JDS Labs The Element

General Information

We designed The Element to enjoy our headphones without compromise. Its amplifier renders shocking power, driven by an ultra clean DAC, all housed in a precision machined chassis with a comfortable knob. The Element beautifully drives headphones of all technologies and sizes.

The Element is built for enjoyment. Dual LME49600s on 30V rails effortlessly drive the most demanding headphones. Dual gain and power buttons are relay controlled for comfortable interaction, and microprocessor logic completely eliminates turn on/off transients.

Smart logic:
Relay controlled power logic eliminates turn on pops and thumps produced by lesser amps.

Ultra high power:
With peak output in excess of 1.5W, The Element drives all headphones on the market to extraordinary levels, from balanced armatures to planar magnetics.

Reference grade sound:
The Element exceeds TPD criteria, outmatching our baseline for audible perfection.

Low output impedance:
The Element's extremely low output impedance ensures transparent frequency response for all headphone loads.

Low jitter:
Audibly insignificant jitter (-113 dB) for reference quality D/A conversion.

Low noise:
Wide DAC dynamic range and low noise minimize hiss, and allow harmless use of software volume controls.

DAC performance:

Frequency Response 20Hz-20kHz +/- 0.15dB
THD+N 100 Hz -0.15 dBFS 0.0023%
THD+N 20 Hz -0.15 dBFS 0.0016%
THD+N 10 kHz -0.15 dBFS 0.0019%
IMD CCIF 19/20 kHz -6.03 dBFS 0.0011%
IMD SMPTE -6.03 dBFS 0.0012%
Noise A-Weighted dBu 24/96 -102 dBu
Dynamic Range (A-Weighted) >112 dB
Linearity Error -90 dBFS 24/96 -0.02 dB
Crosstalk -10 dBFS 100K RCA -100 dB
USB Jitter Components 11025Hz -113 dB
Maximum Output Line Out 100K 2.10 VRMS

Amplifier performance:

Frequency Response 20Hz-20kHz +/- 0.1dB
THD+N 1kHz, 150 Ω 0.0009%
IMD CCIF 19/20kHz 150 Ω 0.0004%
IMD SMPTE 150 Ω 0.0005%
Noise, A-Weighted -108 dBu
Crosstalk @ 150 Ω -67 dB
Output Impedance 0.1 Ω
Channel Balance +/- 0.56 dB
Max Continuous Output, 600Ω 140 mW
Max Continuous Output, 150Ω 505 mW
Max Continuous Output, 32Ω 1.1 W
Peak Output Power, 32Ω 1.5W

Data support:

Interface USB, Audio Class 1
Native OS Support Windows XP/7/8, OS X, Linux
Audio Formats 16/44, 16/48, 16/88.2, 16/96,
24/44, 24/48, 24/96


Headphone Output 6.35mm (1/4")
Analog Input RCA
Digital Input USB


Case Dimensions 5.8 x 5.8 x 1.6 in
Weight 18 oz


Dual Gain 1.0x and 4.7x
Thin Film Resistors 0.1% Tolerance
Volume Potentiometer Taper Alps 15A


The Element, Amplifier+DAC
16VAC Power Adapter
6ft (1.8m) USB Cable

Latest reviews


Reviewer at Ear Fidelity
JDS Labs Element III
Pros: Good build
Impressive performance
Reference soundstaging
Highly detailed sound with great resolution
Good value
Cons: Not balanced
Not the most powerful


JDS Labs was a guest at Ear-Fidelity a few times already. My last round with Atom+ stack left me with very fond memories. They offer an amazing starting point for newcomers with a great price-to-performance ratio.
I was inquisitive about the Element III, as it looks like a much more refined design, although based on similar parts. So, I thought it won’t be worse, and that’s a good start. But jokes aside. Even before, JDS Labs amazed us with its no-bs policy and down-to-earth approach. Once again I recommend you to visit their website and their blog. I think that’s a must-read for those technically inclined. The big takeaway is: it’s not the DAC chip, it’s the implementation. I want you guys to understand that.
Naysayers will complain about the old DAC chip used here. Well, maybe somebody finally made the ESS chips sound good? Because until now, I heard only a few devices that sounded good to me with those. One of them was Atom+ DAC, which is a good start for the E3 (Element III). Interestingly enough, according to the blog post at JDS Labs E3 is not a refresh of the E2, but a complete redesign. The analog stage was expanded and tuned, the ESS ES9018K2M was chosen as a DAC, and the knob stayed. Now, the volume control is done in the digital domain, and to be honest, it works flawlessly. Unlike in the E2, the analog input was dropped because of the digital volume control, but it’s not an issue in a DAC/AMP like that.

