Buying a Zhalou DAC from Hong Kong
Jun 12, 2007 at 7:13 PM Post #31 of 52
Sinwerm: Would you have any problem playing games if you were to turn on EAX and use the Zhalou?

Thanks for the cables shop suggestion. Unfortunately I live in the UK and there simply isn't as much choices for online retailers. I will go to town this weekend to take a look at a few shops.

d-cee, Sinwerm, thank you both for the informative reply.
Jun 14, 2007 at 2:51 AM Post #32 of 52
Never tried the EAX with the Zhaolu no point really it's 2 channel. Just make sure you fully uninstall the the audigy before the X-fi drivers. Really you should be very happy with the DSP in the X-fi for gaming their is none better.
Jun 20, 2007 at 8:44 PM Post #33 of 52
Just got my Zhalou now!

When I first listened to the Zhalou, the output was doing all kind of weird stuff (weird background sounds, vocal being too sharp, etc) which had me worried! I was regretting buying cheap chinese goods at the back of my mind. After giving it a good short burn in time, the unit returned to normal

The first thing that's hit me when I am listening to this unit is: DETAIL! I am able to pick out stuff I've never heard before! My listening experience is now more demanding.

The Audigy 2 had a piecing sharpness at treble which was taken away by the zhalou. Since the A900 is so source independent, I have to say that I can't feel any major difference in the "colour" of the sound. The improvement to the soundstage is impressive even for the A900! I now feel the headphone is letting down the source instead of the other way around. With the zhalou's headamps, I feel confident that it can drive a much more difficult headphone.

Btw, all this listening is done on the s/ptif out of my onboard soundcard (due to some **** up with Ebuyers my x-fi still hasn't arrived yet). I am ready for another upgrade in sound from the x-fi (although I think the difference will be smaller).

Thank you everyone who has replied to my many questions! Without you guys I would not be listening to this great sound. If I am not drained by work this weekend I hope to write an summary of what I've learnt from this experience.
Jun 21, 2007 at 4:11 AM Post #34 of 52
Glad to hear you like the way the Zhalou sounds. Let it burn in for awhile before you form any opinions of the sound. The blackgates are notorious for a very long burn in cycle and can sound a bit thin at the start. If your not running bit perfect from your on-board sound you should actually see a nice improvement when you do with the X-fi. Just a side note if your unit totally dies first place to look is the fuse tray in the back , quite a few have had this happen in the first few days/weeks of operation. Should be a spare fuse in the internal tray no big deal just seems to go with the overseas shipping and burn in. Also if you feel up to it you must try the LM4562 na op-amps they are fantastic. It's just a simple plug in part no skill needed.
Jun 21, 2007 at 5:29 AM Post #35 of 52
great news! i noticed an improvement when going from not so bit perfect to bit perfect subtle though, probably not as large an improvement as you're experiencing now

did eddie throw in any opamps for you? i think he usually throws in a couple to play around with
Jun 21, 2007 at 8:07 PM Post #36 of 52

If your not running bit perfect from your on-board sound you should actually see a nice improvement when you do with the X-fi.

Yes, I expect a good improvement from my crappy onboard realtek to the x-fi! Atm the sound is still a little bit noisy. Also, I am going to be changing the cable from the ones eddie supplied to something a little better. Although in saying that, I am pretty pleased with the sound already so even if the improvements are slight I feel I've got my money's worth.

In regards to burn in, do you think it's effective just sending music to the zhalou without plugging in the headamps? Or would that actually damage the unit?


did eddie throw in any opamps for you?

I saw some microchips with some cables. Haven't properly checked out what they are yet. Will do so this weekend!

I have to say I am curious to see the insides of the zhalou. I physically can't see any stickers which would indicated the case is opened. However, I would hate to open it to lose the warranty. Do you think whether Eddie can tell if I've opened the case or not?
Jun 21, 2007 at 11:46 PM Post #37 of 52

Originally Posted by Progenitor /img/forum/go_quote.gif
I saw some microchips with some cables. Haven't properly checked out what they are yet. Will do so this weekend!

