ZMF Verite Review

This review has been in my queue for about 20 months or so now, and every time I think about writing a review of my own ZMF Verite open-back, I get side-tracked on a different new flavor of the month, or the next best thing, and then I kind of put this to the back of the queue again. There's not a whole lot to say about this that I don't think I've covered elsewhere if you have read some of my other reviews, my initial impressions from 2019, listened to my discussions of it on various forums or on YouTube, but I figure I'll take some time to put down my thoughts into some thing coherent, or at least try to... a retrospective.

I've always had a curiosity for the Zach Mehrbach Films (ZMF) headphones; created by a audiophile hobbyist making modded Fostex T50RP headphones. I never have tried one of ZMF's planar mods, but some of the wood models do look quite nice. My real interest peaked when I saw the release of his open-back headphones: the Aeolus, Auteur and later the Verite.

These sets brought the weights down, especially the Verite, to levels I could handle. I just didn't have the opportunity to demo one of these out until I stopped by community extraordinaire Torq's home for a headphone hangout session with a few others. It was there that I was able to take a listen with his Verite open-back in a heavier pheasantwood and TylerEclectic's ziricote Aeolus. Both were very pleasing to me, but the Verite was the one I really had stuck in my head. 

The Verite had the looks, the weight, and a fast punchy and neutral-ish sound that I found very pleasing and good to listen to. So I went out and stared at ZMF photos for the next few weeks. Over and over again. I probably memorized the Look Book on the ZMF site and looked at the bundles of photos online. And then, one by one, people started getting their Verite headphones shipped and delivered and more photos were posted of the actual sets I wanted.

I eventually broke down and emailed Zach to see about ordering one. And to my surprise, he said he had some limited edition Mahogany woods available. These were lighter than most of the other wood options and so it fit my need for a lighter-weight headphone for my dear neck. I was sent a couple pictures to choose from and picked out my set, chose some pads, including the super-secret BE2 pads (at the time, anyway), and paid and patiently (ok - impatiently...) waited.

The Mahogany ZMF comes in at a weight of about 440 grams putting it on the lower end of the weight range for the Verite, as well as all ZMF headphones in-general. The cups are a nice looking red-stained color that is traditional and similar to many mahogany wood furniture you'd find in your home or in a catalog. These really stand out in day light at the right angle. See my cover photo above.

The headband and chassis is magnesium and is quite light and extremely comfortable. I put on the newer co-pilot pad around the suspension headband for the utmost comfort. It's great, really great.

I ordered the set with just the Seahorse case, as well as the stock cable in 1/4 inch and I asked for the ZMF OFC cable in balanced XLR. For pad choices, my original two were the Verite BE2 leather pads, and the Universe suede leather pads. I also picked up the Universe perforated suede pads, and have since added to my collection the Verite perforated suede and BE2 hybrid pads. All of these pads come with their own little flavor and I'll try to talk about each later on.

So putting these on and listening.

Let me quickly start by saying that my typical headphone preferences are closer to something that sounds like a Focal Utopia or a Hifiman Arya. In terms of ZMF's lineup, curiously enough, the Auteur would probably come most in-line with my tonal preferences. But the Verite is quite a deviation from that, and I still enjoy it. Crazy but there's many flavors to enjoy in other things, and it can be the same for headphones and musical enjoyment too.

When I put these on after I listen to practically anything else I own; whether that be one of my Hifiman planars or any of my in-ear monitors, I get an immediate, whoaaa reaction, and not necessarily in a good way.

The upper-midrange and presence region tuning is a little odd here. It's quite a bit more recessed at 3 to 5 KHz than I would normally want, and this creates a weird suck-out in this region where female vocals and stringed instruments prevail in my musical listening. I mean, it really does sound veiled and behind a curtain in many ways.

But give me about 90 seconds or so to acclimate and it's a new ball game. It's crazy how the brain works and the whole psychoacoustics of this whole musical journey is. I can start by disliking the tonal balance of the Verite and less than a couple minutes later, I'm strapped and locked in for a music experience that can quickly turn into several hours.

