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Headphones item created by grizzlybeast, Apr 2, 2014
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!
Pros - Price, Sound, Options, Comfort,PRICE, mids
Cons - HM5 pads can want in firmness, isolation/leakage slightly below average for closed back
ZMF HEADPHONES THE FOSTEX T50RP MODIFIED by ZACH
custom color with shure 1540 alacantra pads
For those that may not be familiar with the Fostex T50 RP, it is a headphone with an orthodynamic driver that was originally made for professional use. The driver is famous for its untapped potential and magical midrange. Almost as wide as the spectrum of headphone tastes is the range of modifications to this headphone with no two sounding identical. Everyone has opinions of what their ideal headphone should sound like and its amazing how many of these ideals become reality through a variation of a modified T50RP.
The ideals and musical tastes that contrive the modification specifics of the ZMF headphone come from a cool dude named Zach. From listening to the headphones, briefly chatting with him, and reading the details of his website I gather that at the core of his modification efforts is a desire to expose the magical midrange of the T50RP in its totality without distastefully slaughtering and enjoyable/natural balance.
Not to boast on his behalf but to be straight up... you will not find another headphone with more available options in both sound, aesthetics, and comfort. The trippy part is that after all of the below mentioned he is still taking suggestions . I'm not hatin' but that is an open mind for sure that works in our favor! Others may not have the time or patience to offer the same thing.
The ZMF can be had in classic v.1, bass v.2 with the following options(not specific here but visit the site for in-depth details):
practically any color paint (sliders too)
These options are all at a price so it all depends on what is worth it to you. If I am correct the bass model is the modification without added pads left for the buyer to add pads they desire. At 199 its a bargain because the stock cable isn't bad itself though the earpads suck.
options old site
My first v.1 basic and my second v.2 with various options selected came with the original T50RP box. Then a month or less later the other b-stock v.2 I ordered came in a white cardboard box with a 4x7" carrying pouch and my cables selected. I am of the opinion that the packaging of a modded T50 RP isn't to be given much expectation. These dudes are after the sound first and foremost and extravagant packaging is a waist of efforts for a small company. It would add unnecessary costs to what should remain an affordable product. Not much to expect here nah mean. Update: I received my master model v.1 with a similar color to the first pic and it came with a heavy duty Seahorse carrying case and bag for the chord. The case is super solid like I can literally throw it or drop it from a ladder with no issues. In short I love this case and much more than my HifiMan cases.
These things are pretty comfortable. The Brainwavz HM5 pads are above average in comfort. I would welcome a pad that wasn't as soft as the HM5 and gave about a 1/4 inch more distance from the driver. The pads are deep enough in design but the softness of the foam gives in very easily to clamp force of the cups. Zach tries to rectify this with the inner lining of the pads with bungie chords that lay inside. If one loses these then they can easily find something else to give it support. Now the ears fit perfectly inside of the pads and they prove to give the ears enough breathing room to keep from getting clammy. Of all the headphones I have worn these get the least hot on the ears. The pads serve comfort in an average capacity but sound is where they make a lot more sense in my opinion which will be discussed later. The headband cushion is good to get because it is the perfect density and feels really good on the head. The dog strap isn't half bad either but without either that rubber headband feels unwelcomely distracting. I am bald though so I need a decent headband. I am very insensitive to weight so I will allow someone else to chime in there. The stock T50 RP is 330 grams so that is nothing to complain about as that seems about average despite its bulky build.
Shure 1540 Alacantra pads Update:
Basically the perfect hm5 replacement and every pair of ZMF should have them. So much so that I wouldn't be surprised if the HM5's get phased out. The pads are dense enough to keep the cups from touching the ear. They are thick and comfortable and allow the ears to breathe while giving them superb isolation and minimal leakage. Shure knocked it out of the park with those pads. I even prefer them to the Mr. Speaker Alpha pads sometimes because these breathe a little better but they still dont have the soft and supple feel of the alpha pads.
So how do these sound? While I have recently become a fan as well as other t50 mods like the Mad Dog3.2(another great mod), I can clearly hear from jump why there haven't been any revisions of the ZMF. NO REVISIONS. Options yes!!! REVISIONS NO! He nailed it! So lets get into why and how.
Firstly I would like to talk about my impressions of the ZMF v.1 from memory and even to quote my early noob impressions of them from the other thread in the spoiler below should you choose to read it.
