Build Quality, Comfort & Features
The weight of this Atticus is lighter than my Eikon, but only because of the cherry wood. If you choose a padauk version, it will be of similar weight to my padauk Eikon. Weighing about 542g, it is only a few single-digits under the weight of an Audeze LCD-2, but is far more comfortable due to superior support and weight management. I, and several owners I have spoken to, found this and the Eikon to not feel their weight – which is a good design choice for something that could have gone overboard so easily.
The Atticus ships with the ZMF Ori pads, which are thinner than the old ZMF lambskin, cowhide and protein pads but slightly thicker than the newer Eikon pads. I find them very comfortable and able to seal effortlessly, an issue I had with the Ori and the old pads. The isolation is incredible, possibly the best I have heard yet in a closed can utilizing passive noise-cancelling through means of a good seal. I have to be careful listening during the day, for I will not hear my doorbell ring with these on and music playing. Despite the isolation and seal being quite stellar, the clamp is not immensely tight but just where it should be to prevent the headphones from falling off your head. Only if you lean very far back will this budge, otherwise it will stay in place quite well without applying immense pressure on your cranium.
And despite it being so well isolated, this is not a headphone that I would recommend that you wear in public. Reasons for this go beyond its price or the equipment needed to drive it (a portable amplifier) – but for aesthetic reasons as it is a very wide headphone when worn. While I am saying that they look a little goofy when worn, I would not change a single thing aesthetically because this is the nicest looking wooden headphone that I have ever seen. And, due to the wood and sturdy materials, the Atticus just feels like it is built to last. My only complaint with the build is that the sliders are, while being much more to my liking than the T50RP ones, tough to adjust – but I can see why they need to be in order to prevent moving from where they are set. There are no incremental adjustments either, so you will have to eyeball it or adjust by feel. Just in case it wasn’t obvious, these are not foldable headphones that can collapse to fit a small bag.
300 ohms is a big number, the same as the Sennheiser HD600/650/800 which aren’t easily driven headphones – with the HD800’s bass impedance being especially high and thus needing more juice to bring out. However, the Atticus drives both easily and more evenly – sounding quite good out of my portable amp setup. These don’t require a lot to get loud, but you definitely should not under-power them for obvious reasons.
Finally, the Atticus uses the same connectors as all other ZMF headphones – 4pin mini-XLR that are also used by Audeze.
In a world where the Eikon did not exist, I would see a slightly retuned version of the Atticus being the next real step in ZMF’s lineup so far. I have gone through the Vibro Mk. I and two different versions of the Ori, unfortunately skipping the Blackwood, and I can confidently say that the Atticus is more of a continuation with what the Vibro did – making it a super Vibro in my eyes.
The reason that I feel this way is because ZMF’s entry-level wooden cup T50RP mod is tuned to be unabashedly fun and mid-bassy, with the bass port system put in place to tune accordingly. The Ori, to my ears, was tuned to be more analytical while still retaining a warm and friendly ZMF house sound. The Eikon, in my opinion, is an extension of the Ori slapped across characteristics from drier and more analytical headphones such as the Sennheiser HD800 – making it a very clean-sounding headphone with only the slightest tinge of warmth from a neutral audio chain.
The key word for the Eikon is drier, however, and it has a peak in the upper-mids that can be a bit sharp with certain recordings that are too brightly or poorly mastered. How the Atticus contrasts is by being a lot more forgiving of such recordings and having a deeper and more resonant sound that, like the Audeze LCD-2, is dependent on a bit of wetness and reverb in the midrange.
The overall tone of the Atticus is very lush, and I have a hard time deciding whether it beats my previous favourite in this matter – the Hifiman HE-500 with its liquid mids. The Atticus makes the Eikon look clinical, prim and proper by comparison – preferring to wear its coloured sound signature on its sleeve and be soulful instead. If this all seems confusing and flowery, please return to this section after reading the breakdown below.
The bass of the Atticus will undoubtedly be the first characteristic that most will register when they first put on the headphone. I love a nice amount of bass, and this headphone does not fall short in that regard – and in many instances can go in the opposite direction depending on source and amp chain. While it does not dive as deep as its elder brother the Eikon, the Atticus has a pronounced mid-bass jump that really is one of the two tuning choices that define it. Tacked on to this is a level of bass slam that can be breathtaking at times, with strong impact and punchiness. The punchy nature of the Atticus is not blisteringly fast, but it definitely holds its own in genres that need the oomph and transients – such as double-bass drum patterns in metal and especially fast electronic music.
