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ZMF Headphones x Vibro MK II

Rating:
4.57143/5,
  1. Cinder
    The ZMF x Vibro Mk II Will Take You On A Trip, Man
    Written by Cinder
    Published Aug 29, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Good build quality, custom construction and tuning, analytic but not harsh treble, good articulation and presentation, ZMF Cusotmer Service
    Cons - A little heavy
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    -Introduction-

    It’s not often I have the chance to review products as high-end as the ZMF x Vibro MK II. I approached Zach in July, and asked for a loaner unit. One wasn’t readily available so I waited a month or so, but boy was it worth the wait.
    For those of you who aren’t aware of ZMF, it’s a small company run by Zach Mehrbach, where every pair of ZMF headphones are custom built to user specifications, and can even be tuned to your specific tastes. Furthermore, if Zach doesn’t get your tuning right on the first time around, he will gladly do a re-tune for free.
    The Vibro Mk II can be bought from ZMF here starting at $479.
    Disclaimer: This review is based upon a loaner unit provided to me by ZMF in exchange for my honest opinion and un-edited words. I do not profit in any way from the writing of the review. I would like to thank Zach for giving me this opportunity.
    Preference and Bias: Before reading a review, it is worth mentioning that there is no way for a reviewer to objectively pass judgment on the enjoy-ability of a product: such a thing is inherently subjective. Therefore, I find it necessary for you to read and understand what I take a natural liking to and how that might affect my rating of a product.
    My ideal sound signature would be an extended sub-bass with a leveled, but textured, bass. The mids should be slightly less pronounced than the treble, but still ahead of the bass. I prefer a more bright upper range.
    Source: The Vibro Mk II was powered like so:
    PC Optical Out -> HifiMe SPFDIF 9018 3.5mm out -> RCA Adapter -> Sherwood AD230B 1/4in out.
    Standard 3.5mm out from both my Nexus 6P and HTC One M8 was inadequate to drive the Vibro Mk II.
    All music was served as MP3 @320Kbps or as FLAC. I found low-quality recordings and low-bit-rates to not play nicely with the Vibro Mk II.
    IMG_0908.jpg

    -Sound Signature-

    Initial Impressions:
    I don’t have the best gear available, that’s a given. I mean, take a look at my setup; It’s a Frankenstein-mashup of used DAC’s and a hand-me-down amp. However, the Vibro Mk II doesn’t care. As long as you have the amperage, the Mk II’s got the music. I was immediately impressed with how minute the hiss on the Vibro Mk II is. My Sherwood AD230B amplifier is a brute, so while it does have a very large amount of power available, it usually creates a high noise-floor. The actual sound signature of the Mk II appears to be neutral, with some elevated highs and warmer mids. However, the tuning and flavoring of the Vibro Mk II still allows it to play a large variety of very different genres of music equally well — something that I rarely see in warmer headphones and earphones.
    Treble: Songs used: White FlagMidnight CityOutlands
    I am very impressed at how well the Vibro Mk II can reproduce upper-treble without causing sibilance. White Flag does a good job of drawing out those trouble frequencies, and the Vibro Mk II doesn’t even seem to notice it. The various electronic effects within the song don’t get in your face too much, but are perfectly happy to sit in the background. The impressive part is how well they stay resolved without smudging or becoming lost. Furthermore, extension into the upper-treble, while not emphasized, is still noticeable. I am consistently wowed by the delicacy the Vibro Mk II.
    Midnight City was a treat. The treble contrasted the warm mids very nicely, and created a cohesive but distinctly tuned sound. I consistently heard new sounds and layers to the music that I’d not even begun to notice. The song seem to be rather politely in its presentation, as the kick drum and cymbals didn’t pierce through the song or try to bust your eardrums.
    The violins of Outlands were presented in a very relaxed manner. They didn’t have any harsh edges to them and lacked the taught and poised timbre I am used to getting from them on my Pisces BA. It’s not a bad change, and is something I am really growing fond of as I listen more. Furthermore, it sounds like the violins are actually pushed backwards, such that they do not completely dominate the song. This establishes a balance I’ve not really heard from the song on other earphones.
    Mids: Songs used: Flagpole SittaJacked UpI Am The HighwayGood Life
    Flagpole Sitta is a song where the Vibro Mk II displays its great restraint when it comes to warming up the mids. The guitars and bass guitars are easily distinguishable from the rest of the song, as are the various drum beats unlike some offerings from Thinksound and such.
    The pianos of Jacked Up are really what struck me. They sounded so naturally and were placed so well that I turned around in my chair to see what was making noise in my room! Weezer’s vocals were also very pleasant. The guitars and drums are well-bodied and have a lot of life to them.
    I really enjoyed the intro. The boosted lower-mids really help the song pull off its intended sonorous and lonely tone. My only complaint is that the vocals sat a little too far back.
    Good Life’s mids were presented in a very mellow way. One Republics’ vocalist’s voice meshed very well with the rest of the song, given it a very organic and smooth sound.
    Bass: Songs used: LightsGold Dust99 Problems (Hugo Cover)Leave Me
    The Vibro Mk II’s bass is probably my favorite part of it. While not bass-head levels, I find its presence to be almost perfect, especially considering how well the mid and sub-bass are “attached” to the rest of the sound signature. This really lends Lights a helping hand, giving it depth that colder earphones simply cannot.
    Mid and sub-bass presence is high enough to listen to bass-heavy songs like Gold Dust without any issues. Flux Pavilion’s wet bass-drop is presented remarkably well, even if it doesn’t shake your skull.
    99 Problems also performed well, benefiting especially from the mid-sub-bass synergy. Furthermore, the bass never overwhelms and blots out the mids or lower-mids.
    Leave Me is my ultimate test of bass-drop responsiveness. If a pair of headphones can perform well enough on this song, it’s generally a sign that it has good potential for other bassy electronic genres. The Vibro Mk II certainly does fit the bill, despite it not overflowing with rumbliness or boominess.
    Clarity: Songs used: ThroneMap of The ProblimatiqueI’m Not Alright
    Clarity is top notch. While it doesn’t extend as far as possible into the upper-treble and sub-bass as other, more expensive offerings, I find it to be at TOTL levels. Everything from layering to detail retrieval to background resolution is hard to complain about, even on demanding songs like Throne. I won’t write out a separate analysis of each song, considering the fact that it performs equally well on each of them.
    Sound Stage
    Sound staging is very well done. It’s not hugely expansive, but is still larger than average. Interestingly, in certain songs, the Vibro Mk II really opens up, allowing for an almost symphonic experience. However, these songs are few and far between. Instrumental separation is excellent, with no noticeable smudging, blurring, or background loss. Furthermore, Luke and Zach did a great job engineering the Vibro Mk II to be airy, but not thin. You never get the feeling that any two instruments are on top of each-other, something I hadn’t experienced before I’d hear the Mk II.

    -Packaging / Unboxing-

    I received a thoroughly used loaner unit, so it arrived in a very nondescript white box with a peeling-ZMF sticker on top. I won’t be taking any pictures, since it in no way represents what a retail unit will look like.

    -Build-

    Construction Quality
    Zach and Luke did an excellent job transforming what I would call a visually uninspiring pair of headphones, the Fostex t50rp, to a solid and plush looking one. It’s evident, even after the use my loaner unit has gone through, that these things are meant to last. From the removable head-band cushion to the dense wood-cups, I find the workmanship to be remarkable.
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    Comfort
    The Vibro Mk II is rather heavy for a pair of headphones, owing mostly to the large amount of cushioning and the wooden cups. However, even after listening for well over three hours, I found them to not be too noticeable. The weight distribution is designed well, and keeps my head feeling perfectly fine — something that I cannot say for the majority of headphones, both on and over-ear, that I’ve tried. ZMF offers three kind of ear pads, built from either lambskin, cowhide, or “protein”. All three offerings are angled, giving the your headphones very good isolation regardless of which kind you choose.