The Verite has a full-bodied mid-range that really captures the entire essence of ZMF. It's their house signature -- a warm and pleasing, lush and vivid midrange that sounds organic and flowing. Even though my initial knee-jerk reactions of the upper mid-range are so yuckface looking, I can quickly overcome it by just listening more. It stages wider and larger than the Focal Utopia does, and only trails it in the depth/layering department slightly.

There's a small peak at 6KHz, but I don't hear it. At least not in the sense that it's fatiguing, bright, or harsh. I know others have mentioned this, but I don't really hear it myself. This is probably the saving grace of this ear compensating gain region keeping it from being just an overly dark headphone. It strikes the nice balance that pushes forward certain notes to counter the recession of others.

This whole thing creates a headphone that can image and layer with the best of them. It's near Focal Utopia levels in this category, and also comes close, but does fall a little behind in resolution. It's still a major compliment, given this is a much more warm and laid-back tuning, as opposed to the very forward and leaner and bright tuning of the Utopia. The Focal flagship is a reference sound, so it's cleaner, clearer, and things like imaging and resolution stand out more. The Verite is lush and juicy, and has to overcome the heavy, warm and steamy fog to give you the clear resolution it actually exhibits. 

This is probably assisted by Zach's choice of a beryllium-coated driver, which gives the driver more stiffness and a more controlled and faster response rate. In turn, this improves the transient response. This in-turn makes the bass response very quick and agile and does not bloat and muddy up those beautiful mids despite having a small mid-bass bump.

The bass is punchy and extends low. Bass guitars have a nice level of decay and texture, and I'd ask for anything, it might actually be a little less bass at times. 

I do use the Verite mostly with the BE2 pads which are somewhere in-between the more neutral Verite and the more V-shaped Universe pads in tonal response. The BE2 pads do give a little more warmth, and perhaps I just want that over the stock tuning.

Interestingly enough, the hybrid pads, which feature microsuede liners on the top of the pads and touch your skin, actually provide quite a bass boost to the overall sound signature, and that is the warmest of all the pads I've listened with.

That's because this is an intoxicating experience for me, and one that I don't think people would think I'd like given my other sets of headphones and IEMs and my normal review preferences.

In the IEM world, this is like the Vision Ears VE8 as opposed to a more traditional Antdroid recommendation of a Hidition Viento or a Empire Ears Odin, where the Verite, like the VE8 is warmer, soothing, and relaxed, and not so forward and neutral as the latter.

Equalization & Compensation

Now, I did create an equalizer profile to compensate for the lack of pinna compensation at 3-5KHz and occasionally do use it for some listening. It looks like this:

This EQ setting has almost a night a day sonic difference when I switch it on and off and listening to various songs. Percussions sound a little more dynamic and crisps, female vocals are more forward and defined, and guitars have more zing. And while this parametric EQ setting does help bring back a lot of the vocal and guitar presence in the majority of the tracks I listen to, I actually don't use it as often as I would have thought.

Sometimes I just want a little more laid-back tuning, so I can sit back and listen for hours. This is a nice set to do it on. Oh, and before I forget, these go well with tube amps and high impedance amplifiers in general! I highly recommend trying these with something with 25 ohm output impedance or higher. I can't tell you what's going on at all, but the damping factor seems to be too high on these new crop of low impedance solid-states to make the Verite sing. I even tried to measure impedance differences through FR changes, and it doesnt have any impedance swings at high output impedances. None at all.

The item that I use to compensate for the Verite's sound the most is not an equalizer, but actually an output transformerless (OTL) tube amplifier. In my case, this is with the Feliks Audio Elise MK2 tube amplifier. While the differences are very subtle, there's a slightly more engaging and lively sound when these two are paired together. Whether that be the higher impedance of the amplifier (somewhere between 30-50 Ohms I think), or the characteristics of the PSVane CV181-TII tubes I put in, there is a sense of a slightly more open soundstage, and more defined and deeper low-end, and a more natural presentation in general. Very subtle, but enough to make me want to listen for hours on end.

Okay, I think I've rambled on long enough. I think the Verite isn't the most optimal and perfect headphone for myself. It doesn't have the "proper" upper mid-range tuning that I like, but somehow I fall prey to its sound each time I put it on. There's something fishy going on....

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