Published 2 minutes ago
Pros – Gorgeous.
Affordable for a top tier.
Wonderful full sound.
Enough bass to keep you interested.
Layering for days.
Spatial definition the size of the Grand Canyon (almost)
Cons – BIG.
Not meant for commuting.
Not my pair…
ZMF Atticus- This one does not Kill a Mockingbird $1099usd
ZMF website: http://www.zmfheadphones.com/zmf-originals/zmf-atticus
To Kill A Mockingbird
The way she talked about things she loved, made the whole room turn to see what shone-Atticus
ZMF website: http://www.zmfheadphones.com/atticus-and-aeolus/
I profusely thank @pinkypowers for the loan of his personal pair of Atticus. As stated below, this is one of twenty (1/20) built of Ash by Zachary and company. So, it goes without saying (too late) that I treated these like a gift from a King, which must be returned in better condition. Pinky, you are awesome.
ZMF Atticus: [AT.i.kuhs]
Atticus, a name that encompasses wisdom through experience, is tuned as such. Often audiophiles are told to search for a neutral sound, when in practice, warmth is what is most pleasurable, desirable and most lifelike. The Atticus embraces this knowledge, and takes it to the next level, with clarity, a vivid mid-range, and vigorous bass. This closed headphone will take you away into a world that you may never recover from.
Intro: I am a lucky man. A very, very lucky man. You see, not only is my wife understanding of this “hobby” of which I delve into, but also because I have none other than THE Pinky Powers (channel THE Ohio State imagery…) within an easy 45-minute drive. I love my wife very much. I love Pinky somewhat less but feel the love anyway whence he loans me his gear for “reviewing purposes.” Over the last couple of years, I have had the honor of borrowing his HD6xx, his Meze 99Classics, listening to his Forte and a few others while we meet for mini-meets. So, once I found out I was on the Focal Elegia loaner tour from TTVJ (https://www.ttvjaudio.com/) I contacted Pinky asking if he had the Audeze LCD-XC as I really wanted to hear a pair before plunging in to get a pair myself. He said no, but stated that he had the Atticus, and to quote they “completely sated my need for a high-end closed back.” Knowing that while Pinky and I share similar tastes but appreciate different signatures He had me intrigued. If something could draw him to make such a remark, regardless of our differences in taste for sound signature, I was hooked.
I gently asked if I could borrow the pair for as three-way (4-way, Ether-C Flow came along) comparo with the Cascade, and Elegia. He said yes (damn nice of him!!!), but only for a week. I agreed of course, and we met at our usual seedy McD’s and thus parted company. So, as Pinky casually tossed them to me (not really, that was for effect), I realized the weight upon my shoulders in two-fold: 1. These are as rare as it gets, and 2. How the heck can my review come close to Pinky’s??!! Well, I shall try and try from a less versed ear as his…consider this the laypeople’s version…
That evening I hooked them up to my Shanling M5/iBasso PB3 combo (old school!!) and read his awesome review (https://theheadphonelist.com/timbers-of-the-goodly-tree-a-review-of-the-zmf-headphones-atticus/). To say that the Atticus is large would be akin to saying a Saint Bernard is a “rather large” dog. These…are…huge…the sound was quite pleasant as I did in fact start with my QP2R. Good fullness from Neon Gravestones lamenting a mournful song, that was dark and deep. This song pretty much set the tone…this was turning into one deep, dark magnanimous headphone. Oh dear. My pocketbook started to quiver…
In reading his review, he spoke of his time with Zachary (of ZMF, duh…) and how at a meet in St. Louis Zach hooked Pinky up with a special pair of Ash wood Atticus. To say that this critter is rare, would be to state that a 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card is “somewhat rare.”
