heliosphann

Headphoneus Supremus
ZMF ATRIUM REVIEW
ZMF ATRIUM REVIEW


Obligatory Intro

Zach Mehrbach’s latest creation has finally arrived, and it’s everything you’d expect it to be. That is unless you were wanting a headphone using planar magnetic drivers. Hopefully someday, but his time around Zach runs it back to one of his favorites, the 300ohm bio-cellulose driver. The Atrium uses a reengineered and overall improved bio-cell driver compared to the Auteur and Eikon. Improvements include more powerful N52 magnets and an overall lowered THD. Most impressive is the new patent pending Atrium Damping System. This design, along with the largest grill yet to date on a ZMF, help make the Atrium the most open sounding headphone in ZMF’s line-up. Stock wood will be cherry, with various LTD releases to follow, starting with Bubinga and then Koa.

To evaluate the Atrium I listened to it for several hours right out of the case. I then proceeded to do a burn-in for around 150 hours. From pre-to-post burn-in, I noticed a more consistent and smoother sound. Make of that what you will, but I’ve experienced similar results on other new ZMF headphones. Lastly, we all hear differently and have our own sonic preferences, so just as with any other audio equipment, I highly suggest hearing them yourself if possible.

My primary chain used is as follows:

Tidal/FLAC>Singxer SU-1>Schiit Yggdrasil A1>DNA Stratus/Glenn OTL/OG Cavalli Liquid Gold>Atrium

*Note that all opinions on the Atrium in this review will be ONLY using the stock perforated lambskin Universe pads. I will be writing a separate in-depth pad review on all the viable ZMF pads for the Atrium soon. Also unless noted, I used the solid Titan mesh for my evaluation.*



Build and Accessories

The Atrium is quite a sight to behold. My review pair uses the stock cherry wood (aged cherry optional), which smells as good as it looks. The cups feature numerous vent cuts on its front and sides, essentially blending what you’d find on the Verite Open and Auteur. It comes with all black hardware as well as the new leather crescent headband (vegan suede optional). I never had any issues with the previous ZMF headband, but the crescent band is quite comfortable and a welcome upgrade. The 467 gram weight of the stock Atrium (with magnesium chassis) never feels heavy, and is comfortable for many hours of continuous use. As mentioned before, the grill is the largest on any ZMF to date and uses a mesmerizing neo-gothic design. The Atrium will come with a hard Seahorse travel case and a ZMF OFC cable with your choice of termination. Two pads will also be included with the Atrium, one being the stock perforated leather Universe pads, and the other your choice.

Sound

If you’re familiar with the “ZMF sound,” then it will come as no surprise that it’s garnered quite a following over the years. Before I get into detail on the Atrium’s sound… I…

Hmmmmmm.

You know, I’m just not feeling this. Most likely this will just be another run of the mill review like so many others (which are probably better), so I think it’s time to switch things up a little.




TOP TEN REASONS TO BUY AN ATRIUM
(in no particular order)


#1: The Mid-range Brings All the Boys to the Yard

Anyone who’s heard a ZMF headphone knows Zach puts a lot of thought into tuning the midrange for each model. And the end result is, well they’re always good… just like pizza. So it ultimately comes down to, what kind of pizza is the Atrium’s mids? First let's examine some other ZMF headphones. I like to think of the Atticus and Aeolus mids like Chicago Deep Dish pizza: thick, comforting and oh so very filling. The Verite Open/Closed, well they’re like a classic Neapolitan: highly refined, elegant, and easily edible. And the Atrium’s mids? Well that easy one, Tavern Style pizza. I’m sure some of you are wondering, what’s Tavern Style pizza? That’s exactly my point. The Atrium’s mids remind me of Tavern Style pizza because it’s delicious and no one ever feels the need to talk about it.

Until I started writing my review, I honestly didn’t think much about the Atrium’s mids. And that alone says a lot in itself. There’s nothing uneven or out of place sounding with the Atrium’s mid-range. It blends in perfectly with the rest of the Atrium’s sound, and that’s a good thing. A really good thing. A short, stocky, slow-witted bald man once said, “not showing off, not falling behind.” That, my friends, is the Atrium’s midrange.


#2: Living in a Bubble (is underrated)

One of the first things that stood out to me when listening to the Atrium was its presentation and sense of scale. The sound is BIG. So big in fact I wondered if Zach had somehow crammed in a larger diameter driver. Turns out that wasn’t the case, it was merely the implementation of the new Atrium Dampening System (patent pending). So what exactly does that mean? In layman’s terms, it helps control and optimize sound waves via dampening and airflow. In turn when music gets to your ears, it sounds better. Or something like that, it could just be some kind of voodoo witchcraft for all I know. For you smarty-pants who want more in depth details, here is a link to ZMF’s website: https://www.zmfheadphones.com/atrium-patent

Back to the staging. It has good width, but far from the widest I’ve heard on a headphone. What really captivated me was the pronounced staging height and remarkable front-to-rear depth. Add all of these aspects together and what do you end up with? A bubble. Well technically it’s more of an oblate spheroid (or so Google tells me), but you get the idea. Either way the staging is impressive and quite intoxicating. Coupled with the fact that it feels natural and never artificial, well I’d say poppycock if I hadn’t already heard it myself.

“3D” gets thrown around a lot these days, and that can be a hard thing to quantify in headphones. In this case I’ll allow it as it’s an appropriate description of how most music sounds on the Atrium. This is even more true on well mixed and mastered songs. Quite a few times I was caught off guard by instrument placement and where certain sounds were emanating from. I really can’t stress enough that the Atrium’s staging prowess is one of its most alluring and immersive traits. You won’t be disappointed.


#3: You Can’t Put a Price on Art

Yes, that subtitle is just pure click-bait. I’m not going to delve into that philosophical debate, so let me get to the point. Apparently you can put a price on art, the Atrium starts out at $2499.99. And I refer to the Atrium as art in the sense that: you’re getting a product designed by an individual, the item is brought to fruition using unique materials, each unit is handcrafted and hand assembled. Regarding the pricing, I think in today's market where many TOTL headphones cost upwards of $4000, the Atrium is a bargain. I’m sure some people will take issue with me calling it “a bargain,” but I just call it how I see it. Also feel free to take the time and imagine an appropriate luxury or supercar analogy, it’s basically the same thing. I’d do it myself but I’m already way behind on writing this review.

The Atrium aesthetically is arguably the apex of ZMF’s astonishing assortment of models announced to date (try saying that five times fast.) Any picture of the Atrium will do far more good than me describing them with adjective after adjective. I know it’s been said to death, but you are indeed getting a handcrafted, heirloom quality piece that’s assembled right outside of Chicago. Also keep in mind that no matter what ZMF headphone you get, it’s going to be a one of one unit. This is even more pronounced with the stabilized sets, which no doubt will make their Atrium debut sometime later this year.


