The surprisingly neutral and cohesive flagship by ZMF Headphones

ZMF Auteur

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Recent User Reviews

  1. cskippy
    5.0/5,
    "ZMF Auteur Review and Measurements"
    Pros - An incredible musical take on neutral
    Fantastic looks
    A dynamic headphone with sub bass!
    Cons - Weight
    I first got into the headphone hobby for school since I was enrolled in a music recording and production class and needed a pair of headphones to use. My dad had a old pair of Sony MDR V600 and used them for the first week but felt they didn't meet my needs so I went to Guitar Center and bought my first pair of headphones, which I still own, Beyerdynamic DT800 Pro 250Ohm. I found out about Head-Fi and my wallet has never been the same.

    Some notes about my listening preferences:

    I listen at relatively low volumes, roughly 70dB SPL, keep this in mind as our perception of frequencies is dependent on listening level.

    I prefer a sound signature that let's me hear the lowest bass notes, a smooth clear midrange and a non fatiguing treble without coloration.

    Comfort is a big priority for me as I usually wear headphones for 4+ hours at a time. Weight isn't usually an issue but clamp and uneven weight distribution are deal breakers for me. Audeze headphones and surprisingly the Utopia are uncomfortable for me to wear.

    Gear used for review: Schiit Eitr>Gumby>Freya>Eddie Current Aficionado/Black Widow
    (Pangea Audio interconnects)

    Auteur

    My first impressions of the Auteur went something like this:
    • Wow, there is weight and solidity to the sound, a dynamic headphone with sub bass!
    • Vocals are so clear and placed right in front of me, not slightly above me.
    • I don't hear any obvious faults like boomy bass, sucked out mids, or crazy treble spikes.
    • These are kind of big and a little heavy.
    • The stock cable is just okay.
    • I don't care for the 360° adjustable gimbals as the cups move too freely and can shift when set down.
    The Auteur is the closest headphone to meet my preferred sound signature. I find them to be a warm take on neutral with a slight emphasis at 6kHz like the HD800 but at a lower amplitude giving just enough coloration to add a sense of detail or engagement. I can hear an emphasis with snares and cymbals especially in this area so I decided to switch to the perforated Eikon pads. They do a better job of smoothing out the treble but add about 3dB below 800Hz. At first I thought the pads made the Auteur sound too dark and muddy but that slight treble coloration was all but gone. Unless I specifically say, my impressions will be using the perforated Eikon pads.

    I'm usually not concerned with sound stage as long as it isn't inside my head or too 3 blob. As a generalization, dynamic headphones tend to place the sound stage further away from you compared to planars although there are always exceptions. The Aeon open had one of the worst sound stages I've heard from a planar being very inside your head like a line through your ears. On the other side of the spectrum are planars like the Code Sex and HE-1000 that have surprisingly vast sound staging. To me, it's a trade off, if you have a really wide sound stage music can sound unrealistic and the stage depth is usually lacking. I like an equally deep sound stage as I'm used to listening to speakers setup in an equilateral triangle to the listener.

    The Auteur's sound stage is decently wide, a little wider than HD650, but has better depth. You can place instruments accurately in the mix. Some might find issue with the sound stage but I think it stems from the Auteur being more semi open than truly an open headphone. They don't sound as open as an HD650, or an HE-6 but are more open than a DT880. Placing my hands over the cups has a subtle but noticeable cup effect. There is a loss in clarity, most noticeable with vocal placement as they get blurred a tiny bit.

    Here is a quick and dirty comparison of the sound stage between Auteur, HD650, and HE-6 (Code Sex):
    [​IMG]
    Click to expand...
    Auteur does the best job of pushing the sound stage completely in front of you sounding more like speakers than headphones.

    Technical Measurements:

    Here are frequency response measurements showing left and right channel matching for the Auteur with Auteur and Eikon pads. ** channel matching is very difficult with certain headphones especially if they have thick leather pads as just a nudge and they measure very differently.

    Auteur with Auteur pads:
    [​IMG]
    Click to expand...
    Auteur with Eikon pads:
    [​IMG]
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    The difference in bass response on the Auteur pads seems to be partially caused by the coupler. I have to place the headphones a little differently when measuring right and left. When checking channel matching by ear with sine sweeps I found these to be very sensitive to positioning on my ears. I could hear subtle shifting off center in certain parts of the sweep but it's not a deal breaker by any means.

