Review: JDS Labs Atom – Exemplary

JDS Labs Atom

Control:

The Atom is a very straight forward amplifier when it comes to using the unit. You’ll find everything you need on the front. I knew JDS likes back-light volume knobs from the Element, and it’s nice to see it in the Atom again. It’s not a necessity but certainly something pleasing to the eye. The LED behind the rotary turns off with the Atom.

Turning the Atom on can be done by rotating the volume knob clock-wise, you’ll hear a click to know it’s running. On the right hand side of the front there are the two push buttons to increase/decrease gain and to select the inputs. Pushing the input button will select the 3.5mm input, while pressing the gain button gives you a volume increase.

You can find instructions on how to use the Atom right here: http://www.jdslabs.com/pdf/instructions-atom-amp.pdf

 

JDS Labs Atom

JDS Labs Atom

Sound:

I have heard that JDS Labs tunes their products in respect of measurements, and it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Atom performs incredibly well.

The Atom has great reach in extension down low and up high. It has good bass, with neutral character and good texture and resolution. In fact, the resolution of the Atom is punching well above its 99$ price point.

The midrange is flat out linear and neutral. Body wise it’s not too big nor too thin, it creates a just right weight and body. Instruments have a nicely natural character where ever tone sounds realistic and clean.

JDS gave the Atom really good instrumental separation with just the right amount of air between each musician. The Atom creates very good space and a well rendered sound stage, with even dimensions. The imaging is good, but could be better. The resolution is particularly impressive for an amplifier at this price.

Atom’s treble is extended, energetic and again neutral. It doesn’t sport any particular peaks. Its highs are straight forward and natural. There’s no harshness or sibilance anywhere. The treble brings good values of air into the rest of the spectrum.

Atom has a very dark background, where electronic hiss only comes up with the most sensitive of my monitors – the Zeus XIV, and only if I turn the volume up past the two o’clock position. The Atom beats even products like the Hugo2 in that regard, a product 27 times the price.

JDS Labs Atom

JDS Labs Atom

Driveability:

One Watt into 32 Ohms is well more than enough than what you will need for most of your headphones. With two gain settings JDS offers an additional boost for when you just need the extra power to get to your desired volumes. Atom spits a clean signal into my full sized headphones like the Sennheiser HD800S, MrSpeakers Ether 2 or my 1970’s AKG K40.

Sennheiser – HD800S

The German sounds controlled with good levels of layering and transparency. The HD800S performs really well and stretches a big sound stage with a wide and deep space. Atom puts good power into the S, where the music just sounds right.

Layering, resolution and instrumental separation are all wonderfully done. The background is nicely dark and the sound is clean and pure. Bass reaches deep, has good control and texture. Mids are transparent, organic and excellent resolution. Treble goes wide and it sparkles with good energy.

Even at higher volume levels the Atom doesn’t lose its control. There was never a place where I could detect any clipping or distortion from the amplifier.

MrSpeakers – Ether 2

The latest planar headphone by MrSpeakers is one of the rare headphones that make you smile when you put it on. The Atom has no problem powering the E2 and creates a very nice pairing. The background is deep dark and gives the instruments excellent contrast to give them a clean picture.

The Ether 2 sounds very convincing and natural with a tonal balance that sports a hint of warmth. On a sound level the Ether 2 – Atom combo is very enjoyable with any genre. There is good body and weight in the music. Notes are well formed in size.

JDS Labs Atom

JDS Labs Atom

AKG – K240 (Sextett)

The early production AKG K240 is one of the toughest headphones to drive I know. Its 600 Ohms impedance demand high gain from the Atom. However, the volume dial doesn’t get past the 11 o’clock position. After that the volume gets very loud already.

Bass is tight and controlled with good extension. There is good layering and resolution in the lows with good authority and drive. Mids are neutral and light, with a good organic factor. The resolution of the K240 is really nice with the Atom amp.

Highs are also well extended, but slightly on the bright side of the spectrum where it gets close to a harsh tuning. That’s the K240 though, not the Atom.

The Atom powers all my headphones without breaking a sweat, even the good old vintage K240 (Sextett) gets to blasting volumes on high gain. I seriously doubt you’d run into power problems with the Atom, as long as your cans aren’t too hardcore to drive.

