Hardware Reviews

ZuperDAC Max: big sound, small box

ZuperDAC Max review

Zorloo ZuperDAC Max USB-DAC

High Quality portable listening solutions like the ZuperDAC Max are arguably more important to the hi-fi industry than many of us appreciate. The industry needs to convert a certain percentage of young music lovers, who often start listening via YouTube or Spotify, into future buyers of pricier equipment. My day job as a driving instructor means I get to talk to dozens of teenagers. Very few of them listen to music seriously, but encouragingly I do meet some who are as obsessive about music as I was at their age. Some of them are familiar with WAV and FLAC files, and some are buying vinyl, even though they may not currently have a record player. This is where devices like the Zorloo ZuperDAC Max and its ilk may prove to be important gateway products. Reading through Hong-Kong based Zorloo’s website, they state that they aim to build quality audio products at prices that make them affordable to the masses.

The ZuperDAC Max tested here sits at the top of their range, in the third generation of the ZuperDAC family. Sitting below the $149 ZuperDAC Max is the ZuperDAC Pro, priced at $99. The difference between the two is that the Max, benefits from a 4.4mm balanced output socket and output booster switch. The ZuperDAC Max is considerably larger than the Pro as a result, although still tiny compared to my Chord Mojo. My sample was supplied with a USB-C to USB-C cable and a USB-A converter for PC use. A Lightning to USB-C cable is available with both Pro and Max devices for an extra $10 for use with Apple devices. Both units use the ESS Sabre 9281Pro DAC and carry MQA accreditation. Impressively the units are compatible with DSD up to 22.5MHz and PCM up to 32/768KHz.

ZuperDAC Max MQA portable DAC review

ZuperDAC Max build and set-up

The ZuperDAC Max is built into a matte black aluminium chassis, that’s less than two inches long and weighs 15g. There are two tiny LEDs and a button for the output boost that lights up the lower of the two LEDs (the green one). The upper LED shows the sample rate – blue for idle or sample rates below 48KHz, red for rates above 48KHz and magenta for MQA content.

No manual was included in the packaging supplied with the ZuperDAC Max, merely a card with a QR code, which linked me to an online manual, there are also a few helpful tips on Zorloo’s website. Although I own an iPad, I am predominantly an Android and Windows user. Apple Products allow the pass-through of high-quality audio via lightning or, in the case of certain newer models, USB-C outputs. With Android, things are not so simple. The Android OS prevents apps from allowing a pass-through to external DACs. Before purchasing a Poly unit for my Chord Mojo, I used the Onkyo HF Player app with a previous-generation Samsung Android phone.

ZuperDAC Max MQA portable DAC review

Whilst this app works well and allows access to files stored on your phone or tablet, it does not allow users to stream music from their network or cloud providers such as Qobuz/Tidal, etc, which is where the USB Audio Pro app comes in. USB Audio Pro is available from the Google Play store for £6.99, but an additional £3.89 is required if you want to play MQA content. Ever committed to the cause, I purchased both, plus a month Tidal subscription to test the ZuperDAC Max with MQA. I later discovered the HiBy App, which is free, will allow access to both locally stored files and can stream from Tidal, but no other cloud streaming service at present. I will mention that if, like me, you already have Onkyo HF player installed on your Android device, in my case, a Samsung Galaxy S21, you may need to block or uninstall HF Player to get an output from USB Audio Pro.

To get the best from the ZuperDAC Max with my Windows computer, I had to install a Class 2 USB driver, which is available via the Zorloo website. I used J.River Media Centre 29 to play locally stored files and both the Qobuz and Tidal desktop apps for cloud streaming. You will need to configure your PC to the correct output to access hi-res content from your library or streaming service. I used WASAPI Directsound outputs from the Qobuz, Tidal and J.River desktop apps. I gather things are less complicated for Mac users.

