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Review and Measurements of ZorLoo ZuperDAC-S and SMSL IDEA Dac/AMPs

amirm

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#1
This is a review, detailed measurements and comparison of Zorloo ZuperDAC-S and SMSL Idea DAC and headphone amplifiers. They are both on kind loan from a forum member with him stealing the ZorLoo from his poor son. :) The ZuperDAC-S was apparently an Indigogo project and retails for USD $89 from their site. The SMSL Idea was the one I kinged as the best portable DAC/Amp a while ago so this is a refresher with my new measurement gear. It retails for USD $86 from Amazon with free Prime shipping. Assuming Zoerloo charges shipping, it will be more expensive of the two.

I will be presenting comparison data to recently portable DAC/AMPs such as DACPort HD and Audioquest Dragonfly Red and Black.

Both of these units distinguish themselves with onboard volume control through up/down buttons:
Zorloo ZuperDAC-s  Portable USB DAC SMSL Idea Headphone Amplifier Comparison Review.jpg

The SMSL Idea is certainly the nicer looking of the two. It is thinner but a bit wider and longer as you can tell in the above pictures.

Let's put them on the test table and see how they perform.

Measurements
Let's start with the kid on the block, the ZorLoo ZuperDAC-S dashboard view:

Zorloo ZuperDAC-s  Portable USB DAC Measurements.png


Wow, that is impressively low level of distortion and noise! SINAD (signal over distortion+noise) is impressively high at 105 dB (averaged between the two channels). In case you are thinking about using it as a stand-alone DAC, its anemic output of just 0.8 volts will not do with most amplifiers.

The SMSL idea though, has no problem in that department:
SMSL Idea Portable DAC and Headphone Amplifier Measurements.png


It has a solid 2 volt output which is what we get out of desktop DACs. Unfortunately with the higher output power comes much higher distortion compared to ZuperDAC-S, putting its SINAD at just 90 dB. Here is how they would rank in list of DACs tested:
Zorloo ZuperDAC-s  Portable USB DAC SMSL Idea Headphone Amplifier SINAD Comparison Measurements.png


ZuperDAC-S lives in the second tier performance while the SMSL Idea lands at the bottom of tier 3. SO really, neither is a great fit as a desktop DAC.

Both units perform well in jitter tests:

Zorloo ZuperDAC-s  Portable USB DAC Jitter Measurements.png

SMSL Idea Portable DAC and Headphone Amplifier Jitter Measurements.png


While we like to see nothing but noise at the bottom of the graph, the spikes are below 120 dB passing the audio transparency criteria so I am not bothered by the especially given the class of products we are testing.

In dynamic range test, the higher output of SMSL Idea comes to its defense, providing better results:
Zorloo ZuperDAC-s  Portable USB DAC SMSL Idea Headphone Amplifier Dynamic Range Comparison Mea...png


The shocker was linearity test:
Zorloo ZuperDAC-s  Portable USB DAC SMSL Idea Headphone Amplifier Linearity Comparison Measure...png


Are you kidding me? The SMSL Idea produces better results than most DACs I have tested regardless of price! The ZuperDAC-S also does exceptionally well, falling just a hair worse than SMSL Idea and still beating countless DACs. Next time a manufacturer wants to make excuses for not being able to get good linearity, show them this!

Intermodulation test shows these two portable DACs being well designed yet again:
Zorloo ZuperDAC-s  Portable USB DAC IMD distortion Measurements.png


Both have the lowest noise level in their class. The SMSL Idea shows fair bit of distortion though as levels go up. The ZuperDAC is essentially distortion-free but with less output voltage as our dashboard had already shown.

So far we have not stressed the output amplifiers so let's put some loads on them and see how they perform. First, 300 Ohm:
SMSL Idea Portable DAC and Headphone Amplifier Power at 300 Ohm Measurements.png


Sorry for the clutter but I promised a comparison against previously tested DACs so there they are in dashed lines. As we see once again, the ZuperDAC-S takes the crown for quietness and lack of distortion to the end. But the "end" comes early in the form of just 2.3 milliwatts of power.

The SMSL Idea pushes ahead of all except DACPort HD in power. And it does this while easily beating it in noise and distortion until its limit.

Switching to 33 ohm ups the requirement for current and both devices start hurting at the limit of their output:
Zorloo ZuperDAC-s  Portable USB DAC SMSL Idea Headphone Amplifier Power at 33 Ohm Comparison M...png


The two channels deviate under load for each device making the graph more cluttered still. Stepping back though, the ZuperDAC-S continues to have lower noise level but again, with pretty low power levels of just 19 milliwatts.

