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JDS Labs Element III Review (DAC & Amp)

Rate this product:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 3 1.2%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 18 7.0%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 151 58.8%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 85 33.1%

  • Total voters
    257

Aperiodic

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May 2, 2019
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321
Ha, it would be nowhere near the cinematic quality of the original. That 4 minute clip involved a film crew while we halted our old machine shop for days to capture clean sound and video. Today the machines must keep running, churning out parts for two companies. Lookup UR10E robots if you're curious about the current manufacturing process.

I'd like to share more, but we also have a month backlog of Element IIIs to produce even with robotic automation.



Business size is a function of vision, execution, and market demand. JDS Labs is kept small with intention. We're honored that our style is frequently copied and has helped push the market forward, and we're proud to be 100% bootstrapped after 15 years. I've declined VC funding to maintain integrity and uphold our mission. I've made mistakes along the way--that's part of growth. But make no mistake, the Atom line has been a tremendous success and is not limited by funding. You'll find a timeline on the About Us tab of jdslabs.com.

For anyone unsure of the impact of digital attenuation on resolution, Monty of Xiph.org debunks a number of myths in his 2013 video, D/A and A/D | Digital Show and Tell. Eye opening for those without a background in digital signals.
Ha, it would be nowhere near the cinematic quality of the original. That 4 minute clip involved a film crew while we halted our old machine shop for days to capture clean sound and video. Today the machines must keep running, churning out parts for two companies. Lookup UR10E robots if you're curious about the current manufacturing process.

I'd like to share more, but we also have a month backlog of Element IIIs to produce even with robotic automation.



Business size is a function of vision, execution, and market demand. JDS Labs is kept small with intention. We're honored that our style is frequently copied and has helped push the market forward, and we're proud to be 100% bootstrapped after 15 years. I've declined VC funding to maintain integrity and uphold our mission. I've made mistakes along the way--that's part of growth. But make no mistake, the Atom line has been a tremendous success and is not limited by funding. You'll find a timeline on the About Us tab of jdslabs.com.

For anyone unsure of the impact of digital attenuation on resolution, Monty of Xiph.org debunks a number of myths in his 2013 video, D/A and A/D | Digital Show and Tell. Eye opening for those without a background in digital signals.
 

Aperiodic

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For anyone unsure of the impact of digital attenuation on resolution, Monty of Xiph.org debunks a number of myths in his 2013 video, D/A and A/D | Digital Show and Tell. Eye opening for those without a background in digital signals

Hmmm,,,
I do not have 'a background in digital signals'; rather a lifelong hobbyist interest. I have also seen the video you link. The person who told me that, however, does. This person has a PhD in audio engineering, has owned and operated an audiophile record label and worked with major musical talent whose names you'd recognize, and has taught digital audio in a major state university system for around 20 years.

I am a happy Atom owner. It sounds great but, TBH it feels very cheap. This probably deters some prospective buyers (You know how we audiophools are). Was just speculating as to why Schiit puts their $99 amp in a nice steel enclosure but JDS doesn't, and was wondering if that had anything to do with scale.
 
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jseaber

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Manufacturer
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Jan 15, 2018
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254
Thanks, @Aperiodic. Glad you've been enjoying Atom. Sorry, I did not intend to direct that last sentence towards you. Someone privately asked for clarification of 'loss of bits' based on your earlier post, and the Xiph video is a helpful resource.

I followed the same line of thinking as your colleague for years. We avoided digital attenuation until we reached sufficiently high SINAD and sufficiently low DAC noise levels, such that an analog potentiometer's impact on resolution noticeably outweighs the (now inaudible) impact from D/A conversion. Whether compared audibly or strictly by measurements, resolution has increased from Element 2 to 3. Analog pots are now a major bottleneck. Consider that an analog pot can push ENOB to 0 in one channel below about -40dBFS. This is no fun to hear. Some companies have begun to set negative gain, which only moves the channel balance problem by 5-10dB. Each engineer will have a unique perspective on how to best solve a problem.

Element III will not be the last design to move this direction. Early feedback and high demand suggests we made the right choice. I look forward to hearing from more Element III owners as the next batch ships. :)

------------------

Firmware v2.1.0
  • Bugfix: Enforce de-emphasis = Off in USB mode. The options menu now defaults to Off, and Auto only applies to S/PDIF mode.
  • Feature: Added Auto Gain Speed to the Options menu, with Default or Aggressive transition speeds.
  • Minor: Clear displayed sampling rate after 5 minutes of USB mode inactivity in any LED mode.
  • Minor: Renamed "Encoder Resolution" to "Knob Speed", and "Encoder Steps" to "Volume Steps".
  • Minor: Moved "Never" in Screen Timeout option to end of the list
One customer was confused by the implementation of the LED "5 min Standby" mode, so we've added more documentation to the Instructions PDF.

