ZMF ATTICUS REVIEW
- TONAL BALANCE / NEUTRALITY 88%
- PERFORMANCE FOR THE PRICE 98%
- SOUND FIDELITY 93%
- MUSICALITY 98.5%
- BUILD QUALITY 96%
- ERGONOMICS/COMFORT 90%
- Wonderful Craftsmanship
- Good inner clarity
- Clean and grainless with a black background
- Powerful sound
- Expressive bass
- Non-Fatiguing tonality
- Excellent Dynamics
- Large Sound stage
- Treble is dark
I have known the ZMF brand from it’s humble beginnings. When I first got into the hobby, not long thereafter ZMF had first started selling modified T50’s. What first struck me about his tuning was its natural timbre and warmth that at the time was a little hard to come by. I have also heard and owned every ZMF model including these new Atticus and Eikon releases. Most of them are tuned with a signature that suits me but I have felt over the years that Zach’s style of tuning couldn’t meet its full potential with a t50 driver and that a dynamic driver would be best. When I first heard that he was going to make a dynamic biocellulose headphone with a high impedance I sat at the edge of my seat looking for updates.
Fast forward to me also becoming aware of him not only making one kind of dynamic closed back, but two (the other which is the subject of this review) I became very pleased to receive prototypes for feedback purposes. I took the Atticus and Eikon to a mini meet and the overall impressions were not that great for the Atticus but pretty good for Eikon. After sending them back I began to loose interest in the Atticus because what I heard was a little underwhelming for this tier of headphone. In the forums I did share impressions reflecting such but commented on the fact that the Atticus was definitely not finished.
Now I am here with the production unit and in the forthcoming content you will see that I am very pleased with the finished product. Zach has done his homework and has created a completely unique product that makes its own lane.
Let’s find out how it turned out with the Atticus….
Will add more once available
- Impedance: 300 ohms
- Cherry: 490-530 grams
- Padauk: 550-600 grams
This time around Zach went with a higher end Seahorse SE-430 hard case that has much more room for the headphones and more foam to secure them in. They come with two sets of pads and a cable with your choice of termination.
From the site http://www.zmfheadphones.com/
“The ZMF Atticus driver stiff molded plastic housing, TPE membrane (Thermo-plastic-elastomer), robust magnets and a heavier voice coil for very punchy, dynamic, smooth and fun sound.” I agree with that description… more after this section.
The Atticus and Eikon look identical. Both of the units I have here are Padauk. On the lambskin leather headband strap there is a stamp with either the letter ‘E’ for Eikon or ‘A’ for Atticus.
I am a sucker for a few things, wood being one of them. Not all wood designs are created equal and just because you slap wood on something doesn’t make quality. The Atticus (and Eikon) is a stocky instrument with a robust design. Its risers are Grato like but angled and less flimsy. The risers are a polished aluminum as are the yolks which are in a flat matte gray. The Atticus I have here is the heavier Padauk wood and weighs 550 to 600 grams. Every joint and gimbal is sturdy and every part seems high quality. The Atticus and Eikon have that craftsman feel to them and exude luxury. In fact, I can’t thing of a more deluxe set of wooden cans.
The pads I am rockin’ on the Atticus are Eikon pads made from lambskin and soft memory foam. I expect these to be a hot commodity on the market since they work well with a number of headphones from Audeze to Fostex’s
While the Atticus is heavy, its weight is very evenly distributed. I have a large head but my dummy head is a replica of a more average head size. It was a little harder to get a good the seal on the bottom of the cups but an extending of the headband position and narrowing of the headband made of tempered spring steal allows me to get the fit just right. The clamp force is decent but can be slightly loose for some smaller heads I would imagine based on my experience with my dummy head. Overall comfort though is great. My ears fit inside of the pad cavity just fine and the memory foam is very soft. The headphone may be a bit heavy to some but I am usually not affected by that so you may want to ask someone you know who is sensitive to weight what they think.
The Atticus and Eikon have better isolation than the THX00 and a lot of other high end full sized closed backs. The headphones still leak just a little but keep enough sound in to use in a recording studio for a vocalist. I can’t think of a better headphone to take in a booth and record vocals with except for the Eikon, but more on that next.
- BASS EXTENSION 97%
- BASS BALANCE 90%
- LOWER MIDRANGE BALANCE 96%
- MIDRANGE PROPER BALANCE 94%
- UPPER MIDRANGE BALANCE 89%
- TREBLE BALANCE 82%
- TREBLE EXTENSION 87%
- BASS CONTROL 89%
- TONE DENSITY (BODY , OPPOSITE OF THINNESS) 93%
- MACRO DYNAMICS (SOFTS TO LOUDS) 97%
- MICRO DYNAMICS (SMALL GRADATIONS OF VOLUME) 94%
- SOUND STAGE WIDTH 93%
- SOUND STAGE DEPTH 91%
- BLACKNESS OF BACKGROUND 89%
*please note that in the above bar counters I use the word balance instead of presence which is a percentage of how unbiased, accurate, and neutral that aspect is.
