In a time not too long ago, in this very galaxy, “Lightning Crashes” by the band Live was crushing the top 100. I may perhaps be dating myself, but when Zach Merbach from ZMF headphones loaded up this song for me to listen to at the Ear Gear Expo at AXPONA this year, a virtual wave of nostalgia crashed over me.
Words and Photos by Brian Hunter
The tidy Ear Gear Expo convention room filled with personal audio goodness was right off the main strip this year, and things were buzzing when I strolled in about half past 10 on Friday morning. Things were very busy that morning in Schaumburg, as far as audio show timings go. Saturdays are usually the biggest days, with a slow trickle on Sundays. But this Friday morning was certainly packed around the ZMF table, and I had to wait a while to even get a chance to sit down and listen to the new shiny thing that Zach had prepared for the eager ears.
That new shiny thing was the upcoming closed back version of his popular Atrium headphone, due out April 28th ($2.5k for stock wood cups). Listening to “Lightning Crashes,” I immediately noticed a droning buzz present throughout the intro. A bit shocked I muted the song, and much to my relief, the static-like presence disappeared. It was then I remembered that some of the tracks feature what guitars call a “flanger” effect. One of the unfortunate side effects of the augmentation in this song is the previously mentioned buzz in the mid band.
Nostalgia aside, the new prototype was able to hold court at Ear Gear Expo with a great sense of ease in the higher registers, with excellent top end articulation and reach. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was the expansive soundstage up and out. Closed back headphones are notoriously, well, closed sounding. But the new Atrium Closed-Back managed to eke out a little more distance that I was expecting. Now it is true that there are some vents located just above where the suspension system meets the cup, but isolation both in and out was pretty fantastic and that (at least to me) is what “closed” is intended to mean in this type of execution. Overall I think fans of the brand will be very pleased with the option, and given the company’s success in the market, is a bar they manage to hit more often than not.
Across the way from ZMF at Ear Gear Expo was a table loaded with Grado, Focal, Audeze and AudioQuest all pumping tunes courtesy of the high resolution streaming service Qobuz. The digital music option has very thoughtfully placed themselves around the audiophile scene, often making appearances at hifi shows across the US and lending their support. Managing director Dan Mackta was manning the booth in Ear Gear Expo that morning, and every combination they had on display sounded distinctly good in its own way. My expiernce with the service has been overwhelming positive, and I continue to use it for reviews and listening sessions that require solid reference source material.
Directly adjacent to the ZMF table at Ear Gear Expo was a few new items from IEM maker Campfire Audio. Always pushing out creative executions in both branding and packaging, the latest updates to the expansive line up include the Andromeda “Emerald Sea” ($1.45k), Solaris “Stellar Horizon” ($2.67k) and Trifecta “Astral Plane” ($3,375). Opting for a more elaborate naming tagline than some of the yearly coding of previous models, the new offerings also make bigger moves into the audio “jewelry” department with very cool industrial design (along with more designer pricing). Their Andromeda version has long been my favorite flavor of universal fit IEM, so I am eager to see how the models upstream from that amazing piece perform in the market.
Alongside the new earphones at Ear Gear Expo, I got a special peek at a cool display/stand that Campfire produces which actually folds down and holds an IEM in a similar fashion as the demo standees on the show floor. I was told that the Portland based company designs and constructs some of the wood accessories in house, which is pretty cool considering the wide array of design choices available. Also available in their store is some design heavy trading cards, which feature “46 Total Cards, Chronicling All Eras of Campfire”. You can see the new box in action in our Facebook Reels feed located here. We were actually able to cover a ton of video from the rooms and tables at AXPONA this year, so if you prefer a little more visual stimuli subscribe to the page to see what its like to attend as it all unfolds during the weekend.
If you would like to hear even more coverage from AXPONA 2023, you can listen our recap report and highlights from our audiophile-oriented show The Occasional Podcast. You can stream the episode direct from the embed below, or from your favorite podcast platform including iTunes, Android, Google, Deezer, Spotify, iHeartRadio and more.
Also don’t forget to check out our collaboration to commemorate the event with our solid bronze record weight available only for a limited run. This 800 grams of solid bronze features the PTA roundel on the top with also acts as a 45 adapter. You can purchase direct from the PTA Approved Store here on the site.