The Definition of Neutrality

A Review On: JDS Labs C5 Headphone Amplifier

JDS Labs C5 Headphone Amplifier

Rated # 7 in Portable Amps
See all 6 reviews
Review Details:
Audio Quality
Design
Quality
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $239.00
SkyBleu
Posted · Updated · 14994 Views · 9 Comments

Pros: Clarity, Neutrality, Clean & Full Sounding, Sturdy Build Quality, Digital Potentiometer, No Channel Imbalance

Cons: Not a large enough Soundstage, Bass Boost is a bit too powerful, Volume Increments are a bit big per step of volume

Review on the JDS Labs C5

Fellow Head-Fi'ers, I am here to present you all with my first review on an audio product, the JDS Labs C5; so if I do anything that does not appear right, feel free to correct me, and let me know!

I'll also mention here, as I have done in the past with any of my "first impressions", that I am still fairly new to the audio scene, and I cannot ensure you that my "review" will be as detailed and in-depth as one might suggest, but all in all, I'll give it my best, and hope you all enjoy it:)


Introduction

So, recently I have been in the threads, seeking a new portable amp that would be my first amp to kick off my start in mid-tier audio, as I felt that I was done with low-end, and had the sudden urge to move on slowly. After a week or so of reading reviews here and there, I had ended my hunt with the JDS Labs C5, since the reviews and opinions on it were very positive, and I had yet to encounter any statements saying anything majorly negative about it. This amp was well within my price range, was highly reputable and had the sound signature that I was after - so I guess you could say, it suited my situation nicely. 

 

Anyways, I had bought the C5 a few days ago from Noisy Motel, and to my surprise, the amp had arrived within 48-hours after payment! I'd like to give a shoutout to them, as they provided me with first class customer service during the process of my purchase, and and answered all my questions swiftly without hesitation. I was very satisfied:)

 

Now onto the unboxing...

 

Unboxing 

Upon receiving the C5, I took a few photos of the amp in most of its perspectives to show you guys (who have yet to see what the amp looks like in detail). 
 

Pictorial Unboxing (Click to show)

 

Here, you have the box that the JDS Labs C5 comes in.

Another angle of the box.

 

Yet, another angle of the box, with the Noisy Motel sticker enclosing the product.

Side view of the box, with the briefings (The other side has nothing on it).

The bottom of the box. The world must know it was made in the U.S.A! tongue.gif

The opened box and its internal presentation.

What is inside the box: Micro USB to USB charging cable, instruction manuel, and the C5 (enclosed in the anti-static bag).

A quick picture of the specifications and operation conditions.

The Monoprice Micro USB to USB charging cable.

Four clear rubber feet for the C5.

The C5 enclosed in the anti-static bag. (You can faintly make out the logo.

Release the Kraken! evil_smiley.gif

The beast from within the packet. It has the obvious, JDS Labs logo on one side of the amp.

Angled view of the amp.

 

(All pictures were taken on the HDR settings on an 8MP LG Nexus 4 with no effects)

 

As seen in my quick unboxing, a sufficient amount of accessories have been included, just the main ones, nothing more. Overall, it was fairly basic, and the box housing the amp and accessories was just a regular cardboard box. 

 

Now, onto the review...

 

Review

Specifications

  • Frequency Response : +/- 0.02 dB
  • THD+N (20-20kHz, 150 Ω): 0.0009%
  • THD+N (20-20kHz, 32 Ω): 0.0045%
  • Noise: -105 dBu
  • Crosstalk @ 150 Ω: -67 dB
  • Inter-channel Phase @ 1kHz: +/- 0.01°
  • Channel Balance: +/- 0.55 dB, all volume positions
  • Max Output @ 600Ω: 4.146 VRMS
  • Max Output @ 150Ω: 3.337 VRMS
  • Max Output @ 32Ω: 1.010 VRMS
  • Power Supply: 14.0 Vpp
  • Output Impedance: 2.2 Ω
  • Battery Run Time: 11-14 Hours*
  • Charge Time: 2 Hrs to 80%, < 4 Hrs to 100%
  • Operating Temp: –40°C to 85°C
  • Operating Humidity: 0 to 85% Rel. Humidity
  • Dimensions (excluding switches): 99.5 x 61.5 x 14.0 mm (LxWxH)
  • Weight: 4.2 ounces 

    Test Equipment: PrismSound dScope Series III audio analyzer, Tektronix TDS1012.
    *Run time may vary based on equipment and listening style.