The sound signature of the Atticus is warm and smooth done right. It has oomph but the tonality is smooth with good realism. The Atticus is evocative of a venue space. The bass is full and engaging but all of the instruments resound with clarity. All of this while avoiding shoutiness and and pitchy tones.
The frequency range that will be most talked about in regards to the Atticus is the bass. The bass is acceptably controlled, punchy, fast, and very responsive to what the recording has in it. The lows are strong but don’t impose it’s strength where it is not supposed to. The nodal response of the Atticus driver makes bass have a very dynamic and engaging kick with good focus. The bass of the Atticus is adequately tight and solid. I have heard more solid bass from some planar magnetic headphones like the HE-6 but the Atticus is far more charismatic and energetic. It handily bests any bass I have heard under 1K. While I find the low end to have nice body and control the Atticus also moves air in such a way that it becomes enveloping; even more so than the Eikon. Sustain is good and the decay of the bass does not sound exaggerated so I find the Atticus is not tubby sounding in the bass. Texture is good as well as resolution down low.
The Atticus despite having a strong bass emphasis, especially in the mid-bass, has excellent extension. Actually tone sweeps show the bass not to have as much mid bass focus as I perceive when listening to music. I am in the process of setting up my measurement rig and will measure the Atticus later but I suspect the mid-bass is not as acutely arched as it sounds when playing music would lead me to believe. EDM sounds great off the Atticus as it can rumble, thump, and obviously kick.
The upper bass has some creep but nothing too bad for my tastes; consequently I feel it adds fullness without making the presentation too muddy in the mid band. Upon attempting a narrow band cut around 250hz, it’s original richness was a little missed so I left it as is.
The lower midrange of the Atticus is full with good body and timbre for a lush delivery. The frequency range has a downward slope from the bass all the way through to the upper midrange. Ergo the midrange proper sounds even and present but starts to taper off into the dip that upper midrange has. Tones have good resonance and realism but can sometimes sound a tad weighed down and less light and open than is truly accurate. This tuning results in a welcome dose of warmth for male vocals and gives body to female singers. What is awesome is that piano strikes and trumpets sound compelling because of the dynamic responsiveness the TPE driver delivers. This is pretty much exactly how I want a headphone to respond in regards to attacks and decays. This is possibly the most organic and fleshly sounding midrange I have heard from a closed back headphone. Sure I would like the dip in the upper midrange to be leveled out but the right tube or amplifier can help a bit. I must note that this dip is not the same as the pit on the Elear and is a lot easier to attenuate. In comparison to the Elear and Kennerton Vali, the Atticus midrange is better balanced and sounds more realistic; it has better realism than the former but better balance than the latter (Vali). My Pavane is completely flat (in a good way) in the upper midrange so because eq caused some fatigue to my ears (reasons unknown) , ***I need to meagerly enlarge that area via tubes etc. ***Do note that tubes won’t fill out the upper midrange in actual frequency response but can help the presence region sound richer.
The good news is that the Atticus stays away from shrillness and irritation. The overall result of the Atticus tuning makes things sound BIG and Imposing in a fun yet non-offensive way. Even the upper midrange hunch contributes to this sense of being ‘there’ where everything sounds grand and enveloping. The Atticus can sound a little hearty though so those seeking ultimate neutrality should look elsewhere (@ the EIKON) because the treble is not neutral either.
Dark done well. Smooth, refined, and mellow is how the treble of the Atticus sounds to me. Some will use the buzzword ‘veil’ but clarity is too good on the Atticus for me to use that word since it can also mean a lack of transparency. The Atticus has no sibilance to speak of. In fact I find the sibilance region of the Atticus to be minutely more trimmed than is neutral which makes definition and edge take a hit. I like a little edge personally speaking but also do not like sibilance and when forced to choose a bias I will easily pick a minor ‘smoothing over’ of that region instead of any emphasis whatsoever. I can listen to the Atticus without a wince with the majority of my music. Some of my poorly mastered music is pampered by the Atticus but I can still hear their issues enough not to crank them up into gruesomeness.
To my ears the Atticus still does have enough definition from the lower treble to sound natural. I do feel that the HD650 has better air and extension in the treble than the Atticus though. Let me make it clear that despite whatever veil people say the 650 has, it still has good treble extension which is partly why it is able to produce such vocal harmonics and overtones. In all fairness though, the Atticus is fully closed and it goes without saying that by default of the design it will sound less open. I must say that the quality of treble from the Atticus is better than the granular and scratchy treble of the HD650 even if it has less extension. The 650 will sound more detailed up top in direct comparison, and from a good amp the 650 treble can sound more clear and nuanced. The Eikon has slightly better treble extension than the Atticus and in comparison is more neutral than both the 650 and Atticus. Verdict: the treble extends adequately but it’s not an area the Atticus ‘excels’ at. As is I actually find the Atticus pleasing and venue like, just overcast with fair-decent treble extension.
