Review: JDS Labs EL Dac & Amp

A Trip

That JDS labs is the all-time greatest company of any kind, ever, took me only 30 seconds to figure out.  After stepping into their factory, and shaking hands with their business manager, Jude, he showed me their demo room.  In there, sitting on the table and hooked up to their latest gear, was the Sennhesier HD650!  Obviously, these are truly great, honorable people who know what they are doing.  Ok, maybe I am over selling that just a little bit, but this was clearly a good sign.  I, for one, would never trust an audiophile that didn’t hold the HD650 in high regard.  This review, of the JDS Labs EL DAC and EL amp, is unique for me, as this is the first time I actually went to a company’s headquarters and was handed my review gear by the owner.  All in all, I think that was pretty cool.

I happened to be taking a road trip with my daughters to St. Louis, which is just across the Mississippi River from the JDS labs headquarters.  I had originally intended to do an in-depth tour of their facility, complete with an in-depth write-up and pictures; but, as typical for me, I forgot my camera at home, and as the only time I could get out to their building was on our way back home, I couldn’t stay that long as my girls were already grumpy about the long car ride ahead.  They wanted to get home, and I can’t blame them.  What I can say is that they (JDS Labs) were incredibly friendly.  My tour guide Jude showed me their whole facility, and you could feel a definite sense of pride in the fact that everything, from concept to final product, is handled in-house.

My favorite moment was seeing the solid blocks of aluminum that would eventually become the Element.  The Element, they said, was a big game changer for them.  Their president, John Seaber, still seemed like he was in shock over how much things have changed.  It wasn’t that long ago he was building cMoys in his garage, and now here they are, several factory buildings later, still growing and expanding.  John also seemed a little surprised that the cMoys still sell as well as they do.  I told him he shouldn’t be.  They are cheap, and still sound very musical.  That never goes out of style.  I will say that my time at JDS labs went a little longer than intended.  As we were talking in their demo room, and I was telling them I really had to go, John broke out a pair of the Audeze LCD-XC.  “I’m sorry, but I really can’t sta… I have always wanted to listen to those.”  I will have to allow myself a lot more time to look around when I find myself in the St. Louis area.  If any of you, dear readers, are interested in getting a tour of their shop, shoot them an email.  All are welcome.

The EL DAC

I might recommend reading up on this first, as I generally agree with his impressions, and it will allow me to not have to write my own review of the Element: https://www.headfonia.com/review-jds-labs-element-bravado/

Now, let’s move on to the task at hand.  Today, we are looking at JDS Labs EL series: the EL DAC and EL amp.  We will start with the DAC.  “We designed the Element Line for precision fit and function. EL DAC delivers performance far beyond Objective criteria, with full USB Audio Class 2 support, transformer isolated coaxial input, and optical input.”  So saith JDS Labs, anyway.  That quote doesn’t leave me much to work with.  No specific claims to type of sound, or flowery details for me to pick apart.  They are basically saying, “It sounds good and can do these things.”  Straight forward, no nonsense seems to be the way JDS Labs likes to do things, and I like that.  That is also a good way to describe the design of the EL DAC: straight forward, no nonsense.

The button on the front requires only the slightest touch to work.  Touching it turns on the DAC.  A quick tap will change the input from optical (red light), USB (blue light) and coaxial (yellow light).  The back has the corresponding inputs, clearly labeled, and RCA unbalanced outputs.

JDS Labs seem to be favoring a sleek build for the EL series, and I like it.  The unit is made from anodized aluminum, and to correct what I said earlier, the anodizing process is actually handled across the river in St. Louis, so that is the one thing NOT handled in-house.  Despite feeling pretty solid, the EL DAC is extremely light: 18oz to be exact.  Simple and solid seems to be the order of the day.  Were I to nitpick, I could say that the build isn’t on quite the same level as, say, the similar sized and similar looking Resonessence Labs Concero line.  The casing on those is much thicker (and heavier), and could probably stop a 12-gauge round in its tracks, while the EL DAC… maybe a .38 special.  The Concero HD is also $600 more expensive, so that is a more than fair trade off.  The JDS Labs EL DAC’s build is very good for the price.  Plus, it comes with a two year warranty, and I am speaking here as a consumer and not a critic, their customer service is without peer.  If, in the unlikely event, an issue were to arise, they will take care of you.  I will also point out that the EL DAC does not have a screen on it, but for a simply, no-muss, no-fuss DAC like this, it isn’t really needed.

