ZMF Pendant Amp on pre order

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Scubadude, Jul 11, 2018.

  1. zach915m

    zach915m MOT: ZMF Headphones

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    Definitely worth keeping the amp on for a couple days to get the coupling cap burned in a bit, it will sound a bit less edgy and more fluid.

    Also - and the same goes for the euforia, each amp can be bent towards your tastes for sharpness and/or fluidity with different tubes, but whether it's worth all the tube hunting is always personal preference and belief in all that. :)
     
  2. johnnypaddock

    johnnypaddock Facebook Friend

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    I had a similar experience to @dematted when I compared the Pendant to the DNA Stratus awhile back. I felt the Pendant had more of a visceral impact, with better speed and dynamics. I ended up with a clear preference for the Pendant. In fairness I did have some really nice old school tubes on it, compared with fully stock for the Stratus. All of my headphones were ZMF at the time, and I remember thinking that I would prefer the Stratus with something like an HD-800. I could see that being an incredibly good combination.
     
  3. dematted

    dematted Friend

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    ZMF Pendant: A Positive Review

    My personal journey to this amp (Feel free to skip)

    This is an amp that has flown under the radar on SBAF. There are probably a few reasons for this: SBAF has its favorite amp manufacturers who have garnered the trust of the community through their continuous production of excellent amplifiers. I’m thinking, of course, of Eddie Current and Donald North Audio. For some time, I thought I would eventually upgrade to one of these two “Big-boy” amps. Perhaps a Starlett, perhaps an Aficionado or ZDS. But I eventually decided to look elsewhere. This was admittedly a little nerve-wracking: I bought most of my audio gear because of recommendations it has received on this forum, and have seldom found myself seriously misled by it.

    But I had my reasons. For one, it struck me that the overall presentation of the DNA gear just wasn’t for me: too laidback, too relaxed, and too rounded, especially when paired with an Auteur, which had become my favorite headphone. And then there’s the Eddie Current stuff: I’d love to own it, but with Eddie Current closing up shop, I felt like I should have some practical experience at soldering and amp repair before buying one of these serious, serious amps. Given that I struggled to put together something as simple as the Pi2aes, I knew this probably wasn’t for me.

    And so, based on a few recommendations in private from a few folks on SBAF, I plunged on the ZMF Pendant, buying it new from ZMF. This is my first experience with an amp of this price-range: I was, essentially, looking for something very much like the SW51+, with perhaps a bit more heft and slam in the bass, and better overall resolution. Well, I’m happy to say that it delivered: but not without some caveats and compromises. Let’s launch into the review.

    What is this amp?

    This amp is a ultralinear, transformer coupled tube amplifier, using either a 12au7, 12at7, or 12ax7 as an input tube, two EL84 driver tubes, and a 6CA4 rectifier tube.

    What’s it most obviously do well?

    This amp is one of those tube amps that lacks almost all of the characteristic defects of tube amplifiers (especially of the OTL variety). Wooly, bloated bass, overly syrupy mid-ranges, and rolled-off treble are all completely absent here. Instead, the sound leans toward the other side of things: this is an incisive, fast, dynamic amp, that brings together quick attacks and snappy, tight, well-controlled bass to deliver a highly engaging sound. I said earlier that this amp sounded somewhat like a Focal headphone, in that it prioritized speed, dynamics, and an overall sense of control over, say, nuance and texture. While I still find this true, after burning in for a bit, I can’t say is as unequivocally: if before burn-in the amp sounded like a Focal Elex, with somewhat exaggerated dynamics and a tad of edginess that some may find unpleasant, the amp after burn-in sounded more like a Clear, with dynamics and transients sounding powerful and quick but not artificial.

    The staging and imaging also shares some similarities with the Focals. Although the soundstage is fairly wide, there is a very precise and powerful center image that most of the music resides in. As a result, despite fairly precise imaging capacities, this is not a “Expansive” or even a “Holographic” experience. Instead, it is one that is both reasonably wide and reasonably deep, but certainly not close to the Eddie Current stuff, if any of the stuff I’ve read about it is true.

