Zorloo ZuperDAC Review by mark2410

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by mark2410, Dec 1, 2015.
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  1. mark2410 Contributor
    Zorloo ZuperDAC Review
    TLDR?  Try here http://www.head-fi.org/t/789656/zorloo-zuperdac-review-by-mark2410#post_12122642
    Thanks to Zorloo for the sample. 
    First impressions:  Ooooh itty bitty box.  I know the DAC is small so presumably there’s not much else in there.  Ah I was right.  Just the DAC and a little instruction booklet.  No cables.  I’m good with that as I’m a believer in not including, and hence paying for stuff you won’t use.  I mean I’d test them all but normally people aren’t going to be using with an Iphone and an Android phone are they?  It’s a pretty little thing, looks rather like an old USB drive, back when they were human sized.  The surprise though is the little booklet thing, it’s actually rather informative.  It even suggests a selection of Hi-Res audio players you might like to try, how handy. 
    Plugging in to the computer first and all seems good so I give the phone a try, in this case a Nexus 5 as its listed as being compatible (i.e. it has USB OTG drivers installed)  it instantly works.  Oooh it’s got a fair little bass kick to it, I was afraid it might lack oomph being driven just of the phones USB socket.  It would seem that at least with the Oppo PM-3’s it’s not an issue.
    Source:  Errr, a windows computer and a few Android phones.  It worked on my Moto G 4G (stock) and Nexus 5 (cyanogen) but for unknown reasons it wouldn’t play with my Huawai P8, Elephone P8000 or bizarrely my Nexus 4.  The nexus 4 hasn’t been updated in a long while so if I did I presume it would work.  My not having a cable precluded my trying it but they say it works.
    Lows:  I am impressed.  The audio quality of the bass is super for something of this nature.  For the most part I’m going to ignore the out of computer use as it’s got realistically endless power to use.  The phone use though, that is where I see this shining most, the little beast and it is a beast, can roar.  It’s so much fun to play with, it will set out a rip roaring musical adventure before you and dare you, double dare you to throw yourself in headfirst.  Just oodles of joy to play with.  So what about slow stuff, yeah its good, its nimble and articulate but it’s at its finest when you play party tunes.  Rhythm and enthusiasm galore.  God damn it makes audio out of a phone spectacular.  Big party bass with ever so much rhythm.  Depth is good, okay it’s great I think for portable but you know there are limitation to physics.  The lowest end seems to fade off but it distracts you with the party just over there so you don’t really notice.  Seriously would it kill a phone maker to take this thing and build it into a phone directly????
    While the BlackKey had a more notable V shape this is more of a jagged line.  It’s overall reasonably level but its awash with dynamic dashes, it’s so lively and exuberant that while its lows can be clean and steady, it always wants to pick up the pace.  It mellows with more mellow ear/head phones as you would expect but this is about the revealing, detailed, crystal clarity.  The deepest, rumblyest lows I think want more power than it can provide.
    Mids:  Open, explicit, clean and actually a bit over articulated.  It’s forever trying to bump up the contrast and clarity.  It wants everything to be open and explicit.  That’s not a fault per say but even when paired with the big HD600’s it’s still nudging in that direction, things that more suit something close in and intimate just weren’t so.  Don’t get me wrong Nora sounds fab but you’re in a field on a bright summer’s morning.  Clean, open and full of light, when you really want a dark room lit only by a roaring fire, the room indulgently warm on an icy winter’s night. 
    Quantity wise it’s all pretty much in line with everything else, nothing dominates.
    Highs:  The light and clean nature does its best in the uppers.  Everything so well-articulated and precise.  It’s a highly detailed listen with all of that detail and nuance cleanly laid out before you.  You don’t have to go hunting anywhere for it.  While the audiophile in me greatly appreciates and admires its explicit nature, I’m a fan of richly mellow.  This is all so airy and light filled you can see everything, every last detail, every microscopic nuance with it all presented right before your ears.  You don’t have to listen out for hidden stray notes, everything it right up there.  Maybe it’s me, maybe that it’s growing late in the afternoon but I want a little more dark. It’s all just so clean I’m finding it lacking a little soul.  For sure it’s got life in it, enthusiasm and joy in its heart but I find I’m craving a little more slowness.  Fabulous for examining music but for loosing yourself in a melty musical puddle, na.
