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"The flagship. The ZMF Blackwood is specially tuned to take advantage of one of the worlds...

ZMF Blackwood

  • "The flagship. The ZMF Blackwood is specially tuned to take advantage of one of the worlds hardest woods, African Blackwood, to produce end game quality sound."

Recent Reviews

  1. Rhamnetin
    My favorite closed-back headphone as well
    Written by Rhamnetin
    Published Apr 14, 2018
    Pros - - Outstanding build quality/materials and comfort.
    - 3 bass ports which you can seal/open to adjust the sound to your liking.
    - Overall sound is highly detailed with incredibly fast and realistic decay, euphoric yet mostly linear.
    - Bass extension, clarity, detail, impact, balance.
    - Mid range balance, clarity, detail.
    - Treble extension, clarity, detail, balance, no harshness with zero or one bass port sealed (when properly amped).
    - Imaging is surprisingly good. The Blackwood hardly sounds closed.
    - The seahorse case is excellent.
    - Great with all genres.
    Cons - - Surprisingly nothing comes to mind.
    For a long time I was searching for the ultimate closed back headphone according to my listening preferences. After years of purchasing and auditioning different headphones, I wound up with a ZMF Blackwood. To date it is the only blind high end headphone purchase I have made, and I don't regret it even though it was risky.

    The ZMF Blackwood is a heavily modded (by hand) Fostex T50RP (MK3 at this point in time). I own a stock T50RP MK3, and the difference is indeed significant. It is extremely impressive how fine tuned the Blackwood's treble is, but more on that below. The Blackwood was actually the first T50RP I ever listened to! And before this, I was accustomed to the Stax SR-007A and other top of the line headphones... so I am hard to impress.

    I purchased my Blackwood in Q1 2018, so it is a newer model with the suspension headband design (ZMF headband) rather than the pilot pad. This is a better, more comfortable design that I can wear for hours with no soreness or discomfort afterwards. These headphones are on the heavier side, but you can never tell with a suspension headband and such soft pads. I have only used the stock cowhide leather earpads, the lambskin ones put your ears closer to the driver, but based on my experience simply holding the headphones closer to my ears, the difference seems insignificant (unlike a stock T50RP for which the difference is huge). My Blackwood also has Blackwood cups. The build quality is superb, the Blackwood is a looker and a showpiece. Makes most other headphones look and feel like toys.

    A bit about myself: overall my favorite headphone I've heard to date is the Stax SR-009 though I've only auditioned this, followed closely by the SR-007 (both variants) and then the Audeze LCD-4. I prefer a transparent, mostly neutral yet musical sound signature generally speaking, but I can also enjoy a warmer sound. I am 24 years old, and using frequency sweep tests, I seem to be able to hear up to 19 KHz. I enjoy a wide variety of music, from different kinds of metal (melodeath, progressive, industrial), rock from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, classical, and some rap.

    Other headphones I've owned when I first wrote this review: Stax SR-007A, Sennheiser HD 6XX, AKG K7xx, Beyerdynamic DT 880 250 Ohms, Audio Technica ATH-A900X, and some others I didn't use as much.

    Get the seahorse case! It's excellent, really protects the headphone from dust and everything else.

    My audio chain is as follows: Chord Mojo -> Schiit Lyr 3 (preferred with Raytheon VT-231 6SN7 tube) -> ZMF Blackwood. This is what is used for the review, although I mostly got the Blackwood for on the go use directly with the Mojo. I'll say it here: the Mojo drives it fairly well, volume isn't a problem. I don't even use more than 75% volume with the Mojo and the Blackwood!

    The Lyr 3 makes a big difference however: it really improves dynamics, making it more lively. Bass extension and sub-bass impact is way better with the Lyr 3, treble is much cleaner, instrument separation improves as if an extra dimension is added. I'd say the Mojo alone drives the Blackwood to around 80% of its full potential, which is still really good.

    My impressions below are with one bass port closed, my favorite way to listen to the Blackwood with the Lyr 3. Comparisons between different configurations are later in this review.

