Since their latest well-acclaimed products, ZMF have been working hard on the release of an all-new premium wood-crafted open-back headphone. Titled the ‘ZMF Atrium’, Zach Mehrbach has envisioned a new philosophy of linearity to appease all walks of audiophile consumers.
While their previously well-received ZMF Verite models utilized beryllium-coated dynamic drivers, the Atrium adopts the Auteur approach of biocellulose drivers to output an even-diffusion, open frequency response.
With a penchant for optimization, ZMF have always explored new ways to extract the best sound performance from the acoustic design. To this extent, the ZMF Atrium incorporates an all-new damping system to allow users to listen to how the drivers were intended to sound.
Inspired by grandiose cathedrals, the ZMF Atrium bears their most intricate grille design to date. At the time of writing, the $2499 headphones come in cherry wood (with either a natural or aged copper finish for an additional $200). There is also a $2699 limited edition variant which rotates with various woods.
The Atrium uses N52 magnets to drive the biocellulose driver with a higher impedance of 300 Ohms and sensitivity of 96 dB/mW.
The ZMF Atrium comes with a seahorse travel case which houses the headphones themselves along with other accessory pieces. The seahorse case is a nice option for the long-haul commute owing to its rugged durability and easy portability. However, it would have also been nice to see ZMF have included the option to purchase with the original wooden mahogany case that came with ZMF Verite models.
In terms of accessories, there is a ZMF Stock Braided Cable alongside an OFC Cable of which the terminations can be chosen by the owner at checkout.
The OFC cable is the culmination of months of research from the Chicago-based brand and uses 24 AWG per conductor with aluminum and copper shielding for improved microphonics and a low noise floor. The stock cable, on the other hand, uses an insulated copper wire.
Finally, there is a lifetime driver warranty with a laminated manual highlighting the headphone’s origins.
The Design & Build
ZMF’s products have accrued a lot of interest for their exotic hand-crafted wooden heirlooms. The Atrium is no exception to this rule with its stock cherry wood design that has been CNC’d, sanded and finished to exacting standards.
Perhaps the most ornate feature of the ZMF Atrium is the Roman Cathedral inspired grill where users can choose between black and aged copper finishes.
Users also have the option to choose between leather and vegan headband material which is a nice touch as it caters to a wider audience. The adjusting rod mechanism is the same as can be seen on the ZMF Verite (which initially stiff on first use does get easier to use with progressive adjustments).
ZMF have opted for a biocellulose driver first seen in the ZMF Auteur and is a departure of the beryllium-coated driver in the ZMF Verite. Coupled with N52 magnets, the Atrium adopts a newly re-envisioned driver built for an open-back headphone and for lower THD.
Zach Mehrbach, founder of ZMF, has always had an affiliation for biocellulose drivers due a dynamic and weighty sound while also appearing ‘lifelike’.
The Atrium weighs 490 g +/- 30g (depending on the choice of chassis and rods). While this does stray towards the heavier side of the spectrum, the company has done well to evenly distribute weight to keep the headphone from feeling heavy.
However, this is a headphone that would be impractical to use in the out and about commutes owing to its open-back sound and relatively heavier profile.
The ZMF Atrium uses the heft of the biocellulose drivers to its advantage – it is a very tactile bass with plenty of slam and punch. Here, there is a more mid-bass than sub-bass presence which never detracts from the lower midrange performance. This is not the planar type bass where users may find more texture and articulacy, however the Atrium capitalizes on macro-dynamic prowess without catering to a bloomy low-end.
Compared to the ZMF Verite Open and Closed, the Atrium does portray more physical tactility and weighty dynamics at the expense of the former model’s speedier and more agile bass line.
The biocellulose driver no doubt offers a unique sound which differs from other types of drivers – there is a smoothness where transients are perhaps not as defined as their planar or beryllium-coated counterparts. However, coupled with N52 Neodymium magnets – as the Atrium does – there is a weight and fullness which adds another layer of engagement to tracks.
The ZMF Atrium takes after its cathedral inspired design by being the most open ZMF model to date. There is a great sense of space, scale and three-dimensionality which are certainly part of the Atrium’s forte. True to their desired tuning, the Atrium renders linearity into the affable ZMF house sound.
For those familiar with the biocellulose timbre, the Atrium delivers it in spades. It is not an overly warm or romantic timbre – rather, there is a good weight, smoothness and resolve. Compared to the Verite models, the Atrium is certainly more linear and open while the former is more mid-centric, ‘liquid’ and rich in its sound.
It is impressive that the Atrium remains as open as it does with its largely linear frequency response. Often headphones resort to mild u-shaped impositions or a v-shaped sound to exaggerate the HRTF (head-related transfer function) response. There is a slight recession in the 3K to 4K regions which helps to reduce any stridencies in this region.
Owing to its fantastic immersive properties and solid note weight, the Atrium excels in orchestral, synthwave and electropop music. For those looking for the last word in micro-detail retrieval, however, the Atriums do not offer the sheer technicality of the HiFiMAN HE1000se.
