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ZMF Vérité Closed - Flagship, Artisan, Closed-Back, Dynamic Headphone - Review

Review written by Ian Dunmore (@Torq)

Introduction

The Vérité Closed is Zach Mehrbach’s closed-back variation on ZMF’s extremely well received, and highly-regarded, open-back Vérité model (reviewed here), and their most recent, and perhaps most anxiously anticipated, offering to date.

For those not already familiar with ZMF Headphones, they began their journey modifying well-known headphones like the Fostex T50RP and have progressed from those modified OEM models to offering a complete line-up of in-house developed headphones using drivers, chassis and headbands of their own design and build and, of course, continuing the use of artisanal quality wooden cups. You can read more about their history and origin at their website and on “The HEADPHONE CommunityZMF-thread.

The set of Vérité Closed (finished in “Monkeypod”) I used for this review were on kind loan from ZMF and are currently on their way back to ZMF so that other’s can have a chance to enjoy them. The current LTD Edition wood is “Desert Ironwood” (which I’ve not heard).

I was lucky enough to have these around to coincide with the most recent SeattleThe HEADPHONE Communitymeet, where these were probably the most popular headphone present. And that’s saying something given the generally rarified nature of the other cans available there.

The gear chain/equipment used in this review can be found here, and the music I use in my reviews and evaluations is listed here.

Specifications

  • Impedance: 300 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 99 dB SPL/mW
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz – 25kHz
  • THD: 0.1% @ 1 kHz / 100dB SPL
  • Driver: Proprietary, ultra-light and thin, 20% beryllium vapor-deposed PEN (Polyethylene Naphthalate)
  • Weight: 455g (1 lb) in MonkeyPod (Albizia Saman)

Power/Drive Requirements

The Vérité Closed have the same impedance, and slightly higher sensitivity, than their open-back predecessors, so these will play a little louder all other things being equal - with the added benefit of a quieter background due to their closed-back isolation.

The 300 Ω nominal impedance means more voltage-swing is needed to push them to higher volumes and as a result these are best driven with a proper amplifier or a DAP rather than directly out of a smartphone or dongle.

I’ve come to really enjoy running these out of my Cayin N8, for example, which is a particularly guilty pleasure when I can do so on the deck, looking out over the water, with a nice glass of wine and with all the noise of the city completely shut out …

Technology

The Vérité Closed shares the proprietary, ultra-thin, vapor-deposed beryllium PEN driver from the open-back Vérité. By keeping the driver thin, moving mass is reduced and improves responsiveness and acceleration of the driver - leading to better transient response, resolution and dynamics. To offset the increased distortion that would normally accompany a thinner driver (due to reduced stiffness) a vapor-deposed layer of pure beryllium is applied to the driver (to 20% of the actual diaphragm’s thickness), which results in an extremely stiff driver, while preserving its light weight and thinness, but avoiding the distortion that would occur if the driver flexed under acceleration.

An all new acoustic design, with a new porting scheme, and angled drivers result in the sonic wave front interacting with the pinnae of the ears in a more speaker-like fashion, and this combination preserves/enhances the sense of openness and stage from the Vérité Closed.

Build

Like every other ZMF headphone I own, or have had in my hands, the Vérité Closed are both luxurious and beautiful in their construction and finish. Across three different lines and five different woods, all have been impressive, leaving one in no doubt at the expertise in craftsmanship, nor the artisanal execution of what I still consider to be fundamentally as much a work of art as a piece of audio technology.

The fit and finish is clean and precise, they have a very solid feel to them, adjustments are easy and stay where you put them and there are no creaks or groans or coarseness in their usage or manipulation.

Accessories

As is common to other ZMF headphones, the Vérité Closed package starts with your choice of either an ultra-robust, locking, water-proof Seahorse hard-sided, carry case or ZMF’s own, very pretty, “LTD Mahogany” presentation/storage box.

Inside the case you’ll find two sets of pads; an un-perforated (solid) version of the “Universe” pad, which are the thicker, more angled, pads pre-installed on the headphones, and a second un-perforated “Auteur” set of pads which are larger, rounder, with bigger ear-openings and are intended to give a more linear response. A warranty/ID card, a pair of Allen-wrenches that fit the fasteners on the chassis, and the stock cable, in a termination of your choice, as well as any upgrade cables you have selected, completes the package.