#4: More Like AIR-trium?

First let me temper expectations as that subtitle might be a little misleading. These aren’t super airy headphones like the Sennheiser HD800, Focal Clears or even HD600’s. I’m not sure we’ll ever see headphones quite like that from ZMF, but considering my poor showing in this year’s NCAA bracket, I’m not a reliable source for speculation. Dare I say that the Atrium is somewhat of a Super HD650? I spent quite a lot of time recently with the 650’s writing my ZMF Sennheiser pad review (shameless plug, link below), so I feel pretty locked in on their sound. I know in the past there have been similar claims like this about other headphones, most of them not living up to expectations (talking about you Focal Elear.) But I believe the Atrium is right there in the ballpark with the Sennheiser HD650, at least on a spiritual level.

What I am certain of is that Atrium lives up to its name. They are and are the most open sounding ZMF thus far. This was my initial feeling upon first hearing the Atriums, and I still feel the same after listening to them for many, many hours. I'll delve into more on this later, but you can also further improve the Atrium’s “air” by pad swapping and using different values of Titan mesh.


#5: Baby Got Bass

I mentioned previously how staging was one of the first things that stood out to me when hearing the Atrium. The other attribute that caught my attention, the BASS. And while I don’t know exactly what it’s in reference to, I’m positive I once overheard someone say, “it’s all about that bass.” How very true indeed.

As the kids would say, bio-cellulose drivers just hit different. I’ve always loved the way they reproduce bass, and one of the oldest headphones in my stable, a modded Fostex TH-900, is still my go to for electronic music. So what makes bio-cellulose drivers so good at producing outstanding bass? Well, I… I don’t actually don’t know the answer to that question. Whatever it is, I’m glad Zach decided to take the Auteur driver and take it up a notch.

There’s nothing quite like the THWACK of a bass drum. And that one word sums up the Atrium’s bass, THWACK. The bio-cell driver’s snappy attack really accentuates percussion instruments. Even more impressive is the weight they convey of each instrument, reminding me of the texture that some early planar magnetic drivers had. Another benefit of the dampening system is that bass never feels like it’s getting in the way of other frequencies. It’s one of the harder things to put into words about the Atrium, so I’ll just leave it as being very unique sounding. All in all, there’s nothing I can nitpick about the Atrium’s low end response. Even the sub bass is solid for an open back dynamic driver headphone. If it sounds like I’m gushing, I am, and I’m not ashamed of it.



#6: Tolerance is a Virtue

When some TOTL headphones get slapped by a poorly recorded song, they crumple and start crying. That’s not the case with the Atrium, which leans into it and keeps the show going. Yes, that is a cringeworthy Will Smith/Chris Rock reference, which I’m sure everyone is sick of even after a few days. So my sincere apologies if you’re reading this 6 months from now.

What I was trying to say is, everything that I’ve listened to on the Atrium for the past month has sounded great. Even notorious poorly mastered and recorded songs have been listenable on the Atrium. So what about those brick walled, dumpster fire casualties of the Loudness War? Unfortunately the Atrium can’t perform actual miracles, but they still sound better than if you had a LCD5 or Utopia. Personally I think having that kind of versatility is a very underrated aspect of a headphone. It’s not only myself who has observed this. I’ve spoken to several other people with pre-release Atrium’s and they’ve all said the same thing.

If you’re concerned about the Atrium’s resolving ability, have no worry as it is quite capable. It’s not a super detailed juggernaut, but it doesn’t need to be. Nor would I really want it to be. For context I’d put it a few notches above the Auteur and nipping on the heels of the Verites.


#7: Tweakers Delight

True to their modding roots, ZMF has conveniently made fine tuning the Atrium’s sound simple and affordable. Pad swapping is by far the easiest way to adjust the sound to your liking. The Atrium is just like other ZMF’s in that pad swapping is quick and easy. If I can do it with my sausage fingers, then you can as well. I personally use the hook-and-push method. That’s where you hook the lip of the pad on the mounting surface, and gradually push the rest of the lip onto the ring through the ear cavity. You can also use the inside-out method that Zach demonstrates here: .

The stock pads installed on the Atrium are perforated lambskin Universe pads. Right out of the gate I felt extremely happy with how the Uni pads performed. I didn’t even consider swapping them out initially. BUT, if you’ve read any of my previous pad reviews, you know I’m far too curious to not get my roll on. So in the near future I’ll be posting a full comparison of all Zach sanctioned Atrium pads, and maybe even a few wildcard pads as well.

The other option to tweak the Atrium’s sound, in particular the treble response, is changing the driver's frontal dampening. My review unit came with the solid Titan mesh installed, and I found the highs to be in line with my personal tastes. There is also a fully perforated Titan mesh that’s used on the Aeolus. This mostly boosts the presence and brilliance regions by a few db. The other option is to completely remove the front dampening mesh. Those results are similar to the perforated mesh, but a little more hot and uneven. Going forward the stock version that will be installed on the Atrium will be somewhere in between the solid and fully perf mesh. I’ve not heard this version, but it should be a great compromise. Upon purchase you can also request to have the solid mesh or fully perforated mesh installed. My recommendation, start out with the stock mesh. Then later on you can always install the fully perforated or solid mesh yourself. Here’s a video of Zach demoing the install of the titan mesh:


#8: FOMO is Real

The question you should really be asking yourself is, can you afford NOT to buy an Atrium? When everyone starts receiving their sets in the upcoming weeks, and you’re still listening to your Driftwood Aeolus, how will you feel? My guess, most likely despondent, remorseful and possibly even a little angry. You could have been listening to the new Tears For Fears album (which is surprisingly good) on an aged Cherry Atrium. Or even your favorite thirteen and a half hour long Phish bootleg (not my thing, but jam on). Just think about all the sweet pictures you could have taken of the Atrium with the rest of your gear. Not to mention the opportunity to get some amazing shots of your Bubinga Atrium while on a Sunday picnic. How many likes are you missing out on by not posting those pics on Head-Fi and Instagram?

Wow, that was some really scary stuff. I almost got triggered just writing that. My advice, just go with your heart. You can always worry about your wallet later. Oh and also don’t consult your significant other, that's always a BAD idea…


#9: Just Say No to Sibilance

Zach Mehrbach has successfully run an ongoing anti-sibilance campaign for many years now. Some say his vigilance was born after listening to a pair of Ultrasone Edition 10’s. It’s a well known fact a traumatizing life experience like that can change a man, and usually not in a good way. Thankfully that doesn’t appear to be the case with Mr. Mehrbach, who has fully recovered and rededicated his life to preventing treble related tragedies around the world. If that’s not a hero, then I don’t know who is.