    The Blackwood is a surprisingly phenomenal all-around headphone. No real weaknesses to my ears, and I don't say this often! It sounds linear overall, smooth and never harsh with a good amp, but very musical and euphoric with awesome dynamics and slam. The bass extends very deep, and combined with the impact with a powerful amplifier like the Schiit Lyr 3, you get bass performance that only a planar can deliver. Vocals are a bit forward with the Blackwood, the only thing in front of them is sub-bass slam. Great mix of detail without ruining poor recordings, transparency, slam, bass extension, treble clarity, imaging, rapid fast decay. I was not expecting performance this good out of a modded Fostex T50.

    I am rather picky about headphone sound. A lot of headphones others love sound dull and/or unimpressive to me, and I can pick out problematic frequency ranges in almost all. So it is quite unique for a closed back planar to not have any complaints from me, but here we are.

    Think of Audeze's sound signature, then remove distinct treble dips that cause some recession, fix the loose ends up top (in other words, fix Audeze's sound signature perhaps?) and you've got something close to the ZMF Blackwood's sound signature, which I suppose is the "ZMF house sound."

    Yeah, this headphone has perhaps the best overall sound signature, frequency response, tuning of any I've heard. Which would apply to the ZMF Ori too since that's in the same boat. It's between this and the Stax SR-007 for me, and perhaps the SR-009 as well (I'd need to spend more time with it but now we have the SR-009S).

    Let's look into this in a bit more detail.

    Very deep bass extension with incredible detail and awesome impact. This headphone is so darn FUN with this impact and slam. I don't find the bass impact/slam overdone, but some may disagree. It doesn't obscure mid range detail so I'm fine with it, although the bass slam can be the most up front sound with this headphone; I've noticed this only in rap music with powerful and aggressive amps like the Schiit Lyr 3.

    I also have the Sennheiser HD 6XX on hand, which is the best headphone I can compare it to I suppose. ZMF Blackwood bass is at least three leagues above the HD 6XX, and has similar detail to my unmodded (and admittedly underpowered) SR-007A to my ears but with more impact and sub-bass body. It almost sounds like live percussion: percussion instruments are the most realistic, transparent sounds this headphone produces I think. The bass performance is truly elite, and it transitions into the mid range excellently with no flaws to my ears. There is no evident mid bass hump to obscure the mids, like so many other closed back warmer headphones.

    The cowhide leather pads are very thick.

    Mids and Treble
    The mids are lovely. They sound quite linear to my ears, yet musical the entire time. Both male and vocals tend to take a slight forward presence just compared to the rest of the midrange, and both male and female vocals are highly immersive. Transition to treble is seamless, and there is absolutely nothing in the treble that bothers me. No harshness, sibilance, not with all bass ports open or just one closed at least. This all changes drastically depending on how many bass ports you seal.

    With one bass port sealed, the balance and overall response is so well balanced when used with a neutral amp. The Lyr 3 with a Raytheon VT-231 6SN7 tube provides so much bass slam, the most lively sub-bass I've heard of any headphone, but the bass doesn't bleed over and obscure the mids like basshead (V-shaped frequency response) headphones. The Blackwood does every genre justice, even classical! Seriously, after all my headphone experience, from the Audio Technica ATH-M30X all the way up to the Sennheiser Orpheus HE-1, I've never encountered another closed back headphone that can both deliver this quality and quantity of bass, and play a complex classical track while giving every instrument and row their own properly separated space. Mind blowing performance, while sounding accurate the entire time. Every instrument sounds accurate.

    It's incredible how the Blackwood is never strident or harsh anywhere, when powered by the Lyr 3 and with one or none of the bass ports plugged. One of my favorite songs to test is Sledgehammer; Rihanna's voice sounds strident on most headphone setups including the HD 6XX, but not this one. Not only that but this is a very busy song and the Blackwood separates the instruments and sounds better than a lot of open back headphones.

    The detail retrieval in the mids and treble is also good especially for a closed back headphone. The Blackwood doesn't even sound closed back... imaging is solid, sound stage doesn't extend outwards much but nor does it sound enclosed to me. It shows how incredible a job Zach does with the damping of the Blackwood! Truly impressive stuff here.

    It's also incredible how fast and realistic the decay of this headphone is. I'd never expect this type of performance from a closed-back, non-electrostatic headphone.

