IKKO ZERDA ITM01: Do-it-all Lil’Dongle Wonder

PROS

Realist tonality and decent technicalities, impressive power output for it’s size (125mw@32ohm), versatile performance, Button controls, Movie mode open the soundstage and improve imaging, competitively priced

CONS

Average imaging in Music mode, flat in dynamic, lack of air and sparkle in treble, proprietary cable

TONALITY: 8/10
TECHNICALITIES: 8/10
AMPING QUANTITY: 8.5/10
AMPING QUALITY: 7.8/10
CONSTRUCTION&DESIGN: 8.2/10
SOUND VALUE: 8.5/10

PACKAGING

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Nothing to be amazed about here, it’s minimalist in term of presentation and accessories, but it do include an extra USB cable of good quality.



CONSTRUCTION & CONTROL

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The built is good for the price. It’s a mix of thin allumium and plastic. It’s light and doesn’t feel extremely sturdy, so I would be afraid to dropit on hard floor. Button are well implemented and have an easy click to it. The jack is a mix of metal and plastic, it feel of good quality. The connector is unique, it use an anti-interference magnetic port but it need a proprietary cable to be used, so this can represent pricey compromise when it come to buy an IOS cable or replacing a broken or lost one.

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Control is excellent, I’m a big fan of Play-Pause button when it comes to the dongle and it’s a shame it isn’t as widely used. IKKO did a great design job with the ITM01 and the interface is flawless.

BATTERY CONSUMPTION

Listening at high volume, I get around 5H of use with my LG V30, which have a rather poor battery life. Even if the ITM01 isn’t battery-powered and do drain your phone battery life, it isn’t problematic

AMPING

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QUANTITY

The ITM01 ES9298Pro DAC has an integrated headphone amplifier circuit that delivers up to 2V into 32ohm impedance load. In that regard, it is very similar to the ES9280 and ES9218 DAC. But unlike those two, it bypasses adaptative gain to deliver max power output which is 125mw@32ohm.


125 Megawatt is plenty of power for about 99% of IEM and 75% of headphones, for example, my Surface Pro 3 laptop max volume sound as loud as 25% of ITM01 volume, so to those wondering if it will be a big a noticeable upgrade from their laptop, tablet or smartphone, it will certainly be at least in volume loudness.

Another example will be the fact that ITM01 delivers more power single-ended than FIIO BTR5 which is stated at 80mw@32ohm , but BTR5 balanced output delivers near 2 times more power at 220mw@32ohm.

All in all, you have plenty of driving quantity which makes the ITM01 very versatile for those using earbuds, IEM and headphones with diversified impedance and sensitivity. Anything portable can be driven by the ITM01, apart from perhaps extremely hard to feed IEM like the Tinhifi P1 or Final E4000.

QUALITY

Cool, we have decent amping power but is it noisy, hissy? Did the dynamic is deliver with authority?

While this is no THX ultra-lean and clean amping, it isn’t hissy or dirty by any means. Sure, if you use very sensitive IEM like the Audiosense T800 (9ohm), it will not sound as clean in the background as let say the Final A8000 or E1000. It must be noted that the 0.8ohm impedance output is quite low but not as low as other top high-end DAC or DAP. For example, the Ibasso DX90 has an impedance output of 0.1ohm and delivers a way cleaner spatiality and blacker background.

Still, their no hiss or distortion with my Audiosense T800, which is surely a sign of stable power output. It did had some warmth, and thicken the sound too, it stole some air on top. The SABRE headphone amplifier seems to add an analog filter to the overall sound that softens the edge of its tonality, making it smoother and more organic as a whole but less transparent and crisp. The dynamic is weighty but not perfectly articulated.



SOUND IMPRESSIONS


(using Audiosense T800, Final A8000 and Final E1000)

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The IKKO ITM01 has 3 sound preset. They can be selected by holding the center button. Each one has it’s own color indicator lighting: lemon yellow for Music, blue for Movie and Purple for Gaming. I will only review the Music and Movie mode since we can’t select the Gaming mode for music which is a serious drawback because the Movie mode can be very interesting for music for those that wanna open the soundstage and boost it’s imaging perception.

PS : We ‘’can’’ use the Gaming mode with music app but their no volume control and the sound feel distant, acting more like a line out.


MUSIC MODE

Lush in a lean way, with dense timbre and slightly warmed neutrality. This isn’t at all similar to ES9038 tonality, which is way colder and sharper than the more relaxed ES9298 tonality. It’s similar to ES9218 implementation in the FIIO BTR5 or ES9281C implementation in AUDIRECT ATOM2, to the point some will not notice any difference (unless going balanced with BTR5).

The TREBLE is slightly smoothened (roll-off around 15khz), it isn’t sparkly and very revealing, but it sounds full and relaxed in impact and we don’t feel it lack at anything apart from crisp precision. We have a slight boost in 10khz section that helps to deliver the intricate details part, but it’s far from being over-emphasized. Treble density gives a sens of weight and immediacy but lack proper definition to extract each individuality of music sound info. If you want your dongle to extract all micro-details in a track, the ITM01 isn’t the right one, but if you want a treble that melts organically in a cohesive tonality and add some spice to the top, this is a good one.

