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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

NDRQ

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This one as well as the Auteur (1.5k$) and Verite Closed (2.5k$) do not seem to be poor sounding (not Harman target in the bass)

These headphones are about the wood and craftsmanship and their 'tuning' and are not intended for the general public but people with disposable income that appreciate it for what it is.
EQ can get them where you want them if needed.
You will end up with a gorgeous looking and sounding (with EQ) conversation piece.

I think even with EQ, it will never be that good, since there are just too many peaks and holes in the FR and no EQ is good with that, you cannot build a castle from sh.t.
The only okay part in the FR is the part from 200 to 800ish...the rest is just garbage. For half or third price, one can get a headphone that much better than this and only need a little EQ.
 
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solderdude

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I think even with EQ, the fidelity will never be that good, since there are just too many peaks and holes in the FR, hard to fix this big mess. For half or third a price u can get a headphone that almost good and only need a little EQ. The only okay part in the FR is the part from 200 to 800ish...and the rest is just a big mess.

Amir stated:

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.
and ..
With EQ, it sounds excellent but whether it is worth $3,500, you have to decide.


For half or third price, one can get a headphone that much better than this and only need a little EQ.
No argument there.
 
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NDRQ

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Amir stated:


and ..




No argument there.
If there are too many filter needed, the result wont be really perfect. EQ is not an almighty stuff, it can fix little problems, but never fix a hot mess, if you use too many filter that will most likely cause another problems.
 
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amirm

amirm

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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.
My EQ is developed in the context of complying with research produced target curve. As such it is not "my" preference although I do tweak things some. That research says that most listeners like more bass than this headphone has. And I match that research. As I noted in the review, my speakers in a real room produce far more bass than this headphone does. I also have headphones that comply with the research target and they too produce far more bass, matching (and even exceeding) what my speakers produce.

Note that since we have no control over how music is produced as far as tonality, you have to be careful in assessing fidelity and expecting it to translate to others/other situations. I too have music that can sound bloated with bass with this target. But across some 300 reference/tests tracks I have, almost all sound better with this level of bass.

Now here is the big thing: adaptation. If you have been listening to this headphone for a while, your ear/brain have adapted so its tonality will seem right to you and anything else wrong. This is why many people like even broken speakers/headphones. They adapt (and hence the myth about "break-in," you break in, not the device). My adaptation is in reverse: having heard so many neutral speakers and using the same for headphones hours a day, the Caldera sounds lifeless and anything but "hi-fi."

Note that I don't spend a lifetime developing the EQ. And what I produce, is done by eye, not by a computer fully turning the response to target. My goal is to see if major shortfalls in response are producing less preferred sound. And there is no question about that here. I did however note that some brightness existed with my EQ on some tracks. More optimization of filters is necessary to deal with that.

Finally, the overall balance of bass to treble is subjective and i have no issues with others having a different preference. I dial in some amount quickly in my bass filter and go about my business. Depending on what you listen to, you are more than welcome to adjust. But not to the point of saying stock response is correct. It is very incorrect.
 
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amirm

amirm

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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.
That's the wrong hypothesis. Look at the filters I developed:
index.php


The highest frequency one is at 6.3 kHz which we all hear just as well. I did not touch anything above that. If you are hearing something there, then you may have made a mistake in recreating the above filters.

Note that reliability of our measurement rig dies off by 8 kHz. For this reason, I don't touch what is above there. People with excellent high frequency hearing may want to use shelving filters to adapt the response to their taste. This headphone shows excessive energy there so first order of business would be to pull that down. That you think the highs sound right and at the same time imply you can hear high frequencies, doesn't sound right to me.
 
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amirm

amirm

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One more thing: you must employ some kind of headroom capability in your filter settings. I have turned on the one in Roon and still pulled the overall levels down as to avoid clipping. Without it, you have high chance of hearing distortions which could manifest itself in brightness, static, etc.
 

majingotan

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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....

Ageed! I heard the Auteur Classics recently too and the Bokeh as well. Those two sound great and one of the better ZMFs out there. Atrium is too V-shaped for me while Verite is just as wonky as Caldera in the mids.
 

staticV3

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My EQ is developed in the context of complying with research produced target curve.
@Maiky76's graph showing the frequency response of the Caldera with your EQ settings applied (black) does actually hint at a bloated bass boost that bleeds into the mids:
ZMF Caldera APO Score EQ Flat@HF 96000Hz.png

So that part of @next2nothing's feedback does not surprise me personally.

Edit: again but this time Harman compensated, with the troublesome part marked green:
ZMF Caldera APO Score EQ Flat@HF 96000Hz (1).png
 
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MacClintock

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True, they look nice, seem to be made from premium material and exhibit low distortion. But you need to EQ them to get decent sound and I wouldn't know what makes them more preferable than the LCD-X, which cost about 1/3, if you really want to go for that kind of design.
 
