RikudouGoku

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Very little heat generation
Can be powered on 24/7 without issues
Gain, input and volume button at the front
Enough power for most transducers
Cons: Very little volume control with sensitive/low-impedance transducers (not recommended for iem users)
Unstable holding, needs 2 hands to connect/disconnect transducers
Plastic build, dissapointing build quality
Volume wheel not the most sturdy
Disclaimer: I bought this in October 2019 at JDS´official site at full price (+ import fees yay) so I have used this for almost 2 years now.

Disclaimer 2: My opinion is that amps do make some very slight differences in the tonality but it is very minor and if you want to change the tonality of the transducer it is better to change the transducer itself or to change the tips/foams/pads (iem, earbud, headphones). While the DAC does NOT make any difference at all.

Price: 100 usd (I paid closer to 200 usd thanks to import fees + VAT but will judge this based on its MSRP at 100 usd)

Specifications:


Frequency Response, 20Hz-20kHz +/- 0.01dB

THD+N, 1kHz, 32 Ω 0.0008%

THD+N, 20Hz-20kHz, 32 Ω 0.0012%

IMD CCIF 19/20kHz 32 Ω 0.0002%

IMD SMPTE 32Ω 0.0005%

Noise, A-Weighted -114 dBu

Crosstalk @ 150 Ω -87 dB

Input Impedance 10k Ω

Output Impedance 0.1 Ω

Channel Balance < 0.6 dB

Max Output @ 600Ω 125mW (8.68 VRMS)

Max Output @ 150Ω 502 mW (8.66 VRMS)

Max Output @ 32Ω 1 Watt (5.66 VRMS)

Accessories:

None

Build: Entirely plastic build that isn’t really that well made. If you press on the top plate, it bends inwards. The 6.35mm output port is on the front to the left and gain (low/high) control and input button is on the front right. The volume wheel is on the front center and has a white LED behind it as a backlight. While the backside has the RCA in/outputs, 3.5mm input and the power input.

Useability: Being an amp only, it is pretty straightforward in its use. Just connect it to a separate DAC and a transducer to the 6.35mm output port. But be aware that if you have it on the top of a stack stand like the Topping KGU12 (the one I use) it is too lightweight to actually completely touch the surface. Which means that it is tilting a bit upwards. Another problem that a stack setup might give you is that you need 2 hands to insert/remove transducers, because if you don’t hold the amp itself you won’t be able to connect anything since it moves too much.

Also be aware that the volume wheel is not that sturdy, so you can actually remove the cap itself pretty easily (fortunately it reattaches without problems).

You can have powered speakers connected to it as a preamp which is what I do and you can then control the volume via the volume wheel on the amp instead of using the volume wheel on the speakers (you can of course still use the volume wheel on the speakers).

The atom can be powered on 24/7 without issues. This is how I have been using it since I got it, with it being turned off during power surges only. There is also little to no heat being generated while it is on and pretty lukewarm while it is in use.

Setup: PC -> Topping E10 -> JDS Ol switch -> JDS Atom



Transducer:

Tin Hifi P1 (high-gain volume around 9
o'clock, EQ, JVC Spiral dot++, cable A9 4.4mm): Low-gain is at 12 o'clock while high-gain is around 9. Power is not a problem here in terms of volume but bass isn’t as tight as on the Asgard 3 which to me means the Atom is not capable of driving the P1 at its full potential.

Audiosense T800 (low-gain, volume around 7 o'clock, Elecom EHP-CAP20 tips + DIY Foam mod, cable A6 4.4mm): Here is where the Atom struggles, with a sensitive iem like the T800. I only have the option of having too little volume (and channel imbalance at that) or be right at where I want it to be but the slightest adjustment will increase it too much. You basically do not have any volume control here. Fortunately, no hiss here.

K´s Samsara K300 (low-gain, volume around 8-9 o'clock, full foams, stock 4.4mm cable): Volume control is not a problem here nor does it lack in quality.

Koss KPH30i (low-gain, volume around 8-9 o'clock, unmodded, stock 3.5mm cable): Volume control is not a problem here nor does it lack in quality.

Synergy: The Atom works better with higher impedance transducers than it does with sensitive/low-impedance transducers. IEMs especially aren’t really a good match with the Atom as in most cases, they have too little volume control.

Comparisons:

Ibasso DX160
: The Atom has a similar output power (needs around the same volume, percentage wise when paired with the Tin Hifi P1 + EQ). But the DX160 is a better amp due to it working with everything from iems, earbuds to headphones. While the Atom struggles a lot with iems, especially sensitive ones due to the very poor volume control (either too little volume or way too much). The Atoms tonality is a bright-neutral one, so it’s the opposite of the DX160.

Schiit Asgard 3: The Asgard 3 has a lot more output power and the volume control is also better but since it is a volume wheel instead of showing the volume in terms of numbers in the DX160. It is similar in that regard. The Asgard 3 is neutral so it isn’t as warm as the DX160, which also means that it retains the transducers original tonality better without coloring it too much.

Tonality: It’s a bright-neutral amp that is on the more analytical side. Not the most versatile amp if the transducer is already borderline too bright for you, since this might push it beyond the edge of what you can handle in terms of brightness.



Conclusion: If you are using the Atom with non-sensitive/low-impedance transducers then this is a very good amp at a pretty affordable price, that you can also have powered on 24/7. But if you are intending to use it with mostly iems (sensitive and low-impedance) then I cannot recommend this to you. Thanks for reading.
Last edited:
J
Jimmyblues1959
Use my Atom with BASN B Master Triple IEMs with no problem. I use the Atom during the hot summer months because it runs cool. The outside is cheap, but the internals are excellent. Hence the great sound.
3
3Putter
I use my Atom with several IEM's and one older pair of Grado's. Sounds good, plenty of volume, not an issue with volume control here. Cheap plastic is a negative aspect? It's $100 desktop amp. It's a steal at that price and who in the world would care about the case? Good review but I have a different take on it...
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RikudouGoku
RikudouGoku
@3Putter Schiit Magni, Topping L30 amongst others are in metal. Sounds like a lot of you guys are using higher volume than I do, not a problem I guess for you. But for lower volume users, it is a real problem.

rev92

100+ Head-Fier
JDSLabs Atom DAC + Atom AMP
Pros: Good design
Clean
Powerful
Detailed
Neutral
Natural
Value
Versatile
Resolution
Soundstage
Cons: Plastic build
p8430625.jpg


JDSLabs Atom stack contains of the Atom DAC (99 USD) and the Atom AMP (99 USD). It is widely regarded as one of the biggest bargains in the headphone audio market. Let’s see how true this statement is.


