JDSLabs Portable DAC: The JDSLabs C5D

 

The C5D, as Mike has already pointed out has the best build quality ever since JDSLabs started making the C421 amplifiers. It looks and feels really nice, you can clearly see they’ve been investing in quality improvement. The digital volume control works like a charm, you just have to realize it’s different from most volume controls. I often forget about the left-right thing, resulting in even louder sound when I wanted to turn it down. The C5D is very light too compared to the Cypherlabs Theorem (my reference/standard portable unit) and so I always left the house with the C5D stacked on top of the Theorem. For all my idevices I have to admit using the Theorem as DAC, I just didn’t have the right cables or didn’t want to be out with the CCK (Camera Connection Kit). So basically you could use the C5D with some Apple devices but it just isn’t the same thing as using a Cypherlabs or Centrance unit, therefor I won’t call the C5D a real idevice. Quality and price-wise the Theorems of this world are still miles ahead.

As a result my impressions are purely based on pc listening (dac/amp) and using the Theorem as idevice dac and C5D as an amp. For A/B testing the C5 vs the C5D, I used Fiio’s HS2 Signal Switch unit, which is excellent for comparisons like this.

After a few weeks of using the C5D on the go and at work I have to say I mainly used the unit when listening to my (custom) in ears like the Eterna Rev 1, Cosmic Ears BA4 and RHA MA750i. Whenever I used full size headphones like the LCD-2 and the Sennheiser HD650 at the office, I always fell back to the Theorem. Don’t get me wrong here, the C5D has more than enough juice, or gain as you will, to power both units, it’s just that I’m missing some dynamics and “life” for these headphones. I guess our ears have been too spoiled lately with really great (and expensive) units.

One of the best features of the C5D and the JDSLabs products is the Bass Boost. In this latest version you even get three settings in stead of the normal on-off setting you had before. I usually find the toggle to be in setting 2 or 3 but it’s always on. This is one of the main reasons as well why I used my iems with the the C5D, extra bass and mid range warmth. Unlike Mike who clearly prefers the max BB setting, I find the bass to be a little over-powering with some music at that setting. It seems I’ve become  less of a “bass head” over the last few years but with these different settings you will have at least one that suits your preference.

Apart for some slight differences in the numbers, the amp part of the C5 and the C5D is supposed to be the same. However while A/B testing them  you can clearly notice a difference in the amp section. The C5D seems to have less space and air in the music, making it seem like a more congested sound compared to the C5, which sounds clearer and more resolving. The bass bump Mike talked about really is there. I know I’m saying a lot of the things that Mike already said, but I can only confirm I am hearing the same. So for me personally, just looking at the amp section, I would choose the C5 sound over the C5D. There however is a big but: I don’t think it is fair to just look at the amp section of both units as the C5D is a DAC/AMP combo and so it should be evaluated as one.

After A/B testing both units I only used the C5D as a combo with my laptop. Headphones I used were mostly the Cosmic Ears BA4 and Philips Fidelio L2. I remember when I first listened to JDSLabs’ C421 a long time ago, the unit was so much fun to listen to and it was so nicely musical. The C5D as a combo still gives that exact same feeling and it has a very high toe-tapping/fun factor, it’s very easy to enjoy your music. I think the combination of the dac part and the amp section in the C5D is a winner, together they deliver a dark background and clean sound where musicality comes first. Sure it might not be the most detailed or revealing unit with the biggest sound stage but it is hard not to enjoy.

 The C5D can be bought directly from JDSLabs or via one of their dealers. The C5D is available in Red and Black and has a $249 price tag. I look forward to the next JDSLabs creation already!

 

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37 Comments

  • Reply December 19, 2013

    George Lai

    Sorry guys but I can’t get excited about this product as a portable device for iDevices and Androids when the former needs a CCK and the latter may or may not work depending on the Android model one has. If you buy this product for use with laptops and take the iDevice/Android as a freebie with limitations, then fine but to me it’s a half-baked solution. The sound quality is hence irrelevant to me. Sorry again.

    • Reply December 20, 2013

      JDS Labs Inc

      As C5D entered production, Apple released iOS7 with digital audio output. Yes, iOS support should absolutely be considered a freebie and not a designed feature. Even so, C5D works great with the CCK cable. There are certainly more “baked” solutions if you ignore cost.

      As for Android, here’s our C5D release note (see http://blog.jdslabs.com/?p=722):

      “We considered developing C5D for fully native operation with Android, and discovered the goal is presently futile. Even a DAC designed for native functionality via Android’s Open Accessory Protocol remains limited to 16-bit, 44.1kHz operation. And even then, support is not 100% guaranteed across all Android devices! Only an app like USB Audio Recorder Pro unlocks full 24-bit digital audio, by utilizing alternative drivers.

      C5D works with every Android device we’ve tested under USB Audio Recorder Pro. We met a few Android users at the 2013 CanJam who successfully used C5D natively (i.e., with any app). Some Android phones and tablets output UAC1 natively. Others require special ROMs or apps.

