The ZuperDAC-S, currently available for pre-order on the Zorloo website for $69, is a follow-up to Zorloo’s original ZuperDAC, which was a portable DAC/AMP with a USB Stick form factor similar to AudioQuest’s Dragonfly Black. The follow-up ZuperDAC-S instead has a female micro-USB port on one end, so you can plug in different USB cables depending on what type of device you are connecting to, as opposed to plugging directly into your computer with a male USB-B connector.
It is built around the highly-regarded ESS SABRE 9018Q2C System On Chip which combines a DAC and modestly powered headphone amp, which should pair well with headphones up to 32 ohms impedance. This chip is widely used in many portable DAC/Amps like the S.M.S.L. IDEA and the Sabaj Da2, both of which have a similar form factor to the ZuperDac-S. However, the other two offer native DSD decoding, something the Zorloo product doesn’t.
Instead, it decodes up to 24/192 PCM, which probably covers the needs of a budding audiophile just getting started with portable hi-res playback, who is most likely the target audience Zorloo is marketing this product to. DSD would probably not be worth the hassle to many of them.
Just like their marketing material says, this product provides a simple and inexpensive way for music lovers to bypass the cheap internal DACs in their smartphones, tablets or computers and enhance the sound quality. To sum it up, the unit is small, plug and play with most Android and iOS devices, and just needs a simple driver install to work with a Windows computer. It also sounds great.
Regarding fit and finish, the ZuperDAC-S feels very nice in the hand, with its slim profile, rounded edges, and metal body. It is also very light, weighing only .34 ounces. The separate volume up and down buttons on the face, also made of metal, is a nice touch, and they press in with a nice firm reassuring feel. It feels like they will hold up for awhile. The 16 step volume adjustment also works independently of the device it is plugged into.
The back side of the unit is blank except for a Zorloo logo and tiny blue LED, letting you know the unit is powered on. There is no power button, it powers up automatically when you plug it into a USB device.
Because of the micro-USB port mentioned earlier, the ZuperDAC-S is very narrow, which makes it a lot easier to carry around than something like the Dragonfly Black. The female micro-USB port also makes it possible for Zorloo to include several small USB adapter cables in the box, three to be exact. They give you one with a USB-C end, which is nice since most of the new smartphones and laptops have this connector, then they also give you two more cables with USB-A and Micro-USB ends to ensure compatibility with any other tablets, phones, or laptops you have lying around. For a gadget junkie like myself, this versatility is very nice.
The only cable that doesn’t come with the ZuperDAC-S is a lightning adapter for Apple phones and tablets, but Zorloo advises in the instructions to use the micro-USB to USB-A cable along with Apple’s Lighting to USB Camera Adapter and it should work fine. Apple folks can let me know how that goes because I don’t plan to make an offering at the Apple altar for that extra dongle.
From the moment I plugged the ZuperDAC-S into my tablet with the micro USB to micro USB cable and connected my AudioQuest Nighthawks to it, I was impressed by the big sound coming from a device smaller than a pack of gum. The soundstage was wide. The treble was smooth, and the bass although slightly soft, filled out the rhythm nicely. The mids were sweet, perfectly in balance with the rest of the mix. That’s the part I appreciated most.
In comparison with the Dragonfly Black ($99), another ESS SABRE based DAC I had on hand, the sound was slightly less detailed and transparent, but I preferred the warmer sound of the ZuperDAC-S. The Dragonfly conveyed things like the attack/decay transients of instruments better, but it seemed to provide a colder, more clinical performance, with less emotion than the Zorloo. The Dragonfly had more depth to its presentation, but the ZuperDAC-S also had good depth along with a slightly wider, airy soundstage.
The Dragonfly Black leans towards brightness with certain instruments like cymbals, but the Zorloo’s smoother sound makes it easier to pair with headphones and IEMs. It also makes it a good all around DAC for all genres of music. I’m not saying the ZuperDAC-S is all around better sounding than the Dragonfly, just different. Some will like the more clinical, detailed sound of the latter, and some will like the warmer more diffuse sound of the former.
The ZuperDAC-S is a well built and great sounding DAC for either someone who is just getting started with portable hi-res playback or someone who is looking for a simple way to upgrade their mobile audio. It doesn’t have any fancy features or support for DSD and MQA files like some of its competitors, so if you are looking for the Swiss Army Knife of DAC/AMPs, this isn’t it. However, what it does, it does very well, and it comes with everything you need to get started right away. It is also the perfect size and weight to take on the go without being in the way.