Review: JDS Labs Element (Black Beauty)

Firstly I would like to thank John at JDS Labs for sending me this sample to review, this review is a little late due to a backlog of reviews, but better late than never. I have worked with John for a while now and have always appreciated JDS Labs’s customer service and also excellent communication. This sample was taken to CanJam London 2015 and went down very well with the people that tried it, it has had over 50hrs of burn-in, no differences were noted.

Gear Used:
Dell XPS 15 > Element > Beyerdynamic T1 2nd Generation / German Maestro GMP 400 and more
iPod Classic 7G > RCA > Element > Beyerdynamic T1 2nd Generation / German Maestro GMP 400 and more


Tech Specs:
JDS Labs always provide very in depth specifications, please refer the link below:


Packaging, Build Quality and Accessories:
The packaging is a step up for JDS Labs, a shiny black box with a nice foam insert that holds the Element nice and tight during shipping. The power supply is put in a separate box. The main box has JDS Labs The Element printed on the front, there is no additional info or specs on the box, but it does an excellent job of protecting The Element during shipping.

Build quality is flawless, it feels solid and the big volume knob is very smooth. I would have liked maybe a little more resistance on the volume knob as it turns easily, but this also makes it smoother in my opinion. All the cut outs are perfect, no blemishes or flaws anywhere, it is nearly all metal and all the connectors feel solid too. The one thing I would change is putting rubber feet on, rather than the soft touch plastic feet it has, as it can move a little easily with the stock feet. But adhesive rubber feet are easy to come by, and this does not detract from the overall design. (Edit: JDS Labs have confirmed all new units will be shipping with optional rubber feet)


Accessory wise all you get is the power supply and a USB cable, to be honest nothing else is really needed for this device so I cannot complain.

Design and Functionality:
I love the design, it makes the perfect centre piece for any desktop setup, it is symmetrical and the volume knob is ease to reach and use. The RCA inputs on the back allow you to use is as purely an amp, there is also now an option that you can have it so they work as line-out for the internal DAC too, I am happy with the RCA’s as an input only as I have a few DACs and sources I can use with the Element. The design is simple and minimalist, which I appreciate a lot, the white LED is discreet and adds a little extra something to the design, overall I love it.


Functionality is also excellent, it has an on/off button at the back, next to this there is a gain button which allows you to switch between low and high gain. This is perfect as the Element is very versatile, allowing you to use it with sensitive IEM’s along with hard to drive full-size headphones. The unit itself gets a little warm after being on for a long time, but does not run hot and would not cause any harm being left on for long periods of time. The Element is a DAC/Amp combo, the DAC is the same as the ODAC, it supports a few different sample rates up to 24/96, and if you want DSD well you can use a standalone DAC and plug it in to the RCA’s.
The driver installs automatically, switch it on and happy listening, it couldn’t be simpler.


Sound:
Here is what it is all about, and this is one heck of an amp, capable of outputting peaks of up to 1.5w
  • Max Continuous Output, 600Ω140 mW (9.4VRMS)
  • Max Continuous Output, 150Ω505 mW
  • Max Continuous Output, 32Ω1.1 W
  • Peak Output Power, 32Ω1.5W

But power isn’t everything, this amp pairs well with all headphones in my opinion but with no EQ matching is your friend here. This amp/DAC is essentially very flat and balanced with no real flavour of its own. It makes a perfect match for the new Beyerdynamic T1 2nd Generation over warmer tube amps, as the T1 2nd Generation has a slightly warmer sound that the original T1.

Using my German Maestro GMP 400 it powers them effortlessly with no harshness, these headphones are very flat, probably some of the flattest I have heard, and usually pair better with a warmer amp for general listening. But the Element works very well, you keep the essential signature but take away any harshness that can sometimes be present.

Compared to the O2, I would say this has the slightest hint of warmth, which works in its favour in my opinion. The O2 is still a great piece of kit, but this is a step up from it, it is smoother and more refined, along with more power and better design.

I still find it incredible that JDS Labs can produce a product this good at the price they do, I think if you only want one desktop solid state amplifier, this is the only one you will need. You don’t need to spend mega money on a good set up. I personally think this can take on amps twice its price and beat them, in refinement and also in its capability to drive all headphones.


Conclusion, well as you can guess it is a fantastic device in my opinion, the form and function are all spot on, especially now they have the option to let you have the RCA as inputs and also have them change to outputs for using with speakers or similar. I cannot say there are any glaring faults, or any at all for that matter, it feels great, looks great and also sounds fantastic. Dual gain is perfect for IEM’s and full size headphones alike, I really do like the Element. Very composed and balanced sound, very detailed and refined, with enough power to power nearly every headphone on the market, all for $329 makes it great value, and from personal experience, JDS Labs customer service is the best I have come across, excellent company to deal with.


Sound Perfection Rating: 10/10 I cannot fault it in any aspect

Comments

  1. Does this use op-amps that can be rolled? Thinking of the Burson V5i, in this case.

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    Replies
    1. The op-amps in the Element cannot be rolled, you would need to desolder the surface mount ones to be able to add others. And you could need SOIC to DIP adaptors which I do not think will fit in the slim case of the Element.

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  2. WOW! 10/10! That's pretty rare, isn't it?

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