    This amp also knocks most technicalities out of the park. There is very clean separation between instruments, though without the depth that you’d expect from, say, a DNA amp. It is notably more resolving than either the DNA Starlett or SW51+, with a better sense of overall pacing and “Prat” than these two cheaper amps. Tonality is, as one would expect from an ultralinear amp, quite linear: this is not an amp that artificially exaggerates any bit of the frequency spectrum. It is not, in short, an amp that you should bring in to “soften” your system, but neither is it an amp that will make your system sound brighter or edgier than it is.

    How is the Bass?


    The bass is snappy, quick, and well-articulated, with perhaps the slightest focus on the mid-bass because of a lack of ultimate sub-bass extension. Bass is, in general, well-isolated from the rest of the frequency range, and the timbre of different bass instruments is well-defined. Despite this, compared to amps like the Sonett 2, the bass can sound just a tad less full, rich, and warm than one might expect: this bass very much sounds like the bass from a solid-state amplifier. Texture is good, but not out of this world: about equal to the Sonett 2, an amp half its price.

    How is the Mid-range?

    The mid-range of this amp is the best part of its frequency response. Despite not possessing the richness or wetness of something like the DNA Sonett 2, it’s timbre has sufficient saturation to make it sound quite realistic. Vocals are fantastically clear and articulate, with just a modicum of warmth but nothing straying into overt coloration. This may make it less forgiving of poor recordings, but on excellent recordings the mid-range has a sense of calm, cool power and rhythm.

    In fact, I found the mid-range timbre of this amp to be superior to that of the Sonett 2: both guitars and vocals sound more vibrant and alive. Instruments in general sound more “visceral” and present, melding less into the surrounding soundscape and instead sticking out and making themselves heard. In this regard, this amp beats both the Sonett 2 and the SW51+, though it beats the former by a much larger margin here.

    Compared to amps like the Sonett 2 and SW51+, the mid-range can sound just a tad recessed when compared to other parts of the FR, probably largely due to the more present, punchy bass of the Pendant, as well as superior and more present treble. However, my ears adjusted to this very quickly, and I find this to be a good match tonally for the mid-focused Auteur.

    How is the Treble?

    The treble is fully-extended: to my ears, better extended than both the Sonett 2 and SW51+, with more of a sense of air than either. The overall presentation of the treble is different than that of both of these amps: it is notably more present and more flashy than either of these amps. Whereas the SW51+ has a somewhat bouncy lower treble but sounds more recessed in the upper treble and the Sonett 2 has its unique party trick of presenting tons of treble information without making treble sound overly present, the Pendant instead is not shy at all about presenting an extremely present, active, energetic treble.

    Be warned: with a brighter headphone, I’m fairly sure that this can get fatiguing pretty quick, despite the treble sounding very smooth and lacking any sort of bothersome “edge”. In fact, I didn’t really like the treble response of this amp with my JAR HD600, especially when paired with the Soekris 2541. However, with the Auteur, this amp is just what the headphone needs to be pushed even further into neutral territory.

    One other note: compared to other amps like the SW51+, there seems to be more isolation between the treble and the mid-range. By this, I think I mean that less midrange “warmth” gets in the way of the treble. In short, the Pendant makes both the SW51+ and Sonett 2 sound a little warm and rounded in the treble, at the cost of the treble in the Pendant sounding not quite as cohesively connected to the rest of the frequency response.

    What does this amp do poorly?

    At first, I thought this amp didn’t do micro-dynamics too well. However, I think on closer listening, this amp just tends to focus more on macro-dynamics than on smaller shifts in volume, so it’s easier to notice the former. The micro-dynamics here are actually a small step up from both the Sonett 2 and SW51+, but is probably not best in its class (From what I’ve read of the Starlett and higher-end EC stuff, I think they’d beat it). So I suppose, technically speaking, this amp does do “poorly” here.