The bass is also really clean sounding, to my ears, but to maintain this – and its clean separation from the midrange – you will need to pair it properly (more on that later).
The midrange of the Atticus, as previously stated, is very lush and smooth. I made a point of mentioning in my Eikon review that the flagship opted for more texture in this area, while the Atticus went more for body and a romantic sheen instead. What I have learned since then is that the Atticus’ midrange is indeed quite textured, due to not having heard my preferred source/amp pairings until after my Eikon and even LCD-2 reviews from several weeks ago. The full-bodied and smooth midrange make vocals a sheer treat to listen to, given that they are well-recorded. The lower midrange is well pronounced, male vocals and acoustic guitar strumming are tonally sound and rich in presentation. The upper midrange is a little dipped, but switching between it and the Focal Elear shows just how much the latter has a hole in this region. Female vocals do not sound distant, but are rather quite forward like the rest of the midrange. The Atticus showcases the vocal talent shown in Follow Me by Kimiko Itoh quite excellently. The surrounding instrumentation is also well served, not feeling too bogged down by an intimate soundstage – but it does not handle space as effortlessly as the Eikon. For all the benefits of a good audio chain surrounding the Atticus, the Eikon is simply able to handle micro-detail and texture in a superior manner.
The treble of the Atticus is a strong indication of the benefit of Zach’s choice to move away from the Fostex T50RP driver. My very first review was of a T50RP mod (the ZMF Vibro Mk. I) and as I continued my journey into high-end audio, I came to realize just how “hard” the treble presentation of the driver is. The Atticus’ treble is far more natural, to my ears. A bit withdrawn, it never reaches a point where I feel fatigued due to any sibilance – even when paired with the brightest source. Songs that sound like aural masochism on my HD800 sound pleasantly fine on the Atticus.
Where the Vibro Mk. I fell, the Atticus perseveres and triumphs in most genres. The natural but slightly dampened treble is enough to present cymbal patterns, and a complex jazz recording like Heligt by the Tingvall Trio showcases this. What it also reveals, however, is how the Atticus is not really meant for genres such as this – for despite it sounding tonally rich and “live”, it is not where this headphone truly shines.
One reason for this is the soundstage, which is understandably intimate due to it being a closed headphone in the first place. It is not able to possess the extremely detailed audio resolution in a manner that the stereotypical “hi-fi” term would suggest, but it is no slouch either. Others, like the HD800, have vast staging and precise imaging – but do not have the musicality of the Atticus, nor its fun bass, reminding us of the trade-off in each headphone that this hobby has.
As you have probably surmised from earlier, this headphone does especially well with vocals, pop music and electronic genres. Anything that is cleanly recorded and with a drive to it will also bring out the headphones ability to showcase its dynamic nature.
Song impressions on a Schiit Gungnir Multibit > Lyr 2 with Genalex Gold Lion tubes
Dreams – Fleetwood Mac
A test track of mine since the start, Dreams is a well recorded folksy acoustic-rock track with ample vocal layering and a punchy beat – accentuated with modest synth flourishes and impressive guitar work. What I revisit with every headphone is the chorus, with its three-voice harmonization using two female and one male voice. Extremely lush and well represented by the Atticus, Stevie Nicks’ unique voice carries this track and has enough body to feel live. Besides the vocals, what really sticks out to me is the depth behind each of Mick Fleetwood’s snare hits, which can honestly sound a bit thin and un-impactful on the HD800 but have an earthy and realistic sound on the Atticus.
Closer – Nine Inch Nails
Now we’re in far different territory. Trent Reznor’s mid-90s aggreso-industrial metal romp (with its famously profane chorus) is best served by headphones that are able to keep up with its driving heartbeat-like beat. The song is a builder, like an angrier Stairway to Heaven but with a long instrumental outro, and as the layers pile on – the Atticus is able to represent each distorted guitar note and harsh synth-pattern admirably. However, it just does not possess the texture around both that a headphone like the Focal Elear does, as its shouty and aggressive midrange is especially good for metal and distorted guitars. The Elear, however, does not possess the oomph of the Atticus’ bass – preferring to opt for a speedier but less towering amount. As the song reaches its climax, I hear everything that I’m looking for quite well, and the swiftly panning synth in the outro indicates impressively fast transients and imaging in the midrange.
