Midrange

Vocals

There haven’t been many headphones that I would consider a vocalist’s absolute dream in the Hifi Summit ($1000+ tier). But, the Auteur is one of them. Outside of this, I would call the Audeze LCD-3 a similar experience in vocal and midrange setup with regard to physicality and feel.

It isn’t super forward, but it is still certainly into the realm of forwardness that makes intimate recordings sound immensely well-formed, coherent and well rounded. Again, I route back to the driver sound signature here, which is offering excellent heft and substance factor/thickness that really adds to the vocal prowess.  It really does sound like a hybrid Dynamic and Planar in that sense of the word.

If you are like me and love substance and lots of heft to the sound signature (think the total opposite of the HD800 in that regard) then you are going to go bananas for this model. I think Zach’s tuning job here is masterclass level. He got it right for me on a subjective level like no other Flagship I’ve heard before ever had for me.

Quality

As for quality, the experience sounds incredible via my Feliks Audio Euphoria tube amp. I’ve not really heard such a fantastic meshing with my current rig yet. Right now, that is composed of an Oppo 205 4K/DAC with a 9028 chip and the Euphoria connected by RCA’s that I built myself. That, my friends, is one hell of a setup.

At least, in my subjective experience and opinion, the Auteur midrange is spot on for the price. I don’t think it exceeds its price value in this area, but remains a $1500 or so justifiable price for what it offered.

Yes, I think it sounds audibly cleaner than my Focal Elear, which I also adore. Recently, I was able to finally spend a few hours with the Ether Flow and my gut instincts and comparisons at the time were that both were fairly comparable in midrange quality. Although, I felt like the Auteur was once again the heftier feeling in terms of substance factor.

Treble

Fusion

The Buck doesn’t really stop here. It keeps going. Treble quality is excellent and again, nicely responsive to boosting if you want it or feel like you need it.

I circle back to Hifiman’s original HE-series lineup, the HE500, and HE-6 when referencing some of the best treble performances on the market (and still going strong with them at the top for treble needs) as the two most stunning top-end headphones on the market. It was an amazing shock that they were Planar’s too, as at the time, Planar’s were regarded for their bass and not so much their treble. But I digress.



Zach’s Auteur sounds like a happy fusion of a great Planar and a fantastic Dynamic driver overall. The top end of this headphone is non-fatiguing and elegant. It is polite and dense feeling. I’ve not once found it to be sharp, even with some treble upgrades via EQ and treble happy sources I have on hand. If anything, I think the sweetness that comes with excellent tube amps, is just as Zach said, probably intended for usage with this Auteur. I say that because as good as my portable source rig is, I notice much nicer substance in treble on my tube amp sets.

Tube Matching

Quality aside for now, only speaking about density factor and that charming, gorgeous appeal that comes with certain tubes and headphones that happened to mesh with tubes up top in the treble area.

If you have a great tube amp, you really will enjoy this headphone. Dynamic kick (slam factor) is never an issue. It doesn’t hit hard, but it is not at all boring or overly soft with a lacking sense of engaging factors. Just right, reminds me a lot of the HE-500 from Hifiman from back in the day in regard to treble and how it is portrayed.

ZMF Auteur

Imaging

Ah. If there were a weak link in the experience, it is found in the imaging department. But, only in terms of width and separation of instruments factor. The headphone is clearly set up for intimacy and a near-field experience in terms of imaging.

It isn’t like wide venue recordings sound bad or anything, they certainly don’t. But, as mentioned, vocalist enthusiasts will be very happy with this type of a sound because the depth of field of the void is very good.

All sounds are very coherent and not lacking, never blurred feeling. Sure, there are other headphones that do this better in the price tier. Don’t expect an HD800 or anything like that, but do expect an LCD-3-ish type of a sound field. Something with excellent coherency and exceptionally well-formed, dense feeling vocals and instruments in general. The headphone is not as fast feeling as the Eikon and doesn’t have the Eikon’s lightning decay factor. This one is a bit more reserved and elegant in that regard.

Matchability

Portability

The Auteur is a 300ohm beast, but there are plenty of portable DAC and AMP choices out there that will satisfy it for the most part. Just be careful with low end to moderate portable choices and out there. I just didn’t  feel like my lower to mid-fi portable sources did it justice at all until I strapped a Chord Mojo in and finally breathed life into my portable sound with the Auteur.