    -Summary-

    The ZMF x Vibro Mk II is a power-hungry planar-magnetic headphone with a warm, yet versatile, sound signature sure to make you smile. Its relaxed and mellow sound signature will let you sink into the music you are listening to, and its comfort is second to none. Factor in the phenomenal support you get from Zach at ZMF and if you’ve got the cash, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Cinder
      Cinder, Aug 30, 2016
    3. WilliamLeonhart
      Thanks for the review. I had a chance to audition the T50RP for a few months and was not impressed by it. Spending $400 on a modded version would be a very risky decision for me.
      If possible, can you help comparing the ZMF with the Fostex THX00? I have the THX00 and can't be happier with it. 
      WilliamLeonhart, Sep 1, 2016
    4. Cinder
      @WilliamLeonhart I can understand where you are coming from, for sure. I've had only a very brief listen to the THX00 at a local store, and it wasn't with my test tracks. I think that Zach does wonders with what starts a mediocre headphone. It's less of a mod and more of an overhaul. Essentially only the drivers remain original. That being said, there is only so much that can be done. I'd say the THX00 is warmer, but still can still layer a little better. I don't really have any more detail to disclose given my poor aural memory of the THX00. Sorry.
      Cinder, Sep 1, 2016
  2. BrettG
    Beautiful, One Of A Kind Headphones That Sound Fantastic
    Written by BrettG
    Published Jul 15, 2016
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Beautiful Design & Finish, Smooth & Warm Sound Signature, Excellent Customer Service
    Cons - Weight, Requires An Amplifier
    Images showing my pair can be found here: https://imgur.com/a/H9gt0

     

    Design, Comfort, and Build Quality

    Right up front, I want to say that I am a sucker for wood grain. My dad used to make hard wood furniture, and as such I’ve always grown up seeing beautifully stained woods around. I guess I carried over that taste to headphones.

    As such, when I initially saw photos of the ZMF x Vibro Mk. II’s, I was immediately struct by the stained wood cups. When I decided to order a pair, I opted for the “Burst” finish with “Rust” stain. The photos provided here are courtesy of Zach himself, and do a fairly good job of showing off how impressive this finish is. But, in person, it is even more impressive. My pair have Zebra Wood cups, which has a beautiful wood grain in my opinion.

    As for comfort, these are moderately heavy headphones. I haven’t weighed my pair exactly, but they certainly feel a good bit heavier than my HD600’s. However, due to the pilot pad and large, plush ear pads I find these incredibly comfortable and have worn them for 4+ hours straight at work without any problems.

     

    Sound

    First and foremost, I am generally powering these through a Schiit Bifrost Uber and Lyr 2, with Amperex White Label 6DJ8’s (Made in Holland variety). Subjectively, due to the tubes, I consider this setup a tad warm through all of my headphones. But, this is a slight effect that doesn’t seem to massively change the frequency response of my headphones.

    In addition, I also found my preference with the bass ports was one port plugged. Thus, all of my impressions below are based on having one port plugged.

    The bass response on these headphones is wonderful in my opinion. To my ears, these have a nice, controlled bass that is a bit higher than neutral, with very good extension and impact. Comparing the bass to my HD600, the mid-bass is more pronounced and the sub-bass is significantly more present. To my ears, there was no bass bleed into the lower midrange either, similar to the HD600.

    The midrange itself has wonderful detail and texture to it, and is a bit forward compared to my HD600’s. I find this to be very desirable, as it really makes vocals and mid-range instruments sound fantastic. This forward nature is not excessive though, and transitions very smoothly into the treble.

    The treble has a nice amount of extension, air, and crispness to it. I do not find them to be sibilant or harsh at all, although subjectively I find the top end extension to be just a bit less than my HD600’s.

    In terms of sound stage, I was extremely impressed with these. Comparing their sound stage to my HD600’s, I found they both have excellent instrument separation and placement, but found the Vibro’s to be a bit more intimate by a very small amount. In terms of height, I think the sound stage of both is almost the same. But, the width is just a hair narrower on the Vibro’s. While the sound stage is not going to be massive like the AKG Q/K700 series, I find both of these headphones to be very realistic in their presentation.

     

    Customer Service

    One aspect that I want to highlight in reviewing these is just how amazing Zach’s customer service skills are. Dealing with him has been one of the best experiences I have ever had. He really cares about his customers and puts in the extra effort to communicate clearly and openly.

    In addition, the one-of-a-kind nature of every pair of his headphones is something to highlight as well. They truly do give off the impression that someone has put their time in to build them by hand and both look and feel premium.
      Hisoundfi likes this.
  3. Evshrug
    ZMF Headphones Vibro mk II: This Timber Has Timbre!
    Written by Evshrug
    Published Apr 1, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Beautiful timbre, detail and finesse scales up with your system, gentle "u"-shaped fun signature, comfortable, attractive hand-made wood earcups.
    Cons - Moderately heavy, needs hi-fi equipment to reach max capability, not for "on-the-go" and not ideal for airplanes.
    How far can mods take a headphone's performance? That's the key question when looking at headphones like ZMF Headphone's Vibro Mark II; but instead of answering the question, the Vibro has opened the door of awareness to whole new possibilities! Yes, ZMF has objectively improved the technical performance from the original, subjectively changed the flavor to amazing tonal richness, and re-forged the set to make a strong new impression.

    image.jpg


    Sound Signature
    I invited a music enthusiast friend over, let's call him "Tin Ears" to protect his freedom to blurt out his unfiltered mind and reflect his gear-noob status. On the way, he was very excited as we talked about different technical aspects of sound and songs that would really strike us in the feels, but I refused to tell him how the Vibro sounded to me or hype him other than to say he was in for a treat. He walked in, continuing the conversation, but I cut him off with "Here... Have some chocolate!"

    "Woah the wood looks amazing! These pads are HUGE!!"

    He put them on. I started playing one of his favorites, The English Beat's "I Confess."

    "Holy [nsfw] man. Holy [NSFW]!" Pause... "Damn, this is so good, it makes me want to... To punch a hole in the wall, hahaha!"

    The Vibro MkII is, on the frequency graphs, definitely colored and a "fun" headphone with a moderate V-shape (what I'd call a "u" shape). The response starts out with a few decibels bass boosted above neutral that smoothly curves down partway into the midrange, levels out, and starts lifting up a few decibels into the treble "hump" (smoother than your typical "spike") peaking at around 7kHz, beginning to roll back down around 9kHz, and coming back to level with the mids around 12-13kHz and continuing to smoothly roll off past the audible hearing range. So, yeah - energetic midbass and plenty of sub-bass extension (especially with a more-powerful-than-average amp and a DAC better than your phone), nicely balanced against the treble lift. To make a “fun” sound signature, the fundamental midrange needs to be relatively lower so that there is some excitement at the extremes. I specify "u" shape because the slope is gentle; still the mids have a nice presence.

    Beyond the frequency range, the Vibro is also endowed with rich timbre, unforced detail, and low fatigue from the treble. I hear the thicker, richer timbre and I think of another headphone that tried to have similarly solid mids/midbass (introduced at $1k, now selling for half that) while also having good detail, soundstage, transparency... and this Vibro achieves that solid weightiness without the bloom, slower decay, nor sacrifice as much of inner detail as that other headphone. Note attack has a solid THUMP that can be felt on the surface of the ear. The Vibro doesn't decay as sharply as my Vintage Stax (what does?!), but coming from another mid-fi headphone like my AKG K612, the Vibro will raise the bar for resolution without sounding artificially enhanced or pressed into the spotlight. Since it doesn't try too hard to spotlight detail from etched or spiked treble, it's easier to listen to for longer times. As a closed headphone, it presents soundstage depth differently than an open headphone, but if you get used to it, the Vibro will show you a room inside your head and do a Hi-Fi job of strongly placing each instrument distinct from each other with only a little concentration. The headphone definitely encourages you to sink in and in and in, and then grooves you with some serious mojo.