    The impulse response is an interesting area that I think can shed some light on why the Auteur doesn't sound as open as some other headphones. The lack of rear damping and thick leather pads, even perforated, will create reflections that affect the driver and often truncate the initial rebound and add additional movement after the initial response. Shown below is the Auteur with Auteur pads:
    [​IMG]
    Click to expand...
    Here is the Auteur's impulse response with Eikon pads:
    [​IMG]
    Click to expand...
    You can see that the Eikon pads create less extraneous movement overall as the impulse response is tighter and resolves faster after 1ms. The CSDs also confirm that the Eikon pads have have better initial decay patterns compared to the Auteur pads.

    Auteur with Auteur pads CSD:
    [​IMG]
    Click to expand...
    Auteur with Eikon pads CSD:
    [​IMG]
    Click to expand...
    The Auteur has a pretty clean CSD. It's not as clean as the HD800 or HD650 but it's better than the Atticus or Eikon. I certainly find no obvious faults with it. The ringing at 6kHz is on par with the HD800 but is less aggravating in listening. The minor ridge at 1.5kHz is most likely cup reverberation. It is there but not enough to be a distraction.

    Distortion measurements are great for a dynamic driver. Unfortunately I didn't have a quiet enough ambient noise level to feel comfortable posting my distortion measurements as they could be misinterpreted taken out of context. I can say that with what I could measure, they averaged about 0.2% distortion above 200Hz and only had one small distortion peak at 1.5kHz that was at 0.35%. They have surprisingly low distortion for a dynamic headphone especially in the low end.

    Comparisons

    Compared to the HD650 which has the closest tonality, the Auteur is more laid back in the upper mids and lower treble but has the 6kHz bump that creates a little more excitement. I find the HD650 to be just a touch too forward in this region so the Auteur does better here. Although my measurements don't show it, there is no contest with bass response. Autuer has better bass definition and much better sub bass on par with most planars. HD650 is more open sounding, has a better attack, and decays faster so it's clearer overall. If you want an HD650 with sub bass the Auteur is an excellent headphone to consider.

    [​IMG]
    Click to expand...
    The HE-6 is a unique headphone. It is one of the most visceral and engaging sounding headphones I've heard. However, to get the most out of it you need to give it a TON of power, use a warm amp/DAC, and listen at louder volumes. HE-6 is more open sounding and has better transients with faster attack and decay but has a more diffuse sound stage. Images are slightly clearer and placed better with the Auteur. The Auteur has more bass quantity and hits harder sounding less compressed. Mid range proper is also more coherent and clear on the Auteur. Treble is more linear and less harsh on the Auteur but some might find it boring in direct comparison. The tizz of the HE-6 is no where to be found with the Auteur. These two headphones require polar opposite amps to perform their best. Auteur loves tubes and doesn't need tons of power to shine. A brighter amp or tube is recommended to make the Auteur sound more alive and engaging.

    [​IMG]
    Click to expand...
    Auteur Blackwood vs Teak

    I had the opportunity to hear both versions. My review unit is Wenge wood. It sits roughly in the middle of the other two woods. Blackwood had a darker tilted presentation but had less resonance and sounds were more tangible and emanated from a blacker background. Teak is tilted the other direction. A little less bass and a little more treble. They seemed to have a more immediate and engaging sound, which seemed to be from sympathetic vibrations of the cups that excited and bolstered the sound.

    System Synergy

    I need to point out that the Auteur will probably be too warm and dark coming form most headphones, even the HD650. I was initially put off by this but instead decided to rework my system to be brighter to suit the Auteur since it did so much right. I changed my interconnects from Blue Jeans Cables to Pangea and the Auteur became much more neutral yet still musical and pleasing plus the sound stage just opened up even more. I plan on getting a silver cable for the Auteur to get the last bit of treble extension and tightness in the bass. If you find yourself wanting a little tighter bass and more treble, give the Pangea or maybe silver interconnects a try with the Auteur.

    Summary

    The Auteur has the frequency response cohesiveness of an open back headphone but the technical abilities of a semi open headphone. It won't sound as open as an HD800 or HE-6 but it's tone is tough to beat at any price point. Size and weight should be a consideration if you are coming from something like a HD650. Choose Teak if you want the most neutral sounding Auteur. Choose Blackwood if you want a slightly darker and smoother sound.

