Review: ZMF Atrium Headphone
Our full ZMF Atrium Review with comparisons for the ZMF Atrium vs Verite.
What really makes a company “different” from its competitors? In the case of ZMF Headphones, public opinion on forums and assorted online conversations often leans towards a specific uniqueness in the large field of high end audiophile headphones. Is founder Zach Marbach really doing something different with his brand and especially the latest bio-cellulose driver flagship Atrium? I think so.
For a $2.5k headphone, a finished, refined design is undoubtedly expected. While it may not tout an uber metal-machined vibe, the carved wood that is the centerpiece of the line has a very hand held/cared for feel to it. A more personalized experience, if you will. Zach’s wide array of videos on the subject will no doubt shed some light on the process by which he brings the material to life, but as a whole the brand does seem to emanate a little more “from Zach to you” than your average corporate entity. So how does this affect the value proposition? Well, the build is a good audiophile-centric approach overall. The cups sit around the ears and out from the head in a fashion that isn’t unusual for this pricepoint or target market. The headphone isn’t attempting to be too many different things for too wide of a scope. If you land in that target’s center, then you will understand why the small headphone start up has built such a loyal following in a few short years. The models are nearly collectables in their own right, with different wood options borrowing an even more “unique” qualifier. Some might argue the acoustic impact is small to nil between the wood grain variants, but no one should argue that the visual effect can’t be really cool.
To break down some of the more technical basics, I like to start with the overall comfort of the headphone. The clamping pressure from the Atrium proved to be right where I like it for my somewhat large-ish head. Zach offers a wide variety of ear pads to further customize your experience. Those who like to tinker might find some small augmentations to damping, bass response or even more tonal variations from his line of Be2 or Auteur Lambskin pads. While not cheap, the texture against the head was very comfortable and upscale – all fair game for what you might find on headphones going all the way up to $6k or more. The weight on the head was pretty much middle of the road for a full-size audiophile headphone. Not nearly as heavy as the likes of the legacy Audeze LCD-4, but certainly not lighter than the non-wood, carbon fiber-like counterparts. The fit and finish allows for heavy dollops of both fine engineering and a home grown sense of longevity. In all my years of reviewing ZMF gear, I’ve never received a pair that arrived DOA or had any manufacturing issues of any type. That can not be said for all brands in the field, unfortunately. The new Atrium grill resembles a stained glass effect and is a fairly impressive die cut upon further inspection. I don’t personally see this as a “walking down the street” type headphone, but set up next to a tube amplifier and a broken-in leather chair, one could easily find this can’s intended place in the world.
I also received a Verite Open model to compare alongside the Atrium, as both models now retail for the same price from the ZMF website. To my great surprise upon opening the boxes, the two options sounded vastly different from each other. Upon further burn-in however, both the Verite open and Atrium started to close in on each other, sonically speaking. They are not the same headphone however. Generically speaking, they both offer roughly similar levels of resolution. Which is to say, very solid transparent to source playback. They are not the most resolute headphones I have ever heard, but too much of a good thing often treads into territory where an over-analytical nature dominates a headphone, a target which can be easily overshot. Instead the Atrium is a very listenable headphone, striking a nice balance between honesty and romance without being too forgiving. There is a very tangible out-of-the-head experience with both headphones, with the Verite landing a wider left to right sonic illusion, and the Atium offering a more “out in front” image. In my experience, a good left to right option is more common, and out in front is more rare – like what I found in Focal’s Utopia headphone. But surely this psycho acoustic phenomenon is heavily subject to one’s own perception and personal taste. A more noticeable difference between the two was that the Atium appeared to have slightly more mid bass than the Verite. Likewise, I found the vocals and mids of the Atruim to be just a touch “juicier” by immediate comparison. The thump of the bass drum is noticeably more in the ZMF Atrium vs Verite, but never out of control or really even a basshead’s line of reference. I would compare the presentation to more the Rosson Audio Design’s RAD-0 bass than perhaps the Audeze LCD house sound, which tends to focus more on lower sub-bass regions, if anything. Still, the Atrium is not a planar magnetic headphone, and it doesn’t sound like either. That’s a good thing in the grand scheme of headphonia. It leans in heavily to what makes the ZMF line an attractive offer in the sea of planars that are now available.
There is a good sense of silky smoothness to the presentation that doesn’t detract from the resolution, again, the headphone is not super forgiving. Perusing through TikTok, I have been subject to all manner of repetitive :30 sections of hyped songs through my iPhones speakers. Pulling up high resolution version of Harry Styles As It Was, I was still amazed at the amount of information that was missing without the Atrium. Even amidst this tired reviewer cliche, new instruments appeared in a focused form to the left and right. Reminding me that the audiophile experience can be a revelatory one, if properly executed. The new ZMF produces a tight scene, and does so effortlessly.
The perfect ZMF sound may lie somewhere in between the imaginary combination of the Atrium and the Verite, but the two share far more similarities than they do differences. For those looking for their first $2k+ headphone, make sure you check out Atrium if you have the opportunity. For those looking to add to their collection of high end headphones, the Atrium is a must have. It brings something different to the fold. Maybe a little something more than a dynamic driver is willing to give, and definitely something different than a planar can. In the end, it’s not attempting to be either, and why should it? The bespoke nature of the exterior echoes the subtlety of the sound quality. Natural, well constructed and reliable. An outstanding fit for a wide variety of listening rigs. Well done.
More info: ZMF Atrium