PXL_20220216_165836941.jpg


More coming in v2.2.0...
 

Aperiodic

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May 2, 2019
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Thanks for the reply. Will consider the information you have shared. I am open to new ideas but confused as to how an analog pot (say in a standalone headphone amp such as my Atom) can push ENOB to zilch- seems like an ENOB of Zero should equate to... silence?

The idea of a one-box solution does have appeal to my minimalist side. I am old enough to remember the 'specifications race' of the 70s and 80s.Measurements matter but their significance can be hard to assess.
 

remlemasi

Member
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Jan 15, 2021
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JDS Element III Listening Tests
With my Sennheiser HD650 there was plenty of volume and enough to bring out some of the sub-bass performance of them. It did not manage to rattle my skull but it was powerful enough.

Which gain mode were you in for HD650? Any risk of straddling low- and high-gain with these headphones?
 

archagon

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Feb 21, 2022
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Hi @jseaber, ordered an Element III yesterday and quite excited about it! There's one thing that bugs me a bit, though. When I depress the wheel, I want it to function explicitly as a mute switch. I know it works this way in practice if the optical input is not used, but if I ever happen to use the Element with USB and optical simultaneously, it'll no longer do what I want it to. (I'm also not sure if toggling inputs will disconnect USB or cause weird behaviors on the PC side of things.) Any chance it'll be possible to eventually configure the function of the wheel button in settings?
 
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remlemasi

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Jan 15, 2021
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Hi @jseaber, ordered an Element III yesterday and quite excited about it! There's one thing that bugs me a bit, though. When I depress the wheel, I want it to function explicitly as a mute switch. I know it works this way in practice if you're not using optical input, but if I ever happen to use the Element with USB and optical simultaneously, it'll no longer do what I want it to. (I'm also not sure if toggling inputs will disconnect USB or cause weird behaviors on the PC side of things.) Any chance it'll be possible to eventually configure the function of the wheel button in settings?
To add to this, would be neat if we could configure the knob press to toggle between pre-out and headphone out and the rear button to toggle optical and USB inputs.
 

jseaber

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Jan 15, 2018
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254
Thanks for the reply. Will consider the information you have shared. I am open to new ideas but confused as to how an analog pot (say in a standalone headphone amp such as my Atom) can push ENOB to zilch- seems like an ENOB of Zero should equate to... silence?

Yes, that's correct. With analog pots, one channel can be silent while the opposite channel reaches an audible level, and specs may differ between the two channels as the knob is turned.

I'm still pondering a better way to present measurements relating to resolution. With the majority of measurements conducted with amplifier knobs at 100%, there's rarely a dataset available to convey performance at typical listening levels. Amir's channel balance sweeps and test of SINAD @ 50mV is a good start, alas, the 50mV test is also taken with an amplifier's volume knob at max and the analyzer's output level set to 50mV. This is useful, but ignores the impact of the potentiometer. Left/Right levels will differ by unit at 50mV and below, so dynamic range and SINAD can be unpredictable at low levels. Unfortunately, manual sweeps of every measurement would be time consuming, difficult to plot, and have limited repeatability. A manual level sweep of dynamic range, or ENOB, might better visualize what's happening at all levels.

Hi @jseaber, ordered an Element III yesterday and quite excited about it! There's one thing that bugs me a bit, though. When I depress the wheel, I want it to function explicitly as a mute switch. I know it works this way in practice if the optical input is not used, but if I ever happen to use the Element with USB and optical simultaneously, it'll no longer do what I want it to. (I'm also not sure if toggling inputs will disconnect USB or cause weird behaviors on the PC side of things.) Any chance it'll be possible to eventually configure the function of the wheel button in settings?

Thanks! We're tracking feature requests and are working through what is possible based on number of votes.

To add to this, would be neat if we could configure the knob press to toggle between pre-out and headphone out and the rear button to toggle optical and USB inputs.


Which gain mode were you in for HD650? Any risk of straddling low- and high-gain with these headphones?

Several have asked for customizable buttons. This feature will require more than an update to the XMOS firmware (fortunately no hardware changes). More info coming soon.

Re HD650s: While everyone has unique ears and taste in music, I would be surprised if anyone straddles the 0dB transition point for more than a few minutes. There's no risk to equipment, but definite risk to your hearing.

