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Zorloo Ztella review

A unique compact DAC for your smartphone Tested at $99

5 Star Rating
Zorloo Ztella review
(Image: © Zorloo)

Our Verdict

It might look like the headphone adaptor that came with your smartphone, but the Zorloo Ztella will wipe the floor with any bundled-in rival

For

  • Clean and detailed sound
  • Lots of energy and excitement
  • Unobtrusive size and form

Against

  • Tiresome with bright headphones
  • Android users need MQA app

In these unprecedented times, it perhaps makes sense that What Hi-Fi? should embark on a number of product testing firsts.

There are at least two of those here with the Zorloo Ztella – it is the first time we’ve come across this fledgling Hong Kong-based company, and certainly the first time we’ve reviewed one of these headphone adaptor-like USB DACs.

Pricing

The Zorloo Ztella's price is $99 in the MQA form in which we've tested it, and $109 if you also need the Lightning adapter.

At the time of writing, it can only be purchased directly from Zorloo.com, with shipping to the UK, Australia and most US states charged at a flat $10.

That makes the total cost, including shipping and Paypal's current currency conversion rate, $109 ($119 for Lightning) for US buyers, £93 (£101) for those in the UK, and AU$163 (AU$178) if you're in Australia. You can of course pay in USD and save yourself a little money if your bank offers a better currency conversion rate than Paypal.

Build

Zorloo Ztella build

(Image credit: Zorloo)

Zorloo claims the Ztella is the world’s smallest USB DAC with high-end audio capability, thanks to its 11cm length, 5g weight and ability to render hi-res music files up to PCM 384KHz, DSD 5.6M and in MQA.

Being both unobtrusive and generally affordable, that would seem to make it the ideal upgrade to your smartphone’s sound – but it might also be good enough to become your go-to for the computer as well.

Features

Zorloo Ztella features

(Image credit: Zorloo)

Zorloo describes the Ztella as plug-in-and-play, however, you may need to take a little care here, particularly if you’re an Android user and want to listen to MQA.

Zorloo Ztella tech specs

(Image credit: Zorloo)

Inputs USB Type-C, 3.5mm audio, 
USB 2.0, USB

Audio formats PCM (up to 384kHz), DSD (up to 5.6MHz), MQA

In-line controls Yes


Impedance 150 ohms (2V)


Dimensions 11cm (length)

Weight 5g


Whereas the iPhone has a bit-perfect USB output, which allows the MQA Core signal to be passed correctly and recognised by the Ztella, an Android device’s USB output is limited by the capabilities of the Android system and so the signal is not bit-perfect.

The workaround is downloading the USB Audio Player Pro app, which allows the Ztella to properly recognise and render an MQA signal at its finest. That’s more faff than something labelled plug-and-play should ideally involve, but it still performs somewhere near its best without the additional legwork.

The Ztella also incorporates a headphone amp that analyses whatever you plug into it and optimises its output to match – it can deliver more than twice the power of a standard smartphone. If you want to pause the music and make a call, Zorloo has made sure your in-line controls and mic are still active when plugged into the DAC.

As for the other end of the Ztella, the standard connection is USB Type-C, which covers most modern smartphone, tablet and laptop manufacturers. A USB Type-A adapter is included for use with older hardware, and a version with a lightning adapter is also available for those using an iPhone.

Sound

Zorloo Ztella sound

(Image credit: Zorloo)

You should also take care with headphone pairing. The Ztella is a wonderfully clean-sounding DAC for the money, but it will emphasise any brightness or top-heavy presentation in your headphones, which can be quite wearing during lengthy listening sessions.

It’s not that Zorloo has got the balance wrong, just that you need to pair the Ztella with something neutral sounding or mellow. There is still plenty of bass weight anchoring the sound, and a solid, friendly midrange despite all the sonic cleaning, but this isn’t a DAC that dials back on those high frequencies if they’re there.

Cleanliness is one of the Ztella’s most abundant virtues, but it’s immediately noticeable how confident and playful it sounds. It appears to use the space in each mix to take great swings at each note as they’re hammered. It does quiet and sombre reflection without sounding like it wants to go faster, but the Zorloo certainly feels most at home with upbeat tracks.

Of course, this being the first DAC of its type we’ve reviewed, there is no real frame of reference, apart from maybe those ones bundled in with smartphones. We have tested lots of its USB stick-like equivalents, and while they are different prospects in many ways, the good news for Zorloo is that the sound is broadly comparable.

Class-leading DACs that currently retail around the price of the Zorloo Ztella, such as the Cyrus soundKey or Audioquest DragonFly Red, will give a more fluid sense of dynamics, with more accented playing of small-scale shifts, and perhaps also offer more body, but they by no means leave this talented DAC for dust.

You may even notice more detail in pieces played through the Ztella, and be moved by its rapid and definite footwork, meaning you end up using it as your main DAC for your computer as well as your smartphone.

Verdict

Although similar, the Ztella is a fundamentally different product to those USB DACs above, and even with the faff of the extra software for Android users and the care needed with pairing, its five-star status is secured.

Put simply, if you want to improve your smartphone sound, but don’t want a USB stick hanging off the end of it, this is a bit of a no brainer.

SCORES

  • Sound 5
  • Features 4
  • Build 4

MORE:

Best DACs 2020

Read our Cyrus soundKey review

Read our Audioquest DragonFly Red review

  • jules153
    Notice they do a non-MQA version for 2/3 the price.... any chance of a test on this one please?
    Reply
  • curlypaws
    How can Zorloo manage to offer a direct Lightning interface, but Cyrus and AudioQuest apparently can't come up with anything better than asking you to use the clunky Apple Camera Kit gubbins to connect? As an iOS user, I'd be tempted by this DAC for that reason alone.
    Reply
  • ZtellaDoesntDeliver
    I got both the MQA and the non-MQA versions. Build quality was not up to par. The connector for the 3.5mm headphone jack came off. The cylindrical metal piece that was glued to the wire dislodged. There were some static issues with sound cutting in and out. Sent emails to support multiple times. Never heard back. Purchase at your own risk.
    Reply
  • ZtellaDoesntDeliver
    jules153 said:
    Notice they do a non-MQA version for 2/3 the price.... any chance of a test on this one please?


    Build quality was shoddy. I bought the MQA and non-MQA versions. Sent messages to support. Never heard back.
    Reply
  • ZtellaDoesntDeliver
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    It looks like an adaptor bundled with your smartphone, but this DAC makes a big difference to your sound.

    Zorloo Ztella : Read more


    Only if it works. Customer support non-existent.
    Reply
  • jules153
    Thanks for the info. Your username kinda sets out the agenda no? ;)
    Reply
  • jbeclectic
    curlypaws said:
    How can Zorloo manage to offer a direct Lightning interface, but Cyrus and AudioQuest apparently can't come up with anything better than asking you to use the clunky Apple Camera Kit gubbins to connect? As an iOS user, I'd be tempted by this DAC for that reason alone.
    Also have a look at the FiiO i1 - virtually identical to the Zorloo - but has been out much longer - Surprised WHF haven't spotted it!!
    Anyway its a lightning 3.5mm DAC Amp - but not much of an amp. It comes in 2 cable lengths 7cm and I think about 80cm (much to long). Volume +/-, track skip etc on the 3.5mm socket.
    Sounds good, relatively neutral I prefer it to the Apple or Belkin dongles costs about £40 - not the easiest thing to find - Advanced MP3 Players got one of mine.
    Reply