    What does this mean? I can listen to Margot sing "Walking After Midnight" (Cowboy Junkies, Trinity Session) and really enjoy the varying softness of the electric guitar plucks, hear the ambient decay from Margot's tapping foot inside the church with surprisingly good imaging from a closed headphone, and actually enjoy the spice from the harmonica's high notes. I LOVE the impact of the drums and great gritty texture of the bass guitar on "Heart of the Sunrise" by Yes. I can play an intense game of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 or Destiny without the crack of guns or booms of grenades fatiguing me, yet still use virtual surround processing to predict right when an enemy will appear around the corner and that I'll have to escape that firefight coming up from behind. The thunder inside the Vault of Glass in Destiny sounds so cool and powerful. The Vibro sounds especially magic with Electronica, Alternative, Rock, Jazz, Pop... Not the last word in detail for large orchestral ensembles or recreating the sound of standing out in the rain, but the Vibro still plays with the intensity of the musicians. Go ahead and put anything on, you'll have a good time.


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    Design
    Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise, but the carved wood earcups, super-plush pads, planar magnetic drivers contribute a lot to the sound and ergonomics. Vibro Mk II's start their life as a Fostex TRP-series headphone (Fostex is an OEM Manufacturer). Vibro Labs lathes out the jointly-designed earcups out of "A solid block of premium forestry" as per ZMF's website; mine is carved out of a dense but sustainable Sapele wood, most are Cherry. Meanwhile, Zach tunes and rewires the drivers with premium OCC Litz copper, reassembles the headphone with some massively thick pads and the customer's choice of earcup and adjustment "arm" finish. The cables have a new mini-XLR detachable system that clicks into place smoothly and solidly; Zach (and his wife) make them out of 4-strand wire and terminate the cable with whatever plug the customer wants. I suggest 1/4" or XLR.

    A factory-stock Fostex T50RP is pretty good, but a Vibro coaxes better sonic refinement and comfort (and aesthetics) out of what parts are reused. A Vibro is more comfortable due to the significantly more deeply plush, malleable, and slightly more breathable earpads and plush "pilot pad" headband. The wood and padding put the Vibro on the heavier side of headphones, plus they're pretty large, but I wore them while gaming for 5 hours with minor weight shifts, and I don't mind wearing them 1-2 hours without fussing with them (at room temperature). The Vibro MkII cups also have a cool cup mounting system, with wiggle room to pivot the cups a bit in any direction to sit flush against your ears and head. The earcups also have three tuning ports which add about +1 dB of midbass for each unplugged port; I most often listened with the default two-pegged-ports which is just slightly "fun" of neutral but still seems faithful of timbre, while all ports unplugged made my bassy V-Moda M-100 seem redundant. The bass tuning plugs are fun, but feel more like different favors of one headphone rather than 4 different headphones. Go back to the T50RP, and the sound will be more etched in the treble and have more bloom in the midbass, with less pleasurable and believable timbre.


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    Part of the Vibro's impact and... vibrancy comes from the different-than-usual Planar Magnetic drivers. Most headphones use the Dynamic cone drivers like most home-theater speakers use, but Planar drivers use a super low-mass film that can change direction super fast from the electromagnets set on one or both sides of the film. The much flatter waves and speedy responsiveness from the film benefit the listener with less distortion and basically immunity to effects from an amplifier's output impedance. The downside is that the Vibro is the most power hungry headphone I have had in my house, yet. At work, I had to turn up my poor iPhone 5s to just two ticks shy of maximum volume to get my regular listening volume, and even max was less than what several coworkers wanted to set it. The darling O2 amp on 3x gain can reach adequate volume easily, but still sounds a bit dull and fails to articulate the bass and soundstage depth as well as my more transparent Cavalli Liquid Carbon (connected via XLR) and Theta Basic II DAC at home... The Vibro definitely scales up with a better system.



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    Cool Factor
    Want a unique headphone? One with that hand-crafted feel, with natural wood grain (that you can still feel) in either nude "natural," "stained," or "burst" finish echoing acoustic guitars, one that is collectable and just perhaps as much an heirloom to an audiophile as a Gibson is to a musician? The Vibro delivers.

    Secondly, or perhaps more importantly, you'll want to hold onto your custom Vibro because it sounds so addicting. I'm a firm believer that there is no single "best" headphone that will be everyone's favorite... but Tin Ears was just one among three friends, three family members, five coworkers, two GameStop workers ("Astros are best!"), and one random customer at GameStop who all wanted to listen to several songs, all heard something new, all came away impressed, and half softly spoke expletives. That makes the Vibro a pretty easy recommendation. Even if you one day get a technically better performing summit-fi headphone costing twice as much or more, the Vibro still earns its place as the non-fatiguing, toe-tapping alternative for when a harmonica sounds too shrill or a j-pop singer is too sibilant.


    Best Use Scenario
    The Vibro MKII is best kept near a desk at home or work where you can connect it to a brawny amp and set it down when you need to get up and walk somewhere. The pads and cups seal in the sound quite well with above-average closed headphone comfort, so the Vibro serves well in an environment where you need to cut down ambient noise but you can't wear IEMs because you frequently need to hear a coworker or say hi to your Fiancé/Spouse (face the door!!).


    Overall, the Vibro is pretty close to ideal for what I would look for in a closed headphone. It is pretty much for home use, is a little heavy, and requires a desktop-class amp, but it has great strengths in addicting sound, extended-wear comfort, good sound seal and isolation, and frankly is a unique looking headphone with that "custom, handmade" feel. It satisfies on it's own against many hi-fi headphones in the sub-$600 bracket, but also makes a great compliment to own alongside a very technical, transparent headphone that may stray too close to analytical for some songs. You might as well spring for the stain or "burst" finish if you like that look, and a stand or the case, because the Vibro will be just as much a conversation starter as a Swarvosky Crystal statuette. The slight cost will be amortized as the Vibros will be around for a loooooong time for you, for whenever you want to bring some magic to the most popular music genres on the planet.

    -----

    I'd like to give a big Thank You to Zach of ZMF for letting me borrow these Vibro's after I asked to review them. I also appreciated Zach's quick service when I had a shorting issue with one of the cables... it was well worth hearing the headphone on my best setup!
      warrenpchi, Stillhart and LS302 like this.
  4. Hisoundfi
    Mid-Fi price, Summit-Fi sound. The ZMF Vibro MKII full sized planar magnetic headphones
    Written by Hisoundfi
    Published Mar 31, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Impressive build and sound quality, sounds good with any amplified source, plays all genres of music well, ZMF customer support and service
    Cons - They aren't the best portable option, They need more than a smartphone to drive them sufficiently
    20160330_233116.jpg
    At the time this review was written, the ZMF Vibro MKII was for sale on the ZMF website. Here is a link to their listing of the product:
     
    http://www.zmfheadphones.com/order-the-zmf/zmf-x-vibro
     
    Introduction
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    The ZMF is a rare breed. The company was started by Zach a few years ago and has taken off since then. As the brand grows, so too does the fan base. Hearing is believing, and those who have heard what Zach can do with a pair of Fostex T50RP can understand why the brand continues to evolve.
     
    Zach is a connoisseur and artist when it comes to this stuff. Not only that, he’s a “headphone bro” who has an appreciation and love for this hobby that goes beyond his own projects. The next time you go to a local Headphone meet and ZMF is there you can see for yourself. Zach will discuss the pros and cons of any headphone or amplifier just as much as he will his own stuff. He loves this hobby, and for that reason alone I have an elevated level of respect for the guy.
     
    Since the day we met, Zach’s approach has been pretty consistent. He’s not trying to sell his headphones to anyone and everyone who will shell out the cash, that’s simply not his style. After several years in this hobby, he’s mastered the art of shaping sound. He’s gifted enough at it that he can turn his works of art into a profitable business. He goes to shows to share his vision and talent with people who have the same passion for audio. Once the ZMF product line gets into the hands and on the ears of audio enthusiasts, many see for themselves what makes them so special. On top of all of this, Zach is a really nice guy, which makes purchasing a ZMF headphone one of the best customer service experiences you will ever have. If you don’t believe me, ask any ZMF owner and they will tell you the same thing.  
     