Time – Pink Floyd
Out of every headphone that I have owned, Pink Floyd continues to have the best synergy with the Sennheiser HD800. A revealing headphone works best for the group, as the layered recordings are better exposed cleanly rather than having a fun and bass-driven sound injected onto them. The Eikon is excellent for Pink Floyd in its own way, but the Atticus is not the most ideal pairing. Switching to the Schiit Valhalla 2 does help a bit, but it still feels like a genre mismatch. Pink Floyd lack the dynamic sound needed for the Atticus to shine.
The Raven that Refused to Sing – Steven Wilson
This sombre song is very impressively produced, no doubt thanks to the help of Alan Parsons (who also worked on the Pink Floyd track mentioned above) and aided with modern recording techniques. The Atticus is able to capture the vocal harmonies and synth-driven atmosphere in the background perfectly. The piano sounds impactful, bringing the required dramatic tone the song is striving for – but the tonality is more low-heavy than sharp. I really like how it sounds in this context, but switching to the Elear (which I feel has excellent tonal match with grand pianos) shows the small amount of detail that is masked with the instrument. In the second half of the song, the cymbals ring out clearly and the entire track moves to its climax with no strong sense of detail loss as the instruments pile on. Switching to the Eikon shows a more controlled bass guitar, which is a little too loud in the mix on the Atticus – but beyond that it is a great listen.
Arped - Vaishiyas
This techno track showcases the full ability of the Atticus to have impact and bass punchiness, while maintaining texture and equal impact in synth parts that accompany it. Very well mastered, each track is clear and present behind the sheer head-banging bass drum.
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough – Michael Jackson
I always listen for the quick string part in the intro, some headphones really struggle with producing it with all the other tracks blazing at full speed. The Atticus does not struggle, and the song has all its percussion and instrument tracks well represented. Jackson’s voice itself, in his crooning falsetto that was all the rage in the disco era of the late 1970s, never feels drowned out by the instrumental track – which would have hindered the point of his solo act. The horn sections are slightly smoothed but still maintain a good amount of texture. Overall, a listening experience that will have you nodding along.
Master of Puppets – Metallica
The problem with this track is mainly because of the production, with its mid-scooped distorted guitars and overall mid-bassy sound. On the Atticus, it can sound a bit sluggish, with a lower-mid bleed causing problems with the song’s thrash-metal pacing. I have found that it does better with the Schiit Valhalla 2, or even the Lyr 2’s brighter stock 6BZ7 tubes, but it is still not the most ideal pairing. Metallica’s Black Album, or self-titled 1991 album, is a far better pairing with the Atticus due to its cleaner and grandiose production.
I have done my best to be discerning with the above tracks, but I should mention that even the pairings that I feel are not quite ideal are not close to being so bad that I would want to throw the headphones off of my head. Indeed, if you prefer the overall sound signature of the Atticus, it could even be an all-rounder headphone for you. The best songs to pair with it are not even dependent on genre, but rather song style and production. While the HD800 is revealing of production imperfection in its own way, the Atticus does it as well (although more forgiving than the Eikon) due to its reliance on clean mastering and well separated instrumental and vocal tracks. The worst recordings, in this regard, will sound muddy on the Atticus.
I don’t prefer the Atticus for music that has no dynamics. There has to be something existing already for the headphone to take and run with it. It is not as sensitive in dynamic/impact reproduction as the Utopia or Elear, where a piano chord can feel like a truck hitting you at times, so it needs character in its music. If you want a headphone for drone-metal, look elsewhere. If you want a headphone for psychedelic classic rock, I would steer you toward the Eikon instead. It is also a headphone that is better heard at higher volumes, emphasizing its bombastic nature.
After the sound description above, I would go so far as to say that this is the most important consideration one must make if they are interested in the Atticus. Like the Eikon, it is revealing of source gear, but it can be made a bit problematic from the wrong pairing.