The treble from the Atticus does have good bite, body, and snap. Textures do not seem smoothed over to me and the transients behave energetically with a directness that is vibrant and graphic with good quality.
Further comparisons of the Atticus reveal the treble of the Atticus to be less detailed than the midrange.
I have to bring to the table the Eikon on this one. This is an area I feel the Atticus does better at. The Eikon has better separation and air but the Atticus sounds more grand in size. Instruments have a sweet spot of sounding neither too close or too distant. The Atticus is decently deep but also wide with good imaging and separation. Actually the Atticus on the right amplifier will sound broad and expansive but not overly so. It has a modest roomy quality to it but only a little because it’s acoustic presentation is not echoey or overly chamber like in comparison to my former wooden closed back fav, the now dethroned JVC DX1000.
OTHER PERFORMANCE ASPECTS
The Atticus is very clear with a lack of grain and excellent timbre. It is tough to make this headphone lose composure. Cranking pot up on your amplifier will never make the Atticus collapse in poise; your ears will scream back at you before the Atticus gives up.
Macro dynamics are ferocious on the Atticus and the transients have good speed and natural decay. *Micro dynamics on the Atticus are also great.
[I had written previously that the microdynamics of the Atticus and Eikon are a lot different with the Atticus behind. After reading impressions here I was inclined to compare them directly and actually found the opposite but to a lesser degree. The Atticus is very good at micro-dynamics , better than the Eikon in this aspect. Actually you would be hard pressed to find better nuance in a closed back headphone than what the Atticus delivers]
The ‘blackground’ of the Atticus is decent as well. It is ethereal so the fact that it is dynamic makes the tones seem to pop out from nowhere. In blackness of background the Atticus is not far behind the Eikon which is exceptionally black. There is such a clean and smooth sound with the Atticus that makes it secure at it’s price point. The resonances from the cups do create a more wet background than your average headphone but it still sounds relatively black.
Technicalities are pretty good on the Atticus overall. It has good resolution and detail retrieval in the midband with exceptionally punchy and snappy attacks, and a grand soundstage that is filled by a very physical yet smooth voicing.
The Atticus begs to be used from a tube amplifier; one that can magnify it’s good qualities and in my case bend the tuning more towards my tastes. The Atticus is very scalable but the results have been less than stellar with the solid state amps that I have gotten to hear it with so far. I believe that if you only use solid state you may rob the Atticus of the nuance it can deliver. If you can stretch it I recommend a good SET amplifier with some open sounding tubes and excellent bass control. The Apex Sangaku was a little too dark and did not have the bass solidity to make the Atticus shine. The HE-9 which has exceptional bass quality actually detracted from the bass weight of the Atticus and I felt that this was a horrible pairing even with all of the power of the HE-9 because it lost some of its ability to portray nuance and small gradations of volume. Something like the Cayin iHA6 I imagine will do well on the Atticus because it has shown good control over all headphones in the bass department as well as decent micro-dynamics for a solid state. However with the prototypes they both did very well with the Trafomatic Head 2 and even better with the Mogwai though it lacked a little air with the later. If I had to go solid state for the Atticus I would pick the iHA6. I feel the Atticus would be even more picky than the Eikon and I expect results to vary based on pairings so choose wisely. This is an enthusiasts headphone that is made by someone in the hobby for someone in the hobby. This hobby is all about synergy and if you don’t know that now and buy an Atticus you will learn real quick.
The don’t need a whole lot of power though. The Atticus is vitalized by the right amp and wakes up to the music when properly matched.
To be quite honest I was not expecting the Atticus to win me over the way it did, especially not with the Eikon next to it and having heard the prototype (very much improved now). In this review I simply laid out the facts of how it sounds. You can decide if this headphone is for you or not. For me, I have never heard a more musical and rhythmic sounding apparatus. It’s musicality factor is off the charts. The way it drives the emotion of the music into my soul is downright addicting. Shoot, the last time I went to put them on I started laughing because I began to tap my toes and bob my head before I even plugged them into the headphone jack. I caught myself and chuckled. There are those headphones that attempt to do everything right so you hear music ‘as it was intended’ and there are those headphones that bend the rules a bit to give you some fun and the Atticus is definitely fun and was deliberately tuned so. It scores very high for it’s particular lane. The Atticus is easily the best closed back I have heard under at or under 1K so it is now REDPHILED in its price tier.