Spoiler: zmf v.1 noob impressions
I recently purchased a pair of these modded t50RP from ZACH: ZMF MODDED T50RP's
I am using an Emotiva mini x a-100 speaker taps and an aune t1 as a DAC. While using a WAV files
I compared these next to the Sennheiser hd650's. Mine are the ones with the Pilot pad and Brainwavz ear pads. Though I do prefer the look of the previous version (because these earpads dont fully encompass the cups) They are really comfortable. I am a big guy so they don't seem heavy to me.
Though the hd650's sounded more full on acoustic tracks to my ears the ZMF's were not far behind. They(ZMF's) have clearer instrument separation and an overall clearer presentation of the music while still being dark. They sounded actually more similar than most other headphones that I have had. The hd650's seem to have more depth but the speed on both with my set up was good.
With electronic music they sounded really similar. The hd650 had a more slam but didnt reach as low as the ZMF's. The ZMF's had more clarity.
My brother a/b'd them together and said that he prefered the ZMF's. He said that the ZMF's were less fatiguing than the famous smoothness of the hd650's(those are his ears though but I didn't argue or have any strong disagreements with his assessments at all) They do need a little more volume than the hd650's so at the same volume and switching headphones that could play a part in it. To me fatigue is absent on both.
In all honesty I have a slight preference towards the hd650's but the preference is soo slight that I cannot justify having the hd650's with this set up because the emotiva a-100 is a very strong amp that I am not going to upgrade anytime soon. So I would much rather sell the hd650's and keep the ZMF's to get another headphone. I am a midcentric headphone kinda guy at times and the ZMF do the trick. Sometimes the hd650's sound too full or lush.
Compared to the philips x1's ZMF's sound fuller and more natural except for the bass. Though I do prefer the air of the x1.
Actually when I think about it in a lot of ways I prefer the ZMF's.
Better intrument separation.
just as dark
even better mids
more bass impact
slightly more comfortable but I mean to me only slightly.
The 650s have a stronger center image but the ZMF's have a more neutral sound and have a strong presentation as well.
I haven't heard any other modded T50RP's but these were well worth my purchase and pretty much made me think that to have these and the hd650's together were pointless because they can fall into the same category: Dark, nice mids, bass shy, full sounding, non-fatiguing, comfortable, natural, detailed.
So yeah I know I may get some slack and people may disagree but for me I am selling the hd650s to get a headphone that will compliment the ZMF's because for professional uses these seem more suitable.
For the price all I can say is GREAT JOB AND GREAT BUY.
Some of the impressions are a little different now but to add some specifics from memory, I recall it to have a similar balance to the focal spirit pro but a little darker. Also, I wouldnt call them clearer than the hd650 well amped, though they do have better instrument separation. The lower mids were thicker than the v.2 I have right now. But it was natural sounding and very inviting overall. Leaving the midrange presentation of the v.1 to try other headphones will quickly leave one underwhelmed. I loved the headphones and eventually sold them both only to find myself currently going for a ZMF flagship and HD650 and Bottlehead Crack w/Speedball upgrade as my end game. I know I derailed but whatever... lol. The v.1 is very balanced and detailed. I went and got an Mad Dog with dog pads (NOT 3.2) and was so upset because I expected it to have the magical midrange of the ZMF v.1. For me the only thing I wanted from the classic version was a little more bass for my listening tastes as I could hear it but it was what I would call close to bass light.
update: VS V.2(V.1 and ZMFx Vibro is what I have now)
V.1 = less forward, tigher bass, less upper mids, slightly darker maybe but not as dark as I remembered, more even balanced. V.2 is simply a little more bassy and forward overall. My preference goes to the v.1 but not by a whole lot. I could see myself picking the v.2 over the v.1 on some songs for sure.
ZMF ZPEX V.2
iMac>Universal Audio Apollo Twin Duo>Audirvana Plus/Spotify/Youtube>Nuforce HA - 200>ZMF ZPEX v.2 Alo Cryo Silver Plated Copper
So after being around the block and trying different headphones I wanted to get the ZMF again but since I wanted more bass I reached for the v.2 which is the bass version. So since I have this one I will do a review of the sound on it.
update: currently possess v.1 and zmf x vibro
The mids of the v.2 are still very well rendered. Compared to photography they would be like an up close portrait with natural sun for lighting in that they are right up on the object of focus with great detail, texture and an upper midrange emphasis that provides the vocals with the energetic projection they need to sound very convincing. The lower mids are not sucked out but give a little bit of precedence to the upper mids. The male vocal sounds spectacular on this headphone. The dynamics of the midrange are average because though I can hear the breaths in between words and pronunciation clearly they almost sound at the same level. There is a little bit of nasal character to stressed vowels where a tiny bit of resonance can be heard. The midrange clarity and overall presentation apart from those issues sound extremely convincing and still way above the average closed back in its price range! I heard the same projection as the Pandora hope VI which is very forward but the v.2 had a little more weight to it. The lower midrange is without thickness and also ill effected by any mid bass hump.
