Disclaimer: Mike’s store sells JDSLabs products & Lieven received a free review sample of the C5D for this review. This is a double review but the biggest part of the review is written by Mike. Mike’s text is normal, Italic text is written by Lieven. Mike’s part is on page one, L’s on page 2.
The Android and iOS portable DAC market is getting into a bloody battlefield lately. but as I spend time listening to the JDSLabs C5D, I keep on thinking “What a sweet sound is this”, ans that’s the bottom line of any audio gear review, after all. Does the unit sound good? Does it ooze musicality? Is it candy to the ears? In this case yes, the C5D is here to stay.
While my feelings were quite lukewarm toward the Fiio E18 which is also a portable Android DAC, the C5D creates a totally different sentiment. The background is extremely clean and black. The moderately dark tonality is extremely musical. And while I wasn’t a big fan of the C5 amplifier, the C5D as a DAC/Amp combo is now my favorite second to the CypherLabs Theorem.
Comparing strictly amps to amps, the amplifier on the C5D though supposedly the same as on the C5, sounded different. I don’t know what the exact reason is, but it’s clear that the C5 amp is more resolving and more spacious while the C5D has an upper bass bump and is noticeably more congested. Maybe it’s the result of cramming more gear into the same space. Maybe it’s a different batch of components from the supplier. I don’t know what it is, but the C5D amp is really not something I would be using it on its own.
Where it gets interesting is the DAC comparison. The most obvious comparison being the Fiio E18 Kunlun that I have just reviewed last month. The Fiio is more spacious, but has a higher noise floor and sounds drier. The C5D’s blacker background projects a cleaner sound with very low grain, and while narrower in sound stage, has a better depth and three dimensionality. While I would rank the two DAC units as roughly being on the same class technically, my ears are drawn more to the tonality of the C5D sound while people looking for the more spacious sound should go for the Fiio. While I can’t isolate the C5D DAC due to the lack of a true line out, outputting the sound from the C5D to a separate amplifier and comparing it with the E18 through its line out, again yields the same conclusion. The E18 is more spacious, but other than that the C5D is blacker, less noisy, fuller sounding and is also smoother. I wasn’t too excited with the E18, but the C5D is something that sounds musical even as I shuffle through different headphones that are available for me to try.
I also compared the C5D to ALO’s The Island as well as Miniwatt’s N4. These two proved to be too tough of a competition as the ALO pretty much obliterated the C5D in terms of dynamics and sense of space. Though again, I do like the C5D’s fuller sound and darker tonality better. The Miniwatt sounds like a more mature Fiio E18 DAC with a very spacious sound that’s a bit grainy and noisy and is definitely out of the C5D’s league. The Miniwatt N4 makes for a very good DAC if you plan to pair another amp with it, but through its internal amp is definitely the least musical of the three.
It’s not a perfectly designed product however with the battery/charging switch at the back. What happens is that I would forget to flick the switch when plugging the C5D to a charger hence the C5D wouldn’t be charged. I also keep on mistaking the volume control as the logical direction should be to the right to increase loudness. But these are all minor complaints. On the other hand I love the new JDSLabs logo and likewise the improved finish quality on the C5D. I’m glad that JDSLabs have improved the finish of their amps to this level.
There was an issue with the early batch producing a hum with certain sensitive IEMs but I haven’t been able to replicate that issue even with the early batch C5D that I have in the store. Comparing it to the later batch that has the hum problem fixed, I notice no difference in the sound even when using extremely sensitive IEMs like the 1964 V6S and Lime Ears’ LE3. I am all for a warmer and bassier sound and most of the time I listen with the boost at maximum position. I like the sound that way as it gives me additional body at the lows without getting boomy. At the zero bass boost position, I actually find the sound far less musical and even slightly dry. The medium bass boost position is a good compromise though as bass detail don’t suffer as if you have the boost at max.
I enjoy the C5D with IEMs and relatively easy to drive headphones like the Fidelio L2, Sennheiser HD25-1, or Grados. While it has enough gain to power a HD650 or an Audez’e LCD-X, I do feel the music to be flat and lacking dynamics. The current package lacks any Android OTG or iOS digital cable, so it’s a bit of a hassle to try to connect to Androids. I was able to find a cable to hook the C5D to an Android, running through the USB Audio Recorder Pro software and the sound is extremely good, except that I get glitches whenever I move to another app (i.e the USB Audio Recorder is not on the screen. I don’t know if it’s an issue with my Samsung Galaxy S4 but it’s definitely something that needs to be set right. Regarding the Android cables, John mentioned that he’s gotten a hold of a supplier for Android OTG cables so I’d expect future buyers to receive that cable with the C5D. So far I haven’t been able to get the right cable to hook the C5D to an iOS device so I haven’t been able to test it on iOS.
Go to the next page for Lieven’s impressions & the pics