    The Fostex T50RP is a modder’s dream come true. It’s a planar magnetic driver headphone that’s easy to take apart and do various things to alter the sound. Altering the venting by closing the cups, changing venting on the baffle as well as applying sound dampening material on either side of the driver can change the sound to suit listener’s preference beyond what comes from the Fostex factory.
     
    I’ve gone to Headphone meets and saw and heard some pretty radical modifications. I wish I could have taken some pictures of what guys have done. Everything has been used, from duct tape to old socks (ya, old socks!). Some of these mods are almost comical. If I had to compare it to something else, it would be like someone buying a Toyota Corolla and removing the back seats, taking the doors off, ripping the exhaust off, and adding a wood handle steering wheel and bragging about how they added ten horsepower. I’m sorry, but even in the privacy of my own home I wouldn’t want to wear and listen to a headphone that looks like I bought a broken pair of headphones from the thrift store and put it back together with cotton balls, hot glue and electrical tape. I want something that looks as good as it sounds. Visual presentation is important, as it forms our first impression. ZMF takes a Corolla and turns it into a Cadillac.
     
    When ZMF first started out, modifications were pretty basic and resembled the stock Fostex headphone. As time progressed and Zach’s knowledge and skill improved, he joined forces with Luke from Vibro Labs and the ZMF Vibro and Blackwood was born. The headphone was a success and giant stepping stone for ZMF and Vibro Labs. To this day lots of people in my circle of audio enthusiasts feel the Blackwood is the best closed back headphone they’ve ever heard.
     
    Last year Zach released his flagship headphone called the Omni. It’s a semi-open beast of a headphone. The only thing beefier than the build is the sound. It’s a music lover’s headphone that offers a rich and engaging experience. Although I personally love the sound, I can see why some wouldn’t. It is far from linear and won’t appeal to those who like a crisper sound a la many Beyerdynamics and some brighter Sennheiser stuff like the HD800.
     
    I can appreciate various sound signatures. My two current favorite full size headphones in my collection are the ZMF Omni and Sennheiser HD600. To be honest, the two are pretty far from each other in terms of signature, so much so I’ve been considering my options and looking for something that falls between the two in terms of sound. I’ve contemplated getting the HD650 or Philips Fidelio X2. Both are excellent headphones and fall into the criteria of what I’m looking for. Well, for now I’m going to hold off on that purchase because I’ve found something that fits that criteria perfectly. It’s Zach’s latest headphone, the ZMF Vibro MKII. Let’s go over it with a comprehensive review.
     
    Disclaimer
    I was given an opportunity to try out the Vibro MKII in exchange for my honest opinion and review. I am in no way affiliated with ZMF headphones. I would like to take this time to personally thank Zach for the opportunity, and also for being a great contributor and resource to audio enthusiasts around the world. 
     
    Review
    20160330_232818.jpg
    If you are familiar with the original Vibro and Blackwood, you will recognize the cups. They are the same as the older models. You get a premium wood cup with three small holes drilled on the bottom part of the outside of the cups. These three holes act as vents to make minor changes to the headphone’s bass response. Plugging these holes with the included rubber pegs will help to tighten up the bass just a bit, decreasing low frequency resonance and overall timbre. The result is a slightly more linear tuning. Even with all the plugs installed, the MKII still has plenty of bass for my preference.
     
    If the cups are the same how do these differ from the original Vibro?
    The original Vibro was released in 2014. The original Vibro was modded from the Fostex T50RP MK2 headphone. Since then, Fostex has essentially discontinued that driver and now sells the T50RP MK3 headphone in its place. The MK3 planar magnetic driver is an improved design over the MK2 driver. It is a slightly more responsive and capable sounding driver than the previous version. Because of this, the original Vibro will also be discontinued, and Zach is selling the new Vibro as the MKII so the variance in drivers can be distinguished.
     
    Does the Vibro MKII sound different from the first version of ZMF Vibro?
    Yes, slightly different. It is still Zach tuning these things so you get a sense of the ZMF house sound, but the more capable driver installed on the MKII sounds better to my ears. It isn’t significant but it’s noticeable in my opinion.
     
    Overall build
    20160330_232701.jpg
    Just like all the other ZMF lineup, the Vibro MKII is built like a tank, but this tank is a bit lighter than my pair of Omnis. Without the cable, the MKII measured in at 450 grams (with lambskin pads and padded headband cover attached) which is still somewhat on the heavy side for a full size headphone. However, the way the weight is distributed this isn’t an issue for me whatsoever. I find them to be very comfortable. I wouldn’t say they make a great portable headphone, but they really are an ideal desk side companion. I’d suggest to anyone that purchases a pair of ZMF to invest in a nice headphone stand and make them a display piece that sits next to their desktop rig.
     
    The slides are powder coated metal tinted to your preference along with the headband used on the Fostex T50RP MK3. between the solid slides and super flexible band, there’s very little to fault here. It works great.
     
    Cables
    You get a choice of stock cable for your MKII. You can go with a five foot long black rubber coated cable that terminated into a ⅛ inch jack (with an included ¼ inch adapter) or XLR jack. The headphone connects at the cups via mini XLR jacks at each channel, making balanced connection options a matter of finding the right cable. Also, upgrade cables are available on the ZMF website. If you are unsure about cables, or have any other questions about ZMF headphones, there is a dedicated chat feature where you can ask questions.
     
    Ear Pads
    There are three pad options. All of them are angled to help improve imaging by angling drivers to fire from a more forward angle. Here are the options explained:
     
    Protein Pads- Made of a high quality synthetic material. They offer the lightest of the pads and offer the most linear presentation of all of Zach’s ear pads. The synthetic protein material would get a little warm on my ears but still was pretty comfortable overall.
     
    Lambskin Pads- These are my personal favorites of the pad options. They offer a slightly higher quality membrane material over the protein pads, and the sound sits somewhere in the middle of all the options. A big plus was how comfortable and breathable they seemed to be. I could wear them for hours without them getting to hot or sweaty.
     
    Cowhide Pads- These were the toughest, heaviest, and best sealing pad of the three I tried. They provide excellent isolation and gave me the richest and warmest sound of all the pad options. They were the warmest on the ears, and things got a little steamy when wearing them for extended listening sessions.
     
    Sound Review
    20160330_232530.jpg
    I did my demo with my usual gear. I used an Ibasso DX80,  LG-G3 in combination with a Shanling H3 or Sony Walkman F806/Cayin C5 amplifier for a high fidelity portable use. For desktop use I used my Toshiba Satellite Laptop in combination with a HIFIMEDIY Sabre ES9023 USB DAC running at 24/96000 Hz into a DAC/Bravo Audio Ocean Tube amplifier with a Mullard 12AU7 tube for higher impedance, and also a ifi micro iDSD running at 32/192000 Hz. I also tested them with other DACs, DAPs and amplifiers as well, in hopes to find an ideal source for the gear I was testing. I used Google Music downloaded in its highest download quality (320 KBPS) and I also streamed FLAC via Tidal streaming service, and used purchased and downloaded tracks in MP3, FLAC, WAV and DSD. I make sure that any gear I test has sufficient playtime before writing a review.
     
    I used my usual same songs for testing gear:
    “Limit to your love” by James Blake (bass speed, punch, response)
    “Doin’ it Right” by Daft Punk (sub bass)
    “Get lucky” by Daft Punk (bass to midrange transition resolution, male vocals)
    “Madness” by Muse (soundstage, separation)
    “Some nights” by Fun (soundstage and male vocals)
    “The soundmaker” by Rodrigo y Gabriela (texture and imaging)
    “Bassically” by Tei Shi (bass to midrange resolution, female vocals)
    “Skinny Love” performed by Birdie (female vocals, acoustic playback)
    “One” by Ed Sheeran (male vocals, acoustic playback)
    “Outlands” from the Tron Legacy Soundtrack (symphonic presentation, imaging)
    “Sultans of swing” by Dire Straits (detail, separation, balance)
    “And Justic for All” by Metallica (driver distortion, treble response, rock playback)
    “Ten thousand fists” by Disturbed (driver distortion, treble response, rock playback)
     
    Note: Other tracks were used, but the listed songs were primarily used to assess and break down the gear’s response.
     