(Copied from the JDS Labs' official website: http://www.jdslabs.com/item.php?fetchitem=70)

 

Build Quality & Design/Function Factor

Build Quality

The build quality of the C5 has a very nice construction as it obtains the appearance of elegance, and shows that it was built to last. The body of the C5, has a matte black metal finish (if you got the black version) that is very solid, and is overall, sturdy. It feels very nice in the hands, and does not have any sharp edges or anything that would give discomfort to the user. 


The 3.5mm sockets of the input and output of the amp, are slightly recessed into the amp, to allow the fitting of large male 3.5mm jacks. When inserting a jack into the sockets, the sockets are very tight, so it might take a bit of a push to get it in there, but at least you know it'll hold the jack in place, firmly. The sockets will take a slight bit of effort to pull the 3.5mm jack back out, so that will ensure that the jack won't be going anywhere once plugged in! None of that sliding-out action. 

 

I did, however, notice that the charging Micro USB port on the amp is a little tight, were it took a pinch of force to get the Micro USB cable into the amp to charge it. Not a bad thing, but it just felt a bit too rigid and tight.

As of the switches of the amp, the On/off switch, and the bass boost switch, have a high-quality feel, which is obviously not like any of those cheap switches that feels like they're going to snap or break. They have a strong click upon switching it, so I guess you could say it's reassurance that you bought a well-built amp with quality materials. 

 

What's new to me, is the new digital volume control (potentiometer). Although it's new to me, it is without a doubt, a very cool feature of the C5. Has a nice feel when increasing/decreasing the volume, and the click to switch to high/low gain is also a nice addition, on top of the already cool, potentiometer. 


The faceplates at each end of the amp has a brushed aluminium finish, with a heavy-duty feel that is around 0.2mm thick. The plates are removable via two screws, one at each end of the plate, to remove/change the position of the internals of the C5. I unscrewed the screws, minutes after receiving the amp to flip internals so I could have the JDS Labs logo facing down, as I was going to apply Dual Lock to the amp so I could adhere it to my audio players.

 

Here are a Front and Back view of the faceplates of the C5.

 

Front View^

Back View^

 

Design/Function Factor

(I realised this part was basically me blabbing on about the digital potentiometer the most, so I wish to apologize in advance, haha)

I found the design of the JDS Labs C5 to be quite elegant, yet still maintaining its classiness for its role. The amp, although very simple looking, is quite amazing when it comes to a sleek and compact design. Sleek, by all means of the recessed 3.5mm sockets and screw holes to the low profile switches and digital potentiometer, as opposed to the usual, large and protruding volume control pot. In no way, am I saying that the volume control pots are a bad design or anything, I'm just simply saying that JDS Labs did a good thing by applying the use of a digital potentiometer, that does not protrude out, or is easily adjusted by accident. Another thing about the digital potentiometer that I absolutely adore, is that it has eliminated the common channel imbalance problem, which is the usual case with the volume pots. Not only that, it also remembers your last high/low gain settings and volume setting, so you do not have to readjust to those desired positions when you use your amp next. The potentiometer has 63 steps of volume, inclusive of the silent step, which gives the user, a good amount of volume options to choose from. I might be a bit nit-picky here, but I think the volume increment of the potentiometer is a bit big for its own good. It would have been great if JDS Labs could have made the increments a bit small, so the majority of us users, could utilise the balanced volume at lower listening volumes. Other than that, I was well satisfied with the digital potentiometer. I know, that the potentiometer can be programmed to run at your desired volume increments, but I am not one to venture into the territories of the "DIY/playing with the internals of a unit" area. As of that, I will have to live with the C5's volume increments as is:)

