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ZMF Classic MK3 - discussion and impressions

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by anatidae, Feb 8, 2017.
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  1. ohcrapgorillas
    Yep, just a couple screws holding it on. I'm sure if you just ask Zach to send it along "on the side" he'd accommodate, he's very responsive.
    Mark Up likes this.
  2. omniweltall
    I dont find hd600 and 650 comfortable. Those earpads are annoying. My ears cant breathe. Love the sound though.

    I will try to audition this when a pair shows up in my vicinity. Zach tunes his cans with his ears and injects "soul" into his cans. Love his work.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2018
  3. Rhamnetin
    I think I might have to pick one of these up to compare them to the Argon MK3, the community needs such a comparison.
  4. cw68
    Just got a pair of ZMF Classics .
    First time stepping into the Fotex mod world and I like it .
    I'm powering them off my LG V30 ,it works but I can tell they want more POWER.
    What is everyone using or recommend.
    I'm trying to stay under 300 and portability would be great not to go out or the house but ease of going g room to room .
    I'd like to use my V30 as the audio source or my iPod touch.
    Thanks for any thoughts ideas.
    ohcrapgorillas likes this.
  5. The8thOctiveBoy

    I've been using the Fiio A3 with my V30 for a portable setup. It works pretty well, but not as good as my desk amp, these things are pretty power hungry.
  6. Rhamnetin
    You can get a used Chord Mojo for a little bit more than $300. I've used it with modded T50RPs and it does an admirable job, and I think it is probably several levels higher than every non-Chord portable device.
    cw68 likes this.
  7. Ipek
    I just ordered a pair for myself. I have spent months reaserching what would be my first pair Fostex cans, and I have finallysettled on these. I almost went for the T60rp, but it seems like these might be closer to what I actually want. I will let you all know my thoughts when they arrive! I am optimistic!
    Mark Up likes this.
  8. ohcrapgorillas
    Okay, it’s finally review time.

    Partly, this took so long is because I have been spending a majority of my free time writing my dissertation (mostly while listening to the Classics). Another good reason is that I wanted to wait until the shiny new toy syndrome had worn off. After all, if we as an audiophile community are so deeply concerned about psychological bias and placebo effects, ‘shiny new toy syndrome’ should be a part of that discussion. But let’s just get to the sound for now.

    Full disclosure: I’m a fan of ZMF headphones, I find Zach’s ‘house sound’ (balanced but not neutral, tasteful extra bass thump, and relaxed but well extended treble) and unique and enjoyable. I also own the ZMF Atticus in cocobolo. I’ve met Zach in person and I like him on a personal level. He gave me a free upgrade to the balanced Classic, and also sent along a complementary Atmos C copper litz cable. At the end of the day, I don’t want this to be thought of as a shill review: while free stuff is greatly appreciated, it means nothing if you can’t get the sound right and I would never hesitate to reveal flaws or negative aspects.

    Equipment: Schiit Wyrd>Massdrop SDAC+MCTH (stock tube/power supply); Schiit Eitr>Modi Multibit>Vali2 w/ 6SN7 tubes; Chord Mojo. ZMF Atmos C and OFC cables.

    In three words: coherent, detailed, relaxed

    Big and deep with good extension, and with great slam and impact. I typically wear glasses so extension will suffer a smidge, but even still these dig deep and rumble with ease. I don’t have a ton of music with big subbass, but it’s audible and very satisfying for what I do have. Bass is elevated over neutral to sound perfect for modern music (rock, metal, hip hop, pop, etc), which is most of what I listen to.

    All that being said, this is not the ubertightflatbass of the OG LCD2 or HE-400: those have better speed, texture and resolution. If bass quality is more critical to you than mids and treble then these aren’t your planars. As a non-basshead, I find the Classics low end very satisfying, however, bassheads and people in exclusive relationships with EDM would be better off elsewhere.

    Classics absolutely destroy the HD600 and HD650 in bass resolution/extension/texture. No competition at all. It’s embarrassing, really.

