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