SMSL Idea shows its power to the tune of 45 milliwatts until it suddenly clips hard. It manages to produce more power with less distortion and noise (at least in one channel) than either Dragonfly Red or Black. As before, the DACPort HD flys away with much more power but at elevated noise and distortion.

Output impedance story is good:
Zorloo ZuperDAC-s  Portable USB DAC SMSL Idea Headphone Amplifier Output Impedance Comparison ...png


Both should be good at just about every headphone you throw at them although at 0.9 ohm, the SMSL is definitely better than ZuperDAC-S at 1.9 ohm.

Enough numbers. Let's play some music through them.

Listening Tests
Starting with Sennheiser HD-650, it was a non-starter with ZuperDAC-S. It just doesn't have enough power. Bass is like and the whole thing just doesn't get loud enough. SMSL Idea on the other hand, took a hold of these headphones and produced excellent power and bass. Mind you, it was not to the level of desktop amps but definitely useful with these high impedance headphones.

Switching to Hifiman HE-400i, performance improved some with the ZuperDAC-S but it is still not satisfying. There is no detail due to low volume and simply not enough "oomph." On the other hand, using the same headphones with SMSL Idea was revelation. Yes, at max volume it distorted but dial it down one notch in volume for bass heavy content and you are in business. On less demanding content, you would be running it at max volume but with no hint of distortion and lots of detail and dynamic range.

Conclusions
I must say I was nervous re-measuring the SMSL Idea and putting it against newer arrivals but that went away after the measurements and listening tests. The SMSL Idea is a very well engineered portable DAC and headphone amp with very low noise floor and ample power to drive what normally would require desktop amplifiers. As I type this I am listening to my Blues tracks and enjoying every bit in them. Given the low price of SMSL Idea, I don't see any reason to spend more money on the likes of Audioquest Dragonfly Black or Red. The SMSL Idea gets my strong recommendation for a portable/tiny DAC and headphone amplifier.

The ZorLoo ZuperDAC-S has a funny name with a funnier still spelling. It is however well engineered. The issue with it is that it just doesn't have enough power. Seeing how it actually costs more than SMSL Idea, I don't see a reason to purchase it. If for some reason you still want to get it, make sure to pair it with sensitive headphones/IEMs. There, it should have lower noise than competing products.

The ultimate king of power in portable DACs remains the DACPort HD. See my review here: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...rements-of-dacport-hd-and-dragonfly-red.5977/

------------
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#2
The ZuperDAC's 800mV may not rock your headphones, but it offers perfect gain staging for a typical 50-60W power amp.

And, yeah, that name...
 
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#3
View attachment 20483

Both have the lowest noise level in their class. The SMSL Idea shows fair bit of distortion though as levels go up. The ZuperDAC is essentially distortion-free but with less output voltage as our dashboard had already shown.
Thanks for the test!
Picked up on a minor error: colours are switched for the IMD test. Zorloo is the red one and SMSL is the pink one.
 
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#4
Thank you for the review! The Zorloo sells on Massdrop at times for I think around $50-60. It might pair well with the Topping NX3s, being that at max gain, (9 DB=4.5x) its output voltage at full crank wold be around 3.8V, which is around 50mW into 300 ohm cans, which in turn should be slightly below that amp's distortion point - so gain limited just before it starts distorting. I kind of like that idea. You have the Topping, might be a good time to review.
 

amirm

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#5
Thanks for the test!
Picked up on a minor error: colours are switched for the IMD test. Zorloo is the red one and SMSL is the pink one.
Boy, you guys are good at scrutinizing these graphs. :)

Corrected.
 

maxxevv

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#6
Was wondering how would the Zorloo and IDEA measure if plugged into the Atom and output measured from there ?
 
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#7
Hi Amir,
Thanks again for yet another informative review! Presently I have an Oppo HA-2 SE which I stream (mostly DSF files) from ONKYO HF Player app on my iPhone - driving Oppo PM-1 headphones. I use the gain boost because the power without it is a little low for me (I don’t use the base boost) - but I find that I still have volume headroom for my typical listening. This has been my way to take my SACDs mobile with me when I travel (or at work). I really did not like the fact that the PM-1 are “open.” So if I wasn’t in a quiet room the ambient noise would spoil the listening experience...