The pictured Atticus in lighter colored Ash wood is in fact 1 of 20. So as stated above, I treat them like a Ming vase. My time is short with them, so I must listen as much as possible…
Specs (from ZMF website:
· Frequency Response: Approximately 10 Hz to 25 KHZ
· Impedance: 300 Ohms
· Sensitivity: 99 dB/mW
· Warranty: Lifetime for Driver, 3 years parts and mechanica
· Weight (est.): Atticus = 490g, Aeolus = 445g
· Pads: Ori (Atticus), Universe (Aeolus)
· Case: Seahorse SE 430
- ZMF Atticus Camphor wood TPE Driver Headphone
- ZMF Ori Pads
- Lambskin headband padding
- Natural hand applied varnish
- 5.5 FT Stock Cable (optional OFC upgrade)
- S3 6500 Case
- Owners Card
Focal Elegia (3.5/6.3se cable)
Campfire Audio Cascade (2.5 bal cable)
Mr. Speakers Ether-C Flow (3.5/6.3se cable)
*iFi Stack of: iTubes2/iDAC2, Micro Black Label*
MacBook Pro/iFi Stack
Thebit Opus #2
Macbook Pro/Burson Play
Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
twenty one pilots-Trees
twenty one pilots-Car Radio
twenty one pilots-Heathens
Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots-Trench
After the initial listen…
Of special note comes when I hooked the Atticus through my iFi Stack. Something I do not listen to enough. I mention this here and up front, because well…the Atticus took on a whole different nature. What was quite good through the M5/PB3 became almost sexual through the iFi. I say this in the best way possible, but Aretha Franklin’s At Last had me entranced. I was blown away and out the back door with yesterday’s news. Catching myself, I came back for more. R.E.M.’s Losing My Religion seemed quite appropriate for the follow up song, because well…suffice to say that the verbiage Pinky uses to describe the sound are words to be reckoned with. Words to live by, breathe by, live by, inhale slowly and deeply, for they tell the gospel truth. Good gawd this is good. I will openly admit that I fiddled with the XBass+ and 3D+ on both the iTubes2 and BL. I don’t care, as this is a rare opportunity to put an exceptional piece through its paces.
For the better part of the test, I left the iFi hooked up, using various DAP’s as source. Tidal through my MBP was up there with the top echelon of how it could sound through my gear. I wax on and on, hopefully lyrical and poetic, but there is not only magic going on here, but good juju. Zachary has taken his craft to the next level with the lineup. I am very lucky indeed…
Moving on to Mark Knopfler’s Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes (a song I want played loudly and danced to at my funeral), I feel the heritage of the old world seamlessly coming out of the Ashen pores. Doing so with nary a trace, the result is of a forest pixie. One you know you can see, but really only in your periphery. One that knows you know it is there, and you are looking at it, but stays just out of site; challenging your senses, while rewarding them at the same time. This is fun stuff. You schwag back another Stout and enjoy the moment.
Then the moment changes. You find yourself on a beach south of the equator on the sand, front row to Carlos Santana and Corazon Espinado. You still have the Stout, but it is now joined by a frilly drink with the ubiquitous paper umbrella embarrassingly poking out the top. You don’t care and ask the ‘tender to bring you the finest single-malt as a reward. Buying the whole bottle (you will regret that later, at least your bank account will), you share with the front row people clad in their summer attire, as well as the band. You know this will cost you a fortune as a result, but you will have those memories. And they are darn fine memories.
Filler, err fit-n-finish:
The Atticus is heavy. There is no doubt about it. And they are huge. You could walk around a major city with them on, but you would take out the light pole, the mailbox, the passersby. You possibly might not even care, but me thinks that the Police might…I jest of course to a point. The Atticus is really quite big, but oh so comfortable. The very bendable headband and added leather strap fit my cranial matter well, with or without hat. That suspension system alleviates most of the pressure, while the Laz-y-Boy-type pads do the rest.
Thick, cushy, and of a very high standard of quality; the pads are dare I say, luscious? Is that an acceptable term here? I think it might be, because of the way the pads envelope your ears. With the utmost care and support. Not feeling the need to take the pads off (OK, I investigated it, and determined it would be more hassle than worth, especially since the unit was borrowed). Suffice to say that the pads fit very well, with even seams for mounting. I can also look at a picture to determine what lies underneath as well.
