TRANSFORMER ISOLATED S/PDIF Coaxial S/PDIF input is fully isolated using a Pulse transformer, to...

JDS Labs EL DAC

Average User Rating:
5/5,
  • TRANSFORMER ISOLATED S/PDIF
    Coaxial S/PDIF input is fully isolated using a Pulse transformer, to minimize the possibility of ground loop noise.

    4-LAYER PCB
    All JDS Labs DACs are built on 4-layer printed circuit boards to achieve proper USB characteristic impedance of 90 ohms.

    USB AUDIO CLASS 2
    EL DAC supports up to 32/384kHz audio using a dedicated 45/49MHz clock pair. While we claim no measurable superiority of high sampling rates, UAC2 and ASIO support satisfy your pursuit of bit-perfect listening.

    100% SELF-POWERED USB
    EL DAC is powered by a perfected supply network, with 12 linear regulators that ensure consistent rail voltage and super low ripple. Never be bothered by USB hubs or OS power difficulties again!

    LIGHT RING
    Enjoy the presence of your EL DAC with front and center mode selection via touch-sensitive light ring.

    DIFFERENTIAL SUMMING OUTPUT
    Differential output of the AK4490EQ DAC is summed by an OPA2227, with DC coupling throughout. Drive any load you wish, satisfactorily.

Recent User Reviews

  1. ostewart
    5.0/5,
    "Natural, easy to use, no frills DAC"
    Pros - Easy to use, sounds excellent
    Cons - No DSD support (not my thing anyway)
    Firstly I would like to thank JDS Labs for the loan unit, I will admit I am a big fan of the OL DAC which I bought after participating in the Beta test, and I wanted the added coaxial port the EL DAC has. So I plan to purchase this unit once this review is written. I also strive to write honest reviews.

    [​IMG]

    Gear Used:
    Opus #2 DAP / Marantz CD-52 / HP Laptop > EL DAC > Marantz PM-5005 / Feliks Audio Espressivo > Grado SR60e wood / German Maestro GMP 8.35d / Mission 702e speakers

    Tech Specs:

    All outline on their website in greater detail than is worth posting here: https://www.jdslabs.com/products/174/el-dac/

    Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality:
    The EL DAC comes in a fairly simple card box, held neatly in place with foam wedges. The PSU comes in a smaller separate box. I don’t mind that JDS Labs have not gone to extreme efforts to present it in a flashy box, because once it’s out of its box you don’t really pay attention to it anymore. The box may be plain but the product isn’t, that seems to be the ethos of JDS Labs, modest looking, high performing devices.

    Accessories included are good, you get a PSU, optical cable and also a USB cable, again nothing over the top, just the essentials.

    [​IMG]

    Build quality is superb, the housing uses the same aluminium as the rest of the Element line and it is sleek black but a bit of a fingerprint magnet. The bottom is plastic with rubber feet and all the connectors are on the back plate. On the front you have a single button that has a power ring around it. All the inputs and outputs are of good quality, the only slight thing I will mention is the feet are removed quite easily.

    Setting up:

    I have just had the new Windows 10 update and was surprised that I plugged this in and it worked straight away. If not JDS Labs provide the drivers on their website. This is a USB Audio Class 2 device and supports a wide range of sample rates but does not support DSD.

    The front button is touch sensitive and not a physical button. Tap it once to turn it on, and the illumination ring will let you know what input is being used. Blue for USB, Yellow for Coaxial, Red for optical. To cycle through the inputs you tap the button, to turn it off you long press the button. This device is so easy to set up and integrates seamlessly into your system.

    JDS Labs have hidden a little extra feature into this and the OL DAC, that is solder pads for a DIP switch so you can change the DAC’s filter.

    [​IMG]

    Sound:
    Let’s keep this fairly concise, this device is in my opinion a no brainer for your system. For me anyway it fits into my hifi setup perfectly, I use the coaxial out of my CD player into it, optical for my player and USB for my laptop, all into one device that then feeds my amp.

    If you are used to plugging a low end source into your hifi/headphone setup you will notice increased clarity, but not only this, it is smooth without any glare. I used to love the ESS Sabre ES9018 chip, and I know DAC’s are all about implementation, but I find the AKM chip in this to be more natural sounding with the ES9018 sounding clinical in comparison.

    Do not mistake the above for meaning the EL DAC is warm and lush, it isn’t, it just has a more natural tone, the bass is full with proper impact, the highs are extended and mids are just plain natural.

    JDS Labs have done their homework, the AKM chip is a very good choice and strikes a fair balance between being clinical and warm, and it has sweetness to the sound without any veil. The soundstage may not be artificially increased but it portrays it as it is recorded, without making you analyse and pick out the flaws.

    Now you can change the sound a little if you are willing to solder on a DIP switch, I have done this with the OL DAC and the changes are very small, but still subtle so you can tailor it to your system somewhat, on the OL DAC I opted for Short Delay, Slow Roll Off (a tiny bit more low end control without losing the natural tone) as explained here:

    http://blog.jdslabs.com/?p=1381

    S1
    1 -> SLOW (off = Low)
    2 -> SD (off = High)
    3 -> SSLOW (off = Low)


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    Conclusion: What I like most about JDS Labs products is that they don’t sugarcoat their products with claims it’ll magically make your system the best in the world, they just say here is our product, it works and here are our objective measurements to back it up.

