Discussion surrounding reviewer incentives, sales, and other issues

I heard you say in the latest YouTube live Q&A that you’re not reviewing Atrium. Is there a specific reason for that? because I’m eager to hear you opinion about these

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Indeed, I did hear that too.
I also, I noticed that he haven’t been able to get a VC to review as well.
Maybe zach doesn’t want his gear measured (like the abyss guys) ?
And in a way I understand it. a lot zmf attraction comes from the art-like marketing strategy, where the cups are from precious wood and in limited availability, so people feel privileged to own one. And you are garanteed to have a unique hand made piece.

If @Resolve starts to getting analytical, and reduce the “piece-of-art” to it’s sound capabilities only, then its main selling point is no longer a criteria, and they lay loose that attraction.

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That might be the reason. But not all the review headphones should come from the manufacturer. Many people are willing to lend their pair. I think that’s how Joshua Valor started his channel. Also headphones.com doesn’t sell ZMF headphones so the Campfire Audio drama wouldn’t happen again.

I base my comment solely on some of resolve comments in his weekly podcasts:
1- he said, he does not like to borrow headphones ( depriving people, since he takes long time to review)
2- he said, that he wrote to zach but did not get an answer (and actually was kind to suggest that it may be because zach’s receiving too many e-mails…)
So I may be wrong, but it is my opinion , because when the atrium got released a few “subjective ?” Reviewers got their hands on it rather quickly, so it was surely a call from zach. And again andrew pointed out that he did not get in touch regarding the atrium so zach chose those other people (a fact)

I am not trying to paint this as bad thing.
Au contraire, I maintain that the zmf headphones are pieces of art and the company would logically choose reviewers who would consider that as a primary feature, given the amount of time and energy spent in designing and producing them (and also the marketing strategy)

Probably, that is just a conjucture on my part.
In any case, as pieces of art, the owners of zmfs are lucky people

Hey, that comment was in reference to the Atrium, as folks have been asking me for my take on it. Reason being, DMS has a video in the works on that one at the moment - I should’ve made that more clear.

Edit: Now that it’s public, read Zach’s comments below for more context as to why they didn’t send us a review unit.

And yeah I do prefer to get the equipment from the manufacturer, especially for the high end stuff for exactly that reason. I don’t want to deprive people listening time with the stuff they love. But also, it’s just better to go through that route so you know you’re getting something that’s representative - I’ve come across examples in the past where a used product wasn’t representative (not to do with any of these headphones, just in general), and I’d rather not be responsible for any false narratives that could result.

In any case, yes of course I’m curious to spend some time with one, as I’m a ZMF fan - as Torq mentioned, I own a Verite and have owned an Auteur. So maybe one day I’ll cover it, but there’s a ton of other stuff on the go at the moment for me. So, I’ll defer to DMS for the time being.

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Thanks for clearing things up. We’re definitely curious to hear your thoughts on Atrium, even if it’s just a “First Impressions” post here.

Hey guys just jumping in here as I wanted to give a bit of clarity on this. I reached out to Resolve after his announcement that he was working on the pre-production/design of a headphone that would likely become a commercial endeavor for headphones.com (I know nothing is finalized) as an opportune time to discuss why we (ZMF) have not sent review samples. As a very independent small business (with no dealers in North America and no Amazon sales, etc.) I have taken a stance of making sure that our reviews are not on websites, youtube channels, etc where there is a sales platform that intertwines with review content. I have long practiced this to some extent, but the longer ZMF has been an entity, the more forward I have been about it as it allows me to concentrate on what I love to do in building headphones.

Headphones.com does not sell our product, so this would be an example of this type of “conflict” that I keep out of. It is nothing against Resolve, Headphones.com or any of the other sales/review hybrid/conglomerates. It just makes things complicated and complex and doesn’t align with the more stringent confines I look for in review platforms. I am excited DMS will check out Atrium on his independent channel. I love that Antroid got the Atrium and was able to listen and measure. Again - nothing but respect for Resolve – but this is my stance with review stuff. The majority of our Atrium demo units went out to community members who are members of various forums. Excited to have more community impressions from the upcoming CanJam Chicago and to get units out to more community members for their thoughts and impressions.