    What genres do the ZMF Blackwood excel at? I would say it excels at every genre that doesn't demand the biggest sound stage, namely large classical ensembles. So everything aside from that? Sounds about right to me. Remember, this is coming from a PICKY listener. This headphone is that good. It's capable of doing justice to a greater amount of genres than 99% of headphones I've listened to, and I've listened to tons. Zach from ZMF just found the ticket to a very ideal sound signature with his headphones.

    Bass Port Impressions

    The Blackwood has three bass ports on each cup, which you can plug with the many included rubber seals (it includes plenty of extras). I find that plugging one bass port CLEARLY results in the best overall sound when using a good and neutral amp. As a result I didn't spend as much time testing the other configurations since it was so clear cut to me.

    All bass ports unsealed - The bassiest sound, but the mid bass starts to sound relatively loose and uncontrolled compared to the other configurations. More laid back sound, a bit less treble response. Best suited for strident/bright/harsh amps as this configuration will help to balance it out, might also be best if used with an amp/device that cannot sufficiently power the headphone. Also, for songs that have more sub-bass than mid-bass (rap in particular), some may prefer this configuration even with a well matched amp.

    One bass port sealed - This leads to my listening impressions above, this is how I listen to the Blackwood most of the time. Excellent balance, bass tightens up compared to all ports opened although some sub-bass impact is lost (not noticeable the vast majority of the time, only really sub-bass heavy songs will make this noticeable, I've only noticed it in rap). I wouldn't call the Blackwood laid back or lush with one bass port sealed.

    Two bass ports sealed - Detail retrieval becomes a bit more clear and it sounds more neutral, but it starts to sound artificial and harsh in the mids and treble, aka like most "neutral Hi-Fi headphones." A fatiguing listen, but one most of you are accustomed to as so many other high end headphones sound like this.

    All bass ports sealed - I really didn't test this much since it sounded so artificial, harsh, and fake to me. Very fatiguing.


    The ZMF Blackwood was a blind purchase, but what a purchase it was! It exceeds my expectations, mostly due to the treble performance for which I have no complaints. Unexpected from a T50 based headphone. It isn't as hard to drive as you might expect, it sounds great just with my Chord Mojo (though it's no more than 80% of what I get with the Lyr 3).

    Update 06/08/18 - I am now in possession of a top of the line amp, the Pure BiPolar/Dynalo Mk2 from spritzer, with a Norne Solvine balanced cable and a Chord Hugo 2 DAC for good reference. The Hugo 2 alone drives the Blackwood as well as the Hugo 2 + the Lyr 3 (sounds the same either way), but the Blackwood did scale up a bit more with the new amp. It became a bit more transparent, bass impact and body and detail improved further as did instrument separation and imaging slightly. Quite the experience.
      dnalekaw, Wes S, commtrd and 6 others like this.
    1. AthenaZephyrian
      How's this stack up to stax?
      AthenaZephyrian, Aug 29, 2018
  2. keanex
    My favorite closed back to date
    Written by keanex
    Published Jan 25, 2016
    Pros - Sturdy build quality, customizable sound, imaging quality, control and texture of the midbass, incredibly euphoric and well textured midrange.
    Cons - Weight, comfort.

    Pros: Sturdy build quality, customizable sound, imaging quality, control and texture of the midbass, incredibly euphoric and well textured midrange.
    Cons: Weight, comfort.
    Tonal Balance: Bass heavy to neutral.
    Style: Closed Circumaural
    Listening Set-Up: Musicbee (WASAPI/FLAC) -> Matrix HPA-3U
    Cost at Time of Review: Starts at $700

    Reviewing Process

    I’ve had the Blackwood for a bit over a month and during this time I’ve exclusively used them for desktop listening. I’ve primarily used them for critical and noncritical music listening, though some I’ve spent some time playing Borderlands with them. During this time I feel that I’ve become comfortable enough with the sound to share my opinion, but remember that this is just my opinion. I recommend demoing a product when available as nothing trumps experience.
    Thanks to Zach at ZMF for the review loaner.