    Source Selection
    As long as you’re using an amplified source, you should have no problem making the Vibro MKII sound great. The MKII sounds fantastic out of all of my desktops rigs and I didn’t notice a decisive advantage when bouncing back and forth between warmer/bassier and colder/linear sources. They sounded different but equally good in their own way. For my preference I might prefer the sound a bit more through my little tube amplifier. With a more linear and neutral source the upper frequencies were perceptually more forward and a little crispy at higher volumes. As with just about any high end earphone, a quality DAC to go along with amplification helps improve your listening experience.
     
    The MKII needs more power than the average smart phone to sound its best. Smart phones and DAPs on low gain will make the driver sound somewhat flat, lifeless and lacking dynamics. I had no problem getting some good sound from them out of my iBasso DX80 in high gain, or through any source with a portable amplifier. Just know that they need a little extra power.
     
    As long as there was enough juice to push the planar drivers, the MKII was fairly forgiving with poor recordings and low bit rate files, but it also upscaled very well with higher quality files.
     
    Sound Signature
    VibroMKIIVince.jpg
    The MKII is jack of all trades type of sound. There wasn’t anything in particular that jumped out at me, and my final conclusion is that it is a great all around-er in terms of it’s sound signature and presentation. Switching sources impacted my ability to classify these headphones to a particular type of signature.
     
    The MKII is definitely entertaining. The best way I could describe the MKII is that it has a dynamic lower frequency and sparkle up top to compliment the rest of the tuning. They are universally good with just about all genres and I couldn’t say one particular style of music sounds best with the MKII.
     
    Bass
    The first time I listened to the MKII it was through a combination of Schiit YGGDRASIL DAC and Cavalli Liquid Gold amplifier. This elite combination made the bass sound very lean and clean. It was almost to the point of me saying they sounded bright to my ears. Using my sources at home was a different story. Through my Bravo Audio Ocean set up, they had a rather authoritative bass response, and through my iFi micro iDSD they sounded cleaner but still somewhat bass forward.
     
    With my sources, the MKII has a mid bass lift that is very controlled, natural and dynamic sounding. There is enough mid bass to say it adds dynamics without throwing the sound off. There is enough sub bass to say it isn’t missing, but it definitely doesn’t have the same forward nature as the mid bass. Because of how responsive the planar magnetic driver is this tuning is universally great for just about every genre.

     
    Midrange
    I think the MKII midrange was my favorite thing about their presentation. First things first, the midrange has very good resolution and decent separation of sounds, but it’s not elite in these aspects. It’s the natural and organic combination of tuning and dynamics that impresses me so much.
     
    A forward mid bass leads into a slightly forward lower mid range that is very responsive, packing a powerful yet enjoyable timbre that is very entertaining. All vocals and mid range instruments were dynamic without seeming weighted or overly warm.
     
    There is a gradual descent from lower mid range forwardness to a slightly relaxed upper mid range. This is tastefully done and contributes to their musical yet natural presentation. When talking to Zach about how he tunes his headphones, he told me “plateaus are okay, but I try to avoid spikes when I tune a headphone.” I can see why he says this. With almost all of the ZMFs I’ve heard, There’s nothing that sounds artificial or altered because of a spike in the tuning.
     
    Treble
    The MKII has a somewhat crisp and extended feel to its treble presentation. The source used and listening volume will determine what the overall impression is. With a neutral source at loud volumes, I could say that they border on having sibilance. With a warm source at lower volumes I could say that they could use a little more treble. Because of this my final verdict is that the treble tuning is universally polite and spot on.
     
    Cymbal crashes were spot on. Pronunciations of the letter S and T sounded very natural and only had grain or harshness when it came from recording. I didn’t hear much in terms of grain or distortion at higher frequencies.
     
    Sound stage and Imaging
    The MKII doesn’t have incredible sound stage depth. It’s very adequate and is complimented by a powerful mid bass and extended treble presence, giving it a better than average sound stage. Where I feel the MKII excels is with its imaging. Thanks to it’s very well done mid range and natural treble response, I got a really nice sense of instrument placement. Acoustic stuff like Bon Iver and Ed Sheeran sounds spectacular on the Vibro MKII.
     
    Comparisons
    20160331_050314.jpg
     
    Sennheiser HD600 ($300 to $400 USD on many sites)
    There’s not too much I can say that hasn’t been said already about the HD600. It has had a share in the marketplace for close to twenty years. It’s a legend in the audiophile scene.
     
    Comparing the two, the MKII is a slightly beefier sounding earphone. Both headphones have similar (and in my opinion slightly lacking) sub bass presence, with the MKII offering more mid bass and powerful lower mid range. Treble on the HD600 is a touch more relaxed and rolled off as compared to the MKII. Bouncing back and forth the HD600 seems more mid centric and airier, but also more sterile in it’s presentation. The Vibro MKII sounds more dynamic, musical and has a better sense of imaging to my ears. Isolation is better on the Vibro MKII. If I want natural and airy sound, I’m reaching for the HD600. If I want a more robust and dynamic sound without going overboard, and with better isolation I’m reaching for the MKII.
     
    Build quality goes the the MKII. The thing is build like a tank. The MKII is also slightly more comfortable for my head.

     
    ZMF Omni ($900 to $1100 USD on ZMF website)
    The Omni is my current favorite headphone that I own. I love the fatigue free, sub bass laden and musical signature. I can listen to them for hours and never get sick of them.
     
    Truth be told, this is a very close comparison. Bouncing back and forth, the first thing to note is that the Omni has a level of sub bass and sound stage depth that the Vibro MKII can’t achieve. MKII has a more forward mid bass and lower mid range. The mid range of the MKII is more dynamic and engaging than the Omni. Treble on the Omni is more relaxed but just as extended. Sound stage on the Omni is much larger thanks to its tremendous sound stage depth. Imaging is better on the MKII. At the end of this battle there are things about the Omni that make me slightly prefer them over the MKII, but it definitely isn’t as far off as the price tag would indicate. To be honest I could see some people preferring the sound of the MKII, especially those who listen to acoustic music and live performances.
     
    Build quality is pretty much a draw.

     
    Conclusion
    Some would say that I can be lenient in handing out five star ratings. In my opinion this entire hobby is based on perspective and preference, therefore we should either not have a rating system all together, or consider all preferences when ranking a product. If I feel something is arguably the best product in its respective price range I will give it a high rating. For five hundred dollars, I can’t think of any headphone that is clearly better than the Vibro MKII.
     
    If you’ve been curious to try a ZMF headphone, this would probably be one that I would suggest you try first. They are the latest driver from Fostex with ZMF tweaks, and they come at a very reasonable price.
     
    The MKII has cemented a place in my collection. I find their sound to be universally good for many different genres and sources. As with all ZMF headphones the build quality is phenomenal, and the customer service can’t be beaten.
    20160330_233026.jpg
    Thanks for reading and happy listening!
      Wes S, LS302, Pokemonn and 4 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Hisoundfi
      The H3 is an awesome little DAC/Amp and has plenty of power to push the Vibro MK2
      Hisoundfi, Apr 7, 2016
    3. chefboyarlee
      Zach is amazing.  An incredible artisan who knows exactly how to treat his customers.  I liked the original vibro.  I loved the blackwood zebras.  I LOVE and will never sell my Ether C's but keep in mind they were twice the price.  The best price/value in headphones.
      chefboyarlee, Apr 7, 2016
    4. jinxy245
      Great review...I fell in love with Zach's creations at the Fall Head-Fi meet in Ct... I would love to spend some more quality time with these in my hunt for a closed back set.... right up there with the anything else I've heard in that price range (and beyond if I'm being honest).

