Review: IKKO Zerda ITM02 – Beginners Path to Hi-Fi

The Zerda ITM01 is the latest entry-level DAC dongle from IKKO.
The Zerda ITM01 is the latest entry-level DAC dongle from IKKO.

This entry-level DAC/amp dongle from IKKO provides a variety of musical experiences.

Thank you to Alicia from IKKO Audio for providing the Zerda ITM02 for review purposes.

The Zerda ITM02 is the latest release from IKKO, targeting the entry-level DAC dongle range. In the past, IKKO has produced excellent budget IEMs, as well as a variety of accessories.

Their OH10 Obsidian IEMs may be familiar to you and remain one of their best models. Additionally, they offer one of the better sub-USD $100 Lightning DACs, the Zerda ITM01, which we reviewed previously.

I can easily recommend the Zerda ITM02 to beginners who are looking for a warm-sounding DAC dongle.
Bottom Line

If you are looking for a simple DAC dongle, the Zerda ITM02 is an excellent choice. Both Apple and Android devices can be used with this device, and it produces a smooth and warm sound that is ideal for bright-sounding IEMs. Every aspect of the ITM02, from a universal USB Type-C input to better portability, represents an improvement over their previous effort. However, the IKKO Zerda ITM02 might not be a good choice for those pursuing high-resolution sound due to its below-average clarity. With its sleek design and detachable cable, this product fits perfectly with most Apple products.

What We Like
  • A smooth sound signature, suitable for bright-sounding IEMs
  • Detachable USB Type-C cable
  • Included Lightning cable
  • Aluminum alloy case
  • Affordable price
What We Don't Like
  • Only comes in white
  • No balanced output
  • Subpar detail retrieval capability
  • Not suitable for warm-sounding IEMs

Will the younger brother, the ITM02, retain the sound signature and physical appearance of the ITM01? It costs less, but does that mean it’s not as good? We will find out more in this article!

Company Overview

IKKO was founded in Shenzhen, China, in 2019. There are fewer than fifty people on the team; however, IKKO has many overseas distributors. Global headphone enthusiasts recognize the brand, and its products are sold worldwide.

“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 ongoing innovation to the field of audio-visual design.” – IKKO

Technical Specifications

  • Form: Portable DAC/amp
  • DAC Chip: AK4377
  • Output Level: [email protected]Ω
  • Total Harmonic Distortion: -108dB/0.0004%
  • Sampling Rate: 32bit/384kHz PCM or DSD128
  • SNR: 120dB
  • Input Jack: USB Type-C
  • Output Jack: 3.5mm unbalanced output

Packaging

The Zerda ITM02 comes in simple cardboard packaging with limited information on the box. The plain brown cardboard box may be one place where IKKO cut this model’s manufacturing cost.

In the box

  • USB Type-C to USB Type-C 0.1m cable
  • USB Type-C to Lighting 0.1m cable
  • ITM02
  • Warranty card
  • Instruction manual
IKKO uses a simple cardboard box to reduce the cost.
IKKO uses a simple cardboard box to reduce the cost.
The lightning to USB Type-C cable is definitely a great inclusion, especially for iPhone users like me.
The lightning to USB Type-C cable is definitely a great inclusion, especially for iPhone users like me.

Design

Compared to the ITM01, the ITM02 is a significantly smaller, more straightforward, portable device that can be carried anywhere. In terms of aesthetics, the ITM02 is much less distinctive but still features a multi-colored LED light on its front side.

The new detachable Type-C cable is one of the most significant improvements over the original. As opposed to the ITM01, which had a proprietary magnetic cable, the ITM02 has a universal connection making cable replacements straightforward.

The ITM02 has excellent build quality – the aluminum shell with matte finishing gives a premium touch to users. The edges of this dongle are well-polished, further enhancing the overall physical quality. Compared to dongles made of plastic, the IKKO ITM02 should last you longer.

I believe the ITM02 will have more color options, but you can only choose white for now.
The Zerda ITM01 has supreme build quality for the low cost.
The Zerda ITM01 has supreme build quality for the low cost.

Internals

The Zerda ITM02 uses an AK4377 chipset, which is quite surprising.

Given the AKM chip’s rarity, it is good to see it used here. Depending on your tastes, you might prefer the ESS chip used in the ITM01. I always find the dongles with ESS DAC chips to be more analytical, while dongles with AKM DAC chips are more musical. It is subjective.

With the AKM chip, the ITM02 is designed to support PCM up to 32-bit/384 kHz and DSD128. A blue light will appear for PCM and a red light for DSD. Power-wise, it can deliver 70mW at 32Ω.

To give you an idea, the Apple Lightning to 3.5mm adaptor delivers slightly more than 4mW at 32Ω. The power from IKKO ITM02 is about 14 times higher than the Apple dongle on paper!

All in all, the ITM02 offers solid performance for the price.

The blue LED light indicates the file is in PCM format.
The blue LED light indicates the file is in PCM format.

IKKO Zerda ITM02 Sound

Because the ITM02 is equipped with the aging (launched about five years ago) AK4377 chip, I had some expectations regarding its sound. After testing several IEMs with the Zerda ITM02 attached to my iPhone, I got a good sense of its capabilities. The DAC’s profile is oriented toward smoothness and warmth.

In particular, it consistently reduces the harshness of the tone in IEMs where the treble is very elevated. Nevertheless, it does an excellent job of preserving the character of the sound without destroying it.

As an example, pairing the ITM02 with the Moondrop Blessing reduced their overall brightness while retaining their slight glistening in the highs.

Despite its linear sound signature, the ITM02 boasts increased bass depth, making it difficult to discern much detail from IEMs that are already bass-heavy. Although midrange frequencies have good energy, they contribute little to the spatial definition.

As a result of the ITM02’s bass emphasis, it does have the effect of slightly overshadowing the midrange and obscuring the treble for those IEMs that are not bright-sounding. This phenomenon makes cymbals, guitar strings, and piano keys appear smooth and to lack some detail and nuance.

Overall, this effect imparts energy and thickens note textures, ideal for techno and other heavier genres but less beneficial for acoustic or orchestral music.

While the tone is free of shrillness or digital brightness found in many cheaper DAC dongles, instrument separation is subpar.

The Zerda ITM02's warm and smooth sound signature is suitable for IEMs that are bright in nature.
The Zerda ITM02’s warm and smooth sound signature is suitable for IEMs that are bright in nature.

Where to Buy

Conclusion

If you are looking for a simple DAC dongle, the Zerda ITM02 is an excellent choice. Both Apple and Android devices can be used with this device, and it produces a smooth and warm sound that is ideal for bright-sounding IEMs. Every aspect of the ITM02, from a universal USB Type-C input to better portability, represents an improvement over their previous effort.

However, the IKKO Zerda ITM02 might not be a good choice for those pursuing high-resolution sound due to its below-average clarity.

I can easily recommend the Zerda ITM02 to beginners who are looking for a warm-sounding DAC dongle.

With its sleek design and detachable cable, this product fits perfectly with most Apple products. It is hard to criticize the price, though there are some minor improvements that IKKO can make in the future, such as better detail retrieval capabilities.

I can easily recommend the Zerda ITM02 to beginners looking for a warm-sounding DAC/amp dongle.

 

 

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