The EL DAC comes with all you need: the DAC, a power adaptor, a USB and Toslink cable.  That actually isn’t something that should be taken for granted.  Although cables aren’t hard to come by, I still think it is something that should be included.  You want someone to use your USB DAC; it only makes sense to supply them with what they need to actually use your USB DAC.

DAC PERFORMANCE

  • Frequency Response 20Hz-20kHz+/- 0.15dB
  • THD+N 20Hz-20kHz< 0.0011%
  • IMD CCIF 19/20 kHz -6.03 dBFS0.00017%
  • IMD SMPTE -6.03 dBFS0.00061%
  • Noise (A-Weighted)-109 dBu
  • Dynamic Range (A-Weighted)117 dB
  • Linearity Error -90 dBFS-0.01 dB
  • Crosstalk -10 dBFS 100K RCA-108 dB
  • USB Jitter Components 11025Hz-116 dB
  • PCB Stackup4 Layers
  • Maximum DAC Line-Output, 100K2.00 VRMS

Drivers, of course, need to be downloaded for Windows, but that is par for the course for PC users.  It can handle formats up to 32/384, unless you (like me) are using Windows 7, in which case it can only do 24/192.

The JDS Labs EL DAC & EL AMP story continues on Page 2 after the click HERE or the jump below

Review: JDS Labs EL Dac & Amp
4.8 (96.58%) 152 votes

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12 Comments

  • Reply September 21, 2017

    Carl A

    The el-dac came to my awareness recently, and so to this review.
    It’s beautifully written, succinct and a pleasure to read. Similar strong points in fact to Lieven’s reviews.
    It has given me all the information I needed to make a decision.
    Many thanks Dave.
    Be well.

  • Reply November 17, 2017

    Lev

    Thanks for the review.
    I’m trying to decide between the El Amp and the Beyer a20 for my new HD6xx. Any thoughts?

    Thanks

    • Reply November 18, 2017

      Dave

      Well, i havent heard the a20, but going off L’s review, the a20 will be warmer and net you a more lush sound with bigger bass. The EL amp will bring the hd6xx closer to linear. I can vouch for this combo sounding quite good. There prices are similar. They should both do a fine job for you, so go with the sound you are looking for.

  • Reply November 18, 2017

    Dave

    The difference shouldnt be huge, though. I should have said the a20 would be slightly warmer. I am on my phone and dont know how to edit my comments.

  • Reply November 19, 2017

    Eduardo

    The A20 being considered to offer a warm sound, would it make a headphone that has a bright sound more “pleasing”? like the HD600 or even HD700? leaving the bass more present and softening the exaggerated highs?

    • Reply November 20, 2017

      Dave

      It is only suppose to be slightly warm. Something using tubes or a SS amp like the V200 could be used to warm up headphones a bit

  • Reply December 1, 2017

    Nate

    Nice review!
    Would you recommend this EL DAC for my Sennheiser HD 800 plus Bottlehead Crack & Speedball amp? Or any other DAC ideas?

    Thanks

  • Reply December 1, 2017

    Dave

    The EL DAC would do nicely, yes. That should make for a good budget combo for the HD800.

  • Reply December 26, 2017

    Keith

    Very well done review. I have the El Dac and agree with your findings. Curious how the El Amp or Element would stack up against the budget king Magni3?

    • Reply December 30, 2017

      Dave

      Glad you like the EL DAC! That is a good question about the Magni 3. Unfortunately, I will never know the answer as Schiit won’t send me review loaners any more, after I was not blown away by the Asgard 2. Too bad really, as I have heard good things about the Magni 3, and some great things about their multibit DACs.

  • Reply October 9, 2018

    Isaac

    I own the nfb11.28 witch has a sabre 9028 dac built in I just ordered the el amp how would the two pair btw I am using the focal clears

  • Reply October 20, 2018

    Josh

    Just wanted to say thanks for all your reviews. The combination of this review and the Aeon closed help me buy my first desktop setup in this space. I recently picked up the Astell sp1000m for on the go and am very curious to see how it sounds in comparison. Part of me wants to keep exploring and look at a new desktop dac/amp like the Chord Hugo but I just can’t decide if the large price increase is going to net the equivalent benefits.

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