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Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by Mshenay, Nov 15, 2018.
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  1. Mshenay Contributor
    You guys may have seen some content around this late last night but the official launch is here!!

    The Atom Amp is now available


    Conceived as the next-generation replacement to Objective2, Atom Amp builds on more than a decade of amplifier design evolution at JDS Labs. We’ve streamlined the amp to include everything our customers have requested without additional configuration and cost. Atom Amp comes fully loaded with a smooth ¼” headphone jack, gold-plated preamp RCA outputs, and both 3.5mm and RCA inputs. Ample power. No noise. Front-mounted buttons. Atom Amp, our new standard for performance and value in a headphone amp.

    Unplug your headphones and Atom Amp’s knob adjusts volume of its RCA preamp outputs. Control volume of your powered speakers.

    Atom amp consolidates the need for a separate amp and preamp. Connect up to two sources and select between 3.5mm and RCA input with the push of a button.

    While most headphone listening demands only milliwatts, Atom Amp uses the same output buffers as our flagship Element Line, pushing >1W per channel.

    Designed for desktop listening, Atom Amp’s relay muting eliminates pops and thumps during startup.

    Low gain of 1.0x is well suited to driving efficient IEMs, while high gain easily powers demanding full size sets.

    Atom Amp is our most advanced analog amplifier to date, achieving top performance from its 4-layer, star grounded layout.


    Amplifier Performance
    • Frequency Response, 20Hz-20kHz +/- 0.01dB
    • THD+N, 1kHz, 32 Ω 0.0008%
    • THD+N, 20Hz-20kHz, 32 Ω 0.0012%
    • IMD CCIF 19/20kHz 32 Ω 0.0002%
    • IMD SMPTE 32Ω 0.0005%
    • Noise, A-Weighted -114 dBu
    • Crosstalk @ 150 Ω -87 dB
    • Output Impedance 0.7 Ω
    • Channel Balance < 0.6 dB
    • Max Output @ 600Ω 125mW (8.68 VRMS)
    • Max Output @ 150Ω 502 mW (8.66 VRMS)
    • Max Output @ 32Ω 1 Watt (5.66 VRMS)
    • Headphone Output 6.35mm (1/4")
    • Analog Inputs RCA and 3.5mm
    • Preamp-Output RCA
    • Case Dimensions 5.0 x 5.5 x 1.4 in
    • Weight 9.3 oz
    • Dual Gain 1.0x and 4.5x
    • Volume Potentiometer Taper Custom Alps 15A


    Running my modded Grado with a Soft inner word Hard outer word Sleved over top, like a PS Series but wood built around a Magnum V7 driver and dual sleeved to help make it... not so humpy in the lows. Most of the time I strongly prefer this headphone with either my modded SET or my Vali 1, almost never listen to it on solid state with the exception of my HM601 which... sounds like syrup.

    However line out from the 601 into the Atom is... quite nice! It really doesn't sound like it's there, that is to say it's quite transparent. So where as the Vali 1 and even the hm601s crapola opAmp sound hazy, with the Atom there's clarity, so no haze but there's still a very natural timbre but without any... noise If that makes sense. To further elaborate, I would NEVER feed the HM601 into the Vali 1. That would just be too messy, too... soft and "romantic" no thanks. Rather I feed straight from either my EL Dac or most of the time my NFB10ES2 reference system.

    How ever with the ATOM & HM601 I get a lot of similarities in tonality and detail even though the staging and imaging aren't quite as impressive. My point being, the amp neither adds nor takes away. It reminds me a lot of my Head Amp Pico Power.

    And to a lesser degree my iBasso PB2 which runs LME 49900s but in a fully balanced configuration. Now Switching to something nicer like a Soundaware P1, the P1 sounds... equally "not there" but there's detail the P1 pulls out that I don't get from the Atom, very fine transient information and staging cues that are just simply not present with the Atom.

    So I imagine, scaling up from the Atom Detail/Transient response/imaging or staging cues and even "plakton" are what a nicer amp will bring assuming your DACs not the bottle neck.

    An to further elaborate, while I feel the iBasso is tonally neutral, it's not entirely transparent. The iBasso in particular is... very authoritative. It typically brings an aggressiveness into what ever system I have it in. An the Soundaware P1... does but doesn't, I find the P1 again more clearly defines transient response, and even pulls out detail that the PB2 doesn't. So in a sense it's equally as impactful but without the perception of being "aggressive" that is to say it's Transparent.

    More to come of course!
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2018
    BobG55, volly, elira and 1 other person like this.
  2. Mshenay Contributor
    Reserved For Full 2 Part Feature Mini Feature & Comparison added below

    Last edited: Nov 29, 2018
    PlantsmanTX likes this.
  3. Mshenay Contributor
    So I'm now at the end of my second night with the JDS Labs Atom, an tonight I had a curious thought.




    How would the EL Dac and Atom combo sound? An how would that $350 Combo compare to the fully balanced Fostex HP A4BL which you can get for a cool $455 on Amazon right now?

