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ZMF Atticus Review (Headphone)

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the ZMF Atticus headphone. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $1,099.

Member sent me three pairs of pad for them but they all look the same and neither he, nor I know if these are stock ones or not. Looking at the pictures online, they look similar to the OEM ones.

As a woodworker, I very much admire the figured wood used for the cups:

ZMF Atticus review closed back high-end headphone.jpg


This looks like zebra wood to me. Company references different wood species in different pages so not sure exactly what it is. Note that fair amount of sound escapes the vents so don't assume these are "closed headphones" in the classical sense.

Headphones this big are naturally on the heavy side with the Atticus clocking at 500 grams:
lightest closed back headphone review.png


The large cups are very comfortable though and so I did not find them tiring in the few hours I wore them. Cup inside dimensions are 75x54x25 mm (height, width, depth).

Note: The measurements you are about to see are made using a standardized Gras 45C. Headphone measurements by definition are approximate and variable so don't be surprised if other measurements even if performed with the same fixtures as mine differ in end results. Protocols vary such as headband pressure and averaging (which I don't do). As you will see, I have confirmed the approximate accuracy of the measurements using Equalization and listening tests. Ultimately headphone measurements are less exact than speakers mostly in bass and above a few kilohertz so keep that in mind as you read these tests. If you think you have an exact idea of a headphone performance, you are likely wrong!

Fitting these headphones on the fixture was a challenge with fair bit of differential between left and right channels and overall variability. The asymmetrical cups cause pressure to be less on the thin side which may be responsible for (slight) pressure loss. I played a fair bit with them but could not null out the differences. Overall response shape was pretty much the same though so I have confidence in the directionality of the measurements.

ZMF Atticus Measurements
As usual we start with our frequency response:

ZMF Atticus frequency response measurements.png


Company advertises these as "warmer" sound which clearly seems to refer to boosting of the upper bass frequencies. They also talk about a bit of zing in the highs which must be the thing that pushes the peak up around 6 kHz. They don't say anything about the depressed region between 1 and 5 kHz which from my experience, can make the headphone sound clusterphobic and closed. This is exceedingly common though so I see why it is done.

Subtracting our response from the preference curve gives us an easier graph to use for equalizer design:
ZMF Atticus Relative frequency response measurements.png


As noted, our response beyond large deviation also has many sudden kinks and changes. This usually indicates the headphone is changing from pure pistonic response which we can see evidence of in our distortion graph:

ZMF Atticus distortion percentage measurements.png


The bass distortion is quite high but let's remember that we excess bass there which we will take out in EQ. So the worry is what happens farther out in response especially at 1.8 kHz:
ZMF Atticus distortion THD measurements.png


This flaw has such a strong effect that it shows up in many places including Group Delay:

ZMF Atticus Group Delay measurements.png


Even electrical phase (not shown) had it in there. Shame it was not diagnosed and fixed.

Sensitivity is slightly below average:

Most efficient closed back headphone.png


Impedance is quite high at 350+ ohm:

ZMF Atticus Impedance measurements.png


So you need a headphone amp/driver that can produce good bit of voltage if you want high volume from Atticus.

ZMF Atticus Listening Tests and Equalizations
The stock performance of Atticus was not exciting. Most of my tracks sounded dull and closed in. So I decided to fix the the mid-frequencies first:

ZMF Atticus Headphone Equalization EQ.png


I was making progress until I had to stop and deal with the low frequency boominess. It literally got to me. It was such a remarkable transformation to throw that large negative gain in that region (pink Band 2). Nothing like the power of AB testing to see how negative the effect of that artificial boost was. Without EQ, it seems like a small problem. Take it out and experience the relief you get and you realize how much of an issue that was.

Sub-bass region was not very present so I quickly dialed-in a bit of that with Green filter in band 1. You need that to put some of the bass response tonality you took out with the dip.

Once there, the spatial effects were good (I rate it a "B") and combined with excellent power handling, the sound was enjoyable and I used the headphone for listening for a few hours. Occasionally a mid to high frequency note wouldn't sound quite right which could be due to distortion or faultiness of such ad-hoc subjective evaluation. So not a perfect transformation but darn near it. Without EQ, I would not go near this headphone. With EQ, it becomes so much better.

