ZMF Auteur Thread

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by PacoTaco, Oct 15, 2017.
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  1. rgs9200m
    That's great, because both the Atticus and Eikon are awesome already and are in my small set of go-to headphones. I couldn't be without either of them.
    It's that Holy Grail of listenability and reach that makes them great.

    I have been through many headphones (including many pricey ones), but my 2 ZMFs really float my boat and I feel are brilliantly designed and tuned, with gorgeous sound, and they are really comfortable too.
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2017
    humzebra, zach915m and Wildcatsare1 like this.
  2. givemetacos
    Here's my full review and comparisons for the Auteur:


    Disclaimer: Thanks to Zach at ZMF for providing me with a loaner Auteur to review. While this headphone was provided to me for free to review I am trying to be as honest as I can about my impressions.

    This particular set is made of oxidized padauk wood. All listening has been done on a combo of NFB-11, R2R 11, Theta DSPro Basic II, Magni 3, and Valhalla 2. None of those were bad matches, but I tend to prefer the Theta/Valhalla 2 combo the most. All review notes are done using the Auteur perforated pads. If you buy the Auteur on pre-order you will also get ZMF Eikon perforated pads that I briefly mention at the end of the review. Most my listening was done with a mixture of FLAC or Spotify Premium tracks. I’ve been listening to these headphones almost exclusively for a few weeks now and feel I have a good understanding of them. Here are a sample of tracks (not fully inclusive) that I used for testing:
    Kamasi Washington - Truth
    Bon Iver - Holocene
    Norman Greenbaum - Spirit in the Sky
    Talking Heads - This Must be the Place
    The Piano Guys - Over the Rainbow
    Stevie Ray Vaughan - Tin Pan Alley
    Dusty Springfield - Son of a Preacher Man
    Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
    Anderson .Paak - Am I Wrong
    Massive Attack - Angel
    Hans Zimmer - Cornfield Chase
    Foster the People - Sit Next to Me
    The Flashbulb - We, the Dispelled
    Lake Street Dive - Mistakes
    Beck - Morning
    Glass Animals - Gooey
    Fleetwood Mac - Dreams
    The Japanese House - Face Like Thunder
    Daft Punk - Giorgio by Moroder
    Dire Straits - Sultans of Swing
    Radiohead - Nude

    Build: This headphone is very much in line with the other ZMF dynamics (Atticus/Eikon) in looks and build. In short, this is the best built headphone I have ever used. The wood cups are very solid and well crafted. They don’t feel cheap like the TH-X00 or EMU Teak cups. The headband is made of metal and wrapped in a padded leather. The gimbals and rods are metal and solid, and don’t feel as flimsy as the Fostex TH-X00 variants or Audeze LCD series. There is no plastic anywhere and this headphone both feels premium and like a work of art. There really aren’t any negatives I can think of in terms of build, and that is a weird thing to say for headphones. Zach even supplies you with the wrenches needed to loosen/tighten anything or disassemble it.

    Comfort: The Auteur is a bit lighter than the Atticus/Eikon due to the slimmer wooden cups, but the general feel is still the same. The pads are leather and plush, with just the right size ear opening to fully enclose your ears without touching but it doesn’t feel overly big and spacious like the HD800. And while the headphone is still on the heavy side (this set is probably in the 550-575g range), it carries its weight really well, unlike the Audeze LCD series headphones. I could wear these all day and never get fatigued. But if you are the type that wants to headbang or are just really sensitive to weight in general, they could be too heavy for you. The clamp force is also adjustable as the headband is metal and can be shaped in any way you want it.