    It might seem like I've been pointing out all of the little faults or quirks of this headphone but it's because I love it so much. My issues with it are so small in comparison to just how damn good it sounds. To put it in perspective, I could easily live with just the Auteur and Andromeda as my only two headphones.
  2. mysticstryk
    4.5/5,
    "ZMF Auteur review"
    Pros - Excellent tonality
    Smooth transitions across the FR
    Dynamics and plankton galore
    Cons - Weight
    Soundstage in comparison to HD800
    Disclaimer: Zach provided the Auteur to me for free to try out for a couple weeks and I offered to write a review. My sound preferences are neutral with a warm tilt.
    My main gear consists of the Schiit Gumby, Eddie Current ZDS, HD600, 650 & 800S.

    IMG_20171118_133319.jpg


    Intro/Build quality/comfort
    The Auteur is the first open back and third in house headphone designed by ZMF and uses the same biocellulose driver design as the Eikon. Impedance is 300ohm, so it will be pretty revealing of what you are feeding it.

    If you own an Atticus/Eikon, you can probably skip the rest of this section. For everyone else:
    These are handmade artisan headphones made by Zach himself or maybe a couple of helpers. Everything on the outside of the headphone is made up of wood, metal and leather. No plastic parts to see and they feel solid in the hands. Getting a comfortable fit is generally pretty easy as the headband is very flexible and you can bend it to get just the right amount of clamp. These are heavy headphones, but they wear their weight well thanks to the ergonomic headband and suspension strap combo. I could wear these for hours without any discomfort, unlike the Audeze LCD series or old Hifiman models. If you do have an issue with weight, I would recommend buying the Teak model of the Auteur as it is lighter than the Blackwood LTD.

    Bass
    Bass extension is quite good for an open headphone, one of the best I've heard in its class. Low bass notes come through with authority. Still, if your a sub-bass junkie I would recommend taking a look at the Eikon which has a tasteful boost to the sub-bass with even greater extension than the Auteur. Bass extension is great and unlike the HD650 which I compared extensively with the Auteur, distortion in the Auteur is quite low as I hear it. Measurements posted by others show bass distortion levels staying below 1%. This is getting close to HD800 levels of low distortion which is fantastic. More manufacturers need to do this. Mid-bass on the Auteur has a slight boost that seems to be centered around 50hz or so. It sounds like it is a bit smaller than the mid-bass boost on the HD650 by comparison. Upper bass stays linear into the mids with no bass bleed. Speed in the bass is pretty good. Better than HD800 but not quite as good as the Atticus which probably has my favorite bass profile of any headphone.

    Mids
    Mids are linear up until the upper mids/lower treble which has a slight boost (not quite as large a boost as the HD600 though, but almost). This gives the mids excellent clarity, though they don't stand out as a defining feature like it does on the HD600 line. The slight rise at the upper mids gives guitars a satisfying crunch (which my inner metal-head appreciates) and violins sound real and lifelike. Compared to the somewhat thin sounding mids of the HD800, the Auteur is full and dynamic. Excellent tonality just a smidge on the lush side. Micro dynamics are very good and on par with something like the HD650 and HD800. Vocals are neither forward or pushed into the background.

    Treble
    This is not your average ZMF headphone. Past headphones Zach has made always had a rather downward sloping signature with the treble feeling a little sub-dued (The Eikon was his first that broke from this trend, the Auteur is even more so). Treble extension is quite good though maybe not on par with the HD800 (However no need to mod like many do with the HD800). Cymbals crash with lifelike precision, however I still have to hand the overall quality of the highs to the HD800. Aside from the 800s peak at 6k, the treble is just slightly more refined where the Auteur can be a little rough at times. Despite this, the Auteur is never fatiquing except on bright recordings. The Auteur will not hide the ugly details of bad recordings, it just won't highlight them as much as the HD800 does.

    Soundstage and imaging on the Auteur is pretty good. Width and depth are better on the Auteur vs the HD650, though it doesn't come close to touching the expansive stage of the HD800. Still, picking out individual instrument placements is not hard to do with the Auteur and the space between the notes are easily heard.

