The ZMF Auteur is Zach Marbachs all-new flagship headphone design. It contains a unique hybrid planar magnetic driver and is priced at $1599
Disclaimer: The ZMF Auteur sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank ZMF headphones for this opportunity.
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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.
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A few weeks ago, Zach at ZMF sent a big package to me that contained both the closed Eikon and the open Auteur. I have just recently reviewed the Eikon with high marks and have been eagerly waiting to finally sit down and pen this review of the Auteur methodically and meticulously.
So sit back and relax, grab a cup of coffee or your pick of a hard drink if you are of proper age, of course, and enjoy. I know I enjoyed…I enjoyed this one a lot.
Zach and I have had extended conversations about his work and my feelings toward both of the headphones he had sent me. Sometimes, the clouds part and an audio reviewer remembers that he got into this line of work because he loved the music, adored the product itself and kept the experience of the journey to hearing as many audio products as possible as a very important factor in his life.
I admit I’ve forgotten to relax and go for a walk just to love my music, to enjoy the headphone and leave my reality for a few minutes to escape somewhere other than where I am. It has been a very long time since an audio product really did something for me on a subjective and personal level. That niche. That counterpart to my day that I require to de-stress me. That window outside.
Zach’s Pitch and Personal Journey
I asked Zach about the timeline from the inception of his idea of the Eikon and Auteur, to the finalized product and received back a very interesting series of events that only make me respect him that much more.
His venture began with compiling a collection of drivers, as many as he could find, only to learn what specific sound characteristics were being caused and promoted by various internal design elements. He even tried to get his ears around some custom drivers as well.
At this point in 2015, he told me he realized that he needed someone to build him custom drivers to achieve the sound traits he desired in his own products. After some time passed, he’d finally found someone to handle the crafting of the drivers for him. His Biocellulose drivers’ membrane also took some time acquire, it seems.
He gave me a list of his requirements, which included: A Biocellulose driver that won’t deteriorate over time, solid and heavy magnets (he opted for N50’s), a stiffer membrane itself of his choosing that would, as he put it “split the difference between Planar and Dynamic driver sound”, a rubber surround, a heavy exterior housing in attempt to reduce resonance and lastly some ports behind the driver to allow for proper airflow for a smoother sound that was less boomy.
After this, he spent about 6 to 8 months tuning the driver to his liking. With regard to the open Auteur, Zach had to relearn some and apply what he could do to the vastly differently designed open Auteur. An important quality he had striven hard to retain was that the Auteur would not lose some of the tonal colorations that came via the wood used.
He opted for 300ohm impedance due to the fact that he really enjoys tube amps and felt that there wasn’t a warmer and more musical sounding headphone that was made for said tube amps and that had a high impedance. So, 300ohm it was, and I thank him for it because my Auteur sings like no tomorrow on my Feliks Euphoria tube amp.
Lastly, Zach wants you all to know that he never wanted an assembly line product that ended up around your ears. Instead, he wants you to know his products are all handcrafted and shown that care down to the last design element. Zach says he loves gear just like the rest of the Audiophile community does, and that he didn’t originally start out with a plotted business plan. But, instead, he made the gear he did because that was what he wanted to hear and felt like the market didn’t have it already available.
Build and Case
The Auteur Teak Model, which is what I will be reviewing today, will set your wallet back $1599. The Blackwood version will cost $1899. I’m sorry, I’ve not heard the Blackwood version yet, so I can’t comment, however, keep an eye on the comment section below in the future just in case I do get it sometime later or experience it at a meet and am then able to answer more questions on it. For now, the Teak is on my head and I am very happy with it.
The headphone offers solid metal rods and Y joints. The screws are very hefty. The leather headband is immensely comfortable and supple, as are the earpads. The exterior design of the Auteur’s cups is, for the lack of a better word, beautiful. Anyone who reads my reviews should be aware that I have a weakness for wood headphones and the artistic flair that goes into the design. This could have easily been a headphone that used cheaper woodcuts, but it isn’t. Zach wanted the best for us and we certainly received it.
