ZMF Caldera Review and Impressions

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

  1. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    Zach explains Caldera's acoustic designs (pads, magnet, and damping). Many interesting decisions and thoughts seem to be incorporated.
     
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    This is just me: Stellaris does work pretty good with the D8000P. However I don't think Stellaris works with the Caldera. I don't feel that bloomy amps sound good with the Caldera, especially with busier or bassier music. This isn't any different from what I thought about Caldera and Magni Piety, another amp that has bloomy mids. Caldera I can see as good through the SW51 with the right source. This goes with my thinking that clearer neutral sounding amps (of which SW51 is one of them) goes best. The only downside (forgivable) with the SW51 is that it lacks slam. The Caldera isn't as inherently slammy as other planars and needs the right amp to do so. SW51 would need a suitable DAC which has smooth highs. The SW51 is fairly honest sounding and that all that tubey at all.

    Atrium with Stellaris is fantastic. I haven't found the perfect higher-end amp for me with respect to the Caldera yet. The Asgard 3 with the ESS card works, but it is a darker richer rounder sound. I do have an amp in mind, but it doesn't exist yet.
     
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  3. earnmyturns

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    Besides Stellaris, my current amp options are 3F and BW2. @rhythmdevils found the 3F underpowered for his ortho faves. BW2? I suspect not, as it sounds to me pretty rich in the mids and a bit grainy on the highs. I'm curious about Caldera, but not enough to go through the logistics of trying for a "meh" outcome. Especially since both Atrium (as you say) and VO blackwood (which is currently getting the most play time) pair so well with Stellaris.
     
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  4. RestoredSparda

    RestoredSparda Friend

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    Same thoughts here. I won't part with my Stratus, or how well it pairs with Atrium or HD650.

    I also don't have the cash to spring for another Uber buck amp just for Caldera. Look forward to others impressions though and what amps they find pair nicely with it.
     
  5. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    Maybe Ferrum Oor or the fancy Bakoon/Enleum amps?
     
  6. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth 2000% biased Planar Hater

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    I present the very best amp to pair with Caldera because I am a huge asshole:

    20200908_230127.jpg

    Old pic with the Code-6 (which I no longer own because it got replaced by the ZMF Atrium).

    Extrapolating from the EC Ultralinear and SW51, I suspect the 3F would actually be very good with the Caldera. The Caldera simply doesn't really need uber high-power amps to sound really good (for reference the SW51 outputs something like 300 mW into 50 ohms); I feel it just needs amps that sound clean and are more straight-lined (think not-tubey).

    I really need to get off my lazy ass and finish writing up impressions. I'm like 75% done and for some reason have a massive mental block on finishing it.
     
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    Last edited: Nov 23, 2022
  7. zach915m

    zach915m MOT: ZMF Headphones

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    My own preferences aside, it seemed like the consensus for favorite amps at Canjam were Ecp 3F, Glenn El3N, Feliks Envy, Wells Milo and the Cayin iha 6. With the 3F and El3N being the ones most often talked about.

    As an aside, we had both transformer versions there and I can't remember which 3f was used more, I think the warmer one...?
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2022
  8. earnmyturns

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    Uhoh, you and @ChaChaRealSmooth are generating some real Caldera temptation... That would be the nickel transformer 3F, which I have in location #2. My 3Fs have been getting a lot less use since Stellaris matches Atrium and Verité blackwood so well.
     
  9. insidious meme

    insidious meme Ambivalent Kumquat

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    I can confirm that the Caldera and the SW51 work well together. I've only used the low output. None of us say this is like some event from heaven, but at least you won't go 10 secs into a song and rip that thing off your head.

    Briefly using the BW2 with the Caldera, I didn't have any issues with it. Probably need more time with it, but the SW51 has taken most of that time for now. Lol.

    Just quickly, I get that many of those amps don't get talked about much here (mostly value for the buck friends), but I did enjoy the Atrium thru the Envy, and the Caldera thru the Milo fwiw meet conditions. Thanks @zach915m for having a wide range of amps at your room. I may never have the money for much of them, but at least I get to hear to a point what they're about.
     
  10. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    ZMF Caldera (Suede Pads)
    Frequency Response
    Flate Plate Coupler (Compensated)
    upload_2022-11-28_11-19-12.png
     
  11. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    ZMF Caldera (Suede Pads)
    CSDs
    upload_2022-11-28_12-17-49.png
    upload_2022-11-28_12-18-20.png
     
  12. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth 2000% biased Planar Hater

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    ZMF Caldera Impressions

    Everyone who knows me on this site knows I don't really like planars. Occasionally over my time I'd try and buy one, but they never ended up lasting in my overly large and stupid headphone collection (I really have too many headphones). No, the Caldera does not change my mind on planars and I won't be getting one. However, I can safely say that Caldera absolutely belongs in the handful of planars that I liked enough to have entertained the possibility of buying one.

    Sonics

    Stop reading right here if you want super fast transients and super hard slam with hefty notes; the Caldera isn't going to give you that type of sound. If anything, in overall character (not tonality) it's somewhat like the OG Auteur; more polite and relaxed in presentation. I'd actually go as far as to say that the Caldera completely lacks any kind of "wow" factor; it's not overly macrodetailed, bright, super bassy, or anything that might sound impressive upon first listen but ultimately is incredibly annoying.

    If anything, the Caldera is almost very normal and actually mimics some characteristics of good dynamic driver headphones. It doesn't have that wall-of-sound effect some planars have, doesn't have a weird sheen over the sound that some bad planars have, and doesn't have unrefined bouncy treble or anything really weird. The only thing that I can think of that gives the Caldera away is in the sonic textures and overall timbre, which is a bit overly-smooth and almost glassy. That being said, the Caldera isn't overly smooth to the point where I feel like information is lost; it's about as overly smooth as good dynamic driver headphones are overly grainy.