    As a quick method of comparison between the Auteur, HD650 and HD800. I rate these on overall quality.
    Bass: Auteur > HD800 > HD650
    Mids: HD650 > Auteur > HD800
    Treble: HD800 > Auteur > HD650

    To go more in depth:
    Bass: Auteur easily has the best bass response of the three. Goes lower than the Senns and is cleaner with good slam. The HD800 is also clean, but doesn't go as low at the Auteur. The HD650 is the worst of the bunch with higher levels of bass distortion and faster sub-bass rolloff.
    Mids: This was actually a close one between the HD650 and Auteur, which says a lot about the Auteur (and probably the 650, seems as it is only a fraction of the price as the other two listed here). Clarity is great on both. Micro dynamics are easily heard on both. The HD800 gets knocked to last mostly because of the gradual dip into the upper mids which messes up some string instruments and some female vocals when they reach that high. They all three have great macro and micro dynamics and have plankton galore.
    Treble: HD800 wins here for great extension and air, with the only downside being that peak at 6k (which is mitigated with easy mods). The Auteur and HD650 are close again here as well. The Auteur beats the 650 with treble extension and air, while the 650 beats the Auteur (and HD800) on tonality. The 650 treble is one of the smoothest I've ever heard while not masking any details.

    IMG_20171118_132756.jpg

    Compared to other ZMF headphones:
    I'll stick to comparing the dynamics, as I honestly don't think any of the T50 modded ZMFs can come close to what Zachs dynamics can do. I'm also making this separate from my HD800 and HD650 comparison due to the Atticus and Eikon both being closed headphones.
    Bass: Atticus and Auteur both have an emphasis in the mid-bass, the Atticus more so. The Eikon is rather linear in the mid bass with a boost in the sub bass. As for quality, I'd make it a tie between the Atticus and Auteur. The Atticus has some of the best speed and punch I've heard in a dynamic headphone while the Auteur is the cleaner sounding headphone with really low bass distortion. The Eikon is good, just not as good as the other two. Sounds slower in comparison to both. That sub-bass rumble is quite something when listening to low bass notes however.
    Mids: Auteur wins here with Atticus snapping at its heals. The Auteur barely wins out for me due to its excellent clarity across the entire midrange. Atticus gets close but is a little more uneven, however it is one of the best headphones I've heard for metal. The Eikon is a bit uneven as well, with a small dip in the upper mids. Not as bad as the Elear, but enough to put it behind the Auteur and Atticus.
    Treble: Auteur wins easily. Has the best treble extension and air, probably helped by the fact it's an open back headphone. Atticus is just a bit smoother but doesn't have as good extension. Eikon is smooth for the most part, with a little bit more prescense than the Atticus, but there is a peak I hear in there that can bother me on some brighter recordings.

    The Auteur has a very cohesive sound. What I mean by that is everything comes together as a whole, with smooth transitions as you go along the FR. So many headphones drop the ball here. The HD800? Great, cohesive sound until you get to the upper mids/lower treble and it goes off a cliff (or rather, up a mountain?). The HD650/600/580 has this nailed down. The Atticus almost has this. The Auteur does. Smooth transitions across the board. A bit of roughness in the treble compared to the best of them, but nothing that makes it sound disjointed.

    IMG_20171123_120140.jpg

    Teak vs Blackwood
    I have a blackwood and mahogany Auteur sitting here in front of me. Zach told me the mahogany will be similar to the Teak in regards to sound. There are some differences in the sound, but only slight. If I didn't have them both to A/B at the same time, I likely wouldn't of ever noticed the difference. The blackwood has a little bit faster decay, treble is a touch smoother. The blackwood is however noticeably heavier. Mine has the brass grill and rods instead of the black aluminum. If you like blackwood but are worried about weight, I would get the black aluminum over the brass. The weight difference isn't huge, but easily noticed when trying them both. I'm going to say what I always say in regards to woods, get the one you like the best.

    Auteur vs Eikon earpads
    All Auteurs purchased in the pre-order window come with both the perforated Auteur and perforated Eikon pads. The sonic differences are rather subtle. The Eikon pads smooth out that tiny bit of roughness I hear in the treble and give the impression of more bass quantity. This does however come at a cost of some air and the soundstage suffers a small amount for it. With the Auteur pads the soundstage is a bit wider and deeper than the HD650 on a good amp. With the Eikon they are about equal.