True to the rest of the ZMF lineup, the Atrium has very smooth and well tuned upper frequencies. Not once did I have any issues with the treble, even with notoriously spicy songs. I also tend to listen to music at louder levels (don’t tell my mom) and still I didn’t encounter any problems. As I mentioned earlier, you can boost the highs by using the fully perforated titan mesh or even completely removing the mesh. With the solid mesh installed, I never really found myself wanting any more treble extension out of the Atrium. In general, I think most fans of current ZMF offerings will be quite happy with Atrium’s treble. After all, Zach’s got your back.


#10: Dial (708) ZMF-HELP (actually please don’t, that # is not affiliated with ZMF)

A sometimes overlooked factor in purchasing a headphone is; what type of experience will you have if something goes wrong? What happens if after three and a half years, one of your subatomic level planar-magnetic diaphragms goes boom? You’re probably going to be crap out of luck, but if you purchased an Atrium directly from ZMF, you’d be taken care of. Because at ZMF, each driver comes with a lifetime guarantee, and that’s pretty crazy if you think about it. I’m not aware of many audio manufactures offering lifetime warranties on any of their products these days. Not only that, you’ll also receive a two year warranty from the date of purchase on all mechanical parts. INSANITY! For more in depth details, please see the ZMF website. I’ve already padded this review far too much, and I’d be surprised if many of you made it this far.

From personal experience and reading about many other Head-fi members' feedback, ZMF’s customer service is outstanding. Zach, Bevin and their team will respond to your issues and questions in a timely manner. Turnaround times for repairs have also improved and are usually resolved in 1-2 weeks. Even wait times for new headphones to be completed have been greatly reduced. For example, some people who ordered the new Koa Verite Closed upon launch have already received them in under two weeks. If you remember how long the wait for the Eikon was after purchase, that’s quite an astounding difference.


Conclusion

All jokes aside, the Atrium is truly a fantastic headphone, and in my opinion ZMF’s best offering to date. In my mind there’s an ironclad reasoning for that claim. When evaluating the Atrium, I found myself constantly getting lost in the music. Instead of taking notes, comparing it to other headphones or breaking down songs, I just listened. And I kept on listening. Just me and the music. In the end, isn’t that what it’s really all about? I think A LOT of people are going to fall in love with the Atrium, just like I have.

PXL_20220317_190236769.jpgPXL_20220317_190952192.jpgPXL_20220317_190001168.jpg




ZMF SENNHEISER 6** PAD REVIEW https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/zmf-sennheiser-6-pads-review.25732/

ZMF VÉRITÉ OPEN PAD REVIEW https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/zmf-vÉritÉ-open-pad-review.25765/
M
Mansinthe86
If there is ever a closed back version I might get weak and risk that my wife is going to divorce me
heliosphann
heliosphann
Closed Atrium is coming at the end of the year or Q1 2023. Zach has confirmed it a few times.
Klmahnn
Klmahnn

Pharmaboy

Headphoneus Supremus
New ZMF Atrium: Innovative Design & Killer Sound
Pros: Beautiful wooden earcups; handsome, durable design, including a beautiful screen; exceptional (perhaps unprecedented) soundstaging; equally exceptional clarity; excellent bass; and musical, ear-friendly voicing
Cons: Earpads come off too easily
"And now for something completely different"*

*apologies to Monty Python

INTRODUCTION
In recent years ZMF Headphones launched 6 dynamic driver headphones. The closed-back Eikon and open-back Auteur shared a new biocellulose driver that quickly won praise for incisive neutrality plus the musicality and organic sound ZMF is known for. Now a new ZMF dynamic has arrived: the Atrium. It contains a biocellulose driver plus a new wooden earcup configuration. The Atrium also contains something that actually is "completely different": a new damping system (patent-pending). You can read more about the Atrium and its damping system at ZMF's website:


How does the Atrium sound? Does the new damping system work? Does the Atrium live up to the hype? I'll answer these questions after some necessary housekeeping.


Equipment & Music Used:

System-1:
MHDT Labs Orchid DAC + Violectric V281 + Woo WA3 OTL + Forza Audio Works Noir HCP MK2 balanced cable​
(and for the singled-ended WA3, add Noir HCP MK2 balanced-to-single ended "pigtail" cable)​
System-2:
Audio GD R2R-11 MK2 DAC + Monoprice Liquid Gold X ("LGX) + Cavalli Liquid Carbon v2 + Forza Audio Works Noir HCP MK2 balanced cable​
Music:
Live blues, funk, rock, AfroPop, electronic, singer/songwriter (YouTube); blues, funk, reggae, acoustic & electric jazz, electronic, and classical (chamber; orchestral; choral; soprano recitals)​

The Atrium is a very handsome, heirloom-quality headphone in the ZMF style. IMO the screen is especially beautiful:
ATRIUM X 4.jpg



So...what's "completely different" about the ZMF Atrium?
After a week of listening to this headphone and putting it through its paces on multiple amps/DACs, mostly with the stock universe pads, I found are two sonic characteristics that are absolutely, undeniably different about this headphone:

A. SPACE (aka "Soundstaging")
The Atrium conveys sonic space in a manner like nothing I've heard before. Most headphones I own, owned, borrowed, or heard at shows convey soundstaging in a way that's familiar to us all. These three elements are always present:
  • Left Channel (voices, instruments, notes cluster near or just outside the left ear)
  • Right Channel (voices, instruments, notes cluster near or just outside the right ear)
  • Center (voices, instruments, notes cluster in between left & right
(note: depending on the headphone, the absolute width, depth and height of the soundstage vary)​

However, the Atrium renders space very differently from this:
  1. The soundstage is larger in all dimensions than I'm used to. Not just on this or that piece of music--always
  2. Music occupies the entire soundstage. With the Atrium there's never a shrinking soundstage on this or that cut
  3. And the placement of instruments, voices, musical notes and sounds within the Atrium's soundstage is far more exact and three dimensional than I've ever heard
These novel qualities occur all the time, regardless of amp, DAC, and music genre. I've encountered this same tangibility & exactitude of space in the soundstages of large, expensive speakers, the kind that cost more than a good used car. But on headphones? Not until the Atrium. The word "immersive" gets thrown around a lot. Well, "immersive" absolutely describes what the Atrium does with the spatial information of recordings.

I envision the soundstage of the Atrium as a wide column on its side (passing through my head, side-to-side) with each end being gently rounded. The column extends 3-4" beyond each side of my head and a few inches out in front/back/all around my head. Inside this soundstage column, sounds & musical notes are anchored with unmoving solidity. There's nothing vague, suggested or virtual about the Atrium's soundstage.

For example, one of my favorite funk music cuts soundstages on the Atrium as follows:

Guitar: left side ~3" outside left ear​
Organ: right side ~3" outside right ear​
Drums: center/front ~2" in front of eyes​
Bass Guitar: center/below, in the middle of my head where my upper palate is​

Beyond the Atrium's three dimensional spatial solidity, musical notes themselves were more tangible and dimensional than I've ever heard with a solid state amp. Each note firmly occupies its allotted space in the soundstage.