Of course, I don’t take it outside. By portable, for me, I mean walking around my house or sitting on my couch or PC away from my media setup with my home desktop rig. I feel like my Cowon Plenue M was a solid baseline of where to begin for portable needs, something on the upper end of mid-fi in terms of portable DAP’s would be my recommendation.

I still think the experience sounds very nice as far as portable options will take the Auteur and I am more than happy lounging around my place with a decent portable rig all day. The Auteur is a little power hungry, but not too much.  So make sure your portable rig is set up for a 300ohm load and has a pension for great treble and bass quantity and quality.  But if not, don’t worry too much.

Serious audiophiles like me who are snobs will demand much more than those who currently have a portable rig that isn’t so nice but still want to buy the Auteur and use it until they can grab a much nicer rig.  Out of my iPhone SE and a new Hidizs DAC that will be released soon for just under $200, the Auteur sounds more than acceptable in quality across the board.  If you currently have a stepping stone rig and will be upgrading soon, feel comfortable knowing the Auteur still sounds very nice on mid-fi setups.

Desktop

Quality and overall fidelity get me through the day when I am away from my desktop rig, and I am a real snob with that need for a powerhouse desktop setup. So, don’t worry too much if you only have a good portable setup and a mid-fi DAC. You will still get a nice sound out of the Auteur.

However, with more power and a proper tube setup, you’ll achieve great fidelity. The Auteur scales and seems to feel a bit different when using my Heron 5 solid state amp vs the Feliks Euphoria tube amp, the latter of which sounding sweeter and focused, more firm in the treble experience. Might be something to consider if you are looking to buy this as a Summit level headphone, but currently, do not have a great portable rig.

Our Verdict

The Auteur is my favorite headphone I’ve ever heard. Bar none. It made me remember why I am in this business and to take a step back and enjoy what I do for the first time in a while. Zach’s tuning is the closest to how I would tune my dream headphone.

Subjective

On a subjective level, I’d want excellent coherency, stellar substance factor and heft to the entire spectrum, excellent midrange and vocal experiences, something that doesn’t decay rapidly but also that isn’t slow at all, something with exceptional balance and responsiveness to boosting if and when I need it.

It is also something woody, something beautiful and handcrafted that meshes nice with most rigs, something very comfortable for me with great selections of components (cables, wood type) and also something that lets me swap pads freely and easily to adjust to sound signatures and usages that may sound better with a different pad.

Sometimes I want a ton of bass, though not always. I would like more treble sometimes but not always.  I seek out a linear feel sometimes, just not all the time.  Other times, I want the immense bass weight and exaggeration with a lot of EQ active and I want the headphone to not degrade the quality of the midrange and treble too much while doing it.  The Auteur offers me all of that.

Value

The Auteur is objectively worth its price tag, from an overall fidelity aspect. I feel like the price tag is just right for what audio quality is offered, but exceeds it in what the headphone can do for you in terms of tone and literal quantities of low end or treble. From an EQ standpoint, it can be boosted or reduced to achieve the desired sound a fair degree. It responds very well to that extra something if you drop it in.

Beyond that, the headphone is lovingly handcrafted and stunning in aesthetic appeal. I’ve not had so much fun listening to a headphone in years. I’ve not had so many moments where I just want to sit in my chair and near my desktop rig before and shut down my monitor and just let the music ride until I need to go do something else or get back to work.

It has style, it has elegance. It has great fidelity overall and is a hell of a changeling in terms of what you might be able to do with it.  The stock sound without any EQ is near perfection in terms of a natural sound and how I’d have tuned my perfect headphones, yet it also has excellent substance factor from top to bottom as is.

If you want a lot of bass, you can get that with the right setup. If you want a very linear appeal, you can have that too. Zach has done an incredible job. Currently, this is, without a doubt, my favorite headphone. Great job, Zach.

Auteur Specifications

  • Frequency response (min Hz – max Hz) 10hz – 30000 kHz
  • Impedance: 300 Ohms
  • Auteur Sensitivity: 97dB/mW
  • Weight: Teak 475 to 500 grams
  • Blackwood / Black Aluminum 550 to 575 grams
  • Blackwood / Brass 600 to 625 grams

 

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