    This is where the Classics shine. Resolution and coherence are both stellar at this price. While the tonality isn’t dead on ‘realistic’, it’s very close, giving a slightly romantic and relaxed tint. This is entirely different from the smooth, rich tonality of the HD650… I have described before how these sound much closer to the HD600, which are more or less dead on ‘realistic’. The coloration here is best described as a tint: like a good pair of sunglasses, they allow you to see clearly while still taking the bright edge off. I think Zach’s ability to strike a balance between midrange realism and relaxation is one of his signature feats as a headphone maker and the reason that his products are so popular with the very discerning audiophile crowd.

    The treble follows in line with my description of the midrange, being slightly off-realistic and relaxed while still maintaining excellent detail, coherence, and extension for the price point. The treble is more relaxed than the mids, however, I am very hesitant to call these headphones dark. Put on a pair of dark headphones (e.g. O.G. LCD2) and switch to the Classics, the Classics will sound treble-forward in comparison. Put on the HD600 or the HD800, and the Classics will sound somewhat dark. Really, the theme of this review is “striking a balance”, which Zach does amazingly well, and I think the treble tuning of the Classics is just one of many testaments to his ability to tune a damn fine headphone.

    Amp and Cable Pairings
    Being planars (and not particularly efficient planars at that), these do take power to sound their best. Switching from the HD600 to the Classics, I usually need to turn the volume knob up by about 2.5 hours for a similar volume.

    I don’t have a ton of stuff to plug the Classics into, but that’s okay, because they sound good out of everything I’ve tried so far. Chord Mojo really impressed me, and I would have no issues traveling with this combo. Vali 2 does nothing wrong, but I find it has better synergy with dynamic headphones. The MCTH, with its clean, bright and spacious lean, is the clear winner: I think that any slightly treble-forward, airy sounding amps would make for an excellent combination.

    As for cables, I have very limited experience, so differences are difficult for me to describe. I own the stock cable, ZMF OFC cable, and the ZMF Atmos C. I have done very little listening with the stock cable, so no comments there. While I typically run the Classics with the OFC cable, reserving the Atmos for my Atticus, the synergy between the MCTH + Atmos C + Classics is dangerously good. The Atmos C, like the MCTH, helps improve the sense of space and air that the Classics can present.

    Comparisons with other headphones
    Sennheiser HD600

    PLEASE keep in mind that these are impressions from mid-tier amps at best. I know the HD600 can do better!

    I’ve already written up a brief comparison to the HD600 here. With more listening time, I think the differences between the two can be quickly summed up by the following. I’ve given each trait a (somewhat personal and arbitrary) percentage scale to give you an idea of the relative differences. (HD600 are strapped with Dekoni Elite Hybrid pads and ZMF OFC cable).

    ZMF Classic: bass quantity, quality, and extension (65%), more coherent during busy/chaotic passages (15-20%), bigger, deeper, angled pads (20%), more detailed/faster (15%), more relaxed sounding (15%), more forward/centered soundstage (5-10%), microdynamics (5% with mid-tier amps)

    Sennheiser HD600: more lightweight (25-30%), macrodynamics (10-15% with mid-tier amps, highly amp dependent), wider soundstage (15%), better treble extension (10%), more realistic sounding (5-10%)

    Going back and forth between the two, it’s hard to not prefer the Classics. I am a big sucker for macrodynamics, and it’s one of the few areas where the Classics are lacking in comparison to dynamic headphones… but coherence even more critical, and the Classics hold together just so much better. I don’t notice the sloppiness going straight for the Senns, in fact I find them to be some of the most coherent headphones at their price, part of what I love about them. But, after hearing the Classics in the same listening session, they can have a tendency to sound wooly, hazy, or worse with several instruments or vocalists at once.