Cables

All ZMF headphones include a standard 5.5 foot ZMF OFC cable in your choice of either 1/4” (6.35mm) TRS plug or 4-pin XLR connections. If you specify one of the four upgrade cable options at the time of order, you will get both the upgrade cable and the standard cable.

With my second pair of open-back Vérité (actually the third pair I have purchased - the first, in Pheasant wood I sold to replace with a Ziricote set … an aesthetic preference, and I have since also bought a set in Cocobolo so I could have a pair at home and in the office) I received a Vérité Silver cable, in addition to the stock cables, which will be discussed separately.

Note that the headphone-end connections are mini 4-pin XLR, and are both physically and electrically compatible with Audeze headphones and cables.

Comfort

When I first picked up the Vérité Closed on I was entirely surprised by how light they felt - I was expecting the solid wood cups to be much heavier. They turn out to be just 1 oz heavier than my original Vérité open. Clamping force is just right, sitting somewhere close to that of the Focal Utopia and the weight is similar to that of their Stellia.

As has become a common theme for me with ZMF headphones, I often find myself wearing them for all-day listening sessions, and in doing so they have never resulted in hot spots or other comfort issues. And being the most-closed offering in the ZMF line-up (some of the other “closed-back” models are actually semi-closed), coupled with un-perforated lambskin pads, I was curious to see if these would result in any build-up of heat - but this has proven not to be the case.

Sound

Like the Vérité before them, the Vérité Closed are unmistakably “ZMF” in their presentation. This means a detailed and resolving delivery with a solid, articulate, bottom-end, a little added warmth, a sense of extra tonal richness and a lucid mid-range with proper presence. The Vérité Closed exhibit a tad more treble energy, shimmer and air than their open-backed sibling, something I suspect contributes to their unusually open-sound, have more sub-bass impact, and are somewhat more forward, or “energetic”, overall. There is an enhanced sense of “excitement” to their portrayal as a result.

Pad choice will, of course, affect overall tonal profile/neutrality with the standard “Universe” (unperforated) pads (pre-installed) adding some punch and attitude vs. the perforated version on the open Vérité. Other pad options allow you to push things closer to raw-neutral (though I think that is somewhat missing the point here) or something richer and weightier and with more classic “ZMFness”.

Notably, the Vérité Closed become the first closed headphone I’ve heard that I could genuinely use as my only headphone without having to caveat the statement with “as long as I needed isolation” (Focal’s Stellia come very close here, but their more elevated bass, while desirable for many, pushes them a bit too far from neutral and without the need for isolation, I would personally go with the Utopia over the Stellia).

That’s not to say there aren’t differences between the open and closed versions of Vérité; there are enough that one could certainly make a case for owning both forms - but they’re not so far apart that I find them nearly as different or polarizing as Utopia vs. Stellia, HD800S vs. HD820 or AEON Flow Open vs. Closed.

Fundamentally what you’re getting here is a Vérité, with isolation, and some slightly different tonal and technical emphasis.

Burn-In

My experience with most headphones is that burn-in, where it is a factor at all, has been very short-lived and any changes in sound typically occurred within a few minutes. The Vérité Closed and, indeed, the open-version, both differ here, and I was hearing changes over at least the first 100 hours or so. Most obvious of which was a tightening up of the lowest registers.

This review was written on the basis of about 200 hours of initial run time on the Vérité Closed, several weeks away (where they got yet more usage with another listener), and then coming back to them and spending another 100 hours or so with them playing music (sadly not all of which was on my head).

Tonality & Timbre

Tone here is largely even handed, with most of the tonal shift coming in the mids and lower/mid-treble, and that shift being one of richness, weight and immediacy, rather than something more overtly editorialized or “peaky”.

There’s a slight increase in presence with higher-frequency musical components, which can make triangles, higher harp and piano notes, as well as most brass components take on a hair more forwardness than is naturally in a mix or recording, but this isn’t overdone and does not become intrusive. My perception/response to this is that it tends to make music a little more exciting or energetic versus an absolutely vanilla delivery.

Here’s the basic frequency response for the MonkeyPod version of the Vérité C, with the stock “Universe” lambskin (unperforated) pads installed (see here for further details on measurements):

Note that more extensive measurements, including various pad variations, can be found on the headphones.com forum thread (starting with this post specifically, and here).

Timbral rendering is faithful and natural with instrumental texture being readily discernible from the simplest, purest, most delicate notes to the full on force, and discordant overtones, that accompany the most aggressive assaults on a piano keyboard or unmuted brass. The sweetness of the harp is beautifully conveyed, the difference in reverberation and attack with harpsichord played with, and without, lute stop, is clearly audible, and the bell-like ring of the glockenspiel remains resolutely pure.

