Buying an expensive headphone without having the chance to hear it first is undoubtedly off-putting and the prospect of having to wait for several months after ordering is even less appealing. But for most enthusiasts, this is how buying a ZMF headphone works - with the knowledge that the end result is far from the assembly line of gear that everyone else has. Instead, you get a custom heirloom item that commands a kind of reverence and appreciation that contradicts the current trend of disposable electronics. These are indeed special headphones. Having gone through this process with the ZMF Auteur, I knew what to expect when it came to buying the Vérité. I’m personally a big fan of the Auteur, but the idea of a ZMF headphone that could rival the Utopia for detail retrieval capabilities and speed was too exciting to pass up. So I took the plunge.
- Silk-Wood (my unit)
- Impedance: 300 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 99 dB/mW
- Warranty: Lifetime for Driver, 3 years parts and mechanical
- Weight (est.): 430g (silk wood)
- Pads: Verite and Universe Pads
- Price: $2,499.99
FLAC Library, TIDAL (HiFi and Master) - iFi iDSD Micro Black Label -> Cayin IHA-6 (balanced output) -> ZMF Michanikos Cable -> Vérité
For the Vérité I’ve been listening to my whole collection, but I’ve been focusing primarily on my favorite jazz tracks from Michael Wollny, Patricia Barber, Holly Cole, Gogo Penguin, Brad Mehldau, and Julian Lage. For anyone looking for great albums to test how vocals sound on headphones, check out the self-titled albums from Holly Cole and Renee Olsteead.
Like other ZMF headphones, the Vérité uses hand crafted wooden cups, and like the Auteur, this is a semi-open headphone. It doesn’t leak sound fully the way a Utopia does, but it’s enough where you wouldn’t want to use this in close proximity to other people like at an office. There are different wood options available, and while I’ve only heard my unit, some people have reported slight differences in sonic qualities depending on the grain. I opted for the default Silk-wood version, along with the magnesium chassis and black grille, all for the lightest experience possible. The Silk-wood looks incredible, and my first reaction is that this looks even better than my (Teak) Auteur, with less noticeable grain to the wood. This leaves the finish extremely smooth and even to the touch. There are an additional set of holes around the back edge of the cups, likely to help with both porting and cup uniformity. The grille in the center of the cup has a unique web-type pattern with different options available for material. Again I went for the black one because it’s the lightest, and I think it looks great as well. One of my very few complaints with the Auteur is that after a long listening session, the weight does start to show. Thankfully with the Vérité, the use of a magnesium housing chassis and a few other adjustments drop the weight to 430g, which helps significantly for longer sessions.
The Vérité uses a Beryllium coated (15%) Polyethylene Naphthalate (PEN) driver. A little bit of research into PEN reveals that it’s a type of high performance polyester material often used in industrial applications. We should all be familiar with Beryllium and its use in headphone drivers, most notably by Focal’s Utopia and Stellia, however those are solid Beryllium and the Vérité makes use of vapor-deposited Beryllium coating instead. The advantage of doing this is that the driver retains the stiffness and rigidity for extreme resolution and detail (like the Utopia), while at the same time allowing for more intense punch and weight, especially down low. The driver also appears to use a rubber surround or composite system, and I’m led to understand that this driver was custom designed specifically for the Vérité and doesn’t exist in any other headphone at the moment.
