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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

majingotan

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Just throwing in my 2 cents as having owned the Caldera for a year and recently demoed and compared the Susvara for a week. They certainly have a thickness to the sound, and the detail, speed and transparency is absolutely there even more so than the Susvara. Where I found them lacking was in the mid range which felt recessed. On tracks where I felt the vocalist should be center stage, it feels like they are far away - and with the mid range carrying so much emotion of many songs, this means many tracks lose their magic. It's hard to explain, as they are so detailed it's not as if you can't hear every detail from the vocalist, but it just doesn't feel like an intimate performance to me or very center stage, the vocals are just another part of the track with a million other details that all get blended. Another thing I love about some headphones are those moments where the sound feels as it's coming from nowhere or anywhere but the headphone, those moments never happened with the Caldera as they do on the Susvara.

All in all I found the Susvara to be far more balanced tonally, provide me with detailed yet intimate performances with great staging and just the right amount of bass to satisfy even myself who listens to very bass heavy music. They just carry more emotion, and due to their ethereal sound signature I found myself able to listen for hours at a time vs Calderas punchiness limiting my listening time.

Agreed! Susvara's tonality is the closest to the most tonally correct headphone currently in existence IMHO which to no surprise, almost perfectly matches the Harman Curve with a little less bass than DCA Stealth and Expanse: the Sennheiser HE-1. I'd buy another Susvara in a heartbeat if mine ever breaks because it's the closest sounding to the Sennheiser HE-1 for a lot less to my own HRTF ears, and it also tracks Harman Curve pretty closely on the presence region where sound matters A LOT!
 

Benesyed

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I finally got around to applying the EQ in Roon and did a blinded listen to Doubts by Stephan Jolk (thank you to my wife who paused the track changed the roon setting or kept it the same without telling me, and then unpaused the track; listened to about 10-15 seconds so this was not very short and my wife was a great sport about it). For fun I also tried to guess what setting I was using EQ or no EQ.

I found the bass boost very unenjoyable and uncontrolled. It also was very easily recognized and so not truly blinded (100% could identify it was bass boosted).

So I tried lowering it to:

1703203521517.png


Ultimately I did not even like that and ended up just doing the upper mid and upper tuning adjustments

1703203625813.png


With the above EQ I picked the EQd version about 6-70% times blinded for the same track (about 20 10-15 second runs). My ability to correctly guess was not as high as the bass EQ but I think better than random (80-90%). Going back and listening unblinded I think the mid/high boost adds a sense of fullness. I did not appreciate it as a huge dramatic benefit but it was somewhat reliable.


I tried again with Fuel to Fire with Agnes Obel. I used the no bass adjusted version for this song. Overall I preferred the EQ version the same amount of times as above except one particular part of the song the EQ added a harshness which may be true to the song though is a little unpleasant. Specifically at 4:52-53 if anyone is curious to listen.

All in all though I think the non bass boosted EQ was better though I did not feel in my very small test that it was a night a day difference. I personally enjoyed both, but I cant imagine the EQ dramatically changing a listeners feeling towards these headphones unless they know they need much more bass than the baseline sound signature. I think this is somewhat parallel to what amir found which was fixing the bass dramatically improved his enjoyment (he preferred the bass where in my two tracks i did not like it) with more diminished returns for the other adjustments.

TLDR:

If you prefer Harman without the bass boost then these might sound very good to you even without EQ. The other deviations were game changers though improvements.


Disclaimer:
I am not a musician or sound engineer so I may just not have well enough trained ears to pick apart good sound. I just went off of what I thought sounded good to me.
 
Last edited:

majingotan

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If you prefer Harman without the bass boost then these might sound very good to you even without EQ. The other deviations were game changers though improvements.

It’s not Harman Linear bass curve at all without EQ. You still must use EQ to fix its shortcomings in the presence region which to me is unacceptable for a TOTL priced headphone. DCA headphones for Harman Curve while Hifiman headphones for Harman Linear bass curve while Sennheiser HE-1 for best of both worlds
 

Benesyed

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It’s not Harman Linear bass curve at all without EQ. You still must use EQ to fix its shortcomings in the presence region which to me is unacceptable for a TOTL priced headphone. DCA headphones for Harman Curve while Hifiman headphones for Harman Linear bass curve while Sennheiser HE-1 for best of both worlds

Yes you are correct it has a roll off. My ears did not mind that perhaps I should compare to making it true Harman linear bass and compare that. Maybe another day!

I totally understand your perspective about TOTL being out of the box perfect for use. I do feel though that the deviation is not as pronounced to the ear as they are to the eye. If you have some songs for me to high light the deficiency that might be helpful for me as well!

Of the examples you give perhaps the Hifiman are reasonable given the price for lower end models though they all have their own crazy quirks that still need EQ to remedy. DCA are definitely great and I have been enjoying my expanse but at which point is the value proposition of extra 700 dollars to avoid EQ really that sensible?
 
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amirm

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What joy is there in a world where store shelves are inundated with objectively-idealized chocolate ice cream? :)
They are objectively sized; you just don't know it. Once a flavor is developed, precise, measured amount of ingredients are used to replicate that taste. Otherwise you are not going to get the same thing with every visit. Same is true here. We research what flavor people like and the measurements let us replicate that with accuracy.
 

Benesyed

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They are objectively sized; you just don't know it. Once a flavor is developed, precise, measured amount of ingredients are used to replicate that taste. Otherwise you are not going to get the same thing with every visit. Same is true here. We research what flavor people like and the measurements let us replicate that with accuracy.