Bass

As with the rest of the Vérité Closed’s delivery, bass is fast … with excellent articulation, feels taut, is extremely well controlled and has a little more punch in the sub-bass than the open-back version (regardless of pad choice). Level-matched it is actually at a lower level than the open-version too, and though it remains substantial it is closer to neutral with the default pads installed.

The extra sub-bass impact here may tilt favor towards the closed model when listening to music with lots of low-bass content, without it becoming overpowering (as tends to be the case with a depressing number of closed-back cans). And the slightly lower overall bass levels mean that with acoustic instruments, such as the double-bass, they don’t wind up sounding subtly larger or more present than they are supposed to be. Similarly, with big organ pieces, the scale and presence apparent when the lowest notes are hit is more in keeping with reality than the slightly emphasize delivery with the open-backs (and the perforated Universe lambskin pads).

Bass is highly tuneful and rhythms and “melodies” expressed in the lowest registers are easily delineated and can be followed without effort. And no heroic measures are needed to get the best out of the Vérité here. They were as convincing here driven out of my portable Hugo 2 as with far more powerful amplification.

Serious, quantity-focused, bass heads may want to roll pads to bring the level up closer to what seems to be the fashion with other closed-back cans, but there is no lack of bass energy here otherwise. The sound is full and rich and deep with no lack of drive. There’s comfortably more low-end presence than the Utopia, for example, but not quite as much as with the Vérité Open or the Stellia. And there won’t be any qualms about the quality of the bass reproduction, even when subjected to EQ.

But still, whether listening to Wagner, Louis Vierne or Daft Punk I never felt I wanted more, or less, presence in the bottom-end.

Midrange

In general the midrange is where I find the most to like about ZMF cans, and that’s important because so much of what truly makes music, music … truly lives here. The Vérité Closed continues this legacy with aplomb …

A little added tonal weight and richness (for me, that’s part of the “ZMF sound”) over “raw purity”. This is present in the open-back version too. And it is most evident in the midrange. The closed model is a little fuller in this regard, though it’s possible this is an effect of the slightly more present mid-region with the default pads rather than something innate to the cans overall.

Massed strings seem to swell with more, well, mass, brass has a hint of added body, and initial hits on middling xylophone blocks sound less hollow. Somehow this works in a way that doesn’t affect overall coherence, and sometimes it feels like it is more an artifact of one’s mood, or the nature of the venue, rather than something the headphone is imparting, and it is a very pleasing effect when you hear it.

Portrayal of the human voice is unfettered and natural, with a purity of tone that matches that of the best open-back designs. Leonard Cohen retains his gravel and soul, Mary Black is as deft and sweet of tone as ever, Kate Bush’s quirky vocal inflections are as vivid as I’ve ever heard them and Tori Amos’ voice soars and then hangs on the precipice of unease without falling past it - just as when she’s performing live.

Treble

Levels here are very slightly elevated over neutral, something that I think helps with the sense of air and space the Vérité Closed convey and probably also helps eliminate any sense that they are “closed in” or “confined” in anyway. At no point in my listening did the sound cross into “bright”, nor “fatiguing” and the treble levels here are more restrained than, say, the Utopia - falling somewhere between that headphone and the original Vérité.

As a result there is no question about top-end extension - nothing is getting cut-off here, and high-frequency detail is plentiful, unexaggerated, precise, entirely smooth and natural sounding. The higher registers also exhibit a slightly richer presence, though this is more obvious in the lower/mid treble than at the extremes (where it might be best described as hinting-at-romance).

Torture-track female vocals were handled with ease without ever straying into added sibilance (any that was present, was there because it is part of the recording). Pieces that became a little piercing with the, of all things, Meze Empyrean, remained composed and pleasant here.

Resolution, Detail, Dynamics and Transient Response

Perhaps the most stand-out element of the original Vérité vs. the rest of the ZMF line up is in their resolution and detail. They easily top the rest of the line-up in this regard and the closed-back version is no exception. And, in keeping with the performance of the originals, you’re very clearly in the same territory as Focal’s Utopia and the venerable Sennheiser HD800(S). Nothing is smoothed over or covered up here. And the quieter, native, backdrop that closed-back cans offer means that lower level details are more readily audible still - yet without undue resonances muddying things up.