Conclusion:

It is super balanced and neutral in tone, with excellent transparency where it stays truthful to the source. The Atom doesn’t add any body or brightness to the sound. It just tells you how good or bad your source sounds.

If you’re looking for a seductive, full bodied or warm amplifier the Atom might not be your cup of tea, but if you’re after something neutral with impeccable performance then the JDS should be on your short list!

My only concerns about the Atom are about the build quality and materials, sure, at this price you have to make some compromises, but additional weight would have been very nice, just to keep it firmly standing on the desk.

Atom is clean and precise. It outperforms the price tag and it comes as no surprise to say that it is my personal recommendation for a neutral, balanced amplifier at a low budget. The audio engineering level is exemplary, if you can look past the plastic housing.

Relevant links:

Element v1.53 review, by Linus
EL DAC and EL Amp review, by Dave
JDS Labs CMOY review, by Mike
C5D review, by Mike

Review: JDS Labs Atom – Exemplary
4.1 (81.6%) 25 votes

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A daytime code monkey with a passion for audio and his kids, Linus tends to look at gear with a technical approach, trying to understand why certain things sound the way they do. When there is no music around, Linus goes the extra mile and annoys the hell out of his colleagues with low level beatboxing.

    10 Comments

    • Reply January 17, 2019

      Wills

      Hi Linus, nice review as always : )
      This is very likely to be the one I am getting as an entry of the world of full-sized headphones.
      What dac would you recommend to pair with these? Or is it fine if I use the line-out from my ak70 mkii? Thanks!

      • Reply January 17, 2019

        Linus

        Hi Wills,
        thanks a lot for your comment. 🙂

        I think you’d be very well set with the AK70ii and this one.
        You can also take a look at some affordable units from JDS or Schiit. Have heard good things about their DACs. I only know their DAC/Amp combos and not their standalone converters though.

    • Reply January 24, 2019

      Tired_Guru

      One of the best, natural sounding amps no matter the price. No magic tricks here, no added distortion even on large dynamics peaks or very high volume levels. There is depth to the sound, texture, layering, instrument separation, upper harmonics of intruments, proper attack & decay, resolution and speed. There is black hole background. You can listen very quietly and still be able to hear a lot of details and punch, this is amazing.

    • Reply February 24, 2019

      Carl

      Thank you very much Linus for the review. Questions: do you think the Atom would pair well with the FiiO K3? Anything I would need to keep in mind? Might there even be synergy between these two?

      • Reply March 2, 2019

        Linus

        Hi Carl,
        thanks for the comment.
        The Atom should be fairly easy to match. Can’t say about the K3 though, I have zero experience with it.
        Cheers!

    • Reply March 27, 2019

      Darryl

      Now do the Monoprice Liquid Spark:).

    • Reply April 1, 2019

      Jasper Young

      Very nice review! Could you tell me more about the Atom amp’s pairing with the HD 800 S? I’m thinking of getting a tube for my cans but this review is swinging me to get the atom.

      I’ve heard the 800 S on solid states but usually the treble is peaky. I would like to know if there are any sort of peaks with the atom.

    • Reply April 4, 2019

      Mr. Bojangles

      First. They need to use your full name and not just your first name like the made up ones individuals give you at call centers.

      Second. Where is the weight customization here? I ordered an Atom and didn’t see that option and see nothing else listed on the site. I know you all have $1000 cords to review so this measly $100 amp isn’t a priority to follow up on, but still…

      • Reply April 4, 2019

        Linus

        Hi Mr. Bojangles (I love the song),

        I think you have to send them a mail about the weight. JDS told me about this option after the review has been published…

        If one of your previous comments has been missed I’m sorry, maybe you know this, but every single Headfonia writer has a daytime job. We all work during the week and this site is just a hobby. I also have two kids, with which I spend my spare time. Headfonia gets some evenings… 😉

      • Reply April 11, 2019

        Darryl

        I don’t remember where I saw it, but I saw a photo of the Atom with the top of the case off, and and it shows that they put a 1/2 oz. iron weight of the type used to balance automobile tires in each corner. $9 will get you more than you need:

        https://www.harborfreight.com/1-2-half-oz-wheel-weights-67226.html

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