      Guaranteeing DAC operation with all Android devices is currently not realistic. Since Android is opensource, it’s definitely possible to enable 24-bit digital audio output on any Android device. Hopefully Google will make UAC1 output standard in future Android updates to simplify the user experience.”

      • Reply December 20, 2013

        George Lai

        Thanks for the clarification and I apologize if my words seem strong. I’m not an Android user but I still maintain that the C5D should have been delayed and gone for Apple MFI certification, even if that increases the cost to the consumer. CCK is an inelegant solution in my view, adding another piece of plastic into the cabling path. Cheers.

        • Reply December 20, 2013

          JDS Labs Inc

          We’ve applied for an MFi license twice in the past three years and have received no reply from Apple. Only 17 companies in the US have this status. Factoring in royalties, legal expenses, and contracting fees to work with an MFi agent, cost of such a product would be much, much higher. It’s not something we’re eager to pursue at this time. Thanks for the feedback!

          • Reply February 23, 2014

            Gabriel

            And that is why I hate Apple.
            The C5D just entered the race for the DAC/AMP combo upgrade I am about to buy for my Xperia Z Ultra!

            • Reply February 23, 2014

              JDS Labs Inc

              @disqus_GibW3T3MMN:disqus: This became more interesting when we blogged about Apple and Android cables earlier this month. Peter at Double Helix Cables is MFi certified, so he investigated further for us.

              According to Peter, Apple does not allow anyone to manufacture a Lightning-to-mini USB cable. The CCK hardware is off limits to developers and intentionally not disclosed in MFi developer documentation.

              So, the only way to build a 100% seamless cabling experience is to build a DAC with internal MFi authentication hardware (standard USB receptacle), and submit royalties to Apple. And that’s why MFI approved DACs carry a premium pricetag.

              • Reply February 23, 2014

                Gabriel

                That is seriously lame as the consumer ends up getting hurt by their greed. Glad that Android is taking over…they just need to fix the sound part of the OS still but at least is more open for smaller companies to offer products without paying Apple for their bs tactics.
                Thanks for the Info!

                I am trying to find out how the Bass boost of the C5D works. I was going to buy the FiiO E17 because I get bass and boost control since not all songs are the same, its good to have that so I was wondering how the boost works on your unit.
                Thanks!

                • Reply February 23, 2014

                  JDS Labs Inc

                  @disqus_GibW3T3MMN:disqus: Push the volume control forward to toggle gain (“boost”). Use the bass boost lever to switch bass boost between off, medium, or high.

                  There’s a chart in the instructions:
                  http://www.jdslabs.com/pdf/Instructions_C5D.pdf

                  • Reply February 23, 2014

                    Gabriel

                    Do you have information of how each one affects the frequencies? Like they are more like mid bass or lower freq bass being boosted etc.
                    Thanks!

                    • February 23, 2014

                      JDS Labs Inc

                      Yes, C5D effectively has four unique curves since bass boost changes with gain. You can find plots in the release article:

                      http://blog.jdslabs.com/?p=722

  • Reply December 21, 2013

    Marc

    I’m back to ask for another unfair comparison!! How is the C5D as compared to International as an Amp/DAC combo?? It should fare pretty well considering you mentioned that it’s your second favourite combo now

    • Reply December 22, 2013

      Dave Ulrich

      I would be surprised if Mike didn’t say the International was far better. The sense of space and dynamics should be quite similar between the Island and the International and the International has a darker tonality than the Island.

      • Reply December 22, 2013

        Marc

        Maybe the C5D with the National may be a better comparison but it would still be nice to hear a comparison between the C5D and the International as they both function as DAC/Amp units

  • Reply January 9, 2014

    Mabuse

    Hi! I’m looking for buying a portable DAC/AMP for my android phone. Til now Apex Glacier was my favourite (quality/price), but after reading this C5D review I seriously doubt. In your opinion, and strictly in sound quality, which amp/dac combo wins, Apex Glacier or C5D?

  • Reply February 23, 2014

    Gabriel

    Mike, you compared it vs the FiiO E18 but since you prefer the E17 and E07k over the E18, what are your thoughts compared to those. Is it worth all the extra $$$? I dont need portability and the source will be a Sony Xperia X Ultra phone.
    Thanks!

    • Reply February 26, 2014

      Randomly Inappropriate

      I was wondering the same thing, however I need portability as I do a lot of traveling and use my HTC One. So it all goes in my left pocket in airplane seats.

      • Reply February 26, 2014

        Gabriel

        Well I am getting both E18 and E17 on Thursday so I will be able to find out on my own.

        • Reply February 26, 2014

          L.

          Sorry guys I can’t help you out as I do not have the Fiio units.

  • Reply April 15, 2014

    Cyril Agas

    Hi Mike,
    How would you rate this against matrix mini portable? In terms of sound signature, SQ of both dac and amp?

