DAC Chip: ESS Sabre ES9298 Pro (Single)
PCM 32bit-384khz DSD128, SNR: -118db, Power: 2 Vrms 32Ω, 3.5mm SE (Microphone: Yes), Proprietary Magnetic Jack to USB-C (short and 1M long cable included)
LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING
- Crisp and clean neutral flat timbre, uncolored
- Smooth crisp dynamics with airy presentation
- Great Micro and Macro details handling, great transparency
- Balanced Mids with smooth textures and definition
- Natural toned Male/Female vocals
- Crisp and smooth Treble decays with good extensions
- Moderate Mid-Bass responses, tightly controlled, fast with crisp decays.
- Subtle Sub-Bass response with smooth decays.
- Crisp and vivid guitars, piano, percussions
- Decently sized soundstage width with good depth and placement
- Good holographic spatial imaging with clean placement/layers
- Good speed and dexterity on complex passages and transients
- Clean background with zero floor noises
- Clean layers and well-defined separation lines
- Excellent driving power even for stubborn Magnetic Planars
- iOS & Game Console Compatible
- Three selectable sound modes, presets for Music, Movie and Gaming
- Dry and lean timbre on an already bright sounding partners
- Volume adjuster not independent, direct adjustment the host instead.
- Huge volume jump between levels
- Picks up RF Interference easily when used with mobile phones
- No user selectable gain mode
- Control buttons does not work properly with Tidal app
- Proprietary magnetic detachable cable not easily to replace like the more common USB C to C
IKKO Zerda ITM01. This is the 2nd IKKO Dongle that I have owned and tested. ITM01 is a very special Dongle in many ways. I can’t recall any other Dongles that offer detachable magnetic connector in lieu of the traditional USB-C Female receptacle on the Dongle side. ITM01 also offers unique sound mode presets intended for Music, Movie and Gaming experience. As for my own usage, I am literally almost 100% on Music mode (a mode which I believe is set to as neutral as possible without any EQ coloration).
Overall the ITM01 is a very tidy and clean sounding unit. ES9298 is not a common DAC chip and very rarely we would see this model being used over the more popular ESS siblings of ES9038, ES9281, ES9280 or ES9018 series
One of the first observations that I noted (rather importantly) is that the ITM01 is not cursed with the annoyingly tall but narrow soundstage as would be heard from many ES9281/ES9280 variant. I am happy to hear that the staging is properly sized. Not exactly as wide or deep as how the top performers are but not worryingly congested either. Imaging and layering is as good as can be expected of a dongle of this caliber, perhaps a bit less holographic as how I would prefer it to be.
Now, after extensive tests, surprisingly I was enjoying this ITM01 the most when paired with my two favorite Magnetic Planars. The FOSTEX T40RP MK3 and 7Hz Timeless. ITM01 has great driving power to inject life into my T40RP with lively dynamics that’s free from any anomalies, distortions or jitters. Similar results observed with the 7Hz Timeless. There’s enough headroom to spare for loudness and satisfying listening fidelity.
However, the same can’t be said of my other two favorites which are Etymotic ER4SR and VE Duke. Both of which are natively Diffused Field Neutral unit with very flat and bright sound signature. The timbre decidedly a bit dry sounding on the upper registers with the lower frequencies felt even flatter – not enough density to give that satisfying oomph. What does work with both of them is that dynamic transients remained crisp and smooth without any annoying sibilance (a badly implemented ESS DAC can be so easily prone to this). This overall dry and somewhat lean dynamics unfortunately also applies to VE Monk SM and Shure KSE1500. I know I am being overly critical here but honestly I am nitpicking as such because I have had high expectations of ITM01.
On the bright side, ITM01 does pair much better with TForce Yuan Li and SeeAudio Bravery. I love these two IEMs for being neutral balanced tuned with some hint of warmth. There’s no dryness or lean dynamics observed here. Treble presented smooth and silky with crisp edged decays that are realistic sounding. Mids remained transparent with great clarity and resolution, Bass being tight and well controlled.
So it seems that to get the best out of ITM01, pairing synergy is even more critical here as opposed to the more versatile Dongles like the JCally JM10 or XDuoo Link2 (both of which are “safe tuning” Dongles). I am confident that ITM01 will also sound great with the likes of Moondrop Aria and VE Bonus IE, but will not likely sound as great with an already bright and sparkly unit. All in all, everything considered from the Pro to the Cons, ITM01 is a decent unit for as long as the intent to use it a bit more tailored to the pairing selection and purposes. To be fair I did not test the Movie and Gaming mode as I only use my Dongles for music. It is entirely plausible that ITM01 could be a revelation when used correctly with the other two modes.
Best Pairing: An already warm sounding IEMs/Headphones/Earbuds
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