It is always great to see humble boutique companies produce high-quality artisan products which can compete with those from far larger firms. One such company – ZMF headphones have been producing premium wood-crafted heirlooms which have charmed the audiophile community for the best part of five years. Based in Chicago and headed by Zach Mehrbach, each headphone is made to order and meticulously crafted to cater for each customer’s personal tastes.
Their trump card is their use of beautiful woods sourced from all over the world which not only help the aesthetics of their portfolio but also their acoustic design. While planar and electrostatic headphones have been all the recent hype, ZMF have pledged allegiances to dynamic drivers for its flagship models. With intentions to compete with today’s modern standards of audiophilia, their latest flagship – the Vérité employs beryllium-coated ultra-thin Polyethylene Naphthalate drivers which yield the speed of planars but also the inherent slam and weight of dynamics.
At a starting price of $2499, the Vérité is competitively priced. A few years back, these prices would certainly have raised eyebrows but with the invention of the Focal Utopia and HiFiMAN’s Susvara, the upward trend for stratospheric pricing has made the sub $3K territory comparatively more reasonable. This review shall be focusing on both the open and more recently released closed version of the Vérité headphones.
The Vérité comes in a beautifully designed wooden mahogany case which is real testament to ZMF’s craftsmanship. A metal latch opens to reveal a red felt interior which really evokes a luxurious image to the Chicago brand’s top-end product.
Also included is a ZMF OFC Cable (with the options to upgrade), universe and auteur pads, lifetime warranty and magnesium chassis. Customers have the option of adding in a Cherry Salire headphone stand for $80.
The stock ZMF OFC cable has taken months of research to find an affordable but capable sound to add to the ZMF’s tonality. The wire is 24 AWG per conductor and features aluminum and copper shielding for improved microphonics and a super quiet noise floor.
It is nice to see that ZMF offers in-house cable upgrades with the Vérité Silver and 2K copper cables being the top of their collection which retail from a starting price of $399 each. The 2K copper is said to offer a non-fatiguing but extensive sound while the Vérité Silver adds some leading-edge transients and more of an analytical but natural sound.
The Design & Build
The Vérité open headphones feature an exotic look with its hand-crafted wooden earcups and magnesium chassis. The headphones are craftfully CNC’d, sanded and finished to bring out a natural shine and unblemished outer cup design. As this is a semi-open design, the Vérité open adopts a concentric grill design where users can choose from a copper, rose gold, brass, black or stainless steel plate.
The closed model features a complete wooden outer shell which comes in a stock Monkeypod wood finish. One major difference is that the closed model does not have the porting near the headband connects that the open does which for obvious reasons prevents noise leakage.
As aforementioned, the Vérité models opt for a Beryllium coated PEN driver which has great stiffness and rigidity while also being fast in transient responses. The drivers are suspended in a proprietary rubber composite system exclusive to only ZMF headphones.
Headband and head-support system remain the same on both the open and closed models. The adjusting rod mechanism is initially stiff from first use but does get easier to use with time. The tops of the rods have been made flat to give the headphones a chicer look as opposed to a more antenna-like feel from previous iterations.
The ear-cups themselves are fully rotatable in both vertical and horizontal plane allowing the listener to achieve an optimal fit.
The Vérité open weighs 410-420 grams while the closed weighs 450 to 475 grams depending on the choice of wood and grill material. While not the lightest headphones around, both offer a comfortable listening experience with evenly weighted headband pressure and superior comfort pads.
Materials have also been chosen to keep the weight to what it currently is with the use of featherweight magnesium chassis and wood finish. Both Silkwood for the open model and monkeypod are lightest wood options with the latter being porous in nature allowing for a more spacious timbre.
NB: Impressions are done with Vérité Silver cable and stock pads.
Tight, punchy and definitive are few of many words that can be used to describe the Vérité’s low-end tuning. Slightly ahead of neutral, the bass is perfectly done with the right amounts of heft and slam to really make the listening experience a pleasurable one. The dynamic driver really does come into play with a great texture and weight that many planar models and electrostatic fail to recreate. It is nice to see (or rather hear) that the bass levels are not unrealistically elevated but instead have such a natural timbre and depth that depict the realism of tracks. Compared to HiFiMAN Susvara and HE-1000 V2, the Vérité Open renders heftier slam and physical presence of bass while the former two headphones have a more agile and intelligible bass line. The Meze Empyrean, on the other hand, is closer to the Vérité’s tonality with a linear and gently upward sloping sub- to mid-bass region. Both the Empyrean and Vérité have a pleasant low-end with the Empyreans sounding slightly more boosted and leaning more towards the smoother and warmer musical tonality. In ‘NICE’ by The Carters, the low-end on the Vérité is represented with no bloom or bloating but bass which stops on the dime with outstanding texturing.
As with Meze Empyrean, the ZMF Vérités are certainly headphones where people gravitate towards its vocal-centric tuning. While the headphones escape from an overly ‘warm’ or romantic tuning, the Vérité has enough richness in its midrange to really propel it into an affable listening experience. Tracks sound lively without resorting to thin or unnatural leading edge transients which some headphones implement to artificially boost clarity levels. Instead, vocals have great body with a slight warm tilt while maintaining high levels of resolve and liveliness. Every track just sounds right which is not an easy feat for headphones to achieve owing to their propensities to exaggerate frequencies here and there. While the Empyreans opt for a smoother and ‘darker’ tonality, the Vérité leans toward a relatively more vibrant character while still maintaining incredibly low levels of fatiguability, sibilance or grain. Compared to HiFiMAN’s HE1000 V2, the Vérité sounds relatively more intimate but more solid in its presentation compared to the former’s more airy, diffuse and ethereal presentation. For orchestral music and tracks which benefit from a large soundstage and TOTL separation of instrumentals, the HE1000 V2 certainly wins but it is incredibly hard to take the ZMF Vérité headphones off for tracks where vocals prevail and therein lies its magic.
