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    Review & Measurements | ZMF Verite & Verite Closed

    The word “comfort” is not indeed the right word, it conveys too much of the slander of mere sense; the true word is “cosiness,” word not translatable. One, at least, of the essentials of it is smallness, smallness in preference to largeness, smallness for smallness’s sake. The merrymaker wants a pleasant parlour, he would not give twopence for a pleasant continent.


    G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (1906)




    ZMF’s Vérité headphones are cozy. Translation? Well, there’s the fact that, in both its closed and open varieties, the Vérité is an intimate (in the best sense of the term) listen. But that’s not really it. What I’m trying to say is that they’re some of the best headphones money can buy today. Pushing the use of this quixotic epigraph further, music definitely makes me merry, and as a merrymaker, I’d have a hard time trading the Vérité for any other headphones on the market. 


    Such a direct opening to this review might be startling for those accustomed to reading my headphone takes. As those readers know, I’m not afraid to pan headphones or give them mixed reviews. 


    Nor am I someone who fetishizes “smallness for smallness’s sake.” While the industrial revolution of Dickens’s era sparked upheaval over the transition from small craftsmanship to large-scale production, I’m perfectly comfortable with the bigness of mass manufacturing. Sure, all else equal, I’d prefer to support small businesses, but I see nothing wrong with giving my money to larger companies when they’re making the best products, in audio or elsewhere. Economies of scale are real, and as the durability of companies like Sennheiser demonstrate, it’s hard for upstarts to overtake the big boys, with their vast research and development budgets and comfy profit margins.


    But, with the Vérité open (U.S. MSRP $2,499) and the Vérité closed (U.S. MSRP $2,499), ZMF Headphones has taken on the big boys and conquered them or, at the very least, given them a run for their money.


    ZMF was founded by Zach Mehrbach nearly a decade ago, when he was a struggling film school student getting by on adjuncting for crappy pay. With a background in guitar making, Mehrbach began modding Fostex T50RP headphones and selling a few to help pay off his student loans. Mehrbach had already created Zachary Mehrbach Films, and with that, ZMF Headphones was born.


    Verite Open.jpgMaxing out personal credit cards, Mehrbach made ZMF his full-time occupation in 2014. Since then, ZMF has become known for its handcrafted wooden cups, generous warranty, and friendly customer service. Today, Mehrbach tells me that ZMF has six full-time employees, “but it seems we're growing at a steady rate that always keeps us slightly behind [in meeting demand].” Throughout ZMF’s growth period, Mehrbach has stuck with a small-batch, low-margin, direct-to-consumer business model, where most cans are built to order. “I don’t see us as having as much value to the market if we have to price everything more expensive [for distributors],” Mehrback told me via email, “because we're doing so much by hand as well as testing to such a high level with Audio Precision systems.  Building with a full wood enclosure causes some assembly issues for a perfect build that just have to be hand done.  I'd rather make less of a great product than make more of a mediocre one really.”


    While Mehrbach’s initial line of cans were planars based on the aforementioned Fostex driver, most of ZMF’s focus in recent years has been on a series of dynamic cans based around ZMF’s proprietary drivers. 


    The Vérité open and Vérité closed headphones are the newest of those dynamic cans, and they sit at the top of the ZMF line as the company’s flagship headphone.


    Getting back to the Age of Dickens, when I look at ZMF headphones, with their beautiful, hand-made wooden cups, I can’t help but thinking of the Arts and Crafts movement, which marked a return to individual craftsmanship in response to the industrial revolution. Specifically, the combination of specialty woods, leather, and metal recall the iconic Morris chair, designed by one of the leaders of the Arts and Crafts movement. Like the Morris chair, ZMF’s headphones manage to come across as simultaneously artistic and supremely functional. 


    I asked Mehrbach where he draws inspiration for his designs, and he referred back to his time as a luthier. “Where I really drew from was musical instruments, and my love of golden era banjos and guitars,” he said. “For banjos there’s this period from 1880 to 1910 where a ton of amazing banjo's were made, and for whatever reason those instruments were very ornate, but still looked classic and not gaudy. With guitars the golden era was from 1928 to 1944, and those instruments are for the most part pretty plain and classic looking save for some Larson guitars and fancier models. So when I’m thinking of our designs I am combining the things I like about those instruments, how they are made, and new ideas like stained glass windows, hub-caps and just general aesthetic design rules to finish out what the look is.”


