• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). Come here to have fun, be ready to be teased and not take online life too seriously. We now measure and review equipment for free! Click here for details.

Zorloo Ztella MQA Phone Headphone Adapter Review

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
34,612
Likes
125,733
Location
Seattle Area
#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Zorloo Ztella MQA portable USB-C headphone and DAC "dongle." It was kindly sent to me by a member. The Ztella comes in two version: MQA version that I have which costs US $99 and "standard" version for US $65.

As dongles go, the Ztella is on the attractive side:

Zorloo Ztella MQA USB-C Phone Headphone DAC Dongle Audio Review.jpg

The cable has a nice jacket so hopefully lasts longer than the throw-away kind. Even the USB-C adapter is nice quality as you see in the picture.

I tested the Ztella on my Windows PC. There, typical of these dongles, the ASIO interface I use was truncating 24 bit audio to 16 bits. So for some of the tests, I used my Roon player in exclusive (WASAPI bit-exact) to avoid that issue. Note that this class of device also relies on the system device volume so be sure to check that.

Also, when I first plugged the unit in with a 33 ohm load, it reduced its output to half. This stayed so even after I plugged in a higher impedance load into it. I needed to unplug and plug it back in to get it to output the full voltage. This kind of behavior is typical of these dongles as they attempt to control the maximum power consumption.

In use the Ztella gets a bit warm which goes with the territory of higher power output it provides.

Audio Measurements
Here is our usual 1 kHz dashboard:

Zorloo Ztella MQA USB-C Phone Headphone DAC Dongle Audio Measurements.png


The best news here is 2 volt output as many dongles limit at 1 volt which severely reduces their power with high impedance headphones. On the down side we have a ton of noise spikes in the FFT spectrum (top right). This is likely system dependent and due to lack of sufficient filtering. There is just not much space in these dongles to put in proper filters. This may be the reason my measured performance is worse than the company's. And your phone may be more quiet than my desktop computer as well. As it is, SINAD falls in a region which is considered very good for dongles:

Best smarphone headphone adapter review 2020.png


Even though I had to use the interface that truncates to 16 bits (and hence introduces some distortion), intermodulation distortion is quiet low:

Zorloo Ztella MQA USB-C Phone Headphone DAC Dongle IMD Audio Measurements.png


Jitter performance is ugly because of the previously mentioned system noise bleeding through:

Zorloo Ztella MQA USB-C Phone Headphone DAC Dongle Jitter Audio Measurements.png


Again, most dongles are different shades of bad here.

Dynamic range is not as good as I like to see because of the noise issue:

Zorloo Ztella MQA USB-C Phone Headphone DAC Dynamic Range Dongle Audio Measurements.png


most quiet headphone amplifier.png


Power Measurements
The problems above may not be audible. But what is guaranteed audible is lack of power so let's look at that using both 300 and 33 ohm loads:

Zorloo Ztella MQA USB-C Phone Headphone DAC Dongle Power into 300 Ohm Audio Measurements.png


Zorloo Ztella MQA USB-C Phone Headphone DAC Dongle Power into 33 Ohm Audio Measurements.png


I can predict with almost 100% accuracy that this level of power provides a very satisfying experience. And raises to almost top of our charts:

Best smarphone dongle headphone power 300 ohm.png


Best smarphone dongle headphone power 33 ohm.png


Output impedance is nicely low:

Best USB-C smartphone dongle impedance measurement.png


Headphone Amplifier Listening Tests
I only had time to listen using my Sennheiser HD-650 headphones. Here, performance was excellent. There was plenty of powerful and clean bass that was hard to imagine coming out of this little dongle. The only time I wished for a bit more power was with recordings that were not recorded loud.

Conclusions
The Zorloo Ztella MQA has good distortion measurements combined with lots of power in a tiny package. This results in very nice listening experience. Alas, the $99 price is quite high for a dongle. So unless something else is taken out, I would get the non-MQA standard version.

I am happy to recommend the Zorloo Ztella MQA headphone adapter.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Today is a sad day. Had my back to my photo stand and heard its backdrop fall down as it often does. Sadly this time it had a pink panther on it and poor "guy" lost its left arm as it hit the floor. :( It is the "I don't know panther" which tirelessly models for me. I am debating what to do with him. Plastic surgery is expensive and there is not much left of the arm to put back together. So I may have to buy another (don't tell him that please -- he has enough to worry about). So donate what you can for both potential surgery and replacement costs using : https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

laudio

Active Member
Joined
Dec 30, 2019
Messages
172
Likes
174
#2
I realize head-fi is one of your biggest competitors, but but... another headphone amp review? We want more speaker reviews (at least I do!))