    IMG_20171118_133015.jpg

    Gear Pairing
    Tubes. There are some really good SS options (Black Widow and Ragnarok for example, Magni 3 if your on a budget) and if all you have is a SS amp don't fret, the Auteur sounds really good out of just about anything. If you ever upgrade though, give tubes a good long look. Not the gooey, syrupy stuff (Woo, LittleDot), but the highly resolving, nuanced tube amps from the likes of Schiit, DNA, EddieCurrent, Decware, AmpandSound, etc. The Auteur will not pair well with overly warm sources. An example of a bad pairing would be the Metrum Amethyst and the AmpandSound Kenzie. On their own when paired with a better complimentary amp/dac, this gear could work. However, together they are rolled off at both ends with soft, limp bass. The Auteur is transparant enough to show a weak link in your chain. Moving up to my own Gumby and ZDS, the Auteur opened up considerably, with much tighter bass control and air. A better match for the Kenzie would be something like the Gumby or Yggy, while the Amethyst would pair well with an EddieCurrent or Schiit amp. The Auteur will scale up with better gear much like the other ZMF dynamics, HD6x0 series and HD800.

    Value/Who is this for?
    These are $1,600 headphones ($1,400 right now on pre-order). They have a LTD edition Blackwood available for $300 more (Unless Blackwood is one of your favorite types of wood, I'd go for the Teak. $300 cheaper and is lighter on the head.) In a world in which used HD800 can be found for $600, almost anything looks like a poor value. However, the HD800 is mass produced by a large manufacturer and has been on the market for about 8 years. Of course the Auteur can't compete with that, being a handcrafted headphone built by 1 or 2 people and having just come out to market. A more fair comparison would be to other newish headphones in the $1k+ territory. These headphones include the likes of the Ether Flow ($1.8k), LCD-X ($1.7), LCD-3 ($2k), HE-1k ($3k) and even as much as the $4k Utopia and LCD-4 (almost forgot about the banana split sundae $6k). Considering many of these don't hold a candle to the Auteur with only a couple meeting or exceeding, I'd say in the current headphone climate the Auter at $1.6k is a decent value.

    Who is this headphone for. HD800 lovers who wouldn't change a thing can give this one a hard pass (Check out the Atticus, provides an EXCELLENT contrast to the HD800). People who are neutral heads and love the 800 but want an alternative neutral leaning headphone that plays better with music the 800 doesn't do so well, this may be for you. People who do NOT like the 800 due to issues with the FR, tonality, etc, definitely take a look at the Auteur.

    -

    The Auteur has become one of my favorites along with th Senn HD600, 650, 800S and the ZMF Atticus. The excellent sound and top notch build quality make it a competitive option for those looking for headphones in the $1-2k price bracket.
  3. PacoTaco
    5.0/5,
    "ZMF Auteur: One suprising can"
    Pros - Fantastically neutral
    Great sense of clarity and cohesion
    Similar Macrodynamics to the HD800
    Cons - Mid-range, due to the neutrality, can be a bit on the unexciting side.
    The bass doesn't reach as deep as the Eikon at all.
    HD800 is just better at detail.
    Well guys, here's the moment I've been waiting for: My Auteur review. (Also, as a note, I do get a “reviewer” discount. And I am good friends with Zach, so keep this in mind.)

    As you guys already know, the Auteur is Zach’s new open-back flagship that uses the same 300 ohm biocellulose drivers. It is built, more or less, with the same structure as the Atticus and Eikon, but with some changes to the pads and the wood cups. The pads come in two sits: One is the Auteur pads with a larger “earhole” and the Eikon perforated pads (don’t use these with the Eikon though) that impart a darker-tilt to the sound. The cups have been reformed to allow for an open grill behind the driver that also cuts down the weight of the can by a noticeable amount (compared to the Camphor Eikon and the Cherry Eikon I reviewed a year ago.)

    Gear Used

    All my listening was done on various amounts of gear: The Mimby/Magni 3, Amethyst/Kenzie, and Amethyst/Magni 3. Zach actually loaned me the Amethyst and the Kenzie to review as well (and…honestly, I like the Amethyst and don’t like the Kenzie. Take that as will.)

    I also spent some time at @Mystic ‘s place listening to the Kenzie and Black Widow through his Gumby. (As a side note, I left his house really wanting a Black Widow…it’s a very surprising amp. I like it quite a bit over the Kenzie, especially with the Auteur.)


    Overall Sound (Mostly with the Auteur Pads)

    The big thing that stands out with the Auteur is that it is a suddenly departure from what I’m use to from ZMF cans. Usually, ZMF Cans are warm/bassy, mid-heavy, thick cans. In fact, my favorite closed-back can of Zach’s is the Atticus, which is the epitome of his house sound. The Auteur, however, is not that at all. The Auteur is a surprisingly neutral (if not only slightly tilted towards warm) can that has a smooth presentation. A better label might be “inoffensive.”

