Wednesday, May 3, 2017

JDS Labs The Element





From the humble cMoy Bass Boost, to the polished Element. JDS Labs has really grown over the years! When I got my Beyerdynamic DT 880 in the summer of 2013 my humble little Fiio E6 was not enough, digging through the threads I came across the cMoy Amp. Built into an Altoid Can and sold for right around $60, I immediately snatched it up just because of how cool it looked. Well fortunately for me, I grabbed the JDS Labs cMoy with Bass Boost, it was my first real hi quality portable amp. So I have some blood with the guys at JDS Labs, as I spent a lot of time emailing them after getting that amp, and every time they were happy to answer my questions, and even offered me a sweet upgrade that fit my needs. Fast forward to today, and I'm happy to say that same level of quality and visual cool factor are present in their flagship amp/dac The Element.


The Element feels solid in the hands, the power and gain buttons have a nice click to them. The USB input doesn't wiggle either, it sits nicely. Best of all, the volume knob is HUGE and very smooth. I had no issue's making fine adjustments to my volume as the knob has a nice heft to it. My only gripe is the 6.5mm headphone jack, with some of my smaller 6.5mm plugs there's a little wiggle at first. My Audio Technica W1000X 6.5mm is my heaviest and most luxurious. Gold plated and seated in American Cherry, it was the only 6.5mm jack to have a very solid and sturdy feel when plugging in and out of The Element.



AMPLIFIER PERFORMANCE

·         Frequency Response 20Hz-20kHz+/- 0.1dB
·         THD+N 1kHz, 150 Ω0.0009%
·         IMD CCIF 19/20kHz 150 Ω0.0004%
·         IMD SMPTE 150 Ω0.0005%
·         Noise, A-Weighted-108 dBu
·         Crosstalk @ 150 Ω-67 dB
·         Output Impedance0.1 Ω
·         Channel Balance+/- 0.56 dB
·         Max Continuous Output, 600Ω140 mW (9.4VRMS)
·         Max Continuous Output, 150Ω505 mW
·         Max Continuous Output, 32Ω1.1 W
·         Peak Output Power, 32Ω1.5W
DAC PERFORMANCE
·         Frequency Response 20Hz-20kHz+/- 0.15dB 
·         THD+N 100 Hz -0.15 dBFS0.0023%
·         THD+N 20 Hz -0.15 dBFS0.0016%
·         THD+N 10 kHz -0.15 dBFS0.0019%
·         IMD CCIF 19/20 kHz -6.03 dBFS0.0011%
·         IMD SMPTE -6.03 dBFS0.0012%
·         Noise A-Weighted dBu 24/96-102 dBu
·         Dynamic Range (A-Weighted)>112 dB
·         Linearity Error -90 dBFS 24/96-0.02 dB
·         Crosstalk -10 dBFS 100K RCA-100 dB
·         USB Jitter Components 11025Hz-113 dB
·         PCB Stackup4 Layers
·         Maximum DAC Line-Output, 100K2.10 VRMS
The Element has a basic set of input and output features, nothing special. I'm not a huge fan of having the gain button on the back out of sight right next to the power button. Thankfully I never shut my off accidentally. It's layout is simple though, spaced nicely and easy to take advantage of.




Overall, I find my self very satisfied how The Element is assembled, and I love the design! The volume knob looks great and feels good, the placement of the 6.5mm works well with the visual design, and the glowing ring during play back is the icing on the cake for me.



I had an excellent week with The Element, and during this time I paired it primarily with a Magnum V7 Driver, mounted in Black Limba housings, sleeved in Maple. Sadly, this beautiful headphone isn't mine, but I found it to be amazingly transparent and very easy to drive. Hence forth, I did my usual listening with this headphone, as opposed to my HE 4.

Power wise, The Element boasts a peak of 1.5w per channel, with a sustained output of 1w per channel. While ample enough power for the newer breed of efficient Planar Magnetic Headphones, like the Oppo PM3, The Element did not drive my HE 4 very well. It got me to a loud listening level, but really lacked any low end authority. Compared to my iBasso PB2 and my Audio GD NFB 10ES2, The Element sounded very weak with the HE 4. Which is to be expected, the earlier Planar Magnetic headphones, tended to lack sensitivity and be very power hungry. That said, I really loved listening to it with the Dynamic Magnum V7 Headphone.

Thankfully, many modern Planar Magnetic Headphones, such as those sold by Oppo, Hifiman's and Audeze are easily driven by The Element.

I found myself most impressed with the Dac Portion of this unit, as the overall sound was warm, smooth and detailed with a very good natural tone through most of the spectrum. It pulled out all of the details I'm accustom to hearing in my Audio GD NFB10ES2, the only draw back was the overall sound was a little diffuse. Good width, but height and depth weren't as discernible. Still, while it fell short compared to my HM 901 and Audio GD NFB 10ES2 in this regard, it was a clear step above my Behringer UCA 202 and my Hifiman HM 601's internal amp and line out to my iBasso PB2. It performed exceptionally well within it's price bracket.

The Element has a nice sense of dynamics, moving from louder to quieter passages quickly and naturally, It has a very wet sound overall, with a nice emphasis in the bass and a good fullness in the low and central mid range. I really loved the sound of the double bass in Miles Davis So What, as well as the beautiful tone in Igor Levot's Goldberg Variations.

What The Element does really well, is bring a natural warmth to a lot of the amazingly detailed but often dry and cold headphones, such as the Superlux HD 668B, Beyerdynamic DT 990 and Audio Technica AD 900X.  It offer's an amazingly well designed small foot print, with beautifully simple visuals. It's easy to use, easy to own and easy on the eyes, a lot like my first JDS Labs amp! Bringing with it  good detail with a warm natural sound  The Element is a very elegant convenient solution for any one looking for an all in one.

Check out my deep dive into JDS Labs The Element, here on Head fi!




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