I get the point though - a $99 adapter is better than some POS $1400 one like the last review. Then again, headphones sound just fine with my phone now I wouldn't spend another penny on it or mess with.
 
OP
amirm

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
34,612
Likes
125,733
Location
Seattle Area
Thread Starter #3
I run a speaker measurement while I do an electronics review. One is finishing just now (cooking for nearly 3 hours). I have a ton of electronics already sent in for review so they are going to be done interleaved with speakers.
 
Joined
Aug 31, 2019
Messages
40
Likes
38
#4
So unless something else is taken out, I would get the non-MQA standard version.
If I am not mistaken, MQA has ESS Sabre 9281CPRO while standard is the 9270.

Great to see a dongle delivering even more power than the Meizu.
 

laudio

Active Member
Joined
Dec 30, 2019
Messages
172
Likes
174
#5
I run a speaker measurement while I do an electronics review. One is finishing just now (cooking for nearly 3 hours). I have a ton of electronics already sent in for review so they are going to be done interleaved with speakers.
Got it. The speaker measurements I am sure are much more time consuming. I'd like to drop ship you an integrated amp too for measurements I have my eye on, will PM you, once I pull the trigger.
 

YSC

Major Contributor
Joined
Dec 31, 2019
Messages
1,363
Likes
925
#9
Actually any plan to do some headphone measurements? It seems back in the time tyll of innerfedility did some good job on this, but as far as I I know it’s difficult to determine what’s a headphone neutral curve shall look like
 
OP
amirm

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
34,612
Likes
125,733
Location
Seattle Area
Thread Starter #11
Actually any plan to do some headphone measurements? It seems back in the time tyll of innerfedility did some good job on this, but as far as I I know it’s difficult to determine what’s a headphone neutral curve shall look like
I studied it hard. At the end I was not very happy with the state of measurements and correlation with listening as much as it exists for speakers. Proper equipment is also surprisingly expensive despite its simplicity. So for now, I am not going there.
 

YSC

Major Contributor
Joined
Dec 31, 2019
Messages
1,363
Likes
925
#12
I studied it hard. At the end I was not very happy with the state of measurements and correlation with listening as much as it exists for speakers. Proper equipment is also surprisingly expensive despite its simplicity. So for now, I am not going there.
I see, hopefully ASR will go there soon, as relative to speaker where the room environment affect it a lot (reflections, messy room, position etc), headphones seems to varies less at least with over ear ones, and more and more younger generations are addicted to the high end head/earphone etc. so it's interesting of how well it goes for roughly neutral is interesting, e.g. the UERM anad sennheiser HD800 was considered the gold standard for reference neutral sound, yet recently they both released a successor the UERR and senn HD800S which was claimed to be even better, especially the UE with the capitol studio to match it with their studio sound. so really interesting for that.
 

bobbooo

Major Contributor
Joined
Aug 30, 2019
Messages
1,479
Likes
1,995
#13
I realize head-fi is one of your biggest competitors, but but... another headphone amp review? We want more speaker reviews (at least I do!))

I get the point though - a $99 adapter is better than some POS $1400 one like the last review. Then again, headphones sound just fine with my phone now I wouldn't spend another penny on it or mess with.
Headphones are probably the primary way most people listen to music these days (especially the younger generation), so I and I suspect many others welcome any reviews related to headphone-listening. But like you, the majority of people still just use their smartphones directly when listening to music. What is severely lacking is hard evidence that there is that much of an audible difference between sound from our phones and dongles like these that is worth spending money on.

@amirm the next time you're waiting for a speaker test to finish, could you please do all the tests you did on the LG G7 but on your Samsung Galaxy S8+ and post a full, dedicated review? The phone category is the only one on here with just a single review - it would be great to get some more detailed quality data in this area, especially considering the S8, S9, S10 (and all "+" and "e" variants), Note8 and Note9 series, covering a huge number of users, all use the same WCD9341 audio chip and so likely have comparable performance, so these measurements and review would be of huge benefit to a large number of consumers.
 