    I decided to perform the test simply, play one song volume matched from each system from my Shanling M2S in full lossless format. The M2S was fed digital out via a USB C adapter and into each of the Dacs "most optimal" digital input. I also used the Fully Balanced output of the HP A4BL and to the end to end Single Ended output of the EL Atom system. Again I felt that this was fair as I was using the "optimal" output for each system or the output that the systems were designed around.

    In short, the EL Dac/ATOM Amp system aboustley destroyed the Fostex All in one in three key areas.
    • Power
    • Sound Quality
    • Functionality

    I did a simply test for this, I played some Pink noise in Mono and turned the amp all the way up. Now I also did this test with 2 other headphones, so I'll list the results for all three below
    1. HD 800 [300 Ohms @ 102 dB/ 1V RMS]
    • ATOM Amp - 66.7 dBs on Low Gain
    • HPA4BL - 66.4 dBs Balanced Out On Low Gain
    1. AKG K240m 1980's Model [600 Ohms @ 88 dB/mW]
    • ATOM Amp - 68.6 dBs on High Gain
    • HPA4BL - 65.1 dBs Balanced Out on High Gain
    1. Dekoni Blue [50 Ohms @ 92dB/mW]
    • ATOM Amp - 74.4 dBs on High Gain
    • ATOM Amp - 63.1 dBs on Low Gain
    • HPA4BL - 64.1 On High Gain

    So clearly, the ATOM offers more power with less gain. A standard I'd say for clean power delivery at the $99 price point!

    Also regarding how I generated this numbers, I played Pink Noise in Mono [Right from the David Chesky Ultimate Headphone Demo Disc] and a measured output with an SPL Meter, and for most tracks both have enough volume. But I've got a lot of classic and some Metal that's mastered quietly and the HP A4BL didn't get quite loud enough... and by loud enough I mean an Average of 85 dBs. I'd also like to point out that when performing the same test with my Fiio E17, the E17 can also bring the Dekoni Blue up to about 65.8 dBs on High Gain... so there is no situation or scenario where we as consumers should accept this kind of down right poor power delivery in a fully balanced solid state desktop product at this price point! I personally want the option to listen to ALL of my music, not just the stuff that's mastered SUPER LOUD.

    An YES Digital volume was at 100 or max on my source for all tests

    Features & Functionality

    This one's easy we just have to look at the back plates!

    1. Fostex HP A4BL
    • a mini SD Card slot maybe?
    • Optical In and Out [Zeo's would love that]
    • USB In
    • 1 Pair of RCA Outs
    • 1 Complete USB Failure/Drop out that required a full unplug and reset

    1. EL Atom System
    • Coaxial In [I like that!]
    • USB In
    • Optical In
    • 1 Pair of RCA Pre-Amp Outs
    • 0 Complete USB Failure/Drop outs that required a full unplug and reset

    In this case, I feel the RCA Pre Outs more than make up for the lack of Line Level Outputs. Though I guess you could technically feed output from the ATOM Into a Tube Amp if you so wished! I'll likely discuss that very concept/feature in another ATOM Based System. But I feel strongly that the more reliable USB Implementation and other functional features of the EL Atom system make it the clear victor in this category too!

    Sound Quality

    While in Low Gain the HP A4BL sounded... acceptable. But use of High Gain introduced far too much noise, enough that there was a noticeable loss of detail and a noticeable hiss during silence and quieter passages of music. So I under no circumstances used High Gain unless necessary. An thank gawd the HD 800 didn't need it!

    Other wise, the Fostex HPA4BL sounds terrible overall, even with it's two digital filters
    1. One of which has a very POLARIZING sound so;
    • FAT BASS
    • Smeared harmonics in the Mid Range
    • Spacious but lacked precision
    • Never quite congested but often presented sounds a bit disjointedly

    While the other was more tonally balanced but very often suffered from congestion

    Thankfully, the HD 800 actually did sound the best out of the three headphones I tried with this unit, but even still it was nothing memorable to listen to

    However, I found that the EL Atom system was noticeably better.

    1. First and for most no audible noise or hiss
    • This alone allowed for much more detail retrieval from every headphone on this system
    • Such as more clearly defined transients
    • Clearer Lyrics [Like I literally couldn't make out some words on the HP A4BL]
    • Far improved positional cues and imaging
    I also found the EL ATOM system had a more balanced presentation, so no emphasis or de-emphasis on any harmonic content, the system as a whole sounded much more natural with no audible changes to frequency response.

    All in all I again implore you guys who are on the fence about what Solid State amp to get to give the ATOM A try especially if it's your first! Its is hands DOWN a breathtaking unit to listen to and it unquestionably sets a new standard for what's possible from a $99 Amplifier! At least in my mind anyways.