    Build & Fit

    The Blackwood are a highly modified Fostex T50RP that feature skillfully crafted African Blackwood cups, carefully stitched cowskin pads and the plush ZMF pilot pad. The construction looks and feels top notch in every aspect - no creaks or causes for concern when handled and the overall - overall a high-end feel to the Blackwood. I have one quip and it stems from the unsmooth headband adjustment system, though it isn’t a prolonged issue as headbands are usually “set and forget”. Other than that I have no complaints thus far, it’s clear that Zach puts pride into his work.
    The African Blackwood used on the cups are stunning to look at, but unfortunately they add quite a bit of weight in conjunction with the planar drivers of the T50rp. Downward force can be a bit much at times even with the plush pilot pad, I find myself taking short breaks during extended listening sessions due to the weight. Clamping force is on the light side, not feeling secure as my HD600 despite having thick and plush leather pads. The pads are comfortable though and I have no seal issues. In-fact the isolation is rather great on the Blackwood, though the inefficiency of the drivers makes them less than ideal to lug around. The Blackwood are best suited for home listening.

    Sound Quality

    The review will be written from the perspective of the Blackwood stock, with all bass ports open. Bass port sections will be below the main sound quality portion.
    The Blackwood are a warm, detailed and highly euphoric headphone that provides a highly engrossing experience with every genre that I’ve thrown it’s way. Truly a pleasurable experience through and through from Fleetwood Mac to Daft Punk, from Rage Against the Machine to Madonna.
    Using the Bass Shaker Test the Blackwood are capable of digging incredibly deep, with a focus on the sub-bass. In real world listening I find the lows to be emphasized to a modest amount which gives the Blackwood an overall warm and full tone. The sub-bass digs incredibly deep, as noted in the bass shaker test, adding a satisfying rumble in bass heavy electronic tunes. Big sub-bass presence tends to add a bit of sluggishness and there’s some here. The Blackwood performs acceptably with James Blake’s Limit to Your Love, sounding mildly bloated but controlled enough for separation between the quick bass notes.
    The midbass is punchy, controlled, and extremely well textured which adds a lively low-end presence to rock and electronic tracks alike. Rage Against the Machine’s track Take the Power Back highlights just how well the Blackwood are at replicating the texture and liveliness of the bass guitar and kick drum. Warmer than neutral, but energetic and lively, the midbass is incredibly satisfying.
    The low end as a whole provides a lot of energy without being overbearing and I am thoroughly enjoying Daft Punk’s album Discovery with these on my head right now. Compared to it’s sibling the Vibro, the Blackwood don’t have as much bass presence, but has a tighter and punchier bass response.
    Mids & Highs
    The midrange is an absolute pleasure to my ears. The tonal balance leans warm and full without midbass bleed or a sense of sluggishness, giving a sultry and euphoric tone throughout. Detail retrieval is top notch while simultaneously being forgiving to poor recordings. The bane of my musical existence is the quality of Lana Del Rey’s recordings and something with Zach’s tuning smooths out the grain present, seemingly enhancing the quality of the recording. This is something that I also noticed when listening to Lana through the Vibro and if anyone has any idea why this might be, I would love to hear your thoughts. Lastly the texture is spot on, one listen to Take the Power Back and I had chills as it felt as if I could feel the pick scraping along the electric guitar's strings. The midrange is highly engrossing and I’m not afraid to admit that I am in love with how the midrange is tuned.
    It’s not all roses though, there is a mild peak in the upper midrange that adds a bit of sibilance and tizz to bright leaning recordings. Not razor sharp, but the amount of sibilance heard on Glory Box from Portishead is certainly increased compared to the HD600. They aren’t as bright or shouty as the Vibro though, Zach has cleaned that aspect up a bit.
    The treble extends fully and smoothly with no audible grain. The treble is present and balanced nicely with the midrange, though air isn’t present. This is expected with a closed headphone that isolates as well as these do though.


