Review: IKKO Zerda ITM01 – the Three Musketeers

The Zerda ITM01 with magnetic proprietary data input is the latest portable DAC dongle from IKKO Audio.
The Zerda ITM01 with magnetic proprietary data input is the latest portable DAC dongle from IKKO Audio.

The IKKO Zerda ITM01 is a versatile budget dongle DAC/amp, featuring music, gaming, and movie modes.

Thank you, IKKO Audio, for providing the Zerda ITM01 portable DAC for review.

The IKKO Zerda ITM01 is a small portable digital audio converter (DAC) that can be linked to computers, smartphones, gaming consoles, and tablet computers using a proprietary magnetic USB connector. You get the convenience of a high-quality DAC with the added benefit of a connector cable that can easily be swapped or replaced when changing devices.

The magnetic attachment makes the cable very easy to swap.

The Zerda ITM01's black color scheme matches well with different devices, from smartphones to portable gaming consoles.
Bottom Line

As always, IKKO Audio delivers on its promise with the ITM01 Zerda, which proves to be an excellent value, despite the fact that the movie and gaming modes are likely not suitable for all uses. If you use the different modes occasionally and for their intended purposes, the Zerda is certainly a versatile DAC/amp dongle. The IKKO Zerda ITM01 is one of the best entry-level DAC/amp dongles if you want a versatile device that works with almost any source, with good driving power for most IEMs and headphones, great dynamics, and a pocketable shape and size.

What We Like
  • Creative magnetic input cable design
  • Three sound modes
  • Physical volume control buttons
  • Smooth and relaxed sound signature
  • Good driving power
What We Don't Like
  • Cable is proprietary
  • Average detail retrieval capability

In addition to the innovative cable, the Zerda has multiple audio modes, making it a unique and interesting product in the affordable portable DAC/amp market that deserves consideration. We will give it a try!

Company Introduction

IKKO was founded in Shenzhen, China in 2019. Currently, there are fewer than fifty people on the team; however, they already have many overseas distributors. They are recognized by global headphone enthusiasts and their products are sold all over the world.

According to IKKO, in light of the rapid development of digital music, IKKO Audio seeks to promote a new concept of “freedom” and high-fidelity for music lovers. Providing a superior audio-visual experience with the new era of digital life design, IKKO Audio is committed to bringing unremitting innovation to the field of audio-visual design.

Technical Specifications

Packaging

A rectangular plastic case houses the IKKO Zerda ITM01. In the case, the ITM01 and a short cable with a USB-C termination are mounted within a foam mounting tray. Additionally, a longer USB-A cable is included in the box.

The Zerda ITM01 comes in a transparent plastic box.
The Zerda ITM01 comes in a transparent plastic box.
The specifications are printed on the back of the packaging.
The specifications are printed on the back of the packaging.

In the box

  • The IKKO Zerda ITM01
  • USB Type-C cable or Lightning cable (select at purchase)
  • USB Type-A cable
  • Instruction manual
  • customer service card
There are two cable options available – Lighting or USB Type-C. Both options come with the Type-A cable. If you plan to use the Zerda with a gaming console like the Nintendo Switch, you’re going to want to stick with the USB Type-C variation.
The Zerda ITM01 comes with two cables, USB Type-C for portable devices and USB Type-A for PC.
The Zerda ITM01 comes with two cables, USB Type-C for portable devices and USB Type-A for PC.

Design

The IKKO Zerda ITM01 is an obelisk form factor with brushed aluminum top and bottom surfaces and a dark translucent plastic side panel. At one end of the device, the 3.5mm jack can be found, and at the other end, the magnetic connector. IKKO claims the magnetic interface is designed to reject interference.

You are restricted to the use of IKKO’s proprietary cables for replacement.
The 3.5mm audio output of Zerda ITM01 is plated with gold.
The 3.5mm audio output of Zerda ITM01 is plated with gold.

There are three multifunction buttons on the IKKO Zerda ITM01. By holding down the center play/pause button, you can toggle between the three sound modes. The volume can be adjusted by pressing the “+” and “-” buttons on the top surface. Holding down the “-” button will jump to the next track, and holding down the “+” button will rewind.

The three intuitive multifunctional buttons makes it very user friendly.
The three intuitive multifunctional buttons makes it very user friendly.

Internals

Inside the Zerda is a high-performance ESS9298 DAC, which decodes PCM and DSD at 16 bits and 384 kHz. The anti-interface magnetic cable input is desinged to reduce the noise introduced to the chip while powering it with a high current.

