JDS Labs EL DAC

Rating:
5/5,
  1. Mshenay
    Simply Fantasic
    Written by Mshenay
    Published Jan 3, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Easy Installation, Easy Operation, Small Foot Print, Clear Sound, Almost Invisible
    Cons - LEDs can be a bit bright
    Early this year I took a look at their all in one Product The Element impressed I wondered what improvements the stand alone EL Dac brought. An for better or worse, curiosity got the better of me and I choose to reach out and get a look at their EL Dac.


    The EL Dac features the same 4 layer PCB Construction as The Element, but offers isolated coaxial input, USB Audio Class 2 interfacing with both lower cross talk and jitter measurements among others. It's priced at $250 and ready for purchase right from the JDS Labs web-store.


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    Build & Construction
    With it's seamless black body, the EL Dac draws little to no attention to it self. The physical construction is flawless, no rough edges, no creaking when you pick it up, no play in any of the input or output connections. Simply perfect, the only button is a stationary tactile interface on the front that also houses the color'd LED Ring and it too is completely silent. No play, no wiggle, it just works!



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    The rubber feet on the bottom keep the unit firmly in place whenever I'm plugging or unplugging anything from it. Like wise the optical, Coaxial, USB inputs are solid and I have no wiggle from them or the RCA Outputs. Everything spaced evenly and I'm able to access all of the ports comfortable. There's no crowding in any of the input or output sockets.



    Specs


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    Sound & Operation
    Black, exceptionally clear and almost invisible with only a touch of warmth, the EL Dac characterizes it self with it's subtleties.



    Operation was easy and straight forward. To start, driver installation was seamless. I had no issues downloading, installing and operating the drivers. An while that may sound silly, I've had problems with other DACs in the past. I remember spending DAYS getting my current reference DAC to work with my Win 7 Desktop. I had to install not only their drivers, but also a secondary driver for Foobar to play nicely with the Audio GD Software and on top of all of that I had to tinker around with ASIO/Kernal Streaming/WASAPI output options! An I still had crashes from time to time all in my first week of ownership! With the EL Dac again I had NO problems, there was an option for both Direct Streaming and ASIO available to me through FooBar. Ignoring the differences between the different interfaces, I went with the ASIO output.



    For better or worse my Laptop is a Windows 8 machine and it's currently my USB testing device as I prefer Coaxial output from my work station. That said, a vast majority of you will be using USB on a variety of devices, older Laptops possibly still running Windows 7 or 8, as well as newer devices with Windows 10. The JDS Labs website had links for both Windows 7/8 Drivers and those for Windows 10. Once installed windows identified the device without any problems, and I was even able to swap between two USB devices without any issues. JDS Labs choose an excellent software solution for their Dac! As it plays extremely well with other USB Audio Devices and isn't picky, finicky or requiring any sort of special settings or trouble shooting. An while I've always valued optical as a secondary interface for improving the quality of Gaming Consoles, Televisions and various other devices. I started my journey into High Fidelity sound with a USB Dac. Seeing as USB is directly intertwined with every day computer based listening for me, having easy to install and easy to use drivers is a MUST these days.



    I had the chance to review and try a number of AK 4490 products prior to getting the El Dac and so far I've enjoyed it's implementation of this chipset the most! Where as previous products, mostly Digital Audio Players each had their own... flavor or distinct impact on the sound even with the Line Out, JDS Labs EL Dac just simply exists within your own chain.



    It's characteristic sound is consistent regardless of what input method your using. Resolve, imaging and transient response do change however! For each of these listening impressions I pair'd the EL Dac with my Gen 1 Schiit Vali and Sennhesier HD 800. Even with the Vali 1's distinct personality the differences of each digital input were apparent.

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    Optical proved to be... the most volatile. When using my iRiver H140's optical output into the EL Dac the sound was rather noisy and metallic. How ever, I find that those characteristics are present when the iRiver H140 is being used. Regardless of what DAC I'm plugging it into, which makes sense as Optical Output is still processed by the sending device before it's decoded by the receiving device. Though it's worth noting with the EL Dac presented the smoothest most cohesive presentation of any of my DACs when pair'd with the iRiver H140!