Sound quality for the price
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Rating: 10 out of 10.

Build quality
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Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Value
⭐
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Rating: 10 out of 10.


Packaging



Both ATOMs are budget devices, which means that JDSLabs had to cut some corners.
So, the first corner cut is the overall packaging – it ain’t bad, but it’s not good either. Just a standard cardboard box, after unpacking your new devices you’d probably be just throwing these away.
I’m digging the “Sound as science” statement on the boxes though, it really explains what these devices are about.
Except of the ATOMs themselves and the power supplies, the DAC also comes with a 3ft usb cable.

Build quality



Build quality is the second, and luckily the last corner cut by JDSLabs.
Both devices are made entirely of plastic. Nonetheless, these are 99 USD – it’s entirely acceptable.
They don’t really feel sturdy, both are pretty lightweight, but I truly believe it’s not a thing we should expect from these products – I’ll explain later.
I know that Schiit stack (Modi + Magni) is made of metal, of course, that’s beneficial.
ATOMs measure better than the Schiit’s do though, so it’s a fair trade.



Functionality



In terms of functionality, these have everything that you’ll need from the desktop PC audio stack. The Atom Dac has a USB input and RCA outputs, and that’s basically it.
Automatic standby after 15 minutes of inactivity is a welcome addition, which actually explains the lack of any power switch. Also, it has upgradeable firmware, so you won’t miss any future updates. Sweet.

As for the Atom Amp, its potentiometer is also a power switch, simply turn the volume down to the minimum, and after a click, your amplifier will turn off, which is pretty intuitive.
Apart from the volume knob, at the front, you’ll find a 6.3mm jack output, a gain switch which is pretty self-explanatory and an input selector.
Yes, an input selector, because the Atom Amp has 2 inputs – Rca and 3,5mm Jack, which you can use with your DAP for example – such a welcoming feature. Also, it has RCA outputs for your active monitors for example. I plugged mine in, and it’s something I cannot live without, so it’s great to find that option here.



Tech



Atom Dac is using an AK4490EQ Dac, SiTime MEMS oscillators, XMOS software and an external, 15V power supply which is actually heavier than the DAC itself.
As for the Atom AMP, it is worth noting that it’s one of the best measuring AMPs on the market, regarding its low price.
Also, it is pushing 1W of raw power into 32oHm, which is more than enough for the majority of headphones available on the market, even some planars (I’m running my HE400i 2020 through it right now).
It has a gain switch for pairing it with everything from sensitive IEMs to hard to drive planar magnetic headphones. The Dorado 2020 and Vega 2020 from Campfire Audio performed like a charm on low gain setting.
The JDSLabs Atom Amp also has an external power supply, 16V this time, even bigger and heavier than the one supplied with the DAC. It’s great to see a high quality power supply in the device this cheap.

Sound


It actually is one of the most difficult sound descriptions I’ve ever had to write. That’s because this stack is so transparent and clean, that it just sounds like…nothing. But oh my, it’s brilliant.

The bass is incredibly fast, layered, crisp and controlled, but it’s also slamming hard and is very physical. It sounds just like it should, being versatile, neutral and textured.
It doesn’t add anything, yet is not restrained nor shy. You’ve got everything here, and the overall performance of the low frequencies is up to the headphones you’ll be using with it.
Anyhow, if you’ll use a bass heavy cans like Audeze LCD3 you’ll get that deep roar full of information and crisp from top to bottom, yet punchy and going very low. On the other hand, if you’ll use something more bass-light, like my AKG K501 then the Atom stack won’t add any bass to them, resulting in just a pure, tight and incredibly detailed low frequencies.

The midrange is the same story. Incredibly clean, transparent and vivid, yet uncoloured and neither bright nor dark, warm or cold, thick or thin. Your headphones of choice will decide which path to take, the Atoms would be just an accompanying element, making sure everything is in its place.
What’s worth noting is that a couple of years back from now, getting a “transparent” and “neutral” Dac+Amp usually resulted in somewhat unpleasant vocals, which sounded just unnatural and artificial, digital.
It by no means is not the case with the Atom stack, which provide a full-bodied, clean and forward midrange presence without making any changes to its timbre. You want some thick, warm vocals? You’re gonna use warm and thick sounding headphones, as the Atoms won’t give you that.



The treble is probably the most impressive thing that changed a lot throughout the last 5 years in budget devices like these two. It is very extended, detailed and vivid, yet never gets sharp or unpleasant on its own. Sure, if you’ll plug some treble heavy, sibilant headphones into it, you’ll probably get this hot and edgy treble response, but that’s a good thing. No cheating!
Anyhow, it is incredibly fast, transparent and full of life, without even a slight hint of sharpness nor veil.
Pairing the JDSLabs Atom stack with the Hifiman HE400i 2020 which I received a while ago resulted in a very prominent, bright yet accurate and very natural treble response.

The soundstage is precise, airy and accurate. It is both wide and deep, has great imaging and an incredible separation. It is once again transparent, resulting in staging which is dependent on the headphones you’re using. It won’t enlarge, neither shrink down the staging capabilities of any headphones you’ll plug into it. The size and the imaging capabilities is totally up to whatever you’re gonna use. Atom stack just ensures everything is of high quality and in its place.

