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JDS Labs Atom DAC+ Review

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the JDS Labs Atom DAC+ desktop USB DAC. It was sent to me by the company and is an early production sample. The product was just announced at a retail cost of US $109. I accepted the sample in the interest of getting this information to you early. Company has promised me a production sample to come soon which I will test to verify the performance.

The Atom DAC+ makes a valiant attempt to make its plastic case look like nice metal!

JDS Labs Atom DAC+ Review USB.jpg


It is a bit light to so don't go connecting garden hose cables to it as it my tip or drag it a bit.

The back side is simplicity itself:

JDS Labs Atom DAC+ Review back panel toslink USB.jpg


An external AC transformer powers the unit (15 volts).

Company is very open with its development plans and this one is definitely worth a read in their blog. In a nutshell, they moved away from AKM AK4490 to ESS ES9018K2M chip due to much better availability. At first blush you may think that is a lower performance DAC chip and indeed it was in their first prototype. But with very careful design and register optimization they managed to create a highly competitive design. Combined with their investment in a new Audio Precision APx555, they managed to not only solve their parts availability issue but also squeeze a bit more performance.

JDS Labs Atom DAC+ Measurements
As usual we start with our dashboard:

Atom DAC+ Measurements USB DAC.png


Distortion is below -120 dB relative to our signal which makes it utterly inaudible. Combined with some unavoidable noise SINAD which is the combination of the two reduces to a competitive 112 dB:
best usb dac review 2021.png


Since that graph has become an eye chart for quite some time, here is a zoomed version:

best usb dac review 2021 zoomed.png


That's 2 dB better than the older design.

Speaking of noise, here is our dynamic range:

Atom DAC+ Dynamic Range Measurements USB DAC.png


That is about 3 to 4 dB better than older version.

IMD test reflects the lower noise floor but ever so slight signature of ESS DAC:
Atom DAC+ IMD Measurements USB DAC.png


The front-end of the DAC (USB interface) was not changed so overall jitter test remains the same:


Atom DAC+ Jitter Measurements USB DAC.png


Multitone test shows good performance:

Atom DAC+ Multitone Measurements USB DAC.png


Linearity is a hair off in a correlated manner:

Atom DAC+ Linearity Measurements USB DAC.png


The DAC reconstruction filter is the typical slower than ideal but it has very good attenuation once it kicks in:

Atom DAC+ Filter Measurements USB DAC.png


THD+N versus frequency shows one channel to be a bit noisier above audible band:

Atom DAC+ THD+N vs Frequency Measurements USB DAC.png


Conclusions
The combination of the pandemic (causing part shortages) and AKM fire have made life pretty miserable for hardware companies. It is good to see them taking action though to reduce their risks even if it retards development of new products. With Atom DAC+ JDS proves once again that is the design that matters, not the selection of DAC chip when it comes to total performance. And that optimizing the performance of these DAC chips can be non-trivial.

While my testing is almost entirely focused on performance, I need to comment on the superb customer service and support that JDS provides to potential and actual customers. So when you look at the above measurements, keep in mind that you have a solid company behind the production that you can talk to and get quick answers and support.

I am happy to put the JDS Labs Atom DAC+ on my recommended list. It shows that engineering and skill matters and matters big time!

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Appreciate any donations using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 
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amirm

amirm

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Was in a hurry since the announcement had just gone out and forgot to post the picture of the back side. :) Added now.
 

daftcombo

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Nice! Can we have a picture of the back, please?
How is it powered?
 

Robbo99999

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Nice, intelligent design inside & out, would look great with JDS Atom Amp too.....I really like that they've solved their "supply chip" problem by creating a more in-house solution giving them more independence whilst having excellent performance from it too. (https://blog.jdslabs.com/2021/05/jds-labs-atom-dac-official-release/). Accessible price too, I'd buy one if I was in the market for a DAC.
 

Swtoby

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Seems nice, but kinda wish they just made an atom dac/amp combo in a case for $200. I know the Element exists, but it's twice as much. Which may explain why they haven't undercut their own line, mind you :p
They'd be the first to tell you there is no difference sonically. In addition to great customer service, they don't bullshit you.
 

bboris77

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While my testing is almost entirely focused on performance, I need to comment on the superb customer service and support that JDS provides to potential and actual customers. So when you look at the above measurements, keep in mind that you have a solid company behind the production that you can talk to and get quick answers and support.

I can attest to this. It is actually refreshing to see that, in this cynical day and age, there is a company that provides this kind of customer support. Everything about them exudes integrity and honesty - their engineering, quality control and marketing are a few examples of this.

Let's take marketing as an example: they don't subtly imply that their more expensive products somehow magically sound better - they have always said that the difference in price between the Atom and the Element line is down to more expensive aluminum casework, more features (coaxial input, relay switches) or simply better feel (the volume knob on the Element II and the EL AMP II) and thermal performance. No smoke and mirrors. That is why they got my business.

Nice to see that there was no cherry-picking when it comes to sending this unit for testing as well.
 

Sancus

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They'd be the first to tell you there is no difference sonically. In addition to great customer service, they don't bullshit you.

It's nothing to do with audio quality, I just don't like multiple boxes because I think they're clutter, especially wrt cables.
 

Billy Budapest

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Forgot to mention two things:

1). Made in USA, Collinsville, Illinois, a few miles outside of St. Louis, MO.

2). The units are light but JDS will put weights in the corners with values you specify.
 

Kachda

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I'm still patiently waiting for a version of the Element with digital volume control. Channel imbalance isn't a thing I can deal with at any price.
same here. i am looking for a DAC+volume control to run with my iloud micros. khadas tone 2 seems to be the closest at the moment.
 

Labjr

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I don't see a whole lot of groundbreaking innovation here. I like ESS but I haven't owned an AKM DAC. Not sure if DSD requires additional output circuitry or a simple firmware upgrade but would be nice if it was supported.
 

Swtoby

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I'm not sure what groundbreaking innovation you are looking for at $109. It appears to be a well engineered product backed by a company with great support. That gets my vote.
 

PeteL

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"We purchased a new APx555" seems like a frequent marketing spiel, but honestly, I doubt that in 2021 any proper company that design DACs, aside maybe one man DIY style stuff, fully send their work to the world without one, since it's the only measuring device that can attest up to optimal performance of modern chips in a design. Not everybody own one but at the very least I'd assume you rent one for a month, which in many case is sufficient.
 

bboris77

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I don't see a whole lot of groundbreaking innovation here. I like ESS but I haven't owned an AKM DAC. Not sure if DSD requires additional output circuitry or a simple firmware upgrade but would be nice if it was supported.
Well, they surely extracted great performance out of ES9018K2M with their "carefully tuned six opamp I/V converter" - that is a bit of innovation as it does not appear to be an off-the-shelf solution. On top of that, they offer a firmware where they deliberately tweaked the performance to approximate tube-type distortion. Not that this option will be popular around here ;)

1621975782646.png
 

elliott

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I'd love to see performance side by side comparisons with schiit's lower end stuff. I bet a lot of people would be cross shopping the brands, with the schiit advantage possibly being materials/construction.
 
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