    In The Hand:  I like it.  It’s so very minimalist and its blushed aluminium.  It’s highly minimalist, function yet aesthetically pleasing.  It additionally feels solid.  My only physical issue is that the tiny little LED is so recessed and the hole so small that unless you’re looking almost exactly end on you can’t see anything.  It’s also super dim (fine by me as its eating power) so it’s practically invisible.
    Build Quality:  As best I can tell it’s good.  All seems very well put together.
    Power:  Well there are two aspects here.  The first being its power output, which is actually really good.  It powered my big HD600’s quite happily, way more happily than you would think is reasonable.  That with the fact most things, particularly big portable cans, are getting ever easier to drive it’s easily got power to drive anything you want.  Sure a big amp can drive thing better but you can use this and get ear pleasing sound with anything.  The second power aspect is that a big part of this devices potential is in making phone audio not suck.  That means its using power from the phone to drive it.  Now on my admittedly crappy batteried Nexus 5, my using the ZuperDAC just tore through that battery.  Granted its streaming from Google Music over my mobile connection and I had the screen powered up half the time too so it’s not all the ZuperDAC’s fault.  Still, while this makes it possible to use your phone to produce good quality sound, it will have a battery impact so be warned.  Oh and it turns a fair whack of power into heat too.  In winter it’s a lovely mini hand warmer.
    Transparency:  Super-duper crystal, hell, diamond super clarity.  It’s all a little boosted and a bit dynamically exuberant to enhance that ultra-crystal clarity feeling.  For the most part its actually very transparent in that’s all it adds.  A tiny slant towards dry but otherwise its only flavouring is greater dynamics and air.  Oh and the background, lovely and quiet.  Negligible background blips and bloops or hiss.
    DAC:  Inside the ZuperDAC is an ESS Sabre ES9018K2M.  The K2M bit m not familiar with but I’ve seen the Sabre ES9018 mentioned abet the place before, most notably in the HM-901.  Head-Fi regulars will instantly know what that is, it’s the US$1500 DAP from HiFiMAN.  So could they have the same DAC chip in them?  That’s kinda what it looks like but it doesn’t end there.  It would seem to be the same chip as found in the iBasso DX90 and the Oppo HA-2.  Now to be fair I believe they all use two of the DAC chips and the ZuperDAC just one but still. 
    Value:  It’s kinda fabulous.  It’s great for slapping into the side of your laptop and instantly getting good audio out but there are plenty that can do that.  This is very much at the upper end in quality terms.  Its power does suffer a little, next to the HA-2, it shows where this lacks.  However if your only using IEM’s anyway or sensitive big cans for the cash, you’re getting a glorious little DAC/amp. 
    Conclusion:  Ahh it’s nice to play with nice things and the ZuperDAC is more or less what its name suggests.  Yes yes there are compromises, namely its total power headroom but a beefy amp isn’t the requirement it once was.  With things like the insane Oppo PM-3’s out there, you don’t “need” to throw power at things to make them sound great, even with over ear cans.  Most IEM’s too you just don’t “need” masses of power to make them sing.  Perhaps to eek the most out of them but to still be glorious you just don’t. 
    The only real caveat I have about the ZuperDAC is that it is such a dynamic little beast it constantly want to inject life into everything.  It’s a little like the kid you just let eat a bag of sugar.  It’s thrilling, so energetic, such enthusiasm and endless drive to go further, faster, more, more, MORE!!!  It just isn’t really giving me the chance to mellow out and relax. 
    So, buy one?  I dunno.  These no mistaking that its awesomely capable, so devilishly fun and enthusiastic, but……. you know I see a device like this being used mostly out the side of a laptop, you listening to music in your own world while you get some work done.  The ZuperDAC is too attention seeking and playful, I just can’t see anyone getting any work done with it in use.  All you’ll be doing is listening to music and playing around, having a grand old time of it.  Great if you want to just have a good time but it’s going to be a productivity killer.
    wskl likes this.