Finish & Fit
The Teak woodcut is thick and feels fantastic in the hand. This is a master craft of a headphone. She is no lightweight though, boasting a 475-500g heft. But, even then, it rests on my head exceptionally well and I am not bothered by it at all. Thanks mostly to the excellent fit of the headband and proper balance and angles used in the arc of the band itself. Fantastic design. Beyond that, the SE 6500 case is one of the coolest cases I’ve come across lately that came with a Hifi headphone. It is apparently airtight…although, of course…I am terrified to actually test that. Ha.
The Auteur comes with two sets of perforated pads: one from the Eikon set, which has smaller perforations and is the warmer sounding of the two, and the other its own perforated version that is a little different.
These perforated pads are gorgeous and remind me of the Oppo PM1 pad type. Sexy, breathable and comfortable. Those stock pads make the low end of this headphone feel linearly setup and in line with the midrange and treble experience.
Zach’s intent was to craft a natural sound with a musical tilt and pension, and he achieved that immensely well. I don’t feel like the low end of the Auteur is lacking anything at all. Even on the flat 0+ EQ with nothing active, I feel there is more than enough bass to make me happy with both perforated pad options. It is a low end of moderate amount, no doubt, and that is a good thing. Why? Because the bass is still hefty in substance and depth.
Yes, these two pads choices and flat EQ setup still sounds plentiful and never lacking in quantity or deep-reaching. If you want more bass, thicker feeling but still immensely clean, then the Auteur is probably more for you than the Eikon. I think it is certainly in the realm of the original LCD-3 from Audeze, pre-Fazor edition, in terms of quality.
Pad Swapping Comparisons
Neither I, nor Zach recommends this part, but I subjectively prefer the Auteur in some applications and usages with the Eikon’s solid pads installed and not the stock perforated ones. Why? Bass. Sheer, raw, unbridled bass potential.
The 3rd Set
There is a third set that does not come with the Auteur at all, but that does come with the Eikon. This set is solid and has no perforations. Do you like slow beats, Synthwave or bass beat tracks that are meant for relaxing and maybe school/work background noise? That immensely deep reaching low-end experience? Well, congrats, the Auteur with the solid pads is a bass monstrosity and we don’t really have another like it in the Hifi Summit zone that I am aware of.
This headphone is a chameleon. If you want more bass and less treble, solid pads for you. Yes, it veils the mids and treble but as I said, “certain applications” sound better with the Eikon solid pads. For me, as a seriously sick bass enthusiast, I want a Hifi Summit level headphone with exceptional bass potency. Now, I finally have it.
If that isn’t enough the EQ prowess is absurdly great on this model. Remember though, in this section, I am only talking about depth and sheer bass power, with the solid Eikon pads the Auteur turns into a bit of a bass cannon. Finally, I can get good quality, a lot of bass quantity and my preferred bass substance and tonality in a Summit level headphone. Yum.
Having said that, you should probably stick to either of the stock perforated pads for the sound Zach intended most, which is much more balanced feeling and offering a higher fidelity overall. It might be a bit difficult to identify the pad sets from each other if they are laying down next to each other. Don’t worry. I think the sonic quality differences between them are apparent enough:
The Auteur perforated pads sound a little more Neutral, more balanced and even
The Eikon perforated pads are a bit warmer, with a bit more bass emphasis
The Eikon Solid pads turn the Auteur into a basshead headphone
Bass EQ Potential
Some headphones don’t respond well to bass boosting, some do. I can’t name many other Flagship’s in the $1500-2000 tier that will make bass enthusiasts go absolutely insane with glee like I have been lately.
The Auteur could potentially be whatever you want it to be on the bottom end. Drop the bass off and lessen it, get a much more linear sound. Drop in a +6dB via Foobar2000’s realbassexciter .dsp and enjoy some of the most sublimely deep-reaching bass performances in the price tier.
But, at a cost, as mentioned, of course. The mids and treble take a little dive in quality when that happens. But, hey. All headphones do that. Just so happens I feel like the Auteur handles that drop in quality during boosting very well and retains good quality even at moderate to high boost levels. If you have a large collection of bass beats and relaxing tracks like that, this is for you. No doubt.
This Auteur ended up immensely well responsive to EQ both on the low end and treble end. That it really impressed the hell out of me. Perhaps, methinks, the open chamber allowed for a more efficient airflow with added bass needs, the push and pull of airflow inside maximized and in turn allowing for more response to bass boosting.
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