ZMF Auteur over-ear Headphones - Official Thread

Hey @mac404 good to see you here on the forums. I remember a time we used to interact on discord.

I have found a quite deep affinity for my Auteurs, had them for close to a month now.

@I_want_all_the_tacos has done some pretty good write-ups on it that fall in line with the experience pretty much on point.

What is was kind of surprised by was how pleasant the treble is on these. Some of it might be attributed to the wood according to Zach himself. I have no points of reference besides my own though.

Here are some padrolling measurements for good… measure. If anyone else have the E.A.R.S i would be interested to see someone else’s for comparison.

Idk how visible this will be, so blue is Auteur, red is Eikon perforated and green is the Eikon Suede non-perforated.

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Coming from the Eikons, I wish my Auteur had just a touch more bass. Do the Eikon Suede nonperf pads mess up the mids in any way? Your impressions of them would be appreciated.

Just wanted to add here that the Auteur responds very well to a bit of EQ (not that it needs it). I found myself wanting a bit more air up top and I really didn’t need to do much to get it there. Just a 2-4db boost from 11k up and it’s exactly where I’d want it. Still very preliminary, and I think the ZMF house sound of a slight tilt for the treble sensitive is right in my wheelhouse, but I do occasionally miss some of the pillowy air up top that something like the Sundara can give.

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What compensation is that using? HPN? HEQ?

Figured I’d crosspost an old review of mine from Reddit to here in the interest of adding more content to this forum. I no longer have the ZMF Auteurs, but I definitely enjoyed my time with them.

The chief reason I have sold the Auteurs is that the microdetail simply does not hold up to what the HD800S provides - and when I EQ my HD800S to the Harman target, it accomplishes much of the fullness in sound that was the reason I bought the Auteur in the first place. Being able to reduce the treble harshness of the HD800S on-demand using my RME ADI-2 eliminated the last reason I had to justify the Auteur to myself.

Nevertheless, the full review is below. This review was posted on 7/2018 to Reddit here.


ZMF Auteur

A few months ago, I was looking for a headphone to contrast with my HD800S. If the HD800S are slightly brighter than neutral, I wanted something slightly darker. Something like the Andromedas. Something to add a bit of fun to the music while retaining as much of the excellent technical abilities of the 800S.

Enter the Auteurs. The ZMF Auteur are ZMF’s latest headphone, intended to be their most neutral take on headphones to date, just retaining a slight tinge of ZMF’s warmer house sound.

Craftsmanship

My particular Auteurs were beautifully hand-crafted from African Blackwood and aluminum.

Blackwood is a dense and heavy tone wood often used in instruments to sound bassier, wetter, and more organic. More on that later, but I find this quality to carry over in the headphone realm as well.

And unlike most Blackwood Auteurs, these have silver grilles and rods (as opposed to gold). Personally, I find silver to look more elegant and understated. The matte silver provides an incredible contrast with the dark polished wood, but to me, does not look as plain as the black grilles and rods. It goes well with the black/silver theme of the rest of my gear.

There’s really something to be said about Zach’s craftmanship, here. This definitely feels like an heirloom, it’s one of the few times I’ve felt proud to own a product. These headphones look and feel incredible. Easily the most beautiful pieces of auditory art I have ever held or seen. The beautiful gleam of the polished wood, the subtle diffuse reflections of the brushed aluminum, the soft and comfortable perforated lambskin pads and cushioned leather headbands - the Auteur simply exudes a sense of unparalleled craftsmanship and quality.

There are vegan options available where animal products are used.

Blackwood Auteurs run about USD$2000.

Review Details

All my gear is powered via the JDS Element - a beautiful amp/DAC that uses well-measuring components, designed for objectivity. You can find my impressions here.

All music is heard via lossless local files or Spotify (best quality available (320kbps) with volume normalization off). I may link YouTube links of music here and there, but rest assured I don’t hear it from there.

I wanted something that contrasted with the HD800S as much as possible, so I chose the Eikon pads and Blackwood Auteurs. The perforated lambskin Eikon pads slightly reduce the soundstage and 6k treble peak of the Auteur, while significantly increasing the sub-bass and moderately increasing the bass. The Blackwood, as discussed above, lends a slight darker and wetter (more ‘organic’) tinge to the sound.