    Soundstage width and depth are a bit more spacious than the average closed headphone, thanks in part to the huge pads, while having a bit more space than the Vibro. Imaging is the Blackwood’s strength in the soundstage, being highly accurate with games and music alike. I find a good sense of left and right, near and far and good incremental positioning in between. Instrument separation is equally fantastic, opening up space within the intimate soundstage. The combination of the imaging accuracy and instrument seperation keep the soundstage from sounding congested. There’s no mistake that these are closed headphones, though I hear no resonance or hollowness that headphones can fall victim to when underdamped.
    Bass Port Options
    Since it’s a bit difficult to go back and forth in a timely manner due to the nature of inserting and removing the stoppers I can not easily go back and forth between tunings. The thoughts expressed here are done by memory and could be a consequence of expectation bias. I am sharing these thoughts in good faith though and hope they are helpful.
    One Port Closed
    The overall sound is full and warm, though less ballsy in the sub-bass than with all ports opened. The midrange still sounds lush but sounds less engaging than all ports opened as well. The sound is more balanced, while losing some of the euphoric qualities that made me fall in love with the stock sound. Let’s just say that Run the Jewels isn’t banging quite as hard now.
    Two Ports Closed
    Much more balanced with a hint of warmth throughout, reminiscent of a beefier sounding HD600 in tonality. Clean and punchy bass that extends all the way down still, cleaner than with all ports open and perhaps quicker now as well. Unfortunately the midrange has a bit of grain showing through, and isn’t as clean as the HD600. Sibilance is also shown, though a step down from the Vibro. Imaging is also cleaned up as is instrument separation. Width sounds a touch larger, but depth has not changed. Overall a tuning that provides a powerful bass response while sounding fairly balanced throughout.
    Three Ports Closed
    Much like one port closed I’m not a huge fan of this tuning. The sub-bass clearly shows further improvement in sub-bass control and speed, but the bass seems to have lost its fullness. Clarity throughout seems increased, but the tone of the midrange sounds plasticy throughout and the overall sound comes off thin and wimpy after everything before it. Soundstage cohesion is up, as is midrange clarity, but the euphoria is all gone for me. Compared to the HD600 it’s closest in tonality, but sounds thin in comparison.