    The bass of the Auteur is well controlled/tight. It goes down very low (with a small bit of rolloff) and has enough punch that it keeps from sounding like an Orthodynamic. It has enough detail to keep drums entertaining without becoming the “focus” like other biocellulose drivers. The worst thing I can say about the bass is that bass heads and Atticus-lovers will definitely feel like this can doesn’t have enough bass.

    Two good examples of tight the bass is that come to mind are the intro of Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing” and Mastodon’s “The Motherload.” With “Money for Nothing,” the drum beat hits with a good amount of authority, but doesn’t sound boomy, sloppy or overpowering (like it can get with the Atticus.) It sounds distinct, defined, and well textured. “The Motherload” is a good example of the speed and decay of the bass: The drum notes hit hard very fast, and eventually slow down to make way for the bombastic start of the rest of the song. The bass sounds distinct enough that the drums keep a strong presence in the song, but they don’t hit with enough authority to make it supremely exciting.

    The treble, like the bass, is very well extended and gives a great sense of air and clarity. The lower treble gets a bit energetic (if not a bit sharp,) but I’ve found that tends to vary on an amp-to-amp basis. I will cover this later in the review, but a tube change on the Kenzie made the lower treble a bit too much. The biggest thing, by far, is that the transition from the mids into the treble is smooth, especially compared to the HD800 (with SDR) and the Eikon. Cymbals crash with a nice sense of detail in just about every rock song I listened to over the weekend, and didn’t leave me wanting anymore. But, there are some instances where, depending on the recording, the highs would be a bit fatiguing (like the Nier Automata song, “Amusement Park.”

    The mids were pretty natural, if not somewhat unexciting. The upper-mids were not forward (nor recessed really) and uneven (which helps with the transition into the lower treble,) nor were there any noticeable dips in the lower-mids (something that prevelant in Zach’s T50RP mod line.) This smoother presentation keeps it from sounding super thick (like the Atticus) or thin like the HD800. This keeps music heavy in string instruments (electric guitars and acoustic guitars) sounding very lifelike and correctly toned (like in “Money or Nothing” by Dire Straits or “Epic” by Faith No More.) Piano have a similarly nice, even tone with the Auteurs. That said, they don’t stick out, nor do they ever become the “focus” of the headphone.

    The vocals are a bit hard to describe without comparing it to the other headphones, which I will end up doing in the next big section.

    Its soundstage goes surprisingly deep and has a good width. It isn’t HD800 or speaker size by any imagination, but the soundstage is above average in size. I found the speed faster than the Eikon and HD800 (though the HD800 isn’t a particularly fast can in the first place,) and the clarity to be pretty damn awesome. The thing that stood out the most was the separation. Instruments weren’t tripping over each other, and everything had its own place. Coupling that with the neutral, but smooth presentation, the Auteur keeps a very nice sense of cohesion that I don’t normally get from other headphones (including the Eikon….which I’ll get into later.)

    Now, I should note that I’m writing this review with a focus on the Auteur pads. The Perforated Eikon pads smooth a bit of the Auteur’s sound out and add some more mid-bass punch to it. It makes the headphone seem a touch darker when, really, the bass is getting enough of a boost to become a bit more of the focus. Honestly, I preferred the Auteur pads, but I could see quite a few people going for the Eikon pads as it adds some special character to the sound. Everything else is mostly the same, except for the soundstage. As GBeast already said earlier, the Eikon pads do make the stage sound a bit more “semi-open” than “open.” It gets closed in a bit. I got this feeling the most from “The Doomed” by A Perfect Circle.

    The Auteur also scaled with equipment ridiculously well. It’s one of the few headphones that makes DAC differences more apparent, and just gets better with gear (similar to how the HD580 scales.) The difference between the Auteur on the Magni 3 (which seemed to not go as deep and take on a slightly steely sound) and the Kenzie (thicker, with a large mid-range emphasis) was actually larger than the HD580 out of the same amps. Funnily enough, I thought the Gumby->Black Widow 2 was actually by far the better combo with the Auteur than the Amethyst/Gumby->Kenzie. I wish I could have experimented a bit more with the different amps, but it has been a fun thing to realize (as long as you don’t stick the Auteur or the HD580 into the Kenzie’s 600 ohm tap.)

    Headphone Comparisons

    The HD580

    The HD580/650/600 are a team of special headphone to me. Despite the many pairs I’ve heard over the years, nothing quite nails the mid-range for rock (guitars and vocals) quite like HD580. Also, considering the price bracket of this headphone, it does microdynamics and microdetail right up there with the best of them. It scales with amps so well that it was become something of a meme-legend for that.