For me, headphone soundstaging manifests most clearly with classical music, which is routinely recorded with minimal miking in a natural, acoustic space. Classical music typically reveals the full width and depth of a headphone's soundstage in a way that electrically amplified music or purely electronic music cannot.

But it was the reverse with the Atrium. Its soundstaging and spatial qualities are most evident on amplified blues, funk, or rock; and even better, on thick, murky, swirling electronic music. It's child's play to hear into these tracks and unpack how they were mixed; processing applied to certain instruments; reverb & other effects used.

This cut below is one I keep coming back to. It has a thick, processed, boosted/"pushed" sound--which the Atrium dissects like that frog in 9th grade biology. I can hear absolutely EVERYTHING in the mix; every note shimmers in its own space. That just doesn't happen with other headphones:




This brings me to the second startlingly different quality of the Atrium:

B. CLARITY (aka "Resolution")
The Atrium has easily the clearest, most defined sound of any headphone in my experience. I would guess a lot of the Atrium's clarity derives from its three dimensional soundstage and depiction of space. But this clarity is more than just a manifestation of space.

Over and over with the Atrium, a strange thing happened: I'd be listening to some piece of music I know by heart —and suddenly I hear a thing I've never heard before (a hand clap, foot stomp, spoken word, anything). Sometimes it was something I had heard before, but quite faintly, subliminally—and now with the Atrium, I hear it overtly and clearly in a way I hadn't before.

It's audio myth (and cliché) that "the sonic window suddenly loses its haze and becomes crystal clear, so that all is revealed as never before." But with the Atrium it's not myth or cliché. It happens every day on random pieces of music. After a week of this I got used to it, but at first it's downright spooky to hear utterly new things in familiar music.

Example: listening to the well-recorded 1st album by trumpeter Blue Mitchell (1963/Blue Note/Van Gelder Studios), the instruments appear suddenly--I mean right there, precisely fixed in space. It's as if a miniature trumpet is being played 2"-3" in front & to the right of my right eye (this is on a solid state amp, not a tube amp that adds 3D space and layering). I could easily hear how hard Mitchell blew the trumpet to play soft passages. As each note came out of the bell of the horn, I heard how silky smooth it sounded and how it softly rang the brass of the instrument. I know this recording by heart but never heard such resolution before the Atrium.

This kind of hyper-resolution happened again and again on many different instruments, voices, and genres.

I found the Atrium to sound planar-like in the speed with which notes appeared, then disappeared against a black background. With planar drivers that effect results from a combination of:
  • low distortion, planar drivers being directly driven and thus well-controlled and less prone to ringing
  • and the discrete/precise manner by which planar notes are launched magnetically
I'd guess the Atrium's planar-like sound results from its new damping system and perhaps also from the angled positioning of the driver to fire at the ear rather than directly into it.


Net Result: The Atrium's highly evolved spatial characteristics and clarity make this the most "forensic" headphone I've yet heard. IMO music professionals would kill to have a headphone that so easily allows them to distinguish every element in their mix. The Atrium lets you dissect any piece of music like that frog in 9th grade biology.

Now wait a minute ... in headphone audio, "forensic sound" isn't a compliment. Usually it describes headphones that sound bright, edgy, clinical, lifeless, harmonically thin. Is that the case with the Atrium?

Definitely not. This is one of the very few headphones that lets you have it all: high resolution, all the "plankton" you could want, and an unforced, natural sound that puts music first.


Now let's go over the traditional bass/midrange/treble dinstinctions often employed in the evaluation of headphones:

Bass: With stock pads the bass can be epic and impressive. Bass lines suddenly appear with such speed, impact and distinctness that I jumped in my chair a few times. It's a very Atrium thing to hear bass parts swell up from underneath and suddenly be right there, anchoring the entire soundstage and other instruments.

The Atrium has sub-bass for days: if there's any sub-bass in the recording, you'll hear it all. Besides excellent bass depth and impact, the Atrium also resolves the timbre & tone of bass instuments as well as, if not better than, any headphone I've heard. It's easy to distinguish bass notes from a upright string bass vs electric bass or synth. I could also rather easily hear subtle differences between various electric basses. IMO the Atrium with stock pads is a must-audition for bassheads.

Except for one other unique characteristic of the Atrium: despite its excellent bass, you'll find yourself listening even more to the…

Midrange: This is where most of the music lives, and it's where the real magic of the Atrium happens. The Atrium's midrange is a large, spacious place. Most of my listening focused on the mids. That's not because the Atrium is midrange-centric. It isn't. In fact, with stock pads, the Atrium is an unusually neutral and balanced-sounding headphone. But the mids are where the Atrium's unique soundstaging and clarity come through most clearly.

Treble: My hearing probably doesn't go as high up as many here. But I detect no roll-off or "ceiling" in the treble of this headphone. In classical violin concerti where the violin ascends to the very top of its range, I heard every note clear as a bell. And speaking of bells, on carillon tunes (music for brass bells & chimes), I hear the full "shimmer" of the higher notes' harmonics. This is excellent treble, unaccented and unexaggerated.


AMPLIFIER MATCHING
The Atrium is not amp-picky in the least. I got terrific sound out of all 4 amplifiers used. Due to this headphone's exceptional clarity, be prepared to hear more deeply into your upstream gear than usual. That's a plus in my book.

"VOICING" OF THE ATRIUM
This headphone definitely has the ZMF "house sound." It reveals the timbre of voices and instruments—not just the accuracy of reproduction, but their musical quality (the beauty). Via the Atrium music flows in a most natural, organic way, as it does with other ZMF headphones I own or owned. With stock pads especially, IMO the voicing of the Atrium is impeccable, near-ideal.

But if you feel like deviate from the Atrium's stock sound, just try either of the other pad options I heard:

Auteur pads: These give a lush, romantic, gorgeous sound. On massed violins and choral voices the textured and smoothness are outstanding. This is hardly a neutral sound, but it's certainly a beautiful sound. The Auteur pads don't work nearly as well on music with a strong beat & bass-line, or electronic music, where it tends to make music sound murkier and darker.​

BE2 pads: These sound brighter than the other pads with more emphasis on the upper mids & lower treble. That means more snarl from electric guitars and more snap from guitar picks, drumsticks, etc. This slightly reduced my awareness of the Atrium's soundstage; it's still there, but my attention is distracted by the additional brightness. With these brighter pads, I also find myself being less aware of the bass. It's still quite good, but hits less hard and doesn't seem to go quite as deep (probably just a compensatory psychoacoustic effect on my part).​

Earpad conclusion: I believe ZMF chose the stock pads for good reasons. To my ears they are the most revealing of the Atrium's remarkable clarity, resolution and soundstage, while also conveying the musical, ear-friendly ZMF "house sound."