The MIDS is the lush part of the sound, vocal are wide and dense, timbre is natural but slightly colored with warmth. Again, mids don’t jump at you but flow naturally. They aren’t very transparent nor crisp and imaging is just average. Tone is accurate, but the attack lack a bit of edge. Without being hollow, the mids lack a bit of clarity in micro-details and definition and benefit more the macro-resolution as a cohesive whole. Inoffensive, yet without lacking in presence.

The BASS is the warmest part and not very textured. Separation is average and flow in mid-range in an opaque organic way. The ITM01 will not help your IEM to deliver highly clean and articulate bass, and the extension doesn’t feel complete. Kick drum and sub bass tend to melt togheter a bit.

IMAGING is rather average both in layering which are condensed and spatiality that lack crispness and precision.

SOUNDSTAGE is wide enough, but not very deep or tall. It’s rather intimate.

RESOLUTION is above average but lacks a bit of transparency for proper sound layering.

MOVIE MODE

The biggest difference from Music mode is the spatiality and imaging, the soundstage is notably wider and deeper and instrument placement is crisper with better separation and layering.

The Clarity is boosted in treble and overall signature a bit more V shape as it packs more punch and dig more micro-details.

The overall timbre is thinner, especially in mid-range which has a brighter tone. Vocals aren’t as smooth and present as music mode.

All in all, this mode is very interesting to open up the sound of IEM that has a small soundstage.



COMPARISONS

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VS TEMPOTEC HD PRO (DAC-CS43131-45$)

BUILT is made of metal and a bit smaller with HD PRO, as well, it use micro-usb connector compared to the proprietary magnetic connection of the ITM01.
CONTROL button are better implemented with ITM01, volume have more step and by-pass stock volume control, HD PRO button lack pressure click and feel cheap. You don’t have Play-Pause button nlike the ITM01, which is a big drawback too.
AMPING power is about 2 times lower with HD PRO, but it’s cleaner too.
TONALITY is quite different, HD PRO is cleaner, crisper and more neutral. It dig more micro details and have notably more precise and revealing imaging. The background is blacker. Bass is leaner-clearer. Mids are thinner but more transparent and agile. Treble is more emphasized and detailed. Timbre is colder. Attack is faster-edgier.
RESOLUTION is better in both transparency and definition precision with the HD PRO.

All in all, the HD PRO offer a neutral reference sound that is better technically but colder tonally, amping power is notably lower and overall interface poorer making the ITM01 a more versatile, mass appealing choice.

VS AUDIRECT ATOM 2 (DAC-ES9281-80$)

BUILT is way smaller with Atom2 and doesn’t need extra cable, which mean it can’t be used for different IOS-Android too. Being all thick metal, Atom2 promise longer durability than light plastic built of ITM01.
CONTROL go to ITM01 since you don’t have any button with Atom2.
AMPING power is about 2 times lower again (62mw vs 125mw), it’s very similar in term of quality both have slight amping warmth added to their tonality. But once you unlock gain boost with Atom2, it seem they deliver about same level of max loudness. Strangely, Audirect didn’t specs it with the use of a 3.5mm male to female adapter that permit to get max gain at 32ohm.
TONALITY is very similar, as expected with similar DAC that doesn’t need independent amplifier. ITM01 is a bit more lean and neutral, bit brighter too. The sounds layers aren’t as thick and well extracted and the presentation feel a bit less dynamic. Mids are lusher and more boosted with Atom2, bass is warmer and have more slam.
RESOLUTION is better with the ITM01, its cleaner, less warmed by bass and treble is sharper.

All in all, ITM01 sounds like a more refined Atom2 even if dynamic is more weighty with the Atom2.



CONCLUSION

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Just 2 years ago, we had very few choice when it come for the affordable dongle and ultra portable DAC-AMP, it was FIIO or nothing really. Well, apart from overpriced Dragonfly stuffs.
In that regards, Tempotec HD PRO was a much-needed miracle, but it was lacking a bit of amping power to make it greatly versatile.
While I wasn’t a fan of the first ZERDA dongle from IKKO, which use a cirrus CS43198, the ITM01 take me by surprise delivering a superior sound and higher power output for half the price of it’s predecessor.
The fact it have 3 sound mode as a plus is another interesting factor that make the ITM01 uniquely appealing because the Movie Mode can be use to magnify your music too, offering a bigger more holographic sound presentation that transforms your movie or music into 5.1 surround sound experience.
I’m not sure why the Zerda ITM01 isn’t more hyped than this, but really, for 50$ it’s among the best do-it-all dongle dac-amp you can find nowadays.
If you search for a dongle that has a volume control, pause-play button, a changeable cable, 125mw of amping power and 2 sound signature plus a dedicated gaming mode….well, their only one option and this is it.



—————-
PS: I wanna thanks IKKO for sending me this review sample. I’m not affiliated to this audio company and didn’t gain any money. As always, this is my 100% honest unbiased audio impression.
You can buy the IKKO ZERDA ITM01 for 59$ HERE.

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