Unless explicitly mentioned, this review will be conducted with the Eikon pads installed. Keep this in mind, as most reviews of these are with the Auteur pads. To mentally adjust my findings for the Auteur pads, take some from the sub bass and add a bit to the treble, all while moderately widening the soundstage.

Comfort

I mentioned how these headphones exude a sense of quality. That definitely carries into the comfort - these don’t just look good, these feel good. The perforated lambskin pads are soft and breathable. They get warm, but I never sweat. (That said, I rarely sweat with headphones regardless, so adjust your expectations accordingly!)

The soft headband never digs into my head. It’s a freestanding thin leather strap over a layer of thick but very soft and pliable leather padding.

Clamping force isn’t really an issue here. These headphones are designed so you can bend the headband to adjust to your own head.

And while my Auteur is on the heavier side, with the Blackwood and all, it takes me a couple of hours before I start feeling neck tiredness. About 4 hours, perhaps? Going with aluminum grilles/rods probably helped quite a bit here as opposed to the default brass.

I don’t think it’s physically possible for the Auteur to ever match the cloud-like comfort of the HD800S, but they perform admirably regardless!

Sound

Compared to neutral: Sub Bass++, Bass+, Mids+, Treble=

The Auteurs sound as I wanted and expected them to, given the components I asked for.

Zach mentions these are “semi-open”, about 80% open, and I definitely see what he means. It doesn’t feel as open as the HD800S but still feels pretty darn open. 80% feels just about right.

The sub-bass is deep and impactful, but not overwhelming. It’s there when it’s been missing on too many other amazing headphones I’ve tried. The mid-bass and upper-bass are incredible - for example, the cellos in Where the Light Goes by Josh Kramer sound simply sublime, better than I’ve ever experienced on any of my other 'phones.

The mids are quite detailed and perhaps slightly elevated. They have a wetter sound to them, perhaps with some second-order distortion going on, but this only adds to the quality of the mids. Subjectively, this leads the mids to sound “sweeter” and “more organic”, a bit more “tubey” than neutral. This is definitely what I was going for and I’m quite thrilled that my choices played out as expected! (If sweet/wet mids are not your thing, choose a different wood and perhaps stick with the Auteur pads. I use the HD800S when I long for drier/more neutral mids.)

The treble is amazing. It’s supremely detailed, but not fatiguing as I often feel on the HD800S. I can listen to treble-high songs for much longer (and actually listen, rather than worry about the treble!) The treble feels a bit like that on the HD800S with the Auteur pads, but it’s much nicer with the Eikon pads, in my opinion.

Often I find that a darker tint to the sound, or even a wetter one, comes with significant reduction in treble quality detail retrieval. That’s absolutely not the case here.

Compared to Andromedas (low OI)

SB++, B=, M+, T=

/u/bleego mentions in his review that the ZMF Auteurs are very much like Andromedas.

I have to agree with this statement. But across the board, the Auteurs have significantly better detail retrieval and a much wider soundstage than the Andromedas. This is to be expected - we’re comparing headphones to IEMs.

My particular Auteurs, with the Eikon pads, are a bit more colored than the Andromedas, with

  • Deeper and much more satisfying sub-bass
  • Slightly more elevated and sweeter mids
  • Similar treble

Bleego mentions that the Auteur with Eikon pads sounds like the Andros from an output impedance of <= 1.0 ohms, and with the Auteur pads sounds like Andros from a higher OI. I’d agree, with the addendum that the effect from Eikon pads is more pronounced simply because of how much more sub-bass these kick out.

But yeah - with Auteur pads, the Auteurs feel pretty damn similar to the Andromedas from a moderate output impedance, but with all of the benefits the headphone form factor brings.