    Now, the Auteur doesn’t exactly nail that mid-range crunch and feeling I get from the HD580. Honestly, the only thing that gets close is the Atticus…but the thickness of that can makes more for flavor than anything else. As far as microdetail, the Auteur outdoes it a bit, and inches its way towards the HD800 (though the HD800 still has a healthy lead.) Honestly though, it took me listening on the Amethyst to catch this, as the Mimby just straight up misses details if they’re subtle at times. The more noticeable difference was in microdynamics and macrodynamics, however. Compared to the Auteur, the HD580 had a tendency to shrink the difference between subtle sounds and louder ones. It wasn’t as bad compared to the next headphone on the comparison block, but the Auteur outpaced it handedly. This was very noticeable with one track: “The Doomed” by A Perfect Circle. The song moves through louder, angrier parts to Maynard singing softly into the mic, then back to angry and aggressive. The HD580, compared to the Auteur, lacks the impact to properly articulate the changes, thus everything sounds more like there’s a dull edge when it should be louder and more aggressive like it is on the Auteur. I’m assuming this is mostly because the Auteur digs deeper into the subbass and has more texture in that area overall. The treble being more detailed helps with that as well. The Auteur also transitions through “Money for Nothing”’s slow pickup a lot smoother than the HD580. Besides that, the speed of the Auteur is quite a bit more noticeable, and the soundstage is a lot larger. It wins out in separation and clarity as well, though that doesn’t take away from the HD580 doing unusually regardless.

    The Eikon

    In my ****-up review from before, I mentioned that the Eikon was ruined for me by the Auteur. Honestly, that’s still true. The first thing I heard when I put on the Eikon after nine months of not hearing it was the compression it suffered from compared to the Auteur. The Auteur had a lighter, cleaner sound and kept every instrument well-separated so they didn’t impede on each other. The Eikon, however, felt compressed, even in the microdynamics (in comparison.) If any tracks got busy, the Eikon seemed to stumble over itself and sound squashed together. It sounded like a closed headphone…albeit it was the best one if you wanted a more neutral sound. Honestly, the Auteur just outdoes the Eikon handedly in just about every area…except one.

    The Eikon excels at Macrodynamics compared to the Auteur. If a song was aggressive and heavy, the Eikon let you know it...whether you wanted it or not. The subbass emphasis put real weight into ever bombastic tune. This was especially noticeable in gaming tracks, like “BIRTH OF A WISH” in Nier Automata and “Last Surprise” in Persona 5. Though, that comes at a cost: The Eikon has a rough transition from the uppermids to the lower treble. There’s a slight emphasis on the upper mids that leads to a spike that causes the lower treble to be rough. So, while the Eikon does well with aggressive tracks, it can get fatiguing in these areas. The Auteur doesn’t suffer from this problem, as the transition is a lot smoother. It’s more unexciting as a result, but you can listen to it a hell of a lot longer.

    Honestly, I couldn’t really articulate last year WHY I thought the Atticus was a more special, enjoyable can over the Eikon. The Auteur taught me why: The Eikon sounded stuffed by the closed cups. They sounded closed, they acted closed, and suffered for it. That’s not say to they aren’t one of the best closed-back period, but they always seem to suffer from that dreaded “for a closed can.” The Atticus, on the other hand, doesn’t pretend it isn’t a closed can, and seems to excel because of it (as opposed to the Eikon trying to excel in spite of it.) If it wasn’t a flavor can that I couldn’t keep as only headphone long term, I was actually say the Atticus is just an outright better headphone than the Eikon.

    The HD800

    So I owned the HD800 for a couple of months, but had to part with it. I still hold the headphone in high esteem, and it is one of my favorite cans. Listening to the Auteur, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the HD800 when I was listening to it. When I was finally able to compare them side by side, I learned why. To help explain how these two cans compare with one another, I put this in a nice list with “Similarities,” “Stuff the HD800 does better,” and “Stuff the Auteur does better.”


    Similarities:

    1) Sense of Clarity and Separation: Both the HD800 and the Auteur take very, very good advantage of the DAC they’re given. If the DAC has an inky black background, these headphones make sure you know it. If there’s a grey one, then the Auteur and HD800 don’t make it any worse than it is. This was consistent between the Mimby, Gumby and Amethyst. HD580, and the Eikon to a lesser extent, didn’t seem to do this near as well. Every instrument seems to take its place incredibly well and they don’t have to worry about feeling cramped with anyone else in the song. It’s quite the surprise for the Auteur.

