The audiophile trend started to tip over towards simplicity. People are looking to enjoy music in a more portable way and willing to sacrifice some bit of performance in exchange for the bigger benefit, which is convenience. Tons of manufacturers are now focusing on smartphone-friendly gadgets and our new-face brand, IKKO is no exception. IKKO is preparing numbers of Bluetooth cables, portable amplifiers, and DACs, and the first product is called Zerda – a portable decoding amp. Let’s take a look at how it performs and sounds.
Zerda comes in a compact, nicely designed box with two variations – terminated in either Apple Lightning or Android Type-C. Descriptions can be found on the back of the box and the box includes no other accessories other than the decoding amp itself. Perhaps a USB adapter would have been better if included for PC use? Maybe I’d be asking too much, but that would have been even nicer.
Looks and performance
Zerda has a blue color scheme the same as Meteor OH-1 and has a mildly thick cable that IKKO themselves call it the “Monster” OCC Silver-plated copper wires. Good cables matter in sound and glad to see IKKO paying attention to the cable quality. The strain relief seems to be fairly well done, though having the silicone protection slightly softer would be better for maximum durability. The surface of the decoding amp feels smooth, premium, and well-built.
The 3.5mm jack is firmly installed on the amp and doesn’t wiggle around or get loose. The body of the decoding amp gets a little warm after some time of usage but nothing close to feeling concerned or bothered. The cable length is about 3 inches (or slightly longer than 7cm) with a weight of 0.48 ounces (13.6g), having just the appropriate length and manageable weight that stays comfortably in the pockets.
Termination: Lightning or Type-C to 3.5mm / DAC: Cirrus Logic CS43198 flagship chip
Weight: 12 gram / PCM: supported up to 32 bits/382KHz / Optical output: 32 bits/192KHz
I’ve tested Zerda with Xiaomi Mi Mix and Pulsar music player. All tracks were tested at MP3 320kbps.
Zerda paired with IKKO Meteor OH-1
Gains more weight, body, and energy that drives up from the rock bottom as if a stronger force is giving an extra push to the sound. Bass makes the most benefit out of this and really gains that meaty, masculine liveliness with thicker cores. The separation is clear as well as wider staging towards sideways. Mids are lusher and deliver a heavier weight with it.
Zerda paired with Tin HiFi P1
Visibly improved density and texture details. Mids are more packed with weight and body. The lower ends used to feel a tad hollow straight out of the phone, though Zerda supplements that very nicely. Lows become darker, clearer, and deeper. The overall sound is fuller and better-controlled in separation and layering. The imaging shows improvement in precision and clarity as if the presentation has been correctly organized.
Zerda compared to Opus #1S player
This would a good compare since they both consist Cirrus Logic CS43198 flagship chip, a single chip for Zerda and a dual-chip for #1S. It’s funny since I’ve been comparing these two items unaware of that and later checked on the specs sheet for #1S since -spoiler alert- they sounded oddly similar, in both sound signature and performance. If I compare in cold blood, then yes #1S exceeds Zerda, but I wouldn’t stress about it as the performance gap is actually quite narrow, as well as Zerda being significantly cheaper and portable. Opus #1S sounds slightly thicker, bolder, and powerful while Zerda presents a more neutral, gentler sound signature.
As a stubborn audiophile, I’ve been tending to avoid smartphones and stick with my players when listening to music, though Zerda does a surprisingly well job of delivering quality sound. It sure exceeds a good amount of pre-existing smartphone amps as well as being able to compete with most entry-level players. Not only Zerda is a good choice for those who would like to stick to their phones but with quality sound but also a useful accessory for any audiophiles to jam with their music without the need for carrying around separate, heavy gears.