  • Reply May 6, 2014

    Yubin Peng

    could you compare them to the sony pha-1, you mentioned them in multiple threads, how come you haven’t review them? 🙂

  • Reply June 19, 2014

    Barry Rosekind

    Hi Mike can you go into more depth in the comparison between the island and the C5D?

  • Reply July 7, 2014

    Nickjan Glas

    definitely a candidate for my iPod lightning cck set-up. hope to try it on canjam. as I ve read some others and your comparisons in this review, I notice a very little amount of devices that match this one in this price range, which also have a integrated power source. Since my budget for this setup will be around 300 dollars/euros this seems the best. It will be added to my ME explorer laptop setup.

  • Reply September 25, 2014

    Eric

    Hi all, I’m interested to know what would be the difference in sound quality between a S4/G2/M8 + C5D stack and a dx50/X5?
    The reason being for the price of a C5D, I could get a new dx50 or a second hand x5. These are the options I’m contemplating.

    • Reply September 25, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      S4? G2? M8?
      No idea what you’re saying here.

    • Reply September 25, 2014

      willy vlyminck

      I use the iPhone 5s and in terms of sound these are exellent, No question the X5 and the DX-90 are better but you can´t stream and or phone with them 🙂
      I did upgrade my iPhone with the Beyerdynamic A200p, but have to admit that apart from the better dynamics the sound signature is pretty much the same. and with my IE80 the difference is not worth the 300 Euro extra for the Dac/Amp. On my Samsung tablet, the benefit of the little Beyer was more clear, as it did upgrade the dynamics and sound quality.

      • Reply September 25, 2014

        Eric

        Thanks willy for sharing. The iphones are pretty well known for the SQ amongst the high-end handphones so I guess in that perspective, a ext dac+amp doesn’t add much to the SQ. I don’t own an iphone anyway, but I was thinking of getting a new android flagship phone and there are newer models that were just released not too long ago. So maybe the added SQ won’t be noticeable to be worth the extra $ and that will play a part in my decision making.

        But If I don’t get a new phone and use my existing Xiaomi redmi, then I guess the c5d will be worth it.

        • Reply September 25, 2014

          dalethorn

          I can connect a small amp like the FiiO E17 or E07k (in analog mode), or the little PA2V2 amp, to my iPhone5 through the LOD port, and the difference with many music tracks is profound. It’s not that the bass or treble or dynamics change much – they don’t, but the overall quality and realism are much, much better. Try some different music tracks using the amp (through the Line Out phone port) and then after listening for awhile, switch to the phone by itself. You should hear the loss of quality right away. Going the other direction it’s not as noticeable.

        • Reply September 27, 2014

          willy vlyminck

          you are welcome Eric, if you want to stay with Android, I guess the new Sony S3 might be the best alternative soundwise for the iPhone.

      • Reply September 25, 2014

        Eric

        Thanks willy for sharing. The iphones are pretty well known for the SQ amongst the high-end handphones so I guess in that perspective, a ext dac+amp doesn’t add much to the SQ. I don’t own an iphone anyway, but I was thinking of getting a new android flagship phone and there are newer models that were just released not too long ago. So maybe the added SQ won’t be noticeable to be worth the extra $ and that will play a part in my decision making.

        But If I don’t get a new phone and use my existing Xiaomi redmi, then I guess the c5d will be worth it.

  • Reply September 25, 2014

    Eric

    S4 is the Samsung galaxy S4 smartphone
    G2 is the LG G2 smartphone
    M8 is the HTC M8 smartphone

  • Reply December 1, 2014

    Barry Cai

    Hi, I m looking for a portable amp for my Senn HD 650, I know E11K isn’t be the best choice, can you recommend some amps for me please? I m using iPhone 6 as music player.

    • Reply December 1, 2014

      Dave Ulrich

      Well, if you can find a used C421, I can vouch for that. I’m sure the C5 would work as well. I really liked ALO’s the National with the HD650, but I haven’t heard the new National+. The JDSlabs cMoy makes a very nice pairing as well.mmm

  • Reply December 4, 2014

    Harley Chen

    This or Beyerdynamic A200P? I use Note 4 and usually stream 320kbps Spotify.
    Would be great for any detailed answers!:)

    • Reply December 4, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      Are you sure this works on a Note? I have to say I’m not sure. Sound wise the C5D is better, yes

      • Reply December 4, 2014

        Harley Chen

        It worked on Note 3, I would assume it will support it natively on Note 4 🙂
        Could you quantify and maybe give it a percentage of the sound quality between the two? I am looking at a price difference between $180 for the A200P and $270 for C5D.
        Also, I have a few headphones on the go, including momentum over ear, custom one pro, M50X, DUNU N2000. Any inputs would be greatly appreciated. And thanks for the review! 🙂

        • Reply December 4, 2014

          dalethorn

          I don’t know how important the $90 difference is, but I don’t use my A200p because it just doesn’t sound good. It does improve an iPhone 4 or 5 slightly in soundstage etc., but tone quality is not great. With the iPhone 6-plus it doesn’t help at all.

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