Packaging and Build Quality​


The E3 comes in a box with a JDS-branded, printed sleeve. The box itself is marked with a slogan: “Sound as science”. Inside you will find the E3 itself and a large transformer-based power supply. No extra bells and whistles.
The E3 looks very good straight out of the box. Sleek black finish, a copper ring, and flush connectors. The top part is metal, probably aluminum, and the bottom is very high-quality plastic. It comes together very nicely, like an audio-batmobile.
The small OLED display is perfect for tabletop use and provides you with all the necessary information. The knob has a smooth rotation but has a little wobble when turned. When you look at it, you see it. When you don’t, it’s not noticeable. It’s a big knob on an encoder’s shaft. Even with a custom, reinforced part, some wobble is to be expected.



In terms of tech we can be satisfied too. It supports PCM up to 24bit/384kHz and DSD128. While it’s not top-tier compatibility, I can’t really imagine anybody complaining about it. That’s still more than enough. “But my DAC sounds the best with DSD512 oversampling in Roon!” if your DAC needs that to sound good, maybe it’s time for a new DAC Bro.

E3 has two inputs: USB type B and optical type as usual. We also get two outputs: a 6,3mm headphone jack and a pair of RCAs in the back. You can freely switch between all of them using the knob. The knob has programmable functions, allowing you to have a smoother user experience. I used the knob as an output selector because I was using both speakers and headphones with the E3. Those outputs have independent volume settings, which make them even easier to use. Besides the sound, E3 was built with user experience in mind. A nice addition can change output filters and influence the harmonics component in the DAC chip itself.
Most manufacturers just crank the compensation to 11/10 to make the measurements look better. JDS Labs gives it to us as a tool to play with the sound. I want to point out that I expect balanced outputs at this price, at least for headphones. Don’t get me wrong, 1,3W is a lot, but planar headphones always gain in terms of sound when connected to a balanced amp. More on that later. For dynamic drivers, it’s gonna be all you might need.

The automatic gain control is excellent and works great. E3 uses internal +/- 15V rails and rail-to-rail opamps (OPA1692), so expect great headroom for high-impedance headphones. It’s a refined, smart design that really puts an emphasis on useability and sound. Exceptional measurements? Apparently, they are a byproduct of sound-focused design. Well, I’m not complaining, for sure. One last thing I want to bring to your attention is the digital volume control. As mentioned before, it’s acoustically transparent and it gives you exceptional channel matching. That is super important with IEMs.



Sometimes reviews are easy. Not this time. How to describe something so transparent that you hear everything else besides that? That’s the situation I’m in now. This is one of the best-engineered ESS-based DACs. Chapeau bas.

The sound signature of ESS chips is reduced to a minimum. We get all the pros: resolution, pitch-black background, and insane bass response. The harshness is non-existent. On the E3 side at least. You will hear everything. I mean EVERYTHING. This DAC/AMP can be easily used in a music studio for mastering, it shows every detail in a uniquely effortless way. You have a small hint of the ESS sound. Let’s call it “dark transparency”.
Those who know any modern ESS DAC understand that sentence. JDS Labs included a few options for us to influence the sound. So if you are not afraid to stray from a purist approach, you can play around a bit. Obviously, we can select digital filters. The minimal phase is my choice as the most natural and dynamic. Other filters are a little harsher, which is not a good solution with this amount of transparency.
Additionally, you can regulate the amount of 2nd and 3rd harmonics. I found a slight difference between those settings but liked the neutral setting the most. This is a function built into the ESS chips. It’s nice that we were given access to that. Every regulation is made in real-time, which makes it easier to choose.


It’s excellent. E3 creates layers upon layers of sound, all of them completely independent of each other. The soundstage is very wide and mostly depends on the headphones you use. Even much more expensive devices can’t pull that off. All of that is thanks to an excellent crosstalk separation, low noise level, and linear phase response of the whole device. The soundstage is placed in front of you. Not too close and not too far. It’s just right. That’s it. Reference level sound staging.