Summary



JDSLabs Atom Dac + Atom Amp stack is an absolute steal for the price and probably the best value I’ve ever stumbled upon in the headphone audio market. The build quality could have been better, but to ensure the low price some corners must have been cut. The most important though is the sound quality, and it’s nothing else than exceptional. For many, this is the only Dac and Amp combo they’ll ever need, and it comes at 198 USD. I think that five years ago you’d have to pay 5-10x that price for a performance that good, and that statement sums this review up perfectly.

Highly recommended.



Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
  • Headphones – Lime Ears Aether R, Cayin YB04, Dan Clark Audio AEON2 closed, Focal Clear, Audeze LCD3, Akg K501, Campfire Audio Dorado 2020, Campfire Audio Vega 2020, Hifiman HE-400i 2020, Vision Ears Elysium
  • Sources– Cayin N3Pro, PC
Remember to visit us at ear-fidelity.com
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rev92
rev92
Indeed :)
kawaiiasfucc
kawaiiasfucc
Do you think this would be great for someone starting out on DAC / AMP's? I have a pair of dt 770 pro 80 ohms and I've been wanting to push them further. I'm currently using ALC293 driver on my laptop to power my cans. My budget only allows for either one and I'm having a hard time choosing between what to start with. DAC or AMP?
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rev92
rev92
Get both if you can. If not, I'd recommend going for an amp. I think that the Atom is the perfect way to start :)

Dobrescu George

Reviewer: AudiophileHeaven
Pros: + Natural Sound
+ Sligthly warm bass and mid
+ Good extension both ways
+ Lots of power
+ Clean overall sound
Cons: - It is just an AMP / Pre, no DAC inside
- Plasticky
- Gets hot during usage
- Not great for IEMs
JDS Labs Atom Headphone Amplifier - Sound Science



JDS Labs Atom is a high-power Amplifier for headphones, made to drive almost anything under the sun, or under the moon, because it does have its limits. This being said, it is priced at 100 USD, where it doesn't really have a lot of competition, even something like Periodic Audio Nickel, Cyrus Soundkey, and Burson Play, still costing quite a bit more. It pairs well with large, hard to drive, and analytic / neutral headphones, like Kennerton Thror, Ultrasone Signature Studio, and HIFIMAN Sundara making great pairings for the Atom.




Introduction

JDS Labs are actually one of the larger companies in the USA having a few amplifiers and DACs, and often being backordered due to high demand, so don't worry, if public demand is any sign of quality, then JDS Labs is surely desired by music lovers from all over the world. On the other hand, you also have the excellent communication, and great delivery times, regardless where you find yourself, to increase the enjoyment of owning a JDS Labs product.

It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with JDS Labs. I'd like to thank JDS Labs for providing the sample for this review. This review reflects my personal experience with JDS Labs Atom. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in JDS Labs Atom find their next music companion.



About me

https://www.audiophile-heaven.com/p/about.html



Packaging


First things first, let's get the packaging out of the way:















JDS Labs Atom comes in a really basic package, and unlike FiiO Q5s, FiiO Q5, iFi xDSD and other DACs or AMPs that are priced higher, it really doesn't have much to mention about the package.

The most noteworthy thing about it is that the AMP and the power converter come in different boxes.

Other than that, they are cardboard boxes, with no big logos or nice photos, and the package feels fair for 100 USD. It is actually kind of similar to Periodic Audio Nickel, but they have that much higher price point, combined with the interesting scientific facts about the materials used in their products to make up for the price point.

All in all, for 100 USD, the package of Atom is not disappointing at all, but not fancy or interesting either. Just practical.



What to look in when purchasing an entry-level Headphone Amplifier / PreAmp

https://www.audiophile-heaven.com/p/what-to-lookl.html



Build Quality/Aesthetics/Functionality


The build is all plastic, but from the looks of it, it is a pretty high-quality plastic, not the cheap toy kinda plastic. More like the 3D Printer reisin kind of plastic. It doesn't feel like the Atom is made on a rush, and there are no build mistakes. At the front, there is the volume potentiometer, there's the headphone output, in 6.3mm, and there's the gain selector, as well as the input selector.

This isn't talked about enough, but the tiny Atom has both an RCA input, an RCA output, and a 3.5mm input, so you can switch between the Aux input, and the RCA input.



It is funny that they made it usable as a Pre, but those of you who have active speakers, or speakers who needed a Pre, and needed it on the affordable, you can always get an Atom and be done with it.

The unit is really well balanced, and overall, feels much more high-end than the price point would make you expect. There are rubber feet that help with keeping it on the table, but you should know that the Atom gets pretty hot during usage. After all, there is one whole Watt of power.

I could detect no EMI or electromagnetic interference, I could notice no weird or odd noises coming from it, but the unit runs on 16 Volts, so if you decide on ordering any external power supply, you would need to make sure it matches the voltage and power outputs of the original unit.

Which brings us to the power supply, which is one of the heaviest, largest power bricks I have seen in my entire reviewing career. There's something nothing quite like it, and judging from the weight, it has almost a kilo by itself, that power supply.



The functionality is simple, you just plug everything in, and it works. There's some hiss on the headphone output, but with such a high power output, this would have been expected. You wouldn't really want Atom for really sensitive IEMs anyways, because the potentiometer would reach pretty high levels and would get loud very early in its cycle.



Video Review




Sound Quality


The JDS Labs Atom is a warm and thick sounding AMP, but it doesn't choke your music, nor does it make itself too forward.

The bass has excellent reach and extension, and if you like rumble, and if you like to hear the sub-lows, Atom performs quite well. Even with something like Audeze LCD-MX4, which is a fairly hard to drive headphone, it is able to deliver an outstanding punch and blow. The bass resolution is well above what you typically find at the 100 USD price point. The overall signature is a bit warm and thick, so you can expect some extra lows compared to what would be an absolute neutral.



