DAC Chip: ESS Sabre ES9281AC PRO (Single)
PCM 32bit – 384kHz DSD 5.6MHz MQA, SNR: -120dB, Power: 2 Vrms Adaptive , USB Type-C Male, 3.5mm SE (Microphone: YES), 90mm, 18g, Aluminum Chassis
LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING
- Clear and clean neutral timbre, well balanced tonality
- Crisp and controlled dynamics, smooth
- Great, well nuanced Micro and Macro details, very transparent
- Balanced Mids with great textures and definition, natural toned Male/Female vocals
- Smooth sparkly Treble with crisp decays, great extensions
- Fast, impactful Mid-Bass with equally fast decays
- Sub-Bass offers audible seismic response with mild decays.
- Crisp guitars, piano, percussions (chimes, bells) and drums and taps
- Decent soundstage size with good depth and placement
- Great holographic spatial imaging with precise placement
- Amazing speed and dexterity on complex passages and transients
- Super clean background, zero floor noises
- Exceptionally clean layers and sharp separation lines
- Great for modern music as well as instrumentals
- Good driving power for magnetic planars at 75/100
- Very stable and seamless MQA unfolding
- Slightly lean sounding on demanding IEMs and Planars
- Soundstage could use a bit more of width and height
- Bass response slightly flatter compared to warmer dongles
- No hardware volume adjuster
- Driving power not as great despite having 2 Vrms rating
Zorloo Ztella MQA. This is my 8th ES9281AC dongle and I can relate the sonic characteristics of this Ztella unit to hiliDAC Audirect BEAM 2SE, except that BEAM 2SE offered better driving power with user selectable gain and better amp stages. The result is that Ztella is a “weaker” version of BEAM 2SE. Compared to hiliDAC ATOM2, Hidizs S3 Pro and HiBy FC3, this Ztella offers better balance of being not as sparkly bright – so this is a plus in my book.
While it was able to drive the demanding FOSTEX T40RP MK3 magnetic planar properly at 80/100 volume, the overall presentation was slightly leaner sounding. But it does not fall apart even pushed higher up to 100/100. The optimization for this Ztella does not seem to fit for demanding IEMs/HPs. Even my Etymotic ER4SR needed 60/100. The good thing is, the output from that venerable BA was actually enjoyable. Everything sounded so well balanced with no emphasis on any particular frequencies. Technical aspect were nothing short of amazing with great speed and transients, layering were sharp with precise imaging, spatially balanced. Similar results with HZSOUND Heart Mirror, Ztella complementing Heart Mirror capabilities with polished and tidy output.
Best synergy pairing, with Moondrop Aria. Aria’s bass responses were deftly controlled without sacrificing any of the body mass. I am not a big fan of Harman tuning but with Aria + Ztella, I can’t help bobbing my head enjoying the smooth vibrant dynamics. It was just simply very coherent and clean sounding for a U curved IEM. Treble performances was great too with crisp and smooth edges that are decently extended. The Bass responses will never fatigue me like what a KOSS Porta Pro would….haha
The strongest aspect of this Ztella is the cleanliness and coherence of timbre and dynamics. It is very stable and consistent. Also not forgetting how adept it is with MQA unfolding via Tidal Masters – I have heard a few other ES9281AC units struggling with micro crackling but not with this Ztella. I wish it could have a bit more driving power and that would have scored higher in my ranking system.
Best Pairing: Flexible for anything less demanding under 100Ω
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