      Again, great review.
      jinxy245, Apr 7, 2016
  5. Ishcabible
    One of the top closed contenders under $500
    Written by Ishcabible
    Published Mar 27, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Mids, bass ports allow for customization, wood options are pretty
    Cons - Bass isn't the deepest or cleanest, kind of heavy, needs an amp, not the best at detail retrieval
    The Fostex x Massdrop TH-X00 opened a door to the idea that spending $400 on a headphone, more than the $200-$300 “mid-fi trio” but less than $1,000+ “summit-fi” range, may legitimately be worth it rather than just an exercise in impatience between buying a mid-fi headphone and what one could consider their endgame headphone. But the TH-X00 is a polarizing headphone—not everyone can tolerate its bass heavy, mid-recessed, treble-happy sound. The Alpha Dog, released in 2013 for $599, occupied the price range before the X00, but its sharp treble and hollow midrange had the potential to also turn off listeners. The ZMF x Vibro, also released in 2014 presented itself as a fun-sounding foil to the Alpha Dog, but while it had a warm, pleasant midrange, it still exhibited the treble peaks inherent to the T50RP driver and its rolled off treble allowed the peaks to come out in full force. It was an overall pleasant headphone if the treble peak wasn’t bothersome, but the signature had potential. Fast forward one year and Fostex released the T50RP MKIII with a new baffle. Zach at ZMF quickly adapted his mods to the new baffle and released with the ZMF x Vibro MKII. Now, with the right combination of tuning pegs and pads, stands out in the market as a true jack of all trades headphone and a real contender as an ideal “single” headphone.
     
    DSC09955.jpg
     
     
    The ZMF x Vibro MKII (henceforth referred to as the ZxV) comes standard with a basic white cardboard box, choice of pilot pad and leather strap, two sets of pads, tuning pegs, and cable in a user-selected termination. My cups are finished with a beautiful red “burst” effect that stands out in a sea of black and silver headphones, but there are other options for staining available on the website. The cups each contain three small holes act as bass ports. The user can plug the holes with the supplied rubber pegs to reduce bass.
     
    DSC09960.jpg
     
     
    There are three options for pads: thick cowhide leather pads, thinner lambskin leather pads, and protein pads, which, according to Zach, use a different type of foam and thus provide a different sound than the leather pads. All three pads are of very high quality; the lambskin pads are thicker than the Alpha Pads, which seemed a little too thin.
     
    The cable, unfortunately, isn’t the best design as it is just a separate left and right channel wire with no Y split. As it’s included with the headphone, it’s not expected to be of utmost quality, but I’d have preferred the cables to at least be twisted together and heatshrunk into a Y to make the cables less floppy. Though, in years past there was no cable included with the Vibro without an extra charge, so it’s better than nothing. The XLR jacks in the cups use the same wiring as Audeze does, so any cable that is compatible with Audeze is compatible with the ZxV.
     
    DSC09970.jpg
     
     
    The headphones themselves are very substantial. They’re on the heavy side, partially due to the wooden cups which are heavier than the stock T50RP’s plastic cups. They do utilize the T50RP frame, so the frame itself doesn’t feel as “premium” as, say, the TH-X00 with its magnesium build, but the wooden cups are thick, much thicker than even the Audeze LCD-3, and emits its own sense of quality, not totally unlike the handcrafted Enigmatic Audio Enigma. The ZxV *feels* handmade. While the TH-X00 appears to be a beautiful mass-produced headphone with a great amount of polish, the ZxV’s beauty is in its “made in a garage” nature. The ZxV is the spitting image of, “no two are alike.” Each headphone is not only tuned, but measured by Zach before being sent out.
     
    DSC09956.jpg
     
     
    The reviewed combination is what I feel is the most subjectively neutral combination: protein pads and two holes plugged.
     
    The ZxV, in the tested configuration, sounds slightly “n” shaped, with moderately more bass than treble. ZMF headphones are tuned with acoustic music in mind, and it shows.
     
    The Vibro’s midrange is warm and inviting, unabashedly colored. I’ve said many times that ZMF acknowledges the T50RP’s flaws and lack of ability to be utmost resolving so instead, their headphones are tuned to highlight tone. They may not be able to pinpoint the exact positioning of a the third 2nd flute player in an orchestra, but put on some Ottmar Liebert and there are few headphones that will sound as engaging as the Vibro. Forward midranges are uncommon for headphones, and the Vibro is a very worthy addition to that niche. It’s a bit more forward and warmer than the HD650 and K7XX, so fans of either will be right at home with the ZxV’s midrange.
     
    The ZxV’s bass is its most interesting aspect. As stated earlier, there are three tuning pegs that change the bass from 100hz to 225hz by 1dB each. The more pegs plugged in, the less bass present. The Vibro doesn’t dig as deeply as the Omni or Blackwood in sub bass, but its midbass with even one port open enough to be north of neutral. I’d have preferred a little more separation and decay in its bass, as at time I do hear a bit of blurring with individual bass notes. With all holes unplugged, it has a bit more midbass than the Philips Fidelio X2, at the cost of sounding muddier than stock, but not quite as muddy as the X2.
     
    While the Vibro’s bass and midrange are emphasized, its treble takes a smoother approach. I had a few issues with the ZMF x Vibro MKI because it had uneven treble with a couple spikes in it. The MKII with protein pads remove many of the peaks and overall sounds like a downward slope. There is a very tiny bit of the T50RP peak at around 9K that is more obvious with the lambskin and cowhide pads, but for whatever reason, the protein pads smooth out that peak nicely. It’s less rolled off than a stock HD650, but it’s enough of a roll off for someone coming from something like a Beyerdynamic DT990 to notice.
     
    The biggest con I have for the ZxV, which is more of a problem with the headphone’s inherent nature rather than the ZxV itself, is the fact that it is power-hungry. It is very likely that the ZxV won’t even get loud enough to reliably use out of a phone or laptop. Even then, it’s likely to sound loose, with uncontrolled bass. They don’t need an incredibly expensive amplifier; one of the best values in the headphone market today is the Schiit Magni 2, which provides more than enough power for “only” $99.
     
    But what’s often overlooked when buying a headphone is the value of customer service, and ZMF’s customer service is unmatched in the headphone industry. For example, I had accidentally broken my original ZMF V1 mod’s adjusting part and Zach told me to send them in and he replaced the part for free. I’d noticed he had also extended the offer to others. He also allows for buyers to slightly customize the sound should they want something a little different. In a world where a consumer can spend $600 on an audio product and be told there’s nothing the company can do to fix it because a different engineer designed it and the current staff is not equipped to repair it, ZMF is a breath of fresh air and the customer service makes the prices of its headphones seem much more reasonable.
    Make no mistake, $479 is a lot to spend on a headphone, but when one considers the ZxV’s 27 different theoretical (slightly different) sound combinations through switching pads and pegs, the incredible customer service, and incredibly comfortable fit, the ZxV is a strong contender. If the TH-X00 proved to be too radical of a sound signature, the ZxV is a prime alternative with its more relaxed sound and does very little wrong as long as it is powered well. 
     
    DSC09967.jpg
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Zulkr9
      Zachs the best (y), always there for his customers. 
      btw the blackwoods do a far better job at detail retrieval imo, from what I get what you are saying in this review. I miss my blackwoods, but rocking the omnis, I might get a wood upgrade :D, omnis sure put my lcd-2s and HE-500 to shame when it comes to detail, soundstage and subass,  
      Zulkr9, Mar 28, 2016
    3. spyder1
      Great review! I have been enjoying my ZxV's for 3 months, and agree that it can be considered a multi-purpose headphone.
      spyder1, Mar 30, 2016
    4. reddog
      A cool review, I need to audition these babies
      reddog, Apr 1, 2016
  6. Stillhart
    ZMF x Vibro MK ii - The Natural Selection
    Written by Stillhart
    Published Dec 13, 2015
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Hand-built, every unit is unique, very musical, great value
    Cons - It could be more resolving with better bass extension
    ZMFxVibromkii-3.jpg
     
     
    I have a confession to make: for a long time, I didn’t think of modded T50rp headphones as “real” headphones.  I found it odd that people could modify a cheap headphone and sell it for hundreds (or even thousands!) of dollars.  But then I listened to a few and realized that there may be something to this after all.
     