Conclusions
ZMF executes the look and feel of the Atticus well. One appreciates that you are getting something for the amount of money you are spending. Alas, by company's own statement, what you don't get is neutral response which is key to excellent transformation of fidelity across large amount of content. Without EQ, vocals can be muffled and sound quite closed in nature. While I like bass, I like it clean and deep, not just boosting things for the sake of boosting it.

Fortunately parametric equalization does wonders for the tonality of Atticus. It substantially upgrades the sound both on tonality and spatial qualities. The distortion is partially dealt with by lowering the bass but I remain concerned about mid to high frequency distortion especially at 1.8 kHz which is in such a critical part of audible band.

Overall, I can not recommend the ZMF Atticus without EQ. With EQ, it gets a marginal recommendation.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Appreciate any donations using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

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sweetchaos

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#2
To import this PEQ profile into 'Equalizer APO', use:
Preamp: -4.4 dB
Filter 1: ON LS Fc 40 Hz Gain 3.0 dB Q 1.0
Filter 2: ON PK Fc 148 Hz Gain -7.0 dB Q 1.5
Filter 3: ON PK Fc 2605 Hz Gain 3.0 dB Q 1.5
Filter 4: ON PK Fc 4300 Hz Gain 4.0 dB Q 5.0
Filter 5: ON PK Fc 5600 Hz Gain -4.0 dB Q 5.0
To import into your favorite PEQ app, enter it manually.
Otherwise, see my PEQ guide.
..................................................................................................................
For those who don't have PEQ-capable app, and want to use GEQs instead.

Preamp: -3.3db
32 3.1
64 1.1
125 -5.7
250 -1.1
500 0.8
1000 -0.0
2000 2.5
4000 2.5
8000 -0.6
16000 0.9
Preamp: -5.4db
20 2.5
25 2.4
32 2.0
40 1.5
50 0.8
63 0.4
80 -0.3
100 -1.1
125 -4.4
160 -5.8
200 -1.9
250 -0.7
315 -0.1
400 0.1
500 0.2
630 0.3
800 0.4
1000 0.4
1250 0.6
1600 0.9
2000 1.6
2500 3.2
3150 1.9
4000 4.3
5000 -1.1
6300 -1.4
8000 0.8
10000 0.5
12500 0.7
16000 0.9
20000 0.5
If you want to import into "Wavelet" (Android App):
GraphicEQ: 20 -1.3; 21 -1.3; 22 -1.4; 23 -1.4; 24 -1.5; 26 -1.6; 27 -1.7; 29 -1.8; 30 -1.9; 32 -2.1; 34 -2.2; 36 -2.4; 38 -2.6; 40 -2.7; 43 -3.0; 45 -3.1; 48 -3.3; 50 -3.5; 53 -3.7; 56 -3.9; 59 -4.0; 63 -4.3; 66 -4.4; 70 -4.6; 74 -4.9; 78 -5.1; 83 -5.4; 87 -5.7; 92 -6.1; 97 -6.5; 103 -7.0; 109 -7.6; 115 -8.3; 121 -8.9; 128 -9.7; 136 -10.5; 143 -10.8; 151 -10.9; 160 -10.5; 169 -9.9; 178 -9.2; 188 -8.4; 199 -7.8; 210 -7.2; 222 -6.7; 235 -6.3; 248 -5.9; 262 -5.6; 277 -5.4; 292 -5.2; 309 -5.0; 326 -4.9; 345 -4.7; 364 -4.6; 385 -4.5; 406 -4.5; 429 -4.4; 453 -4.3; 479 -4.3; 506 -4.2; 534 -4.2; 565 -4.1; 596 -4.1; 630 -4.1; 665 -4.0; 703 -4.0; 743 -4.0; 784 -3.9; 829 -3.9; 875 -3.9; 924 -3.8; 977 -3.8; 1032 -3.7; 1090 -3.7; 1151 -3.6; 1216 -3.6; 1284 -3.5; 1357 -3.4; 1433 -3.3; 1514 -3.2; 1599 -3.0; 1689 -2.9; 1784 -2.7; 1885 -2.4; 1991 -2.1; 2103 -1.8; 2221 -1.5; 2347 -1.2; 2479 -0.9; 2618 -0.9; 2766 -0.9; 2921 -1.1; 3086 -1.4; 3260 -1.6; 3443 -1.7; 3637 -1.6; 3842 -1.2; 4058 -0.2; 4287 -0.4; 4528 -1.9; 4783 -3.3; 5052 -4.7; 5337 -6.2; 5637 -7.0; 5955 -6.1; 6290 -5.0; 6644 -4.5; 7018 -4.2; 7414 -4.1; 7831 -4.0; 8272 -3.9; 8738 -3.9; 9230 -3.9; 9749 -3.9; 10298 -3.9; 10878 -3.9; 11490 -3.9; 12137 -3.9; 12821 -3.9; 13543 -3.9; 14305 -3.9; 15110 -3.9; 15961 -3.9; 16860 -3.9; 17809 -3.9; 18812 -4.0; 19871 -4.3
Otherwise, see my GEQ guide.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #7
How can all of these headphones sound bad? It's a little hard to believe.
It has been a wild west in headphones until Harman did its research but many companies still ignore that. Also, there is this notion that "beats" made billions with bass so let's boost the bass and we will sell a lot. The faulty review loop that exists in headphones doesn't help drive proper design either.
 

