In this article, we review the $550 USD flagship DAC & AMP combo, the JDS Labs EL Stack II.
Disclaimer: JDS Labs sent us the EL Stack 2 for this review free of charge, I only covered the import taxes and fees. All thoughts and experiences with the product are naturally my own.
Many of you already have an acquaintance with JDS Labs because of the widely popular DACs & AMPs that they design. They are one of my favorite Audio companies of all time. I have used many of their products in the past, even the old ones such as the JDS’s production of NwAvGuy’s O2 amplifier and Altoid can JDS CMoys. Those were the times! I can honestly say that I have never used anything “mediocre” from JDS. They always deliver in my experience. Today we will talk about the flagship combo, EL Stack II.
But first, let’s talk a little bit about the company! Who are they, really?
Well, everything started with an audiophile’s pursuit of excellence. The story begins with John Seaber, the JDS in JDS Labs. John, who was not happy with the bass response of Sennheiser HD-280 Pro , designs a bass boost circuit and shares it with the audio enthusiasts. In no time, John’s keen hands get overflown full of requests from other audio enthusiasts. Though JDS Labs was never planned to be a company, Co-Founder Nick joined in 2011, and the evolution that will make JDS Labs what it is today begins.
They are now this hugely popular killer company, which is trusted by the fans because of their honest and transparent attitude towards everything they do.
We have reviewed and awarded a lot of JDS Labs gear here on Headfonia over the years, check out their reviews here: Headfonia JDS Labs reviews
Now that you’re acquainted, let’s get to the good stuff.
JDS Labs EL DAC II
Specifications & Technical Data (more here.)
Frequency Response 10Hz-20kHz +/- 0.13dB
THD+N 20Hz-20kHz: < 0.0010%
Noise (A-Weighted): -110 dBu
Dynamic Range (A-Weighted): 119 dB
Formats: 16/44.1kHz to 32/384kHz PCM (SPDIF max. 24/192)
JDS Labs EL AMP II
Specifications & Technical Data (more here.)
Frequency Response 10Hz-20kHz +/- 0.02 dB
THD+N 20Hz-20kHz < 0.001%
Noise (A-Weighted)-115 dBu
Max Continuous Power, 600 Ω 165 mW (9.9 VRMS)
Max Continuous Power, 150 Ω 656 mW (9.9 VRMS)
Max Continuous Power, 32 Ω 1.3 W (6.53 VRMS)
Output Impedance 0.1 Ω
Packaging & Accessories
The EL DAC II & EL AMP II arrive in separate, large boxes. The outside covers are identical, the type of the item is marked on the side. The cardboard box under the cover feels quite hard, I don’t think anything could happen to these during transit. That’s always nice. My EL DAC II came bundled with a nice looking Monoprice 1.8m Toslink cable, a gold-plated USB Type A to Type B Cable with Ferrite, and of course, the 16VAC Power Adapter.
Don’t let me deceive you though, this is more of a brick than an adapter. Haha! Also, the AC transformer is boxed separately due to its size! The EL AMP II offers a more straightforward unpacking experience, you only get the amp and the adapter. JDS Labs never forgets to include a QC card and a quick start manual in each box. The cables that accompany the EL DAC II are of good quality and will serve you for years to come.
I reviewed the JDS Labs Atom DAC & stack a couple of months ago and it had an all-plastic build. It looked very slick in black but I wondered, what if it was aluminum? Of course, it would bump the price up and probably be a bad call, strategically. The gear I am reviewing today is a lot different from that aspect. This stack is the flagship DAC & amp of JDS Labs. Their top-of-the-line performers. Before you ask, both of the unit enclosures are metal and I am very, very, very impressed.
The metal is cold to the touch and it looks marvelous. However, the bottom of the unit is different, it has a rubberized feeling to it. Another thing I really liked about the stack is that there are huge 3D JDS Labs logos etched under the units, looking very premium and stylish. I like these kinds of details, probably no one is going to see that but they do it anyway. I appreciate this approach as it serves as the signature of a company. Especially when it is done by companies like JDS Labs. They are one of the most honest, engineering-focused and technical companies in the industry. The EL Stack II has a rather small footprint at 14.7 x 14.7 x 2.2. When stacked, they are about 800 grams in total. Many DAC & AMP combinations take much more space on your desk and if you have a small, minimal desk like me, this is quite important. For example, my SMSL M300MKII & Geshelli Labs Archel 2.5 Pro combo takes 3-4 times more space than the EL Stack II. EL Amp II has a huge volume knob and it is very accurate.
Design-wise I like it a lot, especially the copper ring around it. It has LEDs around the knob and it lights up beautifully. It is not very bright so it doesn’t distract you in a dimly lit room. The Atom stack featured something similar and it was very cool as well. I really appreciate JDS’s subtle but chic design cues. The EL DAC II has a touch button on the front and it is very sensitive. This button lets you choose the input between USB, Optical & Coax and it is color-coded. The LED light ring around it changes as per input. Let’s move on to the component build quality. The gold-plated plugs feel solid and well-made. Every button feels rigid, durable. LEDs are placed perfectly, no light bleed is apparent anywhere. JDS also placed 4 anti-slip rubber feet under both of the units. They work well and they have a low profile so they don’t stand out while sitting on your desk. To recap, the build quality is amazing. The EL Stack II looks amazing in black aluminum and it is evident that every component has been carefully selected by JDS. These will serve you for a long time, for sure. Plus, if anything happens to them, I want you to remember that JDS Labs offers one of the best warranty services in the industry so you’re in good hands.
Tech & Features
JDS Labs gear is popular among audiophiles for their killer price to performance ratio. The OL DAC & OBJECTIVE2 stack was a huge hit sub 200, rivaling gear that is double the price. After that, they developed the ATOM stack and it was, in my opinion, the best stack under 200. Now their flagship stack is with us and of course, it is just as excellent.
Judging by my experience, JDS Labs has never built any bad equipment. Of course, this tradition continues with the Element line as well. EL DAC II is an effortless and easy-to-use DAC. It has switchable inputs, USB, Coax & Optical. It features AK4493EQ and many high-quality components. MEMS Oscillators to help with the jitter, custom XMOS XU208 based UAC2 engine to provide smooth playback via USB. It is also externally powered to provide stable rail voltage and super low ripple.
The EL DAC II also has a relay muting feature for a more silent operation. Moving on to the EL AMP II, first things first, this rather small form-factor amplifier dishes out 1.3w of power. It can drive almost any headphone and in my experience, it drove the 58x, 6xx & Hifiman Deva quite easily. It has a preamp RCA output so you can hook your active speakers and control their volume via the amp. I used it with my JBL LSR305mk2 monitors and it was a huge relief. The output selector button behind the amp really speeds things up and provides an easy operation. You don’t have to change cables or anything. If you have a tight space behind your desk, this could help you save time & hassle. It has a low & high gain option and you can change it with a press of a button. The EL AMP II also features relay muting for a more silent operation. Both of the units have excellent measurements and they are technically advanced. Of course, you can’t expect anything less from an engineering company like JDS Labs!
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