ZMF Caldera Review and Impressions

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by Vtory, Sep 12, 2022.

  1. zach915m

    zach915m MOT: ZMF Headphones

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    The Atrium damping system cam about when I was working on the Atrium, but it was designed and applied for patent as a universal damping system that can be applied to headphones of any type and utilized singular or multiple chambers of radiused damping material of a very light/thing amount of damping to a heavier dampinf scheme with many chambers.

    Tldr: the Ateium damping is adaptable to any headphone type.

    No mesh on the front or back of the Caldera, I did try it on both sides as well as with the Ateium damping stuffs, but I found the new Caldera earpads was the best answer to tune the midrange and treble, and since cowhide works so well on planars we will have cowhide pads available for a smoother experience.
     
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    I know this is from another source, but I'm not seeing it in your measurements and Sean Olive lifted upper mids is not in ZMF's vocabulary. Maybe a peak here or there, but never shelved up. I hope that one day, real academics, like at a local university, come up with a better target curve which is neutral perceptual.

    Anyway, glad to see you back.
     
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  3. zach915m

    zach915m MOT: ZMF Headphones

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    I should mention, and maybe I misspoke somewhere for sure, that the sentiment is more that I was "conscious" of the harman curve in that area vs complying to it, I do think it's closer in some areas of that area than some of our dynamics.

    Agreed on the target curve stuff, what I'm hearing from a lot of our international dealers and such is that it just confuses the F out of people and then when they like something that doesn't comply they have trouble processing why (or if its socially acceptable) .

    I know from my work/experience that different headphone designs (open/closed etc) need different tunings to sound the perceived same to different people. It gets weird real fast.
     
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  4. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    I'll let you play nice with Dr Olive. Allow SBAF and I crap on his "research". ;)

    Absolutely! Frequency response in not the end-all be-all per the current measurbator trend. I'm sure you know I've done a dozen speaker designs and keep changing things up and exploring. FR is a good starting point, but final tuning is always done by ear according to transient and distortion (and other non measurable) characteristics. A horn design that measures flat will not sound the same as a soft tweeter that measures flat. Small nearfield speakers that can't extend low usually do better with a small mid-bass bump. Metal tweeters should be shelved down. (This is why ASR subjectively crapped on the Elacs even though they measured betterer than the JBL small monitors.) Et. al.
     
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  5. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    Let me make several clarifications to the op:

    0. Not mine but Zach's measurements. Haha. I only cited my Atrium's measurement because Zach's graph was a comparative plot against Atrium.
    1. Zach's graphs I shared are B&K 5128 which is a whole different measurement system than others, say IEC 711-compatible ones where harman curve is applicable. Zach has both 5128 and aec206. So I'm pretty sure he used both in the development and, when he said harman, he meant aec206's results.
    2. Zach's graph I cited was compensated against Diffuse-field. Below is Zach's 5128 raw (uncompensated) plot for the reference. Again, I am not very sure how things will measure in aec206 fixture.

    [​IMG]
     
  6. sp33ls

    sp33ls Facebook Friend

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    Sheeesh, a high-end ZMF planar? Throw me down for a future pair of Caldera Closed-backs, Zach.

    Just by the way you have been describing the general characteristics & tuning leads me to believe this will be an ideal complement to my VC's.

    As far as timing, I'm glad it won't be until next year since my wallet is already hurting from my adventures in loudspeaker territory. ;)

    Congrats on the new model, looking forward to reading all of the impressions.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2022
  7. RestoredSparda

    RestoredSparda Friend

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    A user on HF found some internal shots of Caldera's driver and damping system (a la Atrium) in a Can Jam video. Very cool!

    1664144708412.png 1664144658388.png
     
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  8. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    The "atrium", that is the beige rectangular damping piece (with the holes on the outer edge) is some kind of foam correct?
     
  9. Gazny

    Gazny Friend

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    I'd check out the Atrium ™ info page, has a ton of info on the new tech.

    https://www.zmfheadphones.com/atrium-patent
     
  10. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    Thanks, it says:

    "...have designed the Atrium damping system for open headphones, to be adjustable through damping material PPI (pores per inch), density, radius of application, and intermediary distance of application of the damping material to the driver and spatial volume of the headphone cup...."