    And that’s what this DAC does, the perfect standalone DAC if you don’t need multiple Coax/Optical inputs, or balanced outputs. It is a very good, easy to use DAC that does not disappoint in the sound or aesthetic department.

    And I like it that much that I am buying it, I have the OL DAC for my main PC setup, and the EL DAC for my hifi system, they just do what they say on the tin very well, for a very good price.

    Sound Perfection Rating: 10/10 (simple, elegant and it sounds very very good)
  2. kamikaziH2Omln
    5.0/5,
    "The EL DAC- Sleek and All Business"
    Pros - Connectivity Options, Sound Quality, USB Power Independent
    Cons - No DSD Support, No Power Button
    I’m a 21-year-old student studying electrical engineering. I’ve been into the world of high fidelity audio for a bit now, writing reviews for multiple products, varying from IEMs to DAPs to DACs. I’ve been around for over five years now, but I’m always enamored by the development of new products and methods. I always find myself learning something new, and I hope that I can help show you something new with this review.

    So, what is my favorite sound environment? Not much preference wise has changed since I last wrote a review. I’m still a sucker for a warm sound that you can lose yourself to. Accuracy is still important, and the more instrumental separation, the better. However, accuracy cannot become to artificial that it becomes unrealistic and “dead”. Additionally, being warm to muddiness is also another way to turn me off. I find myself enjoying equipment with a satisfactory, punchy bass, forward mids, and clear, unrefined treble. As a result, since picking up the Sennheiser HD6XX, I have been using them as my daily driver.
    Sources:

    · JDS Labs “EL AMP” Amplifier

    · JDS Labs “EL DAC” Digital-to-Analog Converter

    · Schiit “Modi 2 Uber” Digital-to-Analog Converter

    IEMs:

    · HiFiMan RE-600 “Songbird”

    · Heir Audio 3.ai

    Headphones:

    · Sennheiser HD6XX

    · AKG K7XX (Bass Port Modded)

    · Sennheiser Momentum (v 1.0)
    I was not specially incentivized to write this review for JDS Labs. I am not sponsored or affiliated with JDS Labs beyond writing this review. I was kindly provided the EL DAC and EL AMP strictly for review, and will return them afterwards

    Throughout this review, you’ll notice that I’ll make a lot of references between the EL DAC and the JDS Labs “The Element”. This is because there were many aesthetic cues that were borrowed. Additionally, the EL DAC can be seen as an upgrade from “The Element” in the DAC department.

    Packaging and Initial Impressions:

    I reiterate from my review that the packaging that is done by JDS Labs is incredibly well done. It isn’t the most “flashy” packaging per se, but it unquestionably makes sure that the package reaches its destination without damage. I keep saying repeatedly that I’m not a huge fan of bulky packaging, so this isn’t exactly my favorite example of what a company should do but I’m sure that I’ll find plenty of people to argue with me on this.

    Inside the large box housed multiple smaller boxes, which included the EL AMP, EL DAC, and Power Adapters for both (which are identical). The EL DAC corrugated cardboard box itself includes the EL DAC, firmly secured by two foam inserts as well as a Monoprice Optical Cable located at the bottom of the box. I will reiterate this for many companies over and over again this point that they need to start taking cues from other companies, such as HiFiman, iFi Audio, and even Apple. They really make the unboxing more than just opening a box, they make it an experience. When getting nice equipment, such as those from the Element series, having packaging to reflect that becomes expected.
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    Packaging aside, the EL DAC is a gorgeously designed. If you liked The Element, this design will not feel too foreign. The EL DAC ditches the volume adjustment of The Element, however, it picks up a few more input options. I’m a huge fan of both the color scheme and design aspects this has. When paired with the EL AMP, the stack is eye grabbing, and often gets positively pointed out.

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    Detailed Power and Connectivity:

    Unlike The Element, the EL DAC picks up both Coaxial and Optical connectivity. To control this, the EL DACs ring at the front is touch sensitive, and will change color based on the input selected. Additionally, it is to be particularly noted that this DAC also supports up to 32 bit/ 384 kHz audio. This is a decent bit more than my Schiit Modi 2 Uber can do at 32 bit/ 192 kHz.
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    Although I haven’t had any issues running most music through the DAC at 32 bit/ 384 kHz on the EL DAC, it is worth noting that a few general computing applications struggled when trying to push audio through. An example would be the popular game, Counter Strike: Global Offensive. Additionally, it is worth noting that I had struggled using the EL DAC on a few occasions when I tried to connect it to a USB 3.0 hub. Although the max bandwidth shouldn’t get near the capabilities of the hub, many times when I would try to increase the bit depth and sample rate, it would crash the hub or disconnect the EL DAC. Direct connection to the computer solved all of these issues.