    While the Vérité sits atop the ZMF lineup, both its open and closed variants keep with ZMF’s signature look. Both Vérité feature round cups that, like all ZMF dynamics, are constructed from solid hardwoods. Silk wood is the standard for the Vérité open and monkey pod is the standard for the Vérité closed, though both are offered in limited woods as they become available. 


    With its “Golden Ratio”-inspired grille, I’d argue that the open Vérité is the most visually striking headphone in the ZMF lineup. “We played around with [the grille design] a lot,” Mehrbach explained. “My friend and former employee Luke talked about using a Golden Mean pattern… The whole idea of the headphone is to have 3D space and just a layered sound. So having the grille inverted to refract the sound out through the side ports where it does hit the grille seemed like a great idea.” (It’s worth noting that, keeping with the Arts and Crafts vibe, Frank Lloyd Wright often employed the Golden Ratio in his designs.)


    The Vérité closed is understated with simple polished wood cups. It doesn’t grab the viewer’s attention as much as the Vérité open. However, as much as I like the Vérité open’s grille, I might prefer the closed’s timeless simplicity.


    Like other ZMF headphones, the Vérité headband is spring steel covered in padding and genuine leather, with an additional inner leather strap to help the headband conform better to different head shapes. (Because the headband is spring steel, it’s also very amenable to bending at home for better fit, and Mehrbach has posted multiple videos demonstrating the proper way to adjust them.) The Vérité’s gimbals and rods are also metal, with the former rocking vertically and the latter rocking horizontally and adjusting up and down at notched increments. 


    Particularly for anyone accustomed to headphones constructed primarily of plastic, the Vérité feel exceptionally sturdy and durable. To that end, ZMF provides a lifetime warranty for the driver and three years for the rest of the headphone.


    The Vérité comes with two sets of pads. For the open, it’s the Vérité and Universe pads. For the closed, it’s the Universe and Auteur pads. Both pads that came with the closed review unit were solid lambskin, whereas the pairs that came with the open were perforated lambskin. Both on the head and in the hand, the pads exuded quality. ZMF also offers a variety of other pads and most pads can be had in solid lambskin, perforated, and suede, as well as (in many cases) hybrids. The earpads are easily replaceable, and Mehrbach has yet another video demonstrating how to replace pads. Each pad slightly changes the sound of the Vérité, as outlined by ZMF in its “Ear Pads Sonic Guide” and demonstrated in measurements. In my experience, swapping the pads around between the models allowed for fine tuning, but didn’t change the fundamental character of the Vérité. For both the measurements and the subjective review, I stuck with the pads that were installed on the review units I received. 


    Beyond the two pairs of pads, both Vérité come with ZMF’s OFC cable, which is a step above their entry-level cable. Currently, both the open and closed Vérité are listed as shipping with ZMF’s wood case, which has the appearance of a quality cigar box with fabric-lined foam interior and cutouts to snugly hold the headphones. One of my review pairs came in that box, while the other came in ZMF’s hard plastic Seahorse case. I’d be happy with either case, and I think one’s preference would depend on how much transportation one planned to do with his or her Vérité. 


    All things considered, the accessories that come with the Vérité are on the generous side — meeting or exceeding the accessories included with the better Focal offerings — and are commensurate with the Vérité’s price and position in the market. 


    It’s also worth noting that, when placing an order for a pair of ZMF headphones, most elements of the headphones are customizable, including the color of the grilles and gimbals, as well as the wood. In my experience with ZMF, that extends to accessories like pads and cases, too. 


    All things considered, I find nothing complain about when it comes to the build of and accessories for both Vérité. 



