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Christmas Gift Guide
Headphones

The ZMF headphones are hand-crafted like musical instruments

The Audiophiliac auditions a set of ZMF Eikon headphones.

The ZMF Eikon headphones I'm reviewing today are hand-made, and each one is tested, tuned and listened to by Zach Mehrbach, ZMF's designer and owner.

If I had to describe the headphone's sound with one word I'd start with "right." Voices are so natural, so full of life, so engaging. The Eikon made recordings sound better than I thought they were. I had a hard time taking notes for this review, I just wanted to keep listening.

The ZMF Eikon headphones in African Padauk wood.

ZMF Headphones

Eikons are hand-assembled and finished, so each one is unique. The ear cups are constructed from a solid piece of Cherry or African Padauk wood, and get multiple coats of hand-wiped varnish finish. Or you can order your Eikon with a high-gloss lacquer finish. The headphones feature proprietary biocellulose 50 mm drivers, and sumptuously thick lambskin-covered ear pads that feel delicious and are oh-so comfortable. The cables are user-replaceable, and impedance is rated at 300 ohms. It may be a big, heavy headphone, but it's easy to wear. Isolation from external noise is average for a closed-back headphone. The Eikon comes with a crushproof Seahorse SE-430 carry case.

For most of my listening tests I used a Cavalli Audio Liquid Carbon 2.0 amplifier or an iPhone 6S partnered with an AudioQuest DragonFly Red digital converter-headphone amp. I also wanted to use a tube headphone amp, so late in the review process I brought out my old Bottlehead Crack amp. Everything I liked about the Eikon's sound got better with the Crack; this headphone seems to like tube amplifiers.

I listened to all sorts of music and dug deep into early British punk rockers Buzzcocks' maximum racket. I savored every splintered distorted second of it.

To calm down I turned to the Kronos String Quartet's "Early Music" album with music spanning the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The delicate beauty of the violins, viola and cello was perfect, they sounded whole, full-bodied and real.

I spent some time comparing the Eikon with a set of Audeze LCD 3 Fazor headphones, and the Eikon was tonally richer, with superior resolution of quiet sounds. The Eikon's imaging was a tiny bit more spacious than the open-back LCD-3 Fazor, so the sound wasn't as contained inside my head. The LCD-3 Fazor countered with deeper, more impactful bass, the Eikon's low-end was leaner and lighter.

The ZMF Eikon runs $1,299, £1,038, AU$1,694 in Cherry wood and $1,399, £1,118, AU$1,824 in African Padauk wood and can go up slightly with the buyer's choice of cable options. Each Eikon is built to order, with current waiting time at two months.

The ZMF Eikon comes with a one-year warranty on the complete headphone, a lifetime warranty on the driver and a 14-day return policy (worldwide), with a 25 percent return fee.