    Bass: The moment I put these on I just smiled at how good the bass response is. Being used to “planar bass” and being more in favor of warm headphones, the bass in Auteur completely satisfies me. It is well extended into sub-bass and can hit hard when called upon. It isn’t overly emphasized like the Eikon and Atticus, as it feels much more linear and neutral, but it isn’t polite like HD800. I would say it feels very similar to all good planar headphones in being tight, fast, and punchy with nice texture. It is well controlled and can hit those double bass drums with ease. While I tend to EQ my HD800 up in sub-bass and mid-bass, I don’t feel that need at all with Auteur. For a neutral, reference level sound, the bass is pretty spot on.
    Mids: The mids on all the ZMF dynamics have been a standout to me. Coming from the smooth and rich HD600/650 headphones, I love that natural and forward mid presence. The Auteur brings that in the same way. Vocals have just a bit of warmth to feel visceral and lively. There is no mid dip like many cans and even female vocals feel very present, but never shouty or strained like what I hear in LCD-2. Pianos sound crisp and clear and guitars feel dynamic and buttery smooth. Instrumental and orchestral music really shine on these cans as well as heavy vocal oriented genres.
    Treble: Auteur finds the right balance of having lots of air and instrument separation in the treble with a bit of sparkle, but it is never sibilant or harsh. It feels very refined and cymbals splash and sizzle, but the treble never overshadows the mix in ways that I feel both Beyer headphones and the HD800 sometimes do. Treble also isn’t as forward as Grado headphones so if you like that aggressive electric guitar feel in metal genres the treble might feel a little too laid back. For not being a warm headphone with rolled treble, I find the Auteur to be very non-fatiguing and easy to listen to in long listening sessions.
    Other notes: The soundstage on the Auteur just feels accurate. While HD800 is much wider, it does so at the expense of sometimes feeling artificially wide in ways that isn’t always the best fit with certain tracks. The Auteur strikes a nice balance in feeling very open and spacious, moreso than HD600/650, but yet feels intimate and cohesive in presentation. Imaging and resolution are great. The Auteur feels more resolving than the HD6x0 and LCD-2, but it isn’t as microdetail oriented like HD800. This is a more natural and euphonic listening experience rather than analytical.
    The Auteur has a second set of Eikon perforated pads that look almost identical to the Auteur pads. Zach says these pads bump the bass/low-mids up about 2-3 dB from 800 Hz down. And this is pretty much in line with what I hear. The Eikon pads are just a bit warmer, but I would still consider it close to neutral and the pad change is fairly small and not a major shift. I like both pads, but since I also use Atticus, I don’t feel the need for more warmth with Auteur so I tend to use the Auteur pads the most.

    Overall thoughts: I think that perhaps the biggest strength of Auteur is the tonal balance. This is what I would call a perfectly neutral and natural can, at least to my preferences. It is rare to get a dynamic with such great sub-bass extension and overall bass presence that is so well integrated in the mix and yet doesn’t bleed into the mids, which happen to be incredibly natural and lush. The only thing that I can really knock Auteur for is that it isn’t a super unique sounding headphone like HD800, Utopia, or Stax are. Those are about the only headphones I have heard that just don’t sound like any other headphone and do very special things. The Auteur on the other hand sounds like what you are used to from a headphone, but does everything exceptionally well and better than most of the things you have heard before. If you want a beautiful, wonderfully crafted, and superb sounding dynamic headphone, this is it.

    So is Auteur worth the price? I am definitely aware of diminishing returns and I know that this hits people at different places. However, I will say that for being in the TOTL price bracket, the Auteur and ZMF as a company just do everything right unlike the compromises you often have to make with every other company. It frustrates me that Audeze can make a great sounding headphone, but they are super heavy and uncomfortable. Yes, you can get used to it and you can find ways to make it work (e.g. Lohb strap, carbon fiber headband), but if you are paying $1k+ doesn’t that kind of suck that you have to “make it work”? And even Hifiman leaves a lot to be desired in build and QC, not to mention customer service. Thankfully Audeze does a 3 year warranty, but for making a headphone prone to abnormally high driver failures, you still charge $400 if out of warranty? And I also love my HD800s, but it is plastic and the paint just chips and fades over time even if you just keep it on a stand or in a box all its life. I think it kinda sucks paying such high prices for headphones that still fall short in some pretty key areas. While sound is all subjective, what I like about Zach and ZMF is that you are objectively getting a custom, hand-built product that is individual and looks different from anyone else’s. His headphones are built like tanks and the only signs of wear I ever see are maybe little metal scratches on the gimbals. If you buy direct from Zach you get a lifetime warranty. And if you need repairs you aren’t shipping overseas (assuming you live in the U.S.), you are shipping to Chicago. You also have the opportunity to talk to Zach about your wood preferences, grain patterns, hardware color, etc. And you can reach him through email, reddit PM, Discord chat, etc. I know in the more budget and mid-fi pricing that stuff isn’t a deal breaker, but when you are going to pay $1k+ for a nice product, something you consider an investment, those things matter.