Helicopter

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#8
Thanks Amir. I avoid any headphone with wood. I do appreciate the honest advertising of a warm and zingy signature, but to me that is quite undesirable. There are much better options including many for a lot less money.
 
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dmac6419

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#11
It has been a wild west in headphones until Harman did its research but many companies still ignore that. Also, there is this notion that "beats" made billions with bass so let's boost the bass and we will sell a lot. The faulty review loop that exists in headphones doesn't help drive proper design either.
Beats told you what they were about from day 1,all about the beat and they didn't lie.
 

faheem

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#13
Thanks Amir. I avoid any headphone with wood. I do appreciate the honest advertising of a warm and zingy signature, but to me that is quite undesirable. There are much better options including many for a lot less money.
Get a Youtuber to say Best ever and boom, marketing done. See it all the time. You have to know what you want, to know what you want. Most people don't know, so will just follow a recommendation by someone who is "reviewing" .
 

faheem

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Thanks for the review, have you been surprised by these poorly measuring headphones? I expected bad but the distorting Focals and Abyss-mal phones have surprised me, to the point where the ZMF, relatively seems not that terrible. The HE6 was the opposite scale, I was pleasantly surprised at how well that measured and the drivers / design capability under stress testing.
 

acbarn

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#17
Many audiophiles appear to be purchasing headphones based upon looks first, then price (the higher the better), and finally YouTube recommendations. It’s great that you’re shining some light on this nonsense. Hopefully some of these boutique companies will come around and start producing objectively better headphones due to your testing, Amir.
 

infinitesymphony

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#18
it really seems to me as I read all these reviews that I really should just stick with my HD 600s, lmao
It's the law of diminishing returns. If you'd bought a pair of Genelec 1031As in 1991, you'd still be ahead of most two-way bookshelf monitors today. So it goes with anything well-designed.
 

acbarn

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it really seems to me as I read all these reviews that I should just stick with my HD 600s, lmao
Yup. I went through the ringer with headphones and finally ended up back on the humble 660S as my daily driver. I suppose it was sort of a fun process, but wow what a total waste of time and money.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #20
Thanks for the review, have you been surprised by these poorly measuring headphones? I expected bad but the distorting Focals and Abyss-mal phones have surprised me, to the point where the ZMF, relatively seems not that terrible. The HE6 was the opposite scale, I was pleasantly surprised at how well that measured and the drivers / design capability under stress testing.
I can never predict the measurements until I perform them. Unlike speakers where you can see some of the design elements, there is nothing to see on a headphone so you have to measure. So yes, I am surprised by both extremes.
 
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