I have to say I am curious to see the insides of the zhalou. I physically can't see any stickers which would indicated the case is opened. However, I would hate to open it to lose the warranty. Do you think whether Eddie can tell if I've opened the case or not?

well they're probably the opamps see what markings are on there

i dont imagine opening the case voids it, since he threw in opamps for you
Jun 23, 2007 at 5:37 AM Post #38 of 52
I would say let it burn-in with the headphone amp running and a set a phones plugged in , components in the amp also need to burn in. Not sure how the warranty works with eddie since shipping there and back for me would be about 100 USD in any reasonable amount of time hence I did not worry about working my unit. Have fun , but yes the better equipment does change the way you will listen to things , it's really cool to hear a song you know by heart and then for the first time notice a second backing guitar or a dubbed in background vocal.
Jul 7, 2007 at 5:09 PM Post #39 of 52
hm, oh shoot, i'm heading over to HK tomorrow. i need some quick tidbits.

Does Eddie speak english very well(well, i speak cantonese, but i do not know and technical audio terms in cantonese)?
Does Eddie have Zhaolu s on the spot; eddie modded, or unmodded?
If i happen to get a eddie modded Zhaolu, could I still do a Zapfilter Mod or Ori mod?
I get a 110/115/120v for the US, correct?
what's general price range HKD and/or USD?
Also what's simple jist of the CS and AD board with the 1.3, 2.0, 2.5 versions?

aii, so rushed, not sure if i'm able to grab a Zhaolu while i'm here, but hopefully i can audition one.

Jul 7, 2007 at 11:20 PM Post #40 of 52
I don't know how well Eddie speaks english because I didn't go there myself, and we communicated everything I wanted via email anyway. His email seems to indicate that he knows all the English technical terms very well.

He had one modded with blackgate on the spot when I was communicating with him. I am guessing it'll be a matter or luck.

Ori seems to be happy to accept Zhaolu for modding. I am guessing if you buy the 2.5A version or have the AD board he would be happy to mod it for you.

From what Eddie told me, his version is both 120V + 220V comparable. I live in the UK so this wasn't an issue with me (same power requirement as Hong Kong).

The below is from my earlier post in this thread:

Unit (AD-1852) $1480HKD
Upgrade headamp $330 HKD
Mod Black gate $342 HKD
Total $2152 HKD

This assumes you are using HKD to pay. USD would be a bit more expensive.

I only research about 2.5: AD board gives better sound stage, and is better on treble and bass. However, the AD board is harsh. This agrees with what I have been listening to so far. The treble can sometimes be tad a little overbearing with my ATH-A900. I have not heard the CS board but from the forum they say it's more smooth and more warm.

If you are using a headphone, I heavily recommend the Headphone amp. The amp can deliver a lot of power, without losing sound quality. The A900 isn't a demanding headphone, but I've cracked up the power to see what it can do, and I came away impressed.

Hope this helps! He is very quick on email responses. Eddie is a pretty nice guy to communicate with so I would give him an email in advance.

Good luck!
Jul 8, 2007 at 8:18 AM Post #41 of 52

Originally Posted by gamer539 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Does Eddie speak english very well !

There is no worry speaking with Eddie.
The problem would be some components are out of stock or need time to build.

Good luck and enjoy your trip.
Aug 27, 2007 at 10:59 PM Post #42 of 52
I have been using this unit for a fair amount of time now (around 3 months) and I figured that I should speak about my experience for future buyers of the Zhaolu.

Must do when buying the Zhaolu
First, here's my list of must do for anyone who has bought the Zhaolu:
  1. Change the coax cable to something better
  2. Change the LT-1057 Op-amp
  3. Get the discrete amp upgrade if you don't already have an amp and don't intend to buy one

Changing the cable takes away the thinness of the sound and makes the sound feel more full bodied. I am normally a scientific guy, and normally I am not convinced that a cable would change so much. However, I have decided to trust my own ears and not worry too much about the issue. Ori has recommended changing the power cable as well which I suspect will make the unit sound clearer. However, I have already spent too much money on audio for the time being and will rest a bit on my upgrades first.

The LT-1057 Op-amp is very fun to listen to in that it will make your bass sound crazy. However, the trade off is a very sibilance high which just sounds awful on my A900 (which is already quite a bright phone). I have changed this to the LM4897NA which took away some of the fun in the bass, but the overall sound is much better.

The "discrete amp" upgrade on the headamp stage is excellent. It is able to deliver reasonably high volume without sounding overstretch. There is an op-amp on the unit itself (with marking 0820 JRC 30870) which I suspect I can change to get a better sound. However, my investigation on head-fi found nothing. I am pretty pleased with it, and I am only going to buy a tube amp to compliment this unit (darkvoice 336i which should be arriving next month).

My experience with the Zhaolu
My Zhaolu is the Zhaolu 2.5A with the discrete headamp upgrade and the black gates mod. The below experience assumes all of the above "must do" have been done.