When it comes to most dynamic driver-based headphones, it is the end of the line. Well-implemented Sabre with a very good, powerful amplifier. With planars, especially more demanding, you can feel that you start to miss out on the punch department. More on compatibility later, so stay tuned. When the compatibility is there, it delivers big time. The bass is rich with information, perfectly controlled, and fast yet sublime. The bass lines in Heaven and Hell by Black Sabbath were a great example. Good bass doesn’t have to break walls with its power. It can also highlight the musician’s skill, allowing you to appreciate the art. Believe it or not, Dua Lipa’s Levitating has a fantastic bass line, and the E3 offered to show it exactly as it is. Even though powerful, the bass never influenced any other range.

I think we all got into trouble even though we were innocent. The E3 gets in trouble here with me. Let’s start with the facts. It gives you exemplary resolution and detail in the midrange. There is spaciousness, breath, and truth in its presentation of midrange. Taking a listen to Muddy Waters My Captain, you can get one of the most convincing musical spectacles. The voice, the guitar, you think you can touch them. Perfectly complementing each other, the gentle guitar background complements the incredible voice of the artist. My version even has a moment in which the mic gets overdriven, and you can pick it up like you have been mastering audio for the last 10 years. So, what got E3 into trouble? Partially, it’s a problem with me and my setup. I like a little warmer and richer sound. With some extra oomph in the bass. Most of my headphones are relatively transparent. The other half of the problem is in the music itself. If you listen to something that wasn’t recorded that well, you are gonna have a bad time in my setup. The question is: do you want full transparency? Great power comes with great responsibility.

Was a big surprise, and a positive one at that. All the ESS-based DACs I have heard before had a harsh treble. If not harsh, then at least hard. Well, I don’t know how JDS Labs did it, but the treble here is open, relaxed, and very natural. Even now, I’m listening to Bruno Mars That’s what I like. The treble has lots of air, is very open, and fills the whole space easily. Also, even with a lot going on, the highs don’t get tiring as it happens with many other devices. A good example of an intensive track can be Call Me Manny by Justin Hurwitz. It has great big band vibes, very recommended (thanks to DJ TITO for the recommendation). Nicely done, JDS Labs. Color me impressed.



HiFiMan Sundara Closed

As mentioned in its review, this headphone goes very well with this amplifier. Sundara Closed has some warmth itself which pairs nicely with the E3. Also, it’s pretty reasonable to drive, so no problems here. Also, their pricing suggests pairing them together. This combo gives you great transparency with just a hint of warmth and an excellent, fun bass.


A fine addition to my collection (post a General Grievous meme plz), but not a good partner for the E3. It can get pretty loud but make no mistake, the HE6SE is a very demanding headphone. Especially when you don’t have a balanced connection. To be fair, HE6SE is not something you would typically match with the E3.

Westone Mach 60

This IEM’s natural, relaxed presentation pairs perfectly with E3. It will make you understand why so many people like the Mach 60 and its predecessor. This is an excellent, universal sound. The E3 has basically no noise, so you can pair it with many different IEMs with no possibility for noise-related issues.

Dynamic driver headphones

I have tried my theory only with the Sennheiser HD518, but I’m confident that dynamic driver headphones will pair with the E3 very well. Dynamic drivers usually have more of their character, which will only flourish with a transparent DAC/AMP like this. Sorry I couldn’t make the arrangements to try any of the obvious choices like Sennheisers HDs, Focals, or Beyerdynamics. I still trust my gut and recommend you try those combos. If you don’t like it, you can cash me outside, how bout dah?


JDS Labs Atom+ Stack


I always try to be as unbiased as possible, but let’s be honest. When you look at the components, the E3 seems a little like a more fancy version of the Atom+ combo. Damn, you couldn’t be further from the truth. The difference in sound is gigantic.
First of all, the Atoms are warmer. Second of all, they have nothing on the E3. Additionally, Atoms don’t work well with IEMs due to the high gain and potentiometer tolerances. E3 has perfect channel symmetry and lower noise. This device destroys Atom+ in every category by a mile. So if you were split between the two, don’t be. E3 is superior in every aspect and has extra features.

iFi Audio Zen DAC Signature + Zen CAN Signature HFM

When having sex, iFi’s safe word is “pineapple”. E3’s is “Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger, Sonderkraftfahrzeug 181” and you have to say it backwards. Kinda like the famous scene from Euro Trip. The Zen Signature stack has less detail and a smaller soundstage. On the other hand, it has a warmer, more easygoing sound and balanced outputs, which go well with my beloved planars. To be fair, I think that E3 offers more in terms of sound, while iFi offers more practical features (multiple inputs, balanced output).