Combined, the system all but assuages the sheer mass of the critter. The interesting support frame and adjustment slider come in as part of the artistic/support system as well. With a (to me) harder to adjust notching system, you definitely know when the headphone moves up or down a notch. Taking care not to brutalize the loaned gear, I carefully but forcefully moved the adjustment until I was happy. It was not that hard, but one must be careful when doing so. Finished in black, the subtlety aids in highlighting the Ash wood, which is what draws you in. I will openly admit, that upon first look, I did not care for the look. I thought it might be too light, drawing unneeded attention to itself. Well after “living” with the critter for these two weeks, I can say that the thought is balderdash! The Ash has such character that you are forced to examine it closely. You feel the pieces. You run your hand over the cups, feeling every nuance, every tree ring. You do not mind the brandished slots, as it adds that old-world character, which is to me now, the true character of the look. Classically old-west. This really is a stunning looker.
Going back 25 years on one of the cups, you again feel the history. Even growth rings noting either solid growth, or 25 years of slow growth, you compare to the left. Much more open in pattern, you count 14 rings of some wickedly cool shapes. With varying pattern, you discern that the piece came from a branch most likely. Both are flawless in finish and fit. Excellent indeed. Set in an aluminum frame, which could pass the tensile strength test of steel, you need not worry about durability or support. It is there.
Coming with a cable that looks like the Cascade Litz cable ran into the Effect Audio Ares II cable with 2.5bal connection, there is nice pliability to it. Simple 2-wire above the custom ZMF splitter, the top portion does seem fragile, but you need not worry. The cable can handle it. I would have liked a tighter braid for that upper portion, which might alleviate some of the fears, but again that is a small concern.
I found I could wear the Atticus for several hours, without fatigue. The cups are big enough and soft enough to cover my ear ring and glasses respectively. Of course, I only had a limited time, so I did have to maximize that time, oh shucks.
Twenty one pilots Heathens with MUTEMATH echo’s a solid base line, especially with the iFi stack. A satisfying punch is felt. Not punch you stuff but satisfying. Tyler’s vocals ring true and soft. Hard and edgy when needed. True would be an applicable term here. With a treble, which has that hint of sparkle, mentioned in others, there is good reach. It is not a fatiguing treble at higher volumes like some of late. This is a sound, which can be brought to very high volumes (don’t worry, I kept it calm…) and not only sound good, but not suffer from brittle treble at those volumes. Wonderful indeed.
Dust In The Wind, Kansas’ seminal song rings of clear acoustic guitars and that sweet heavenly voice of Steve Walsh. Man what a showman. What a band. With the ability to keep that acoustic guitar reverb from bleeding into the mids is a trick, which can falter weaker headphones (there is just something about that song, which either brings out the best or worst…) but not here. Clarity is still heard from Walsh’s voice as Kerry Livgren play along. Such a melodious, melancholiac song, wrought with obstacles met with liltiness of touch by the Atticus. Maybe liltiness is too soft a word. A deft ability to cipher the sound with perspicuity might be a better description. Such a song wrought with honesty and openness here.
Pulling from deep in the archives (not really, but it sounds good), Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Mary Had A Little Lamb permits one to experience a guitar, which pairs extremely well in judgement with Carlos of the earlier song mentioned. With more poignant staccato strums, SRV lays it down low and honest. There is no hiding behind sub-par presentation with this song. Through in his sumptuous vocal, and the Atticus shows true. There’s that word again…I listen to the album version, and Austin City Limits version, and they are excellent. This is indeed good stuff.
Grabbing you back to the present brings Car Radio out. There is a lot going on here, what with the drums of Josh holding that tight efficient beat, with adept skills, the orchestral support can play havoc with the lower mids. Not here, though. Almost knowingly, the headphone proposes the orchestra to you in support; just as it should be. Tyler’s piercing voice breaks that melancholy to throw down the thoughtful dialogue of verse. Electric keyboard breaks you even further as Tyler screams painfully at you as part of the song. Calming us back down again is Josh’s drums almost knowingly telling Tyler to sit back and listen, for it is good. This whole timer, the Atticus is true and representative of that ideal I believe drives ZMF. Incredible sound, at a surprisingly affordable price when one considers the alternatives. Man, this is getting good.
Much like the iconic guitar change in SRV’s Look At Little Sister at Austin City Limits, the Atticus takes any potential problem, and comes up with a solution on the spot, without missing a beat. Just like SRV. Magical change it was.