All amps using a Schiit Gungnir Multibit DAC
Cavalli Liquid Carbon (First Run)
Followers of my work will have noticed that I have not quite recommended this amplifier in recent reviews in terms of most ideal pairings. This is because it has a warm and laid back characteristic to it that can be overkill on some headphones. With the Eikon, this simply made it a more laid back headphone, easing up on the intense dynamic nature of itself and adding a bit more warmth to the midrange. With the LCD-2, it simply became too warm and I felt that some of the details in the treble region were being masked. With the Atticus, it is the same case as the LCD-2, if not slightly more problematic.
The bass simply becomes too much. I enjoy a bassy sound but the Atticus, out of the right pairing, couples that with a smooth midrange and treble. With the Liquid Carbon, it becomes all about the bass and lower mids, leading to a pronounced bleed that holds back any song I throw at it.
This powerful amplifier has a somewhat neutral sound to it, letting the DAC and headphone do most of the talking when it is present in a chain. It has good control of the Atticus’ bass, where the Liquid Carbon felt bloomy, but it is in its upper-region that I found a slight problem. The background does not seem as black as I would like, leading to a haziness in the treble and upper mids that I chalked up to the Atticus initially. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it is actually just the pairing of the Gungnir Multibit and the NFB28 amp section that was causing this, as the Audio-GD’s own built in Sabre DAC enjoyed a lower noise floor in the pairing.
With this in mind, I have to treat this specific amp/source pairing as contained to the Audio-GD NFB-28 alone. With the Eikon, I found the treble too sharp for my taste, emphasizing the 5k treble peak that felt a little fatiguing on it. On the Atticus, it is not as noticeable, but there is a definite benefit to choosing the sabre over the multibit for this specific amp. That being said, it lacks a lot of the natural, if slightly warm, sound that the Gungnir multibit brings. Separation has taken a slight hit and the overall sound is more digital rather than musical.
After spending time with the NFB28 and Atticus, I was convinced to try tubes with the headphones – but I did not want any that were too warm. After some research, I chose the next two amplifiers.
Schiit Valhalla 2
When I first plugged into this amplifier with the Atticus, it was a mini-revelation. Beyond my prior ownership of an Asgard 2 and a Magni 2, I had avoided purchasing Schiit amps because some had told me that they sounded etched – with the tube amps not even sounding like tubes. After my time with the IFI Pro iCan, and its disappointing solid-state to tube/tube+ mode switching (not as much difference as I would have liked to hear for the price), I was even less inclined to seek out the Valhalla 2 – which I had heard did not inject warmth or musicality to music. “What was the point then?”, I asked in my ignorance.
Well, the Valhalla 2 controlled the Atticus in a manner that the NFB28 was not able to, with all its ample wattage and neutral sound signature. It made the overall experience a bit drier, and a bit leaner – not bad additions to the Atticus’ sound in my opinion. Suddenly, there was more detail and the bass was not intruding into the midrange as much as before. More importantly, the staging became slightly wider, and separation became more pronounced. I would go so far to say that this is a grand amp + headphone pairing, with the only detraction being a lack of punchiness.
The Valhalla 2, while still being quite punchy, did not provide enough oomph for the Atticus to be what it is capable of. Was it natural but clean? Yes. Did it make instruments and vocals sit better in a mix with the headphones? Absolutely. But, my time using the NFB28 had shown me just how the Atticus’ bass should work – but the Valhalla 2 had characteristics that I couldn’t enjoy on the Audio-GD.
Schiit Lyr 2
It would be foolish to say this hybrid tube-solid state (if you have the LISST tubes) amp provides the best of both worlds with the Atticus – which I definitely led up to with the transition at the end of the last comparison. However, this is my favourite pairing with the Atticus out of all I have on hand today.
The Lyr 2 is absurdly punchy and dynamic, even blazing well past the Audio-GD NFB28 in this regard. Its treble is a tad harder and less natural-sounding than the Valhalla 2, and it is brighter out of its stock 6BZ7 tubes. The bass is very controlled, a boon for the Atticus, and the midrange is heavily dependent on the tubes used. I prefer Genalex Gold Lions overall, despite it being slightly warmer than the others I have – it does not intrude on the Atticus’ ability at all, and in fact heightens its smooth and inviting midrange characteristics. Snare hits feel like they have more depth, a slight reverb to them that gives a live sound.
