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

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/
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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Pros: Unique form factor, Build quality, Powerful, Transparency
Cons: Limited input options, You can't drive a bus with it (untested)
JDS Labs is an American company based in Illinois. According to their mission statement their intent is "To help headphone enthusiasts enjoy their music." Do they succeed in doing this? Well today I'm reviewing the JDS Labs Element and after spending some time with this Headphone Amplifier+DAC I would say that they do indeed. Read on to find out why.
This unit was loaned to me for the purpose of this review. I do not benefit financially or otherwise by doing this and all opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product. I'd like to thank JDS Labs and Jude for the opportunity to test the Element.
The official website has a host of detailed specifications here: https://www.jdslabs.com/products/151/the-element/
JDS Labs website: https://www.jdslabs.com/
Package and accessories:
The JDS Labs Element came in a plain brown box with the JDS Labs logo printed on the top. I have seen a different box in pictures which is a glossy black and more "retail" looking so perhaps my unit was a previously opened one. Upon opening we are presented with the Element packed in black foam. Sitting underneath are some warranty and social media cards, a USB cable and 16VAC Power Adapter.
The unboxing experience is fairly mediocre but all that is forgotten once the Element gets into your hands.
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Build and functionality:
The Element is crafted from a matte black, cast aluminium housing that feels as good as it looks. The top and four sides are aluminium while the bottom is a black plastic with a large JDS Labs logo. The sample that I received has the new and improved solid rubber feet which grips surfaces well and makes inserting and removing headphones easy.  On the top is a rather large volume knob with a single white dot indicating position. Actually the knob is huge (that's what she said). Despite the knob's girth it doesn't look or feel out of place at all. In fact its perfectly suited for what it's meant to do. It's very smooth and allows very precise volume adjustments and it's practically impossible to miss - there's no need for fumbling about or even to look while using it. I feel a bit like I could be driving a bus with this thing but that's not a negative. On the contrary it gives you a hands on experience that makes you feel more connected with the device and mixes a bit of old school feeling along with its modern form.
On the front panel is a single 6.35mm headphone jack, right in the middle. That's all there is and I wouldn't want anything else. It's this kind of simplicity that makes the Element so appealing. It doesn't need to be a show pony with flashing lights or an impressive panel of buttons - it just works.
Moving to the back panel we find the inputs and outputs and above these a simple "The Element" printed in white text. There's the  16VAC power input next to which is the power button. Note that the power button doesn't actually power off the unit but simply switches between headphone and RCA outputs. When powered "Off" it sends the signal out via RCA. When switched to "On" a white LED lights up under the volume knob, indicating that it's now in headphone amplifier mode. This is one of my favourite features of the Element. It makes switching between headphones and speakers extremely easily, with only the slightest of delays when switching. Also, while using the RCA output, the volume knob does not have any function - it is functional only when using the headphone amplifier.
Next to the power button is the High/Low gain button. This is fairly self-explanatory. It's recommended to use Low gain unless you're not getting a loud enough signal from your headphones.
Moving across to the center of the rear panel we have the RCA line inputs, followed by RCA line outputs. Last but not lease is the USB input which allows you to connect a laptop or desktop PC or a smartphone via an OTG cable.
There were no additional drivers that needed to be installed on my PC so it was a plug and play experience. Tick another box for that one. Due to the Low (1.0x) and High (4.7x) gain settings the Element should work well with anything from low impedance in-ear monitors to hard to drive, full sized behemoths.
Music used for testing:
Mathias Eick "Midwest" full album [flac]
Earthside "A Dream in Static"  full album [flac]
The Pineapple Thief "Your Wilderness" full album [flac]
Jan Garbarek "In Praise of Dreams" full album [flac]
The Element has a mostly neutral sound to my ears and delivers excellent detail across the spectrum. There might be a slight emphasis on the low end but this could be my imagination at work. During testing I wasn't able to detect any background noise or hiss even with low impedance earphones, despite it having enough power to drive whatever you can throw at it. It has an impressive soundstage and extends well on both top and bottom. When listening to Mathias Eick's "Midwest" you can clearly hear parts of the percussion well outside your head-space and the imaging is top notch. With Earthside's "A Dream in Static" the Element kept up well with the busier segments and retained good separation. Playing through my Elac B6 speakers this album got a little harsh at high volume but that was due to the neutrality of the Element and brightness of the Elacs.
JDS Labs Element vs Arcam irDAC-II
The Element comes across as being slightly more aggressive and slightly leaner in its presentation  than the Arcam. In contrast the irDAC-II is smooth and mature while perhaps retaining slightly better detail. For functionality the Element fares very well with its smooth volume control and the magic button at the back that makes it so easy to switch between headphone amplifier and speaker outputs. The irDAC-II has more connectivity options and the addition of Bluetooth and a remote. The Element however, is less than half the price of the Arcam unit making it a viable option for a wider audience who can't or aren't willing to shell out that much cash on a DAC.
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JDS Labs' The Element does a lot of things right. In fact, pretty much everything it does is done right. It's simple, attractive and functional. With its linear sound, precise volume control, digital and analog input options it's also versatile. Some might wish for more input options such as optical or coaxial but for those simply wishing to connect their laptop or desktop computer, the USB line in should be adequate. Coming in at $349 for the basic version or $369 with the added analog in it isn't exactly cheap but it's not unattainable either. If you want something that looks good and just works The Element is an easy recommendation.


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