Be it micro-variations in volume as the emotion in a performance overtakes the singer and causes their voice to waver, tiny changes in pressure and contact as a bow is dragged across strings, or simply separating the nuances in a large scale orchestral piece, the Vérité Closed lay it all bare, without losing coherence while doing so.

Macro-dynamics are superlative, and yield real weight and impact to explosive passages, and the speed of the drivers here keeps transients crisp and clear but free of excessive/artificial bite. If your music is a dynamic rollercoaster, the Vérité Closed will keep up … though occasionally make take your ride a bit further, in terms of raw impact, when it comes to impact in the very lowest registers.

Stage and Imaging

Both are remarkable … and not just for a closed-back headphone. Stellia did really well here, managing to best Focal’s open-flagship even. With the Vérité models, while the stage is similar in dimension, it is placed differently, with the projection being closer to the listener (more “up front”) with the closed version.

The image is stable and the stage expansive without feeling diffuse or exaggerated. The spread of sound doesn’t degenerate into a “three blob” affair and extends wider than one’s perception of the cups while appearing to come from a smoothly shallowing curve in front of the listener. You have the sense of being close enough to an orchestra to get the full expanse and separation of the various sections, without having things close in or collapse unnaturally with more intimate ensembles/acoustics (such as a typical jazz clubs).

The natural reverb and sense of space evident in more acoustically-live environments, such as the venue for Cowboy Junkies “Mining for Gold” (“The Trinity Session”) - my “go to” piece for this sort of thing - is nothing short of uncanny here and is one area where the closed version beats the open one. Close your eyes, and the space feels real … and you’re right in the middle of it.

Isolation

According to ZMF, the Vérité Closed are the “most-closed” headphones they currently offer (their “closed” headphones like the “Atticus” are actually semi-closed). The chart below shows what level of leakage is allowed, by frequency, from the Vérité Closed vs. various other closed-back models (see here for how these measurements are done and what they mean):

My time with the closed-back Vérité has included an almost embarrassing number of late-into-the-night, in-bed, listening sessions, and at no point have they disturbed my wife laying next to me. They are notably better at attenuated the escape of lower-frequencies than those in the vocal region and up; interestingly they’re more effective at keeping sound out as an almost inverse version of the above curve. 

Comparisons

In the interests of not spending the rest of my life swapping pads and making notes, I stuck to one set of pads for these comparisons – the standard lambskin “Universe” (un-perforated) pads that come already installed on the headphones. Additional comparisons, and measurements, will be posted to the headphones.com Vérité Closed thread.

vs. ZMF Vérité (Open, Ziricote, “Lambskin Universe Perforated” Pads)

With their default pads installed, the closed version are more “in your face” and “dynamic” with a more linear bottom-end and more treble presence, and slightly more “exciting” delivery. Putting the Vérité (perforated) pads on the open version brings them a bit closer together tonally, though the closed version still projects the stage closer to the listener.

Using the same pads (“Universe” lambskin, Unperforated) on both the open (Ziricote) and closed (MonkeyPod) versions of the Vérité serves to highlight the differences in the tuning/response of the raw headphone in each case, and yields frequency plots like this (additional frequency response comparisons to the Vérité open can be found here):

If you have to choose between the two then, at least with the pads supplied with each model, the fundamental choice comes down to whether you want a more beguiling, seductive, nuanced and subtle listening experience (Vérité), or something more forthright, energetic, and “in your face” while still clearly exhibiting their ZMF heritage (Vérité Closed).

I find it unlikely that someone would like one and not the other, even though I fully expect people will gravitate towards open vs. closed in a more or less passionate manner based on their own musical preferences, signature desires and overall system.

vs. Focal Stellia

While the Stellia retain a slight advantage in micro-dynamic nuance, actual detail/resolution is essentially indistinguishable. Stellia’s more pronounced rendering of the lower registers results in the Focals emphasizing bass-centric instruments both in terms of presence and scale, yielding a sometimes less balanced/realistic portrayal of small-scale ensembles and occasionally shifting the balance in more dramatic orchestral pieces (e.g. “Mars”, “The Planets”, Holst”). This can be a lot of fun, and the Focal’s natural dynamics and speed can tip things in their favor for very fast electronic music, but the ZMFs are just that bit closer to reality when it comes to natural/acoustic instruments and the music that relies on them.