    I haven’t used this word a lot in audio reviews, but I think that what this amp lacks the most is a sense of texture and plankton. Although it is quite detailed, both the the SW51+ and the Sonett 2 (especially the latter, though) have a sense of realism to the presentation of individual instruments that the Pendant lacks. To be clear, the sound as a -whole- seems more realistic and even more natural on the Pendant, largely because of its improved technicalities, fantastic tonal balance, and mid-range transparency and vibrancy. However, when listening to a single instrument, the sense of texture and realism lags behind these two amps. A violin will sound crisp, clear, and clean, but will lack that final bit of texture that makes it sound like a -violin-. As a result, I really don’t recommend pairing this amp with headphones that don’t already do this well, unless you don’t care about this sort of thing.

    Compare this directly to the SW51+

    In many respects, this amp is a “big brother” of the SW51+, as someone once said to me. Tonally and timbrally, these amps are extremely similar, with the Pendant lifting many of the inherent technical limitations of the SW51+ and improving on its already solid vibrancy, transient speed, and dynamics. However, I think the SW51+ is more versatile, in that it will work with more headphones because of its slightly less edgy overall sonic presentation, and I also think the SW51+ contains some magic pixie-dust in its mid-range to treble cohesiveness that the Pendant comes close to but ultimately does not possess. In short, the SW51+ sounds a bit more coherent in its transition from mid-range to treble, while the Pendant tends to instead place a greater emphasis on how the treble sparkles and stands out from the mid-range.

    What headphones do you recommend with this amp?

    Unlike an amp like the Starlett, which is said to do well with a -lot- of headphones, I’m not really sure that the Pendant would be the best fit for many headphones. Although I think it will work very well with ZMF headphones (especially the Auteur), I think it would probably only be a good match for Focal stuff if one uses warmer tubes and has a warmer r2r dac in the mix, like the Bifrost 2.

    I think the Auteur is really a fantastic pairing. This is a synergistic amp in the sense that this covers up the weaknesses in the Auteur: it gives the Auteur’s drivers power, slam, and impact, something that many feel like they lack. On the Pendant, the Auteur sounds focused, tight, and vibrant, all traits it lacks when paired with something like the Sonett 2.

    You know you want to make one of those Spider Charts...


    Screenshot (31).png
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2021
  4. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    Nice write up! IIRC, this amp is a collaboration with ampsandsound, right? I know they have some admirers on here, including at least one person who bought one of their amps straight up at a show.

    Also I was curious if you had gotten one of the new models that have a stepped attenuator and Jupiter caps?
     
  5. dematted

    dematted Friend

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    I didn't get the new model, no! It's an extra $500, and I thought I could pass on those two upgrades and save$500. And yes, this is with ampsandsound, though from what I've read this amp seems pretty different from a lot of their other offerings.
     
  6. Elnrik

    Elnrik Super Friendly

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    Great review! I think my opinions match yours closely.

    One thing I noticed on my Pendant is that some tubes just don't work to compliment the ability of the amp (Mullard), but others excel very well (Amprex/Telefunkens). Mind if I ask which tubes you run?
     
  7. dematted

    dematted Friend

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    I really should have mentioned that in my review! I very much agree with what you said: I am not a fan of the way that Mullard input tubes worked in this amp (CV4003 12AU7, in particular), but -really- liked the Genalex new-production 12AU7 Gold lion Gold-pin. Fantastic sounding tube with lots of mid-range detail and transparency. For driver tubes, I run some Tungsram "ei" EL84's, and I just use the stock rectifier tubes. The Tungsram's add a bit more depth/width to the stage and some additional texture to instruments.
     
  8. will_f

    will_f Friend

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    Nice review @dematted . Based on my experience with the Auteur, I can totally see how this amp would be a great pairing.
     
  9. ampsandsound

    ampsandsound MOT - Ampsandsound

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    Thanks for the through review... the graph is super cool.
     
  10. johnnypaddock

    johnnypaddock Facebook Friend

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    I actually had the same impression on my Pendant. I didn't like the Mullard CV4003 at all. I was somewhat surprised because I've enjoyed the hell out of that tube in other applications. For the input tubes I've also had the best luck with Amperex and Telefunken, with Siemens close behind.

    My favorite EL84 tubes to this point have been Amperex, which I've used for a few years. I recently picked up a pair of old Mullards for those slots and I've been pretty impressed. They don't have an overly warm sound like the CV4003 has. I think the Mullard reputation for warmth comes mostly from the 12a__ tubes.
     

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