    I also own an LG Smart Tv which has optical out and I use the EL Dac in conjunction with it on a regular basis. The noisy more metallic sound I get with the iRiver H140 isn't present with my TV as an output. Rather I find the tonal presentation to be quite balanced, though there is a hardness present in the upper mid range. Non the less for Movies and Television it's exceptional! I do how ever pair the EL Dac with a set of JBL LSR 308 Speakers for TV and Movie watching and I will touch on that experience later in this review.



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    USB offered a much more consistent sound, utilizing ASIO output form FooBar I found USB input to be blacker overall without any of the upper mid range hardness. Additionally there was a stronger defined sense of space present with both Music and Video.



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    Finally, Coaxial proved to be of the best quality. I can't say why but with Coaxial input from my USB to Coaxial SPDIF converter there was small but obvious improvements to both imaging, resolve and overall transient response. The sound-scape was more expansive, transient information was more apparent and the background was ever blacker.



    Though the problem with COAX is availability, you can purchase an interface as cheap as $42 and upwards of $600 or so. I can't speak for the quality of them all. After some digging I settled a $150 interface my self, but to use it with a $250 Dac puts our total cost at $400. Granted, I went to Coaxial because I got sick of fighting with USB Drivers on my work station, but many of you may not be at a point to invest extra right from the bat. Do look forward to future reviews comparing the USB input of costlier options compared to the combined performance of the EL Dac+Coax Input.



    Still having started with just USB my self I can recommend adding a quality Coaxial interface or, USB to Coaxial converter, into your system before upgrading to another DAC. As many of the DACs I've tried over the last year that supported Coaxial input, often sound the best with Coaxial input. Non the less for any and all comparisons to existing products I used the EL Dacs Coaxial Input.



    Pairing & Scale


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    Almost all of my listening these last few weeks has been with this combo and my HD 800. Simple and straight forward the EL Dac works well with this amp. Unlike a few of the DAPs I own that can double as a DAC and some of my costlier and less expensive standalone DACs, the EL Dac is mostly invisible. While it does bring a touch of warmth it never proves excessive or lacking even with what is a very intimate sounding warm amplifier. It's resolve and overall imaging improve as you chain it with more resolving amplifiers and or headphones, but never suffers as a result of a "bad" pairing. In a sense you could say it's not "impressive" nor is it disappointing. Rather I think both more and less discerning ears will appreciate it for what it is.



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    Speaking of, ideally a DAC should be invisible as your amplifier will have a greater impact on how the headphone you like performs. That said, I did find my self impressed with the EL Dac when I swapped into my Ember II. There was some detail missing with the Schiit Vali Gen 1 that was once again present with the Ember II. An again, the EL Dac lends very little to the tonal balance of the system as a whole, though with this amplifier I did notice a bit more of the personality of the El Dac shining through which I'll touch on later in the Comparisons section.



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    Different loads require different amplification, that said for this impression I did change from my HD 800 to the Massdrop X Hifiman HE 4XX. I prefer solid state amplification for this headphone in particular. Like the Ember II though, with a more resolving amplifier the EL Dacs personality did shine through a bit more, the warmer more organic sound of the HE 4XX pair'd well with this combo but switching into my HD 800 I did notice just a touch of that upper mid range hardness I'd heard previously when using Optical digital input. With this amplifier even Coaxial input did not 100% mitigated the hardness though it was only marginal. Still this hardness is some what innate to the HD 800, an the EL Dac lends only a small bit of warmth in of it self, not compensating or synergizing with the "personality" of this Headphone. A lot of times I'll use different DACs in my collection to help create synergy with each of the different headphones I own, but for better or worse the EL Dac offers no such assistance. Which is a positive,as it's consistent sound signature neither adds nor takes away from what ever I'm hooking it up to!



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    I also hooked up the JDS Labs EL Dac to Aune's new B1s which uses a portable Class A design. Class A amps are known to be very warm and natural, that said pairing the EL Dac and B1s with both my Nhoord Red V1 and my Ypsilon G1 headphones I found balance. Both of these open back dynamics are in the Grado Style and have a nice natural warmth to them with a rather forward mid range. While I was expecting more mid-range decay and warmth it was not present! Rather once again, the EL Dac was piratically invisible.