    As of now the Blackwood are my closed headphone end-game. Tonally they reminded me a lot of the Audeze LCD-X that I demoed, and with the bass ports closed they have a tonal balanced not too far off from the Sennheiser HD600. I admit that I instantly fell in love with them from first listen, they’re one of the first headphones that I’ve listened to in awhile (other than the Vibro) that made me excited to come home and listen to old favorites as if I were hearing them for the first time. They’re not as resolving as the HD800, nor are they as comfortable as a DT770, and they have a peak in the upper midrange, but boy are they fun to listen to music with.
    Hats off to Zach for another wonderful headphone.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. ohcrapgorillas
      I heard these at a meet recently and they were my favorite and the clearest of the ZMF lineup. Definitely one of the best closed headphone I've heard yet
      ohcrapgorillas, Jan 26, 2016
    3. grizzlybeast
      They were prob ^ only clearer because at a meet they would isolate better. The Omni is def clearer no question.
      grizzlybeast, Jan 28, 2016
    4. reddog
      A great review, I need to audition these cans sometime.
      reddog, Jan 29, 2016
  3. PacoTaco
    One of The Best Closed Headphones On The Market
    Written by PacoTaco
    Published Jun 11, 2015
    Pros - A very laid back, organic sound; quite open for a closed back; beautiful wood cups; just enough sub-bass; the cost
    Cons - Laid-back sound may not be for everyone
    Hey there guys! After three months of listening and waiting, I finally got the new lamb leather pads and can do the review. The ZMF Blackwood is a T50RP mod that changes a lot about the headphone: It uses African Blackwood, has driver modifications, and completely changes the original headphones' sound signature to something completely new. It easily stands with the three closed headphone giants (the Fostex TH900, Ultrasone Pro 8, and the LCD XC) at the fraction of the cost.
    The Pre-TL;DR: This is a very organic, laid back headphone that is just a joy to listen to. It is very much worth the $799 asking price, plus more.
    The Build
    I'll start with the most obvious part of the build: The cups. The cups are made with real African Blackwood, meaning it is tough, durable, and looks amazing. Being real wood, you can even see the grains in the cup, which is a very cool thing to see.
    The earpads (the lambleather ones anyway) use a very durable, thick foam that has more "memory" than the Alpha Pads it use to use. You can also get the cow leather pads, which use thicker leather and the same kind of foam for a longer-lasting, more comfortable earpad.
    You can also choose between a leather buffalo comfort strap or a padded pilot pad that wraps on the top of the headband. Personally, I went with both and wrapped the pilot pad around the buffalo comfort strap. The new pilot pad being used with it (after I had brought up in an email with Zach that the old one seemed kind of flimsy on the inside of the pad) is very sleek, more durable, and uses better foam.
    The sliders are also customizable. There are several "stains" you can choose from.
    My only issue is the fact that the headphone structure itself wasn't changed all that much, which means the tacky headband on the top is still retained. While that isn't the focus of the headphone, it is still kind of ugly (though I'm nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking.)
    Either way, these headphones look great, feel great, and are sturdy as hell.
    The Customer Service
    I don't usually mention this during a review, but Zach really takes care of his customers. After I bought the Blackwood and Vibro, we talk back and forth constantly. He really does care about his customers, and takes their suggestions seriously. He'll even customize the minor parts of the headphone's sound to be more enjoyable for you! And, if you live outside the US, he gives a small discount for the trouble of getting them imported.
    The Sound
    It is a very smooth, organic headphone. Not too dark, not too bright. The mids are very linear with the midbass, but the subbass is surprisingly emphasized and very deep. This means, out of nowhere, you'll hear the bass suddenly build to a deep rumble. However, this does not make it exciting...it is rather laid-back by design.
    The easiest way I can describe it is this: Take the TH900's subbass, the LCD X's mid-bass and mids, and mash it with a smooth, but detailed, high end. Congratulations, you have made something that sounds similar to the Blackwood. There's not much else to say about it's sign signature. It really is the best parts for two headphones mixed with a smooth high-end.
    The soundstage is amazing for a closed headphone. You won't confuse it for a HD800 or even a HE560, but you could easily mistake it for an open headphone at times. It hits the perfect combination of width and depth for a closed headphone, something not many other headphones can do. However, the clarity and size of it is not as good as the TH900 (which sucks the upper and lower mids in order to gain a huge, clear soundstage.) However, it beats out the other closed headphones out there by a long mile.
    If I was to be completely honest, this headphone is probably the best sounding closed headphone on the market. It is easily tied with the TH900 (which some people may like more due to its fun coloration) and beats out the LCD XC (which, to be completely honest, isn't Audeze's best can.)
    You'll notice I haven't mentioned the Vibro. Honestly, the Vibro is it's own thing. Sure, they share similar house sound signatures, but they're both radically different. The Vibro is a more mid-forward, exciting headphone that can be a basshead can, while the Blackwood is a technically superior, smooth, organic, and laid-back headphone. They're like two different Taco Bell entrees: sure, they're made with the same ingredients, but they both are radically different experiences.
    Honestly, Zach at ZMF Headphones did an amazing job with these headphones. I absolutely love them, and I'm sure many would to. However, this headphone is very laid back and people looking for supreme clarity (like the HD800) would not gravitate much to these. They're easily one of the best closed backs on the market, and I'm happy I've experience them.
    Here are some pictures:
    Picture 1
    Picture 2
    Keep in mind, the wood actually lightens up slightly as time goes on, so they'll look even better after a couple weeks.

  4. Zulkr9
    Zmf blackwood
    Written by Zulkr9
    Published May 20, 2015
    Pros - Natural, Detailed, "open-sounding", fantastic midrange, bass
    Cons - Slight treble peak, Don't really like the looks of the headband (that would go for every T50rp mod)
    Really natural sounding and amazing extension in the bass and good texture, soundstage is pretty big. The lower treble is slightly peaky but lacks a bit of presence in the upper treble which causes a slight lack in airiness though imaging and depth is pretty good. The midrange is one of the most natural I've heard, timbre and tonal balance is excellent. To me it sounds a lot like my LCD-2F, but is a bit closed in and less transparent (flaws of being a closed design). But I would say its better than the El-8C I had and also I find this a bit better than the XC from my memory.
  5. Levaix
    The Dark Horse in Dark Wood
    Written by Levaix
    Published Jan 3, 2015
    Pros - Very natural, non-fatiguing but engaging, beautiful design, comfortable, overall SQ
    Cons - Definitely need a semi-capable amp
    ZMF Blackwood Review

