So I’ve been evaluating the Pendant for just over a week now and I’d like to give my thoughts on it. To begin with, I’m not traditionally a tubes guy. Maybe initially when I first started out I thought having a tube amplifier would make things sound more ‘musical’, but that eventually gave way to chasing ‘transparency’ and perfect measurements. But more recently, over the past several years, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the wrong approach.
When you get into this hobby and research enough to convince yourself you’ve transcended what you might assume is the snake oil or audiophile nonsense that props up tube amplifiers, I think it’s all too common to overvalue certain publications and measurements that lead to this view. We’ll latch on to data points, even if they don’t provide a complete picture of what the experience will ultimately end up being. It’s like saying “here’s what’s important, because this is what we can measure”, and in my mind there’s simply more to the story when it comes to our experiences. There are a few reasons for my about-face on the question of tube amplifiers, but in my mind, experiencing the ZMF Pendant with the ZMF Verite is a prime example.
To begin with, the Pendant is touted as a flexible amp that can be used for a wide variety of headphones. I’m super skeptical about this claim, because its two outputs have 8 and 300 ohms output Z respectively. To me, this sounds crazy, especially given what I look for in solid state amplifiers, where you don’t want to alter the FR and risk introducing distortion. But then I’m reminded that this is a tube amplifier, and that’s exactly the point. It’s changing the sound in some fashion.
To be more specific, with the ZMF Verite, the high Z output elevates the bass slightly. I was able to demonstrate this with some measurements as well. I assume this would have a more significant effect on lower impedance headphones - remember that the Verite is a 300 ohm headphone. In any case, this explains why some people have reported the high Z output to have better ‘slam’, it certainly imparts that perception, but it’s likely just due to the changes to the frequency response.
The low Z output didn’t change the FR in any way, however, and so when the Pendant is described as ‘neutral’, I think they’re right. There was no measured difference between the Verite on the Pendant (low Z out) and the Verite on the SPL Phonitor X. But here again is where we need to not latch on to incomplete data points as strongly, because the experience of listening to the Verite on the Pendant is dramatically different from the Phonitor X - and on the whole, a lot more interesting.
To describe the sound, it’s as if everything is now much more holographic, with increased depth. Image distinction and structure is also enhanced, to the point where certain sounds pop out at me and actively surprise me. This is most noticeable on far left and far right. To put it another way, it’s as if the deepest part of the Verite’s depth extension is enhanced and more well-defined than what I was used to. The Pendant is also surprisingly quick, everything sounds tight and snappy, at least equal to the presentation on the Phonitor X. Needless to say, I’m fascinated by this combination, and now I need to potentially go down the tube rabbit hole and find more interesting system combinations.
Now to some of the bad stuff. While this is supposed to be a versatile amp for a wide range of different headphones, I found that I didn’t really like it as much for some of them. Planars in particular were not a good fit to my ear (at least the ones I had here). It sounded as if the treble was being ‘flattened’ to some extent, and I’m not entirely sure why that is. It might also just be that I haven’t found the right tube combination to make that work, but at the moment I’m left feeling that it might be versatile in the strict sense of “it can power a wide variety of headphones”, but not necessarily versatile in the sense that “it makes them all sound amazing”. The other dynamic driver headphones I tried it with sounded better, but still not on the same level as with the SPL Phonitor X, or even my Cayin IHA-6. Interestingly, the Focal Elegia didn’t change for the better, but the Sennheiser HD820 did. This makes me think that the ideal use for the Pendant is with high impedance dynamic driver headphones, even if it can power everything else just fine (or I need to be more specific with tube combinations for those other headphones). With ZMF headphones though, I think it would probably be exactly the right pairing.
So with that said, for anyone who owns a ZMF headphone, seriously consider the Pendant as an excellent companion amplifier. I’m not willing to say it’s the absolute best, because I haven’t heard what some others have recommended like the Glenn OTL, but those are also hard to come by at the moment. In any case, for increased depth, nuance, and sense of realism, the ZMF Pendant provides an experience that perfectly demonstrates why it’s probably not worth caring too much about measurements that fight the imperceptible difference wars. It’s the experience that matters, and this is a very good one.