ZMF Compendium

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by ChaChaRealSmooth, Mar 7, 2020.

  1. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    It's no secret that we as SBAF like/love our ZMFs, both because @zach915m engages within the community and is a cool guy, and because the headphones he makes don't suck. Nowadays, ZMF has a headphone lineup expansive enough that it's worth putting together a compendium to have some general information and measurements in one place.

    A few things are important to note when considering buying a ZMF. They are not studio-neutral; all of them have some degree of ZMF-ness; varying degrees of coloration of timbre, FR, richness in harmonics, and cup resonance play (yes, even the open models have this. Look at the CSD measurements on this site). The ZMF tuning emphasizes the lows, has a small high-mid/low-treble dip, and a rise in the mid-treble. Also, all ZMFs can be tuned to some extent by rolling some pads; that and the differences that wood makes will be discussed later on below. Thus, the notes here will be general notes on the headphone as a whole, not comprehensive on what is possible by rolling pads to taste.

    Lastly, ZMFs are heavy. The lightest headphone is the stock Verite, which according to the ZMF website comes in at around 410-420 g, and they can go up and beyond 600 g. Keep this in mind if you don't have a bull neck.

    Note that this is a work in progress: I'll add relevant links and work to making this a resource people can peruse. Also note that some of the closed-backs I've only spent brief auditions with at a meet. I'll be paraphrasing some other trusted impressions as well.

    Index
    1. Brief summaries and relevant links
    2. Explanation of the effects of woods
    3. About pads
    4. Spider chart overview of the headphones

    Closed-Backs:

    Atticus

    Bold, energetic, and lively. Tilted towards being warm, with a localized mid-bass hump. Resolve is at least on the level of the HD6x0; very good and scales well with better gear. The driver is actually quite nimble and fast; maybe not quite Focal-fast, but gets up and goes.

    Measurements and subjective impressions

    Eikon
    More even than the Atticus above in FR, but doesn't slam as hard and is noticeably slower. Has a noticeable dip from 2k-4k. Beautiful timbre, if a little laid-back and damped in nature. For a relaxed listen in comparison to Atticus, which is more lively and slamming.

    Measurements and subjective impressions

    Verite Closed
    Exactly like the Verite, but closed and even more....Verite. If that makes no sense, just know it's the headphone that belts out its wood cup and internal cavity resonance the most out of all ZMF headphones. Just like the OG Verite, it's the fastest of all ZMFs; even going as far as tying with Utopia (while also matching it in resolve). Just like its open sibling, polarizing, perhaps moreso.

    Measurements
    Subjective impressions

    Open-Backs:

    Aeolus

    Zach's attempt at making an Atticus open. Loses absolutely none of the liveliness of the Atticus. Can kind of be thought of as a HD650 that slams more, is more colored, and has more "flair" in its presentation. It's a bit different than other ZMFs in tuning: the bass hump is localized around the midbass and doesn't bleed into the mids. Clean-sounding, but still not quite fully open with cup resonance around 2k. To borrow an analogy from @Hands, a lot like seeing an OLED with all the naughty settings on.

    Measurements
    Subjective impressions

    Auteur

    An open Eikon essentially, but has a much more even FR, and is in fact the most neutral of all ZMFs. The small peak at 6k is below the bass, so think of it more as 'has a dip between 2k-5k.' Beautiful timbre, incredibly good microdynamics, but isn't the most slamming can; holds back and has restraint. Just like Eikon, isn't fast, but the Auteur is a touch more lively and the right amp can kick the driver into gear. Can be accused of a small-ish stage only a touch larger than HD650, but has good imaging.

    Measurements
    Subjective impressions

    Verite
    Speed and resolve of the Utopia with rounded transients. Superb dynamics (both micro and macro) and driver control; tucks at the heartstrings. Largest stage of all ZMFs, with great layering abilities. One of the most colored; tilts dark with Universe pads, more neutral with Verite pads. Coloration comes from timbre and cup resonance; definitely not neutral. Probably the most polarizing ZMF alongside the Verite Closed; seems that people either love it to death or rank it as one of their least favorites.