  2. mark2410 Contributor
    Zorloo ZuperDAC Quick Review
    Thanks to Zorloo for the sample. 
    Brief:  Itty bity party time.
    Price:  US$79 or about £52 shipped anywhere in the world.
    Specifications:  AudoDAC ES9018K2M, Amplifier ES9601, USB Audio Class 2, Max Sampling Freq 192kHz, Max Bit Depth 24 bit, Output Level 1Vrms, Max Output Power 2SmW+2SmW, SNR 115dB, THD 0.003%, Channel Specification 60dB.
    Accessories: None.  Unless you want to count the guide booklet.
    Aesthetics:  Apple esq aluminium minimalism.  Clean, elegant and functional.
    Build:  Nice, very neat.
    Power:  It was happy to power anything, especially when running off a computer.  Off the phone I felt it lacked a bit but other than the bass losing a sliver it did impressively well.  It even ran the big HD600’s pretty well.   Though be warned it just eats battery, your phone just gets demolished.
    Sound:  WWWWWWWWWWW.  There is an overall pretty level sound but it’s a highly dynamic one.  Its loves exuberance and agility.  Flying back and forth like lightning it’s a joyful, playful sound.  So much energy and enthusiasm comes forth that while super engaging, it’s a little exhausting.  Grown up me knows that this is a styling choice, neither a good thing nor a bad thing in the way crisps are not “better” than chocolate, they are different things.  The ZuperDAC is a an excitable little beast, it’s so dynamic and enthusiastic about everything.  It’s wonderful, it truly is a joyous little box of wonder and it’s just so much fun to play with.  The inverse of this however means that it finds it hard to sit still and playback the slow, lingering or melancholic music you may ask of it.  It’s too cheerful and filled with sprightly joy.  Detail wise it’s excellent, with its very open and air nature everything is clearly put before you, very open, very clear, over clear.  As I listen the Tori Amos’s “Winter” I can tell the Zuper wants to pull ahead and drive the song faster.  It should be lingering, slightly sad with a darkness overhanging it and its just not.  The Zuper is a beautifully joyous little monster but it struggles a bit to do slow and sad.  It really is just so much fun, packed with joy, detail, and enthusiasm in a teeny little package.  Oh and in comparison to what your phone HP out can do, it’ll blow them away.  Squeeeeee, so much fun!!!
    Value:  Its got an ESS Sabre ES9018K2M in it as the DAC chip.  I believe that the same chip that gets used in the HM-901, DX-90 and HA-2.  They are all VERY considerably more expensive things.  It great that you can happily use it from your phone or computer and get as high res audio out as you like.  Its maybe not so well suited to slow, soft and warm music but it a big step up from your phone or laptops HP out. 
    Pro’s:  Looks nice.  Sounds fabulously dynamic.  Great detail retrieval.
    Con’s:  Phone battery destroying. Can’t do sedate melancholic convincingly.
    nick n likes this.
  3. thomaspf
    Here is a recommendation. I soldered together a USB split power cable that connects the data lines and ground to the phone but powers the DAC from any 5V source. I am using it with a 15000mah power bank. The sound is awesome with absolutely black background and in this configuration it even drives my HE-560 to acceptable levels.
    TheNoose likes this.
  4. mark2410 Contributor
  5. leasedeb
    i wish, there were more review of zorloo products, especially of the zorloo Z:ero
    @mark2410, do you know where is the specs of the zuperdac ? like amp drive capability
    thd, dynamic range ?
    thank you
  6. thomaspf
    Exactly, I usually carry a USB powerbank when I travel, so an additional small cable and the Zorloo makes for a killer mobile setup.
    TheNoose likes this.
  7. mark2410 Contributor

    the specs as what i could find were as written in the quick review
    "Specifications:  AudoDAC ES9018K2M, Amplifier ES9601, USB Audio Class 2, Max Sampling Freq 192kHz, Max Bit Depth 24 bit, Output Level 1Vrms, Max Output Power 2SmW+2SmW, SNR 115dB, THD 0.003%, Channel Specification 60dB."
    and it was written verbatim hence the 2SmW max out put per channel.  i looked very closely but it has 2S and not 25, i assume its a typo but hey. 
    power wise it does really well, it made even the big HD600's sound great and they normanly wnt tons of power
  8. mocny
    I just purchased Audioquest Dragonfly and have a question if this product is better or equal to the sound quality of Dragonfly :) ... the price is cut-in-half so I am wondering If I should cancel/return my Audioquest, or if it is worth a try. What are differences then? Thank you.