    Intro & Disclaimer
    I'd never actually had any real experience with ZMF Headphones until somewhat recently. To be entirely frank, when I heard that ZMF models were another T50rp mod, I had absolutely no interest in even listening to them. With all the rave reviews about LFF's Paradox as well as the Mad Dog and Alpha Dog lines (none of which I had heard at the time), I assumed ZMF was an also-ran. Even when Zach (the "Z" in ZMF) set up next to me at the latest Chicago meet, I didn't plug any of his headphones in until well over halfway through the day.
    If this were a conversation, I would have to apologize right now, because I just zoned out for about 10 minutes listening to the headphones on my head. If you can guess which ones, you can also pretty fairly guess how much of an idiot I was.
    At the meet, I heard the Sennheiser HD800. I heard the Audeze LCD-2. I heard the Paradox. I heard the new Sony MDR-Z7. All of these were good (although I didn't care for the Sony at all). But the biggest surprise of all was the prototype ZMF Blackwood, which I enjoyed more than any of these. I ended up sitting there for a solid half hour going back and forth, trying to decide if I liked them better than my Ultrasone Signature Pros. So when Zach offered an extended trial session sometime soon, I jumped at the chance. (To be fair, I did like the Fostex TH900 more than my Sig Pros and the Blackwoods. But... seriously, that's the TH900.)
    So I guess here's the disclaimer part. I'm in no way affiliated with ZMF Headphones other than my acquaintance with Zach (the owner and designer), and the pair of ZMF Blackwoods I'm reviewing was not a purchased retail unit, but one of the prototypes given to me on loan. Zach did not ask me for anything in return, not even the following review.
    So, what do I think? Did they dethrone my mighty Ultrasones? How do they stand up to the other T50rp 'phones out there? Read on!
    Design & Comfort
    Let's just get this out of the way. The Blackwood is a beautiful headphone. The craftsmanship of the wood cups is excellent, and the African Blackwood has a really beautiful color and grain. Pictures really don't do it justice (especially when taken by me). Zach tells me the finishing on this prototype isn't as good as the final units, and I'm not entirely sure how it could get much better. The overall design is very "finished" and professional. While I liked the homemade aesthetic of the Enigma, I couldn't imagine it sitting on a shelf at Best Buy. The Blackwoods wouldn't be terribly out of place at a Magnolia Center.