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Thank you for the clarity.
But I still think, with respect, that it is a missed opportunity. In my case for exemple, I decided (after waiting for some time) against buying the VC (even though I love the build), when I was on the market for HPs, only because Andrew did not review it.
I am sure that some of us who are familiar with (and trust) the review process of Andrew, may end up taking zmfs off of our shopping list without him reviewing them. Not because it is inferior to other products ( maybe it is even better). but because some of us wouldn’t trust (or are not familiar) with the review process of other reviewers.

(On a side note, if the companies that are in the same situation as zmf refuse to share with @Resolve It makes his perimeter norrower giving the circumstances. Too bad for us ; potential customers.)

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While I understand your trust and reliance on Andrew’s reviews there is still a conflict of interest here and I fail to see how there’s a missed opportunity here. It would be like asking asking a Abyss to review ZMF headphones and expecting them not to put their headphones over ZMFs. Regardless of the stance they take, one will stand to gain an advantage over the other so why put themselves in this position in the first place.

Power to Andrew for designing a commercial headphone and his experience as a reviewer will serve as a great reference for tuning his headphone.

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Seems like more an issue with one’s process in making buying decisions than Zach’s process of picking who he sends units to. Companies pick and chose in every case who they send demo units out to. If you’re buying only “Resolve reviewed” products, that doesn’t seem like a Zach missed opportunity, that’s maybe more your missed opportunity as there’s a lot of products that Resolve won’t get to for a while, if ever, that maybe a great match for you.

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But again I merely express a personal opinion, not wishing to create any polemic.
And that is exactly my point, I describe my experience, and the loss would be mine.
But I stick with my comment. Acknowledging of course the paradox

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I’ll put together a more thorough reply to some of this discussion, but I just wanted to quickly address this here. I have every hope that this can become a commercially viable product, but that is a particularly massive bridge to cross and we’re not there yet. Right now, this is more of a research project.

The intention behind it is to better understand what goes into headphone development, and ideally achieve some new insight as to what design elements contribute to any of the subjective qualities we value, and in what ways. This is a frontier that hasn’t really been explored from the development side all that much.

If in doing so that turns into an awesome, great sounding product that could be commercially viable, I’ll try to figure out how to do that - but for those unaware, that requires a significant investment to make happen. For all the things we’ve learned so far, and what it takes to actually make a headphone and bring it to market, it’s resulted in an even greater respect for manufacturers, including Zach, who’ve been able to do this.

The other aspect to this is the concern about conflict of interest. I can see a scenario where it would be, and I think maybe that’s where the brain goes when people consider the idea of a reviewer stepping in to become a headphone ‘manufacturer’. In a scenario where I’d actually be a headphone manufacturer in the traditional sense, like in a way where I’d be making a living from developing or designing headphones, it would also feel a bit strange to be reviewing products from other companies.

But as mentioned, that’s not the goal of this project, nor is there any structure in place or even discussed that would have me directly profit from it in the event we do bring it to market. The only benefit to me would be that I’d potentially get to do this again with something else.

I think, if anything, my bias would be as a result of this being a pet project that I care deeply about, and I want it to be awesome, so I also wouldn’t be referencing it in reviews. But beyond that there’s no real conflict of interest on this given the current plan for it. If there ever is in the future or with a different project, that’s when we’d need to consider changing things.

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Yeah I totally get that, that’s a decision we all make when we’re researching products is what reviews/sources etc to look at and trust. This is a great time to be into headphones as there’s so many good sources of info. My personal journey in headphones has never been to grow fast or become any kind of conglomerate, so doing what keeps me designing and building headphones in the easiest fashion is always going to be what I choose, regardless of profitability. Again I want to reiterate, this is not a stance that is particular to this situation, it’s one we’ve taken with numerous other sources, so that when you read a ZMF review the chances of the content being mixed in with anything are as small as possible.