    Realistic tonality, like macrodynamics, is another of those supercritical things to me. When I say the Classics are relaxed, I do not mean that they have the same kind of thick, smooth mids as the HD650 or like a pre-fazor LCD2. The midrange and treble are clean, well-defined, and well-extended, but still gentle on harsh recordings.

    When it comes to chill and/or acoustic music, I think the HD600 might have a slight edge just based on the fact that they have a slightly more natural and realistic tonality. But, given the better detail and speed of the Classics, this may be a matter of personal preference.

    Comparisons with ZMF Atticus
    Well, there really is no comparison here, nor should there be. The Atticus have far superior dynamics, and a presentation of space/imaging/separation that is on a different planet. Although macrodetail isn’t far behind, the lack of microdetail is apparent. Tonality wise, the Atticus are big, rich, and deep sounding whereas the Classics have a more straightforward, clean-cut, easy-going approach.

    TL;DR All in all, the ZMF Classics represent a ridiculously good value when compared to their competition in the same price bracket. If you’re just starting this hobby, and looking for a good, detailed pair of headphones for listening to range of modern music like rock, metal, electronic, hip-hop, etc., get a pair of Classics, an MCTH, and get out before it devours your wallet.

    (minor edits)
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2018
    Specht, Wes S, Mark Up and 1 other person like this.
  9. Grayven
    great review.
    Wes S and Mark Up like this.
  10. Ipek
    They are finally here!

    First impressions, a more level headed description will be coming later.

    So while good, these are not exactly my favorite flavor of sound signature. I enjoy a warm neutral, and what I got was bass heavy and pushed back treble. I had them plugged into my laptop with a Dacport HD which seems to do a really good job driving them for my amateur tastes. My background is as a live sound engineer and not an audiophile who goes to a bunch of shows.

    I read in other forums and threads that Zach commented about a piece of foam being removable to bring the highs up. I did so and heard the highs indeed come up and still sounded pretty smooth. Next, I had to tone down that bass. Straight out of the box, this was the most bass heavy headphone I had ever heard, and I have heard some pretty bassy cans. It surprised me and made me think that maybe mine had been tuned differently than the standard. I remembered somewhere else that it was mentioned sealing up the bass ports increased bass. I looked in the cup, and sure enough all the vents were closed. I removed one piece of tape on each cup, there were four total, and immediately heard the bass come down to a level that was still warm and boosted but not obscuring to the music. Then I noticed an imaging problem and found the bass in the left cup was higher than the right. I removed a second piece of tape from the left cup, and now the bass is close enough on both that I can't tell the difference. Those are the only changes I made, removing the second foam disc, and removing a single piece of tape in the right cup and two in the left cup. Now they sound a bit closer to what I was expecting, if not slightly more neutral in the highs.

    The mids are pretty great except for a dip I noticed somewhere in the low mids or high bass at around 250hz. This is a point of resonance in a lot of male vocals that ends up a bit subdued, but not so much as to be considered bad.

    There is some kind of black foam cover on the top of the headband that is stuck with adhesive. I feel like it is the kind that will probably degrade and crumble with time. I hope I am wrong. It is glued on well enough that I won't be able to get it off without serious effort.

    Update: When playing a sine wave between 20-40hz I noticed a very slight rattling in the right side. I think this may be a quality control issue on Fostex side of things and probably not the fault of ZMF, but I don't know for certain. It is not something I would have noticed from just listening to music. It does bother me though, since the left side does not have this issue. It is only from the slight contrast with the left side that I felt the need to check the bass in the first place.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2018
    Mark Up likes this.
  11. tetan001
    Fantastic review, thank you for taking the time to put together your thoughts on these cans.

    I received mine a month ago and just this past week received the LCX+SDAC from Massdrop (a solid state variation of the dac/amp that ohcrapgorillas is recommending above), and I have been pretty blown away. Not saying much considering my other headphones are M50s, Philips 9500S and some TFZ Series 4 IEMs that I've been driving with a FiiO e10k. I don't feel I have much of a base of comparison, but what ohcrapgorillas describes above pretty much mirrors my experience.

