Music on the go: Who doesn’t want it? Well: what do we almost always carry with us? Exactly. Our phone. Unfortunately, it’s a fact that most phones just sound crap. Now we can all use a Dragonfly Cobalt, but not everyone has 299 euros to spend. If you still want to boost the quality, Zorloo is the way to go… ahem. Yeah, strange name. We know. We’re testing the Zorloo Ztella DAC
Not many readers will know Zorloo At least we didn’t know it before we got our hands on this product. Zorloo is a brand from Hong Kong, China. We see more and more fine products coming from China, which is not surprising; it is a country that produces a lot of electronics. Also for renowned brands. We don’t have to explain why that is. Costs, scale… etc. But we do notice that more and more manufacturers are also starting to produce in-house for logistical reasons. It’s a sensible choice.
Zorloo gave us the Ztella with MQA. So we can test a kind of total package. What really matters is that our dac-chip – an ESS Sabre mobile dac – can decode MQA. The player should also be able to handle MQA, of course. That is possible with Roon, Tidal or any other player with MQA capability. We have chosen Roon and Tidal in this review.
The advantage of a solution like the Zorloo – and other headphones with built-in dac – is that the decoding and conversion no longer takes place in the phone, but in the dac you choose. In many cases this results in a better reproduction, because the focus of the phone manufacturer is not on good audio, but on a working phone. Audio is often a bonus.
Now there are phones that have good audio – LG has a mqa-compatible phone, Samsung the same – but they are rare. The solution is then simple: an external dac or a very good bluetooth headset. Although bluetooth also has compression. And Zorloo’s solution doesn’t suffer from that. Also: you can choose from numerous wired headphones with an external dac solution.
Let’s get back to the playback. It’s pretty bizarre what’s possible with mobile dacs these days. Or mobile devices in general. A complete converter in an adapter cable. Five years ago, who would have thought that would be possible? And with a musical quality that significantly surpasses that of a mobile phone. Detail, energy and refinement: it’s all there.
Now you really shouldn’t compare it to a serious headphone amplifier: it’s not. It’s just for the road. Just click into the phone and enjoy a better sound. Want to fully use your big over-ear headphones? Then you have two problems: the plug doesn’t fit at all (it’s 3.5mm) and this Zorloo solution is going to run out of breath. This Zorloo Ztella is for 3.5mm in-ears, or easily controllable headphones.
We have connected our FiiO F9 Pro to it for this test. And that’s an excellent match. We hear loads of detail and a well-balanced sound image.
Zorloo Ztella in ROON
In ROON the Zorloo Ztella is immediately recognized and configured. In short: plug and play. We can play MQA without any problems, as you can see in the overview of the signal path. We hear a neat, balanced sound of The Resistance by Muse as well as, for example, London Grammar and The War on Drugs. This definitely plays better than the analogue output of the laptop. Does it beat the Dragonfly Cobalt? No, it doesn’t. It has more punch and resolution. But yes, it also costs three times as much. So in terms of price / quality, it’s a different story. In addition, the Zorloo is a lot more compact, which has advantages.
Zorloo Ztella on the phone
Then on the phone. Just like the Dragonfly Cobalt, the Zorloo Ztella works directly on the Nokia. Now we notice how nice the form factor is. It is in fact just an adapter cable. And it works nicely. Again, the difference is immediately audible. More detail, more energy and more refinement than via the analogue output of our Nokia 7 plus. We play via both the Tidal app and ROON and in both cases it works flawlessly and just sounds very good. The combination of the Ztella with the FiiO is certainly not a bad thing! The spoiled audiophile will definately be able to live with this. (For on the road, that is).
For whom? Well: this upgrade costs – in the case of the MQA version – 99 euros. Without the MQA compatibility, you save about 30 euros, so you for just under 70 euros you can be ready.
We don’t find it a difficult choice, because it’s an audible upgrade that is also very portable. It’s a small piece of cable that you get. It weighs nothing, bends along and not unimportantly: it costs little battery. In short: this is a very nice and usable upgrade.
But there are a few things to take into account: the Zorloo Ztella is going to have trouble with tougher headphones. And only usb-c is going to work. If you have an older phone without usb-c, it probably won’t work. There are also lightning versions for iPhone.