Comparison to HD800S

SB+++, B+, M+, T-

Compared to the HD800S, the Auteur exhibits:

  • Much deeper and much more satisfying sub-bass
  • More heft and control to the rest of the bass
  • Elevated and wetter/sweeter mids (more second-order harmonic distortion?)
  • A treble slightly less detailed but still ridiculously detailed
  • Moderately more intimate soundstage (but still wider than most headphones), likely due to the Eikon pads
  • Slightly less instrument separation amongst instruments of the same type, perhaps a consequence of the wetter sound

My Auteurs exhibit slightly less detail retrieval than the HD800S but also sound less “dry”. For relaxed, fun music listening, the Auteurs are now my go-to. For more analytical music listening, or when I’m feeling more excitable or energetic, or when I long for a vast soundstage, I’ll fire up the HD800S.

More subjectively, the Auteurs definitely lend a more emotional experience to the music. The sound feels more organic, the bass feels deeper and more refined, the mids sweeter and more memorable. In short, the Auteurs feel like they are fuller and have more body than the HD800S. That said, I don’t think anything will ever reach the overwhelmingly vast expanse of sheer jawdropping detail and soundstage and complexity of the HD800S. These are distinctly different beasts for different moods.

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Great review and very detailed. I really enjoyed reading it.

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I also have the HD800S and an RME ADI-2. But I still have a lot to learn about the RME, and for me that learning doesn’t come easy, so I was very interested by the comment in your second paragraph.: Being able to reduce the treble harshness of the HD800S on-demand using my RME …" What adjustments do you make on the RME, please, to reduce the treble harshness. Thank you…Lee

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Turn the knob on the bottom right down (it says “T” next to it).

Also, have you read the manual yet by any chance? The RME ADI-2 is the most full-featured DAC I have ever seen. It’s a pleasure to read, so give it a shot if you haven’t :slight_smile:

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I know about the bass and treble encoders.
Also, I’ve read the manual and know about the Loudness control, DA Filters,
Crossfeed adjustments and other features. But when you said you could “EQ (your)
HD800S to the Harman target” I thought I might have missed something…or that
maybe you knew of an effective parametric setting…or perhaps you had some
other wisdom or sophistication with the RME. Thanks anyway.

Has anyone had a chance to listen to the Verite clsoed backs?

I want to get the VC to go with my open back Verite’s but I am on the fence about the Auteur’s instead.

If so how do you enjoy the VC vs listening with your Auteurs?

If i had the VO, i would not get a VC, unless you really need a closed headphone. Though they have their differences, they’re still more alike than different. The Auteur will give you a much different sound, and be a better contrast to the VO. Just my opinion though.

I know some like to have both Verite models. I just prefer to have more variety. The Auteur is the most neutral ZMF in the lineup, and has a very very unique presentation. For awhile I had both the VC and Auteur in my lineup, and sold the Auteur to fund a tube amp upgrade (the ZMF Pendant). I won’t lie, I miss the Auteur something aweful. I’ll go back and get one later when funds permit.

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I love my Verite Open, but have never heard the Auteur. I’d love to hear you unpack and go into greater detail about their differences. I especially want to know more about what you said about the Auteur having a unique presentation. What does that mean? Is that a soundstage reference?

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The Auteur sounds very unique to me compared to the other ZMF dynamic headphones. It’s the most neutral and balanced sounding set in the lineup. That’s what I find unique about it, mostly.

When I think ZMF, I think warm to varying degrees. I’ve heard them all, and own the Atticus and VC currently, and owned the Auteur for a year before selling. The Auteur IMO should be the standard for neutral. Many say the HD800, or lately, the Utopia. But I find those more on the lean side. My definition of neutral is what sounds like real life, without any significant frequency response deviations. To my ears, the Auteur sounds most like what an instrument sounds like in real life. I find that very special, as when I listen to it, it brings me closest to what i’ve heard in real life, listening to live music.

For the VO to Auteur comparison, the main things that sticks out to me are bass, resolution, and soundstage. The VO has faster bass, with better textural information, and stronger slam. The Auteur bass is slower, with a very nice decay. I personally find both Verite models to decay slightly too quickly, just like a planar set. The Auteur decay is just right for me. The subbass rumble lingers just a touch longer than the VO, giving the sense of more heft and weight, though the VO actually hits harder.