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    Finally, my primary use of the EL Dac is in my speaker system. It's characteristic presentation was desirable for sourcing my set of Studio Monitors, it's slight touch of warmth is pleasant and all in all in the speaker system is handles all genres and formats with ease. For movies and music alike the stereo imaging is excellent with a grounded sense of space and depth. I utilize a pre-amp to adjust the volume to the self powered monitors. The EL Dacs easily adjustable input controls also let me change between a USB and Toslink source, additionally I have no popping or clicking when I change my input while the monitors are active. Though as a habit, I still turn my pre-amp down all the way before powering anything on or off and switching between sources.



    In conclusion, the EL Dac really proves it's worth in the simplicity and consistently impressive sound quality it offers. It's neither organic and intimate like some PCM or Burr Brown implementations nor steely and over precise like what you'll find from a lot of entry level ESS Sabre implementations. Rather than impress, the EL Dac quietly out preforms numerous competitors in and around it's price point.

    Comparisons




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    As I mentioned earlier the EL Dac only lends a small amount of warmth into the sound proving quite transparent else where. Ideally this is what we'd like from every DAC but it's not often what we get. To help clarify my own impressions I did do comparisons with an two source adjustable Pre-Amp feeding both JBL LSR 308s and my HD 800.



    My own reference DAC the Audio GD NFB10ES2 is a bit colder than warm often overemphasizing macro detail. It presents a very exact precise sense of space. In contrast Chords Hugo 2 is warmer than cold with a focus on transient response and micro detail, at the expense of some macro detail and precision in imaging. After reviewing both I felt that neither is better than the other but simply different. These subtle differences allow different DACs to pair better or worse with different amplifiers and headphones, the Hugo 2 for example pair'd beautifully with my own Ember II and the LCD XC I had at that time, the XC being a very precise and exacting headphone it did NOT pair well with the Ember II and my own NFB10ES2. How ever, my ZMF Eikon was... not precise enough from the Hugo 2 for my tastes, rather I preferred it with my own NFB10ES2. The Eikon lacking some top end presence benefits from the marginal but apparent NFB10ES2's over emphasis up top. Of course as you get closer to the top, or towards gear that is built with a cost-no object mind frame you'll find less and less compromise. But so long as their's a budget to up-hold compromise exists.



    All of that said, while the EL Dac doesn't have the resolve of gear such as the Hugo 2 or my own NFB10ES2 does it also doesn't disappoint me like many lesser and sometimes evenly priced options. Rather it stands, invisibly, turning 0's and 1's into a signal to be amplified and listened to!



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    I listened to the EL Dac both from my Power Conditioner and without, from both USB and Coaxial, with fancy RCA cables and without. Each of these "improvements" did help the EL Dac pull just a smidgen more detail but it never felt lacking without them! Regardless of what I plug it into there is constancy, clarity and warmth. There was never any glaring faults that I had to work against. It's size is small, it's sound impressively large and most of all it's consistent.



    I did not compare the USB Performance of my NFB10ES2 to the USB of the EL Dac, rather I sourced both from my USB to Coax unit with the same inter-connectors. Both plugged into my power conditioner, in the end the NFB10ES2 had a more precise image, more resolve both of ambient detail and transients as well as a more tactile and dynamic sound. How ever switching from the NFB10ES2 to the El Dac was never a massive shock.



    My own NFB10ES2 has been my reference DAC for years now. I've reached what I feel is the end of the road with it now, as I'm running with only Coax because the USB drivers don't always agree with any of my Windows devices, I'm using an upgraded power-cable for it as well as an upgraded power-conditioner and hand built RCA interconnects. An what I've always loved about the NFB10ES2 was the precision, the excitement, the detail! The problem with my reference is it's slight emphasis on ambient noise or macro details. When I first got it I feel in love with that emphasis and became very used to it, but now years later and many upgrades later I've had to work at de-emphasizing the top end. My USB to Coax converter, the Power cables, heavily shielded RCA Inter-connectors and conditioner all work together to ultimately cut down on what I felt was a smearing of the mid range resulting from a noisy top end. Literally both analog and digital noise that did add some energy up top, but also took away from the clarity of both the mid-range and low frequency range. While my work has not been in vain, it's brought the overall cost of this Dac up and up. Yes in every instance the NFB10ES2 out resolves the EL Dac, but unlike my NFB10ES2 the EL Dac proves much more consistent across a variety of sources and set ups. An doesn't require so much work to optimize! After years in this hobby, there's something to be said for anything that comes out of the box at 100%!