 

Apart from the digital potentiometer, another fancy feature about the C5 is that when it is nearly out of batteries, the power light will begin to blink continuously, so you will always know when it needs to be charge, before its 14 hour usage time ends. I thought this was a cool feature, as there are many amps out there without an "I-Need-To-Be-Charged" indicator, hence  it will then result in a randomly dead amp during usage. When on and at full battery, the amp will display a GREEN light; when in need of a charge, it will be a BLINKING GREEN light; and whilst it is charging, a BLUE light will be displayed.

 

Anyways, here is a picture of the C5 in the palm of my hand. It's pretty small, compared to what you see in images of it.

 

In short, the JDS Labs C5 has the regular appearance of a portable amp, but unlike some of the other, retangular prism amps, this amp has a well thought out design, which gives it the sleek and elegant look. I can say that the design and build of this amp, is surely up there competing with the other well-built amps of the higher prices!

 

Sound Quality

 

 

 

Okay, so this is the part I'm not too good at, so please bear with me:)

(I used my V-Moda M-100's and Colorfly C3 for this part - High gain ON, NO bass boost)

 

I understand that many people have compared this amp to the O2, but unfortunately, I do not own that amp. Instead, I will be comparing it to my C&C BH, which I am aware, a few owners of that amp are interested in the C5.

 

In general, to me, I found that the C5 had an overall feel of a clean sounding amp with almost crystal-clear clarity, well-refined detailing, and its amazingly presented, neutrality.

This amp, does not have a warm touch to it, nor does it sound too bright, hence the neutrality I had mentioned. The clarity is one of a kind with this amp; you can hear its full sound without a sign of hissing, which applies to low volume as well as medium-level volume, and I have yet to try maxed volume. I must admit, the detail and micro detail of this amp is really expressed well, as you can make out most of the micro details, such as the ending of the snare in some songs with drumming in it, or something like the "ting" of a triangle used in the far background - something you usually wouldn't notice when listening regularly.

 

As of its clean sound, I can easily say I have yet to hear anything like it. The sound it produces is just so clean and crisp, it makes my low quality songs (yes, I still have a few) sound as if they were of high quality with none of that warm vibe in the background. The crisp sound it produces makes the tune sound somewhat fresh, and it really just feels like starting off a beautiful morning with the breeze gently blowing across your face. Kinda like a splash of water to the face, where you get that cooling sensation. Haha, yeah, I apologize for my weird wording ways, as I am still new to this, as I had mentioned many times before:)

 

I shall go onto attempt at the Lows/Mids/Highs. Once again, bare with me!

 

Lows

I found the mid bass and sub bass on the C5 to sound rather satisfying - not too aggressive, nor too soft; just right to me. It has a good punch, which adds to its crispiness, and it has a fulfilling texture to it, similar to the melting of butter, as my friend once put it as for those moments. The bass boost switch for this amp was really a bit of a hardcore basshead thing; the bass it produces is thunderously earth-shaking, as I found it was way too impactful and was somewhat, headache-worthy. However, it is good for the occasional "I'm feeling like a head-banger moment"! Wasn't a fan of it still, but with the bass boost switch off, I enjoyed it as is. 

 

Mids

I found the mids of the C5 to be quite forward, as opposed to recess. It does come out at you and makes the vocals sound very full and makes it as if the singers were there before you, performing on stage, singing towards you in third row, although I feel that the soundstage of the C5 is a bit congested, could do with a bit more air and a wider soundstage. I believe "engaging" is the term, that should be coined for this? I think so. The level of detail here is fine, as I had stated above, but I found that the instrumental separation could have been better. It just didn't have the layered effect when I come to think about it. It can have the smothered-feel on that part. 

 

Highs

The treble of this amp to me was quite satisfying. This was the part where it gave me the feel of crisp sound, as the highs to me, were excelled pretty well. Not the best, but it could do with a bit more tightness.

 

Comparison to the C&C BH

(This one's for my fellow Head-Fi'ers in the BH thread) beerchug.gif

 

 

Haha, where do I start...

 

Sound Comparison

In short, I found that the C5 was superior to the BH in terms of clarity, cleanliness, fun & engaging sound, detailing, and balance of warmth and brightness, aka. neutrality.

 

The BH has it over the C5 when it comes to the wide soundstage that the BH has, along with the BH's top quality instrumental separation, the good ol' cheat switch of the BH, the infamous, LF switch (The bass/treble booster), and the glorious 100 hour battery life of the BH still remains king of the hill. 

 

So to sum things up for this comparison, I think the C5 has it in some ways, and the BH has it in another. Does indeed, come down to preferences, but the BH to me, does take it when the price-to-performance ratio is taken into consideration. 

 

Now down to the question that most of the BH owners would be wondering, is that, "Which do you prefer?"

Well, as of now, the C5 as my "New Toy Syndrome" has yet to wear off! tongue.gif 
I will touch up on this later down the track. As of now, I cannot confirm yet.

 

Size Comparison

Side-by-side (Birds eye view)^

Front-on view^

BH on top of the C5^

 

A side view of the BH on top of the C5^

 

 

UPDATE (2 Nov. 2013): I have recently bought a iBasso DX50 to go with me C5, and the pairing is fantastic! I shall provide some of my opinions and thoughts on this pairing below.

 

Pairing with The iBasso DX50

 

 

(Here is my current rig, consisting of the V-Moda M100, JDS Labs C5 and the iBasso DX50)

 

I'm back again, to add this small segment, to let you guys know about this pairing, as I am sure there are a few of you's out there who are still deciding which amplification device to buy to pair it up with your DX50. 

 

Sound Quality

Well, in short, upon pairing the two devices, the DX50 and the C5, I felt like it had improved the sound quality over the Headphone Out of the DX50. All of which, I will mention the main highlights of this combo in which had stood out to me the most. I found that the soundstage of the DX50 had widened a little bit more in comparison to the not-so-large soundstage of the HO (Headphone-Out) of the DX50. I also found that after adding the C5, the mids and vocals are fuller-sounding - thick and much smoother. Treble turned out to be a touch more sparkly and glimmering over the HO, and I also found that the detailing when amped, was much more clearer define, and required less effort to pick out the micro-detailing of tracks. What stood out to me as one of the biggest improvements, was the lows. Upon switching the Bass Boost switch ON; this rig really shined for a basshead (although, I wouldn't consider myself one, but you get the jist). When the switch is on, the bass' punchiness and the sub-bass vibe is very strong. You can pretty much feel it penetrating straight through your ears, and right into your brain (Sorry for the exaggeration!). It is much more textured than it was before, and the kick that it gives is pretty phenomenal. Before I used the Bass Boost switch on the C5, I always thought it would be too overpowering, and hence, distort/muffle the bass, but I was wrong. Really wrong. The bass had never hit harder, whilst still holding its cleanliness for quality.

 

That should do for my impression on the DX50/C5 combo, but then again, I have yet to play around with other amps, such as the D42 from iBasso, or the C&C BH1/2, so I can't confirm that the C5 would provide the best pairing, etc. I'm sure there are better amps out there that could drive the DX50 to a better altitude, but for around the $200 mark, the C5 certainly does well. 

 

Aside from sound quality, I'm sure most of you guys (or just some of you guys...) will be interested in the pairing's size comparison and fit. I am proud to say that the pair exceptionally well, considering the C5 is pretty much, a footprint of the DX50. If I remember correctly, the DX50 may have been 2mm wider than the C5, or it may have been the other way around - but do correct me if I'm wrong. 

