Disclaimer: We were supplied the JDSLabs Element for the purposes of this review. It goes for 349$ USD. You can find out more here: JDS Element – A NO COMPROMISE AMP+DAC.
Update I: I’ve clarified the performance section with regards to 24-bit playback, as well as added a small bit on iPhone-slaved performance.
Update II: I’ve updated the performance section with 24-bit RMAA scores.
If you hate the sort of marketing bravado that calls aluminium alloy ‘duralumin’, you’ll probably appreciate JDS’s use of everyman English. They even correctly call Element’s naughty bits a comfortable knob.
No ultimate, nor word salads about objects and light and shadow. That’s because, waffle-and-sunny-side-up-fried-egg as it is, Element was designed to be used. And no marketing team had to tell me that. It’s obvious.
I’ve got to admit to feeling naked: JDS must know how obsessed I am about knobs. And design elegance. There are three buttons on Element: an attenuator, a mains nipple, and THE KNOB. Sorry for shouting, but damn, just look at it. It’s practically a turn table. It rotates from naught all to full between hard stops located at 6 o’clock, the other at four hours twenty minutes.
Switching off a good alarm clock takes a single blind bash, right? Well, this knob is just like that. It’s the first thing you touch. The only real thing I have against is is that it sort of cants as you twirl it. Not that I was expecting Linnenberg-level precision for 349$, but Element’s knob is big enough that you really notice the slightest bump.
A not-so-real claim I’ve got is that Element is so light and its soft-touch are feet so slippery that it requires two hands to plug in a headphone.
Nearly everything is blindly operable. Want to turn it off? Depress the nipple closest the mains. Want to attenuate the signal for earphone or portable headphones? Depress the nipple to its right. I can fit the best part of an index finger between the two. There’s nothing to muss.
Okay, one other niggle: Element’s RCA input jacks aren’t labeled. As a reviewer I should be able to intuit their functionality (especially as their written on Element’s page), but after knobs, I love great typography and the clever use of print. But I had run to Element’s page to suss what the RCAs were for, but only after I plugging its RCAs into an ADC, thinking they were lines out; they’re not. I’d love for Element to say that.
When the mains is switched on, Element glows a bit like KITT, a bit like a rebooted Cylon, and a bit like TV-meets-V.I.N.CENT. It looks GREAT next to an iMac or something else Apple. And since its DAC can be powered from an iPhone, all it takes is a CCK to make it look great next to an iPhone.
If like Lieven, you’ve got something less attractive on your desk or in your pocket, at least Element will spruce up the place.
Element’s kept together with fewer bolts than an iPhone. I’ve got my thumb hard down on the RCA jacks. They’re not wobbling in the least. Neither do they press in budge in or out. Its corners are solid. Its headphone jack’s got a nice chamfer to its edge. The USB port doesn’t, which makes stripping paint around it certain. Not that you’ll have much reason to plug and unplug it.
Its soft-touch base extrudes into stubby, Kirby-like feet. Neatly engraved underneath it all is JDS’s infinity-like marque, which if pressed, flexes inward. And, it’s feet aren’t perfectly level, so Element tends to wobble on its toes.
I’m not about to hack it apart, so I’ll have to guess that Element is pressure-fitted around an internally bolted skeleton held together with pressure locks. My unit has a few fine scratches and blemishes here and there. And it comes in a hand-me-down sort of box that embarrassingly requires a second box in which come its wall wart and cables. (Something tells me JDS quit designing Element as soon as they polished up its knob.)
Overall, it’s a cohesive, function-dictates-form design whose small compromises are understandable given its price.
Performance and more after the jump or click here: