||ESS 9298 Pro
||Adaptable 16 Ohm – 600 Ohm
||20 Hz – 20 KHz
||2V @ 32 Ohm (125mW @ 32 Ohm)
|Total Harmonic Distortion
||32-bit/384 kHz PCM
||58 x 22 x 11 mm
PRICE R1 490.00
IMPORTED BY CPlan Audio 083 212-4599
So the first thing I have to do here, is warn users to turn their phone’s volume down before you plug the Zerda in. Reason being that this little device is quite a powerhouse, and unlike all the previous portable DACs I’ve reviewed, this one seems to come with its volume output on full by default. I discovered this by accident, which was quite a shock to the senses!
The Zerda is a 32-bit/384 kHz Dongle DAC amplifier with three modes: Music, Game and Movie. It employs the services of the respected ESS 9298 DAC and has DSD decoding abilities up to DSD 128, but via DoP (DSD over PCM — a method for transporting DSD audio over USB ports that do not have a DSD driver).
The contents of the Zerda’s neat box includes the dongle and two USB Cables, one short Type C USB cable for Smartphones, and one long Type A cable for PCs and laptops. The connections for the DAC/Amp have their Pros and Cons.
Firstly, the fact that the connection is magnetic will no doubt cause audio purists to shudder at the thought of introducing magnetism anywhere near an audio product (all you need do is hold the cable close to the port, and the two will connect seamlessly). However IKKO claims that the ITM01 is magnetically-shielded, and to be honest I couldn’t detect any form of interference whatsoever during my test period.
Another possible issue is that since the connections for the IKKO are unique, if you damage or lose the cable, you’re going to be unable to use the DAC until you can source a new cable from IKKO itself or from the local supplier. On the positive side, should you manage to accidentally sit on the ITM01, the connection is likely to just pop off, while a standard Type C connector is likely to cause damage to the device.
The IKKO has a good quality feel to it with a face populated by three buttons – a volume up, volume down, and a centre button that helps you switch between the sound modes. Each mode has a visible coloured light that shows on the sides of the device: Light Blue for Movie, Purple for Game and Lemon Yellow for Music, which is the default mode on start up. My test unit in Music mode had green on one side and a slightly yellow-green on the other, which had me confused for a while. It has a built-in adaptive driver, so no need to worry about the need for specific drivers to use it – it’s plug and go.
Although I’m not a fan of fiddling around with different sound modes, I did so for the purpose of the review and had some interesting results. Bear in mind though that I was largely listening to music, and only connected for a short period of time to my laptop to try out the Movie mode.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the IKKO has more than enough oomph to drive large over-ear headphones with ease, which hasn’t been my experience with other DAC/Amps of this size, many of whom had power outputs considerably lower. Whatever IKKO has done to get this right, it’s pretty remarkable.
Using my reference Sennheisers as well the AKG K240 Mk II monitors, I very rarely went past the halfway mark on my Smartphone volume. I did push things a few times, but to be honest I found that the extra loudness came at the expense of musical quality. Both headphones used are monitor-type, so possibly a set with more bass would give you a different experience.
At middle to lower volumes though, the DAC’s musical performance was great and a complete pleasure to listen to for extended periods of time – no hint of bright treble or overbearing bass, and a midrange perfectly delivered. Some might regard the sound as a bit on the warm side, but personally I prefer that type of delivery as opposed to the overly clinical ones.
What I did find, however, is that the Zerda is less forgiving of lower quality music files than other portable DACs I’ve used – if you feed it a poor recording, it lets you know. But CD-quality rips and FLAC files are relayed in stunning detail.
I did try listening to music in both Movie and Game modes, and found that Movie actually sounded pretty good at times, even if the soundstage was overly extended. But when watching a movie on the laptop, the experience was exactly what you’d be looking for. Game mode was the least enjoyable to use for music, but this is to be expected, since it’s not what the mode is designed for: Gamers would most likely have a completely positive experience.
For its price point, IKKO’s Zerda ITM01 is a solid little performer that I strongly doubt will disappoint anyone with its performance. An added bonus is its ability to handle anything from in-ears, on-ears to over ears with complete and utter ease. Talk about the proverbial ‘dynamite in small packages’!