The midrange is mostly flat, linear and neutral. There's not much depth to the sound, and the width is also pretty much room-sized. This being said, instruments sound natural, and there are no odd coloratons, and in fact, the textures also surprise me, sounding well above the 100 USD price point.

The treble is also surprisingly well extended and energetic, with good sparkle, and good overall presence. There is no harshness and no sibilance, and it balances well against the bass.

If anything, I was really surprised by the kind of quality the whole sound of the Atom has. It sounds pretty much like a FiiO K5 PRO, but slightly thicker, warmer, and smoother. It costs even less, and has an even smaller design, and you can even stack other devices on it or below it.



Desktop Usage

You can't really use the Atom portably, since it needs a constant connection to a power outlet, and it really wasn't made for portability.

Instead, we can brag an entire day about how nice it is for a desktop device. It practically disappears from your desk, especially because the matte plastic used in the build doesn't really reveal itself. You could place it below your monitor, or even better, you could place it right above or below your DAC unit. Since it does require a DAC unit, you can't go around that anyways. Something pretty flat and small, like a Topping E30, an Earmen TR-Amp, or an iFi xDSD should work just fine.



Now, you may be wondering why you'd go to such lengths as to use the Atom, if you already have a DAC, which usually is a bit more pricey than the Atom itself.

Well, one of the reasons may be power. Let's say you have something like the Pro-Ject S2 Digital, which is an outstanding DAC, but you also own something like HIFIMAN Sundara, or Sennheiser HD660S, both of which require quite a bit of driving power. In that situation, you'd want something like the Atom to complement your already nice DAC, so you can drive your headphones.

Another reason is because it has that Pre Function, although I suspect that most people would favor something that also includes a remote for this. There are very few Pre or even Amplifiers in this price range, and almost none with the power of Atom, so if you consider going for something like iFi's xCan, you could probably switch to the Atom instead, if you don't need the portability, and if you only have hard-to-drive cans.

There are setups that would be pretty affordable, like, for example, using the Loxjie D10 as a DAC into the tiny Atom, that should give you a great sound for a tiny price.



Comparisons

There's nothing that's quite like the Atom in terms of price and especially price / performance, but I tried my best to select a few devices that would suit this review. For this reason, I have picked Cyrus Soundkey, Periodic Audio Nickel, and the mighty Burson Play. There's also FiiO K5 PRO, which will be featured in this comparison, but honestly, since all of them are from a higher price point, none of the comparisons won't be exactly fair towards the Atom. Still, let's see how it competes sonically.



JDS Labs Atom vs Cyrus Soundkey (100USD vs 100USD) - The first part you should take into account is that the SundKey has both a DAC and an AMP chip inside, but you can't use it as a source for the Atom, as it doesn't have a true line out. One of those is necessary, otherwise you'd be running into double amping and your final sound will be quite dirty. The size is much smaller on the SoundKey, and it has a pretty good driving power, and good overall voltage. What it doesn't have is the kind of power that Atom has, and if you need something portable, that works both for most headphones, and for IEMs, the SoundKey is fine, but if you have Sundara, Thror, or other hard-to-drive headphones like Audeze LCD-2C, you will need the Atom instead.

JDS Labs Atom vs Periodic Audio Nickel (100USD vs 300USD) - The tiny Nickel costs 3 times the price of Atom, but sadly it is the only other Amplifier in this entire comparisons list, everything else has a DAC chip inside as well. The Nickel doesn't have quite the driving power of Atom, but it has a different sound. Just like Mojo from Chord had that magical smoother, liquid sound, Periodic Audio took some lessons and gave some of that magic to their Nickel as well. Not only that, but they managed to make their tiny matchbox-sized Amplifier drive some big power-hungry cans as well, and if you have something that's bright or neutral and you want it smoother and more heavy, you can always rely on the Nickel. That being said, the Atom does a similar job, but for less money, and with more power. The main difference here is that Atom is not portable, and the Nickel still has more detail, and a cleaner sound. The Nickel does not have a larger soundstage than the Atom though.

JDS Labs Atom vs Burson Play (100USD vs 200USD) - Burson Play has a DAC chip inside, and has more driving power than the Atom, but it does cost twice the price. But, since you would need a DAC for the Atom, you'd end up with a pairing that costs at least 200 USD. The magic here is the synergy, and Burson works best with thick, warm and heavy cans, like Final E5000, Rosson RAD-0, Sennheiser HD660S, and other thicker, bassier headphones or IEMs that really need the extra power, or the extra sparkle and neutral sound of the Play. By comparison, the Atom works best with neutral to bright headphones, and with those that need a little extra touch in the lows, and a smoother top end.

JDS Labs Atom vs FiiO K5 PRO (100USD vs 150USD) - FiiO K5 PRO is probably the best direct competitor to the Atom because it costs 150 USD, but it comes with a DAC, and can also act as a pre. It even has similar driving power compared to the Atom, and it has a better body, metallic, with a more elegant design. The key here is knowing what you need, because it is hard for me to recommend the Atom over K5 PRO unless you like the design of the Atom more, or you really want a separate amplifier from your DAC. You can pair them together, as K5PRO has a separate line out, but I'm not sure if it is worth doing so, given that Atom has a bit more driving power, but not much more. At any rate, if you have only 100 USD, the Atom delivers the same performance as K5PRO does at 150 USD, but lacks the DAC, and the design of K5 PRO.



Pairing

The pairing part of this review is simpler, especially choosing the headphones is simpler, because we know that Atom has a slightly thick and warm sound, with a slightly smooth top end, so it is clear that Kennerton Thror, Ultrasone Signature Studio, and HIFIMAN Sundara would all make great pairings for it. There's also the surprise pairing, which is Master &amp; Dynamic MW65, which would also make a sweet pair with the Atom.