    Verite Closed Close.jpg



    The same goes for comfort. Despite all the wood, metal, and leather design, both of the Vérité models are the lightest in the ZMF line, weighing in at 430 grams (open) and 455 grams (closed) with their stock woods. (For comparison, the Focal Utopia weighs 490 grams.) The decreased weight is attributable, in part, to the shift to a magnesium chassis in both Vérité, which according to ZMF reduces the weight by 33 grams on average. For both models, the ZMF headband distributes that weight incredibly well, and I had no issues with hotspots, pain, or fatigue when wearing either Vérité for long stretches.


    While the exterior and accessories are all well and good, the real action that elevates the Vérité above the rest of the ZMF line take place under the hood.


    I’m a big fan of metal drivers in both headphones and speakers. But not everyone shares that view. Some listeners describe metal drivers impart as imparting unpleasant steely tonality. As Mehrbach notes in his description of the Vérité’s development, “I became fascinated with metallic drivers when I started looking into driver options years ago, in the process of designing our first dynamic line of headphones. I quickly noticed that many metallic drivers could have a slight ‘sheen’ or ‘stridency’ to their tone. I decided these drivers weren’t for me and went on to use TPE and Biocellulose for our first two dynamic driver headphones. It wasn’t until early 2017, about a year later, that some engineers I collaborated with suggested I try a vapor deposed driver.


    The result was the Beryllium-coated PEN driver of the Vérité. Mehrbach explains some of the logic behind this decision on ZMF’s website, but I asked him to walk me through the driver’s construction, starting with explaining what PEN is. “PEN is Polyethylene Naphthalate, which is a thin plastic that has more dynamic response than a metal,” he told me, “and we chose that to counter the fact that we were going to use a really stiff rubber surround, N50 magnets, and Be which in turn made the driver stiffer and faster. The CVD process or Vapor Deposition is when Be is more or less vaporized and melted onto a film (in this PEN) by using volatile gases to form them together onto a sheet.  We had to choose all the specs and then buy a roll of this BE material to then turn into drivers.  The process of all that was incredibly expensive, and actually the MOQ [minimum order quantity] was enough to make 60K drivers.  We didn't make that many because I didn't have enough money left to, and we also only make 100-150 headphones month, so I didn't want to buy more than I could make in a lifetime!


    For headphone aficionados, use of Beryllium undoubtedly will bring up comparisons to Focal’s Utopia headphones, which use pure Beryllium drivers. “I knew that it being dynamic and with Be in the driver it would get compared to it,” Mehrbach told me. “But I think when people sit down and compare them aesthetically and sonically they realize they are two different products. I know a number of owners who have both and love both.”


    In terms of key technical specs, both the Vérité open and closed have an impedance of 300 Ohms. The open have a sensitivity of 97 dB/1mW, while the closed have a sensitivity of 99 dB/1mW. Both Vérité models require sufficient power to sound their best, and listeners who wish to compare the Vérité to something like the Utopia, with its 80 Ohm impedance and 104 dB sensitivity, would be advised to make sure levels are matched as close as possible. 


    Going into this review, I considered the Utopia the best dynamic headphone on the market today. The Utopia’s U.S. MSRP of $4,000 is more than a third higher than the Vérité’s, and if ZMF is a “pleasant parlour” of a headphone maker, then Focal is a “pleasant continent.” However, fairly or not, I felt that I needed to compare the Vérité open against the Utopia, given their shared use of Beryllium


    As the opening to this review indicates, the Vérité didn’t wither against such competition.


    But before I give you my listening impressions, let’s look at some measurements taken with my MiniDSP EARS rig, which has been calibrated with a slightly modified version of Marv from SBAF’s compensation curve, where a perceptually flat frequency response is represented by a flat line.


    To get our bearings straight, let’s start with the Sennheiser HD-6XX (red), Massdrop’s affordable  (U.S. MSRP $195) version of the HD650, a near-universal reference can noted for its neutrality:



    HD6XX Graph.jpg




    Now let’s add the Utopia (dark grey):


    HD6XX and Utopia Graph.jpg




    While it’s important to be cautious with any one set of measurements, what we can glean from the graph above (and other measurements of the same headphones) is that both the HD6XX and Utopia are superbly neutral headphones in terms of frequency response. The 6XX may have a slightly smoother treble than the Utopia, but it’s also slightly more rolled off than the Utopia’s, and the Utopia handily surpasses the 6XX on bass linearity, digging deeper than the 6XX below 90kHz. 