ZuperDAC Max MQA portable DAC review

ZuperDAC Max performance

I didn’t know what to expect from the ZuperDAC Max. I have some experience with a similar design, which improved upon my computer and phone output but proved musically unengaging and rather lightweight in balance. Thankfully the ZuperDAC proved to be better suited to my tastes with a fuller-bodied presentation. I began listening to music with the ZuperDAC Max hooked up to my PC through PSB M4U1 headphones. I started with these rather than HiFi Man Sundaras, as the former are easier to drive. I heard nothing nasty, and the sonic balance was fuller and more extended than via the computer’s internal DAC/headphone stage. I then switched to my Samsung Galaxy S21 phone, which sounded notably cleaner than the PC.

Since there seemed to be plenty of volume range available, I moved over to the Sundara headphones, which surprisingly provided a pleasing musical experience, especially with the volume boost button engaged. Whilst clearly unable to match the performance of more expensive DACs, such as the Chord Mojo, with the presentation being a little more earthy and less hi-fi, the sound was lively and engaging. The soundstage even offered a degree of depth and height, which was a pleasant surprise for a $150 DAC.

ZuperDAC Max MQA portable DAC review

I made do with the single-ended, 3.5mm output while waiting for a 2.5mm to 4.4mm adaptor to arrive for the ZuperDAC Max’s balanced output. As I discovered last year whilst reviewing an Astell & Kern DAP, balanced outputs can provide better grip over headphone drivers, especially with harder-to-drive units, such as the planar magnetic drivers fitted to the Sundaras. The balanced output  proved to be superior with the ZuperDAC Max, and here I noted improvements to both dynamics and bass weight. I switched to a pair of planar magnetic IEMs that I have always found a little bright and tiring via my Chord Mojo. The balance of the ZuperDAC Max suited them rather well, the combination providing a presently weighty and detailed balance with Jeff Beck’s Wired, which I listened to via both Tidal MQA and Qobuz 24/96. Both options sounded excellent, however, the lower bandwidth required for the former may be better suited when listening over a mobile network.

Comparisons with my Chord Mojo showed that the ZuperDAC Max could sound a little dry, and lacked both the detail and sense of ambience of the former but, considering the price difference, this was hardly surprising. There are times when the bulk of carrying around a comparatively expensive device such as the Mojo is undesirable. On such occasions, I wasn’t thinking about what I was missing whilst enjoying music via the ZuperDAC Max.

ZuperDAC Max MQA portable DAC review

Occasionally there were a operational glitches between my Android phone and the ZuperDAC Max. Fortunately these were remedied with a firmware update and all went smoothly thereafter. Another point to consider is that the ZuperDAC Max can get pretty hot during sustained use, but in my experience, this is fairly common with this type of device.

ZuperDAC Max conclusion

As the user of rather more expensive DACs I was pleasantly surprised by the performance the ZuperDAC Max was able to deliver. I have another similar device in my collection, which, while an upgrade over the output from the average mobile phone or PC, sounds dynamically flat and bass light compared to the ZuperDAC Max. I was impressed with the job this tiny DAC did driving my Hifi Man Sundaras, which some DAPs retailing for considerably more have struggled to do. The balanced output certainly did a better job with both the planar magnetic ‘phones I tried, so if you are planning on using one with anything remotely hard to drive, then I would recommend the ZuperDAC Max over the cheaper Pro. There are alternatives to the ZuperDAC Max, and a brief Google revealed some for similar money that also had balanced outputs. However, I think those choosing the ZuperDAC Max will be happy with their purchase and enjoy the way it makes music. If we can convince our kids to forgo their Bluetooth headphones and use a ZuperDAC Max to power a decent pair of wired headphones, who knows where it may lead them?


Type: portable digital to analogue converter
Distortion THD+N: 0.0003%
Signal to noise: 120dB
Digital Inputs: USB C
Wireless inputs: none
Analogue outputs: 3.5mm single ended jack, 4.4mm balanced jack
Supported sample rates/formats: PCM up to 32-bit/768kHz, DSD upt o DSD512, MQA renderer
Output Voltage: 3V balanced, 1V single ended
DAC chip:ESS Sabre 9281ACPro
Accessories: USB-C to USB-C cable and USB-C to USB-A adpater
Dimensions HxWxD: 10.5 x 46 x 21.5mm
Weight: 15g
Warranty: 1 year

Manufacturer Details:


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