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ZMF Caldera Headphone Review

Rate this headphone:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 48 27.0%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 84 47.2%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 29 16.3%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 17 9.6%

  • Total voters
    178

IAtaman

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Thank you for the review Amir. ZMF headphones get talked about a lot, especially after live events like CanJams and such, so I was curious how they would measure and sound from a reliable source.

Anything special about spatial qualities?

Glad to see the mostly well behaved and low distortion and flat impedance. I think most people buy these headphones because of the their hand made beauty and uniqueness, and apparent niceness of the owner Zach. Low distortion makes it easy to tune them to your liking so you can have a unique headphone that also sounds good. If you are into wooden, handmade, part functional part artistic kind of thing, I believe these headphones are a good option.

Of course, this is not the first headphone to buy, nor it is the one to get for casual listening, and some gaming maybe. If you are looking at headphones purely from a functional and price / performance point of view, this is not it. We all get it, but please, do mention that there are cheaper and better sounding options out there.
 

uwotm8

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I honestly don't like the look. Current Audeze models are on another level. Maybe it feels different when you see in person and touch but by photo the look lacks integrity and is sort of average-aliexpress-like to my taste.

Cut one zero from the price and there would be no place to complain
 
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I’ve always admired the craftsmanship of ZMF headphones. I own a pair of the Auteurs (the original version) and for a long time I didn’t like how they sounded, though I loved the look and feel, and they seemed stubbornly resistant to EQ.

Then, due to some life events, I spent about a year barely using any headphones at all (where I’d get at least a couple hours per day previously), and when a few weeks ago I plugged the Auteurs back in, I actually found I liked and appreciated them.

At the same time I decided to try out some others from my collection without the Harman EQ I usually applied to them all - and I found the LCD-5, T1.2, TH909, HE6se and MDR-MA900 all sound pretty great even in “stock” tuning.

Of course maybe if I set my EQ curves back I’d like them more, but I’ve enjoyed sort of playing around with getting to know some unique voicings.

All that is to say, the Caldera does look to have a rather unique FR, but I’m sure it works for some people well. I don’t need another high-dollar planar myself, but I’d like to hear one sometime.
 

ROOSKIE

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First impression out of the box was inoffensive but pretty boring sound. There was almost no deep/sub-bass response so that was the first low hanging fruit to fix with equalization:...


Objectively it is clear that Caldera deviates significantly from what research tells us is highly preferred frequency response. That is fine but company needs to conduct its own research to see if their target is more performant. In my subjective and objective testing, I find that to not be the case, wasting what seems to be beautiful physical design. Fortunately we have EQ and fix its errors since its distortion is very low. And once there, have an excellent sounding headphone that looks great and is comfortable to wear...

I can't recommend the ZMF Caldera without equalization. With EQ, it sounds excellent but whether it is worth $3,500, you have to decide.
In cars this is 'all show and no go'.
Sure after turbocharging the engine, aftermarketing the suspension, brakes and exhaust the car goes well.

$3500 cans/headphones have to sound excellent out of the box in my view.
It '4' or poor(1) on the rating otherwise. No middle ground with swagger pricing in play.

Be interesting to find out if they did any research on the sound at all or only on the looks and selling strategy at that price point. My guess is the later points only.

Oh well.
 

BALKAN_RAKIA

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People in audio would spend 3500 on headphones just because they think the owner is a nice guy. I am not saying he is not, I just like Amir more.
 

uwotm8

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People in audio would spend 3500 on headphones just because they think the owner is a nice guy. I am not saying he is not, I just like Amir more.
That's pretty much current state of industry after reviews moved from paper magazines to "independent" youtubers. Makes me laugh like hell. "Buy xxxx because CEO is a nice guy". Ohh
 

Hart

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Despite being manufactured in the US it would be hard to believe you need to charge $3,500 for headphones, even good ones. Loudspeakers are exponentially more expensive to build and ship and you can get good loudspeakers for that money. There are so many purveyors in this hobby charging exotic prices for sometimes fair execution. I think the Porsche looking body with a Yugo inside bother me the most. The recent Carver tube amps are a perfect example.
 

MoreWatts

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What is going on above 10 kHz? Can that response even be EQd? I notice the listening tests did not appear to address this issue. Are these headphones designed specifically for us old geezers that can't hear much above 10 kHz anyway? :cool:
 

AdamG

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Saw a video of him and indeed, he is very down to earth.
He may be but his prices have long since left the pull of gravity. ;)
 

cheapmessiah

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I find it difficult to compete with the DCA stealth at these prices, personally this is a price bracket where I would only pay for absolute convenience, I want to plug the headphones in anywhere (anywhere where power is available) and do nothing else but enjoy.

If I have to EQ, theres "no compromises" headphones for a third of the price that will sound great with EQ, and even for a tenth theres options if you dont mind not having the best manufacturing available.
 

SuicideSquid

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If this headphone was $350, I'd say it might be worth a serious look given the low distortion and ability to fix FR errors with EQ.

For $3,500? Hard pass. Anything over $500 needs to have good - very good sound without EQ to be worth considering.
 

kemmler3D

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What about the M and the F in the threeway? Michelle and Fiona?
It was said to stand for "Zach's Modified Fostex" because he started out doing mods for Fostex cans, IIRC - but officially, it doesn't stand for that and I don't know what the other letters are, actually.
 

L0rdGwyn

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I own this headphone. I didn't buy it, Zach is a friend and I get headphones in trade with him, I build him amplifiers. I think the Caldera is great, it's a very enjoyable listen, very spacious, liquid/smooth timbre, flat bass. I don't live and die by the measurements however, so take that as you will :)
 

next2nothing

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Registered to leave here my two cents.

I applied the suggested EQ to Caldera to see what Amirs preference is. Well, the bass becomes stronger but bloated and starts to leak into the mids, the treble becomes shouty and fatiguing. There is the illusion of bit more detail that comes with it, but thats basically it. Worst of all, the very natural life-like sounding headphone (probably most natural sounding planar that I had around) loses that characteristic since even an acoustic guitar might sound bassy in some recoridngs, not to speak of shouty violins and such
Sound is always a preference, but what was suggested here hints a VERY specific prereference and pobably a rather high age of the reviewer, since the suggested brightness for people in their mid - late 30s will be just be too much.

In my humble opinion there will be a reason why a rather succesful and well respected maker worked on the drivers and the overall tuning for over 5 years and its difficult to come up with something better casually tuning the headphone over an evening.

I appreciate Amirs work and following his reviews for many years at this point, this review is a big miss in my opinion, I highly suggest to try Caldera if you get an opportunity.
 
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solderdude

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Celty

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I have the Auteur and still love it, I'm not good at describing sound, but they just seem so lush, detailed, and natural to me. Also very comfortable - a big priority for me.
The $3500 price tag on the Caldera exceeds what I am willing to pay for headphones. It is not anything against the Caldera specifically, That kind of money is just way past the point of justifiable point of diminishing returns for any headphone. Obviously others will disagree....
 
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