    Not evident in these frequency response measurements is that the Utopia is also a much faster headphone, with precise stops and starts on sharp transients. The Utopia also features lower distortion than the HD6XX and is overall a much more resolving headphone.


    The important takeaway is that, despite notable differences in frequency response and even more important differences in other characteristics, the HD6XX and Utopia are often cited as supremely neutral, accurate headphones.


    Okay. This is where the fun starts. Let’s add the Vérité open (gold) to the graph:



    HD6XX and Utopia and Verite Graph.jpg




    Wow. We have a contender here, folks. 


    The first thing that jumps out is that the open Vérité is almost ruler flat from the sub bass all the way through the low midrange. This type of ruler-flat response in the bottom half of the frequency range usually isn’t seen outside of planar headphones.


    According to Mehrbach, he hoped that the somewhat complex and exotic design that went into the Vérité would allow it to have the flat, impactful bass of a planar headphone with the smooth treble of the best dynamic headphones. Here’s what he told me about the difficulty of striking that balance:


    The stiffer the membrane and surround, the more the driver will move as a panel, but if you go too far the driver can also start to sound more compressed — which is what many people complain about with Planar headphones.  There’s definitely this dance to play between making planar drivers sound more dynamic, and dynamic drivers sound more weighty.  Each designer and manufacturer has to decide what they like and there's no true answer, but it's something I think about with each headphone and design.


    As I’ll explain more later, I think he achieved that goal. But for illustration, it’s worth looking at how the Vérité open compares to Audeze’s LCD2 Classic (U.S. MSRP $799) (green), which I wrote about in my review of the LCD-1 and which displays the classic flat, impactful planar bass:



    Verite and LCD2 Classic Graph.jpg




    Through 5Hz, they track each other closely, and even through 1kHz, the difference is minimal.


    Looking at the last two graphs above, it’s clear from frequency response alone that the Vérité open is a somewhat darker-tilted headphone than the Utopia but not quite as a dark as the LCD2 Classic. 


    In my opinion, the key ranges to focus on in teasing out some of the differences between the Vérité open and Utopia are from 1kHz to 5kHz, 5kHz to 7kHz, and 7kHz above. Frequencies in the 1kHz to 5kHz range can be very important for giving electric guitars their bite and creating a sense of sharp attack for percussion. However, too much energy in this range can also make headphones fatiguing for some listeners by imparting a grating thinness to the sound. (Headphones really off in this range can also have a “honk”-y quality to them, something that doesn’t apply to any of the cans in this comparison.) The Utopia and Vérité open depart in key ways in this range. While the Vérité open converges with, and even slightly exceeds, the Utopia just above 2kHz, it stays below the Utopia throughout the 3kHz to 5kHz region. Then from about 5.5kHz to about 6.5kHz — the “presence” region that most listeners associate with overt definition — the Vérité open once again slightly overtakes the Utopia. Above 7kHz, a range that often emphasizes the “air” in a recording, the Utopia mostly overtakes the Vérité – especially with the Utopia’s high peaks at 8, 12.5, and 14.5kHz — though the Vérité pretty clearly has more energy than the Utopia above 15kHz.


    While the measurements might seem a little abstract, some music-based comparisons should help clarify how and where the Utopia and Vérité open differ. 


    As loyal Audiophile Style readers have probably come to expect, my first audition track, “I Have Finally Come to Realise,” will come from Van Morrison’s dynamite collection of studio rarities, The Philosopher’s Stone. The delicate opening acoustic guitar strums from John Blakey are panned hard left and right. Recorded at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California, in 1975, both of the guitars are close-mic’d, and each individual string should be easily distinguishable through a good setup. Both the Utopia and Vérité open easily clear this bar. There are some slight differences in sound, however, that speak to important tonal differences between the headphones. With the Utopia, the guitars sound as if they’re mic’d slightly higher up the fretboard than on the Vérité, which offers a touch more sound from the body of the acoustic guitars. Their presentation of the acoustics’ string articulation is uncannily equivalent. Likewise, due to the close mic’ing of the acoustics, there are some mild thumps when the strings are struck harder. Both the Utopia and Vérité convey this transient impact well. 


