ZMF Atticus Review (Alternate Perspective)

A few months ago, I asked Zach Mehrbach of ZMF Headphones if it would be possible for both Amar and me to review the Eikon and Atticus, as we have quite different tastes so I was curious to see how our opinions of the two differed, and Zach graciously obliged. Amar published his reviews for the Atticus and Eikon a while ago.

Full disclosure: I’ve known Zach Mehrbach for years; I bought his original Fostex T50RP mods back in 2012 or 2013 and I’m astounded at how far he’s gotten in such a short amount of time. I’d consider him a friend at this point, but I don’t believe I feel any overwhelming bias. I had the chance to buy the Atticus or Eikon at a discount but as of now have no plans to take advantage of it. Also, this is the approximately the fourth draft of this review I’ve written. I’ve kept putting it off for various reasons when it was supposed to be released a few days after the Eikon review but I kept losing the drafts in really dumb accidents. Many of my reviews are basically long form impressions I’ve written about each headphone I review when it is in my possession that I add connecting sentences to, and this is no exception.

The ZMF Atticus is a far cry from ZMF’s older T50RP mods which use a T50RP headband. The T50RP headband is durable but in the case of the Ori, doesn’t really seem fitting for what it costs. The Atticus, however uses a frame that seems much more “premium.” It’s quite obviously inspired by the Sony R10/CD3000 but feels much more robust than my CD3000. It’s made entirely of metal and feels quite sturdy but the frame does seem to add weight to what is already a conceptually heavy headphone due to its very thick wooden cups. My only major complaint about the build is that the adjustment rods spin freely and when I take off the headphones or pick them up, I need to make sure the cups don’t knock into each other.

Next to the Eikon, the Atticus sounds noticeably different, yet still recognizable as being from the same manufacturer. Like the Eikon, the Atticus did seem to change in character more than I’d expect through different amps, for reasons I can’t really explain. From the Fulla 2, the bass was a bit too slow and muddled together but out of my Krell KSA-5 Klone and Bottlehead SEX, the bass gained some definition. The Atticus is an unabashedly warm headphone. It’s something of a refinement of the Omni and thus, a refinement of ZMF’s “enjoy your music rather than analyze your music” traits on his T50RP mods. It’s a very relaxing headphone that actually sounds more “normal” than the Eikon. I pointed out in my review of the Eikon that it has some unevenness in the upper midrange, but the Atticus is simply relaxed in that region. In fact, the Atticus is somewhat of a slope downward from about 100Hz up. It’s so inoffensive overall that I have to commend it.

Bass

The Atticus makes no attempt to hide the fact that it’s very midbass focused. It’s a much more traditional-sounding dynamic headphone than the Eikon in that it hits with its midbass rather than rumbles with its subbass. Its sub extension is about par with many other closed headphones, though not quite as good as the best such as the Fostex TH-series. It extends to 20Hz, but there is some noticeable rolloff starting at around 50Hz. I do wish there were a little bit less midbass; I’d never call it muddy, but at times the quantity did get distracting for genres that didn’t call for so much bass. The quantity may also have affected its perceived speed. While the Atticus did sound less muddled with a bigger amp, more complicated bass lines managed to slightly blur. Attack also occasionally sounded slightly damped; the midbass slam didn’t hit quite as hard as I would have expected it to for such a bassy headphone with some music, but overall, bass fans will be more than happy with the Atticus.

Midrange

The midrange is where I believe people will be split. The Atticus is, first and foremost, a relaxing headphone. It doesn’t aim to do anything outrageous or fancy, it just presents a warm reproduction of music, for better or for worse. There’s a slight low midrange dip and gradual upper midrange dip that can make vocals and instruments sound slightly distant. The lack of “weirdness” in that the Atticus doesn’t have abnormal peaks in its upper midrange to mess with tonality is refreshing, because I’ve been so used to strange upper midranges in headphones that ZMF’s move to simply create a downward slope with no drama other than maybe a little rise at 2kHz which brings acoustic guitars and the like slightly forward doesn’t leave me much to say because it just sounds…normal in comparison to headphones like the Z1R and Ether C. It doesn’t have the occasional telephone-like sound of the Z1R or the horrendous tone of the Ether C. The downward slope doesn’t really mess with the Atticus’ tonality, it just creates a slightly distant presentation. It’s not necessarily “correct” in the same way a Utopia or HD800 is, but I found myself consistently forgetting to try to analyze the Atticus because of the presentation. I’m not going to pretend that it’ll work for everyone though, as one person’s, “relaxing,” will be another person’s, “boring,” and I can definitely see the merit of both opinions.

Treble

The treble continues the downward slope from the midrange. Mid treble peaks are something I usually complain about in a headphone but thankfully I didn’t hear any large spikes in the 9-10k region, but there was a slight rise that kept the headphone from sounding too boring. The low treble sounds even relative to the upper midrange, which is to say that it’s equally dipped. But since, like the upper midrange, there aren’t any weird peaks, it doesn’t sound off. Though, one may argue that the overall sound of the Atticus is slightly veiled because of lowered treble and upper midrange. Air is also noticeably lacking in the Atticus, making them sound slightly closed-in. I’ve found it’s a problem with closed headphones in general though; the Atticus did seem to have more air than the Z1R, which I found severely lacking in air.

Alternate Pads

This review was written with Ori pads on the Atticus, as suggested. However, since I also had Eikon pads, I naturally wanted to try them with the Atticus. The biggest difference I heard was that the Ori pads were really needed to boost the mid treble. Without the mid treble, the Atticus was a bit too dark-sounding for my liking. I also noticed a a little more of a low mid dip versus Ori pads that didn’t seem to work too well with the Atticus’ presentation, as it thinned out male vocals and lower instruments but kept midbass about the same level. The effect almost reminded me of the Fostex TH900 in that the boosted bass actually made the low mid dip more noticeable because the thickness of the low end contrasted with the thinness of the lower mids, but thankfully the effect is much less pronounced. Still, I’d recommend the Atticus be paired with Ori pads for a more balanced sound.

Conclusion

I’m kind of torn on where I stand on the Atticus. I like it, and I love the idea of it being used as a way to contrast something like an HD800 or Utopia or SR-009, but I don’t know if it’s a headphone I could see myself having as my only headphone. In a way, the Atticus sounds more like an original Audeze than anything they currently have out. That warm, dark sound I distinctly remember hearing with pre-Fazor Audezes shows itself in the Atticus, but with more bass. Between the Atticus and the Eikon, I found myself picking the Eikon over the Atticus around 7/10 times for casual listening, but that’s only because I preferred a more exciting sound at the time. The Atticus’ very warm sound was boring and almost overwhelming to me when used too often. But whenever I used the Atticus, I’d be surprised by how quickly time passed by. I usually listen to music for about two to three hours in a sitting, but with the Atticus, I’d often double that. Everything in me that wanted to criticize the Atticus for its flaws such as lack of air and bass that could use some more refinement simply left after a few minutes of listening. It’s like comfort food to me. I couldn’t eat it every day (nor should I), but like comfort food, I always got a warm, fuzzy feeling when I listened to music with the Atticus. It absolutely is not for the people that demand accuracy in their music, but rather for the people who can deal with occasionally eschewing that to instead relax and appreciate their music in a different way. I do still prefer the Eikon to the Atticus because it’s a more technically impressive headphone, but I definitely see why the Atticus exists, and I wish more headphones made me feel like this.