That is great that Resolve’s endorsement and evaluation of products has become paramount to you. His influence in the headphone space can’t be ignored, but for us, the mixture of influencer culture, review platform and sales website that represents many brands and products, and is looking to use influencer culture (by way of prominent reviewers attached) to market their own product, would fall into a category of representation that we have tried to omit ourselves from.

We are obviously a very small blip here as Headphones dot com represents a huge gamut of manufacturers which they represent in various ways. They don’t sell our brand though, and for that we don’t think it’s truly a level fit.

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Hey Andrew - really appreciate your response. I do want to make it innately clear again that this stance did not start with you and is not personal what-so-ever. I did receive your email stating that you cannot honor our request to be absent on headphones.com, and I appreciate you taking the time to explain it. It does not change our position and I wish you the best in your endeavors with headphones.com and have the utmost respect.

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I also am an unabashed lover of ZMF and have been lucky enough to hear these

And discuss with ZMF about them

Also, didn’t realize DMS wasn’t his own man… interesting, but that statement falls inline with what Zach said above, which I respect.

If you don’t respect others, don’t then demand respect in return.

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Yeah, and thanks for understanding that. I’m of course deeply saddened by all of this (sadsolve), but we had to stick to our gut on keeping our editorial unaffected by manufacturer influence to the best of our abilities as mentioned. I know this is a professional difference of opinion, but there’s mutual respect and I’m optimistic we can move past it.

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I appreciate the modesty.
In my case, I don’t not follow blindly a person (or an influencer), but a process and a reflexion that meet my criteria.
For instance, all the videos shared in your post (from people I watched for several times) have a widely different philosophy to audio review: no measurements, different logic to total balance… (Some even (you would know) believe in cables changing the sound and expensive power plugs, and made videos about them. Which is opposed to my criteria).
My point is, if the independance of the reviewer is key here, why not have given a sample to @crinacle or Amir too for example. In the case of Amir, he does maybe not take all into consideration (even though in his last reviews he is changing his trend quite so much talking about dynamics and spatial effects), but he does measure using a standardized rig, against a good reference point (we then adjust our our assessment regarding the less tanjible parts based on the different sources and experiences and our preferences).

But with the atrium, I see only “subjective” reviewers getting the first samples. That is why I wrote my first comment about the sound vs the “artmanship” (lol my vocabulary is limited)
But again, this is only my experience I am sharing for maybe others feel the same way.

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That is interesting that he’s now talking about subjective things. Makes you wonder if he’ll warm up to the idea that there’s more to sound quality than just target adherence and THD metrics haha. In my view, all of this stuff is analyzable in ‘objective’ terms, but there’s no universal axiom for ‘good’ when it comes to measurements. There’s certainly an indication of ‘bad’ that they can help us find, but people have different preferences, and will want different things in their audio gear as a result.

As an example, there are a number of ‘good’ sounding headphones that have a very smooth frequency response, without noticeable emphasis to any particular driver mode, going on. We could make an assumption and say that this is responsible for it sounding ‘good’. It certainly also looks nice when things are smooth on a graph, right?

But then you find counterexamples in headphones like the Susvara, or even the Abyss stuff, which is full of identifiable driver mode behavior - they look super ragged for the FR. We can’t and indeed shouldn’t use our previous assumption about low driver mode behavior to determine that these are ‘bad’, but you don’t have to go far to find people doing exactly this when they haven’t even heard the headphones.

This is why the subjective element to evaluations is critical. We don’t know if our assumptions turn out to be true or false if we close the door to the possibility that there’s more to this stuff than we realize.

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Totally agree, and I mentioned @crinacle too.
But I prefer that the information (against a known data point using a rig for which that data point has been developped) is shared then I apply my preferences into the buying decision.

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