    The only thing that really hinders the overall finish is the fact that several Fostex design elements are still glaringly obvious. For instance, if you choose the leather suspension band, there's still a big Fostex logo on the top of the headband. It's not really a drawback, but it does remind you that these headphones weren't built from the ground up. Comparing these to the original ZMF Master Model, it makes you wonder how far Zach will eventually go to make these his own. It should definitely be interesting.
    Comfort is very good. The Blackwoods use comfy Alpha Pads, and either a Pilot Pad for cushioning on top or a leather suspension band. I thought I would like the Pilot Pad better, but this pair has the suspension band and has so far been very comfortable. I understand new options may be in the works at some point. These definitely aren't light, but it hasn't bothered me at all. Clamp force is not very high and weight distribution is good. If something doesn't fit right, the headband can be beat up and bent to all heck to make it fit. Comfort isn't quite up there with the cloud-like Fostex TH900, but for something this substantial it's probably the best you're going to get.
    I don't have any expertise in this area, but I did want to mention that the internals have some extensive design modification compared to the stock Fostex. Zach does a high quality internal rewire with copper or silver (don't know which this pair is). Apparently there's some other stuff going on, but as I don't know how much is a trade secret and would probably explain it wrong anyways, suffice it to say it all sounds really cool. (Edited last sentence by request. Apparently I was still not vague enough, lol.)
    Zach also provided me with a cable, which I believe is the 8 wire OCC braided hybrid he offers on his website. I'm not really a cable guy, but this seems to be good quality, especially for what he's charging. I was never worried about durability. You do hear some noise in the ear cups if the cord is rubbing against your clothes on the last foot or so closest to where it connects to the cups. I'm not a big fan of the plain rubber coating, as it kind of feels like braided noodles. I know, of all the things to complain about... But even Charleston Cable Company is more expensive, so I think it's a fair
    All sound impressions are from my personal setup. I use a Mousai MSD192 DAC going into a Purity Audio K.I.C.A.S. Caliente headphone amp. It's a very clean and fast setup, basically neutral but with powerful, deep bass and an engaging presentation. I would definitely say the Blackwoods need a dedicated amp. I need to turn the dial on my amp up twice as high as I do for my Ultrasone Signature Pros.
    The word that keeps getting thrown around on the Blackwood impressions thread is "natural," and I think this is probably the best word you can use. The sound is not only extremely natural, but engaging as well. I did get a chance to finally hear the Paradox, and it is very laid back compared to the Blackwoods. I guess it would make a good chill-out can, but IMO Enigma does that much better. The Blackwoods go in the other direction, having impact and presence without going to the extremes of Ultrasone and high-end Fostex. This is an inherently musical set of headphones, and it actually sounds very much like it looks; classy and artistic without being boring.
    Soundstage is extremely good for a closed headphone. Width is much better than my Ultrasones, and while not quite as wide as the Enigma, depth is much better. Overall imaging is just very good, and separation likewise. You won't mistake them for HD800s, but you might mistake them for an open headphone in general. But isolation is still very good, probably on par with Sig Pros. Speaking of which, the Sig Pros do still have that holographic presentation due to S-Logic, and it's hard for me to choose which I prefer. The Ultrasones have a more exciting presentation, and the Blackwoods are extremely natural (there's that word again).
    The overall sound signature is very balanced. Bass and treble extension are both good, but you have to understand I'm really spoiled on that front. Bass control is very good and in general the bass quantity never leaves me wanting, but it doesn't get quite as deep as my Sig Pros. On my particular amp, mid-bass can sometimes approach being a little boomy. There are three bass ports in each cup that can be plugged with little rubber caps (included with the headphones), and covering one of those on each cup did tame the bass just enough. I think I still prefer the sound with all of them open, though. Treble is a little rolled off, but not necessarily in a bad way. Details are still very audible, and the top end is non-fatiguing without being boring. Mids are impactful with rich timbre, and are definitely a strong point.
    I think perhaps one of the things I like best about the Blackwoods is how versatile they are. They sound at home whether the genre is classical, bluegrass, folk, rock, metal, or EDM. Are they better than everything else for every specific song and genre? No. But they never sound bad or "wrong" either. I did try them for gaming, as well, and while they were extremely immersive, I still preferred the uncanny imaging of my Sig Pros.
    In its price range, I think the ZMF Blackwood is quite possibly the best option for a closed headphone and a strong contender even among open sets. Eminently natural and engaging, this is a set that understands music is not just to be heard, but to be experienced and enjoyed.
    Will I be selling my Signature Pros? You know, there were actually a couple times that I was listening to a track on the Blackwoods and I started to wonder that myself. After going back and forth numerous times, I almost always decided that the Sig Pros were just doing something I really liked. The fact that I was even considering it actually made me a little nervous! But honestly, the Sig Pros are almost twice the price as the Blackwoods, and even the dirt cheapest place you can find them is over $1000. And the Ultrasone sound isn't for everyone, while I think the Blackwoods are much more universally appealing. The fact that I like Ultrasone Signature Pros or Fostex TH900s better isn't by any means a mark against the Blackwood.
    I also wanted to convey how much Zach is a pleasure to talk to and deal with. From my own impressions, he seems a very honest, fair, and humble person. He wants his headphones to sound good, and he wants the customer to be happy with what they get. There is a large amount of custom tuning he's willing to do, and he even offers an upgrade option for people who have bought certain older models. As much as I was impressed with his headphones, I was just as impressed by his character. Even though I'm probably not buying these, I'll find something for him to work on for me in the near future.

    Well, I hope this was helpful, and I also hope that I introduced a few people to something they may not have paid much attention to previously. The Blackwood is the real deal, and I highly recommend giving it a try.
    1. Fearless1
      Nice job on the review. I also agree about Zach, great guy!
      Fearless1, Jan 3, 2015
    2. Billyb52
      Great review. Mine are still burning in, but I love them so far, and in theory they're just going to get better...
      Billyb52, Jan 10, 2015
    3. Cloudbank
      Great review, just purchased these and can't wait for them to arrive. 
      Cloudbank, Apr 25, 2015


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