It is extremely clear that Zach untapped the midrange of the Fostex T50 RP. To best anything I have ever heard in preference, it would only need a little more dynamics and space around the instruments. Even though the LCD2 is more balanced overall,and still sounds more natural and detailed, the v.2 has the projection to get your juices flowing. I would be lying if I said I would take a v.2 over an LCD2 if they were the same price, but equally lying if I said the LCD2 was more engaging.
I may have forgotten to mention that the ZMF is modded to be a closed partner to the HE-500. Well he succeeded because the same comparison of the v.2 to the lcd2 can be said for the he-500 vs lcd-2. The vocals on the he-500 are expectedly more airy but with a similar balance overall. I would say the v.2 is easier on the ears than most headphones out there, but still not as smooth as the classic that I remember(I welcome corrections btw cause that was a while ago).
lcd2.2>he-500> HD 650> Pandora hope VI >/= ZMF v.1> ZMF v.2 = Focal Spirit Pro> Sony 7520 > Mad Dog Pro> MD 3.2>
The bass of the v.2 is neutral to for my tastes which means that it would be slightly above neutral to most. It definitely has the ortho sub bass extension and texture. Its pretty tight with average impact. I call it tasty not filling. It reminds me of steak bites vs a full cut. But listen, I am a BASSHEAD second to a midrange head so take that in context. For writing sessions I used to take my open back hd650 and listen with my speakers bass cranked up cause wanted to feel the bass. Well I will just say its very tastefully done and its not bass light. For the best bass, amp pairing and keeping a good seal is important. It is not a one note bass and has enough for hip hop etc which is what I listen to a lot of. I only boost the bass slightly in eq. It can punch when called for and the HM5 pads keep it tight. The v.2 bass resolution is very detailed. I have read elsewhere that the v.1 is tighter.
personal preference for bass:
lcd2.2>Mad Dog Pro>He-400>JVC DX700>Mad Dog 3.2>He-500>ZMF v.2> Sony 7520> M-Audio q40>Sennheiser hd 8 dj> Focal Spirit Pro> Yamaha hph Mt220>AKG k545>Sennheiser Momentum
Lcd2.2>He-500>he-400>MD Pro>ZMF v.2=MD 3.2
Sennheiser hd 8dj>Pandora hope VI=M-audio q40>Yamaha hph mt220>MD Pro = MD 3.2>7520>ZMF v.2>he-500=Focal Spirit Pro
He-400>MD Pro>ZMF v.2>MD 3.2 = Focal Spirit Pro>M-Audio q40
The highs of the V.2 are smooth as butter. I also feel that it doesn't lack in sparkle. Its smooth but not smoothed over. I dont feel they are emphasized nor subdued. They are not bright headphones nor are they dark. The extension on the highs are decent as well. I must admit that I failed to do any extension tests on the treble but I don't hear any issus. A buddy of mine told me that the MD 3.2 sounds less bright but extends a little further than the v.2. I do recall them being brighter than the v.1(again a long time ago) and less bright than the Yamaha hph mt200. They are far from sibilant and are very pleasing to my ears becasue I never feel offended. Neither do I hear the highs splashed together like some headphones sound with a wash of treble boost. The balance of the highs kind of remind me of the M-audio q40,yet in a higher class for sure.
The soundstage is more than satisfying. Its not soundstage head in width or depth. I would say its more wide than deep and though the instruments are forward its not congested at all by any means. Its more of an intimate listen than most headphones known for their soundstage but the imaging if pretty darn pinpoint as well as the instrument separation. One of the clear things I remember is that the instrument separation is better than an hd650.