Analytical look (I guess):
So, if we must break down the intricacies of the Atticus (what the heck have you been doing above!!!, you might shout my way… ) you have to come back to that word true. Each sound rings true. Each sound rings honest. Each sound rings as it should.
With a decently wide and expansive sound stage, you definitely get that concert hall feeling, but of smaller scale. This is not the widest or tallest I have heard, but that is good. Let me explain, please. If you have ever been at a concert hall that was not filled up to capacity, you lose the energy necessary to drive the orchestra (or whatever the presentation). In doing so, you minimize that presentation, insulting the hall and the presenters. That would be a sound stage of too big a character, where the mechanism, which drive the forces behind the scenes, such as separation, layering and instrumentation cannot fully present themselves to the benefit of the concert hall. It is here that the Atticus can. Filling that space with the necessary details needed to fully support that hall, the ZMF provides not only the music to fulfill but also the exuberant audience as well. My hope is that you understand that while large sound stage is good, even excellent; it can go very bad if the supporting ideal behind it cannot be fulfilled.
You need not worry here, the Atticus has you covered.
PRaT: While the pace of the base is not particularly fast in decay (I hope I am using this right, I am trying to describe in that vernacular), there is a good tie between the notes. Take Motherboard for example. A tight snare line holds the piece together, but all of the digital synth music severely tries to slow the presentation down in the Atticus. Almost to the point of being muddy. But of course, it isn’t. That is just the Atticus filling the concert hall again. And wait for it…presenting the true nature of the song.
The timing of note presentation is impeccable. Again, using Daft Punk’s Motherboard, I had to listen to it about four times before I finally got it. There is a slowness hidden beneath the robust speed of the song. One of an almost oily viscous nature, which can be heard and felt through the Atticus. I cannot honestly say that I have not heard it through other headphones or IEM’s of test bed, but the profound nature of it here is enough to send me to bed immediately for the night. No really, I have to turn in to bed, for I must get up in 3.5hrs to prepare self and family for work and school.
The next day…
Thinking back to those few short hours ago, I thought about it as I rolled in bed. That underlying slowness was by deliberate design, much the way the cool cat on the street walks faster than you, but in a step of slow motion so he not only looks like he is moving slower, he is way cooler than you ever will be. Think of that person, and you see them as a deep thinker as well. One with much to think about, but not often said. One of such knowledge that you want to pry into their mind for only a bit so as to be inside the mind of greatness you are not worthy of. You want that knowing it will make you better, and the Atticus is that scepter of enlightenment. That opening into the brain of greatness you want to experience. This is not one of all cost, mind you. But one of simple gain in knowledge of a higher level of thinking. A gaining of true knowledge. That is the representation the Atticus breeds in you. And that is a good thing.
To further define all of what the Atticus can bring, Kansas’ Songs For America is a rollicking symphonic overload of rock-n-roll and concert hall greatness (trust me it was phenomenal in concert). They got it. They understood what musical genius could bring to the table in a new and incredible way. Zack and ZMF get it. They did it with their first model, and continue that on a higher plain yet, with the Eikon and Atticus (as well as Aeolus and Verite). This is quite the sound emanating from the ZMF and it makes me seriously rethink some of my aspirations at this level.
Now to the comparisons…oh goody…hehehe
ZMF Atticus ($1100usd) vs Focal Elegia ($899usd):
Had I listened to the Elegia first, I would most likely have been floored that Focal could take the wonderful sound of the Elear (I still love mine dearly, even though it is not the “flavor of the month” anymore) and all but turn it into a closed-back gem. It really is quite good, and a full review is forthcoming. But alas, I listened to the Atticus first, and that memory is burned into my cranial matter just like the evenly spaced venting slots. The Elegia wins the bass department. Better reach it all but rumbles. All but. The mids and treble are where it falls behind the Atticus. More of a forward nature presents itself well, but there is not nearly the air between notes on the Elegia. Nicely sparkled up top to a point, it just doesn’t sing like the Atticus. The velvet sound of Ella on At Last is a sound to die for. Oh…my…GAWD, that song is as sensuous as it gets. The Elegia presents it well. The Atticus lives it well. That is the difference.
