THE ZMF ATRIUM!!! and other cool LTD ZMF Stuff
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Mar 18, 2022 at 12:59 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 1,373
Oct 19, 2008

TLDW; (but seriously just watch the video!)

We've got a new headphone that I've been working on for quite a while now and am finally ready to unveil (I'm beyond excited!), the key stuffs:

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Saucy pics you need to look at:



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Mar 18, 2022 at 1:00 AM Post #2 of 1,373

ZMF Atrium: Initial Impressions (Part I)

Fun Fact: For better context and perspective, up until relatively recently, the Atrium was known informally as the “Auteur 2.”

By now, you’ve seen @zach915m’s introduction to Atrium above, so there’s no need to re-hash that. We’ll soon be back with a deeper dive into Atrium’s development later, including detailed coverage of the new patent pending Atrium Damping System, and measurements as well.

Having said all that, I’ve been waiting almost two years to talk about Atrium, so let’s go! :relaxed:

Associated Equipment​

  • Qobuz/TIDAL via MacBook Pro
  • Chord Hugo2
  • Kimber Kable Silver Streak RCA
  • McIntosh MHA200
  • Kimber Kable Axios Cu Balanced

Sound Quality​

If I had to un-pack and distill Atrium’s sound signature into a single word, that word would be analog. That will make much more sense by the time we get to the end of my impressions, but please do keep it in mind to help guide your understanding as we move forward.

NOTE: The following impressions are based on the default ear pad option, ZMF’s Universe Pads.

Sub-Bass & Bass​

Though not as seismic as that of the Auteur’s, the Atrium’s sub-bass is nonetheless thoroughly satisfying. Low-end extension is excellent, and the Atrium’s updated driver seems to exhibit both poise and control, affording us a deep and clean sub-bass response. There’s no hint of driver break-up in the low-frequency rumbles that punctuate the intro of The Crystal Method’s "Busy Child”… Nor does the sub-bass hit, that lands in the third measure of the bridge in Beck’s “Dark Places”, go by unnoticed, as it tends to do in typically “neutral” headphones.​
The Atrium’s mid-bass response is smooth and velvety — fluid with a touch of warmth — and neither excessive nor anemic. Unlike many of the new flagships released in the past year, I found it engaging straight-out-of-the-box, with no compensatory EQ or bass boost needed. It sounds and feels right as-is.​
With Thievery Corporation’s “Lebanese Blonde” that translates into a continuous and unrelenting bass line that is sultry, even sweltering at times, but never downright oppressive. With Marvin’s Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” that means true heartbeat-altering thumps, and not half-hearted thuds that sound dead on arrival. And as soon as its bass drop lands, Doja Cat’s “Say So” pushes you into its flirtatiously alluring groove, effortlessly.​
Just remember that it’s not planar bass. So if that’s all you’ve ever known, or what you’ve long since grown accustomed to, it won’t be as textured as you’re used to. But overall, The Atrium’s low end is about as good as I’ve ever heard from a dynamic driver headphone.​


Of all the tuning choices Zach Mehrbach made during Atrium’s development, there are two that I have become most enamored with. The first of which was his decision to unabashedly not cave in to current mid-range trends.​
Atrium shuns the ubiquitous, but highly annoying, over-emphasis of upper mid-range (presence range) frequencies, that so much “neutral” gear has these days. In addition, it sounds remarkably linear throughout the entire mid-range - which is to say that lower-mids weren’t scooped out - granting vocals (and certain instruments) fullness and body, while preventing sibilance and keeping fatigue at bay.​
I found Atrium’s mid-range presentation to be particularly agreeable for tracks from a wide range of genres, really anywhere vocal content is king… from singer-songwriter tracks like Father John Misty’s “To S.” and Rumer’s “P.F. Sloan”… to hip-hop and rap tracks like Stetsasonic’s “Talkin’ All That Jazz” and Killer Mike’s “Untitled (feat. Scar).”
Instrumentally, I appreciated Atrium’s mid-range for properly rendering the multitude of heavily synthesized sounds in Autechre’s “Montreal” - much of which resides primarily in the mid-range. And here’s a big one for me: Atrium preserved all of Ennio Morricone’s bittersweetness, while eschewing the shrillness of John Barry.​
The upper mid-range is still present of course. The delicate cymbal work that makes Taylor Eigsti’s “Get Your Hopes Up” is not lost. The unavoidable muted sibilance from a closely-mic’d Karen Carpenter is retained in The Carpenters’s “Touch Me When We’re Dancing.” We’re certainly not being deprived of an upper mid-range. It’s just not hogging center stage like the audio equivalent of lens flare.​
Speaking of sibilance, I was thrilled to find that two of my favorite tracks are now listenable without EQ: Ride’s “Twisterella”; and Sugar’s “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” (or really anything that Bob Mould has touched). In my opinion, both of those were produced poorly, with wince-inducing upper mid-range spikes, which the Atrium mitigated well.​


The Atrium’s highs extend out in what I call an even and easy taper - which is to say that they drift off into the ether very gradually. It’s a very natural ebb where the highs don’t sparkle and blind you like audiophile pixie dust, nor do they fall off a cliff plunging you into darkness.​
Please note that, if you have any appreciable high-frequency hearing loss, the Atrium is not for you. You’re going to perceive its highs and top end as being dark and rolled-off. For example, if you’re smitten with the high-frequency response of Sennheiser’s HD 800, Focal’s Utopia, or any number of Fostex/Denon flagships, then the Atrium is not the droid you’re looking for. But if your high-frequency hearing is relatively intact, Atrium will sound just right to you.