 

For those who are wondering how the DX50/BH sounds, compared to the DX50/C5, I am unable to provide that impression as I had sold my BH before I had acquired the DX50. My apologies! :)

 

Also, I should also mention that the C5 has amazing synergy with the V-Moda M100's. The synergy of the two is pretty crazy, I'll say, now that I've used the two more often. 

 

Size Comparison of Pairing and Fitment, Along with some Photogenic DX50/C5 Combo Shots

 

 

The DX50/C5 bathing under the sun

 

 

 

Side view of the DX50/C5 combo^

Bottom view of the DX50/C5 combo^

Top view of the DX50/C5 combo^

Birds-eye view of the DX50/C5 combo^

 

Hopefully, this addition of photos and a few words should be enough to show some DX50 owners what the C5 when paired with the DX50 is like. 

 

Sorry for the dust that can be seen on the rig and amp bands, haha. I've been taking pictures of the rig on carpet, so that's the results of that! :p

 

 

Summary/Conclusion

So here I am...ending my first review:) Never thought I could pull it off, honestly, but I managed in the end, haha.

 

Ultimately, I found the JDS Labs C5 to be a brilliant little amp that had a lot of positive attributes to it, along with an elegantly sleek design, that was very appealing to my ears and eyes. This amp has surely made my music listening experience much more enjoyable, and ever since I started listening to it, I have started to appreciated some of my songs that I had never been too fond of before, so that really says something about this. Call it placebo or whatever you want, but I found this to have great synergy with my C3 and M-100's, and the audio that it generates, really puts me in the soothing mood as well as giving me very enjoyable listening sessions late at night. This amp, to me, is what defines neutrality when I listen to it.

 

Briefing Before I Leave

 

Now that this review is done, I'm going to need a break from four and a half hours of typing and thinking. 

 

If you've read it from top to bottom, I'd like to thank you for putting in the effort to reading a novice's first review:)
Greatly appreciated.

 

I am so done here. ph34r.gif

Going to enjoy my rig now!

 

 

Over & Out,

SkyBleu-

9 Comments:

Nice photos! :p
Thanks again! haha, I finally found out how to post in the "featured" section:)
nice review, conclusion reminds me of Mark Twain's famous words: "you pays your money and you takes your choice" are either of these amps class A?
i have a C3 that i love the sound from, so that synergy was worth noting. thanks for the comparisions to the BH. and for your pleasant and detailed writing style.
OF COURSE the world must know it was "made in the USA!" Do you have any idea how much of a selling point that is to some people? Crap, my wallet practically flew out of it's pocket
thats terrible news! let us know if the opamp change clarifies the sound at all!
which portable amps to you like the sound of?
@drbluenewmexico Thanks!
Hmm..I wouldn't say are "class A" amps, but I would definitely recommend the BH for the C3:) That pairing has some sort of wild synergy between the two, to me.

@BLACKENPLAGUE Haha, USA! USA! USA!

@drbluenewmexico Hmm, about the opamp changing. I, myself, am not too sure if that's possible, so I cannot tell you whether or not, it will clarify the sound.
I prefer the C5 at the moment (Still having the "New Toy Syndrome") when paired with my M-100, as it takes my M-100's to its fullest. The C5 has more power, better clarity, and has an overall cleaner sound to the BH, but the BH does excel in some areas such as the soundstage width, etc.

@5thDinasty Each to their own:)
I realised it masked a tiny bit of micro-details, but not completely.
Hmm, you could always put the amp up for sale on the boards? I'm sure there will be someone who'll be happy to buy it.
At the end of the day, it really comes down to preference as to what you prefer, but I haven't tried all that many amps before, so this for a low/mid-tier is pretty decent.
Nice review. A pity you missed the opportunity to add dx50/BH to it.
A pity indeed, but I'm rather pleased with the C5 at the moment:)