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    My HM901 is my portable reference equivalent, and also a back up in case my NFB10ES2 dies as it does except Coaxial input. For this comparison I drove the HM901 right into my Pre-Amp while pair'd with my studio monitors using the on-board battery and with the Project Ember II to power both the HE 4XX and my HD 800



    What surprised me the most was the similarities these two shared! My HM901 has a "Vintage" and "HD" options. The Vintage filter adds some slight de-emphasis up top to counter the glare that the ESS Sabre chipsets can add up there, and funny enough the EL Dac and HM901 Vintage had a similar tonal presentation! Where as the HM901 is more natural than warm, both have excellent clarity and a real inviting presentation! Again, the HM901 consistently out performed the EL Dac, having more tactility, more resolve and a larger more defined image, the improvements to imaging how ever were most apparent with the speakers.





    What the HM901 lacked though is a multitude of interfaces, it will only accept coaxial input and it does NOT play well with other hardware. It plays music! That's all it does. An for music it's divine but it lacks the sheer functionality of even the EL Dac. Though it was not designed for anything aside from portable music playback.



    Finally, with these two comparisons cost is something to discuss. Some may feel I'm rather hard on the EL Dac but I'm comparing it with what are two $1,000 Digital Analog Converter Solutions. I say "solutions" because each has some quirks that needed to be addressed, the HM901 digital output connector is horrid and I had to have a custom cable built for it, an the NFB10ES2 can be quite noisy from USB espically with it's drivers. In both cases, the EL Dac compared well, the difference in sound quality was not proportionate to the cost difference and it has NO quirks to work around.



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    The Light Harmonics Geek Out V2 is another battery powered portable DAC. Using the same ESS Sabre 9018 chipset as the previous two DACs it also features a few digital filters. Now the Geek Out V2+ has an amp built it, so to keep things fair I did pair the EL Dac with my Head Amp Pico Power. Tracks were level matched for listening and I utilized my Pre-Amp for switching between each set up. I only used the single end output of the Geek Out v2+ as well as the EL Dac isn't a balanced DAC. I did use my Hifiman HE 4XX only for these impressions.



    In terms of sound quality the EL Dac and Geek Out v2+ were not too far apart. While the Geek Out V2+ offered better resolve and imaging, it's timbre felt a bit hard compared to the more natural warmth of the EL Dac. In fact, tonally the EL Dac proved much more consistent across the board. Which I was rather surprised by! While the Geek Out v2+ has three filters to help adjust it's tonal performance and timing/resolve, the El Dac just simply performed... again it's ease of use a refreshing change of pace! Tactility was similar between the two, with the Geek Out v2+ performing better both up top and down low, with the EL Dac as the undisputed king of the Mid Range in this comparison.



    Price wise these two are a bit more closely related. The Geek Out v2+ is $499 new and is both an Amp/DAC. The EL Dac at $250 has a wider range of amplification options open to it as well as overall functionality. Additionally, the Light Harmonics Geek Out V2+ has two firmware options, and neither are really better than the other. Additionally I had some frustrations getting the Drivers installed on my Windows 8 Laptop.



    For a portable the Geek Out V2+ is excellent an I do have how ever a specific headphone I like to use with it! An excellent example of synergy or a pairing of components together to build ultimately a better system as a whole. As said headphones natural warmth and sweet decay pairs nice with the harder spacious sound of the Geek Out v2+. But searching for and assembling such a pairing can be tiresome. Again the refreshing EL Dac brings a wide gambit of functionality, ease of use and straight forward installation within multiple systems and set ups! At it's given price point I admire it's focus on transparency and consistancy over impressiveness.