    As the rest of the band enters on “Realise,” the broad differences between the Utopia and Vérité open become more apparent. In line with the general observations of their frequency response differences outlined above, the Utopia offers more “air” than the Vérité. On the Utopia, the ambiance of the Record Plant’s room is more apparent, whereas the Vérité offers a somewhat drier sound. 


    The Vérité, for its part, hits much harder than the Utopia. Indeed, the Vérité’s overall macrodynamic advantage is more dramatic than the headphones’ respective frequency responses suggest. While no headphone can ever convey the visceral impact of something like a kick drum or floor tom, the Vérité comes much closer to putting across this feeling than the Utopia, which presents a thinner, albeit solid, low end picture. The Vérité’s edge on dynamics comes without sacrificing much low-end resolution. Bass guitars, for example, come across as squarer, with sharp string articulation, on the Utopia, while the Vérité offers a rounder rendering. This gives the Utopia a slight edge in apparent detail, but a less clear advantage upon closer listening. 


    Both the Utopia and Vérité open do an excellent job of reproducing microdynamics, the small gradations in volume that come from the slight differences in strength of each individual drum hit or string pluck. Part of the Vérité’s excellence in this area is that it’s every bit the Utopia’s equal in speed. The Vérité’s driver can start and stop on a dime, with each instrumental impact rendered precisely.



    Verite Closed.JPG




    Like the string articulation, however, the two headphones’ slightly different frequency responses emphasize different elements in microdynamics. As Tony Day’s drums come in on “Realise,” both the Utopia and Vérité allow the listener to easily feel the varying force of the individual snare hits and distinguish the snare’s skin from the wires. Sonically, though, the Vérité leans towards the skins, while the Utopia toward the wires. Similarly, both headphones convey the fine strokes of each cymbal hit, but the somewhat brighter Utopia produces more sizzle, which some listeners may prefer and others might find grating. 


    One of the highlights of “I Have Finally Come to Realise” is Morrison’s emotive, unguarded vocal. As Morrison delivers the “Oh sweet release…” line at the 1:22 mark, the Utopia give a more front-of-the-mouth sound, while Morrison’s vocal is more full-throated on the Vérité. This different shading perhaps owes to the Vérité’s flatter presentation in the 300 to 800Hz range. While both are superb headphones, the Vérité does a better job of conveying the emotion of Morrison’s voice and, later in the song, his sax — a quality I tend to associate with superior microdynamics. 


    Looking at the overall picture presented by each headphone, the soundstage is roughly as wide on the Utopia and the Vérité open. Neither presents the expansive soundstage of the HD800S, but both are the width I’d expect from a good open-back headphone. The front-to-back layering of instruments and voices is excellent on both sets of cans. However, the Utopia offers an ever-so-slightly deeper soundstage. This subtle difference in depth ties in to the greater “air” presented by the Utopia, as mentioned earlier. 


    The Vérité open is, to return to our epigraph, a cozier, more intimate headphone than the Utopia. With the Utopia, I feel like I’m in the studio (or at least the control room) with Morrison and the band. With the Vérité, I feel like Morrison and the band are in my room. The difference is subtle, but undeniable. The Vérité’s staging is closer to the listener, while the Utopia’s is slightly further away.


    With news that The Jayhawks, one of my all-time favorite artists, will be releasing a new album in July, my mind has turned to their deep back catalog, along with the various side projects by their leader Gary Louris. So I decided to pick a track from 2001’s Rainy Day Music — which was reissued with bonus tracks and a clear, dynamic remaster by Vic Anesini in 2014 — as my second demo song. 


    Save It for a Rainy Day,” the album’s quasi-title cut, showcases Louris’s sweet lead vocal, Louris and producer Ethan Johns’s Byrds-esque layered 12- and 6-string acoustic and electric guitars, bassist Marc Perlman’s bubbling bassline, and the interlocking harmonies created by Louris, drummer Tim O’Reagan, and multi-instrumentalist Stephen McCarthy. 


