Reviewer:
Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 27" iMac with 5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 3.01, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming, COS Engineering D1, D2 [on review] & H1, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi Formula, Fore Audio DAISy 1, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Questyle QP1R, Soundaware Esther Pro, Soundaware D100 Pro SD card reader
Headphone amps: COS Engineering H1, Bakoon AMP-12, Vinnie Rossi LIO, Questyle CMA-800R (x2), Eversound Essence
Headphones: Final Sonorous X, VI & III with balanced ALO Audio harness; Final D8000 [on review]; HifiMan Susvara [on loan], HE-1000 & HE-6; Sennheiser HD800; Audeze LCD-XC and LCD-2v1; Meze Neo Classic
Power delivery:
Vibex Granada/Alhambra or Furutech RTp-6
Review component retail: $1'299 Eikon, $1'399 Auteur


ZMF.
It's not das Freiburger ZeltMusikFestival. Nor is it ein Zahnmedizinischer Fachassistent. Germans and their compound words. Our ZMF is simply Zach Mehrbach's headfi boutique. Like MrSpeaker's Dan Clark, Zach began with then eventually outgrew modifying Fostex T50rp planars. To address that distinction, he'd send me his latest flagship in open and closed flavours. Respectively, those go by Auteur and Eikon. Both use the same 50mm 300Ω high-impedance custom biocellulose dynamic driver with rubber surround, ABS frame and 98dB sensitivity. Both are woodies. So like Boenicke speakers, they can be had in various species like Cherry, Padauk, Camphor, Teak and Blackwood. Such options reflect different pricing and subtly different sonics. Ditto upgraded cabling. There are even swappable pads to tweak the tuning further. Rather than my way or the highway, Zach's philosophy is to present us with a solid base, then leave certain sonic finishing touches to his clients.
He's also big on hand crafting. That positions ZMF as an artisanal boutique, not an industrial outfit with white-frocked supervisors overseeing assembly robotics. ZMF are located just west of Chicago, Illinois and have been doing headphones full-time since 2014. Before that, it was a side business of Fostex modifications for friends and fellow students. That helped Zach pay off his student loans. With the 'F' of ZMF short for 'films', going 24/7 headfi clearly wasn't part of the original script. Like 6moons turning into a full-time gig, it apparently was just one of those things which happen along the way.


For that, cue up Better Call Saul's Saul Goodman. He started life as Jimmy McGill. When his girlfriend/partner Kim Wexler asked about the name change, he explained it with "s'all good, man". Indeed. Or as series co-creator Peter Gould put it, "when I wrote him at first [for Breaking Bad - Ed.], he wasn't a multi-dimensional character yet. He was fun; the ultimate sleazebag lawyer. I remember Bob Odenkirk asking me, 'You guys are going to kill me off pretty quick?' I said, 'Bob, we really like this character. We built a set. We can't afford to kill you off'."


As Zach's video explains, the design element of the Auteur's rosetta grill was inspired by old banjos and French stained glass. The name, like in the movies, reflects the fact that everything about this model is his personal vision, experience and doing. Of course wood grain has its own say, too. That's part of working with and the charm of any organic material. No two will ever be the same, exactly. But once more, this isn't a modified Fostex in new clothes. This is a ground-up effort. Unlike ZMF's trademark sealed designs, the Auteur also opens up to the world around it. Whilst sharing its driver with the Eikon, that fundamental part is very different. Zach calls it 85% open. The missing 15 bits tag onto the solid parts of the cup's back. The inners contain no damper fill, hence the vents are pure open vents. Still, the 15% of material boundary creates some resistive driver loading beyond just free air. At 475-515 grams in the stock Teak, the Auteur is no flighty affair but quite the heavy though still lighter than ZMF's closed-back Eikon (bio-cellulose driver) or Atticus (metal driver). Those post 490-530g in Cherry and 550-600g in Padauk. But with their double-padded headbands and gel-injected visco foam ear pads, wear comfort/fit is said to be very high for the lot.


Other parts of the Auteur/Eikon story are worldwide shipping, a driver life-time warranty, a 360° freely rotating gimbal and for the Auteur, heavy-duty click-stop riser adjustments. And just to be complete, let's add the obvious: slightly steampunk looks fit for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; in that special wood/leather/aluminium triumvirate executed in vintage-reminiscent fashion for something Jules Verne's Captain Nemo would have approved of. Or as Zach explains it, "when I started building headphones years ago, I knew that the 'ultimate' for me would be headphones that paid homage to vintage musical instruments like Lloyd Loar mandolins, Golden Era Martin guitars and open-back banjos from the 19th/20th centuries like Fairbanks, Dobson and Vega. With the Auteur, I went back to the roots to create a 'vintage but new' design. The Auteur is a headphone built with a luthier's handmade touch from materials we pursue obsessively to meet our standards and last a lifetime." My shipment would include "a dual 3-pin XLR cable along with 1/4" and 4-pin XLR cables". And the 'phones would arrive fully broken in.

Different wood species for Eikon/Atticus.

 
... to be continued...