    Which seems to confirm it is foam. From the pic I could not tell, and I thought maybe it's a hard plastic.
     
  11. RestoredSparda

    RestoredSparda Friend

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    Yep, Zach confirmed on HF that it's a foam, and is rated to last 20 years. (Someone was concerned if it would degrade).
     
  12. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    In all my years of modding, I never thought to use a lightly toasted marshmallow as damping material...
     
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  13. GoldenOne

    GoldenOne Friend

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    [​IMG]

    I've got a demo unit of the Caldera here at the moment and I'm honestly quite blown away.
    I heard them at Canjam SoCal and was impressed, but it's always tough to get good impressions at canjam due to the timescale and noise.

    Trying them here at home though...these are incredible.

    The technical prowess of these and sheer resolution is amazing. Whilst I adore my Atriums for many reasons, they're not the last word in resolution. These however are absolutely totl in this area.
    Combine that with some simply excellent tuning, and some vocal timbre that is among the best I've heard, and you've got a REALLY impressive pair of headphones.

    Full video is coming (Atrium will be first though), but yeah....these are fucking great


    Also worth noting that my fav pads on these are the Perforated Suede.
    The stock pads are very good, but there's a peak somewhere in the upper treble that is a little too much at times.
    The suede pads make this a non issue without having too drastic an effect on the tuning. In fact I prefer the tuning with the Suede pads overall, the only downside being a slight reduction in stage vs stock (but still great so no biggie).

    Can't wait to try these on the Bliss once that arrives!
     
  14. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    Can't wait for a loaner! :eek:

    How would these compare to Susvara or Utopia in terms of resolution / plankton?
     
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  15. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    [​IMG]

    I'm also having the Caldera (loaned to me for analyses and evaluations) in the house, too. Running them for 5 days intensively, I can easily attest Caldera is legit and deserves hypes.

    TBH its price (even with special release discounts) is steep but I honestly can't think of anything cheaper in msrp that can be even contestable to Caldera's resolution and detail retrievals.

    Some early thoughts and measurements to be posted this Friday or so.

    From my prior auditions, I'm thinking that Susvara persistently outresolves Utopia -- maybe it's because I'm a planar/ortho guy. And that Caldera and Susvara trade blows.

    So far, I'm under the impression that Caldera is a bit better in resolving lower midrange microdynamics while Susvara remain tad stronger in bass nuances. But I might be wrong and need to hear both more.
     
  16. lagadu

    lagadu Facebook Friend

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    Do these pair well with good tube amps, like the ZMF dynamics do, or do they have the somewhat typical trait orthos tend to have that they need some higher powered, good sounding amps to truly shine?
     
  17. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth 2000% biased Planar Hater

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    They sound surprisingly good out of SW51. No this is not a joke. I'll comment more on amp pairings and everything else in a finalized impressions post
     
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  18. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    This isn't true actually. It is true that Yamaha made planar magnetic drivers with concentric magnets, but the term "orthodynamic" does not refer to that. It's simply a marketing term that Yamaha made up for their planar magnetic headphones. At the time it was just them, Fostex and Wharfedale making planar magnetic headphones. So I'm guessing they wanted to separate themselves with a unique name. Fostex called them "regular phase" headphones or "RP" for short. Yamaha called them "orthodynamic" headphones. These terms all mean the same thing. Planar magnetic, orthodynamic, isodynamic, regular phase. That's why I call them orthos because it's the best short hand while still being accurate. All the og ortho -heads in the original orthodontic roundup thread on HF called them orthos. If that term meant "planar magnetics with concentric magnets" they would have figured that out and we wouldn't all have used the term "orthos".

    Zach can call them whatever the hell he wants :)
     
  19. penguins

    penguins Friend, formerly known as fp627

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    Just posted a status update on this too, but I second this. Borrowing the loaner unit for a few days while @ChaChaRealSmooth prepares the official loaner. This is a very unexpected pairing. It's not perfect and my Cavalli LC (no surprise) drives the Caldera better, but given that the total power output of the SW51+ is "only" about 220-225mW into 32ohm (ZMF website specs Caldera at Z = 60ohm) - it sounds way better than one would expect. I also like Caldera more on the SW51 than I did on the dCS stack, a different unknown to me amp in the ZMF room, and @Clemmaster 's personal Bakoon stack at socal can jam 2022. Disclaimer: Yes, I did help Zampotech at the Austin show. However, I wasn't even going to try this headphone with the SW51 until chacha told me to.