    On “Save It,” the Utopia emphasizes the slightly reedy quality of Louris’s voice, whereas Louris’s lead vocal is smoother sounding through the Vérité open. Though the difference is very slight, Utopia seems to do a better job than the Vérité of separating the individual voices in the backing vocal. However part of this difference seems to step from the fact that, in contrast to Morrison’s “Realise,” the Vérité seems to create more front-to-back depth on “Save It” than does the Utopia, which seems to pull the various elements of the mix more to the front. Keeping with some of the frequency response differences noted previously, Louris’s harmonica solo sounds more full-bodied and, in this listener’s opinion, realistic through the Vérité and thinner through the Utopia. Finally, once again, the Vérité hits harder on this track, but Utopia’s slight advantage on bass articulation seems much smaller, perhaps erased, on this track. 


    As the in-depth breakdown of the two songs above indicates, I found it very difficult to say definitively that the Vérité open or the Utopia was the “better” open-back headphone throughout a months-long audition using a wide variety of music, DACs, and headphone amps. While they present slightly different sound signatures, I think both reproduce instrumental timbre accurately and offer supremely fast, detailed listers. Whether one prefers the Utopia’s slightly brighter, more square-edged presentation or the Vérité’s slightly mellower, rounder sound signature is primarily a matter of taste. 


    Simply put, whether Mehrbach wanted to create a headphone that could comfortably go head-to-head with the Utopia, he succeeded. Considering the Vérité open’s significantly lower price and ZMF’s excellent warranty, I’d say that’s no mean feat. 


    Turning to the Vérité closed, the challenge for ZMF seems to be creating a closed-back headphone that matches it open sibling’s qualities. As Sennheiser’s HD820 showed, this is a task that causes many companies to stumble, even when it has the talents of a designer like Axel Grell at its disposal. While Focal did better at this challenge than Sennheiser, I felt that its lower-end Elegia came closer to matching the performance of its Elex than its top of the line Stellia did to matching the Utopia. 


    To see how Mehrbach and ZMF did, let’s first compare the frequency responses’s of the Vérité open (gold) and Vérité closed (orange): 



    Verite and Verite Closed.jpg




    As you can see, the open and closed variants of the Vérité are impressively similar. The Vérité closed has slightly less linear bass than its open counterpart, with just a little extra energy in the upper bass and lower mids. Higher up, the open and closed variants diverge between 5 and 6kHz. Other than that, they track incredibly closely. 


    To illustrate how impressive this is, take a look at the Vérité closed against the aforementioned HD820 (blue) added:



    Verite Closed and HD820.jpg



    (Stares directly at camera)



    I asked Mehrbach what he did to bring the closed Vérité’s frequency response into such close alignment with its open sibling. “Well!” he responded. 


    There is a lot of proprietary ‘tricks’ that I used in designing the air pathways and sound of the closed…. I will say it took really starting from scratch and making something totally different than I had seen before and trying some weird tuning and damping/airflow stuff.  My 3d printer was definitely busy during pre-production!  I fortunately had the Vérité open completely done before I started working on the closed, so it was easy to use our measurements on that to help me figure out where to go with the closed.  I actually got the response closer than it ended up, but with the nature of closed versus open and how our ears react to the pressure of closed cans, I made some changes to make them sound more alike and better (the closed), even though that also made them measure slightly differently.


    So, how do the Vérité open and closed stack up subjectively?


    As a Steely Dan fanatic, I decided to turn to “Green Flower Street,” from Dan frontman Donald Fagen’s 1982 solo debut, The Nightfly. Always pushing the envelope technologically, Fagen, producer Gary Katz, and engineer Roger Nichols decided on a fully digital recording for The Nightfly. Production was plagued by difficulties and, while the final result is stunning, especially in the Studio Master hi-res edition on Qobuz, digital was then in its infancy and the result can be a somewhat unforgiving listen.


    Greg Phillinganes’s opening electric piano has a little more growl through the closed Vérité than the open. I also detect a hint more emphasis on the slight slap-back effect at the end of the piano’s reverb trail through the closed. 