On R.E.M.’s seminal Losing My Religion, the mids seem a bit hidden on the Atticus. Not quite as airy as other songs. A warm sumptuous presentation, which I can account for variation possibly due to the warm song of the iTubes2. On the Elegia, the mids are forward, presenting themselves front and center. Almost a bit too much. There is a lack of depth to the bass as well.
The velvety fit of the Atticus wins as well. You wear the Elegia, and rather tightly. You envision the Atticus.
I will say this. When I compare the two for my Elegia review, I will have a more thorough understanding of the Elegia…I’ve had it for about 4 hours, two of which have been listening for the comparative purposes.
ZMF Atticus ($1100usd) vs Campfire Audio Cascade ($799usd):
When I auditioned @wiljen’s Cascade long term earlier this year, I was taken aback (blown away) with the sound from a company’s first attempt at a full-sized headphone. DEEP, rich bass underlies (overtakes) every other aspect of the Cascade. This is an excellent bass producer. But this is not a one trick pony, as there is excellent reach up top, with almost a bit of sparkle. Almost. Where there is air in the upper note of the Atticus, and a bit of sparkle from the Elegia, there is a reverent respect for treble. You know it is there, but to me it does not carry the weight properly such as the Atticus does. On Losing My Religion, it is hard to get past the bass, which can overwhelm. To me the treble suffers as a result. It isn’t bad mind you, just not the presentation quality that the other two present. Suffice to say I liked it enough to find a used one in excellent condition. That was not a spur of the moment either, since I had spent more than 175hrs on Will’s. The Atticus is the first I have heard, that would make me re-think that decision. Decent enough bass, and that air between note, which are a wonderful combination, are hard to beat. I lived with the fit of the Cascade and it was well on OK, even for long periods. After wearing the Atticus, I feel the Cascade falls well behind, but understand why. The Cascade can be a commuting pair as well as home. I would dare not take the Atticus on the bus or train (even though Pinky wears this pair all day at work, and his workplace affords that).
On Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes, there is a bit of veil on the Cascade. I take this as if you are sitting at the bar, away from the stage. That slightly muffled sound could very well be the sound losing itself in the people between you and the sound. But that is all right since the overall presentation is still quite good. The Cascade is an excellent headphone. That veil is lifted on the Atticus. The airy representation is back. You can hear the reverb in Knopfler’s voice better on the Atticus as well. That word again…presentation, comes to the forte. The Atticus just does a superb job at bestowing the song at hand. It is hard to get past how well this is done.
ZMF Atticus ($1100usd) vs Mr. Speakers Ether-C Flow 1.1 ($1799usd):
The Ether-C Flow is light on bass, unless you EQ some in. Period. There is a bit of rumble, which lets you know what is there, but this is no Cascade. In fact, I would rate the quantity of un-eq’d bass as higher in the Atticus. But, once hooked to the iFi Stack, the Flow simply sings. This is ethereal in sound. I have seen some reviews, which rate this a middle of the pack, behind both the Atticus and Eikon. That is OK in my book, since that would leave more for the rest of us. The fit of the Atticus is simply sublime. Losing itself upon your knogg’n, the winner is the Atticus. While the Flow is very, very good, there is no denying that the Atticus takes those heavy wood cups could be well, heavy! But utilizing that fine suspension system the Atticus is light on the ear and comfortable.
Where the Atticus sound a bit behind in the mids, the Flow presents those mids front and center. In fact, using the included stock 6.3mm cable is too much for me. As is the Black Dragon 3.5se, which came with my purchase. Suffice to say I already have another LQi 2.5bal OCC copper cable on the way. This will make my 6th purchase of their cables, and I find no reason to look elsewhere (and I do have others). Add in the XBass+ and 3D+ on the Black Label, and the sound is just about perfect for me. Clear, detailed with crystalline-like clarity the Flow is one man’s vision of perfection, and I cannot disagree with that opinion. It is enough for me.
The Atticus is superb on so many levels that it cannot be denied, but to me in this comparison, I prefer the Flow.
