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JDS Labs EL Amp

Rating:
4/5,
  • JDS Labs stripped The Element of its USB DAC and left the rest. This powerful amp is 1.5W @ 32 ohms and has RCA line-outputs to pass your source to another system.

Recent Reviews

  1. kamikaziH2Omln
    A Familiar Design goes Independant
    Written by kamikaziH2Omln
    Published May 13, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Loads of Power, Fluid Volume Control, Sleek Design
    Cons - LED Ring could be a little bigger, Exact same AMP from "The Element"
    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

    · JDS Labs “Objective 2” (O2) Amplifier

    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 AMP and the JDS Labs “The Element”. This is because they are near identical in many aspects. For those that are familiar with The Element, you will see that these two products are more similar then they are different.


    Packaging and Initial Impressions:
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    One thing that you won’t have to worry about when being sent a package from JDS Labs is that the items will be damaged in transit. For two items, the packaging used would have safely transited a small child through the postal service. Although I’m not a huge fan of superfluous packaging, I’m sure that many will appreciate the lengths (of bubble wrapped used) to ensure that both the EL AMP and EL DAC made it to its destination safely.

    The actual product packaging is more utilitarian. A corrugated cardboard box houses the EL AMP with two foam inserts. I personally don’t mind this design, but I think that many companies need to take some cues from both HiFiMan, iFi Audio, and Apple in the packaging department. First impressions are special, and these companies make sure to give a presentation that is indicative of an expensive purchase. With something elegant such as the Element Series, having reflective packaging is not only ideal, but often expected.
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    That aside, if you are familiar with the JDS Labs Element, the EL AMP should be a very similar sight. In fact, in Jude’s words, “[the] EL AMP is exactly that – we stripped The Element of its USB DAC and left the rest”. Atheistically, it is near identical to The Element, which is well received for its sleek and sophisticated look. I’ll leave the verdict to the user, but I personally am a huge fan of the design. I love the large volume knob located at the top, and I hope that other companies take this cue. The only thing I dislike is that the light under the knob to indicate the power state of the AMP. It is often difficult to see whether it is on when in a reasonably lit room. If the area under the knob that was lit was a little wider, I think that this issue would be mitigated.

    Aside from that, a USB Type A to USB Type B connector is provided. No RCA cable is provided.

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    Detailed Power and Connectivity

    The Element was often praised for its ability to power nearly anything under the sun and the EL AMP doesn’t deviate from this. From sensitive IEMs to the power hungry AKG K7XX to the well known Sennheiser HD 6XX, the EL AMP had no problem powering anything with fervor.

    Because I’m bad at formatting tables, I’ll link the detailed specifications for the EL AMP here and "The Element" here.

    If you look at the specifications for “The Element” here, you’ll see that the amplification details are identical!

    Connectivity wise, the EL AMP is like The Element, supporting an RCA input with an RCA pass-through output, which is active when the unit is powered off.

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    Sound

    Although I have heard many things about The Element, I have never actually given it any extended listen. However, by using the EL AMP, I could get a better understanding on the question on whether it is a worthy upgrade from the infamous Objective 2 Amplifier.

    To compare the EL AMP and the Objective 2, I hooked up a switch box with both amps to an EL DAC by JDS Labs.

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    Treble

    The more I listen to different equipment, whether it be Amps, DACs, or DAPs, the more I realize that the treble is easily one of the most revealing aspects of the product. This is especially the case in this matchup. With treble in mind, I queued up the song “Cut Your Teeth (Kygo Remix)” by Kyla La Grange. Although the O2 more than held its own, the EL AMP brought the music to the next level. Particularly, the snapping and claps were crisper, tighter, and more powerful than its little brother. However, the EL AMP is surprisingly controlled as well, making the treble non-fatiguing in longer listening sessions.

    After listening, I returned to a few old favorite tunes. Unfortunately, Amps like the EL AMP keep me sucked into this increasingly expensive hobby. Pairing the RE-600 and the HD-6XX, I was grinning like a Cheshire cat, enjoying the music, and profusely delaying this review.