    Now this isn't to say the ATOM is perfect as there are two things it doesn't do,
    • Drive my PreFazor LCD 2
    • Resolve at the same level of my fully balanced Geek Out v2+ or Soundaware P1 or even my NFB10ES2 All in One
    But again, for a $99 amp it's astonishingly good and I even feel confident in saying the Single Ended output of the Atom is a clear step above my own NFB10ES2 single ended output, but that shouldn't surprise any of you since the NFB10ES2 was designed to be operated and listened to from it's balanced outputs.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2018
    HiFiRobot and volly like this.
  4. legion1capone
    I'd love to see a comparison of this against the monoprice liquid spark. Same price and both have just been released.
  5. t4t3r
    There was a comparison of the Atom, Spark, and Magni3 posted on ASR.
    LajostheHun likes this.
  6. legion1capone
    I'll go check it out thank you!

  7. ckhirnigs113
    Me too! Maybe throw in the Magni 3 for good measure since it's also at this price point.
  8. ckhirnigs113
    Wow, that was quick!
  9. legion1capone
    Measurements are great and all and he is thorough in his review but measurements don't give me descriptive words on how it sounds or compares. I would love to read a comparison of the magni 3, liquid spark, Atom as they are all the same price. Then through in a few other higher priced amps and see how they fair. I may just buy the atom as well and see how it compares myself.
  10. Mshenay Contributor
    Yea I'd love to be able to compare all three, but Schiit doesn't send me gear to review any more and I can never get a hold of Monoprice. But I'll be updating this thread, religiously as I work through my Stable of stuff to help gives you guys reference points
    PlantsmanTX likes this.
  11. legion1capone
    Next paycheck I may just buy it and compare it to my spark. That will make 3 amps in the last few months lmao. I don't have the magni 3 but I do have the magni 2U. Is there much if any sonic differences other than power?
  12. elira
    Your dB measurements seem too low. How far from the ear cup are you measuring?
  13. Mshenay Contributor
    I appreciate your questioning my method, however the measurements are low because the source material is quietly mastered pink/white noise. The MAAT DRoffline software output thus Dynamic Range reading " peak of -21.98 and RMS @ -30.70 " and I'm using a lossless rip of the Pink Noise Mono from the Chesky Ultimate Headphone Demonstration Disc

    I also have some albums that however around -19.7 RMS with peaks around -4.7 With material at around this level the HPA4BL struggles, and it was this material that prompted me to try an peg some hard numbers down to show the quantitative difference in output
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2018
  14. volly
    Looks to be a winner, I wonder what else JDS Labs are coming up with to complement this little beast?!

    Looking at the Atoms measurements is making my mouth water!
    Mshenay likes this.
  15. Mshenay Contributor
    An I'm happy to say the quantity of output in dBs is more than sufficent with the Atom even on Low Gain for the LCD 2, but again I feel that the overall power is lacking.

    So tonight I'm exploring more subjective comparisons featuring all of my portable Solid State amps both the balanced and un balanced ones!


    Starting with the PB2

    Right off the bat, volume matched of course the issue I find with the Atom & LCD 2 Pre Fazor is authority and resolve in the lows, been playing this track a lot lately

    With the Atom it's loud, but there's a lack of authority, when she lowers her voice the Atom doesn't convey the slight weight of her chest, the same when the piano comes in. There's a nice punch but no sense of weight or authority and that Piano has SUCH a heavy register!!! Very percussive and very deep, took me by surprise when I re-listened to this album the other night

    Now switching over to the PB2, now I have sense of weight and authority. An it's most noticeable for me on the release of those heavy piano key notes, as those note's fade to silence you can still feel their weight. Gradually lessening but with sufficient power always present on the LCD 2 PreFazor. That's it's "magic" or appeal, that authority and bottomless low end resolve.

    On the Atom that low end simply isn't resolved at the level I expect, there's just not sufficient power for the driver to be able to reproduce those transients at such low levels. Thus the one thing the LCD 2 does better than my HD 800 is missing, so I've no reason to listen to it on the Atom.

    But again, for $99 I'm not by any means complaining. An it's not entirely fair to compare the Atom to my PB2 which has been modded quite specifically around my LCD 2! I believe it does 2.5W max with a 32+- Voltage Swing [if I'm stating that right] and to further improve if that big black thing is a battery pack that outputs a constant 16V with no sag [via what I think is an active conditioner built into the plug], plus 4 LME 49900 Op Amps alongside high Current Buffers [don't have the specs at the moment but can get them]

    Again, yes the Atom get's loud but no it's not powerful enough for something like the LCD 2. An I doubt it'll be powerful enough for something like an HE 560. But thankfully there are plenty of amazing planars like the HE 4XX and LCD 2C/F that don't need high powered amps like the PB2. An as I stated earlier it's even more powerful than some balanced Desktop Amps!

    I only really make that cast/point again'st the Atom to keep my impressions and review of it grounded. I give it a lot of praise, and a lot of praise is deserved. An even it's faults are really non issues in the grand scheme of things.​
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2018
    PlantsmanTX and volly like this.
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