    Measurements
    Subjective impressions
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2020
  2. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    About Woods

    These "LTD woods;" are they worth it? What do they even do?

    Before I continue explaining here, I'd like to make one point very clear. Different wood types will NOT change a headphone's character, nor its perceived FR. Decide on the headphone first, then after considering some of the points made here, decide whether or not you want a LTD wood or the stock wood.

    All ZMFs have some degree of cup resonance as part of their sound. This can be seen in any of the measurement links referenced above in the CSDs as kind of a "ring" or lasting decay on some models. Different woods have different resonance and decay characteristics, and due to the cup resonance, this has an audible effect on the sound of the headphone itself. Think of it like pianos; the wood doesn't necessarily change the instrument itself, but pianos whose soundboards are made of denser woods have a different sound than the ones made from lighter woods, even though they're both recognizably still pianos.

    Generally speaking, harder and denser woods (more janka if you will, although technically janka is another topic that is only correlated with density and not an end-all-be-all number) will sound a bit more immediate and have lesser decay. This is because denser woods tend to reflect more of the sound waves back immediately upon the wave hitting it. The inverse is true for softer woods; less immediacy, longer-lasting decay characteristics. Going back to the piano analogy, this is one of the main reasons why different woods have different sounds. Of course, woods with similar density may still have differing sonic characteristics due to other factors such as porosity and the resonance of the wood itself.

    The difference in woods is definitely audible. @neogeosnk's Verite and my own cocobolo Verite had notable differences in sound. However, it's a subtle difference and not worth agonizing over; small enough that you would only notice with a direct A/B comparison of the same headphone made of two different woods. My advice really is buy the wood type because you like the way it looks. There's absolutely nothing wrong with spending a little more because you just love the aesthetics.

    More information on woods can be found on Zach's site.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2020
  3. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    About Pads

    It's well-documented that rolling pads can have effects that can be quite drastic. With ZMFs, rolling pads can lead to noticeable changes in FR, changes in staging and imaging characteristcs, and differences in perceived transient response and slam. The effect that each pad has isn't necessarily all documented, especially considering that ZMF has a TON of different pad options available; however, Zach is very helpful in emails and also has this handy chart below:

    ZMF Pads.jpg

    Also check out the ZMF site for pads here.

    General Pad Rules:
    1. Material matters. Suede pads sound brighter than their lambskin counterparts. For ZMFs, the order from darkest to brightest in their pad materials is cowhide -> lambskin -> suede -> protein.
    2. Perforations affect sound by essentially creating a less tight seal. This will make the headphone feel more "airy" and make it less bassy. Unless you really know what you're doing, stick to perforations if your ZMF by default comes with perforated pads, and solid pads if it comes with solid pads by default.
    3. Zach is not deaf. He also has probably tried almost all of the pads on his headphones. Don't be afraid to ask him questions if you really want to experiment with pads.

    We also have this thread by @Vtory that documents the effects that rolling pads has on an Auteur Blackwood. Please note that the information in that thread, while very useful, does not necessarily universally translate to every ZMF. In other words, pad rolling affects different headphones in different ways.

    Unless you're ready to go down a rabbit hole that's comparable to the tube rolling rabbit hole, I'd generally stick with what Zach recommends and then go from there.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2020
  4. YMO

    YMO it's not drinking alone if you're on Zoom

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    I have a serious question: What about the Weight of each can? I'm going to be honest, the Eikon was too heavy for my head.
     
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  5. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    Obviously, they're all heavy headphones. I don't think I can post the weight of each one though; the ZMF site doesn't have the weight listed for every single headphone on there.
     
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  6. Vent

    Vent Friend

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    The weight varies based on the wood and other materials used in the chassis and grille, so it would be very hard to compile a complete list. They all do tend to the heavier side, but I've never found them to be uncomfortable. (I've owned or extensively borrowed: Verite, Auteur, Aeolus, Eikon, and Blackwood.)
     