    Again, since I am bad at formatting tables, detailed specifications are linked here.


    Sound

    Because I had previously compared strictly the O2 and the EL AMP, I wasn’t expecting a stark difference between the two DACs. I was horribly misled, and I wasn’t ready for the EL DAC to walk all over the Schiit Modi 2 Uber as definitively as it did. I put both DACs through their paces through a multitude of songs. These songs included:
    • New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Be Down – LCD Soundsystem (724 kbps FLAC)
    • Weight of the World/ English Version (from the Neir Automata OST) -Keiichi Okabe/J’Nique Nicole (853 kbps FLAC)
    • SHC – Foster the People (320 kbps MP3)
    • Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There (from the Persona 5 OST) – Atlus Sound Team (1047 kbps FLAC)
    To test theses different DACs, I hooked up only the EL AMP as an output to a switchbox to both DACs. Both DACs were connected via USB for testing, and were swapped on the computer through a lightweight program called “Audioswitcher”, which allowed for hotkeys to be bound to different audio outputs.


    Treble

    One of the most notable things that I could pick out when comparing both DACs was that often, it felt that the EL DAC was “reaching” to higher frequencies than the Modi, and was more daring, which often paid off in many songs. In “Weight of the World”, the treble was more transparent, cleaner, and more aggressively driven. The Modi comparatively felt more laid back, and more “safe” in its approach. Additionally, with LCD Soundsystems piece, the crash cymbal hit higher and sharper. Although the Modi was more mellow, it felt like it was being constrained and was limiting itself. The EL DAC however was more drilling, strong, and powerful; perhaps borderline clinical. However, in typical LCD Soundsystem fashion, the drums, regardless of the DAC, become fatiguing all the same.


    Midrange

    “SHC” by Foster the People is a very busy song, and exposed the differences that the DACs had in the midrange pretty well. Due to the heavy and busy soundscape, the voice of Mark Foster gets easily lost in the instrumentation on the Modi. The EL DAC comparatively does a better job giving emphasis to Mark Foster, providing a wider soundstage for the discerning listener.

    In “Weight of the World”, the midrange was well represented on both DACs. However, although the Modi sounds good, the EL DAC takes the music to a new level. The sound is significantly more fleshed out with more tonal expression. Although the Modi 2U still sounds good, I can’t quite put my finger on it. It comparatively feels incomplete.


    Bass/ Sub-bass

    I liked the Modi 2U a lot until I heard the EL DAC on the “Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There” by the Atlus Sound Team. Oh man, the upright bass and organ are incomparable between the two. The EL DAC recreated an experience that had incredible immersiveness with particularly the upright bass that the Modi couldn’t touch. Comparatively, the EL DAC hits harder, cleaner, and fatter (but not muddier) at the lower frequencies. I was quite surprised from the experience because I thought I had a good understanding of many pieces, and my EL DAC taught me that there is always more to learn. Unfortunately I may have come down with a bug, and it won’t be solved by more Cow Bell. I may be coming down with upgraditis.

    Aural Conclusions

    It feels unfair that my only reasonable piece of equipment to compare the EL DAC to is the Modi 2 Uber. However, all things considered, the EL DAC easily puts the Modi 2 Uber in its place. The EL DAC beats the Modi with a wider soundstage, cleaner sound, and distinct instrument separation. I almost wanted to pin the EL DAC as more clinical than the Modi, but I found at that wasn’t necessarily the case. It simply can reach farther and cleaner than the Modi 2 Uber can. It can produce sound where vocals are more expressional and emotionally evoking.

    This doesn’t seem like a fair comparison, because it isn’t. At $250, the EL DAC is 66% more expensive than the Modi 2 Uber. However, unlike many DACs that I have listened to with higher price points, the EL DAC is one of the few that are worth the upgrade if your budget allows.

    Conclusions

    I love my Schiit Modi 2 Uber a lot, I really do. However, I can’t stop thinking about what I’m missing when I listen to the EL DAC and even more so now that it is gone. Unlike the comparison between the Objective 2 and the EL AMP, the differences between these two DACs are significantly more stark, and they are a more accurate representation of what different price points should present. With a $100 price difference, they do hold different price brackets at $150 (Schiit) and $250 (JDS Labs) respectively.

    Many people ask me what their “bang for their buck” deal is, and I often have a hard time recommending expensive equipment towards those who want to invest in a nice system. Unfortunately, the folks at JDS Labs just made the game harder, as I really do love the EL DAC, and although their price at $250 may seem steep for the newer audiophile, for the right person, it may come in as a recommendation. For the seasoned audiophile, this is also a fantastic consideration. The plethora of connectivity options and wide range of audio formats (bit depth and sample rate) available are extra icing on this fantastic sounding cake. The only thing that I can imagine that would hold back someone from this at this price point would be the lack of DSD support. Personally, I have not adopted DSD audio as much as many other users may, so the EL DAC was an incredibly welcome addition to the family for its short stay. If I had a little more scratch to work with, it very well could be a permanent addition to the equipment here at home.



    Imgur Link to all images here

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