While the ZMF headphone is more neutral overall here, strictly speaking they do exhibit a little added tonal richness, particularly in the mids and lower treble, vs. pure neutrality. I like this, in general, and it’s a less prominent effect than the bass-emphasis of the Stellia. This is, for me, part of what is so compelling about ZMF headphones … as while easily audible, it is also something I find desirable rather than intrusive.

These ultimately just edge-out the Focal Stellia for musical enjoyment for me, as closed-back cans go. The Stellia have some, slight, technical advantages, and a very impressive build and aesthetic - but overall musical enjoyment wins out and Zach’s cans take it.

vs. HD820

Excepting the HD820’s expansiveness of stage rendering, and their ability to hit a little harder in the sub-bass region, the Vérité Closed are a more tonally accurate, similarly resolving and more enjoyable headphone than the flagship closed-back Sennheisers. Bass-to-lower-mid transitions are cleaner with the ZMF headphone, vocals are more present with female voices in particular being smoother in their rendition.

The ZMF cans are also free of the fussiness in their fit/positioning that seems to be the cause of many negative responses to the HD820’s tonality and overall performance.

The HD820 are interesting on a technical level, fascinating to look at, and have a number of exemplary technical traits, but when it comes down to actually listening to music … the Vérité Closed simply do a more compelling job.

Summary

I came into this review being extremely curious as to how the Vérité Closed were going to perform, but based on all my prior experiences with closed-back headphones, coupled with my generally limited need for them, I had absolutely no expectation that I’d be buying myself a pair.

Today?

I am simply waiting to choose which LTD edition wood offering and metal work I want my set in, and will be ordering my own pair as soon as I decide!

The Vérité Closed are the single most convincing argument I’ve heard so far for being able to have a closed-back headphone as one’s “one and only” set, while still being able to enjoy the full gamut of musical genres. And that makes them essentially unique in my experience.

Are they “perfect”? No.

But they are able to do what they do without having to endure myriad gross tonal and technical compromises that seemed unavoidable in other closed-back designs. There are some departures from neutrality/purity of course, but for me they land on the right side of “desirable” and “minor”.

After my original Vérité review I had settled on taking the Vérité open and a set of IEMs for my pending, multi-year, “world tour” - for those times when space/situations only permitted a single headphone. Today, the Vérité Closed are my new choice for that role … and they won’t require carrying IEMs for when I need isolation.

Prior to spending time with these cans I don’t think it had really occurred to me that closed-back headphones realistically had the potential to match their own open-backed variants, much less beat them. Yet that is the reality with which I am now confronted. The Vérité Closed clearly demonstrate that “it can be done”.

As to whether they are “better” than the regular Vérité … that’s going to be a personal call. They are subtly different. Not hugely so; there’s no mistaking them as being anything but ZMF cans or that they’re Vérité. But enough that preferences, and perhaps one’s overall chain, will be the final arbiter of which works best for any given listener. One tilts a tad more towards “exciting” (Closed), the other towards “accurate” (Open), and neither are strictly neutral or uncolored, but both are spectacular and are extremely enjoyable and capable. And for once, they are a closed-back offering that is not laden with technical compromises that make them a “second best” choice. That, alone, is a remarkable achievement!

For me, personally, I find the open-back Vérité (wearing “Universe” perforated lambskin pads) are the better embodiment and realization of what I find most attractive, seductive and enjoyable about ZMF headphones. I tend to find I “lose myself” in the music more readily there vs. the somewhat more up-front and “exciting” delivery of the closed-back version. Though my mood and choice of music could easily swing this the other way.

The Vérité Closed are a superlative headphone and more than compelling enough that I want them in my collection. And they deliver the goods on a level where they won’t be relegated to use “when I want isolation”. Perhaps most impressively, they are fully worthy as being taken as a flagship level headphone without “closed back” caveats!

If reviews of the original Vérité had you salivating, but still wanting/needing a closed-back can - then the Vérité Closed are an obvious choice and easy to recommend. Even if you don’t need isolation, they’re a superb headphone in their own right and I suspect many will find them a preferable listen. Anyone in the market for headphones at this level should make sure they include the Vérité Closed in their auditions.

As I said about the original Vérité … “Those who can, should.”

I know I will be.

 

- Ian Dunmore (@Torq)

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Join the discussion about the ZMF Vérité Closed on "The HEADPHONE Community".

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Comments and questions should be directed to the appropriate thread on the headphones.com forum (“The HEADPHONE Community”), if you want me to see/respond to them.


1 comment


  • Paul Fallon

    Great review Ian. Both your writing and photography skills are exemplary.


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