Element III is one of the market’s best DAC/AMP combos. It’s super nice to use, offers an amazing sound, and looks good. If you aim for transparent sound and reference sound staging, you will be in heaven.

Its powerful 1,3W amplifier will be enough for many headphones. Low noise and exemplary channel matching will work great with IEMs of all kinds, including full BA ones. JDS Labs is a reputable manufacturer that offers great customer service and a very customer-centered approach to business. There is one caveat that I have to bring to your attention. No balanced outputs for headphones. I love my planars, and they love to get lots of current. Extra power would be welcomed at this price point. If you have planar headphones, I still encourage you to try it. Sundara Closed works great with the E3. Monolith headphones are another great option here. All the dynamic headphones will be absolutely happy with the E3. After considering that, I still give my recommendation to the Element III. It’s a great value for money, and if you are smart enough to work around its only limitation, it might be the last DAC/AMP you will buy.

Highly Recommended.

Big thanks to JDS Labs for providing the Element III for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion. JDS Labs hasn’t seen this review before publishing it.
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500+ Head-Fier
Pros: Sound quality, Value
Cons: Not quite reference quality, but close
I've used the JDS Element with my Audeze LCD-2 and Sennheiser HD-580 headphones for a few months now. For comparison, I also have an Oppo HA-1, and have had several other headphone amps over the years (Corda Jazz, Headroom Maxed Out Home, Wheatfield HA-2, among others).
First and most important: the Element has excellent sound quality. If you didn't know it only cost about $300, you might call it reference quality. A side-by-side comparison with the HA-1 and Corda Jazz reveal the Element is not quite as refined, lacking their richness in the bass and sweetness in the mids and treble. However, this difference is subtle; the Element is a great sounding amp. Everything is there and well presented, even if that presentation is just a tad less engaging in comparison.
The volume knob is an analog pot, but it's among the best I've used. Wide range, smooth, linear response, perfect L-R balance at all levels.
It has high and low gain settings, which combined with the wide range volume knob and max power output > 1 watt enables it to drive almost any headphone on planet Earth (except for electrostats, which always require a stepup transformer).
It can function as a pure analog headphone amp (unbalanced RCA inputs). Or you can use it as a DAC+amp with the USB input from any computer (Windows, Mac or Linux).
The build quality is good, but less than the thunking solid build of megabuck gear. That's how you get mebabuck sound quality on a budget, and it's an entirely reasonable tradeoff.
It's not a preamp, has no switchability. Strictly one input, one output. Simple, but not very flexible.
I saved $50 getting a b-stock unit which apparently is not cosmetically perfect, but still it looks great. I can't find whatever cosmetic blemish caused them to drop the price.
I've reviewed it in more detail here: http://mclements.net/blogWP/index.php/2017/03/18/review-jds-labs-element/
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Makiah S

Sponsor: EarMen | HeadAmp
Member of the Trade: Bricasti Design
Formerly known as Mshenay
Pros: Form/Factor, Simplicity, Versatile, Neutral
Cons: Soft Sound,

From the humble cMoy Bass Boost, to the polished Element. JDS Labs has really grown over the years! When I got my Beyerdynamic DT 880 in the summer of 2013 my humble little Fiio E6 was not enough, digging through the threads I came across the cMoy Amp. Built into an Altoid Can and sold for right around $60, I immediately snatched it up just because of how cool it looked. Well fortunately for me, I grabbed the JDS Labs cMoy with Bass Boost, it was my first real hi quality portable amp. So I have some blood with the guys at JDS Labs, as I spent a lot of time emailing them after getting that amp, and every time they were happy to answer my questions, and even offered me a sweet upgrade that fit my needs. Fast forward to today, and I'm happy to say that same level of quality and visual cool factor are present in their flagship amp/dac The Element.

You can order JDS Labs The Element, right on their website!

The Element feels solid in the hands, the power and gain buttons have a nice click to them. The USB input doesn't wiggle either, it sits nicely. Best of all, the volume knob is HUGE and very smooth. I had no issue's making fine adjustments to my volume as the knob has a nice heft to it. My only gripe is the 6.5mm headphone jack, with some of my smaller 6.5mm plugs there's a little wiggle at first. My Audio Technica W1000X 6.5mm is my heaviest and most luxurious. Gold plated and seated in American Cherry, it was the only 6.5mm jack to have a very solid and sturdy feel when plugging in and out of The Element.