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  7. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    The only one I've ever needed pilot pad on is my Ironwood VC - it was just too heavy for the strap, even with a suede one.

    Well, there's 2 factors to weight - one is hot spots on the crown of you head, which can usually be mitigated by giving the headband a pronounced kink in the middle, and if that fails a ZMF pilot pad is literally more comfortable than a Bentley's seats so just remove the strap and go pilot if that's not enough.

    The other is your neck getting tired from having an extra 5-700g hanging on it, to which answer MAKE GAINZ AND GET SWOLE!

    [​IMG]
     
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  8. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    [​IMG]

    One thing to add to the diagram above: while I generally prefer neutral headphones, I actually prefer the Universe pads across the board. The most neutral of the ZMFs is Auteur. The others all follow a similar ZMF house sound with emphasized lows, an upper mid / lower treble dip, and a small rise in the mid-treble.

    What the "neutral" pads do is bring up the mid-treble (and upper mids / lower treble a bit). I dislike any sense of treble peakage, therefore it's universe pads for me across the board.
     
  9. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    @ChaChaRealSmooth, some notes to add above if you agree:

    Aeolus: The emphasis is the lows is a bit different from all other ZMFs. The bass hump is very well localized around the midbass and doesn't bleed into the mids. The tuning gives the appearance of having a cleaner sound. In addition, it's not quite a full open back. It's more semi-open and there is some intentional reverb play with the cups around 2kHz, which is toned down considerably in closed Atticus.

    Closed Verite: The most unashamed in terms of the wood cup and internal cavity resonance play among the ZMF headphones. Also the fastest (along with Verite) driver. I thought the Aeolus and Atticus were fast dynamic drivers, until I heard the Verite.
     
  10. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    Interestingly, I've liked the pads that are more "neutral." However, I dislike the suede pads. I ordered suede pads for my Auteur and suede Universe pads for my Verite, and I don't use them. Too much compromise in other sonic areas; I feel they dull the transients and make the sound drier. Lambskin all the way for me.

    Granted, I listen to a stock Utopia and don't find it annoying in any part of the FR so....
     
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  11. Gaspasser

    Gaspasser Flatulence Maestro

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    Have you tried the Universe Suede on the Auteur? I put those on my (new-to-me) Blackwood Auteur and like them the best so far.
     
  12. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    Actually no, never tried it. Maybe I'll give it a try, but honestly I love the sound of the Auteur with the lambskin Auteur pads and have felt zero urge to experiment further.

    If anything, your point only solidifies the idea that it may be worth for some people to order a few different sets of pads and try for themselves.
     
  13. bobboxbody

    bobboxbody Wow, I made it this far without being a friend?

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    Just to clarify, the recommended use for pilot pad on ZMF cans is to remove the strap and use the pilot pad on the headband rather than putting it on the strap?
     
  14. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    I mean it works on the strap too, but you don't get any advantage from doing that.

    The space between the strap and the headband is so small, and the pilot pad is full-width of the headband, that when you put a pilot pad on it, the strap is never in tension and just its there taking up space, so all you do is give up more headband adjustment.
     
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  15. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    ZMF Dynamics Comparison Chart:

    ZMFChart.PNG
    ZMFChart2.PNG

    *I want to make absolutely clear that this chart is only meant to compare the ZMF headphones against each other. The values given in this chart are strictly comparative in respect to ZMFs and are NOT absolute values/grades given to each headphone. In regards to the values themselves, I poured over the threads, looked at both the measurements and subjective experiences, took my own personal experiences, and did my best to grade them fairly. Feel free to give me feedback.

    For those unfamiliar with any of the terms used in the chart, I advise perusing this thread. The terms there are not only applicable to understand the above chart, but are common terms used in this community.

