ZMF Verite Part Open Review: A Tale of Two Headphones, The Open Back Contender

In the first half of this review I checked out the ZMF Verite Closed Back, which I found to be an exceptional headphone, and not just within the framework of closed-back models. The bar has been set high and the gauntlet thrown down, so now we move on to the slightly older sibling, The Verite Open Back. It has the same Magnesium chassis, Beryllium driver and of course trademark ZMF wood surrounds, but from there the differences become apparent quickly.

Build, design and comfort

The Verite Open not only boasts an entirely different cup design, it also comes stock with perforated pads, instead of the solid ones of the closed Verite. I did try briefly swapping the pads on both headphones out of curiosity and I can confidently say that the perforated pads belong on the open headphones and the non-perforated pads belong on the closed back. The open back acquired a cupped, dark and altogether murky tonality when used with the non-perforated pads, and the closed was unappealingly thin and tinny sounding with the perforated pads. I stuck with the pads that were supplied on each unit thereafter.

I digress however, the open back Verite does have a few other functional differences other than pad preference. The stock wood billet is an Albizia Silkwood, which according to ZMF’s website is very light and adds a certain amount of nice decay to the Beryllium driver. While I found the Verite closed much more manageable weight-wise than previous ZMF headphones, the open back Verite has the upper hand here – it’s noticeably lighter than the closed-back version. Of course, it has both more venting, thinner cups and an open back with a fraction of the material needed compared to the closed-back version, but for those who are weight-sensitive I found the open back Verite among the more comfortable headphones in my stable. Although it wasn’t the absolute lightest, it was actually lighter than many large over-ears and had the benefit of thick pads and a large suspension strap. Something about the specific ergonomics of this design seemed to really work for me, and I found myself in a kind of ‘just right’ Goldilocks comfort zone with these headphones.

In terms of aesthetics and build quality both Verite’s show off ZMF at the absolute top of their game doing what they do best: handcrafting one-off masterpieces. The wood on my Verite Open has had more machining done to it, but the Silkwood and finish is even prettier than the closed back, and it’s polished to a glassy gloss finish. The build quality on both headphones is not the machined, modern perfection of something like my Dan Clark Audio Ether 2’s. It has the same level of class, but as I mentioned in my Verite open review, it’s the kind of classy you’d find in a humble, old-world artisan’s shop where craft is a heritage, rather than an achievement of industrial ingenuity. While some may prefer the more manicured look of modern industrial design, there’s something undeniably appealing about ZMF’s approach. All of my non-audiophile friends were immediately drawn to the ZMF’s – ‘those don’t look like the headphones you normally review, those look cool.’

Impedance and sensitivity-wise these are pretty similar to the closed backs, and aren’t hard to drive at all. You can even run them off a phone in a pinch. They are, however, intensely fussy. Perhaps even more fussy than the closed backs. The extra-special qualities of the highest-end ZMF headphones such as the Auteur or Verite’s don’t seem to reveal themselves until you use them on truly phenomenal amplifiers. Even high-power capable amplifiers simply fell a bit flat. When paired with top-flight amps from the likes of Manley, SPL or especially tube amps from Eddie Current or DNA, these headphones really shine. There were a few more affordable options like Feliks Audio amplifiers that make good matches as well, but unlike say, the Audeze LCD-1 and X-series headphones which will sound great off a basic portable and only improve from there, be prepared to dish out for an amplifier that can really do these headphones justice, as they won’t wow you off an amp that isn’t up to the task.

Listening

On to the fun part; the sonic impressions. In a certain sense it’s easy to see how these are siblings, they both have that slight upper-midrange warmth and mid-bass emphasis which is the ZMF signature, yet the open back is the most linear ZMF headphone I’ve yet heard. It’s’ frequency response almost reminds me of a smoother, more extended HD600, and the treble is very controlled and generally free of peaks other than a very mild 5-6kHz one which is gentle enough that it sounds more like extended clarity than brightness.

The midrange seems to dip slightly around 3-4kHz which allows for a fatigue-free listen, but is counterbalanced by the fact that the amount of inner detail and depth on the proper amplifier is astounding on these headphones. I’m lucky enough to regularly get to work on several top-notch room-corrected studio systems, and while I’m not hearing details that I was previously unaware of, I am hearing those details with greater clarity and transparency than I’m accustomed to. InnerFidelity’s Qobuz Playlist, which I use for reviews, has a remix of Caro Emerald’s “Watchugot” which between the 40-55 second marks has a multitude of background vocals, guitar riffs and other assorted noises which the Verite fleshed out and laid before me like a finely-filleted fish.

The best part of this is the detail never feels unnatural, and actually has a hint of what I would describe as lushness or romanticism. I hear it as a kind of warm decay or low-midrange tonal richness, which I suspect can be attributed at least in part to ZMF’s trademark wood cups. Another trait ZMF is known for is the quality of the bass, which again is the most linear and tightest I’ve heard it, yet still incredibly textured and detailed. It’s just about the exact right level, a little more mid-bass rather than sub-bass emphasized in the case of the open headphone, but I don’t find myself wanting any more nor ever wishing there were less – it was just appropriate to whatever material I threw at it. 

Conclusion

What the open back brings to the table over the closed back is really what you’d expect: cleaner midrange, less of that ‘closed’ sound and darkness, and a trading of some bass thump for transient snap. There’s a real sense of individual spatial cues and separation around instruments, but everything also seems to kind of get glued together as part of a coherent presentation. It’s all of that ZMF magic sauce with more layers of detail and transparency than before. To put it plainly ZMF has hit it out of the park with the Verite, both the closed and open back versions. They’re priced at the top of the line and they perform like it. In both cases, between the accessories, performance and lifetime driver warranties, you are getting a lot, which you should. For those looking for absolute audiophile qualities and the most linear headphone, the open back is amongst my top headphones of 2019. For those who need more isolation but don’t want to compromise, the closed back is amongst the absolute best closed back headphones I’ve heard, and is a truly great contender if you need such a headphone, or simply like more bass. For my tastes however, the greater openness and neutrality of the open back win out. The Verite Open Back is good enough that it’s earned a spot as one of my reference headphones, and I don’t think there’s really much higher praise I can give than that.

  • Silk-Wood (albizia) OR Current LTD Wood
  • Frequency Response: Approximately 10 Hz to 25 KHZ
  • Impedance: 300 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 97 dB/mW
  • Warranty: Lifetime for Driver, 2 years parts and mechanical
  • Weight (est.): 430g (silk wood)
  • Pads: Verite and Universe Pads (perf)
  • Case: ZMF LTD Wood Case
  • Stock Cable: 1 x OFC & 1 x ZMF Stock

COMPANY INFO
ZMF Headphones

COMMENTS
Pharmaboy's picture

I had a loaner VO & VC for weeks late last year, which let me compare them to each other & to other fine closed & open headphones on 6 amps.

Punchline: I agree with every word in this review. My preference is also the open design, but really, either one is masterful, giving the listener all that detail & speed in an organic, musical manner.

Getting that much detail along with an ear-friendly, unhyped sound is a pretty rare thing in high-end headphones. Kudos to ZMF for nailing that.

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