Audiophiles frustrated by the sound quality on their mobile devices must be licking their lips in anticipation: ZuperDAC, a device USB device barely bigger than a standard flash drive, will – according to its developers – transform your existing PC, Mac, Android, iPhone and Raspberry Pi into a Hi-Fi music system. And it will do that for as little as $49 (about R590).
Being an audiophile in a mobile world can be tough. As impressively compact and powerful as today’s high-end mobile devices are, they still – understandably – fall short on audio quality compared with dedicated equipment, some of it full-size stuff meant for home use. The problem lies in the onboard digital-to-analogue converters (DACs) that enable digitally encoded data to be heard as music. On mobiles, they are simply not capable of decoding the increasing demand for high-def digital sample rates and resolution demanded by audophiles.
Like the Audioquest Dragonfly and LH Labs Geek Out before it, ZuperDAC is tiny. Like the Geek Out, it forms part of a crowdfunding initiative. But if Chinese developers Zorloo can deliver the promised performance at the promised price, it will be a giantkiller.
One way in which the developers are hoping to accomplish that is via crowdfunding on Indiegogo, which is already twice oversubscribed. Working prototypes have been tested on various platforms and the developers are confident of meeting their production deadline of July.
Encased in the ZuperDAC’s aluminium casing is full USB Audio Class 2 functionality, a Hi-Fi Audio DAC and headphone amplifier. It is said to be capable of handling sampling rates of up to 192 kHz and resolutions up to 24-bit (CD: 44,1 kHz/16-bit), though there’s some debate as to how much benefit (if any) there is in stratospheric sampling rates and resolutions. The device uses an ESS Sabre ES9018K2M AudioDAC with patented 32-bit Hyperstream DAC architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator. Whatever, if there is a difference, using ZuperDAC will at least enable you to hear it.
Output is said to be suited to headphones or line-out, though it looks barely sufficient for conventional headsets. Refinements to the amplification stage include a pop-noise suppression design to minimise power-up and power-down noise.
The audiophile solution has been to pipe the raw digital data through the USB port to an outboard DAC, bypassing the internal audio system. Up to now, most of what’s available has been, well, big.
It’s compatible with Android or iOS; to connect to an iPhone or iPad, you will need a Lighting-to-camera adaptor and Android devices connect with an OTB USB cable. To support higher resolutions and sampling rates, you may need an app such as Onkyo HF Player or Radsone Music Player.
Dimensions 46 x 23 x 10
Weight 16 g
Sampling rate 44,1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88,2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176,4 kHz, 192 kHz
Bit depth 16, 20, 24
USB audio Class 2
S/N ratio 115 dB
THD 0,003 %
Output power 30 mW