    One thing to note: I did notice a pretty significant difference listening to these on the FiiO e10k vs the LCX + SDAC. These things definitely need power and most dac/amp combos will not do it justice, so make sure you're planning (or already have) the equipment necessary to drive them.

    All in all, I am hoping to take ohcrapgorillas' advice to heart and look at this as my endgame. I don't know how much more my wallet can take!
    ohcrapgorillas and Mark Up like this.
  12. ohcrapgorillas
    Quick pick of the office setup: Wyrd > SDAC+MCTH > ZMF Classic. This combo is fantastic, but I know the MCTH can do a little better: once I have a little extra cash (things have been tight) I'm going to build an AMB sigma25 LPS for it.

    I know the ZMF Pendant is getting all the attention right now--and man oh man I'd love to hear one--but imo the Classics are a killer value in the budget bracket and deserve a lot more attention than they're getting.
    2018-08-13 10.20.03.jpg
  13. Wes S
    Well . . . I just got my ZMF Classic, and I am really, really liking them!

    I am a big Mrspeakers Alpha Prime fan, and the Classic are a very nice compliment and change of pace. They are not quite as good as my Alpha Prime, but really sound good with classic rock, jazz, and live recordings. The Alpha Prime are amazing with all genres. The classic have more warmth, from the midbass, and the Alpha Prime have better extension up top and down low. They both have lovely mids, and the Classic really hold their own here and may be better, but I don't have enough time with them yet. Zach is a mids master, and this is evident with the Classic, for sure. The soundstage width and imaging go to the Alpha Prime, but the Classic is not to far behind, and this is where the magic happens with the Alpha Prime, so it is hard to compete with. The bass thump, hits harder with Classic, from the midbass, but is not as defined or deep as the Alpha Prime. The bass is really fun with the Classic, with the genres I mentioned earlier. The Classic's tuning is in one word, smooth. They have a warm and weighty sound that is super fun. The listening is being done with Modi MULTIBIT, Lyr 3, and Sylvania 3 hole 52' "Bad boy". All in all, I could not be happier with my purchase of the ZMF Classic! Thanks to Zach!
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2018
    legion1capone and Rhamnetin like this.
  14. Wes S
    As I have put more time on these and i am listening to these, right now i am thinking. . .these ZMF Classic are the best buy currently out there. Feed them some power and they will sing! For the money, not a better headphone.
  15. MAK1975
    Totally agree on the value of these cans. I have been enjoying my ZMF Classics (balanced upgrade) for several months now. Very power hungry compared to my other headphones, but given enough juice these really sing! I use them extensively with both my Schiit Jotunheim and iFi Micro iDSD BL. Both of these amps have the ability to bring these cans alive. I have tried them plugged directly into my iPhone 6S Plus and Hiby R3 and not even close to being able to power these monsters. I crank the volume to full blast on high gain and 80 on the R3 and it's way too soft, even on rock'n roll tracks. For Classical orchestral pieces forget it. Soft passages are barely audible.

    Yes these headphones are great value for their SQ and dynamics, but be prepared to purchase a decent desktop amp to power them. These are for home use and not a good a portable solution. I have used them unplugged with my iFi Micro BL and they work very well, but as a smartphone or DAP only solution its a no-go. A stackable AMP+DAP/phone solution is a must if you want to use these unplugged, Also these cans leak sound so if you are around others in a quiet office environment close to others they will be able to hear your music. They are best used at home or in a private office with a powerful desktop headphone amp.

    All that being said Zach has done a great job tuning these. I have compared them to my Sennheiser HD6xx and 58xx Jubliee and these blow them away in bass resolution/extension/texture as the reviewer above has described. These are a very fun/smooth headphone and given my current collection of HD 6XX, 58X Jubliee, ZMF Classics, and Focal Spirit Classics, I'm not sure what else to add to it.

    ohcrapgorillas and tetan001 like this.
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