Pros: SQ, Comfort, Price, Mod Options, Detachable Cable
Cons: Weight, Clamp
Well let's admit it. Open-back headphones spoil closed-back cans for most of us. While closed cans isolate, they've never been able to match up in terms of soundstage and instrument placement. Luckily for us Zach over at ZMF is helping to bridge the gap.
The ZMF Master Model is a stunning variation on the Fostex T50rp. Among other mods, Zach offers cup painting, recabling, headband padding, and of course his special blend of damping/sound-altering mods.
I was the very lucky winner of a pair of the V1 variation at the Music City Meet organized by @theogenes earlier this year. Honestly, when I listened to them at the meet, it was hard for me to adjust and appreciate the more closed in sound they produced compared to the slew of Grados, LCD's, and Hifimans that were also at the meet. However, after lots of love and some decent amping, I'm a huge fan of these headphones.
Having never won anything in my life, this was a pretty awesome way to start!
So. The sound.
First real impression: Clean.
The V1s are tuned to have a neutral presentation and I'd say that they do so quite well. To these ears, none of the frequency bands seem accentuated. When I first gave them some serious time, I thought the treble was a little lacking and Zach was able to help me out by slightly adjusting their tuning and recabling with some military silver for a little extra zing.
Bass - Very good bass response throughout the low range. Listening to James Blake's Overgrown album shows that they have no problem reaching low. The mid bass is great on every rock tune I threw at it and the upper bass on Milestones is just as natural as everything else. Very nice. No bloat. No flab. No extra. Just punchy, textured, linear bass.
Midrange - Clear and rich. I certainly wouldn't say mid-forward, but not recessed either. They seem right at home in between the extremes. Florence + the Machine and Sonny Rollins both sound very natural and lifelike. Really a great achievement here.
Treble - This one has grown on me. At first I thought it was a little lacking, but after some mental burn-in, I've come around. The texture and detail in cymbals, piano, and violins alike are very pleasing natural. The count-off on "Back in Black" is crystal clear as are the first violin's in Prokofiev 1. The Shure Alcantara pads and closed nature of these cans also help the treble be non-fatiguing methinks.
Separation/Soundstage - The instrument separation is very good. Right up there with my recent Beyer T90s. Everything is easy to hear and place. The soundstage isn't stupendous but it's as good as I've heard from a closed can. Things don't sound mushed together or nasally, but it's no open-back so don't expect to be blown away by a concert-hall presentation.
Other things to note:
These guys aren't the lightest headphones ever. They are hefty in both size and weight. Luckily Zach's pilot pad does an excellent job of dispersing the weight over the head and the Shure pads ease some of the pressure on the ears. Speaking of pressure, there is plenty of clamping force. For those of us with larger noggins, this is something to consider.
Also, remember that Zach offers lots of options with regards to his ZMFs. There are painting/powder coating options for appearance. There are recable/rejack options including all sorts of plugs, cable materials, and jack options. He can also tune them to just about whatever you need. The V1 is the more neutral of the two, while the V2 offers a slightly warmer presentation. So depending on your preferences and budget, these headphones can offer plenty.
Overall our very own Zach Mehrbach has done an excellent job producing a closed T50 mod that is both musical and affordable. They're easy to listen to and present a very accurate musical experience. I don't hesitate at all to recommend these to anyone looking for a closed option around the $300 range. Give 'em a listen!