June 03, 2019 7 min read
This unit was sent to me for review by ZMF Headphones. Special thanks to them for sending me the Pendant for review. Some time back if any one in the headphone forums can recall, ZMF has wanted to release a headphone amplifier that would not only be a good amp for his headphones but for others as well. At a meet I got to hear a prototype, and while it wasn’t bad. It seemed like it needed some work before release. After partnering up with Justin from Ampsandsound, they released the ZMF Pendant together under the ZMF brand with the same style of aesthetics and layout as other Ampsandsound designs.
The amplifier can be purchased at ZMF site below and order from there.
• EL84 drivers, 12au/t/x7 input, 6CA4 rectifier tubes
• High and Low-Z outputs. 8 ohms and 300 ohms for use with virtually any high end headphone
• 3 Watts @ 8 ohms & 2.5 Watts @ 300 ohm
• Matte Black or custom wood chassis (base)
• Custom choke for dead quiet sound reproduction
• Optional vintage tube set
◦ 12au7, 12at7 and 12ax7
Finish and looks
The ZMF PENDANT looks and feels just like all of Ampsandsound amplifiers. The unit I have for review has a nice striped wooden chassis with the same no frills, simple, yet eye catching design as other units. The ZMF logo goes nice and I can only imagine the unit in all black. That would be my personal preference all though as is, I have no complaints.
The volume control is very smooth and super easy to get your ideal volume. No complaints here .
For review I paired it with the HD800 and the ZMF Verite. I found that the amplifier was very well behaved on the lower impedance but lacked a bit of slam and bloom. The higher impedance output (300 ohms) of the amplifier worked very well with the Verite, opening it up, giving it some air and room to breathe, as well as keeping good composure. The lower impedance jack is 8 ohms which worked very well with my brief audition of it with the Utopia.
The amplifier uses one EL84, two 6CA4’s and one 12AX7. I didn’t do much tube rolling because the ones shipped had me set from go with no want of tube rolling.
As the company boasts, the amplifier is very quiet. At some point I had noise from the unit but leaving it on for a while made it all disappear. Very low distortion and super clean sound from the Pendant.
I always feel like Ampsandsound underrates their output numbers. I always have plenty of room on the dial left over where other amplifiers I have tested do not seem that way. The pendant should have plenty of power for most of your headphones and even perform as the only amplifier someone may need with a variety of headphones.
• BASS EXTENSION89%89%
• BASS BALANCE94%94%
• LOWER MIDRANGE BALANCE95%95%
• MIDRANGE PROPER BALANCE98%98%
• UPPER MIDRANGE BALANCE98%98%
• TREBLE BALANCE97%97%
• TREBLE EXTENSION95%95%
• BASS CONTROL92%92%
• TONE DENSITY (BODY , OPPOSITE OF THINNESS)88%88%
• MACRO DYNAMICS (SOFTS TO LOUDS)96%96%
• MICRO DYNAMICS (SMALL GRADATIONS OF VOLUME)91%91%
• SOUND STAGE WIDTH90%90%
• SOUND STAGE DEPTH80%80%
• BLACKNESS OF BACKGROUND93%93%
The bass of the Pendant is substantial enough to deliver the proper weight and foundation to any song thrown at it. It is taught, relatively punchy and quick but not as heavy handed as the Mogwai SE from the same developer. Compared to the same, my memory has this unit sounding a little more tight and sharp. It is not the amplifier to use if you want to take a bass light headphone and make it slam hard, meaning no emphasis here, but it is not bass shy at all. It made a near perfect pairing with the ever gradient Aeolus from ZMF because the headphone is already fun and this amplifier held the reigns of its delivery; keeping it far from ever getting sloppy. The amplifier has some chops though and paired with the wonderful bass of the Schiit Yggdrasil A2 can hardly leave anyone wanting. It is neutral with a very even keel delivery. It has some good weight to it with average density and yet top of the line control. However what it does do is POP. No compressed bass here. That solid state tightness and focus is here but that tube elasticity and expressiveness is here as well. I did get a chance to A/B it next to a buddies Aficionado with upgraded caps and other tweaks. The Aficionado had what seemed to give a little more depth and weight to the bass but the focus was very similar, yet at times the Pendant felt faster.
