1-0 for Maestros.
Tweeter is the same in the whole Utopia EM range, so if it's for the high's, go for any speaker.

ozy -- Wed, 05/16/2012 - 08:20

staxguy- i 've had the stella utopia em for a year+ now and absolutely loving it. 10 years ago or so  i had the  utopia be , moved to the grand utopia be and then to other speakers, that  didn't float my boat at all.
 the utopia 3 line was completely revamped and re-engineered effort  by a new team that was assembled by focal. the wirinig, cabinet and drivers  were all updated with great sonics resuts. to my ears, the previous models were nice, with a welcome addition of the Be tweeter. but they sounded bloated in the bass, and "woodsy"- too much cabinet soundprint.
 not so at all with the new line- the stellas are smooth, coherent, very dynamic  with even balance on all frequencies. they can play crazy- loud, or  low and still remain  coherent and very detailed. i was considering the grand utopia em, but felt that it would overload my room(as  my previous spekers did), and opted for the shorter stellas. they integrate so much better and simply disappear soniclly.hope this helps.

staxguy -- Thu, 07/05/2012 - 02:42

Thanks, I listened to the Grand Utopia III EM's with Bryston 28BSST2's, and heard some of the most realistic tenor sax I've heard, and I'm a tenor sax player, lol. :) The album was Mark Levinson's Live Recordings at Red Rose Music, with Chico Freeman on sax playing Duke Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood." Great cut. Will try to get an hour in past closing with a variety of material. They had the Scala's in the shop too, but in the back. The Focal guys should be coming in at the end of the month to do a demonstration. Was wonderfully surprised by the relaxed presentation, compared to other modern speakers - absolutely nothing "in your face" and great a huge element of musical subtlety while portraying imaging that I had not heard similarly done - playful imagining, I'd say - nothing of "ping, ping/pong" that could typically characterize studio recordings via other loudspeakers, listening to tracks 7 and 8 of Goldfrapp's "We Are Glitter" CD, say. The movement of the sound sounded like waves, between the speakers - a gentle movement, as did the movement towards the ear.

My plan to find a speaker that I could enjoy music on and also have as a reference transducer to test my take on electronica (very club orientated) was baffled by this listen: as clearly as I enjoy "bleep, beep" on less-able speakers, typically, the vast resolution and musically subtle presentation I heard on the Focal EM III's made me think of other tones worthy of such transducers.

An elderly German woman descending the store stairs from the consulting section commented on that these were the first loudspeakers she heard that she could distinguish the individual instruments, and I found this humurous and quizzical - that's the job of the ear/mind - and yet something was going on here than I had not heard before with reproduced sound, the ability to portray well-known instruments as if actual instruments sonically - and not glaring toyish knock-offs of the real thing.

Typically, I will hear instruments like trumpet, acoustic guitar, and rim shots done well by various speakers, yet I am not sensitive to these instruments, just familiar, having listened somewhat to them actually, and somewhat play them to a basic degree. That a far cry from the thousands of hours familiarity that goes from trying to properly learn and master an instrument, which you more seriously try.

Starting with Klipsch Heressy II's as a student, playing CD's on Sony ES gear, and old-fashioned turntables (1 piece, table, amp, speakers), spinning dusty records, I did not expect to hear the beginnings of realistic reproduction in my life-time.

I've liked quite a few systems, but none have come close to the emotional experience of a live choral concert in a small hall. The Grand Utopia III EM does quite a nice job, indeed.

The room that they have them in is cavernous and filled with much equipment, browsed by people. WIll have to do an after-hours audition, to see how they fare at full-volume, on tenacious material.