Build & Comfort
As mentioned, the Vérité uses hand crafted wood cups, and despite still being a large headphone, it’s noticeably more comfortable due to the lower weight. Everything feels meticulously crafted and well-built. The headband is the traditional ZMF bendable top piece with a leather strap underneath. It’s a reasonable design, but not quite as comfortable as my Elegia - at least, not without a bit of adjustment and bending to get the clamp right. Once the adjustments are made, the top of my head does feel like the headband could be wider. It’s not a big deal though given the lighter weight, but if there’s an improvement to be made it’s in the thickness of that strap and top piece. The yoke has a full free swivel system that’s kind of incredible actually, and I love the range of motion available to get just the right fit for every headshape. The height adjustment for the yokes is similar to that of the Auteur, and it is a bit stiff, so it’s not as easy to move up and down while it’s on your head, but it’s also not going to slip out of place when you do set it correctly. The Vérité comes with two sets of pads, both of which are very comfortable. The angled pads are a bit thicker in the back so they provide slightly more cushion, but even with the flat Vérité pads, there’s ample cushion and they both have lots of room for my over-sized ears. Overall, this is a decently comfortable headphone with lots of adjustment available, so even if it doesn’t quite fit right, you can get it to without much difficulty. It’s an improvement over the Auteur due to lower weight, and that’s a good thing.
While it warrants a proper comparison, the Vérité showed up while I was also evaluating the Utopia, and so I had possibly the most resolving headphone as context for what I was listening to with the Vérité. To my absolute gobsmacked surprise, the Vérité is just about able to match the Utopia in its best qualities, and accomplish a number of things I didn’t quite get with the Utopia.
Resolution & detail retrieval: I’m starting to realize that not everybody notices differences in detail right away, and admittedly I used to be on the fence about the significance of differences when evaluating the upper limits of top end headphones. The flagships from Focal and Audeze have changed that for me - it matters a lot. Needless to say I’m still in the process of picking my jaw off the floor when it comes to what the Vérité is able to accomplish here. The Vérité is probably the closest headphone to the Utopia I’ve ever heard when it comes to detail retrieval capabilities. It’s maybe 95% as resolving (if not equal, with a different tonality). What’s more, that detail doesn’t come at the cost of timbre or image size like it does on the Utopia.
Speed & dynamics: People have described the Vérité as “controlled”, and I have to agree. There is a substantial improvement in speed over the other ZMF headphones, and also over just about every other dynamic driver headphone. In fact I’d go as far as to say the Vérité sounds more like a planar than a dynamic headphone. Additionally, the slam hits like an Audeze closed back. This thing is truly powerful, especially down low. But more importantly, every piece of the music is incredibly engaging - to the point where I have to stop whatever I’m doing and just listen to whatever line happens to catch my ear.
Soundstage & imaging: With the Vérité (flat) pads, the Vérité has a more traditional stage. It’s still quite a bit bigger and more spacious than that of the Utopia, but not as massive as either the Auteur or the HD800s. With the Auteur, I find it puts the listener a bit farther away from the stage, and the Vérité with the flat pads sits the listener a bit more forward but with the stage almost as wide. To me that’s a good thing, since I prefer images a bit closer. There’s also ample space between lines, this never feels claustrophobic or too intimate. Unsurprisingly, the imaging is exceptional - likely the best I’ve ever heard. I’m starting to think that image presentation is more closely related to detail retrieval capabilities, given where various lines are meant to sit in the mix. Moreover, the images themselves are quite a bit larger on the Vérité than they are on the Utopia. So while the Utopia presents images with surgical precision, the Vérité presents them just as precisely, but with much better definition and substance, weight, impact, or any similar adjective you can think of here.
With the Universe (angled) pads, things go a bit differently. The stage is quite a bit bigger, and it almost feels like instead of sound being in front of me, it’s more all around me. This is a strange experience at first. I imagine some people will really like this quality, because it also presents a more romantic and relaxing sound. I find that with that ‘holographic’ effect, some of the dynamic and performant qualities become a bit more loose, especially down low. Personally I much prefer the Vérité (flat) pads at the moment, but that could change depending on the mood, source, or type of music. The description of the Vérité exhibiting extreme “control” is more obvious with the flat pads, and I’m currently a bit addicted to that quality.
These measurements were done using the MiniDSP EARS rig, which should not be compared to other systems and is not to be taken as an industry standard measurement system. These measurements aren’t quite as precise as those from Torq due my rig not being in an optimal environment for open-back headphones, but the general shape is the same.