COMPARISONS
I spent most of the time listening to the Atrium. But there are two other excellent headphones that IMO it should be compared to:

1 – Final D8000 (with the Pro's "G" earpads)
This very fine open-back planar is the most sonically similar to the Atrium, at least in terms of frequency voicing. And since the Atrium has distinct planar-like sound in certain respects, this strikes me as a natural choice for comparison. I hear some very interesting things when comparing these headphones:
  • The Atrium's soundstaging is qualitatively better than the D8K's, but not by much. The exceptionally anchored and dimensional nature of the Atrium's soundstage takes the day here. Which doesn't change the fact that the D8K has the best soundstage I've ever heard from a planar, and among the best I've heard, period
  • The very high resolution of the D8K slightly pulls ahead of the Atrium. Not a surprise, really: this planar has just about the best resolution I've ever heard, other than the next headphone listed here
  • Comfort-wise the Atrium trounces the D8K. Again, no surprise. Comfort with the D8K is acceptable, but not nearly as evolved with the Atrium
  • Both headphones combine high resolution with a slightly warm, natural musicality (Atrium w/stock pads). This one's a toss-up
The only real surprise here is the bass. As planar-like as the Atrium is, and as good as its bass is, the D8K wins by a nose due to the heavy/weighty feel of its bass notes. Planar bass usually beats dynamic bass, at least for me, and that's the case here. Still, the Atrium comes very close, indeed…


2 – ZMF Verite Open (silkwood + stock earpads)

The VO is my current favorite headphone, and it, too, is relatively similar to the Atrium in terms of frequency voicing. This is what I hear:
  • The Atrium's soundstaging is better than the D8K's, but again, not by much. The VO's soundstage is a bit less wide to begin with, and it can't match the solidity & anchoring of notes/voices/instruments that the Atrium routinely does. The Atrium pulls ahead with music that has a strong bassline and beat, though the VO's natural staging of classical music is very pleasing
  • The Atrium's bass is better, deeper and harder hitting. But the quality of the VO's bass is exceptional, particularly how it conveys tone & timbre of bass notes/instruments
  • The VO takes the prize for overall tonal purity. I continue to be impressed by the musical, flowing, organic tone of the VO. More than any other headphone I know, the VO fully communicates the sheer beauty of music. Its sound on classical music is particularly ravishing

Desiderata
  • Comfort: With my aged cherry/black hardware Atrium, I found its comfort to be the best I've ever experienced with a ZMF headphone (I have 3 and have zero complaints about any of them). It feels light; the clamp pressure is ideal; and the newly contoured headband works like magic.
  • Complaints/issues: There's just one and it's minor. I find it too easy to remove the ear pads just by brushing against them. Even a slight sideways tug will completely remove the earpad. The reason is that the groove behind the baseplate (where each pad's backflap inserts) seems shallower than I've seen on other headphones. Usually it's 3/16-1/4" or so deep; here it seems to be in the 1/8" range. That's a small difference, but it means the pads are held to the earcup less securely. Note that this issue doesn't matter at all when the headphones are on my head--only when I'm handling them.

IN CLOSING
I think the Atrium is an extremely good headphone: handsomely constructed, well-designed, and very good sounding. I also think it represents a paradigm shift in headphone soundstaging and clarity, courtesy of driver positioning and the innovative new damping system. If the sound of the Atrium is any test, that damping system succeeds completely and will hopefully appear in future ZMF headphone designs.

Regarding the rating: the Atrium is very very good, but it's not perfect. So giving it a 5.0 out of 5.0 seems excessive. I chose a rating of 4.5 as the most accurate/reasonable alternative.
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kashmiami
kashmiami
Sounds like HD800 done the ZMF way, Exciting!
Erwinatm
Erwinatm
Nice review .... makes me want to try it more and more...
Nick-s-f
Nick-s-f
Awesome review! Hopefully, zmf can cook up a closed version of this headphone with the new drivers.

DeweyCH

Member of the Trade: Lithium Headphones
A ZMF fanboy reviews the Atrium. Spoiler alert: I love it.
Pros: Thick, gooey musicality
Really good clarity
Amazing soundstage
Play great with tubes
Big bass for ZMF
Wonderful vocals and mid-range
Cons: Clarity lags behind Verite, Susvara
Some piercing treble on certain tracks
Thanks to Zach and ZMF for (for whatever insane reason) including me in the demo unit distro. I am honored and humbled and a little concerned about Zach's mental place if he thinks I can say anything particularly useful. But carrying on... I was sent these at no charge to try out and write or not write whatever I wanted about them. I am an unabashed ZMF fanboy, having owned at one point or another two sets of stabilized VCs, a set of stabilized VOs (I MISS YOU BBY!), an Aeolus, and my first $1000+ headphones that I will never let go, a pair of gorgeous Auteurs in Indian almond.

That said, I also own or have owned an embarrassing selection of cans of all price and quality levels, so while not a professional or expert reviewer by any stretch, I've got some experience in listening to a lot of different headphones. I keep coming back to ZMF, and my blue VCs and almond Auteurs will never leave me. And to be perfectly frank, I'm hoping the Atriums will stay with me as well. They're a really fascinating and excellent beast.

My "TL:DR" description of them hasn't changed since the first week I had them - it's as if they took the base musicality and "fun-to-listen-to-itude" of the Aeolus, layered on the Auteur's fabulous mids, bumped up to about 95% of the Verite's detail and clarity, and blew the absolute doors off the soundstage.

The first time I put these on and listened to them, I was a bit taken aback, in a bad way. They sounded almost muddy, coming from some Senn 8XXs I had been listening to. But they grow on you fast - like a fungus. A really invasive fungus. What I heard as "muddy" was anything but, it was richness. To this day, the best way I can describe the sound is rich, thick, and gooey, with bass that comes in with a nut-shot.


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Seriously Look At This Thing:
First, the looks: I mean, look at them. I will say this might be the first ZMF I've had where I don't think black grilles and rods is the way. The grilles are gorgeous, but with the black on black they kind of recede. The Bubinga ones are drool-worthy. So are the cherry with aged copper, and I usually HATE aged copper (really, anything other than silver or black... not a Steelers fan, but they have a point when it comes to colors).

How's It Feel:
Comfort-wise, the Atrium comes with ZMF's new Crescent Strap. I've always found ZMF's headphones to be eminently comfortable, but the Crescent Strap is a nice little bit of an upgrade on that. The clamp is tight enough without being HD6XX skull-crushers. While they are, like all ZMF headphones, pretty heavy, the strap is really good at distributing that weight, and I've never had an issue wearing anything from ZMF for long periods of time. YMMV if you're sensitive to heavy cans on your neck, but to me they're wicked comfy.

Sound-wise, like I said, syrupy, gooey, rich, very bassy with excellent vocals. Just excellent vocals. Are they as detailed as the Beryllium-driver models VC and VO? No. But they come very close, and apparently there's something to be said for the bass of biodynamic drivers. Treble may be a little less forward than some would like, but everything is pretty well balanced overall. Soundstage is fabulous. Not quite HD800/800 S/8XX, but bigger than any ZMF I've heard (and I've heard most of 'em).