    The category "Degree of 'ZMF' Timbre" refers of how much the headphone has the ZMF house sound/has a coloration of timbre. That might sound a bit silly, since all ZMFs have this house sound to a degree., and all transducers have their own timbre for better or worse. To use concrete examples in the ZMF line, the Auteur is the most neutral of all ZMFs in this regard; you can think of it as mostly a neutral timbre with hints of the ZMF sound. The Verite Closed is the most egregious offender here; it belts out cup resonance, is decidedly tilted dark, and has a richly colored timbre.

    One might notice the conspicuous absence of a staging category. My thought is that stage in headphones is generally bad especially in comparison to a two-channel setup, with perhaps the sole exception of things like the Raal SR1a (although you could argue the SR1a isn't really a headphone). That being said, I feel none of Zach's headphones are bad in this regard, and yes, they do all stage differently. However, I already felt like a 6 variable spider chart was beginning to push the limits of legibility, and felt that a 7th would have been a bit much. Plus, the subjective impressions threads do a pretty good job of conveying how ears here hear these headphones.

    Rather than a chart, here's the order in which I feel the ZMF lineup falls from most open/largest stage to most closed/intimate:

    Verite = Verite Closed > Aeolus > Auteur > Atticus >= Eikon
    Know that all of them are acceptable in the stage category and do not suffer from being 2 or 3 blob (which I find offensive).

    What the chart also does not capture is how I hear their timbre as a whole and not just in terms of ZMF house sound. The Eikon and Auteur have, in my opinion, absolutely beautiful timbre; some of the best I've heard. I also find the Verite's timbre to be seductive, but it's richly colored and the furthest from neutral of all ZMFs.

    TL;DR, the goal here was to create a strictly ZMF comparative chart that would contain a lot of the comparative technicalities at a glance, with the intent being that one would go peruse the relevant threads afterwards. Again, it's not meant to be taken in absolute terms.

    Edit: Made the chart points larger and moved the legend to try to make it more legible.
    Edit 2: Made transient speed points closer together, Auteur adjusted. Also added a straight numbers chart for those who find the spider chart hard to read.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2020
  16. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    Yeah naw, agree on stage, on headphones so long as it's not blobby or so dimensionally distorted it's distracting, it's all pretty minor differences.

    Even the hd800's famous stage comes at a cost of widening without deepening, and the expansion on Veritè with Universe pads comes at the cost of more diffuse images compared to V or Be2 pads.

    Once you have the basic down its a 0-sum game and minor differences to taste.
     
  17. YMO

    YMO it's not drinking alone if you're on Zoom

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    Q: Is getting the upgraded Magnesium chassis helps with the weight issues?
     
  18. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    It would help, but I'd seriously hesitate on calling it night and day. Probably wouldn't change one's mind if one thinks of ZMF as being pretty heavy in the first place.
     
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  19. zach915m

    zach915m MOT: ZMF Headphones

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    There's one thing to consider in the Magnesium Chassis and weight - only with the open headphones:

    1. Black aluminum grille's and rods weigh around 32-40 grams less per headphone than their Steel/Brass/Copper counterparts.

    2. Add this to the 34g saved via magnesium chassis and you can go from a 445 gram Verite Open to a 405 gram verite open.

    Same goes for the auteur, go with Brass grille and rods and aluminum chassis on ambrosia maple and you'r probably at 500g or so, go with magnesium and black grille and rods on the same cups and we're down to 425g give or take, that 75g will feel like a huge difference.

    That being said, the only times I've had complaints about weight are usually when we're over 600 grams, which is why we use that mark as a disclaimer when doing LTD editions in woods like Ironwood or Blackwood.
     
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  20. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    ^F'ing awesome. Finally had a minute to review in detail and I am actually in full agreement with everything on that chart! It could be that we talk a lot about these things, hence attribute the same meaning to words. The only thing I would say is that not everyone will necessarily be able to take full advantage of the results, e.g. a non-resolving component chain, a dead-sounding amp a la JDS Atom x1 gain, Schiit Heresy x1 gain, etc.
     
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