    Our next comparison features my favorite DAC! The Behringer UCA 202 at only $30 it's hands down my one of my favorite bang for the buck entry level DAC recommendations.



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    That said though the UCA 202 has a personality, it has an impressive individuality that I like. Though, as impressive as it is it doesn't play well with everything. While it's very open and natural sounding it can be very gooey and mushy if you pair it with a warm amplifier and headphone. It's really only impressive with bright energetic headphones. One of my favorite recommendations for audio hobbyists is the UCA 202 with a very inexpensive hybrid tube and the Super Lux HD 668B Headphone. Non the less, the UCA 202 is insanely simplistic. It can pair with most USB devices including cellular phones and tablets. It's a driver-less Class 1 USB Audio device so it works with almost everything, it even has USB to Optical Output! Which comes in handy some times. For around $150 you get a really impressive set up, including an Amp, DAC and headphone. That said what does the $250 EL Dac bring to some one whose ready to upgrade?



    Well, it's an upgrade. Right out of the box it proves more balanced, more resolving, deeper and equally wide and spacious. It also has the added benefit of transparency, which opens up a whole world of exploration, allowing you to collect and grow with something like the EL Dac. It's got a wider range of inputs and is by far just as easy to use if not easier. An the audible improvements are noticeable! The sound stage of the UCA 202 lacks a sense of front and rear, where as the EL Dac is more precise allowing you to pin point instruments and sounds both in front, behind, above and below! With either speakers or headphones the EL Dac brings a more realistic image. Both devices has an impressive width and warmth, but the EL Dac really adds a level of clarity the UCA 202 can lack. Tonally, the UCA 202 is limited to brighter headphones as with warmer gear it will sound overly soft and some what smeared. Again, the EL Dac excels in it's transparency, tactility is present with both warmer and colder headphones. All in all it proves a very tangible and cost effective upgrade! Or, equally as satisfying you can drop it into a system, forget you own it and just enjoy it without having to worry about missing much of anything.



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    How about portable DAPs that double as an at home DAC/Amp. Again, much like the Behringer UCA 202 there are a number of personalities or house sounds present in a lot of these products. An while I feel they serve as excellent starting points, offering both function, portability and convince. The EL Dac still serves as a nice linear improvement from such devices. The increase in digital input functionality and noticeable improvement in audio quality make the cost worth while.



    Both my HM601 and Shanling M2s have different strengths, the HM601 is a lot like the UCA 202, natural, spacious and organic. But it imparts a lot of it's own personality into what ever amp your running it into, a real double edged sword. While the M2S is more balanced it too has it's limits, I'm not a fan of either of these two Daps as a source for my Schiit Vali 1. In every instance, I found the El Dac to offer increased tactility, better resolve, better balanced and nuance across the board. An even with a variety of amplifiers, the EL Dac consistently out performed both of these entry level Digital Audio Players.



    In Conclusion
    The EL Dac checks all my boxes for a worthy in home DAC. It's a real problem solver, offering a super simple physical interface, excellent sound free of "personality", a multitude of functionality and rock solid build quality. With no immediate draw backs sonically or functionally I found it to be an a phenomenal Digital Audio solution allowing me to pair it with multiple systems in my home. Everything from Optical input from my Smart TV, output into my Studio Monitors, input from both USB via my Laptop or Coaxial from my work station can into a variety of headphone amps. An every single time, in every situation, in every pairing I was beyond content with the Sound Quality! It even presents a very clear upgrade path, as going from USB to Coaxial is pretty worth while and such a investment will also continue to benefit it's owner even if they upgrade to a higher performance DAC. Though in my opinion any immediate and apparent upgrades come at a some what disproportionate cost. All in all right out of the box the EL Dac is wonderful digital audio solution and for many it may be all that they need or want!
      Oscar-HiFi likes this.
  2. kamikaziH2Omln
    The EL DAC- Sleek and All Business
    Written by kamikaziH2Omln
    Published May 29, 2017
    5.0/5,
    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.



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      Raketen likes this.
  3. ostewart
    Natural, easy to use, no frills DAC
    Written by ostewart
    Published Jun 1, 2017
    5.0/5,
    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)
      PedroVazquez53 and Mshenay like this.