Here's the part where I describe what I'm hearing in a few songs.

The Listening Setup:
Source - Tidal (mostly Masters) on a Windows 10 PC
DAC - Schiit Bifrost 2
Amp - ampsandsound Mogwai SE

Songs and Impressions:
Ben Folds - Rockin' the Suburbs - Ben's voice is clear and forward. Distorted guitars have a very satisfying bite to them, and nothing really steps on anything else - separation is very nice. Drums are right where I like them - if you want to, you can easily focus on them and just pay attention, but they don't demand your attention. The little theramin or whatever he's playing is easily identifiable even when there's a lot going on. Bass is fun. I'd call it a little extra, a touch north of neutral, with the ability to really dig down deep when it's asked. The sub-bass on these in general is really nice (noting that, among my cans, I don't have anything that would be considered a bass monster). Attack is good, decay is good-not-great. I just heard a couple of piano falls that I'd never noticed before. The synth part near the end has wonderful timbre and you can follow it all the way from bass to treble as it jumps up.

Beatles - I Am the Walrus - Right out of the chute the cello is awesome. It's not as forward as I might like, but the timbre and clarity of it is wonderful, and it doesn't get lost as other instrumentals and vocals come in. John with his weirdly muted/distorted effect is very forward. I love the vocals on these. Ringo's work on the tambourine is living off to my right along with his snare fills - again, easy to focus on without demanding attention. The horns seem to be in the same location as the cello - there is some bunching up of the female backing vocals, strings and horns on the left side, but I can hear some difference in depth. You can really hear the vocals moving around the stage. As the song goes on, there's more air between strings and backing vocals. I've got Ringo coming at me from both sides right now.

Fleetwood Mac - You make Loving Fun - The soundstage leaps out at you right out of the gate. Instruments are spread out impressively, and Christine's vocals are ethereal, ahead of me and a little to the right. Acoustic guitar fills jump out to my right, while the hi-hat is keeping time beautifully on my left. This is a great song for these. The bass is present, and the kick drum can be felt in the gut. All the little fills - acoustic guitar, lead guitar, that beautiful organ - all really just appear out of the ether. It's very fun to listen to this song on these. I love this song regardless, but it definitely plays to the Atrium's strengths.

Aperture Science Psychoacoustic Laboratories - Cara Mia Addio - That bass synth that kicks it off is intense. The synth flute is fun, maybe bordering piercing, but that may just be the song. Vocals are a little intense - maybe a touch much treble? But once the bass kicks in, holy moly. I can also follow the hi-hat really well, more than I remember being able to do with other headphones. Not my favorite track for this - again, the vocals sound a bit off and kind of piercing. But all that synth work in the background is fab.

JS Bach Orchestra - Canon in D Major - Harpsichord has great timbre on these. Somehow both mechanical and natural? I dunno, you explain it. Cellos and basses have a very good presence and timbre (I love that word, to me it just means "fun rumbliness"). Violins border on piercing but never quite cross that line. I can place almost every instrument individually. The soundstage and instrument separation here are sublime. Crescendos are really engaging and drag you along for a ride.

Comparisons:
OK, I'm going to do my best to compare these with other cans I own. Please note that I am by nature an optimist and love everything, particularly the headphones I've curated. Mid-life crises tend to drive cognitive dissonance, know what I mean? But what I'll be doing is just listening to one track back-to-back with the Atrium and another pair of headphones, and describing them much like I described how I hear the tracks above.

Atrium (Stock Universe perforated pads) vs. Verite Closed (solid hybrid Auteur pads)

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Song choice: Smashing Pumpkins - Zero

Atrium: Very clean distorted guitars. Billy Corgan's voice is a little behind everything else. Stage is very wide. Spotlight is stolen by the dual guitars. Bass is surprisingly a little muted. It's a good overall sound, though... I'd call it close to neutral with the exception of slight recessing of vocals and bass. Emphasis on "slight." Guitar solo is just kind of OK, but the Pumpkins aren't exactly a guitar god band. The heavy distortion that comes in before "You bloody noses" is AMAZING, and the crescendo into a held high guitar note kicks ass.

Verite Closed: Sounds a lot heavier, and I actually feel like I can hear the closed-back nature of the cans, which I never hear with VCs. Corgan's vocals are clearer but still recessed, to about the same degree. It's a lot more aggressive of a sound. The bass is less present even than the muted-sounding Atriums. This might be the first time I've listened to my VCs and thought, "Yeah, these are closed-backs." Soundstage is smaller, but the movement around the stage is a lot more striking. Attack and decay are improved, as is detail, but it's lacking a bit of the musicality and thickness of sound the Atriums bring. That heavy distortion is less amazing, it sounds more like just part of the song, although that crescendo still kicks ass.

Result: Atrium sounds way more open, with more bass and musicality. VC is more detailed with more of a sense of movement within the soundstage.

Atrium vs. Auteur (suede perforated Eikon pads)

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Song choice: Dire Straits - Money for Nothing

Atrium: Vocals are sublime right away, the bass synth that fades in is very present, the tinkledy-tinkledy synth is there but not demanding attention. Drum crescendo is fantastic, but the keys get kind of lost. Guitar comes in with just the right energy, and there's something "tick"ing in my left ear. When the standard drums come in, it's lovely. Vocals are nice and forward, perfectly balanced to everything around it. Bass is noticeable - not particularly forward, but it rumbles the belly. I can hear the keys in the "We got to install microwave ovens" part for the first time I can think of. The tom fills are perfect. Kick drum has physical heft. The tom fills move around the soundstage nicely, although I can't help but wonder how the VC would interpret that movement. Separation remains outstanding. Knopfler's insane always-soloing guitar parts are really engaging. There's a crunchiness to them that more analytical cans tend to lose. This is a song that plays really, really well to the Atrium's strengths.

Auteur: Man, I love these cans. The vocals are a little more forward to start with, synth a little more recessed. Bass synth is there, but doesn't have the body of the Atrium. Drum fill/crescendo is AWESOME. Seems to have a little less low-end heft than with the Atrium, but that makes it sound more aggressive. Guitars have more bite. Tick-ing in my left ear is still there, bass is really nice (again, without the body of the Atrium). Knopfler's vocals are really in-your-face but feel... leaner, I guess, somehow. Soundstage is very good but not approaching the Atrium. Drum fills have even more heft to them, although the narrower soundstage makes the moving-around feeling less apparent. I have to say the guitar bite on these is so so good. After the Atrium, they feel a little bright - I think that's what I'm hearing when I say Knopfler's vocals seem leaner. Bass is definitely less than on the Atriums. Take the Auteurs if you want a bright/neutral presentation, Atriums if you want more of a dark/gooey/neutral presentation (with bigger stage and better resolution). I've reinforced why I love my Auteurs and will never part with them, but still...