For resolution, this one is easy, both Verite’s resolve micro detail better. I hear minor sounds come through very clearly with the VO vs the Auteur. Some tracks I can hear the performers handle their equipment, whereas on the Auteur it’s unclear what the sound is, it’s fuzzy. I can tell with the VO the performer is moving their hand across the neck of the guitar, for example. It’s an easy mental image to make. With the Auteur, i hear “something”, but I’m not sure what it is. I have to mentally quint to try to identify the sound, not always successfully. That being said, the Auteur has more than enough resolution for anyone outside of die hard detail freaks.

For soundstage, this one gets harder for me. I’m not a big soundstage person, all headphones sound closed in to some degree. I’m biased as I spent most of my life listening to full size speakers. But the VO just places sounds more precisely in three dimensional space. I can better imagine exactly where the sounds are coming from on the stage with the VO. With the Auteur, I get great general left to right, and up to down placement, but layering those sounds together on the stage gets a bit blurred. I struggle to put into words what i sense, but I hear it quite noticeably when I compare them.

The VO has technical performance the Auteur can’t really touch. But…the tonality of the Auteur is preferable for me and my tastes. I like it’s slightly more natural decay and tuning. I love how I stop thinking about the sounds when listening to it, and just enjoy the music. The VO and VC make me analyze the music more often, as they throw more information at you, in a less natural way. Don’t get me wrong, I do love them too, but I have much love and respect for the Autuer, it just resonates with me and engages me a bit more. I need closed headphones, which is why the Autuer had to go, but I’ll get another one down the road when the kids are older.

Let me know if you want more details on anything specific.

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First of all, WOW! That was an incredible summation! I wasn’t expecting that much detail, so thank you.

I only have two more questions for you. First, which one has the widest soundstage, regardless of depth or strength of imaging? And second, if they were both the exact same cost, and you could only have one of them (Auteur or VC), which would you choose and why? Thanks again!

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Ok, I hate to disagree with you here…

:stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

So I won’t.

Pretty spot on, I think. I really wish I could have kept my VC as it’s a bit more fun for the electionic music I like, but for everything else I like the Auteur.

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You’re very welcome! For soundstage, the VC definitely has the larger stage in all regards. Width, depth, etc. It’s bigger and more precise. If soundstage is high priority for you, the VC is the better headphone.

For which one i’d own, man that’s a tough one! The VC does everything better, technically. Yet i find myself drawn to the Auteur a bit more. Now my circumstances dictate closed headphones for the majority of my listening, so the VC gets the easy win there. But if open/closed was not a consideration, i’m honestly torn.

Why the Auteur - personal preference and synergy with me. I just love it’s natural sound. Not as amp dependent. Easier to sound great, and works well with both tubes and solid state.

Why the VC - all around higher technical performance. Scales more with better equipment. More tune-able with tubes and ear pads.

I hate saying it depends, so I’ll give you an answer. The VC. Sitting here dwelling on it reminded me of a few things. First, when you put the right chain behind it, the VC soars to higher levels than anything i’ve heard yet. And because it’s so tune-able, I can get a sound signature that’s very close to the Autuer with the VC. Running my solid state amp with the Autuer leather solid pads on the VC gives me a very neutral overall signature, which is very close to the Autuer. Still warmer, but close enough that i can live with it. Finally, the isolation of closed headphones makes them more versatile to live with, and makes critical listening easier, as i don’t have any ambient sound leaking in. So despite my slight tonal preference for the Auteur, the VC is just a more complete package for me. Man that was not easy!!!

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Much appreciated! I’ve learned a lot from you! I already own the VO but have been interested in another ZMF and have been considering the Auteur.

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Given you own the VO, I do think something like an Auteur or Aeolus (or Atticus/Eikon) would give you more variety. Just my preference though. As much as I loved listening to an Aeolus, it was just too similar to my Atticus for me to take the plunge. I see the VO/VC in the same light. Let us know what you finally decide on! The good thing is there’s no losing either way, they’re both incredible headphones.

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Your last statement is exactly why I’m interested. I’m very late to the game in regards to ZMF. But when I decided to finally try one, I went straight to the VO, and I freaking love it! So that’s why I’m curious about some of his other products, but I’m only interested in open backs. I’d love to at least get to demo an Auteur some day.

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