Compared to the Valhalla 2, the soundstage is narrower on the Lyr 2. I also regret that I am not able to obtain LISST tubes to test further – I’m curious as to how it sounds from its solid-state mode. Even so, out of all the tubes the punchiness is preserved and the highs feel more natural than with the NFB28 – cementing this as my go-to amplifier for the Atticus currently.
Once again, the Atticus is quite revealing of amp pairings – unlike the Elear which just sounds like itself out of them all, except for the Valhalla 2 where it had a bit of haziness – probably due to its sensitivity and low impedance - and the amp being an OTL. I am glad that I was able to compare several amplifiers with the headphones, and I really could not imagine just hearing it from a single offering and judging it completely based on that…or even two amps.
I feel like I have to repeat myself in every review, when it comes to the HD800, regarding its vast soundstage. It beats them all in terms of width, even the HE-1 didn’t match it in that regard. So, the HD800 vs. a closed headphone like the Atticus – you can do the math.
The well-known analytical nature of HD800 makes it a good headphone to complement the Atticus, if you want two headphones that cover both ends of the spectrum. It provides intense detail and air at the cost of being a bit anaemic in its midrange and muted in its bass performance. Unlike the Eikon, which takes some strengths of the HD800 and wraps it in Zach’s tuning which emphasizes natural tonality and a live sound, the Atticus prefers very much to be easier on the ears and not peaky in its treble. Its warmth is its selling point, so I feel a bit awkward saying obvious facts like the HD800 is more detailed overall – which it simply just is. What I prefer of the two depends on the genre I’m listening to and my mood.
The Atticus is definitely a headphone that is instantly impressive to those who are not in the hobby and are not striving for that micro-detailed sound (“plankton” I’ve heard it called) and just want a clear sound with great bass. I’m not saying that the Atticus is a super Beats Solo 2, but it has a far different sound signature than the HD800. I’m able to listen to more genres on the Atticus than the HD800 however, and female vocals have a lot more body on the ZMF than in the HD800 where they fall into its dip.
Weight and comfort wise, I have to give it to the HD800 – despite the weight distribution of both ZMF dynamics being quite excellent. The HD800 is substantially lighter, about 180g lighter in fact. The Atticus is 542g while the HD800 is 362g – both without cable. If you require isolation though, the Atticus is what you should choose of the two.
Audeze LCD-2 (2016 Revision)
A few weeks ago, I completed and uploaded my Audeze LCD-2 review – a headphone I quite like and felt had an edge in detail retrieval to the Atticus despite being considerably more laid back and less punchy in its sound signature. Since then, I discovered the most important final pieces of the puzzle that is evaluating the Atticus – the two Schiit amps that I prefer as a pairing.
Does it change everything about my impressions? Not exactly. The LCD-2 is still a headphone that is smooth, laid back and comprised of some shimmering detail in its treble. However, although I liked the Atticus more in my weeks-old comparison overall – it has widened its lead now. I am going to self-plagiarize now and copy some of my prior impressions:
Switching from the LCD-2 to the Atticus is revealing of just how much (the 2016 model anyway) emphasizes the availability of the shimmering detail hidden in the Audeze’s treble. Phrasing it like this would have you believe that the Atticus is completely lacking in such aspects, which is untrue, but it definitely is not as even in revealing its capabilities – requiring the right genre pairing to do so. What the Atticus has is bass, in abundance, and bass slam. It does not shy away from the electronic genres that the Audeze might be a tad laid back for, and it certainly does not mind introducing hefty low end into just about any recording.
However, this isn’t without its detriments. Master of Puppets is one album that the Atticus suffers on, due to the reliance of a midbassy sound in the mixing falling square in the region that the ZMF headphone emphasizes heavily – making the entire album from start to finish sound a bit bloated. The Atticus hits back, and hard, in electronic pop music – with its bass slam and smooth midrange going hand-in-hand to showcase the headphone’s energetic nature. The Atticus is a more “awake” experience than the LCD-2, which sounds veiled by comparison – but the LCD-2 is able to work with more genres due to its less bassy nature.
