The ZMF Auteur is a lovely sounding headphone, and I don't think I've ever used that word to describe the sound of a headphone before. (Editor's note: You did, here) There's no glare, no hardness, no edge, the sound can be you-are-there realistic.
Hold the Auteur in your hands and you'll know something's up, this is no mass produced by robots "product." Like the other ZMF headphones, the Auteur is made in Lyons, near Chicago, Illinois. The company's craftspeople assemble and hand finish the headphones, and their sound is individually tuned. Each Auteur is a unique creation.
The headphones feature proprietary 50 mm biocellulose drivers, and you get two pairs of user-replaceable, lambskin covered ear pads that feel delicious and are oh-so comfortable to wear (vegans can opt for polyester suede ear pads and headband). Remove the ear pads and you'll see that the Auteur's ear side baffle is vented with 10 3.5mm holes, and five open slots on the ear cup's outer surface optimize the 50mm driver's airflow.
Each Auteur ear cup is machined and hand finished from a solid chunk of your choice of Teakwood, Silkwood, African Blackwood and other exotic woods. ZMF sources them from Asia, California, Europe, Hawaii and North Carolina.
The real leather headband contributes to the luxurious build quality of this headphone. It weighs a little over a pound (470 grams), but it feels awfully comfortable on my noggin. The cables are user-replaceable, and the headphone's impedance is rated at 300 ohms. That's a lot higher than average, but the Auteur is a moderately easy headphone to drive.
The Auteur's US price in the standard Teak finish is $1,600 in the US, £1,600 in the UK and that price converts to AU$2,216 in Australia. Other wood finish options are at an extra cost. Demand is high with a two to four week waiting list to fulfill Auteur orders.
Listening to the Auteur
Jack White's Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016 sounded completely natural, a real contrast to his other studio albums. The Auteur sounded positively organic on the unplugged White Stripes tunes, as if nothing was added or subtracted from the music. It let it be.
Comparisons with an Audeze LCD X open-back headphone proved interesting, the Auteur sound was deeply burnished and sweet, but the LCD X is livelier. The LCD X plays with higher energy and is more dynamic on rock, while bass oomph and definition outpace the Auteur's. Still, the LCD X feels less open and free flowing than the Auteur.
The bulk of my listening was done with a Mytek Brooklyn digital converter and headphone amp, which sounded fine, but after switching over to the much less expensive Schiit Valhalla 2 tube headphones amp, the Auteur's charms were hard to ignore on Paul Simon's beautifully recorded In the Blue Light album. The lushness of the tube amp really clicked with the Auteur, and it had a more dynamic kick over the Valhalla 2. The Brooklyn and Auteur combination was more transparent, but the Valhalla 2 had more soul. I like soul.
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