JMlab Utopia loudspeaker Page 2

Two 6" midrange drivers frame Focal's TELAR 57 inverted-dome tweeter in a D'Appolito configuration. Literature: "To obtain the best possible lateral dispersion while still approaching the principle of the 'point source,' Focal/JMlab has worked especially hard on the upper-midrange enclosure, opting for a horizontally receding form worked in three solid pieces of tauri. While this elegant frontage calls for a sterling effort from the cabinetmaker, it eliminates undesirable edge effects without resorting to artifices such as sticking felt around the loudspeakers—a trick unworthy of a truly high-end product."

Ahem. And these aren't bread-and-butter drivers either. Check out the "Driver Technology" sidebar for the whole hoopy-scoopy.

Setup & Associated Equipment
Setting up the Utopias was a snap in spite of their size. After a bit of pushing and shoving, they wound up farther apart than the Avalon Radian HCs usually found on our 10' by 4' by ¾" MDF speaker platform. (The platform is glued and mightily screwed to the floor and joists beneath.) Playing with toe-in, I found that a moderate angle perfectly balanced the overall size and air of the soundstage with good focus, image specificity, and body. Too great a toe-in sounded a touch zingy on certain material, even as focus improved—but only by a hair. I tried various footers and settled on the best by far: a trio of the large ceramic DH Cones.

The Utopias were subjected to a wide variety of electronics and cabling. Most notably, they sounded hugely fantastic on the mighty VTL Wotans that have once again returned to our listening room. Luke Manley, guiding light at VTL, claims this new-series build corrects the minor flaws I found in my original review (Follow-Up in the works). The Utopias were also driven by the Forsell Statement and YBA Passion 1000 monoblocks. Cabling was both TARA Labs The One and Synergistic Research Designer's Reference.

Preamps in play were the Nagra PL-P, YBA Signature 6-Chassis, BAT VK-5i and VK-P10 line and phono units, and the Luxman C-10 full-function pre. Digital playback featured the Ensemble Dichrono converter and drive, the BAT VK-D5 integrated CD player (review in the works), and the Forsell D/A.

Vinyl was spun on the Forsell Air Force One with the following cartridges: vdH 'Hopper IV Gold (utterly wonderful, with its suspension perfectly tuned for the arm/'table combo (footnote 3)), the Symphonic Line RG-8, Clearaudio Insider, Wilson-Benesch Analog, and the Win SMC-10 (review up'n'comin' as well). Cabling on the front-end was, once again, TARA The One and Designer's Reference.

In general terms, the speakers settled into our system with ease. The only real problem was getting into the closet that sits to the rear of the right speaker! I'm hardly svelte, and the door just barely made it open before whacking the back of the enclosure. When I got cranky about it, Kathleen told me I was crazy. Do I even realize how lucky I am?

First impressions were highly favorable. The Utopia sounded musical from the very first transient that snapped the dust off the drivers. Presumably because of the rigid, lightweight, high-efficiency drivers, the Utopia sounded VERY DYNAMIC! Really, it was incredible. The wonder of it all was that this superb dynamic shading and burst-proof power handling were evident from the most complicated and dense of orchestral crescendos to the most subtle and nuanced of information imaginable. It all burst and blossomed eagerly from the Utopia's willing drivers.

This incredible level of dynamic contrast and shading guaranteed that, even when playing at very low levels, the sound was still harmonically and rhythmically complete. Musical contrasts were fully available at any volume to flesh out the music.

About that tweeter...well, it is indeed a very special device. First, it always sounded open, open, open. It was so fast and transparent that I took the habit of setting VTA by raising the Forsell's arm until the highs bumped up against it and turned hard or edgy. Then I'd back it down a bit and zero it in. On the other hand, the tweeter, and the Utopia in general, could never be accused of harboring a ruthlessly revealing nature. In fact, they were happy to make the best of whatever material was supplied. They revealed all without beating me up or destroying the music.

The upper treble was at once extended and linear, yet totally musical, sweet, and engaging. The "micro-information" that Jacques Mahul feels to be so vital was much in evidence; it illuminated all manner of delicious nuance in timing and harmonic interplay. There was always great coherence on tap, but never at the cost of harmonic integrity.

Footnote 3: As A.J. van den Hul will do for anyone for a relatively modest fee.
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