One area in particular that the LCD-2 is able to succeed, compared to the Atticus, is in older and warmer recordings – such as those by Led Zeppelin. It does quite well with guitars both electric and acoustic, while the Atticus relies on the mix and can sound a little overwhelmed with such pairings – as Led Zeppelin are from an era without snazzy modern production.
The Focal headphones are better all-rounders than the Atticus, if you like their specific sound signature and presentation enough. They also mask their source quite well, and sound like themselves out of most amplifiers I have paired them with. They are also quite a bit faster than the Atticus, and are so dynamic sounding that even at low-to-moderate listening volume you will get the full effect of sudden events in your audio.
Where the Atticus hits back, and hard, is in the midrange. The Elear, while possessing a midrange that is excellent for pianos and electric guitars, is not so suitable for vocals – especially female vocals that fall right into the area where it is heavily dipped. Also, the Elear has an aggressive midrange that is not especially lush or smooth – both characteristics of the Atticus. I would even use the term shouty for the Focal midrange, and have heard others call it grainy. However, it is definitely a headphone that handles rock and metal far better out of all that I have currently.
Both have excellent weight distribution, but the Focal is approximately 100g lighter. Both are quite intimate in soundstage.
The elder brother of the Atticus is near identical in looks and comfort, depending on wood choice. Utilizing a bio-cellulose driver, the Eikon is tuned to be more of a reference headphone than the warmer Atticus. I have heard the Eikon described as warm, and out of certain sources (the Liquid Carbon for example) it definitely is – but it is far more neutral and straightforward in presentation compared to the Atticus.
Do I think the Eikon is the better headphone? I do. The reason for this is that it merges a fun sound signature that Zach really likes with a more analytical and detailed touch to make it quite revealing of both source gear and music production/mastering. Its sub-bass extends lower than the Atticus, which is more focused on mid-bass punch, and its midrange possesses a lot more texture. The soundstage is also a bit wider, to my ears, than the Atticus. The treble extension is more pronounced, horns and stringed instruments possess quite a bit more air than on the Atticus. The Eikon, I feel, is also tuned to be more tonally accurate than the Atticus, which injects warmth and a little bloom into everything it touches.
But what do I reach for if I want to listen to just some electro-pop? The Atticus. What do I reach for when I want to listen to some smooth jazz? The Eikon. These two headphones are so distinct that I feel that they cater to two kinds of listeners in this hobby quite well. Indeed, you could own both and find yourself listening to them equally as much if you have a vast array of taste in musical genres.
The Eikon is smooth, but the Atticus is smoother and I am yet to hear a track that felt like the treble was too piercing on it. The Eikon actually can sound a little harsh up top with some poorly mastered tracks. I am told that there are slight audible differences in wood choice, but I can’t confirm this myself – but I could see it being possible due to hearing the small differences between my previously-owned cherry and cocobolo ZMF Ori.
In the month since my Eikon review, I have found myself listening to the Atticus more and more. It has matched my genre preferences these days quite well and I’m a little addicted to the smooth midrange and punchy bass. I’m absolutely sure I’ve used the words “smooth” and “punchy” several times in this review, but those really are the two front-and-foremost aspects of this headphone.
Returning to my earlier statement about the Atticus being the true continuation of the ZMF house sound of the past, I do indeed believe that this is a super-ZMF Vibro. However, I am glad that Zach took the initiative to explore another tuning for the Eikon – one that is done incredibly well and will move the brand’s known sound forward. Does this mean that the Atticus is a glimpse into the past? Not at all as there will always be those who either prefer this sound signature or want a headphone for the times when they want to be jamming out and not listening to every detail across the map of a song recording.
With these two options now available, it’s better to review the release of both as a two-some rather than individual headphones. Aspects one could argue are missing in the Atticus are present on the Eikon, and vice versa. Buying both is an expense, but with so many top-of-the-line headphones costing more than both combined (and possessing just a single sound signature), I would not be surprised if someone tried these headphones at an event and opted for both.
These are incredibly well-built headphones that tap into the areas of a listening experience that are instantly pleasing – bass and midrange. They effectively remove any possibility of sibilance, but not so much that the listener feels choked by the lack treble. They are responsive to amp pairings, and I would personally recommend a lean, dry and analytical amp with them to bring out more of the midrange and control the bass further.
Kudos to Zach for his first two in-house creations being distinct and quite excellent in their own usage.