JDS Labs Atom + HIFIMAN Sundara - Sundara is one of those closer, more neutral headphones that has a really friendly price point. In this sense, it would make great sense to pair it with JDS Labs atom, because it can add a bit of thickness, weight and depth to its sound. The low reach of the Atom is also pretty much the perfect pairing for little Sundy, as it helps increase the bottom end hit, as well as the overall size that the sound has on Sundara. There is no hissing, and Atom has enough power to take Sundara to a whole new level compared to most lower powered amplifiers or DAC/AMPs.

JDS Labs Atom + Kennerton Thror - Thror is another headphone that I really wanted to try with the Atom, because although Thror costs quite a bit, it is easy to drive, and I wanted to see what kind of sound would you get from a headphone that is this expensive, and an amplifier that is about 100 USD, which is just a fraction of Thror's price. In all honesty, I was not expecting it, but the Atom is able to make Thror move, to deliver an outstanding rumble and low end blow, along with a detailed and clear midrange. The stage is more intimate from this pairing, but the overall tonality is fairly natural, and the smoother treble, with zero-harshness of Atom, compliments Thror quite nicely.

JDS Labs Atom + Master &amp; Dynamic MW65 - Master &amp; Dynamic outdid themselves with MW65, and they sound way better than their usual, and I'll give you an early surprise, hint or spoiler. Although I'm not a big fan of spoilers, you have to know this, I have both Deva and MW40 Wireless from Master &amp; Dynamic, and they are really close to each other, M&amp;D really increased the sonic performance of their products with the last few releases, so you can expect a full fledged high-end sound from them, with the upcoming models. As for MW65, the more natural nature of JDS Labs Atom manages to smooth out the slightly cold and slightly bright overall signature of MW65, and if that was not enough, the low end delivery also makes it sound big and rumbly, opposed to the more neutral and precise sound that MW65 usually has.

JDS Labs Atom + Ultrasone Signature Studio - Signature Studio is one of those headphones that really surprised me with its detail, clarity and soundstage, but also made me feel a bit tired of that same detail, when I noticed that although it had no harsh sounds, it was pretty sibilant, and it lacked weight and body to the sound, being a pretty thin-sounding headphone. In this sense, Atom comes quickly and evens the sound a bit, adding more low end impact, taking off some of the heat from the treble, and making them slightly smoother, less sibilant, and more open overall. This being said, the soundstage itself is slightly smaller than with most pairings, now being room-size compared to the hall-sized Sig Studio usually has. Adam Audio Studio SP-5 is basically the same thing, and you can check them out as well, if you were interested in Sig Studio.



Value and Conclusion

For some products, the value is not their main strength, but for the Atom, it is its main aspect, it is such an excellent value that it may cost less than your Chifi IEMs, but it will still manage to sound pretty much spot-on. Furthermore, it may not have the most interesting or stylish design, and it may seem like a downright simple device, but when you think about the fact it costs just 100 USD, but it can drive some big game headphones, you may start considering whether it is worth making it a part of your system.

The whole design of it is to provide two main functions, that of a headphone amplifier, and that of a preamplifier. It makes such a compelling device, because it can do both, but it does them well. The large headphone output, in the size of a 6.3mm output tells you from the start that you will most probably be driving large, hard-to-drive headphones with it, and although you may want to dip some IEMs in that crazy power, you will still probably want something that has a more granular control over the volume, as the Atom was made for power, and power it delivers.

On the other hand, the sound is as good as it can get for about 150-200USD or so. The only trick is that it doesn't cost that, so you'll be happy with it, if you want a more organic, smoother and a slightly thicker / warmer sound.



At the end of this review, if you want a Pre or a headphone amplifier, to drive your big cans, your bad boys, and if you want to pay just 100 USD, and if you already have a DAC, you can count on the JDS Labs Atom to give you one of the best times you could ask for, especially if you love a more organic sound.



Full Playlist used for this review

While we listened to considerably more songs than those named in this playlist, those are excellent for identifying certain aspects of the sound, like PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you're searching for new most, most of them being rather catchy.

Youtube Playlist


Tidal Playlist

https://listen.tidal.com/playlist/64555551-ec3c-4279-ae44-248fdfcf6c4b

Song List

Bats - Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date
Eskimo Callboy - Frances
Incubus - Summer Romance
Electric Six - Dager! High Voltage
Kishida Cult - High School Of The Dead
Dimmu Borgir - Dimmu Borgir
Breaking Benjamin - I Will Not Bow
Thousand Foot Krutch - The Flame In All Of Us
Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc.
Infected Mushroom - Song Pong
Attack Attack - Kissed A Girl
Doctor P - Bulletproof
Maximum The Hormone - Rock n Roll Chainsaw
Rob Zombie - Werewolf, Baby!
Escape The Fate - Gorgeous Nightmare
SOAD - Chop Suey
Ken Ashcorp - Absolute Territory
Machinae Supremacy - Need For Steve
Ozzy Osbourne - I Don't Wanna Stop
Crow'sclaw - Loudness War
Eminem - Rap God
Stromae - Humain À L'eau
Sonata Arctica - My Selene
Justin Timberlake - Sexy Back
Metallica - Fuel
Veil Of Maya - Unbreakable
Masa Works - Golden Japang
REOL - Luvoratorrrrry
Dope - Addiction
Korn - Word Up!
Papa Roach - ... To be Loved
Fever The Ghost - Source
Fall Out Boy - Immortals
Green Day - Know The Enemy
Mindless Self Indulgence - London Bridge
A static Lullaby - Toxic
Royal Republic - Addictive
Astronautalis - The River, The Woods
We Came As Romans - My Love
Skillet - What I Believe
Man With A Mission - Smells Like Teen Spirit
Yasuda Rei - Mirror
Mojo Juju - Must Be Desire
Falling Up - Falling In Love
Manafest - Retro Love
Rodrigo Y Grabriela - Paris
Zomboy - Lights Out
Muse - Resistance
T.A.T.U &amp; Rammstein - Mosaku
Grey Daze - Anything, Anything
Katy Perry - Who Am I Living For
Maroon 5 - Lucky Strike
Machinae Supremacy - Killer Instinct
Pendulum - Propane Nightmares
Sirenia - Lithium And A Lover
Saving Abel - Addicted
Hollywood Undead - Levitate
The Offspring - Special Delivery
Escape The Fate - Smooth
Samsara Blues Experiment - One With The Universe
Dope - Rebel Yell
Crazy Town - Butterfly
Silverstein - My Heroine
Memphis May Fire - Not Over Yet

I hope my review is helpful to you!

