Zorloo ZuperDAC Max Review
Zorloo ZuperDAC Max Review
The Tasmanian Devil
Pros: + Reference sound quality and supreme technicalities
+ Crystal clear and transparent
+ Not artificial or clinical sounding
+ Resolving and refined
+ Quite natural timbre and realistic tonality
+ Open sounding with accurate imaging
+ The most compact sized DAC dongle in the market with both 4.4mm and 3.5mm outputs
+ Very powerful from both outputs, 5Vrms max.
+ Multiple platform support and MQA decoding
+ Dead silent and electromagnetically shielded
+ The single ended output is not gimped
+ Power efficient
+ Ultra portable and lightweight
+ Excellent build quality
Cons: – No hardware buttons for volume control
– Gets warm especially in the boost mode
– Rather short USB cable
– Lighting cable is not included despite the premium price
– Typical luminous and brilliant ESS treble
The review sample was kindly provided free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
I didn’t receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The price of the ZuperDAC Max is $149 with a USB type-C cable and $159 with an extra lightning cable.
You can order it directly from the Zorloo online shop.
ZuperDAC Max (and PRO)
The Zorloo ZuperDAC family was inaugurated with the 1st gen USB DAC dongle that was like a USB stick with a 3.5mm headphone output and then followed the 2nd gen ZuperDAC-S with a detachable cable.
Now, ZuperDAC Pro and ZuperDAC Max are the 3rd generation releases in their ZuperDAC family.
They inherit the same design philosophy to achieve the highest audio performance in the smallest form factor.
Let’s have a quick look at both of them:
ZuperDAC Pro supports 3.5mm single-ended audio output whereas ZuperDAC Max supports either 3.5mm single-ended or 4.4mm balanced audio output.
They are using the latest ESS 9281AC PRO DAC chip which has an embedded headphone amplifier and supports sampling frequencies up to PCM 768kHz, DSD512 and they also have built-in MQA Renderer so you can enjoy Tidal Master contents with full MQA decode.
They support bit-perfect lossless music playback.
ZuperDAC Pro has an auto detect circuitry upon headphone insertion to determine the proper output voltage level to suit the loading requirements.
1Vrms for <150Ω and 2Vrms for >=150Ω.
ZuperDAC Max supports either single-ended 3.5mm or balanced 4.4mm audio output.
There is a boost button to select the different audio output levels to fit your headphone loading needs.
The balanced output eliminates all unwanted noise in the output path with exceptional clarity.
At the default setting the power output is 1Vrms for the 3.5mm audio output and 3Vrms for the 4.4mm that can be maxed to 2Vrms for 3.5mm and 5Vrms for 4.4mm with the press of the boost button.
You can connect the audio output directly to your headphone or HiFi system as a line output.
With USB Audio Class 2 high speed compliance, both devices work on all popular OS platforms like iOS, Android, Linux, macOS and Windows 10/11 without drivers.
There are no hardware buttons for volume adjustment while both devices have a tiny status indicator LED that will light blue for idle or <= 48kHz, red for > 48kHz and magenta for MQA content.
An extra LED light will become green upon pressing the boost button in ZuperDAC Max only.
The rest of the review continues with the ZuperDac Max.
Build quality and appearance
Measuring only 46×21.5×10.5 mm and weighing a mere 15g, the ZuperDac Max is the most compact sized and lightweight USB-DAC dongle in the market to support both 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone outputs.
This is almost as compact as the tiny EarMen Sparrow but with a 4.4mm plug instead of the 2.5mm of the Sparrow.
The minimalist, rectangular chassis is made from a solid piece of aluminum with a black matte finish and is of excellent build quality.
The ZuperDac Max comes bundled with a USB-C cable and a USB-A adapter so you can connect easily to your smartphone or PC/Mac.
For iPhone/iPad with lightning interface, you can use a lightning cable that is sold separately.
The rather short cable is of typical quality with aluminum plugs and a fabric outer sheathing.
Power output and noise
The ZuperDac Max is very powerful even without engaging the boost button.