The Atrium is more laidback model compared to the ZMF Verite Open. At no point is there any harshness or stridencies which would otherwise take away from tracks. While some may prefer this slightly darker-than neutral take on sound character, others may wish for sparkle and attack.
To cater for these different tastes in preferences, ZMF have included both a radial vented mesh and solid mesh (comes as part of stock). The radial vented mesh helps to add some more sparkle and more defined leading edge transients to tracks. One thing to note is that Atrium is a very forgiving pair of headphones which is evident in poorly mastered tracks.
The Soundstage & Imaging
Like the Verite model before it, the Atrium offers excellent three-dimensionality. Rather than distinct left to right panning of music, tracks feel wholesome and immersive.
To date, the ZMF Atrium is the company’s most open model to date with great projection of sonic cues in the elements of width, height as well as depth. While notes do not carry the same ethereal quality as the HE-1000 V2, the tactile bass coupled with the unique staging really adds some expanse and engagement.
The Pads & Titan Mesh
As aforementioned, the radial titan mesh is a nice modification to add some energy to the upper midrange and lower treble regions to give some lift and bite to this region.
The use of pads are another way to alter the tuning towards a user’s preferences. With the stock perforated universe pads, the Atrium sounds its most open with a great bass shelf to boot. The Auteur pads brings the mids slighter more forward and adds a touch more lushness for a more euphonic and richer sound profile.
The ZMF Atrium has 300 Ohms of impedance and does benefit from a good amping experience to bring it to its true potential.
Like the Verite, it does also benefit from tube amps to complement its large soundstage and organic notes.
With the Schiit Gungnir Multibit and Schiit Mjolnir Multibit, users will find more than enough power to drive the Atriums catering to the great sense of holographic soundstage with tubes that add to the euphonic delivery of notes. With the Schiit Yggdrasil, there is more micro-detail presence with more exacting transients. The Violectric V281 amp helps to infuse some more space and synergizes well with the analog sound of the Atriums.
From portable sources, the Cayin N8 (1st edition) is able to power the Atrium to sufficient headroom levels. There is an added bit of pace of notes with its Korg NuTube technology which sounds a cross between the euphonic delivery of tubes and the attack of solid-state amplifiers.
While the HD650 is a relatively more affordable model, it still stands the test of time as a revered headphone. Like the Atrium, the HD650 follows a largely linear sound profile with a natural and balanced tonality. Comparing the two, the ZMF Atrium however, offers more palpable and textured lows.
The soundstage on the Atrium is also more open and larger resulting in a true holographic experience which is both wide and deep. Like the HD650, the Atriums offer a more relaxed upper end experience. To this end, there are never ‘shouty’ notes or issues of sibilance. Overall, the ZMF Atrium takes all the good qualities of the HD650 and furthers it with better staging presence, bass impact and detail retrieval.
Meze Audio Liric
The Liric represents Meze Audio’s stab at a high-end closed-back model. The Rinaro isodynamic driver employed is scaled down version of the one used in the Meze Empyrean. Comparing the two headphones, the Meze Audio Liric offers a cleaner sound with more defined transients compared to that of the Atrium’s.
The Atrium, however, instils greater sense of scale with more power in its bass shelf and an overall more relaxed sound. The Liric does craft a well textured and responsive bass despite being less dynamic and impactful next to the Atrium.
ZMF Verite Open
Naturally, the Atrium and Verite Open exist as co-flagship models with the same pricing of $2499. However, their sound profiles are quite different with the use of different drivers. The Atrium is the more open and neutral-orientated sound with greater macro-dynamic slam. The ZMF Verite Open, on the other hand, offers a richer and mid-centric sound with greater sense of perceived pace.
This is likely down due to the use of beryllium-coated dynamic drivers of the Verite Open which also help it extract more resolution from tracks. The Atrium with its biocellulose driver invites more physicality and tactility while respecting its drive for linearity. While one model was not designed to best the other, ZMF have simply tuned a different performance to cater to different tastes.
For fans of the original Auteur model, the ZMF Atrium represents the next wave of the company’s philosophy for linearity and spatial prowess. To this extent, the Atrium appeases with its dynamism, sense of space and laidback neutrality. While not possessing as rich a timbre as the ZMF Verite, the Atrium angles towards a more natural sound.
Build quality is exceptional and it is great to see the use of an ornate and well-designed grill amongst the use of exotic wood cups. True to its origins in mods, ZMF have allowed users to further fine tune the sonic preferences to their taste with the options for pads and meshes.
Overall, the ZMF Atrium conveys its own unique sound in an already competitive high-end market. For these reasons and its balanced, open sound – the ZMF Atrium certainly deserves a place in our highly recommended audiophile headphones list.
ZMF Atrium Specifications:
- Driver: Biocellulose N52 Atrium Tuned Driver.
- Weight: 490g ± 30g (aluminum chassis, black grille/rods)
- Aged Copper adds approx 30g.
- Sensitivity: ~96dB/mW.