The proprietary magnetic input reminds me of the Apple MacBook MagSafe charger.
The proprietary magnetic input reminds me of the Apple MacBook MagSafe charger.

Zerda ITM01 Sound

To analyze the Zerda ITM01’s sonic performance, I chose IEMs and headphones with different impedances, including the Campfire Audio Polaris II, PEAK Audio Origin, Sennheiser HD600 and SIVGA Audio Phoenix. For music and movie mode, I paired the Zerda to my MacBook Air and Redmi 9T. For game mode analysis, I used my Nintendo Switch gaming console.

The Zerda ITM01’s overall sound quality differs significantly between its three sound modes. Each mode is color-coded and we will go through all of them, but just remember that yellow means music.

The Zerda ITM01's black color scheme matches well with different devices, from smartphones to portable gaming consoles.
The Zerda ITM01’s black color scheme matches well with different devices, from smartphones to portable gaming consoles.

Music mode

In the default music mode, the soundstage is natural and music has an appropriate amount of width and depth. Textures are natural and the overall effect is pleasing to the ear. It is a pleasure to listen to ITM01 Zerda in music mode because it has a good balance of music, fullness, and depth, coupled with low distortion and good dynamics.

Bass is powerful and deep, and can easily reach a frequency of 20Hz when needed. When pairing the Zerda with higher impedance or lower sensitivity IEMs and headphones, I notice significantly more power output from the Zerda and the bass gets even juicier.

The Zerda delivers the finest sonic performance at quiet to medium listening levels.

It features an extremely musical, sweet, and fluid midrange that possesses the qualities of smooth textures and a clean presentation. The coloration leans towards being thick and warm, but the overall appearance is clean and natural. Even artificial voices, such as Vocaloid and synthesized voices, sound natural, smooth, and pleasing.

Zerda’s treble is exceptionally clean, detailed, and textured. There is a good sense of air and space in music, however, the music mode is the most intimate of all its modes. Movie mode, on the other hand, increases stage width, adding some harshness and grain in the treble. The gaming mode maintains the stage width but increases the smoothness of textures.

In music mode, the overall detail in the ITM01 Zerda is good and it sounds dynamic.

The yellow LED light on the Zerda ITM01 indicates music mode.
The yellow LED light on the Zerda ITM01 indicates music mode.

Movie mode

Movie mode (blue LED) sounds fairly similar to music mode but with a more forward midrange. As well as widening the soundstage, this mode also results in a somewhat artificial midrange and some harsh reflections in the treble. It also has a lower bass depth and impact than music mode.

I find it to work nicely for watching movies, especially if you cannot quite hear the dialogue.

However, I would not recommend movie mode for listening to music, since music mode sounds more pleasant. The movie mode provides a great deal of texture enhancement as well as background information and you’ll hear a lot of detail that you otherwise would not hear. However, this does not sound as natural as music mode.

The blue LED light on the Zerda ITM01 indicates movie mode.
The blue LED light on the Zerda ITM01 indicates movie mode.

Game mode

Game mode (purple LED) extends the soundstage even more than the movie mode, creating the impression that the sound is flowing from all directions. It is especially useful in FPS games because you can hear precisely where your opponents are, but the stage is extremely wide and not deep.

The sound in the game mode has the least bass, which reduces impact, but it does sound dynamic.

Game mode is far less harsh than the movie mode while still offering a more holographic feel – stage width and height are actually a bit too large. However, the sound of female voices and electronic music is quite pleasant in this mode.

The purple light on the Zerda ITM01 indicates game mode.
The purple light on the Zerda ITM01 indicates game mode.

Where to Buy

Conclusion

As always, IKKO Audio delivers on its promise with the ITM01 Zerda, which proves to be an excellent value, despite the fact that the movie and gaming modes are likely not suitable for all uses. If you use the different modes occasionally and for their intended purposes, the Zerda is certainly a versatile DAC/amp dongle.

Magnetic connector, light weight, and three different modes make the Zerda ITM01 a versatile, entry-level, portable DAC dongle.
Magnetic connector, light weight, and three different modes make the Zerda ITM01 a versatile, entry-level, portable DAC dongle.

Initially, I was concerned that the proprietary cable would be difficult to use. However, I actually very much appreciate the magnetic connector. It makes the unit light, versatile, and robust. If you sit on it, instead of the Type-C port breaking, the unit just disconnects. Additionally, there are no exposed pins on the cable, further improving durability.

The IKKO Zerda ITM01 is one of the best entry-level DAC/amp dongles if you want a versatile device that works with almost any source, with good driving power for most IEMs and headphones, great dynamics, and a pocketable shape and size.

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