Blog: High End Munich 2024 Preview – Part 3 – Munich First


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ZMF Headphones

ZMF Aegis

Amps like the Aegis, that are transformer coupled, possess the ability to output at different impedances to match both objective headphone power needs, and subjective preferences, as well as delivering ample power at the different impedances of each driver. ZMF has headphones of varying needs, that benefit from headroom above their power requirements. The Aegis possesses the power, malleability, and timbral characterizes to make every ZMF and really any dynamic or planar headphone shine. The 4.4mm jack on the Aegis uses a voltage divider, which in layman’s terms means that you can use very sensitive IEMs and headphones on the 4.4mm, and still have full use of the range of the volume knob.

Being a transformer coupled amp, the Aegis has a LOT of IRON in transformers, chokes, and a huge power supply. All of this means that the “foundation” of sound coming from the Aegis is substantial, and you can hear it. We may be able to change the aesthetic of the Aegis from time to time, but since we use an OEM to make the Aegis, it will likely be at most changes once per year.

You can make the Aegis yourself and full instructions for the DIY versions of the Aegis are available online.

Insights from Keenan – the designer of the Aegis:

Tube amplifiers offer a unique listening experience that is euphonic, natural, and musical made possible by simple circuits with clean signal paths. Most people are shocked at the clarity and spaciousness that tube amplifiers can achieve, it’s something everyone should try at least once. Listening is believing!

Generally, single-ended triode amplifiers achieve 3:1 damping ratios, meaning the headphone impedance is at least 3x the output impedance of the amplifier. But some may prefer either higher or lower damping ratios. You can try the various impedance settings and see what sounds best to you with your favorite headphones, there is no hard and fast rule.

I learned to design single-ended tube amps by experimentation, coming up with circuit ideas, prototyping them in the real world, then listening and measuring. A high degree of clarity, spaciousness, and musicality can be achieved in a tube amp if following simple design rules. That means keeping signal paths short, the circuits simple, and the distortion relatively low within the confines of single-ended tube design.

On average, Aegis is a 2-watt amplifier, although power output will be slightly higher or lower depending on the impedance setting and headphone impedance. Headphone transducers are low power devices requiring power outputs on the order of milliwatts; 2 watts of power is plenty to drive even the most demanding headphones. Power output is a function of the amplifier’s output voltage and the impedance of the headphone transducer; power will vary depending on the impedance setting and the headphone being used. Amplifier gain is the degree to which an amplifier boosts the input signal voltage, usually expressed in decibels (dB).

Caldera Closed

We as ZMF always try to tune each ZMF to be part of my personal collection, and when it comes to closed versions, I typically like a slightly more “easy going” sound with a sub-bass accentuation. It helps the closed environment sound punchy, because without the “open air” design of an open back, the low bass helps a closed back sound bigger. My findings have been that open and closed back headphones need different frequency response tunings to sound their best. Between the different tuning, the environmental isolation or lack there-of, and the differences in presentation, it can be a lot of fun to compare the open and closed experience.

The Caldera Closed is inspired by Caldera Volcano’s and old-time banjos. As the inner volume of the cup expanded to satiate the needs of the Caldera driver, the volcano got bigger, and we increased the concave curves and angular asymmetrical nature of the cup. Take a look at old Cole’s Eclipse banjos and the neck heal carve, as well as the unique edges of Caldera Volcanic mountains, and you’ll see what we were after!

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4.6/5 - (128 votes)

Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

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