    Midrange

    Trying to hone in on the midrange, I took another listen to Martin O’Donnells “Halo Reach: Original Soundtrack”. Listening in, I tried to pay particular attention to the vocals and strings throughout. However, the differences between both Amps were not as distinguishable. However, the midrange in the EL AMP felt fuller and more forward, but only by a hair. Instrument separation was also more clear in favor of the EL AMP but only slightly so. The soundstage felt slightly wider, and the instrumentation felt slightly “airier”.


    Bass/ Sub-bass

    Finally, to get a good idea of Bass performance, I listened to Han Zimmers, “Time”. The biggest differentiating factor between the two Amps became glaringly apparent as the song progressed. With the progressive intensity and bass of the song, the O2 started to lose its metaphorical footing, becoming increasingly muddy as the demands of the song increased. Distortion wasn’t audible at standard listening levels, but was unpleasantly audible at high volumes. The EL AMP however, could hold on and provide a significantly cleaner signal, even at higher power demands. This was something that wasn’t so apparent on IEMs, but was evident on both the AKG 7XX and the Sennheiser HD 6XX.



    Aural Conclusions

    It is important to mention that on most of my tested equipment, there were very specific cases where I could pull out qualitative differences between the DACs. These cases were either when I was using IEMs (in my case the RE-600 and 3.ai) or when I was using K7XX or the HD 6XX at high volumes. At moderate to low volumes, I was having an increasingly challenging time in blind tests deducing the differences between the O2 and the EL AMP. I challenged my colleagues to the same tests at low volumes and they had little success perceiving a difference in the first place. However, at higher volumes, they did have overarching praise for the subtly cleaner signal in favor of the EL AMP.

    However, many forget that with increasing costs come with diminishing returns in performance, and this matchup is no exception. The biggest overarching takeaway that I had between the two amps was the cleaner signal provided by the EL AMP across all frequencies. However, it is notable that on the Objective 2 (6.5x gain version), I could push a much higher wattage through a given headset. However, with the maximum power of 1.5W at 32 Ohms on the EL AMP, this usually is a non-factor.


    Additional Testing

    Additionally, I ran a frequency analysis test using an NI MyDAQ to get discrete graphical understanding of output of a given frequency. In our case, this frequency is a 440 Hz “Concert A” pitch.

    Objective 2
    1.jpg

    EL AMP
    2.jpg
    From the graphs, we can deduce that the EL AMP provides a cleaner signal when both AMPs are playing at their extremities.


    Conclusions

    Understanding that the EL AMP is better than the O2 in nearly every aspect, you’d expect me to give the clear green light to picking it up. However, this situation isn’t as easy answered as one may expect. The biggest factor that comes into the equation here is cost. The EL AMP at $279 is nearly 2-3 times the O2, which you can buy at $90 to $130. Though it is understood that you won’t get a 2-3 times performance boost for 2-3 the cost, the performance benefits that are gained in this case isn’t necessarily compelling either.

    Who it may be compelling for is people who are looking for an Amp that will continue to scale with increasingly more demanding equipment; equipment that I don’t own. However, with this in mind, one may want to give a serious consideration to The Element if they are considering this Amp as well. The difference only lies in the DAC, which, getting the EL Stack separately, comes at near a $180 price premium. The differences between the EL DAC and The Element is briefly highlighted in my DAC review here. You can determine whether this is for you.

    Will you regret getting yourself the EL AMP by any means? Absolutely not. It is a rock solid Amplifier with a lot of power to give, a sleek design, that gives a true, clean signal. However, if anything, this review doesn’t state that the EL AMP is bad by any means. Rather, it just reinforces how much of a steal the Objective 2 Amplifier is, going toe-to-toe with amplifiers absolutely out of its price range.

    If you’re getting an introductory amp as your first foray into the world of HiFi and don’t want to sink too much money into this hobby, the Objective 2 may be just for you. However, if you buy the EL AMP for future scaling, quoting Morpheus from the Matrix, “You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

    EL AMP and EL DAC Album Here

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