This is the HEQ compensated measurement of both the Vérité (flat) pads and the Universe (angled) pads.
So far I’ve been heaping mostly praise onto the Vérité but as we can see, it’s not without a few foibles - or perhaps only one: this is not a traditionally ‘neutral’ headphone. It has a number of peaks and cuts that measure to be more noticeable than they actually are and I think anyone expecting this to sound a certain way based strictly on the measurements will be surprised that it doesn’t sound as ‘colored’ as these measurements indicate. This is not really a departure from the ZMF house sound - at least not by much, and this highlights a type of design process that forgoes strict adherence to optimal target curves and instead focuses simply on making it sound good, because it really does. I did EQ 3khz up slightly, because while that dip is to be expected - and in fact many headphones exhibit this dip - it’s a bit more pronounced on the Vérité than I like. I also reduced the 8khz peak by a touch, and evened out the treble a bit. It’s not bad, but I’m personally a bit sensitive to that range.
Without EQ, the Vérité surprisingly sounds like the usual ZMF “warm take on neutral”, with a bit of shimmer on cymbals that cause the primary tones to sound slightly pulled back in favor of the ‘zing’, and I found that this was improved by evening out 3khz and some of the peaks/dips in the upper frequencies. Most people probably won’t notice or care though and I don’t think you need to approach this headphone expecting to have to EQ it. If anything the Vérité reinforces my suspicion that I noticed with the Focal Stellia, which is that headphones with extremely resolving drivers that deviate slightly from strict neutrality don’t always sound the way they measure, and the occasional peak or dip doesn’t cause the problems it otherwise might.
Flat vs Angled Pads
Interestingly, the biggest difference between how the two pads measure is between 3.5khz and 5khz. But the key difference in my mind isn’t actually in the tonality, it’s in the staging and imaging. As mentioned, the Vérité pads have a more traditional presentation, which to my ear is immediately enjoyable. The Universe pads on the other hand sound totally weird, because it almost sounds like certain parts of the music are coming from behind you. To me this perfectly explains any confusion about how good the Vérité is during discussions or reviews among those who have heard it. Similarly, if anyone has tried this headphone at an audio show with the universe pads and didn’t try the Vérité (flat) pads, I could see the listener walking away confused. It’s an extremely unique and interesting experience to be sure, and I think many people will enjoy the Vérité specifically for that quality, but I would have shipped this headphone with the Vérité (flat) pads on them instead of the Universe pads. Because not only is the brain being asked to respond to an incredibly detailed experience, it’s also being completely thrown for a loop with this ‘3D’ effect, and it might be disorienting or unnatural to those who are expecting the more traditional presentation. Nonetheless, the Universe pads do provide a distinctly bigger stage, almost to that of the HD800s. By the way, for one of the most unique experiences you can imagine with headphones, try listening to binaural recordings on the Vérité with the Universe pads. That’s something entirely different as well.
Pad update - 2 new sets of pads measured and tested
Zach and Bevin were kind enough to send two additional sets of pads for the Vérité - the Universe Suede and the prototype BE2.
The Universe Suede is immediately more enjoyable to me than the leather Universe pad since it has a brighter tonality. I find it brings the overall tuning closer to what I find ideal, and even provides a bit more energy between 3-7khz than the flat Vérité pads. The Univer Suede pads still retains the same characteristics of the original Universe pads, namely that they make the Vérité more spacious and open sounding. At the same time, the qualities I miss from the flat Vérité pads are also still missing here, such as tightness in the bass - even though they measure about the same. I find some people actually prefer this quality, and for me the trade-off isn’t substantial enough to not use the Universe Suede. At the moment it’s my second favorite out of all of them.