Result: Atrium is more detailed, better stage, better bass, more musical; Auteur is more neutral, a touch bright, more aggressive.

Atrium vs. Susvara

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Song choice: Pink Floyd - Brain Damage/Eclipse

Atrium: Guitar is beautifully clear. Vocals are right in line with neutral, I'd say. Bass line is there - it's easy to pick out, but not particularly forward. Stage is again beautiful. Hi-hat is again really nicely keeping time in my left ear. Drum fill comes in great, and there's a sub-bass hit that comes in that's really, really impressive. Backup vocals are easily placed across the stage. All the fancy little guitar bits and bobs are easy to hear and identify. I don't know why, but the hi-hat is really alluring. I have a weakness for that apparently. There seems to be a little fuzz around the organ parts. The "Oooh-whooooa-whoooooaaaaaa" backup vocals are really cool to hear because they're placed so expertly way off to the right. The synth "solo" before "I can't think of anything to say" is simply stunning. When "Eclipse" begins, it's engaging, beautiful and just aggressive enough. The bass is neutral but very very present, and again backup vocals are gorgeous.

Susvara: First off, I know this isn't the best of comparisons. Both are driving off a tube amp, which fits the Atrium but isn't necessarily suited as well for the Susvara. At the same time, the Sus is a freaking $6000 headphone (if you're a sucker and pay list). But one of the reasons I bought the Mogwai in the first place is I wanted a tube amp that could drive hard-to-drive planars, so let's go. Guitar is nice and clear - clarity certainly goes to the Susvaras. Vocals are a little recessed compared to the Atriums. Soundstage is very similar, I think. The hi-hat in the left ear is a little softer (please note that Susvara plays better with high-output solid state amps). Backup vocals are simply sublime, though. Wow. Separation is improved vs. the Atrium, which has great separation to begin with. This is pure neutral. Bass is there, but not really kicking quite like the Atrium. Hi-hat is getting more noticeable as I listen more. Susvara deserves its reputation as an absolutely brilliant set of headphones - the clarity and separation are unreal. That said, I'm missing some of the pure musicality of the Atrium. Makes me think of listening to the Verite Open vs. the Aeolus - both have their place, one is definitely technically superior, the other is just pure fun. Susvara is more open; more outside noise comes through. I keep thinking how complementary these two headphones are - Susvara screams "critical listening," with plenty of musicality keeping it away from the world of over-analytical, but the Atrium is more of a jam band of a headphone.

Result: Atrium is more "fun," but dang the Susvara is simply amazing in every way, particularly in resolution and clarity. I wouldn't kick either out of bed. I'd have to go with the Sus if I were forced to choose, though, even driven by an amp that plays more to the Atrium's strengths.

So, there you have it - my stream-of-consciousness take on the Atrium compared to some of my favorite headphones in the universe. I hope this is at least reasonably interesting. If you're asking, "Should I buy an Atrium?" My answer is a pretty strong yes. They may at this point be my favorite ZMF headphones, and given my unabashed fanboyism, that says at least a little bit of something.

Thanks for reading, sorry about the ramble! Thanks again to Zach and the ZMF team for basically forcing me to buy this fantastic new model of headphones.
haasaaroni
haasaaroni
Went to listen to Money for Nothing on my Auteurs right after reading this. Now I gotta hear for myself how the Atrium improves on it...thanks for the very informative review!
rjones36
rjones36
Hey @DeweyCH appreciate the review, really helps.

I was just going through and testing those same tracks on my recently acquired Atrium headphones and noticed that a lot of the descriptions mentioned about placement of instruments being say "on the left" are actually on the "right" when I listened. You got me taking a second look at my connections and I even did a headphone test just to validate I have everything setup correctly lol. So maybe you might of had the left and right connections switch when you did your test.. maybe? Or maybe the connections from the dac to your amps is switched possibly? Just wanted to point that out.
DeweyCH
DeweyCH
It’s quite possible, I do that accidentally from time to time. Thanks for the heads up!

jinxy245

Headphoneus Supremus
ZMF Atrium
Pros: Captivating Sound, Bass Presentation, Spacious Headstage, Top Notch Fit & Finish
Cons: Expensive, not for Trebleheads
Intro

As always I’ll begin with sincere thanks to Zach & all of ZMF for their generosity. Somehow I was fortunate enough to be on the loaner for the Atrium, one of ZMF’s newest and co-flagship with the Verite lineup. The Atrium is a departure from other ZMF headphones in a variety of ways.The concept behind the Atrium includes a new patent pending dampening/airflow scheme combined with an updated biocellulose driver, and the result is IMO a captivating listening experience. I won’t go into the details of the Atrium nor the patent since so many have already covered that better than I could, and you can check out the ZMF website HERE to find out more about the Atrium itself and HERE for more about the patent.

Fit & Comfort

Like every ZMF IMO the appearance, fit & finish is Sterling. Aesthetics are subjective, but the Atrium ticks all the boxes for me and is a beauty to behold.
Atrium.jpg

Physically, the screen on the headphone is larger than any ZMF so far, and the Gothic flair appeals to me. The set I have is a beautifully finished Cherry wood, and comfort is everything I’ve come to expect from ZMF. That is to say very comfortable despite the approximately 490 gram weight. I have always found the headband they utilize to distribute the weight beautifully.

Review Details

Before I offer my listening impressions, I’ll start with a little about myself and other points of interest. I’m over 50 years old and have less than perfect hearing. I’ve been a music lover for as long as I can remember, and my preferences lean toward the warm side of neutral. I’m a huge believer in the “my ears/your ears” axiom, and I believe the signal chain makes a difference. Feel free to liberally add as many mental IMOs and YMMVs as you want while reading.

My chain for playback is various WAV, FLAC, & MP3 files from my refurbed HP Elite Desk via USB to a Bifrost 2 to either my ifi Pro iCan (1st version) or ZMF Pendant (also 1st version). Although all ZMF headphones seem to have a distinct preference for tubes, the Atrium also sounded fantastic from the ifi. I burned the headphone for over 100 hours before critical listening. I found the Atrium relatively easy to drive for 300 ohm headphones (the Verite series is a bit more efficient), however there is assuredly a benefit to be had from a better audio chain.

Isolation

The Atrium is now the most “open” headphone in the ZMF lineup, though it is still not as open sounding as an open Focal or the Sennheiser 600 or 800. It still sounds more like a partially open design to me. It doesn’t bother me in the least, and the sonic presentation is remarkably “airy” and “open” but there is still a bit of isolation when compared to an HD650 or something similar.

