ZMF Pendant Headphone Amplifier Review
Over the years Zach from ZMF headphones has partnered with a varying companies to bring complimentary products to his consumer base. With the introduction of his own range of dynamic headphones in 2016, ZMF recently took up residence with tube amplifier maker ampsandsound for a partnership that we currently find ourselves staring directly into the warm glowing tubes of.
The collaboration is an interesting one, bringing together more than one theme for personal audio enthusiasts. There are hints of classic technologies and tried-and-true design elements aligned with more cutting edge design and material work that run through the system like veins of sonic lifeblood.
The ZMF Pendant ($2k) was forged with the idea that the right pairing to Zach’s headphones was necessary to get the perfect sound. From a strictly techs and specs viewpoint, many of the new ZMF headphones take a little more power, having a rating of 300 ohms. Generally speaking, with this level of impedance the influence of the amplifier section becomes distinctly more noticeable to the general populace from a standard issue, on-board stage. Most likely the obvious effect is just a reduction in volume level. The wide open setting still won’t bring your music up to normal listening, forget about jamming/working out energy. But more acute ears will also notice a loss of life, love and the pursuit of fidelity, even if you manage to get things up to the listening levels to which you are accostumed. Bass slam will suffer, sparkle dries. So the Pendant seeks to avoid all that nonsense, and maybe even brings some of its own flavor to the porridge pot.
Build and Tech
It would be impossible to review the Pendant without mentioning the outward style and look of the flat, everything-on-top setup. The wood border circling a blacked-out platform isn’t the first of its kind, but in a way it might be considered a classic from not only the DIY crowd but personal audio enthusiasts in general. Personally I find the retro aesthetic very pleasing, and very audiophile, but it may not be for everyone. All connections (and connected cables) are positioned straight up. For some parties that means easier access, but the design does assume that the amplifier will be positioned on the top shelf of a rack or desktop exclusively. The oversized knob located on the forward right corner has excellent sway, and a tactile feel that is also very pleasing. The amplifier is single ended, and holds two separate ¼ inch headphone jacks for “Low-Z” and “Hi-Z”. The former output rated at 8 ohms with 3 watts of max power, and the latter with 300 ohms and a max of 2.5 watts. Those into loudspeaker audio may not make a fuss about that kind of wattage, but that kind of power is somewhat rare for consumer-grade headphone amplification. In application the response was much of the same. The dial didn’t need to be turned past 50% under any duress, but the rate of increase was still smooth – in some part due to the large physical size of the knob.
Under critical listening sessions, it did appear to be true that the amplifier is matched up with the wide array (and getting wider) of cans that ZMF produces. According to Zach, the intent between the 300 ohm Hi-Z and the 8 ohm jacks usually comes down to user preference, but he does recommend either pairing with both his new open-back headphones Aeolus ($1k) and Verite ($2.2k).
Overall, the Pendant had a more “tubey” vibe than most. This observation of course includes our reference solid state amp, but also our time with the WA33, or any Woo products from memory. Now, take that observation with a grain of salt, as tube rolling can greatly affect the summed outcome and is also part of the fun of a tube amplifier in general. With the stock tubes of unknown origin that were sent to us, the Pendant very well could be named “the Notebook, Special Edition” as the sonics proved very romantic in nature. The lush mids and full sound embodied quite a few of the positive characteristics of the stereotypical analog or tube sound. Some might even describe it as “warm” but that term appears to have conflicting definitions across the hobby, especially within the headphone forums.
The cover of SummerTime by Aaron Neville was eloquently easy to listen to through the Pendant fed by the Auralic VEGA DAC. Connected with ZMF’s own Silver Michanikos cables, the subtle horn section along with the piano felt down-home gritty, laid back and juicy.
Compared to the solid state Questyle CMA 800R, there was some noticeable point of contrast from the audiophile standard Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits. The overall style seemed just a hair brighter with the CMA, and the well-tended to guitar tone from the Pendant had more girth but less aggressive edging. Your preference between the two could very well fall to either side depending on the mood or weather, or even track-by-track for different genres of music.
If you are looking to restore some of that old school tube tone to your headphones, the ZMF Pendant might be just what you are looking for. French horns sound amazing, and the texture is dense without appearing overtly colored.
Granted I couldn’t recommend a tube amplifier without also recommending rolling the tubes to find an even more distilled preference for your listening. The Pendant is intrinsically fun and offers plenty of options to feed the analog listening experience.
More info: ZMF Headphones