    Speaking of details, the Caldera is indeed very resolving and one of the most resolving planars I've auditioned seriously at home. I don't remember how it fares against RAD-0 because it's been too long since I heard that headphone, but the Caldera definitely outresolves Code-6 and is on the level of the Verite and Atrium (in other words, not quite at the Utopia level but it's not far off).

    In terms of microdynamics and macrodynamics, again the Caldera reminds me of the OG Auteur. It's not going to be slamming or thunderous like the Atrium, however just like the Atrium the Caldera really needs to be paired with the right amp in order to bring out the best performance in its dynamcis (and all other areas). That being said, its attacks are very nuanced (think Verite like) and the decays are pretty well delineated, but the decays are kind of weird because planars seem to all settle differently than the dynamic drivers I'm used to.

    Tonality wise, the Caldera is much along the lines of the Auteur Classic, with maybe some elements of the Aeolus thrown in (although it's obviously not as tilted dark as the Aeolus). Basically, it's tuned like a ZMF.

    Stage is a lot like the Auteur Classic. Which is to say, somewhat larger than HD600 and more open-feeling. No real complaints here.

    Amp Pairings

    The amp will have to be carefully considered for Caldera, but not in the stereotypical ortho ways. What do I mean by that? I mean that the Caldera doesn't seem to benefit from vastly increasing the power output. Instead, achieving max synergy with the Caldera lies almost solely in the amp's sonic characteristics. In this way, the Caldera can be thought of as very transparent to the amp funnily enough.

    Due to this, I'm going to give out a short recommendation instead of providing the usual list of amps that I tried the Caldera on. I most recommend amps that are straight-shooters. In other words, not tubey or bloomy. Tube bloom doesn't seem to play well with Caldera; unlike the ZMF dynamics, the tube bloom seems to interact in funny ways with the ZMF wood coloration in the Caldera and the two together sound really weird.

    Examples of amps I'd recommmend: Magni 3+, SW51, DSHA-3F

    Not recommended: Any DNA, Studio B, anything Feliks, ZDT Jr

    Conclusion

    In short, I think Zach really did a great job with the Caldera. The only real issue for me is that it's a planar; I just don't seem to jive with planars.

    *I'll insert a picture later
     
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    Last edited: Nov 29, 2022
  13. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    ZMD Caldera (Suede)
    Distortion vs Frequency at Various SPL
    upload_2022-11-29_8-46-32.png
    • As expected, fairly low distortion across the board for a decent sized planar
    • Overall small 2nd harmonic rise at loudest SPL.
    • Small rise in 3rd harmonic below 40Hz at louder SPLs.
    • Rise is overall distortion from upper mids on up, slightly more than typical
     
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  14. JeremiahS

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    Caldera is quite good first attempt at planar from ZMF but I'm not sure, something was going on with the bass response of the pair I tested, the sub-bass is pretty weak which is very unusual for a planar. I think the pair I tested had the cowhide pads, switching to Suede didn't really help in this area. I switched between Cayin HA300 MK2 and Bakoon PRE7610 MK3 (a current drive planar specialist amp) and it's didn't really help either. Bass aside I don't think they really compete with Susvara, DCA Expanse and either Abyss AB1266 and Diana TC in pure technical prowess and presenting honest timbre but they do make it up with a very well balanced sound, although seem to be leaning slightly towards warmth.
     
  15. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth 2000% biased Planar Hater

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    Huh, I certainly didn't find the subbass performance "weak" or lacking in any way. Pitch differentiation and texture was quite good. If you're talking about lack of slam though, it's probably the amp pairing. For example, I really don't think the Piety does Caldera too many favors, and it outright sucks out of Starlett and Stellaris.

    The Caldera has no real "wow factor." Leads it to sounding pretty unimpressive versus a lot of headphones. I can't say that it's better than the Susvara or other TOTL planars (I just haven't spent serious time evaluating the other planars because frankly speaking I dislike them all), but I will say the Caldera's technical performance shines more once you sit down and spend some time with them.

    Also, I should mention I'm biased as fuck. There's a reason I have my title.
     
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  16. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    I'm also largely agreeing with this -- although Caldera showed me numerous wow factors from the very first minute.

    I've been switching between Caldera and Susvara for many days. And so far, I really don't think Caldera is weaker in bass by any means. At least to my ears, to my definitions, to my tastes, and to musics I listen to (note that these are all major confounders). To me Caldera has the biggest (i.e., not meaning 'loud') and the most powerful bass among 3 totl planars I'm having atm : susvara, stealth, caldera. But honestly I'm troubled in ranking them vertically/consistently. They're just different. Optimality depends on specific natures of tracks or even mood at the moment.

    I'm also broadly thinking Caldera is not very good for those who likes Abyss. This is because (1) abyss diana products I heard didn't quite work well for technicalities in the ways I want to hear, and (2) abyss lovers (to be specific 1266 lovers) often define bass quality a little uniquely.

    Anyway, I think counter-opinions like @JeremiahS would be always an equivalently helpful data point to de-bias us.
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2022
  17. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    There's nothing quite like Abyss bass. Abyss weakness is lack of plankton, not to be confused with detail.
     
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  18. JeremiahS

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    Susvara if properly driven has a more articulate bass than the Caldera although both are pretty low impact especially in comparison to both Abysses. I think Caldera has a more dynamic sound than Susvara although both are not to the level of older HFM planars like the HE-6 and Abyss in general.
     
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  19. Philimon

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  20. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Taking my time...

    ZMF Caldera
    Attack and Decay Envelope for Burst Signals
    upload_2022-11-30_13-39-3.png
     

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