I will admit I wished the price was very much lower, so I could effortlessly make an impulse "value" purchase. Kudos to those who have already invested, and to Focal for making such a nice speaker. :)



TheArt (not verified) -- Thu, 05/17/2012 - 13:12

"To my eye, these two Focals are special"  - NOT a good start.  How about to your EAR?  It sounds like you haven't auditioned the Focals, and are considering them on looks?  or reputation??  To my ears, they sound nothing like B&W's.  And to be honest, I'm not a big fan.  I've heard Focals demonstrated many times, from the first Be models to the latest, and they usually sound a bit harsh and 'mertallic' to me. (Just my experience.  No offense to those with different opinions or tastes.)  The one exception was the recent Grand Utopia EM.  I've heard them twice - once they stunk, the other time they impressed.  (Set-up & electronics must be VERY critical!)  But you'd better have a huge room... and very deep pockets.
You are talking about dropping $30K/pr.  I suggest that you get a good listen to several different candidates first.  I can think of many speakers I like better in that price-range (and below).  My first thought is the Aerial 20T's. I heard them side-by-side with the Grand Utopia Be's and the difference was day-and-night.  One speaker sounded warm, rich, and alive with natural timbres - very lifelike, Eva Cassidy made trhe hairs stand up on the back of my neck.  That speaker was NOT the Focal...
At around $30K retail, there are simply too many other excellent speakers to mention.  Nola's are lovely!  Have you heard Avalons, Revels, Martens?  Based on the sound of their mini-monitors, I'd definitely check out the Evolution Acoustics speaker in that price-range (probably MM2 or MM3).
If you happen to live nearby, get to THE Show in Newport Beach (acttually Irvine), CA on June 1st-3rd.  You'll be able to hear dozens of excellent speakers in your price-range (and above, and below).  If not, there may be an audio show in your area.
If you compare Focals to others and still want them, that's cool.  But you shouldn't consider buying ANY speaker based on looks or what someone else says about them.  You need to listen and compare... or you may be selling them on Audiogon in six months.

staxguy -- Thu, 06/28/2012 - 21:15

Thanks, TheArt, for your wonderful reply.

To be honest, I'm designing a home, and am looking for contemporary and architectural looking loudspeakers to both decorate and adorn it, sonically.

Just listened to the Grand Utopia EM, driven by the Bryston 28BSST2s in a grand sized room (20+ feet ceilings), of good proportion, and the sound was both understated and musical in a good way. I much preferred the sound to the 802 diamonds, driven by the fabulous Devaliet. There was more in-your-face detail with the B&W's, but the Focals presented sound with hints of detail, and yet movement in "waves" - the relaxing feeling of somewhat observing the seashore on a sandy beach, and the waves lapping in sporadically - as the instruments panned, it was more natural than hyper-detailed, and perhaps revealed more of the mixer's intention, sonically. I quite liked the sound, on first listen, and even at quiet volumes, I heard a good musical presentation - with my ears next to the individual drivers at quiet levels I could hear good resolution - similar to top flight headphones. I was happily to like the presentation more than I do on $100 Sennheisers in-ears and the iPhone 4, which is saying something. :)

Visually, I was impressed by the quality as well. I was expecting something less grand, perhaps, and I like it better than most BMW's or Mercedes sedans, quality wise, by visual look. I'll admit I was considering while listening how much a great system like the Sanders 10c would approximate this level of sound for 1/10th the purchase price, and would that be the thing for me at home at present - the realist voice, while witnessing the sonic attempt of greatness in presentation.

The size of the integrated subwoofers was impressive, and the quality of the bass was quite good. Mentally, I wished that such speakers would be picked up by Dance and Community centre's with Bryston amps to replace their typically horrid sounding PA's, but that's likely not to happen. :)

Definately to my mind they Grand Utopia EM sonically bridge the good elements of Hi Speakers and "small room" PA speakers, in an attractive though pricey package. Were I building a small recital hall, I'd be more than happy with this loudspeaker for minimal PA use - most likely a small private recital hall, where the drivers would be less likely to be poked in, though kids will be kids.

They got in again the Scala Utopia III's, which are more reasonable for my little listening room at present, though I would very much like to purchase both models.

It would be nice to have such a lovely speakers as the Grand Utopia III EM include an upgrade-program, as I would feel utterly silly discarding these based on their cost and sheer size, for another speaker.