Detail & Resolution​

First and foremost, I am a detailhead. I began my journey with the trope of hearing (and not being able to unhear) details in music that I’d never noticed before. And that particular facet has been the primary high that I’ve chased for well over a decade. It’s why I like stats in general, and it’s why Audeze’s LCD-5 is my current reference.​
That said… no, the Atrium is not as resolving as I might personally prefer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine. I can still hear the drum kit being set up in the background of Cameron Graves’s “Adam & Eve”. It’s just not obvious and in-my-face, and thus not the particular flavor of coloration that triggers those eargasms for me.​

Staging & Imaging​

Now we get to the second facet of Zach’s Atrium tuning, with which I’ve become enamored, soundstage. In the days ahead, as more impressions and reviews come out, you’re going to be hearing quite a bit about Atrium’s staging - and for good reason, because it’s to die for.​
It’s not preternaturally wide, like that of Sennheiser’s HD 800 - but that’s okay because nothing is, not even real life. Nor is it psychoacoustically deep like certain Ultrasone models can be (assuming you’re a part of the human population for which S-Logic has an audible effect). What it is, at least to my ears, is undeniably expansive and spherical.​
Not only is it gorgeously wide laterally-speaking, but there’s fantastic depth moving forward, and even a fair amount of rear distance being conveyed. And to top it all off, those distances were uncannily proportional for me. It wasn’t so much of a soundscape before me, as a sound sphere that I resided within.​
Sense of scale was decidedly out-of-head and grand with the NY Philharmonic’s rendition of J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor (BWV 232: IV), Alan Gilbert conducting. And I was thrilled to hear the audience hooting behind and above me with “I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow (Live)” by Alison Krauss & Union Station.​
Those two tracks do a particularly brilliant job of illustrating Atrium’s staging, but in truth, there were many tracks that benefitted, even highly-produced studio recordings. I’ll touch upon those impressions in a separate follow-up, as they are highly subjective and (in all probability) very psychoacoustically personalized to me.​

Ear Pad Options​

As many ZMF headphone owners can attest, their headphones can undergo dramatic sound characteristic changes, depending on which pads one has opted for. In addition to ZMF’s Universe Pads, which came pre-installed on the Atrium as a default option, I was also fortunate enough to try their Auteur pads and their Be2 pads with the Atrium.

Auteur Pads:​

While I’ve liked Auteur pads in the past, that was when they were seated on Auteurs. On Atrium, I’m forced to confess that, I found them somewhat less enjoyable.​
The Auteur pads rolled-off extension at both ends of Atrium’s frequency response, with the majority of that roll-off being at the top, which had the net effect of giving the Atrium a significantly darker tone. In addition, the Auteur pads reduced the overall soundstage, though curiously, elements imaged wider within that diminished stage, which made a few tracks sound as if staging was expanded.​
As I stated before, I was personally not a fan of these changes. However, should you find the Universe pads not you your liking, preferring a darker and more intimate presentation, then the Auteur pads are what you’re looking for.​

Be2 Pads:​

ZMF’s Be2 pads are quite different altogether. Generally-speaking, they make Atrium’s frequency response sound more linear, more neutral, and much more akin to that of a studio-monitor’s response curve.​
There seems to be small increase in low-end response, though this is so low as to be more felt than heard. At the same time, there is a non-trivial increase in upper-mid-range and high frequency response — such that Atrium sounds far more energetic in the presence range, and even offers up sparkly highs where it didn’t before.​
I can see how many a traditional audiophile would prefer this over the Universe pads… but I didn’t. For me, the Be2 pads made the Atrium a less-relaxing listening experience, even a bit shouty at times, and just plain gave me a sense of agita.​

To be continued…
Mar 18, 2022 at 1:00 AM Post #3 of 1,373
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Mar 18, 2022 at 1:03 AM Post #5 of 1,373
Mar 18, 2022 at 1:04 AM Post #6 of 1,373
that atrium is pretty!
Mar 18, 2022 at 1:07 AM Post #7 of 1,373
My humble photos....

Mar 18, 2022 at 1:11 AM Post #8 of 1,373
Any further details on the differences between the old and new Auteur?
Maybe a FR chart comparison as well?
Possible to send our old Auteur for an upgrade?
Mar 18, 2022 at 1:13 AM Post #9 of 1,373
looks like there are Atriums in a few different wood types already!(?).
Mar 18, 2022 at 1:14 AM Post #10 of 1,373
that atrium is pretty!
I'm pretty partial to the stabilized and poured resin ZMFs, but this headphone is the most classy and beautiful ZMF has released, IMHO. As usual, photos dont do these justice!
Mar 18, 2022 at 1:15 AM Post #11 of 1,373
looks like there are Atriums in a few different wood types already!(?).
Cherry and Aged Cherry. Then Bubinga first LTD.
Mar 18, 2022 at 1:17 AM Post #12 of 1,373
Any further details on the differences between the old and new Auteur?
Quite different in pretty much every aspect. Not as peaky in the upper mids, bass is insane, staging is much wider, deeper and taller, mids are even better than the original.
Mar 18, 2022 at 1:22 AM Post #13 of 1,373
Mar 18, 2022 at 1:25 AM Post #14 of 1,373
Mar 18, 2022 at 1:31 AM Post #15 of 1,373
Quite different in pretty much every aspect. Not as peaky in the upper mids, bass is insane, staging is much wider, deeper and taller, mids are even better than the original.

The only difference is a different dampening material inside right? Or are the drivers tuned differently as well?
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