    Drawing my attention to Jeff Porcaro’s opening drum work, the Vérité open seem to bring out more of the kick drum’s deepest tones. However, overall, the closed Vérité hits a little harder. More notably, I felt that I could hear more of the skin of the kick drum and the slight recoil after each impact through the closed Vérité than I could through the open. The same was true with Porcaro’s snare. Through the closed Vérité, I could hear the what sounds like a touch of (somewhat cringeworthy) ‘80s gated reverb, whereas I had to work to listen for it through the Vérité open. 


    Larry Carlton’s intricate electric guitar lines, panned hard left and hard right, had a greater sense of space around them through the Vérité open, which (unsurprisingly) offers a slightly wider soundstage than its closed counterpart. However, on the other side of the coin, I felt that I could hear more articulation in the great Chuck Rainey’s acrobatic bassline through the Vérité closed.


    Fagen’s vocal, on the other hand, sounded more spacious through the Vérité open. But it sat a bit too far back in the mix through the open compared to the Vérité closed’s more up-front presentation. 


    The differences illustrated by “Green Flower Street” were apparent throughout my audition of the Vérité closed and open with a variety of music. Like The Nightfly itself, the Vérité closed offers a more unflinching presentation of the source material, whereas the Vérité open is slightly more forgiving. While the graphs seem to indicate that the Vérité open is the more neutral of the two, I actually think that the Vérité closed will appeal more to those seeking a more unvarnished listen. But I also suspect that putting suede pads on the Vérité closed would bring its sound somewhat more into line with the open. 


    The real story, in my view, is that ZMF has created a closed back that is every bit the equal to its top-of-the-line open back at the same price point. Indeed, it’s hard not to see some people preferring the Vérité closed to the open, even if they don’t require a closed back headphone.


    Given the extreme challenge of creating a true flagship closed-back headphone, it’s with no exaggeration that I say that the Vérité closed is the best closed-back headphone I’ve ever heard. It handily beats the disappointing Sennheiser HD820 and the solid, if uneven, Focal Stellia. Anyone who wants the quality of a top-notch open-back headphone in a closed can should look no further.


    To say that I came away from my time with the two Vérité impressed would be an understatement. Judged purely on sound, they’re as good as anything on the market today. Factoring in price, ZMF’s industry-leading warranty, and the artisanal nature of the headphones, what Mehrbach and ZMF have achieved with the Vérité is truly remarkable.




    * While I tried all of the headphones under review with various combinations of equipment, most of the critical, level-matched listening done here was done through a Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC 2 MQA and a Schiit Ragnarok 1 headphone amplifier. 





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    About the Author


    josh.pngJosh Mound has been an audiophile since age 14, when his father played Spirit's "Natures Way" through his Boston Acoustics floorstanders and told Josh to listen closely. Since then, Josh has listened to lots of music, owned lots of gear, and done lots of book learnin'. He's written about music for publications like Filter and Under the Radar and about politics for publications like New Republic, Jacobin, and Dissent. Josh is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on modern U.S. politics and the history of popular music. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife and two cats.

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    Hi Josh,


    Very informative and well written review!  It is impressive how you measure the headphones, and then tie your listening impressions back to the measurements.  I seem to learn something new each time you publish a review.


    As an owner of Vérité Closed, I can concur that the sound quality is superb.


    Regarding pads.  It is completely understandable that you would limit your measurements to the default set of pads that came with the headphones.  But as  Zach encourages users to experiment with various pads, it would have been extremely informative to see how the different pads might have affected measurements.  BTW, I was surprised how much the sound presentation changed with different pads.  With the Vérité Closed / default Auteur pads, I found vocals a bit too recessed for my tastes, and eventually settled on the Vérité pads which give a more neutral presentation.


    Looking forward to your next review!

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    Hi @Tone Deaf, here's the link I was thinking of, in case it's not easily findable in my review.


    There are a few others' measurements with different pads earlier in the thread, which show slightly larger differences of around 5dB in the sub bass. That strikes me as about the high end of real-world difference between pads, and I suspect even some of that is due to how different materials will or won't provide a good seal on measurement equipment.


    I saw some pad comparisons on another site that showed 10+ dB differences between Verite pads extending from the sub bass all the way into the mids, and to me that's clearly a measurement artifact, rather than how it will really sound.