So I bought a pair of UE Live IEMs (they just arrived today) in order to get some isolation. :)

Then I saw the ZuperDAC’s noise and distortion performance in your review. The OPPO HA-2 SE is also down on power - but not that far down. The OPPO also has slightly better output impedance. But it seems so far (after a paltry 2 hours of listening) that the UE Live are providing a much louder listening experience - because they’re sealed with my ear. Yet the UE Live are spec’d at 10 Ohms input impedance which should demand more power not less.

Finally the questions: do you think the ZuperDAC would be able to drive UE Live IEMs to reasonable listening levels? Would I be able to stream DSF files from ONKYO HF Player app on an iPhone to the ZuperDAC?

Thanks!
 

amirm

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#8
Finally the questions: do you think the ZuperDAC would be able to drive UE Live IEMs to reasonable listening levels?
Without having the UE Live IMEs to test I can't say for sure. I can tell you that the ZuperDAC-S is useless with my Etymotic ER4XR. There is not enough power and what there is gets distorted. The SMSL Idea in contrast, drives them fantastically.

I then pulled out my low impedance 16 ohm KZ ATE IEMs out which is closer to your 10 ohm load (Etymotic is 45 ohm). Same issue. There is no bass, nor enough volume. The sound as a result is quite bright. With SMSL Idea it sounds quite good. Excellent as a matter of fact.

So my strong recommendation is to avoid the ZuperDAC-S and get the SMSL Idea as I mentioned in the review. If you are in US, you can get it from Amazon so very easy to return if it doesn't satisfy.

How do you like the UE Live by the way? $2,200 is a lot of money for an IEM! :)
 
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#9
Why are Jitter graphs practically identical with identical peaks? Sure you didn't measure the same hardware twice?
 
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#10
Thank you Amir.
Could you test the channel balance of these two? I think they should be okay, but I would like to see if they are that at low level too.
 

Sw!tch

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#11
Thanks for the test. I was curious about Zorloo. I´m still hoping that you will add Audioengine D3 in near future to compare with all of them (v2 hopefully).
 
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#13
How do you like the UE Live by the way? $2,200 is a lot of money for an IEM! :)
Thanks for the additional info w.r.t. your other IEMs.

The fit is perfect - super comfortable. The site says -26dB ambient and (while I haven’t measured it) I believe it; might as well have ear plugs in when the music is off. I’ve only listened to them for a couple hours now and I have pretty limited experience listening to a lot of different head phones and amps; but so far I’m extremely pleased with them. At the risk of sounding like I am in Jr High and talking about how wonderful my 2nd girlfriend is ... My first impressions are that they’re a pretty clear step up from the PM-1. I’m hearing content I’ve not heard before on some of my favorite tracks. Improved instrument and note clarity. Nora Jones - Come Away With Me, Anne-Sophie-Mutter - Carmen-Fantasie, Steve Ray Vaughan - The Sky Is Crying, Dusty Springfield - Dusty In Memphis, ... all sound superb. Low frequencies are much stronger than I expected. Okay - I’ll stop there; ping me back in a couple months and perhaps I’ll have something to nitpick. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the honeymoon!! :)
 

Jimster480

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#15
@Amir I was here wishing you would have put it against the FiiO K1!
Its been on the stack to test for over 1 year now!

Its still available via Amazon for only $40!

If its performance is good it could be the new budget king haha.

I still use my FiiO K1 whenever I go on vacations/trips to even drive my mrspeakers Aeon or Oppo PM-2 for movies and music while I work.
 

Shadow12347

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Thanks for the review Amir! There is also that "Speaka" USB DAC that performed better than the Dragonfly Black. I believe I remember it being "re-branded" as the XtremPro X1, and that it was no longer available from Amazon. I recently checked and it is now available again!

https://www.amazon.com/Portable-USB...8&qid=1547833658&sr=8-2&keywords=xtrempro+dac

This might be an interesting one to measure on your new equipment :). I bought one before it was no longer available on Amazon, but I gave it to a coworker, so I don't think I'll be able to send that one for review unfortunately. Maybe someone else has one?
 

amirm

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#17
This might be an interesting one to measure on your new equipment :).
I still have my two versions. I will retest it and post at some point.
 

bravomail

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#20
My experience with SMSL Idea was strictly negative. It is anemic when the power source is your phone, to the point when phone's own DAC/Amp sound much better (I have a good phone though with CS DAC - Samsung GSE7 International). And with my PC the sound just atrocious (but that could be electrical noise of PC on USB). Hifeme Sabre 9018 worked much better in both of my use cases. Take it for what it's worth - anekdotal evidence.
 
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