The midrange of the Pendant is very very open. Not only is it one of the best balanced tube amplifiers I have heard at this price, I would say it is just as balanced as any piece of gear I have heard period. Voices are very clear and have what seems to be a limitless ceiling on them. There is no grain or harshness on the Pendant and it sounds very effortless. It is not the thick and gooey midrange you get from a lot of fully tube amplifiers. In fact it almost sounds like solid state or a hybrid amplifier in balance and transient response but without the sterility and thinness associated with a lot of solid state gear. Female voices took off with the Pendant and Male voices had all of the rasp and throatiness I expected to hear. I like to hear female voices on the Pendant. I am sure tube rolling with yield different results but you can tell the amplifier was not tuned to flatter as much as it was made to be accurate and open. I wanted to say that there was an upper midrange emphasis that helped the Verite out in that area but comparisons just proved it to be neutral. What sounds beautiful on the midrange of the Pendant is bite and crunchiness of the instruments; those aspects are not smoothed over and the textures are very realistic and detailed.
The treble is pretty clear and well extended. If you have different DACs on hand, the Pendant will let you easily hear the differences. I am not sure if this unit has output transformers built in but this is one of those amplifiers that if there is an option to add it, I would for sure. The treble is airy and open with good details that emerge from a neutral balance. This is not the amplifier to buy if you want to warm up your system or smooth over some sibilance. As I have it here in this system, some tube lovers may call it just a shade bright for a tube amplifier with clean and intelligent tonality. Take another amplifier and you would have to purchase brighter and neutral tubes to get it to sound like how this unit comes stock to your door. No need to try to upgrade the tubes for more clarity, the Pendant ships with that in spades. Cymbals crashes are never too harsh and there are no peaks of annoyance in the amplifiers balance. I actually think this is one of the best treble bands I have heard from an amplifier.
Soundstage has very good height and depth to it. It feels like the soundstage is roomy and open even if it is not super large. It never feels claustrophobic and I wonder if it is bigger than the Mogwai SE that was my favorite amplifier at one point. The Aficionado is bigger for sure but the difference was not overly disparaging. To put it simply, the Pendant has a good soundstage size that should make most people happy. The imaging is very good and the separation is top notch as well as is resolution. The amplifier kind of reminds me of the Taboo MKIV overall but better with more weight, bite, and openness. The clarity however is stellar, I found it to sound even more clear than the Aficionado I compared it to.
Dynamics on the Pendant are wonderful. Percussion seems to snap and pop with such a wonderful freedom of expression. The nuances as well are very very well rendered. This is end game performance for what blows away anything under its price and beats most of the amplifiers that cost more. The dynamic range is good as well. I personally like a bit more body and meatiness like the Mogwai SE but I think this amplifier may beat it in terms of technicalities and balance. It sounds cleaner for sure and the background is very clean. While this would not be my absolute favorite amplifier, I definitely don’t know a tube amplifier that is objectively better for the same price. I mean this is all subjective really but merit by merit, this thing is a beast.
ZMF and Ampsandsound coming together is sound done right. I actually would have expected them to make something more romantic sounding and niche, but they made a unit that is very practical, clean, and neutral. That serves the warm house sound of ZMF headphones very well and this is a no brainer pairing for most if not all of Zachs headphones. There seems to be a trend on my site for these two brands continually showing up with the goods. I am glad they teamed to make a very good product here. The Pendant shows that two heads are better than one. I am going to remove the Mogwai SE and put this amp in its place. I have a personal preference for the Mogwai because it slams harder and gives me a bit more romance and warmth, but this unit is just as technical and in some ways sounds more precise and quieter for a thousand dollars less. It is the better deal for sure.