    The Verite are great because they sound great with the stock pads, and if you find little things about them you'd like to improve, you can tweak the sound to your liking with different pads (including the alternative set you get with every pair!). But they're not suddenly going to turn into awful sounding headphones if you pick the wrong pads. 

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    I just pulled the trigger on the Verite open to compliment my Sony Z1R and Aeon2C. can't wait 

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    Your review is absolutely magnificent, and one of the very best I've read--ever.  Just brilliant.  I followed your links and found each of them relevant and helpful in contextualizing your comments.  I'm just about to pull the trigger on ordering a closed back Verite from ZMF, something I normally wouldn't do without first carefully listening in person.  But after reading your review and so much other praise online, I'll probably do just that.  Thanks for all the time and effort you put into this.

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    On 6/21/2020 at 8:01 PM, maelob said:

    I just pulled the trigger on the Verite open to compliment my Sony Z1R and Aeon2C. can't wait 


    On 6/28/2020 at 8:38 AM, saidentary said:



    Your review is absolutely magnificent, and one of the very best I've read--ever.  Just brilliant.  I followed your links and found each of them relevant and helpful in contextualizing your comments.  I'm just about to pull the trigger on ordering a closed back Verite from ZMF, something I normally wouldn't do without first carefully listening in person.  But after reading your review and so much other praise online, I'll probably do just that.  Thanks for all the time and effort you put into this.


    My own closed pair just arrived today, and I have an open on order. These are going to be a regular headphone for my TBVO columns. I'm actually listening to the closed as I write this, and I just heard a little vocal part on (what else?) Van Morrison's "Flamingos Fly" from Philosopher's Stone. Y'all know how much I've listened to that album! So to hear little parts and inflections I hadn't noticed by this point is something special. 

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    On 6/29/2020 at 5:04 PM, JoshM said:



    My own closed pair just arrived today, and I have an open on order. These are going to be a regular headphone for my TBVO columns. I'm actually listening to the closed as I write this, and I just heard a little vocal part on (what else?) Van Morrison's "Flamingos Fly" from Philosopher's Stone. Y'all know how much I've listened to that album! So to hear little parts and inflections I hadn't noticed by this point is something special. 

    As I predicted I would do in my message above, I pulled the trigger and ordered a pair of Verite Closed headphones from ZMFYour extremely well written, well thought out and well constructed review was one of the pivotal factors in that decision.  Again, thanks for all of the time and effort you put into this review.  As you can see from these comments, mine included, your prodigious effort wasn't in vain.


    It's nice to hear that you're enjoying your own pair as well. 

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    Hello again Josh,


    My Verite Closed arrived yesterday! Based on initial listening, they're every bit as amazing as you said they are. I am extremely happy with these headphones.  

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    My Verite Closed needed about 200 hours of break-in to sound their best (as recommended on the ZMF website).  They are wonderful.  I am listening now.  The description of “cozy” really fits these headphones.


    I own both the Focal Utopias and the ZMF Verite Closed.  The Utopias are the “best” headphones of the two, but the Verite Closed are my “favorites”.    Go figure.

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    Great review!! Now please add Focal Stellia, Hifiman R10P and Kennerton Rognir in comparison! 

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    The Stellia is discussed in the review. I don't know whether the HiFiMAN R10P was even in existence at the time the above review was written. 

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    3 hours ago, NewDevilman said:

    Great review!! Now please add Focal Stellia, Hifiman R10P and Kennerton Rognir in comparison! 


    I didn't do a full review on the Stellia, but it didn't impress me. The R10P and Rognir both came out after this review was published. Based on measurements and images, I wouldn't expect the R10P to compete with the Verite closed, in terms of sound or construction. I'm intrigued by the Rognir, but I haven't read much about it

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    Well, I think I am already used to open back headphones and all the closed backs are not very impressive to me. Not even DCA Stealth. The build quality is great, but not the sound. Especially the prices are not justified to me. 
    I bought Rognir. Love the sentiment, love the wood(bogdan), sound… is meh-! Not too bad for my traveling. 

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