    Will also post more complete impressions later next week after I return the headphones or if I'm too busy, then hopefully within the next 2 weeks before I start forgetting things.

    edit: a few thoughts I want to put down before i forget later - in short, this HP is a bit more picky with gear:
    - I didn't like this HP as much with Spring 2 DAC. It was better with a Yggdrasil A2 and Modi MB. I suspect I would really like this with a Burl B2 or Prism Callia, maybe (50/50) on a Bricasti M3, but I don't have access or time to get one of the above right now.
    - As I've said before several times on SBAF, my Stellaris is my favorite amp under probably $50k and my entire system and headphones are built around it, but I didn't like Caldera on my Stellaris. I actually like it more on SW51 and LC. On Stellaris the notes had the lack of weight and heft of electrostatics but without the speed or "accuracy" or resolution. However, I should also note, and I've also said this several times before on SBAF, I don't generally like planars out of my Stellaris - regardless of how I set the Z out, balanced vs SE drive, SE vs BAL out, what tubes are rolled, etc.
    - I didn't like the LC with low gain on Caldera. Lost texture in the sound on low gain - it wasn't just "planar plastic timbre" either - the music didn't actually feel or seem very present. On high gain it almost felt like planar plasticity was gone.
    - On SW51, I liked low Z out slightly more, but I was still happy using high Z out.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2022
  20. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    I didn't want to say too much about the Caldera until I found reasonably priced upstream components that synergistically worked with it. Orthos can be tricky the pair and the Caldera is no different. For a headphone that rather stiffly priced, the cheapskate in me will always try to find a bargain somewhere!

    Here's the deal. For those folks with $20k to blow: sure, go for it with the uber toobs amps, TOTL DACs, or crazy vinyl rig(s). What I'm try to shoot for is those with $4k total to spend and happen to really fall in love with the Caldera. While there may be many other bargain setups that may suit others preferences or even mine, the one that I happened to stumble upon is the Asgard 3 with the built-in ESS module. I know that I wasn't impressed with the Asgard 3 when I first heard it years ago; but I chalk this up to mood, bad pairings with headphones or DACs, or maybe hidden revisions. I don't really know and I don't care to speculate - other that if I had $3550 to blow, I'd seriously consider the Caldera and Asgard 3 with the ESS module. Sure the custom 445 with my varied vinyl sources is betterer, but the bargain arrange ticks all the boxes for "sufficiently good" at a lot more convenience.

    PXL_20221114_021207047.PORTRAIT.jpg

    Now we all know that ZMF stuff ain't cheap. The Caldera is priced at $3200. I mean, Zach's got some balls. Is it worth $3200-$3500? I hate to admit it, but it is given the current pricing structure around today's TOTL orthos. In fact, it's very fair if not a slight bargain. I was hoping the Caldera would be disappointing or sound like shit so I could call Zach out, but I can't. Zach does his homework and knows where he stands. Does this mean that Sususuvara, Abyss, LCD-4, and Final D8000 (all more expensive than the Caldera) owners should go out and get one? Not necessarily because like the above, it's different sounding. They are all different. It depends what you like.

    The Caldera is an interesting one because it's more ZMF than a planar. I pick up a Sususuvara, Abyss, D8000, LCD-4, and despite their differences, one thing sticks out: they are planars. The Caldera kind of tricks us because it's got that classical ZMF woody sound along with the medium speed Atrium lows and the Verite resolution and microdynamics. It's a few seconds later that we realize "oh, this is an ortho" with the way the transient decays flow and the un-graininess of the textures. The best way to put it is if the Autuer Classic and the LCD-4 had a baby, the Caldera would be it.

    No, the Calera doesn't do the Sturm und Drang like the Abyss or have those tight snappy transients of the Sususuvara, but it does resolve low level information like a mo'f'er, and that in itself makes the pricing appropriate to its peers.

    More later...
     
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    Last edited: Nov 13, 2022

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