ZPEX ALO CRYO SILVER PLATED COPPER vs ZPEX ALO CRYO COPPER It takes a bit of headphone swapping to notice the differences because they don't pop out at you right away. I used a splitter to test the differences by switching headphones and pausing and starting at the same spot on different songs. The sound signature stays the same but what is noticeable about the ZPEX Alo Cryo SPC is that though its less warm than the ZPEX Alo copper, it has a little less thickness and sounds less open. I almost want to use the word more murky but thats not right. Its heavier sounding than the SPC while the SPC is a little more light sounding and open. I welcome the added bass of the copper because its even more bassy which I like but overall my preference goes to the slightly clearer sound of the SPC rewiring. The midrange is just a tad more heavier on the copper rewiring. The kick drum however is a tad more punchy than the SPC and is slightly more assertive.
Before I stuck my neck out to try these, I was a bit skeptical of the difference wiring can have on sound. I never really got into it. Well for me this myth is totally reality now and I kinda wish I was still ignorant about it cause I dont want to spend money on cables but can easily see myself doing so now. Just like with any time I compared headphones, the differences became more and more noticeable after I first caught it.
ZMF ZPEX vs MD 3.2
The song and my mood would often dictate my preference for either but overall I lean towards the ZMF. The reason being is that I love the midrange of the ZMF ZPEX v.2 and the bass isnt far behind in qty. I think it would be best to break it down in to the strengths they have over each other.
ZMF ZPEX V.2
stronger center image,
easier to drive,
less murky at the same volume
a lot more close and intimate
better for acoustic music
great midrange focus, the vocals even preferred at times to the MD PRO with a very striking presence, as well as pianos etc
loud music less tolerable
slower / not quite as fast as the MD 3.2
MAD DOG 3.2
more even balanced across the spectrum
less sharp in the cymbols easier on the ears
slightly more grainy and less smooth
a little more bass and better impact
lower mids less prominent as well as upper mids
more sound stage depth
better for hip hop
drier or less wet and less resonance
slightly more plastic in timbre
better on loud music
I use the ZMF ZPEX over the MD 3.2 to get back the fullness of instruments I feel like I lost to the Mad Dogs. The Mad Dogs however come back on when I want the vocals to be more in the background in comparison as sometimes it can be overwhelming to have everything right upfront in raw form. Also the MD 3.2 would have more toe tap factor while the ZMF have more of what I would call escape factor(getting lost in the music).Both are awesome.
Please pair it with an amp/source that isnt bass light and can hold the legs of the ZMF up. If you find it bass light then check your source. I had them into my Universal Apollo Twin alone which got them plenty loud enough but the bass was lacking. Then once I plugged them into my nuforce ha 200 I said "tadahh!" I would recommend atleast 1W. Sure less can make them satisfactory but these truck through songs with good headroom.
I only heard the two pads on the ZMF and that is the HM5 and Alpha pads. I will be brief here but I personally had likes and dislikes about the results of the Alpha pads on the ZMF V.2. They may be an ideal upgrade for the v.1 which I never tried together but on the v.2 they sounded more distant which some may say is a better soundstage. They also lost a lot of the intimacy I relish with the HM5 pads. The HM5 pads have slightly tighter bass and are more forward. I do really like the comfort of the alpha pads though and wish I could readily swap them depending on the song because the difference is very noticeable.
Shure 1540 Alacantra pads: Like mentioned above they are the most comfortable and durable option. It does change the sound just a little bit and IMO for the better. Those that feel like the ZMF's are dark should give these a try as they are a little more bright, airy and detailed sounding. I personally find those welcoming changes in sound. The other good report is that the bass doesn't suffer at all from the change of pads.
I usually wouldnt be so firm on a suggesttion but...do yourself a favor and get the alacantra pads, there is no better upgrade on the ZMF no matter what version.
I would go so far as to say that the ZMF V.2 could be considered genre masters because they lack nothing that every genre needs. Yeah I find the soundstage to be above average and yes the bass is enough for hip hop. But lemme put it this way... for the price that these can be had at you WILL NOT find better vocals, clarity, detail, instrument timbres and options than the ZMF period. The closest thing I can think of is the Focal Spirit Pro but I would still put the ZMF ZPEX above it easily and would arguably call it smoother and more detailed. Yeah other headphones do somethings better but every headphone has its weaknesses. The cool thing is that this headphone doesn't have many at all. I am simply posting this as an enthusiast because I like what I hear. I have to record vocals sometimes and you better believe that on every song I record I want to hear it on some kind of a ZMF.
IMPRESSION LINKS ZMF V.1 AND V.2 REVIEWS
- FIRST THREAD: http://www.head-fi.org/t/667870/review-zmf-modified-fostex-t50rp-superb/585#post_10408952