Thank you very much for you great reponse and commentary! I apprecaite your insight and recommendation! :)

Kindheartedly appreciate, TheArt! :)


staxguy -- Fri, 06/29/2012 - 23:41

One the same thread, who can comment on the variations between the following:

Focal Grand Utopia III / EM
MBL 101 Xtreme
Magico Q7

I have just listened again to the Grand Utopia III EM and have been happily impressed. In a very large room (more a cavern), it fills the space, and even at very gentle volumes, it revals geneous details with musical shading. A modest suprise! Not nirvana, but a welcome improvment over the B&W 802 diamonds in terms of subtlety, and musical pleasure. Thinking of auditioning the smaller siblings for my existing listening room - a speaker this interesting deserves a propper space! :)

The Q7 is priced a bit less, and the MBL, a bit more... anyone used any amps other than MBL, sucessfully?

At $20K more than a 2008 16,000 Km Lamborgini Gallardo (Negro) I was looking at, it doesn't scream value. But neither does a Lambo.

staxguy -- Sun, 07/08/2012 - 02:03

Does anyone think the Focal Utopia III series is "selective" in it's presentation? I found it wonderfully musical in it's understatement, and yet, thinking now, there was recessed volume levels in some of the details as presented. Has Stereophile or someone done a decent series of measurements? Is it flat, throughought the 20 Hz to 20 KHz range...?

It has been stated variously that the Grand Utopia EM is the best, and the Magico Q7 is the best, presently. Anyone done any side-by-side?

I like the "architecture" of the Utopia III line and wish that it was built in a robust (non-wood/metal) cabinet, for the price.

I'll give the G U EM a listen again tomorrow.

majesticgiraffe -- Sat, 06/30/2012 - 14:31

what about Vandersteen 7 with the carbon fiber at $45K

staxguy -- Sun, 07/01/2012 - 17:28

Thanks. I had a daitribe to say on the design from reading the VS reviews on their website, lol, but a friend's invitation to a champagne and orange juice breakfast down the street save us all from my outsider's perspective on hi-fi design. :)
We're in the closing day of the Coastal Jazz and Blues Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

For those that can put up with Apple's iTunes, here are some free songs! :)

iTunes Code: KEFTR6X3J3NN
Code Expiration: July 31, 2012

1. Benoît Delbecq & François Houle "Pour Pee Wee"
2. Bill Frisell "It's a Long Story, Pt. 1"
3. Brad Turner Quartet "Nicole"
4. Chris Tarry "Scroll"
5. Flora Ware "Let Go"
6. Get the Blessing "Adagio In Wot Minor"
7. Ig Henneman Sextet "Fervid"
8. Jill Barber "Tell Me"
9. Kyprios "Throw It Away"
10. Los Amigos Invisibles "Sexy"
11. No Sinner "Love Is a Madness"
12. Now's The Time Jazz Trio "Anywhere"
13. Paul Plimley (Hexen Trio) "The Starbreak Splatterlight"
14. Samuel Blaser "Solo Bone"
15. The Serwan Yamolky Trio "Dulab Huzzam"
16. The Sway Machinery "Youba"
17. Tim Sars "On Cue"
I played with Brad Turner back when I was in highschool, in a jazz band touring Hong Kong and Macau. We were pretty sweet for highschoolers, jazz wise, but it was a monster to keep up with Brad on "Sweet Georgia Brown" up-tempo, despite the simplicity and familiarity of rhythm changes, and Charlie Parker's master 'licks. He's pretty darn grand on trumpet, rhodes piano, bass, sax and drums, last I heard.

Francois Houle is another Vancouver local. Most of you will likely be familiar with Bill Frissel.

Am hoping some of the more popular speaker makers take up the Magico gauntlet, and begin offering more rigorous enclosures and cabinets.

As for sound at the festival, the Meyer Sound monitors have proved the best, acoustically, outdoors, from what's in their gearbox.


SundayNiagara -- Sun, 07/01/2012 - 18:25

Any relation to Rejean Houle?  :D

staxguy -- Thu, 07/05/2012 - 02:07

Go Habs, Go! :D

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