The BE2 prototype pad is a lot more similar to the tonal characteristics of the flat Vérité pads, and that’s a good thing in my mind. It feels like it’s made from similar material, with a slightly stiffer and thicker cushion, but a smaller ear cutout. The main sonic difference is that the cut at 3khz isn’t as extreme with the BE2, and overall it’s just a touch brighter than the flat pads. I found myself enjoying the default tuning of the flat Vérité pads, but preferred them with a bit of a boost at around 3khz to compensate for the dip, but with the BE2 pads I don’t feel the need to do so. Overall the BE2 retains the same tightness, control, and slam in the bass exhibited by the flat Vérité pads, while at the same time providing a brighter tuning with a bit more of an even response in the treble. At the moment this is my favorite pad to use, with the Universe Suede coming in at a close second. All pads are quite comfortable, with the Universe Suede being the most comfortable to me.
Focal Utopia - While the Utopia is still the king of detail retrieval, the Vérité is almost indistinguishable in that regard. The main difference between the two is that the Vérité has a bigger stage, with bigger images, and hits with more authority. I also find the midrange on the Vérité to be a bit more forward, so it sounds a bit warmer than the Utopia, but with that comes a more natural and musical timbre. The Utopia is still one of my favorite headphones, and I don’t think the Vérité makes it redundant, it’s more of a warmer, punchier, and more spacious alternative. Personally, at this moment, I’d take the Vérité over the Utopia.
Focal Stellia - Another Beryllium driver headphone, the Vérité matches it in detail capabilities. I prefer the default tuning of the Vérité over the Stellia, since the latter has a more ‘V’ shape to it with bass emphasis. And similar to the Utopia, the images and stage are bigger on the Vérité. But of course, the Stellia is a closed back, so it’s not entirely a fair comparison.
Mrspeakers Aeon Flow Open - The other semi-open headphone I have on my desk at the moment. While this isn’t a fair comparison, the one quality it and the Vérité have in common is incredible speed. As mentioned in this review, the Vérité sounds almost more like a planar than it does a dynamic, causing it to rival the AFO in this regard. In every other sense, the Vérité is categorically superior, as one would expect.
ZMF Auteur - The big question on my mind when I first heard about the Vérité was whether or not it’s an upgrade over the Auteur. The consensus at the time was that it’s not supposed to be that. But to me, it absolutely is. In just about every category (except tonality), I’d take the Vérité, and that’s coming from someone who loves the Auteur. The Vérité has better detail retrieval capabilities, better speed, a more dynamic and engaging sound, better slam, a more realistic stage, and more precise imaging and instrument separation. For those looking for strict neutrality, I can see the Auteur being more appealing on paper. But when it comes to lifelike reproduction of sound, the Vérité wins.
HD800s - The stage on the HD800s is still quite a bit bigger than the Vérité with the flat pads. The angled pads cause it to be a more interesting comparison, but I think the HD800s is still a bit more spacious. I’m a fan of what the HD800s is able to do in terms of detail retrieval and instrument separation, but I actually think the Vérité does as good or better in that regard. It’s also warmer, faster, and again in my opinion produces a more lifelike/realistic experience.
This is the best headphone experience I’ve had to date. The Vérité is not without its flaws, and I would prefer a more even treble response, but what this headphone is able to do when it comes to its performant qualities is the perfect blend of just about everything I want. Tyll Hertsens once said that the Utopia allows the listener to “peer into the music” better than anything else, and I think the Vérité has appropriately risen to that challenge. With just a touch of EQ, this is currently the most realistic, lifelike, and engaging sound I’ve been able to find. While I’m always reluctant to say this, I can see the Vérité being an ‘end game’ headphone for many enthusiasts. Moreover, while constantly buying new headphones and getting the latest and greatest is commonplace within this hobby, the Vérité’s shining example of impeccable craftsmanship and unique design makes it something that should stay in any enthusiast’s collection for years to come. Suffice to say that this is the ZMF flagship we were all hoping for.
You can also check out the video review here.