Higher frequencies are fully extended from the midrange frequencies which allow the Vérité headphones to have a sense of air amongst the refinement. It is quite impressive how they are tuned to avoid harshness while still conveying energy to the upper end to deliver sparkle and attack. The silver cable really helps here to deliver this silky and refined treble extension which complements the rest of frequency spectrum and sonic signature. In “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits, cymbal crashes are tight with natural shimmer and there is incredible sense of pace from the dynamic drivers which rivals that of HiFiMAN’s HE-1K models.
As with the open models, the Vérité closed also possesses taut, punchy and articulate bass which aids in sense of pace and liveliness of music. Although the two models are similar in the lower frequencies, the closed edition possesses slightly greater slam and visceral depth in the sub-bass territories. Compared to the closed-back Focal Stellia which also make use of beryllium drivers, the Vérité Closed has more neutral and linear bass whereas the Stellia evokes a slightly more bass-centric sound. Tracks sound engaging without ever resorting to over-blooming or exaggerating bass lines.
The Vérité Closed captures much of the ZMF house sound – a tonally rich midrange with some hint of warmth and incredible levels of resolve. Compared to the open model, the midrange region is tiny bit more present and brought slightly more forward in the stage. Nevertheless the differences are quite marginal and I am surprised to see how the closed model retains much of the same magic of the open’s midrange charm. Even in the imaging department, the closed captures most of the open’s staging width and holographic effects. As a result of the slightly more mid-centric feel of the Vérité Closed, details are a touch more perceptible. Perhaps the upper midrange is where the most difference can be heard with the Closed model having more energy in this region giving tracks a brighter feel.
As with the open model, the closed edition expresses treble frequencies which are fully extensive with great levels of clarity and attack. As with the upper midrange, the closed models feature slightly more energetic frequency spectrum which brings the lively nature of the Vérité house to higher levels. For those wishing for a relatively more dialled down dynamic presence, the opens more than suffice with vibrant but fatigue-free highs. The closed however may straddle that line for those sensitive to the upper frequency part of the spectrum.
The Soundstage & Imaging
The Vérité offers a unique imaging quality – as well as good projection of sonic cues in the directions of width and height there is also great projection in depth that is unlike any other headphone I have heard before. It really brings the term holographic to the next level and is much the result of the driver design, angled ear cups and side porting to aid this three-dimensional depth.
Surprisingly, the Vérité Closed offers a soundstage that capably keeps up with its open counterpart with the added benefits of isolation. Both models offer superior levels of instrument separation and detailing which allows music to breathe without congestion or smearing. The Vérité might not offer the expansive soundstage of the HE-1000 V2 but comes close to the Susvara in width projection with the added benefit of depth. Overall, very impressive.
This pairing is outstanding with both Vérité models. Both micro- and macro-dynamic levels are heightened with incredible resolve, transient attack and pacing that rivals the best. While the soundstage is not the widest with this combination there is great level of focus and precision for those that crave the absolute last in detail retrieval and clarity.
As with the above combination, there is fantastic levels of micro-detailing, sense of pace and attack. Though, the unique tubes of the MicroZOTL add a liquid flow to tracks making vocals sound more elastic and agile while slightly softening leading edge transients.
Paired with a classic tube from that of the Mjolnir 2, some harmonic distortion is added which adds greater euphonics, space and a richer character to the Vérité’s tonality. Vocals sound exquisite and there is slightly more laidback feel which really synergises well with Vérité’s midrange frequencies.
As with the cable options, users can fine-tune sonic preferences with the pads offered with the Vérité. The Universe pads offer a slightly more laidback sound with a greater holographic sound whereas the Vérité pads add a bit more treble energy, linearity and slightly smaller soundstage dimensions.
It is incredibly hard to fault what Zach Mehrbach has done with his latest creations. With top-tier resolution, sense of pace, detailing, rich tonal timbre and depth – the Vérité are one of my favorite pair of headphones to date. While I do have a strong preference for soundstage, instrument separation and ethereal portrayal of notes which are strong attributes of HiFiMAN’s HE models, the mid-centricity, dynamism and richness of the ZMF Vérité are equally addictive. What I found particularly appealing in Meze’s Empyrean model, ZMF have taken this a step further towards my preferred tuning with added treble presence and energy while retaining that fatigue free listening experience. Build quality is equally outstanding with the ZMF’s looking particularly stunning with the more exotic wooden ear cup designs. As to which model is the better one – it is hard to answer. It is rather impressive that the closed model retains a large majority of the characteristics of the open model without the compromises that closed back designs have to face. The open Vérité’s tonality lies closer to neutral with a more natural and real to life presence compared to the closed Vérité’s livelier character with its added treble presence and punchier bass. Having said that, the Vérité closed is the best closed back headphone I have heard besting the Focal Stellia in staging and my preferred tonality. Overall, the Vérité headphones combine the best traits of technicality and tonality to give an incredibly pleasing listening experience. It is hence exciting to see what this company will offer next. Do stay tuned…
ZMF Vérité Open Headphones
ZMF Vérité Open Headphones