Firstly, my equipment experience: My everyday experience in source is still rather limited so I can only compare this unit with the Audigy 2 and the X-Fi. Since buying the Zhaolu, I have heard from expensive CDP sources but not for extensive period of time. The headphone I am currently using with the Zhaolu is an Audio Technica ATH-A900 and the Sennheiser HD650. The A900 does not require the use of an amp, while the HD650 would sound awful without an amp at high volume.

First, my opinion of the sound coming out of the Zhaolu itself. The unit favour a more "fun" approach to sound. This is very evident in the soundstage of the unit and the bass. I have not heard a professional CDP put the soundstage as wide as the Zhaolu. The low bass of the Zhaolu have a certain punch which sounds very pleasant for R&B. The mid-bass have a certain sound of authority . Nothing in the high is highlighted and the mids sounds rather neutral. Personally, I feel that this is a good point of the Zhaolu. The warmth should be changed by the amp and the headphones rather than at the source. Because of the soundstage of the unit, at no point do I feel that the bass has covered the rest of the music.

The most noticeable change on the Zhaolu when I swap quickly between the soundcard and the zhaolu is the soundstage. The Zhaolu produces a wide soundstage which projects sound all around your head whereas using soundcards, the sound is very concentrated and sounds more intimate. The soundstage produced by the zhaolu can sound unnatural (a lot of the sound is concentrated around 120 degree and the 240 degree area) and there is a lack of forward projection (I don't feel a lot of sound in front of me). However, I think this is more down to my own set of ears rather than any flaw of the Zhaolu. After spending a bit of time with the Zhaolu, the soundstage is definitely welcomed and I would miss listening to music without it. The expanded soundstage works well with the A900 which already have a large soundstage without the help of the Zhaolu. (sidenote: the A900 is definitely source dependent. Soundstage is one area where having a good DAC helps. The A900 just do not demand a good amp). With the Sennheiser, the soundstage is still there, but is a lot closer. With the Audio Technica, I sometimes feel sound that's a feet away. With the Sennheiser, the maximum distance is 1/4 feet. It's fun to be able to swap phones!

The difference in details between the Zhaolu and Audigy 2 is audible but require critical listening to spot. The difference between the Zhaolu and the X-Fi requires certain type of music to spot. The Zhaolu excels against both the x-fi and the audigy 2 in the body of the music. The Zhaolu never sound thin to me.

As commented above, the discrete amp is a very worthwhile upgrade for so cheap. The HD650 is a moderately hard phone to drive. At max volume on the Audigy 2, the sound coming out of the HD650 sounds harsh. On the Zhaolu, I rarely have to turn above 180 degree on the volume knob before the HD650 sounds too loud. At maximum volume, the sound coming out of the HD650 do not sound harsh at all, and I feel the Zhaolu can handle the phone well. I cannot comment on the quality of the sound since I have not had the chance to compare against another amp.

So is the Zhaolu worth the price of the upgrade? My answer is yes if your onboard soundcard already have an coax connector, or you already have an existing soundcard with a coax connector. The Zhaolu sound almost identical coming out of the Audigy 2, my onboard soundcard, and my X-Fi. The total cost of the Zhaolu was around £140. Considering I had to spend £60 to buy the X-Fi, the Zhaolu was definitely worth the extra £80. Having an external unit with volume control for your headphones to plug into is a very nice convenience. If you already have the X-Fi, I would still think the Zhaolu is a very nice improvement on the sound. Unfortunately I can't speak about comparing the Zhaolu against the Beresford which is an £110 DAC in the UK. Unfortunately there are not many head to head with the Zhaolu vs the Beresford. I feel that UK buyers considering buying the Zhaolu should also do research on the Beresford and come to their own conclusion.

I am sure that this write up has several points which betrays my lack of experience in this hobby. If you do feel that you disagree with any point of this write up, please let me know. I find that in addition to the pleasure of good sounds, the best thing about this hobby is the different way I listen to music than previously. In addition to critically listening to the music, I find myself being concious of the way music is created and then transmitted to my ears.
Aug 28, 2007 at 3:20 PM Post #44 of 52
Nice to hear another user review. Congratulations, Progenitor.
Aug 28, 2007 at 6:51 PM Post #45 of 52
Thank you to the both of you as well! I have asked many questions in this forum and both of you have answered a lot of them!

I probably will make one more update when I've received both the Darkvoice and the RS2...can't wait!

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