    2) Microdynamics: The HD800 and Auteur have similar ways of handling this. Subtle sounds stay subtle (but noticeable,) and little details that ramp up into louder ones (“Money for Nothing”) transition very smoothly. Honestly, I was fighting putting this as a similarity, because the HD800 edges the Auteur out in this one area. But, it’s close enough that you’d have to strain yourself to notice it.

    Things the HD800 does better:

    1) Microdetail: The HD800 is still the King. The Auteur gets incredibly close, closer than you’d think, but the HD800 is still the king of this hill. This is due to just the unusually large amount of air the HD800 has over the Auteur.

    2) Soundstage: Now, I don’t delve into speakers due to my situation, but even I know the HD800 is the closest anyone is going to get to a speaker soundstage (and it still isn’t even close.) As far as headphones go, the Auteur stands in the middle of the HD580 and the HD800. The soundstage isn’t closed enough to be considered intimate, but it is quite large (and airy.) There’s a lot of room to breathe, but it is more focused than the HD800.

    Things the Auteur does better:

    1) Speed: I hesitate to give the Auteur this one, as the HD800 isn’t really a fast headphone. AT the very least, the Auteur doesn’t waste time and hang onto notes…but it has enough decay that you wouldn’t confuse it with an orthodynamic. This isn’t honestly a big deal to me personally, as I find overly fast headphones (orthos, electrostats) to lose some character because of the speed. That’s just me though.

    2) Macrodynamics: The Auteur may have lost in soundstage, but this is where it balances that lose out. The HD800 can sound like a thin headphone without much impact. The Auteur, on the other hand, sounds more aggressive and has more impact. There’s just more high quality bass with the Auteur, as well as the smoother upper-mids to lower treble transition. Where the HD800 has recessed upper-mids, the Auteur keeps it neutral, so it sounds like it has more energy and presence than the HD800. The HD800 is like you’re trying to study the music with a microscope, and each note has about that same effect as a germ hitting you. You know each part has importance, but none of them really make an effort to stick out…even if they’re supposed to.

    3) Cohesion: Mystic and I actually talked about this when I went to drop off the Auteur with him and get the demo/refresh course of the HD800. The HD800, while having better microdynamics[slightly,] microdetail, and soundstage, lacks a certain amount of cohesion. The Auteur, with a similar level of clarity, separation, and microdynamics, has a surreal sense of cohesion with every song it plays. I suspect this is because the Auteur has enough bass and mid-range linearity to excel quite readily over the HD800 as far macrodynamics is concerned. It’s a more complete package in the timbre and handles rhythmic and aggression changes in the music that make the music sound more natural and enjoyable as a result.

    Honestly, I have a hard time preferring one over the other, but I lean towards the Auteur a bit more. It’s just more engaging and pleasing, whereas the HD800, while fantastic, is more detail oriented and commands an analytical approach to music. If this was a fight of MSRPs, I would lean more towards telling you to go out and order the Auteur…but the HD800 does exist on the used market at $600. That isn’t exactly fair to the Auteur, as the HD800 at that price is unusual for the headphone market, but it is a reality. Those that hate the HD800 due to its unique, somewhat dry, nature will actually find the Auteur isn’t a bad place to be. At least, if you don’t want to play for the Utopia.

    Conclusion

    I’ll end the review with this: The Auteur is a very neutral, yet musical and cohesive package that surprises me with some of its traits. At $1,599 MSRP, I find a good value compared to the other headphones in this price bracket, with the exception of the HD800. I can’t recommend the LTD woods though, as I think $300 more for an ascetic change isn’t super-fantastic, but that comes down to personal preference at the end of the day (and my preference is to save that difference.)

    But, if you’re the kind of guy that likes the HD800 (or already owns it) and wants more than one headphone, I don’t think I can recommend the Auteur as a companion can. The things the Auteur excels in over the HD800 [Macrodynamics and Cohesion] are also areas the Atticus excels in over the Auteur. While the Auteur is more of a complete package and not a flavor-can, the Atticus brings more variety to a headphone collection if paired with a HD800 than the Auteur does with the HD800. That also comes well under the “Open Utopia Box price-range” that the HD800 used + Auteur Teak new pushes itself into.

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