Atticus/Shanling M5/iBasso PB3: see above
Trying the portable pairing first, I found the detail of the 2.5bal cable to be quite good. Lacking that bass, which the Black Label can provide, an almost holographic sound emanated from the pair and had me thinking that this would be an exceptional portable pairing, easily one that could be used in your office to keep annoying work partners at bay. Although they may be constantly asking you what you are using (because the pair look gorgeous together) or wanting to listen again “for just a bit longer.” I would still consider this a win, since you may convince those annoying partners to get their own set ups. Productivity would go up, the company would get new contracts, and you would get that corner office promotion you so desperately wanted to get away from those annoying partners…errr….I dream, and maybe took that a bit far, but… The pair is again solid. I do wish the QP2R had more power to utilize the Atticus, but this is quite adequate and can be driven to quite loud levels. This could very well be end game portable for many purchasers. Indeed, I am quite lucky.
After trying the Atticus through the QP2R, I tried them in the iFi Stack. This is where they began to truly sing to me. Yes, I added bass and the 3D sound; but I wanted to try them all EQ’d up. I was able to get the bass that I felt was missing. A wide sound stage became even wider (artificially, yes) with the 3D, and I began to fully appreciate what Pinky said in his review. These are fabulous, and with the warm-added tubeness along with the Turbo-power of the Black Label, the Atticus was phenomenal. It was with this combination that I wrote most of the verbiage above. And it made me happy. Man, what a ride. Even with the XBass+ and 3D+ turned off, the sound was rich, slightly warm (from the iTubes2) and full. Detail was also rich and present. There was definitely a synergy between the combination, and I appreciated that I was able to experience it with the combination.
To give a more neutral sound, I then hooked the Atticus (and the others) to the MBP/Burson Play combination. Providing up to 2W of power, the Play (using the Classic OpAmps) has plenty to give. The sound was again rich and detail-oriented (as one might expect overall) with no hint at lacking depth. The Play is one of those simple desktop amps that just well…plays! Need more power? Turn the volume up. Need detail? Turn the volume down and enjoy. Not that turning the volume up loses detail, but I feel one of the best aspects surrounding the Play is its ability to just be there, without fuss. Never drawing attention to itself, it is quite musical and can provide a desktop system that nice punch of power in most situations. Quite a nice pairing.
Le Grande Finale:
So….my goodness, so…with what are we left? Well, a sense of remorse. Remorse that I will soon part with an exceptional headphone. Remorse that I have tainted my ear-buds feel for fine tone and musical nirvanic feelings. The sound is marvelous, there is no denying that at all. For many, this will be their end game (or the Eikon, which I’d like to hear), and it should be. Once you hear the Atticus, you may well feel no need to go above. I for one was seriously considering it, except for that bulk. And even then, the thought kept entertaining in my matter, dancing, prancing like 8 large-hoven reindeer on that vaunted night. Running through and over my gray. And that was OK, for I had a fantastic two-week audition with one of the finest closed-back headphones on the planet. And at a price, which is not that much above some other worthy models, such as the Elegia or Cascade. I love the Cascade and will keep it for a very long time.
But the Atticus is almost tier above in terms of performance. Almost. Not as much bass, but it has that sound, which drives you down the road almost effortlessly. Silky presentation, smooth mids and treble, with and excellent sound stage for a headphone, not just closed (to me). Don’t get me wrong, the Cascade is phenomenal for that first attempt, and I longingly look forward to what comes next, but ZMF has been in the headphone business long enough to work that magic. And it does. Suffice to say that if the Cascade had a big brother, there would be a big mess of a fight. But, the two fight different styles and a of sufficiently different flavors, that one could justify owning both. Man, what a pair that would be, as well.
The Atticus is the headphone that made me question whether I needed another. And, it was something, which all can justify themselves. For I found myself weak in the knees and wallet. Many of you will, too. And that will be OK.
I want to thank @pinkypowers so profusely that I gush. To give up one’s pride and joy for not one but two weeks is something that I cannot show enough thanks for. I truly cannot. The only thing I would add is that I thank Zach and ZMF for they truly have a winner on their hands, and I look forward to the chance offering of others in their line. Man, it was a great trip.