Additionally, with the 5Vrms of the boosted balanced output it can run pretty much anything, even planar magnetic headphones, like the HiFiMan Sundara while most of the regular headphones, like the Sennheiser HD660S2 and Focal Clear Mg, are just a piece of cake for it.
With the boost enabled you should expect higher power consumption from the host device and much increased heat dissipation.
Don’t underestimate the 3.5mm output that is still very powerful and without degrading the overall sound qualities minus some losses in soundstage expansiveness and imaging.
The ZuperDac Max is totally silent while it is well shielded against electromagnetic interference.
The DAC was left playing music for about 100 hours before listening evaluation.
Except for the headphones mentioned above, I used various IEMs like the Penon Vortex and the FiiO FDX.
The general sound signature is that of a well implemented ESS DAC chip with excellent transparency, great technicalities and remarkable clarity.
The sound is crystal clear and revealing with excellent detail retrieval for the category and with the typical ESS treble fidelity.
Nonetheless, the ZuperDac Max is not bright, treble forward or harsh sounding even with brighter headphones.
This is a reference neutral tuning that will expose both the good and the bad aspects of your headphones and the recording quality alike but it shouldn’t be considered as an unforgivingly punishing DAC, just don’t expect it to beautify or color the sound.
Thus said, the sound character is not boring, clinical or artificial, there is plenty of engagement and musicality, timbre is mostly natural without alarming digital glare and the music is reproduced with a convincing realism.
Technicalities are exceptional, the bass is tight, controlled and fast with sharp timing while the ZuperDac Max is surprisingly dynamic and impactful, especially under the boost mode with a total performance that gets extremely close to larger, battery powered, USB DACs or even mid-range DAPs.
The texture is typical ESS, slightly lean and dry, not that full bodied and visceral but on the other hand this helps with definition, layering and separation which are all exceptional.
The mid-range sounds balanced, transparent and spacious with plenty of harmonic wealth and clear articulation, qualities that also apply to the treble which is fast and agile, sparkling, extra luminous and brilliant but not bright or piercing.
The DAC is very open sounding and expansive, it will do great justice to all headphones that are famous for their staging by enhancing the sense of spaciousness, holography and instrumental separation.
Whatever I listened to, the ZuperDac Max proved an excellent performer and provided an enjoyable and musical listening experience with plenty of realism, inner depth and natural tonality.
The DAC paired very well with the much more expensive Focal Clear Mg and the combination yielded great sound even with such demanding classical music works like Scriabin’s symphony No.4.
Compared to the FiiO KA3 ($89.99)
The FiiO KA3 is a compact sized USB-DAC dongle that features the ES9038Q2M DAC chip and dual RT6863 op-amps for handling the amplification duties with 240mW/32Ω and 4Vrms of maximum power output.
It will not decode MQA streams but you can use the FiiO control application for selecting between the seven low pass filters and adjusting various parameters like headphone impedance and gain.
The ZuperDac Max is more expensive but I guess that you will have to pay the extra cash for the smaller form factor, the MQA support and the 5Vrms of maximum voltage swing.
Sound quality is on the same level for both DACs with only minor differences.
The KA3 is slightly fuller sounding and just a touch less dry but the ZuperDac Max is more impactful and dynamic with better overall clarity and increased driver control.
Everything else is pretty much the same and you have to be very attentive and critical in order to notice some differences, probably not worth mentioning.
If you need the most compact sized and powerful DAC dongle at the same time plus MQA support then you will have to spend the extra cash.
In the end
The ZuperDac Max is like the Tasmanian devil, it is cute, tiny and adorable but you wouldn’t like to taste the power of his teeth.
So is the ZuperDac Max, very compact and lightweight but you will be surprised to discover the insane amount of power and supreme sound quality that are hiding under its diminutive chassis.
If you have been looking for the most compact sized DAC dongle in the market with both 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone jacks, extra power output, low power consumption and excellent sonic performance then you have found it in the ZuperDac Max.
The Tasmanian Devil of the USB-DAC dongles.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2023.