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harry501501
harry501501
Yeah, I didn't think headphone amps got used with speakers
CT007
CT007
@harry501501 It has a pre-amp? So I can have my headphone and speaker systems both connected at once through it? I hear no noise at all, unless using high gain, which you don't use with IEMs.

"It is funny that they made it usable as a Pre, but those of you who have active speakers, or speakers who needed a Pre, and needed it on the affordable, you can always get an Atom and be done with it."
Dobrescu George
Dobrescu George
@CT007 - I assumed you meant as an AMP lol. About driving IEMs, it is the whole noise floor, hissing that is high. You may be using something like a IE800 or another IEM that is not sensitive, but with most IEMs, even the low gain is hissy enough to not make me want to use the Atom with them. Also, the volume control is quite low. There are outliers like IE800 that are not hissy and which are hard to drive despite their really high stated SPL o 125 dB

NymPHONOmaniac

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Clean transparent sound, natural tonality, powerful, versatile gain modes, RCA In and Out, precise volume potentiometer, small size, VALUE
Cons: Light plastic construction, so-so headphones jack
JDS LABS ATOM REVIEW

P1050458

SOUND: 9/10
AMPING POWER: 9/10
CONSTRUCTION&DESIGN: 8/10
VALUE: 9.5/10
JDS LABS is an American audio company from Missouri, specializing in desktop and portable amplifiers as well as DAC-AMP. All their products are designed and manufactured in the USA, and this do not inflict on the price range of their product which stays in the budget realm.

Since 2007, this company impresses many audiophiles with their price-to-performance ratio that offer their amplifier and DAC-AMP, the JDS LABS Objective 2 that was launch in 2013 really put them on the map for the impressive power output it can deliver for such a small-sized amplifier.
Today I will review the most budget-friendly desktop amplifier of their lineup, the JDS LABS ATOM, a super small AMP+Pre-AMP that can deliver a very high output of 1W into 32ohm. Priced at only 100$, this amplifier is considered as the next-generation replacement for the Objective2 and promise clean neutral sound with black background floor even at high gain.

I only heard good things about this little amplifier, and after an audiophile friend of mine cannot stop praising it and suggesting it to me, I decide to contact JDS LABS and give this little fellow a try. In the sub-100$ price range, it’s extremely rare to find a serious trustable amplifier with stable performance and highly promising specs, this ATOM is one of them and perhaps the only one that we can fully trust, due to a 2 years warranty that comes with the products.
Let’s see in this review how the ATOM performs and if it can compete with a pricier amplifier like the Xduoo XD-05 and Xduoo TA-10.

You can buy the ATOM directly from official JDS LABS WEBSITE.

SPECS
  • Frequency Response, 20Hz-20kHz +/- 0.01dB
  • THD+N, 1kHz, 32 Ω 0.0008%
  • THD+N, 20Hz-20kHz, 32 Ω 0.0012%
  • IMD CCIF 19/20kHz 32 Ω 0.0002%
  • IMD SMPTE 32Ω 0.0005%
  • Noise, A-Weighted -114 dBu
  • Crosstalk @ 150 Ω -87 dB
  • Input Impedance 10k Ω
  • Output Impedance 0.1 Ω
  • Channel Balance < 0.6 dB
  • Max Output @ 600Ω 125mW (8.68 VRMS)
  • Max Output @ 150Ω 502 mW (8.66 VRMS)
  • Max Output @ 32Ω 1 Watt (5.66 VRMS)

PACKAGING&ACCESSORIES
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The ATOM comes in a shipping box that was rather heavy, which makes me think the amp is quite heavy. But all the weight came from the big power supply. The ATOM has its own little box. Nothing fancy, and no accessories apart from the power supply. At this price, I wasn’t even expecting a power supply to be included so no complaint here.

CONSTRUCTION&DESIGN

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The ATOM has a simple construction, with a 100% plastic body. It’s impressively light and very small. The front panel has 6.35mm audio jack, a smooth volume knob and 1 button for gain and another button for input. In the back, we have RCA output and input as well as 3.5 line in. We can’t expect high-end construction at 100$, and what really counts here is quality of volume knob, which is precise in control and neither too loose or to tight in rotation, as well as the quality of button, which is perhaps the only fragile part of the device. The quality of gold plated RCA connectors are good, but perhaps I would have preferred a 6.35mm headphone output of better quality, as this one is made of plastic. It must be noted that the ATOM is so light it can easily move if you pull on your headphone cable if it falls on the ground, the rather cheap plastic body might break easily, but not the PCM board inside.

The INTERFACE is extremely simple, you either use the ATOM as Pre-AMP by plugging your active speaker to it’s RCA output, or as an amp, using RCA or 3.5mm input. You can have 2 types of input, which you select by pressing the input button to choose between RCA or 3.5mm input. You open the ATOM by turning volume knob, a light will appear around the knob. You then choose your gain mode by pressing the button or not, depending of your need. An interesting feature is a fact that RCA output will be only active when you unplug your headphones, so you do not have a bad surprise if the volume was adjusted highly for demanding cans.

The ATOM use a nice quality custom Alps 15A potentiometer for volume control, this is quite a big deal to have highly precise volume control with an amplifier and this potentiometer have a wide array of step control so you can select exact volume level you want, no big step as it can be found with Xduoo XD-05 with unprecise volume control until a rather loud volume. This mean you have very low channel imbalance that can only occur at extremely low volume, barely audible level.