    Here’s the thing: these mods are often extensive including completely replacing the cups, the internal wiring, and even sometimes modifying the driver itself.  They are done by hand and custom built to order.  And the sound can range hugely from extremely dark to painfully bright, with something for everyone’s taste.  There are several major modders and each has their own style; you can’t really guess at the sound of one just because you’ve heard another.
     
    Now I’ve heard some of the T50rp mods and I was duly impressed by what could be accomplished with this humble headphone.  However, I never heard any that really spoke to me; they were good but not for me.  Would the ZMF Headphones be my flavor of choice?
     
    The Company
     
    ZMF Headphones is owned and operated by Zach Mehrbach, with help from his wife.  Zach’s headphones are most obviously differentiated by the use of wood to replace the stock plastic cups.  The wooden cups were designed in conjunction with Luke Pighetti at Vibro Labs.  And no, it’s no coincidence that the model being reviewed is called the ZMF x Vibro; Zach credits Luke with doing a lot to help the success of these headphones.
     
    Less obviously, ZMF is differentiated by their individualized approach.  You’re not getting a mass-produced unit made in China.  You can order your headphones in multiple colors or stains, with powder-coated or anodized metal sliders, different earpads, different headbands, different cables, and even custom tuning.  Since he uses real wood instead of laminate over a composite, each unit has its own unique grain and texture.  The headphones that I was sent for review even included hand-written, laminated certificates of authenticity.
     
    This individualized approach truly makes each headphone unique and gives them a feeling of quality; it feels like you’re getting your money’s worth.  I think we’ve all had that moment when we wonder exactly how much some of those multi-thousand dollar flagship models actually cost to design and manufacture.  With these units, I don’t ever get that sneaking suspicion that I’m getting taken for a ride.
     
    ZMFxVibromkii-2.jpg
     
     
    The Build
     
    One thing you will never hear about ZMF headphones is that they feel cheaply built.  You get real wood that’s hand-stained to order in Zach’s workshop.  The headband is made from the thickest rubber I’ve seen outside of a tire shop and covered with supple leather padding.  The metal bars that connect everything look like they could hold your TV to the wall.
     
    This Vibro is the mark ii version and it sells for $429.99 at the time of this review.  Recently Fostex discontinued the T50rp MK ii, which was used in the original Vibro, and replaced it with the MK iii version. While updating the design to work with the new driver, Zach took this opportunity to revamp the Vibro.  He brought in several of the improvements from his more recent headphone designs and they’re welcome indeed.
     
    The first changes are to the mounting system.  The attachment point for the metal bars is lower on the wooden cups, and the mounting hardware offers significantly more range of motion.  This change translates into a marked improvement in the fit of the headphone.  On two previous units I tried, I found the fit to be a bit finicky; one unit was be just right and another wouldn’t seal properly.  With the new setup, I get a perfect fit and seal every time (I’ve tried it on no less than 5 units at different times) and I’m happy to say it alleviated one of my biggest problems with the original Vibro.
     
    Another change is that the new Vibro has a special channel for mounting the ear pads.  Zach makes three kinds of ear pads and they each offer a different flavor to the sound.  This is great unless swapping pads is too difficult.  Though not perfect, the new system is a notable improvement.  It also cleans up the visual lines and looks better.
     
    Some might be concerned about the weight of a wooden headphone, and rightly so.  I’ve used several ZMF headphones and some of them are quite heavy.  The weight depends on the wood used and I’m happy to report that the wood in the Vibro is actually quite light relative to the rest of the line.  I don’t find the weight (approximately 435g) to be an issue at all with this model, especially when some manufacturers have headphones weighing over 700g!
     
    As with all ZMF models, this uses a double-entry mini XLR cable, similar to the ones used by Audeze in their LCD line.  That means it will be easy to find after-market cables if that’s your thing.  You might not need to though.  The cables that come with the Vibro are thick and feel high quality.  Even better, there is an upgraded cable available that uses Double Helix Nucleotide OCC litz wire.  The prices for the upgraded cable range from $99-149 and, since they’re hand-made at ZMF, they too can be customized.  Unless you’re looking for some crazy silver-cryo-unicorn-tear cables, these will be sufficient for most folks at a very reasonable price.
     
    There is also an option for a hard case to protect your headphones when on the road.  These seem to be built like a tank and I really didn’t think it was needed.  However, Zach sent me a demo unit that had travelled around and asked me to take it to a show with me.  When I told him I didn’t have room for the case he said it was fine.  So I threw it in my bag and off I went.  But when I got home, I noticed that the soft wood was dinged here and there.  I realized that as sturdy as these are, the wood is still susceptible to visual damage.  If you want these to stay looking great, the hard case is a smart investment.  It’s made by Seahorse in the USA and works well.
     
    ZMFxVibromkii-1.jpg
     
     
     
    The Sound
     
    Zach tunes his headphones to what he likes, not a calculated average of what everyone else likes.  It so happens that Zach plays guitar and banjo and was at one time a luthier.  As such he loves listening to a lot of acoustic music, especially bluegrass.  That strongly informs the ZMF “house sound”.  These headphones are tuned to make acoustic instruments, especially stringed instruments, sound as real as possible.
     
    I highly recommend you look up something like “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn (live)” by Alison Krauss or “Sakura Sakura” by the Stanley Clarke Trio with Hiromi.  Zach’s headphones’ sonic signature excels at genres like bluegrass and jazz and these tracks really show off their strengths.
     
    As it turns out, getting acoustic instruments to sound this good means pretty impressive bass levels.  I’ve spent a good amount of time with every ZMF headphone, including all three varieties of Omni.  The first thing you’ll notice about any of them is the copious amounts of bass.  In the case of the Vibro MK ii, that’s still the case, but it’s not as in-your-face as some of his other products.  I think it’s the most balanced sounding of all his headphones.
     
    The bass is full and impactful, and it doesn’t feel particularly emphasized in any frequency.  The closed wooden cups give the bass a resonance that reproduces acoustic instruments wonderfully.  As with a nice guitar, different wood types can change the resonance and nuance of the various models, while still retaining a similar overall sound.  My review Vibro MK ii is made from red walnut, which is a soft wood and doesn’t resonate as much.  This suits my tastes well but if you’d like a bit more bass presence, maybe consider a harder wood.
     
    To be clear, the bass is still boosted, giving it a warmer than neutral sound overall.  But being a softer wood, this model doesn’t have the bass-head levels of chunkiness that you can get out of something like the blackwood Omni.
     
    As this is a planar magnetic headphone, when driven properly with enough power, the bass is very detailed underneath the resonance.  It’s almost a best of both worlds situation: detailed, impactful planar bass underneath the bloom and decay typical of a dynamic.  This helps it feel like the bass isn’t bleeding into and recessing the mids.
     
    Speaking of the mids, they’re probably the next thing you’ll notice after the bass.   Vocals are a pleasure and acoustic guitars are phenomenal.  Throw on something like “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” by Paul Simon if you really want to hear those mids sing.  The layered vocals from Paul’s high voice to the African choir’s deep bass are intoxicating.  There are many acoustic instruments layered in there too, which these headphones love.
     
    The treble is smooth and inoffensive without feeling veiled.  There’s enough of it there to give these headphones a very large soundstage for a closed can.  I’ve heard some very well-regarded open headphones that are so warm that they sound more closed than these.  And the extension is actually quite good.  I like to use the 2004 remaster of Megadeth’s “Skin O’ My Teeth” to test this because they pushed the hi-hat way up in the range where headphones with rolled treble can’t even reproduce the sound.  I was pleasantly surprised to realize that this warm headphone doesn’t have that problem.
     
    And again, as this is a planar headphone, the treble is fast and precise.  It’s an interesting counterpoint to the bass with all that resonance decay and it helps keep the headphone from feeling too warm.
     