    HD600: The HD600 is one of my favorite headphones of all time. I owned it for a while, along with the HD650, and I have an HD6XX on the way. I also have an HD800, so you can see how much I like Sennheiser. The HD600 is just an incredibly neutral and natural headphone that can do everything well. Some people consider the 2016 LCD-2 an “upgrade” to HD600, but being planar and having a completely different presentation, I think of it more as a sidegrade for reasons I mention further down. But the Auteur is what I consider a true upgrade to HD600. It is neutral and natural and overall has a very similar tonality as HD600. But it has much better sub-bass extension, a bit more bass quantity, wider soundstage, better imaging, more resolving, and scales as well or better than HD600. The Auteur looks better, is better built, more comfortable since the pads are bigger and not as warm as velour, with adjustable clamp for those that find HD600 clamp too much. If I had the 2 headphones sitting side-by-side on a table, I can’t think of one instance I would pick the HD600 up. But with that said, the Auteur is over $1k more than HD600 so it SHOULD be better. Well, so should lots of other $1k+ headphones but aren’t. Again, I’m not saying Auteur is 5x better than HD600 though and I have no idea whether Auteur will represent a big enough jump in upgrade to justify the price for you. But I can say that for those that treasure the HD600 and have been dissatisfied with supposed “upgrades”, I think the Auteur might surprise you.
    LCD-2 (2016): Compared to the LCD-2, the Auteur is just better all around. I find the Auteur to take the strengths of both HD600 and LCD-2, improve those even further, and get rid of all the weaknesses. Like HD600 and LCD-2 I consider it to be in the neutral and natural category. The Auteur has the sub-bass extension of LCD-2, but a little more quantity with Eikon pads, yet keeping the forward and natural mids of HD600/650. The mids of Auteur are more lush and warm than LCD-2. I always feel the mids timbre on LCD-2 to be slightly off and less natural than HD600, which is why I consider it a sidegrade. The treble is also clear and clean like LCD-2, but Auteur feels more dynamic than LCD-2 and doesn’t have that planar “wall of sound” feel. Soundstage is similar to LCD-2 but Auteur is far more resolving with better imaging. Auteur also has the benefit of being 300 Ohm impedance so it can pair well with more sources like OTL amps and it scales better than LCD-2 does. It is also better built and more robust, while carrying its weight much better and being far more comfortable.
    DT1990: This headphone is also close to neutral with well extended and punchy bass. In fact, bass response on DT1990 was probably my favorite from a dynamic until Auteur. Everything about DT1990 is tighter and sharper than Auteur. But the DT1990 is much brighter up top and more edged. The mids aren’t as forward and as natural as Auteur. Overall, the Auteur does a better job in integrating a more cohesive sound. The Auteur is a more musical and smooth sounding headphone with more detail. The soundstage is on similar levels though. The Auteur is heavier, but I prefer the bigger leather pads of Auteur over the round shaped Beyer velour pads.
    TH-X00/EMU Teak: The Auteur also uses biocellulose drivers like the Fostec variants. However, the X00 is tuned to be more U-shaped. It has more sub-bass and mid-bass quantity than Auteur. The bass has more bloom and is more thick. This makes it a more “fun” sounding headphone better suited for bassy music. The bass quality isn’t as textured and dynamic as Auteur. And while the mids are quite good on these headphones, they aren’t liquid and lush like Auteur. The mids just get overshadowed by the power of the bass. The treble in X00 is also much hotter and borders that line of sibilance. The Auteur never feels close to harsh and is smoother and more refined. The X00 has a much narrower soundstage in comparison and doesn’t feel as open and airy as Auteur. I think the Auteur (and the other ZMF dynamics) make the X00/Teak feel like toys in comparison. The wood on the ZMFs is thicker and more robust and the headband assembly is far more sturdy and inspires confidence that the Fostex variants lack.
    HD800: The HD800 is just a unique sounding headphone with its really big soundstage presentation. But that makes the sound feel very diffuse and light and airy. I hesitate to call it “thin” sounding as it isn’t weak, but it feels very spread out. Because of that lightness it forces out all the microdetail in any track. The Auteur on the other hand has a heavier and meatier sound. Though I wouldn’t call it thick, but it is more forward and musical. It has the details but is never analytical. I think the HD800 can feel more impressive on first listen, but it is a polarizing headphone that might sound artificial to many. The Auteur is a safer recommendation in that it isn’t as bright and peaky like HD800, and it has much better bass quantity as many people (myself included) feel the HD800 can be bass-light. I still love my HD800 with EQ and tubes, though I think Auteur is in the same league and is more a complement to HD800 rather than a competitor.
    Atticus: The Atticus is fully closed and a completely different sounding headphone from Auteur and can be thought of as a good complement to it. The Atticus adds a nice mid-bass bump that really give a strong slam and heaviness to the bass compared to Auteur. There is still good sub-bass extension in Atticus, but it gets overshadowed by the warmth and thickness of the mid-bass. The Auteur doesn’t have a particularly strong mid-bass presence and just feels more linear across the range. The mids on both headphones are very similar and have that same natural and lush timbre. But the Atticus has a gently rolled treble that make it less airy and sparkly up top, but never veiled. The Auteur extends more and brings treble a bit more forward. This, along with being an open headphone, gives Auteur a bigger soundstage in comparison. Auteur is also more detailed and reference level. But the Atticus is great if you want a fun, bassy, warm headphone to complement a more reference neutral one.
    Stax L300/500/700: I have recently had a chance to audition the Lambda series earspeakers in my home setup for an extended time. The L300/500/700 all have a similar sound signature and very similar drivers so I will consider them mostly the same for comparisons. Stax feels much faster and more detailed than Auteur, with more similarities to HD800 in that regard. But I find Stax to be better tonally balanced than HD800 (stock) and to have a meatier sound. However, compared to Auteur the sound still feels a little thin and more poignant because of how quick the attack and decay happens. It feels less smooth and musical. This also lends Stax to having a more analytical drive to them, but because of the great tonal balance, they are still fun and exciting to listen to. I think Auteur bass has a little more warmth and bloom compared to the dryness of Stax and the mids still carry a more natural and lush musicality that can make Stax feel cold in comparison. But Stax does excel in orchestral, jazz, and big instrumentation types of genres, especially ones with complex passages that benefit from superb imaging. The soundstage is similar in Stax and Auteur and they both feel open and airy. I think Stax are a great pick for people that value detail and imaging the most and want excellent, linear sub-bass extension and punch that headphones like HD800 can lack. Though HD800 with tubes and EQ can essentially remedy all of its stock shortcomings and I find that combo to have the best mix of corrected tonal balance, wide soundstage, microdetail, and musicality. But even then I still think Auteur stands out for its more natural and engaging presentation in comparison to both Stax and HD800.
    hikaru12, Daanish, drwlf and 15 others like this.
  3. jinxy245