Inner construction implemented the same output buffer than the one found in their flagship Element line, this permit to push the high level of clean power. As well, the PCB board use 4-layer, star grounded layout, which permits an advanced power management with very low distortion.

PERFORMANCE
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It makes about 2 months I use daily this little amp, mostly hooked on my Xduoo X20 DAC line out, which is plugged to my SurfacePro 3. The X20 uses a reference Sabre ES9018 DAC, that delivers flat, clean and detailed sound without any coloration. The ATOM love this type of DAC, which permit to show what he’s capable of in term of low distortion and black background. I use a wide array of IEM and Headphones with this AMP, from Meze 99 NEO to Hifiman SUNDARA to super sensitive Audiosense T800 to hard to drive Final Audio E5000 and TinHIFI P1. Unfortunately, I cannot test the Pre-AMP as I do not have active speakers.

The ATOM can deliver up to 1W @ 32ohm at high gain, as well, it has very low impedance output of 0.7ohm which makes it a versatile amp for both sensitive earphones and high impedance headphones. It’s SINAD of 114db, which is impressively high, promises a very clean and transparent signal with a very low distortion level. It’s signal-to-noise ratio is impressively high and can go up to 124db at high gain, which promises a very lively dynamic range and articulate imaging. The crosstalk too is very high at 87db, which will inflict in stereo separation accuracy. All these specs are way above what we could expect from a 100$ amplifier, and when you look at the size of ATOM you are clueless about how such performance can come from such a small device.

For those who was struggling to find the perfect versatile amplifier that can properly drive both your IEM and Headphones without sound compromise should it be in term of clarity or amping power, the ATOM sure is a dream come true. I am one of those people, either unsatisfied by the level of distortion of an amp, it’s too high impedance output for sensitive IEM or lack of clean power for more demanding headphones. For me, the ATOM act like 2 different amplifiers, well, we can say 3 because of it’s analog output as pre-amp too, what I mean is that low gain is notably less powerful at 1db again it’s +6.5db for high gain, but both gains is surprisingly clear too, you can drive your IEM at high gain and low volume, and to some extent, it will give a slightly different flavor, more weighty and dynamic sound, but less nuanced and balanced too.

In fewer words, I would describe the overall sound as neutral without any lack or boost in any frequencies range, smooth in timbre which gains in transparency, tonally natural and slightly liquid. It’s not an edgy, cold or bright sounding amp, it even has an analogic feel to its sound, hint of warmth in timbre that avoid grainy or dry presentation.

LOW GAIN

At low gain, I can drive properly any of my earphones, should they be sensitive or hard to drive, they will be push properly. Still, I will use high gain for some exceptions like the TinHIFI P1 or Final Audio E5000. The ATOM is flat, clean, natural and transparent in it’s rendering, it does not boost any specific frequencies range, neither it’s roll-off in the bass, mids or highs. The background is impressively clear and to my ears, the presentation as slight organic feel to it, as is cohesive in tonal balance and make instrument layering flow more effortlessly, hard to explain, but any IEM I use gain in timbre body but not in texture grain, as well, soundstage expand especially in tallness, which is rarely improved in earphones headroom. As a fully analog amplifier, the sound clarity isn’t artificially sharpened, it’s smooth, airy with weighty natural dynamic. To me, this is a neutral amp that keeps a sense of laid back musicality, without forcing anything and letting the music flow with great fluidity.

After listening to the DITA FEALTY directly from my Xduoo X20, I hook it up to the ATOM and the sound difference is found especially in timbre richness, which have a more 3D presentation as well as the soundstage that expand drastically. The other improvement is in the bass department, which is thicker, weightier, better define in extension. Instrument separation gains in space too and the whole dynamic is less bright and cold, offering a fuller more balanced sound. The X20 delivers 210mW @32ohm from its unbalanced output, which is inferior to the ATOM.

When it comes to very sensitive earphones like the capricious Audiosense T800, the 0.7ohm of impedance isn’t enough low and does interfere with sound dynamic, offering thicker timbre that affects instrument separation space and layering, making the T800 more shape and recessed in mids. Their no hissing, but clarity feel saturated and less accurate. This time, it sounds better directly plugged into the X20 which deliver very low impedance, around 0.1ohm. It must be noted that the T800 are unstable IEM that have sound imbalance with 75% of audio source I use, all due to impedance interference.

P1050463


HIGH GAIN

This is a powerhouse, at 1W of full output, the ATOM can drive easily everything I own, and I’m very demanding about the amping obsession as I tend to use portable amp even for 32ohm earphones. The sound quality is near the same than low gain, perhaps more energic in dynamic and slightly less nuanced in tonality as if the music is more in a hurry to jump at you. The attack feel faster but definition less sharp, especially with sensitive IEM. With headphones or harder to drive IEM, the soundstage drastically expand, the bass became more articulate and punchy, but it’s still neutral and tends to add air between instruments. I use some amp that tends to make the sound dryer or thinner, which can give a false impression of extra clarity, the ATOM do not create this acoustic phenomenon, it injects naturalness to whole sound and to my ears, I hint of warmth that does not inflict on clean clarity. No grain, no distortion, no tonal imbalance, everything sound accurate and cohesive.

The DITA FEALTY sounds even airier at high gain, but less nuanced in lower mids or lower treble, as if the extra power inflicts on SPL (sound pressure level) and deliver a more vivid dynamic range that does not sound as flat as on low gain. For IEM, this can result in a slight tonal imbalance, which can easily be solved by using low gain.

Driving the HIFIMAN SUNDARA at a low gain isn’t suggested, and I consider these as very capricious Planar headphones to drive, to my ears, even the powerful Xduoo TA-10 that deliver 2W of output cannot deliver the full potential of these headphones. The ATOM do drive the SUNDARA at 99% of their full potential, which is extremely impressive, it has plenty of volumes to push it above listening level. Even at extremely high volume, the ATOM did not struggle to deliver stable current, so no distortion even if now the bass is wall-shaking and my neighbors can hear the music as if it was bookshelf speaker playing loud.