There's this very bizarre and off beat ice cream place where I used to live that does a different small batch flavor every 2 weeks, its all done by eye no measurements, very much by feel. They are pretty popular but you definitely have no idea what you are going to get.

Even when they do the same flavor they do it as "flavor number (n+1)" because its never really completely the same. Not to say that should be the standard for audio. But oddity exists everywhere and there will be an audience for it that enjoys it.
 

zach915m

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It’s not Harman Linear bass curve at all without EQ. You still must use EQ to fix its shortcomings in the presence region which to me is unacceptable for a TOTL priced headphone. DCA headphones for Harman Curve while Hifiman headphones for Harman Linear bass curve while Sennheiser HE-1 for best of both worlds
Maybe it got lost in the thread, if wanting Harman presence region for Caldera it's pretty simple, just use the ultra perf pads and tune to taste. I personally prefer the Caldera with stock pads, and put the pad I prefer on all our headphones as stock since I prefer lower than Harman presence , but if you're after Harman in the presence region it's much less EQ work to boost the bass and just use ultra perf pads on caldera.

pads-16.png
 

MacClintock

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Maybe it got lost in the thread, if wanting Harman presence region for Caldera it's pretty simple, just use the ultra perf pads and tune to taste. I personally prefer the Caldera with stock pads, and put the pad I prefer on all our headphones as stock since I prefer lower than Harman presence , but if you're after Harman in the presence region it's much less EQ work to boost the bass and just use ultra perf pads on caldera.

View attachment 336446
If you want to make a serious point, please use the actual Harman target, which has more bass, and not some mixture.
 

Mr Swing King

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I have a buddy who works with wood who also happens to be a huge ZMF fan. I can certainly dig that. Heck if I used most of my time fondling up oak and ash, I’d probably have an unhealthy amount of ZMFs in my collection. They are absolutely gorgeous headphones.

Anyhoo this love affair of his has luckily also translated into me being able to listen to all ZMF models without having to order one for myself.
The first time I listened to his Auteur, it reminded me of a lesser take on the DT 900 Pro X…which he wasn’t all that keen on hearing. He was glad that I prefered the looks of the Auteur though.
Similar thing happened with the Caldera, only I thought it sounded like a more polite Hifiman Edition XS. He basically laughed out loud and told me to stuff that nonsense where the sun doesn’t shine.
Looking at these measurements though I feel somewhat vindicated; absolutely stunning headphone with a Hifimanesque sound quality you can rival for around 100-500$.
 

solderdude

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Auteur-Perf-Lambskin-1024x469.jpg

Opposite Harman a bit bass light. It also has some 'Stax alike' 1kHz bump but also some sibilance/sharpness acc to these plots.
 

ObjectiveSubjectivist

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Auteur-Perf-Lambskin-1024x469.jpg

Opposite Harman a bit bass light. It also has some 'Stax alike' 1kHz bump but also some sibilance/sharpness acc to these plots.
Yup occasionally they were a bit too bright.
But what I heard was more towards 3khz and above, not so much around 1khz
 

solderdude

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Yup occasionally they were a bit too bright.
But what I heard was more towards 3khz and above, not so much around 1khz
could be different pads were used or your ear gain is different ?
 

ObjectiveSubjectivist

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could be different pads were used or your ear gain is different ?
I suppose that's something with my ears.
As I remember correctly I used same perforated pads that are shown on crins FR.

Strangely enough I felt something was happening with the midbass, in classical music I felt some muddiness there.
Back then I was too ignorant to believe in FR and EQ.
Now I know for sure that I need dip in mid bass around 200hz (exactly how Harman curve shows, small slope from 1khz towards 200hz)

Without deep there, bass a lot of the times feels muddy/congested, also voices feels too chesty.
If you don't have dip around 200hz and also relaxed response around 1-3khz and then boosted again just like Hifiman does - to.my ears it makes voices "sandy", hard to put into words but they sound very unnatural to my ears.

Anyway enough of my rambling. Sorry for the small offtopic
 

zach915m

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I used same perforated pads that are shown on crins FR.
Back when Crin measured the OG auteur, he was measuring in a coffee shop audio store (Zeppelin) and often didn't know what pads were on the headphone (even though he listed them at times) . I'm not sure if his methods have changed and if he's able to get loaners to do a proper measurement dive, but at that time I'm not sure how reliable they were.
 

ObjectiveSubjectivist

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Back when Crin measured the OG auteur, he was measuring in a coffee shop audio store (Zeppelin) and often didn't know what pads were on the headphone (even though he listed them at times) . I'm not sure if his methods have changed and if he's able to get loaners to do a proper measurement dive, but at that time I'm not sure how reliable they were.
Just a question.
I realized that now there is Auteur og? Is it any different than past Auteur? There are two versions now or what?
 

DenverW

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Just a question.
I realized that now there is Auteur og? Is it any different than past Auteur? There are two versions now or what?
The original Auteur is referred to as the OG, and the updated Auteur is referred to as the Auteur Classic. The OG version is no longer for sale but can be found on the used market. The driver was updated as well as the damping system on the new 'Classic'.
 

zach915m

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Just a question.
I realized that now there is Auteur og? Is it any different than past Auteur? There are two versions now or what?
The original Auteur is referred to as the OG, and the updated Auteur is referred to as the Auteur Classic. The OG version is no longer for sale but can be found on the used market. The driver was updated as well as the damping system on the new 'Classic'.
Yes and yes. There's a video I made on our YouTube channel about the Classic and the why's etc of it. They are similarly tuned.
 
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