    As I said earlier, the Vibro MK ii excels at genres like jazz and bluegrass.  But thanks to its sound signature, which I will call more “natural” than “balanced”, it’s also completely competent with most anything I’ve thrown at it.  Songs with prominent vocals should sound great.  Electronica, hip-hop and dance music all work well, as you might expect with that big bass.  On the other hand, the big bass means that genres with fast crisp bass, e.g. modern metal, aren’t going to be at their best.
     
    “But Dan,” I imagine you asking your screen, “if these are so great, why bother with anything more expensive?”  Well, I say to you having successfully predicted your question, of course there are flaws.  The bass doesn’t extend as far into the sub-bass as some of its big brothers.  The detail retrieval overall doesn’t match the more competent Omni or Blackwood.  If you were to listen to the two back-to-back you’d hear that the Vibro simply isn’t on the same level as the Omni.
     
    But you’d also hear that it’s very close to the Omni for about half the price.
     
    ZMFxVibromkii-4.jpg
     
     
    The Last Word
     
    If you can’t tell, I'm enamored with these headphones.  They’re closed and they’re warm and they’re colored, all things I don’t usually like.  Yet, they have such a pleasing, musical sound that it just doesn’t matter.  As I’ve been reminded often lately, this hobby is supposed to be about the music, not the gear.  ZMF headphones with a competent R2R DAC connect me to acoustic music in a way that’s unique in my experience.
     
    As with anything in this hobby, diminishing returns means that a headphone that costs nearly twice as much doesn’t give nearly twice the performance.  If you’re been reading about how wonderful the Omni is but don’t want to spend that kind of scratch, you owe it to yourself to try out the Vibro MK ii.
     
     
    Big thanks to Zach (@zach915m) for the review unit and his infinite patience!
    1. View previous replies...
    2. doctorjazz
      Nicely written review...didn't get a chance to listen to these at the recent Connecticut meet, have to listen at the Spring meet, curiosity is really piqued.
      doctorjazz, Dec 18, 2015
    3. Willhi
      Thanks for the review.  It helped me make the decision to purchase a pair for Christmas and I really love these headphones.  I'm a novice at headphones and the price was a stretch but these are perfect for me.  I loved the way they sounded right out of the box.  Comfort and build quality is great.  The first thing I listened to was a version of Dvorak's Cello concerto by Daniel Müller-Schott, the exact performance I had recently heard in person.  Wow!  Strings are awesome.  Went on to listen to about every old rock song and again wowed.  I had forgotten how "stereophonic" those old songs were.  I'm just listening on a Yamaha home theater receiver 1/4" jack and Yamaha blu-ray player for CDs.  Anyway, thanks guys.
      Willhi, Jan 6, 2016
    4. saidentary
      Wonderful review!  Zach's headphones sound great.  Your points in the beginning about what's involved in making these are extremely important and dead spot on, in my opinion.  Based on what he puts into these and also based on how great they sounded to me at the Chicago meet, I think that there's a plausible argument to made that Zach could be regarded as a manufacturer of headphones rather than a "modder," but whatever you call him, he makes fabulous, beautiful headphones that sound great. 
       
      Again, a wonderful, WONDERFUL review.  Impressively well written and much better than many of the "professional" reviews I've seen.  It's fun to review a great product.  It's nice to see ZMF getting some of the recognition it deserves.
      saidentary, Jan 24, 2016
  7. bikerboy94
    One Of The Best Headphones Under $1000
    Written by bikerboy94
    Published Nov 21, 2015
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Sound Quality, Comfort, Build Quality, Price, Customer Service
    Cons - The Wait. 4 To 6 Weeks But Worth It

    First of all I would like to thank Zach from ZMF Headphones for his generous donation of the new ZMF x VIBRO MK II closed headphone. It was actually the first pair released to the public and auctioned at the NY Head-Fi meet on Saturday November 14th 2015. I was the lucky winning bidder. In my search for a good closed companion for my Sennheiser HD600 I ended up with the Audeze EL-8 closed. It was a very good sounding headphone and very comfortable. Within a couple weeks of use it began to develop known issues. I was pretty upset as I really liked the headphone. It was going to be returned and alas my search was to resume. I was planning on attending the upcoming NY meet and figured it was a good place to start. Long story short I listened to several closed options and kept going back to the ZMF table. After a few listens I knew the Vibro MK II was going home with me that day. My quest was short lived. I almost feel guilty about what I paid. ALMOST. 
    The Vibro MK II is a costume upgrade of the Fostex T50rp MK III driver and baffle. The build quality is top notch. Each ZMF headphone is hand made to order. There are several choices   of ear pads and headbands. Many wood colors and finishes are also available. Zach is willing to custom tune the sound to meet customer’s needs, within reason. It uses mini XLR connectors for the cable connection. The comfort is ridicules as they can be worn for hours at a time. I’ve had them on for up to 5 hours lying in bed with few, if any, adjustments needed.
     
    Sound
    The Vibro MK II has a very balanced and natural sound. The highs mids and lows blend together nicely. They are very open sounding with a nice wide soundstage. I don’t miss the openness of my HD600 while using them. In fact I haven’t used the HD600 since bringing the Vibro home. They are a little less detailed than the EL-8 but that’s not a bad thing. The El-8s were very unforgiving with the source. Bad recordings sounded bad. I find no sibilance issues with the Vibro MK II vocals are very smooth and lush. The EL-8 had some sibilance issues mostly with female vocals. Instrument separation is very good. 
    .
    Bass
    The bass is tight and full with no sense of being boomy or exaggerated. There is no lack of bass but It’s not for hard core bass heads. You hear more than feel it. There are 3 tuning ports on the cups. You can change the bass a few dB’s by plugging the holes to suit your taste. I have only played with them a little. I did notice a slight difference when using them. I’m enjoying the stock sound but will mess with the tuning ports at some point , I’m sure.
     
    Mids and Highs.
    The mids and highs are well defined with no sense of harshness or congestion. The vocals are clear and focused. They are very lush and articulated. The detail is just right. Everything from the vocal breaths to the shimmer of the high hats is crisp and transparent.
     
    The ZMF x Vibro MK II is an outstanding  headphone. It’s not only beautiful to look at and extremely comfortable. It sounds amazing. In a hard to find class of $400-$800 closed headphone it shines. There is just something special about a custom headphone. The only real issue is the wait. It’s 4 to 6 weeks to get your order but well worth it. Zach is readily available and the customer service is outstanding. After the auction Zach brought me a box and standard cable. I tried the cable and it had a short in it. I went over to the ZMF table and asked for a replacement no big deal things happen. Zach handed me a $129 braded upgrade cable. That’s customer service.
     
    http://www.zmfheadphones.com/
     
    These are actual pictures of my ZMF x Vibro MK II
      LL.jpg
     
    LL2.jpg
     
    LL3.jpg
     
    LL4.jpg
     
    LL5.jpg
     
     
     
    1. View previous replies...
    2. JeffPortland
      Gorgeous touch with the wood grain.  
      JeffPortland, Nov 24, 2015
    3. saidentary
      coletrain104 said: "Great to see ZMF get some love in the reviews. I'm considering writing one for my Blackwood, but I'm afraid it'll come off as fanboy-ish, because they're really just so good. And I've heard a lot of headphones. Nice review"
       
      I agree it's good to see ZMF get some of the attention it deserves.  Enough people are starting to figure out this company is the real deal, so don't be too concerned about sounding like a fanboy.  (My 2 cents--Yeah, I know you didn't ask me....but still).  I hadn't heard his stuff until the August 8th headphone meet in Chicago.  I was SHOCKED at how good his headphones sounded.  AND they look BETTER in real life than in the photos.  The photos look good, but IMO don't do justice to the luxurious look and feel of these in real life. 
       
      Nice review.  Very good point: there's something about a custom headphone.....  ZMF is a company that ROCKS!
      saidentary, Nov 25, 2015
    4. Stillhart
      @coletrain104  Dude, write that review.  If you love the headphone that much, people should know about it.
       
      bikerboy, nice review.  I am really enjoying the mk ii as well and plan on doing a write-up soon!
      Stillhart, Dec 1, 2015