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amirm

amirm

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@Maiky76's graph showing the frequency response of the Caldera with your EQ settings applied (black) does actually hint at a bloated bass boost that bleeds into the mids:
ZMF Caldera APO Score EQ Flat@HF 96000Hz.png
Oh, @Maiky76 got the filter type wrong. It was a shelving filter, not PEQ which stops at 125 Hz:

1701402298638.png


As you see, it is flat to 20 Hz whereas what he got is sloped down. I was wondering why he said my correction preference score was low.
 
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amirm

amirm

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So that part of @next2nothing's feedback does not surprise me personally.
@next2nothing, did you use shelving filter for the first one or PEQ? If latter, you need to fix that as that makes a huge difference.
 

Maiky76

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Oh, @Maiky76 got the filter type wrong. It was a shelving filter, not PEQ which stops at 125 Hz:

View attachment 330779

As you see, it is flat to 20 Hz whereas what he got is sloped down. I was wondering why he said my correction preference score was low.

My appologies!
You are correct I used a PEQ instead of the low shelf, my bad.

Here are the correct the scores:
Score no EQ: 66.2
Score Amirm: 75.5
Score with EQ: 85.2

And graph
ZMF Caldera APO Score EQ Flat@HF 96000Hz.png
 

IAtaman

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No headphone is worth that. No headphone is worth more than 2k. Few are worth more than a few hundred.

I think even with EQ, it will never be that good, since there are just too many peaks and holes in the FR and no EQ is good with that, you cannot build a castle from sh.t.
The only okay part in the FR is the part from 200 to 800ish...the rest is just garbage. For half or third price, one can get a headphone that much better than this and only need a little EQ.

Well said. Now go and tell people in Antique Automobile Club that they can buy cars that cost much less and does not even require as much repairs. I am sure they will be as enlightened. Here is their forum: https://forums.aaca.org/
 

Negatywny

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We had a lot better measuring IEM for fourty bucks, so why 3,5k headphones got golphing panter?
For the privilige of fixing the product through equalization? Thats a bug, not a feature.
 
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amirm

amirm

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We had a lot better measuring IEM for fourty bucks, so why 3,5k headphones got golphing panter?
They are not the same thing. A headphone gives you imaging that its outside of your ears. IEMs can't do that. And they cost more to produce.
 

solderdude

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No headphone is worth that. No headphone is worth more than 2k. Few are worth more than a few hundred.
You could easily extend that to all luxury products that are floating around on the planet.
Is a $ 100k watch really worth the money when the goal is to keep time ?
Yet... plenty are sold to people that like to own it even though a $ 10.- watch may be more accurate when it comes to its primary task (telling time).

If headphones are sold that cost over $ 1k then that obviously is worth it to the one buying it. If not they will return it or simply buy another one.
That's the beauty of the market.
That does not mean a $ 10.- IEM can not sound more than good enough to someone else.
That person is correct but so are people spending thousands on it ... when they feel it is worth it.

It also does not mean you need to spend more than a few hundred to get top notch sound either.
It just means that some products are worth more to some people than to others.
Different goals.
 

IAtaman

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You could easily extend that to all luxury products that are floating around on the planet.
Is a $ 100k watch really worth the money when the goal is to keep time ?
Yet... plenty are sold to people that like to own it even though a $ 10.- watch may be more accurate when it comes to its primary task (telling time).

If headphones are sold that cost over $ 1k then that obviously is worth it to the one buying it. If not they will return it or simply buy another one.
That's the beauty of the market.
That does not mean a $ 10.- IEM can not sound more than good enough to someone else.
That person is correct but so are people spending thousands on it ... when they feel it is worth it.

It also does not mean you need to spend more than a few hundred to get top notch sound either.
It just means that some products are worth more to some people than to others.
Different goals.
Agree. But it is not about "luxury" really. It is a hobby. It is not much different than going to a chess forum and saying "why you are playing the English opening, e4 is much better". Yeah, thanks Sherlock!
 

solderdude

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When comparing it to playing chess perhaps it is more a difference of playing with a cheap set of plastic figures on a cardboard board and playing chess on a beautiful hand carved set. This does not influence how the play goes but might be a more enjoyable experience to some ?

ZMF headphones are luxury items. It is about the woodworking skill, the build quality and the sound signature Zach wanted it to have.
 

IAtaman

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When comparing it to playing chess perhaps it is more a difference of playing with a cheap set of plastic figures on a cardboard board and playing chess on a beautiful hand carved set. This does not influence how the play goes but might be a more enjoyable experience to some ?
Not necessarily. The analogy I was going for is that you don't always play chess with the ambition to play the most accurate game. You play to win, but it is fun to play different and less optimal openings from time to time.

A few weeks ago I bought a headphone because it had an interesting story. It does not sound as good as many other headphones I have, but I like it, and in fact am using it right now. I measured it with my in-ear mics, and tuned it as I see fit. It is not HE-1000, but it is good. During the year-end break, I am planning to get a K612 and implement your passive filter to see how that goes. I like tinkering. Some like wood. Some like taking and posting photos of their expensive headphones with their tube amps. It is a hobby.
 
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