· Frequency Response 20Hz-20kHz+/- 0.1dB

· THD+N 1kHz, 150 Ω0.0009%

· IMD CCIF 19/20kHz 150 Ω0.0004%

· IMD SMPTE 150 Ω0.0005%

· Noise, A-Weighted-108 dBu

· Crosstalk @ 150 Ω-67 dB

· Output Impedance0.1 Ω

· Channel Balance+/- 0.56 dB

· Max Continuous Output, 600Ω140 mW (9.4VRMS)

· Max Continuous Output, 150Ω505 mW

· Max Continuous Output, 32Ω1.1 W

· Peak Output Power, 32Ω1.5W


· Frequency Response 20Hz-20kHz+/- 0.15dB

· THD+N 100 Hz -0.15 dBFS0.0023%

· THD+N 20 Hz -0.15 dBFS0.0016%

· THD+N 10 kHz -0.15 dBFS0.0019%

· IMD CCIF 19/20 kHz -6.03 dBFS0.0011%

· IMD SMPTE -6.03 dBFS0.0012%

· Noise A-Weighted dBu 24/96-102 dBu

· Dynamic Range (A-Weighted)>112 dB

· Linearity Error -90 dBFS 24/96-0.02 dB

· Crosstalk -10 dBFS 100K RCA-100 dB

· USB Jitter Components 11025Hz-113 dB

· PCB Stackup4 Layers

· Maximum DAC Line-Output, 100K2.10 VRMS

The Element has a basic set of input and output features, nothing special. I'm not a huge fan of having the gain button on the back out of sight right next to the power button. Thankfully I never shut my off accidentally. It's layout is simple though, spaced nicely and easy to take advantage of.

Overall, I find my self very satisfied how The Element is assembled, and I love the design! The volume knob looks great and feels good, the placement of the 6.5mm works well with the visual design, and the glowing ring during play back is the icing on the cake for me.

I had an excellent week with The Element, and during this time I paired it primarily with a Magnum V7 Driver, mounted in Black Limba housings, sleeved in Maple. Sadly, this beautiful headphone isn't mine, but I found it to be amazingly transparent and very easy to drive. Hence forth, I did my usual listening with this headphone, as opposed to my HE 4.

Power wise, The Element boasts a peak of 1.5w per channel, with a sustained output of 1w per channel. While ample enough power for the newer breed of efficient Planar Magnetic Headphones, like the Oppo PM3, The Element did not drive my HE 4 very well. It got me to a loud listening level, but really lacked any low end authority. Compared to my iBasso PB2 and my Audio GD NFB 10ES2, The Element sounded very weak with the HE 4. Which is to be expected, the earlier Planar Magnetic headphones, tended to lack sensitivity and be very power hungry. That said, I really loved listening to it with the Dynamic Magnum V7 Headphone.

Thankfully, many modern Planar Magnetic Headphones, such as those sold by Oppo, Hifiman's and Audeze are easily driven by The Element.

I found myself most impressed with the Dac Portion of this unit, as the overall sound was warm, smooth and detailed with a very good natural tone through most of the spectrum. It pulled out all of the details I'm accustom to hearing in my Audio GD NFB10ES2, the only draw back was the overall sound was a little diffuse. Good width, but height and depth weren't as discernible. Still, while it fell short compared to my HM 901 and Audio GD NFB 10ES2 in this regard, it was a clear step above my Behringer UCA 202 and my Hifiman HM 601's internal amp and line out to my iBasso PB2. It performed exceptionally well within it's price bracket.

The Element has a nice sense of dynamics, moving from louder to quieter passages quickly and naturally, It has a very wet sound overall, with a nice emphasis in the bass and a good fullness in the low and central mid range. I really loved the sound of the double bass in Miles Davis So What, as well as the beautiful tone in Igor Levot's Goldberg Variations.

What The Element does really well, is bring a natural warmth to a lot of the amazingly detailed but often dry and cold headphones, such as the Superlux HD 668B, Beyerdynamic DT 990 and Audio Technica AD 900X. It offer's an amazingly well designed small foot print, with beautifully simple visuals. It's easy to use, easy to own and easy on the eyes, a lot like my first JDS Labs amp! Bringing with it good detail with a warm natural sound The Element is a very elegant convenient solution for any one looking for an all in one.

Check out my deep dive into JDS Labs The Element, here on Head fi!


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