    Wow...fantastic review, great information. Much appreciated (I think...I can't swing these financially right now!)
  4. Gym_Turtle
    Thank you very much for the detailed review! What were your favourite songs to listen to with the Auteur?
  5. SHAMuuu
    Things like just interest the nerdy part of me. I think Hifiman includes a book with Susvara.... or is that ShangriLa Jr, Sr. But its interesting to know why material were choses with background story, etc etc. Adds to the mystique of a headphone. IMO anyway. Like the grille being an honorary symbol to your love of Banjos and stained French glass. etc etc.

    George Taylor and Wildcatsare1 like this.
  6. givemetacos
    My favorite stuff with Auteur is the more natural instrument, acoustic, singer/songwriter indie pop types of music. For the fun electronic stuff I tend to go for Atticus and for the more classical/orchestral stuff I go for HD800. But vocals and small band stuff with Auteur is perfect. I really do think Auteur is a nice extension/upgrade of the HD6x0 sound signature so if you like those headphones, I would say Auteur suits the same types of music.
    Gym_Turtle likes this.
  7. chimney189
    This headphone is downright beautiful.
    I love the originality of it.
    Great job Zach!
    zach915m likes this.
  8. Gym_Turtle
    How is the Auteur in terms of all-around usability (Movies, games, etc.)?
  9. givemetacos
    Being neutral you really can't go wrong. But sometimes for movies, say action genres, I might go for bassier headphones just to make them more "fun". But I watched a ton of Game of Thrones with Auteur and can't complain at all. Anything with good music scores will definitely benefit. For gaming, I did find Auteur imaging to be good enough for competitive. But I tend to favor HD800 more as I like the bigger soundstage and more expansive feeling. But this is all just preference and nitpicking really. I haven't come across an occasion that I felt the Auteur didn't work in. It even isolates a little more sound and leaks a little less sound compared to something like HD800 in case that matters to you.
  10. Gym_Turtle
    BooUrns likes this.
  11. zach915m
    ZMFheadphones ZMF headphones hand-crafts wood headphones in Chicago, USA with special attention to exceptional sound and craftsmanship. Stay updated on ZMFheadphones at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.

  12. nScott89
  13. lugnut
    What am I missing here, received email on pre orders, starting Nov 10 @10 AM CST. As I type this it is 9:45 PM on Nov 9. Website states all pre order Auteurs are sold out ! I don't understand how they can be sold out before they go on sale ? Is the sold out status just there until 11/10 sale starts ? Thanks
  14. nScott89
    Fear not. They haven't been 'in stock' yet on the site. He'll put the preorder slots 'in inventory' once pre-orders are live.
  15. cskippy
    Preorders aren't open yet. You are fine. :slight_smile:
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