The TINHIFI P1 is hard to drive planar earphones and let me tell you I found the best pairing with the ATOM which delivers plenty of power at high gain.
Now the sound isn’t dry, congested or overly intimate, the soundstage is wide and deep with an extremely clear background, which is impressive because with other sources it can sound hissy. Bass is still on the light side, but gain in natural extension, the kick is more weighty and present, but most of all is this exquisite mid-range that blossom fully offering among the best vocal in sub-500$ price range. With the Xduoo X20, mid-range feels flat and dry, now it has full presence with excellent separation and nice transparent layering. The ATOM resuscitates P1 sound. Incredibly addictive pairing for vocal-based music.

OVERALL SOUND is a natural neutral one with intimate transparent layering and smooth clarity. Timbre is full, slightly liquid in texture, with holographic definition and extra weight in tonal balance. Bass does gain in thickness but still have natural transition into mid-range, which is very lean and benefit from extra presence, treble isn’t unbalanced and extracts details smoothly. Stable and trustable, the ATOM act as a slightly warmed reference amp, level of clarity is a serious improvement over cheaper amping like the one find in DAP or even DAC-AMP. Whatever volume level, I never encounter distortion neither noisy noise floor.

PAIRING
P1050465


The DITA FEALTY really pair beautifully with the ATOM, as a slightly bright and analytical IEM that can be aggressive with its upper mids and treble, this pairing tends to offer a more balanced and smooth sound, the bass gain body which is very welcome and add some fun energy to the sound. Mids are better separated and fuller in timbre, the vocal are less thin and less prompt to sibilance, gaining in naturalness and widen presentation. Treble too is more controled and balanced, slightly warmed and thickned. Soundstage and imaging is where the biggest improvement appears, having now a new hall like presentation with extra airiness.

The HIFIMAN SUNDARA will sound thin, dry and congested with weak amping, which isn’t the case at all with the ATOM. Soundstage expands drastically, going from close speakers to a small room with 4 speakers around you. The bass have more slam and the whole transient response feels faster. Timbre is more natural. Vocal are less recessed, and instrument separation more precisely layered. Treble is more relaxed and fuller in response as if lower and mid-treble was suddenly boosted.

The FINAL AUDIO E5000 is nothing less than a revelation with the ATOM, it goes from overly warm, bassy and intimate sound to highly articulated and balanced lush and transparent sound. The soundstage gain in both wideness and deepness, which offer a more spacious headroom. Clarity is seriously improved due to better bass control that extends better in sub region and has less boomy slam, resulting is less bass bleed. The mid-range is more accurate, especially in layering, but vocal gain presence too, which shows the true guilty pleasure of E5000 which is lush, thick smooth vocal. Treble extends further too, and gain in air separation, making upper highs more sparkly and micro details more generous. If you own the E5000, I urge you to make this small investment. Unlike the DITA FEALTY, the E5000 benefit from high gain, it opens the whole sound to the next level.

COMPARISONS

VS XDUOO XD-05Plus (260$)
P1050469

The XD-05Plus sound notably different than ATOM, even if I use the same very Xduoo X20 DAC as an audio source. The first thing that hit is how more natural, smooth and balanced is the ATOM, which suggests it have cleaner sound too. The XD-05Plus sound slightly U shape compared to more neutral ATOM, bass tends to be more sub bassy and less thigh in the mid-bass attack, while the mids sound thinner and dryer, adding brightness or grain to some IEM, treble too sound more grainy. At high gain, I can encounter distortion or sound imbalance at high volume with the PLUS while it never happens with the ATOM. In terms of power, while the 2 deliver up to 1W @ 32ohm, I consider ATOM more stable and clean at high gain.

VS XDUOO TA-10 (300$)
P1050468

The TA-10 is a hybrid tube amp that deliver 2 full Watt into 32ohm, it’s 2 times more power than the ATOM. This perhaps explain why I prefer driving the SUNDARA with this amp, as it tends to open the soundstage even more than ATOM and gently warm the sound without affecting transparency. SUNDARA sound more intimate with ATOM and go from small room to a big room with surround speakers using the TA-10. Tonality is warmer, timbre is thinner too, bass sound as well more transparent and textured , while the ATOM bass is injected with extra air, not grain. With IEM like warm sounding E5000, the TA-10 is less convincing and strangely affect imaging and tonal balance negatively, making me confirm the sound is less clear in the background and warmer in the definition. All in all, the only thing that TA-10 do better than ATOM is the level of power output, but to the cost of having higher harmonic distortion level, dirtier background floor and less balanced sound. As well, the volume control isn’t as precise as the ATOM, as if after a certain level (60-70), the volume step are way higher.

CONCLUSION

P1050421


The JDS LABS ATOM is an excellent amplifier that delivers plenty of clean power, has a near-perfectly black noise floor and articulates a stable balanced sound.
In terms of quality of amplification, the ATOM can represent the perfect budget End Game amp for those looking to have a small, versatile and capable amping solution for both sensitive earphones and demanding headphones. Thanks to it’s well-done Gain modes, the ATOM will drive at full potential a wide array of iem, earbuds, and headphones.
At 100$, the ATOM is a real bargain that I highly recommend to anybody that needs a powerful desktop amp that does not take a lot of space and offer highly capable and versatile performance.


( For more honest reviews, go to my official website HERE )
J
Jimmyblues1959
Excellent review. I've owned my ATOM for the past year and continue to be impressed with its ability to run all
of my headphones with ease. IMHO it's as close to a wire with gain as a headphone amplifier can get. And it's one of the truly great bargains in this hobby.
cqtek
cqtek
Remarkable review. It seems like a coincidence, I've been very interested in this device for a long time and now I see that you analyzed it... It seems that we have common goals or tastes. Congratulations on acquiring it.
Cat Music
Cat Music
have you tried the sp200? If so, do you consider that among the JSD Labs Atom vs SP200, which is better in sound quality?
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