Last edited:

Matias

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 1, 2019
Messages
2,521
Likes
4,061
Location
São Paulo, Brazil
#14
I don't know, to me this measures pretty bad, specially for 99 usd... I would pass and look elsewhere for a competent dongle.
 
Last edited:

Koeitje

Major Contributor
Joined
Oct 10, 2019
Messages
1,443
Likes
2,061
#15
This is quite disappointing. @amirm can you measure it at 1v output? It auto selects the maximum output based on the impedance of the connected device. I don't know how much actual development went into this, because its an all-in one solution from ESS.

In addition, the non-MQA version uses a different chip. The chips used can be found here:
http://www.esstech.com/index.php/en/products/usb-audio-codecs/

The MQA version uses the ES9281C, the non-MQA ES9270C I believe.

Headphones are probably the primary way most people listen to music these days (especially the younger generation), so I and I suspect many others welcome any reviews related to headphone-listening. But like you, the majority of people still just use their smartphones directly when listening to music. What is severely lacking is hard evidence that there is that much of an audible difference between sound from our phones and dongles like these that is worth spending money on.

@amirm the next time you're waiting for a speaker test to finish, could you please do all the tests you did on the LG G7 but on your Samsung Galaxy S8+ and post a full, dedicated review? The phone category is the only one on here with just a single review - it would be great to get some more detailed quality data in this area, especially considering the S8, S9, S10 (and all "+" and "e" variants), Note8 and Note9 series, covering a huge number of users, all use the same WCD9341 audio chip and so likely have comparable performance, so these measurements and review would be of huge benefit to a large number of consumers.
I don't need those tests to see that dongles output is much higher than those. So if you have headphones that need some power you aren't going to get that from phones.
 
Last edited:

bidn

Active Member
Joined
Aug 16, 2019
Messages
120
Likes
421
Location
Kingdom of the Netherlands
#18
I realize head-fi is one of your biggest competitors, but but... another headphone amp review? We want more speaker reviews (at least I do!))

I get the point though - a $99 adapter is better than some POS $1400 one like the last review. Then again, headphones sound just fine with my phone now I wouldn't spend another penny on it or mess with.
HI DosThou,

Head-Fi is very different:
For me it is almost entirely subjective and quite commercial. If you look at the latest video presenting the gear (for which airtime was paid I understand) for the latest Canjam show, check out the presentation of the hyper expensive dCs Bartok DAC : measurements are made with a Audio Precision 555, but only secondary results are shown, not the most important ones like SINAD, THD... Strange, isn't it? Or would it be to hide an epic fail....?

Re. speakers,
I personally, as a non-professional customer, am definitely not interested in speakers. I am married, it is too difficult to change the speakers in the living room = my wife's territory, and it is the same for other married music-lover friends I have. Not worth ruining a marriage.
Whereas I am "free" to do what I want with headphones in my study (or portably at work). I have high-end headphones like the Focal Utopia.
So personally I am by far mainly interested in DACs and amps for headphones and IEMs. Especially curious about the expensive Chord DAC and upscaler, having doubts about their price.

Have a nice weekend,
bidn
 

bobbooo

Major Contributor
Joined
Aug 30, 2019
Messages
1,479
Likes
1,995
#19
At the end I was not very happy with the state of measurements and correlation with listening as much as it exists for speakers.
Reddit user Oratory1990, an acoustic engineer who specifically measures headphones as part of research his company does based in Austria, actually calculates preference ratings using Dr. Sean Olive's formula for headphones, which has the same 0.86 correlation with actual preference ratings for over/on-ear headphones that his speaker formula we're using has, and an even higher correlation of 0.91 for in-ear headphones :)

I believe Oratory1990 uses the same equipment Olive did when taking the measurements his preference formula is based on, so they will be very accurate and the preference ratings should achieve that 0.86 / 0.91 correlation. All his headphone measurements and preference ratings (both before and after his parametric equalizer settings to EQ to the Harman target frequency response) can be found here. It's a fantastic resource.
 
Last edited:

majingotan

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Forum Donor
Joined
Feb 13, 2018
Messages
932
Likes
967
Location
Laguna, Philippines
#20
Especially curious about the expensive Chord DAC and upscaler, having doubts about their price.
They're nothing special and waaaay overpriced. I've heard the DAVE with both Blu MK2 and MScaler quite a few times and it's no surprise it doesn't sound any better than my Chord Mojo or even my $9 Apple dongle
 

Similar threads

Top Bottom