Sound

(EDIT: all listening impressions were done with a solid metal mesh filter over the driver which is to be replaced in production models by a perforated mesh similar to but different than the Aeolus mesh.)
This headphone adheres to what Zach is calling “ZMF Neutral”. Those familiar with ZMF won’t have any problem understanding what that means. I think it’s fair to say that ZMFs in general have a rich and full bass response almost across the board, and a more relaxed treble than many other manufacturers would be comfortable with. I have always enjoyed the “house sound” myself, and the Atrium is my favorite example to date. There is a unique sound to any biocellulose driver I’ve ever heard, and I enjoy it. There is a smoothness, but it’s not overly soft IMO. The transients are not as sharp as beryllium but there is still plenty of snap when required. Changing pads will alter the sound, if not the nature of the Atrium and I’ll include a bit after I touch on the basic sound.

The bass is full and rich without being overly sluggish. It extends deep and feels powerful yet manages not to overwhelm the rest of the sound for my tastes. There is a tactile quality I rarely experience with headphones, and I think it’s not due to the quantity of bass as much as the movement of air or some other factor. It makes listening an absolute joy for me. There is a bit more mid bass than sub bass but again I don’t find it to be overdone. Excellent detail from acoustic bass and deep drum hits.

The mids are the most even and the least “peaky” that I can recall from ZMF. I’ve always experienced a bit of fatigue from the mids of the Auteur after a while, but not so the Atrium. There is still a lush feeling in the mids, but it never crosses into being husky or anything unnatural to my ear. Vocals male & female, piano, violin all sounded clear and detailed.

The highs while not the most airy & extended I found to be wholly satisfyingly. This could be due to advancing age/hearing loss but I didn’t feel too much information was lacking, if at all. That being said I doubt these would satisfy a “treble head”. There was sufficient ring to cymbals and the like, and harmonics were audible. Not the strong suit of the Atrium to be sure, but I didn’t find it lacking.

Resolution is fitting of a TOTL headphone IMO, though it might not be on the level of the “detail giants” out there like the Utopia or HD800. Maybe slightly behind ZMFs own Verite, there is enough information discernible even if it’s not presented in your face. The search for a musicians finest breath and every audience member’s cough never thrilled me, but I can hear fingers sliding on frets and bowstrings being plucked quite well.

One of the most engaging aspects of the Atrium IMO is the sense of space it renders to the listener. This is also the most difficult aspect to try and articulate, at least for me. The Headstage doesn’t come off as exaggerated (I’m looking at you HD800) but it does feel deep and wide with good height. I hesitate to use this phrase because it is somewhat hyperbolic but there is a certain “3d-ness” there that I don’t experience with other headphones. The Verite series has it’s own similar quality, but the Atrium presents it differently. Whereas the Verite has a sense of wide open space and excellent imaging, I think the atrium gives a better sense of instruments being in that space, if that makes sense. I guess the best way I can put it is that live music just sounds more “live” to me.

Pads

One aspect of headphone listening that I enjoy is being able to dial in my sonic preferences with a change of pads, and fortunately ZMF likes to accommodate that little proclivity. Zach has been a leader in offering a variety of options to fine tune your listening experience, so I would be remiss not to touch on pads.

After the kudos, I’ll also include what is probably my biggest gripe, which is the difficulty I have in identifying pads. I do keep them organized in zip-locks, and ZMF now seems to ship them in larger more durable zip-locks of sorts which is a great help. However once out of the baggie, they can be comically difficult to identify. I usually write up some index cards to keep in the proper pad until use, but I still got turned around/distracted & mixed them up at one point. Fortunately Zach was quite helpful assisting my to identify which was which. One suggestion I heard was using a laundry marker on the inner cloth which is a good idea, but I’d appreciate if there were some sort of tagging for rapid I.D.

Included with the loaner were the Universe pads, the BE2 pads and the Auteur Pads all of which were lambskin. Each pad did bring something worthwhile to the sonic pallet IMO.

Universe Pads

These are the stock option. The have the largest headstage and the most prominent bass response. Little to no bleeding into the mids, which are rather linear overall. On the flip side of that coin I also found that they had the most delicate treble of the three.

BE2 pads

Bass is more subdued/neutral yet still has plenty of punch. A touch of a sub bass boost I think. I found the treble to be slightly lifted/clearer and not emphasized so much as clarified. The stage is smaller but not collapsed, mids are still magical, and I found no sibilance.

Auteur pads

These are the most linear/neutral pads of the three to my ears. These brings mids out a bit more, and I found vocals both male & female to be hypnotic. While bass and treble are still present, they are slightly more subdued overall. I didn’t find anything lacking, I wasn’t yearning for more bass/treble. While the headstage was probably the smallest of the three it still felt wide & deep, probably due to the Atrium’s uncanny ability to paint a sonic landscape.

Some Comparisons

The most obvious comparison would be to ZMF’s other flagship the VO. I did cover this somewhat throughout, but I’ll summarize again here. I find the VO to be a bit better at retrieving fine details, but the difference isn’t stark. The Verite has a few more peaks & valleys in the mids, whereas the Atrium’s deviations are less pronounced. Transients are faster, sharper with the VO and the Atrium is more visceral. VO goes a bit deeper into the sub-bass I think, again not night & day. Headstage is a similar size & shape between the two I think, VO a bit wider, Atrium deeper but I find the presentation different. It is likely a coin toss as to which you might prefer, but my preference is for the Atrium.

My usual daily driver is the Aeolus. I’ve become addicted to it’s forgiving qualities and (for me) an ear friendly sound. The Atrium is more detailed overall, picking up more “plankton” even though there’s more treble energy found in the Aeolus. Like the VO Aeolus has more peaks & valleys in the midrange in comparison to the Atrium. Also like the VO there is a little more sub bass extension to be found with the Aeolus, but the bass overall is a bit looser and less nuanced. Not surprisingly, headstage is no contest with the Atrium being wider, deeper, and taller than the Aeolus.

End Words
Once again ZMF has created a wonderfully tuned beautifully crafted headphone. I have to admit that I am quite tired of the current trend of TOTL headphones being ever more expensive. Make no mistake that the Atrium is expensive as well, but it is more accessible than many other flagships. Having (mostly?) handmade headphones with replaceable parts and stellar customer service adds quite a bit to the value IMO. I also enjoy supporting a smaller business as opposed to the corporate owned factories churning out mostly plastic headphones. In the end you might think this sounds like I’m trying to talk myself into buying this headphone myself. If so, you might not be wrong.

The Atrium will be available for purchase on April 1st 2022

https://shop.zmfheadphones.com/collections/stock-headphones/products/atrium
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jinxy245
jinxy245
It's easy enough to miss, bit I did note that all the pads I had on hand were Lambskin...I haven't heard the suede Be2. It would be interesting to hear I'm sure!
Empyah
Empyah
Thanks. Sorry - were flying over the pad options in all the reviews to choose the second pair. :S
Took the suede BE2 in the end. :)
jinxy245
jinxy245
Nice! I look forward to hearing your impressions!!
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