One listen to ZMF headphones and it is readily apparent that Zach Mehrbach gets tone. I mean really gets it. So it came as no surprise to me when I learned he cut his teeth building acoustic guitars long before he ever began making headphones. Only first-hand experience can breed that kind of knowledge. In his newest creation, the ZMF X Vibro MK II ($479.99), Mehrbach brings that sweet, musical take on tone to the masses with an extremely capable headphone at a very accessible price point.
The Vibro is based on the Fostex T50RP planar magnetic headphone, a popular driver choice for headphone modders. Picking up where the previous generation ZMF MK I left off as reviewed January 2015, the Vibro MK II takes advantage of the new improvements offered by the third generation T50RP drivers, introduced in late 2015. According to Mehrbach, these improvements result in a wider and deeper soundstage and greater extension in both the treble and bass.
A closed back design, each Vibro MK II takes the drivers, headband and suspension arms from the Fostex unit and replaces the rest with custom parts fitting ZMF’s exacting standards. This includes custom wiring and cabling, along with genuine leather ear and headband pads, which add significant improvements in both comfort and sonics. The cherry wood cups are hand crafted in the USA by ZMF’s partner, Vibro Labs. Upon assembly, Mehrbach hand tunes each driver to ZMF’s warm, musical house sound. Their craftsmanship doesn’t end with the uncompromising build quality. Calling upon the founder’s roots as an acoustic guitar luthier, ZMF offers a variety of bespoke finish options that ensure each Vibro MK II is truly a piece of art. From polished paint jobs to dazzling sunbursts, they are as much a showpiece as they are a sonic masterpiece.
The Sultan Of Sonic Sweetness
The lower portion of the midrange is presented with a sultry intimacy, highlighting the Vibro’s biggest strength. Acoustic guitars, basses and cellos sing with a warm, rich organic body few other headphones possess. The tone and timbre here is truly exceptional, and you would be hard pressed to find another headphone that captures the emotion of these instruments so vividly in this price range.
Vocals are engaging, but do lack a bit overall in regard to transparency without the benefit of an open back design. They are good, but fall short of the truly exceptional quality offered by the string instrument presentation. The same can be said for pianos. While presenting some powerful dynamics, the closed back design occasionally robs them of some accuracy in the timbre.
The high frequencies offer a relaxed and mellow presentation that is easy on the ears. The transient snap from the planar magnetic drivers is predictably good when the headphones are driven with adequate power. The detail and resolution level in the treble region is quite good relative to the price range, but won’t compete with the sharp definition offered by true flagships. Indeed, this is a headphone that is made much more for fun and relaxation than analytical listening in this regard.
Spatial properties perform as expected for a closed back T50RP-based headphone. The soundscape registers above average relative to competitive models such as the Oppo PM-3 in terms of both dimensional size and stacking depth. However, size falls a little short in comparison to higher priced closed backs such as the Fostex TH900 and Mr. Speakers Ether-C. Imaging is fairly sharp, allowing objects to be quickly and easily located throughout the soundscape without much obfuscation.
Overall, the technical performance sits slightly above average for the price range. But if that is your focus, this may not be the headphone for you. This is not one of those dry, analytical headphones meant for picking out every detail. The Vibro MK II is really all about the music and connecting you with it.
If you’ve ever sat around a campfire on a warm summer night, listening to a friend play the guitar, this is the headphone that can reconnect you with that kind of moment. There is an almost intangible intimacy to listening to live acoustic music, and ZMF has recaptured it here quite nicely. Additionally, if you are a fan of electronic music, there are few headphones within this or any price range that will deliver the goods like the Vibro MK II. There is an undeniably infectious groove to its sound, which is apparent from the very first moment you put it on.
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