  9. mark2410 Contributor
    well i havent heard the Dragon fly so i cant really say.  however looking at the Dragonfly i can find whats in it other than its a Sabre chip, it can do up to 96kHz.  now that the ZuperDAC can do up to 192kHz doesnt mean its "better" of course nor does it mean that it has a "better" DAC in it that the lower res capable Dragonfly but on paper, the ZuperDAC is the newer and more capable.

    additionaly that the ZuperDAC is by a new and thus pretty much unknown company its likely they have priced it with much lower margins than a big name company like Audioquest can get away with.  so i would expect the ZuperDAC to be likely better value in those terms.
    so if i had to toss a coin, id go Zuper but then ive heard it and know that i really like it.  you know you could maybe order both and come back as say how you find the two in comparison?
  10. mocny
    Well, I wish I could, but then I can't send back the Dragonfly, cause they wont ship it to me so fast, but anyway ... Dragonfly has ESS ES9023 vs newer ESS ES9018K2M on ZuperDAC... I have read reviews on them and they are almost pretty same so Dragonfly is probably veery overpriced at this moment, not to say it didn't dropped in price for about almost 2 years now.... I have also ordered new FiiO Q1 so I will compare those two... but I think that FiiO Q1 will be more than enough for my headphones :) ... the other product in which I was curious is new FiiO K1, but they don't ship it at this moment everywhere... so I will have to wait for a new year :) ... thanks Mark anyway!
  11. OldDarth
    Great review Mark!
    I have this little puppy paired with my RHA MA-750s and hooboy it's a match made in heaven for me.
    Have you tried the two together?
    I'm very happy with the ZuperDac and you are spot on - this thing seems to have power to spare!
    The only caveat I have with the device is the lack of a hardware volume control. Given how the software driver works, at least for me, it locks the device's master volume at 100% and I have to use the player's software volume control to change the audio output level - which ends up being hardly turned up at all. The first time I put them on at normal volume levels it nearly blew my eardrums out!!!
    Is this not an issue you run into? Or am I doing something wrong here.
  12. mark2410 Contributor

    nope i havent tried with the 750, for me i think it would be a little bit too an excitable and spectacular sound.  my personal tastes are for more relaxed things so id look to warmer, slower things to pair with the Zuperdac.
    volume wise, i used really wjust with the desktop and i used the normal windows volume controls, my keyboard has handy little windows volume control buttons on it so for me, it was great.  i would presume you may want to look at the windows master volume your using, maybe lower it a bit then that should give you a mroe controlable range in your media players volume control.
  13. OldDarth
    D'oh!  For some reason I thought the master volume for whatever device I was used was being greyed out.
    But it's not!  Colour me embarassed. So much easier to control the volume now!
    Thanks a bunch for the tip.
    What IEMs do you find go well with the ZuperDac?
  14. mark2410 Contributor

    lol np, we've all had brain farts.
    well for my tastes, i like to cross pair things, so source/amp is warm then i tend to go for a cooler earphone, cooler, cleaner sounding source then i go for warmer and smoother earphones.  so for me, id go for maybe the Senn IE7, Alclair Curve v1.0, maybe the brainwavz R3 with its supernatural shimmery skills, oh and the re-600 would be another good one.
    thing is thats playing to my tastes.  there is  no reason you coulding pair an RE-272, DBA-02, IE8, MA750, etc etc, things with much more entusiastic treble than what i would choose, for my ears. 
    it also depends on what your wanting to use it for, i mean if it was for library study sessions then with the excitment of the Zuper id want dampened down lots, soemthing like the 750 or T20 would be thrilling and exciting and totally distracting.  in that case id want something super warm and soft, maybe brainwavz M2, EX-500, that kinda stuff. 
    that make sence? 
  15. OldDarth
    Perfectly! Thanks again.
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