I'm listening to HD650s in our noisy office environment this morning at -32 dB. I've never needed to transition to high gain with HD650s--too loud.
 

archagon

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Feb 21, 2022
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Several have asked for customizable buttons. This feature will require more than an update to the XMOS firmware (fortunately no hardware changes). More info coming soon.
Does this mean "you'll need to buy a new revision"? Or does it mean "you'll be able to upgrade your existing unit, but not through the usual path"?
 

PH14

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Feb 27, 2022
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JDS Labs truly has the best customer service. I had a power button issue with the Element III I ordered, John immediately responded to my email and sent me a new working one. I'm actually downgrading from the RME ADI-2 DAC, for a few reasons: the volume control on the RME often jumps up/down when adjusting, often enough it is very annoying. Also, I hardly use any of it's features, and what features is does have like EQ and crossfeed I already have on my computer. The Element III volume control is basically flawless, super smooth feeling and no sudden jumps in volume.
Mind if I ask what crossfeed tool you use on your computer, that matches the hardware one in the RME? I don't have the RME, but that feature alone is what is making me look at one.
 

Jimbob54

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Mind if I ask what crossfeed tool you use on your computer, that matches the hardware one in the RME? I don't have the RME, but that feature alone is what is making me look at one.
Equalizer apo with the peace front end interface includes a limited crossfeed option (2 settings IIRC) Both are freeware so easy to trial. Has myriad other DSP settings too.

The rme has a number of crossfeed presets (think it's 6) so you can sample more. The meir and chu moy presets in Peace can be replicated on the rme.
 

PH14

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No need to buy a new revision. I will update when the code is available.
BTW, what is JDS policy & plans for EU customers? I was interested way back in the Element I, but there was no EU distributor. I'd have to pay for shipping and especially vexing, customs (as the cost, not the tax itself, is >30 EUR for the paperwork) myself. In case of a warranty case, that would mean shipping back to the US, paying for return shipping and again those customs, making it totally not worth it for a device in this price class.

Do you have EU distributors now? Or are planning on one or more?
 

DivineCurrent

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Mind if I ask what crossfeed tool you use on your computer, that matches the hardware one in the RME? I don't have the RME, but that feature alone is what is making me look at one.
It's a plugin called Bauer stereophonic-to-binaural DSP (bs2b). According to RME in the manual, they also use this same Bauer crossfeed in the ADI-2, and I believe the default option is crossfeed level 4 on the RME. I use the plugin with Foobar2000.
Of course, the advantage you get with the ADI-2 DAC is you can use crossfeed systemwide at any time outside a music player. And it's probably less latency as well.

1646058338127.png


1646058481489.png
 

PH14

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Thanks very much! Using foobar2000 too, I'll definitely have a look at this plugin!
 

acbarn

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BTW, what is JDS policy & plans for EU customers? I was interested way back in the Element I, but there was no EU distributor. I'd have to pay for shipping and especially vexing, customs (as the cost, not the tax itself, is >30 EUR for the paperwork) myself. In case of a warranty case, that would mean shipping back to the US, paying for return shipping and again those customs, making it totally not worth it for a device in this price class.

Do you have EU distributors now? Or are planning on one or more?
 

PH14

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Yes, that's nice. But what if the device arrives broken? Either way, you have to pay for the taxes, it's an improvement JDS does the initial customs paperwork, but you still have high costs (return shipping, shipping again, and again taxes and other custom charges, even if JDS does it for you, you still need to pay) in case of problems. Still not acceptable. They need to get a deal with a European company or set one up themselves. SMSL has such a deal with Audiophonics. They did the updates for the M500's, even though SMSL has no EU representation. It doesn't have to be a full fledged EU distribution center, just find a partner. One is enough for the entire EU. Oh, and in case they didn't get the memo at JDS, the UK no longer is part of the EU...
 

acbarn

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Yes, that's nice. But what if the device arrives broken? Either way, you have to pay for the taxes, it's an improvement JDS does the initial customs paperwork, but you still have high costs (return shipping, shipping again, and again taxes and other custom charges, even if JDS does it for you, you still need to pay) in case of problems. Still not acceptable. They need to get a deal with a European company or set one up themselves. SMSL has such a deal with Audiophonics. They did the updates for the M500's, even though SMSL has no EU representation. It doesn't have to be a full fledged EU distribution center, just find a partner. One is enough for the entire EU. Oh, and in case they didn't get the memo at JDS, the UK no longer is part of the EU...
I’m not a JDS employee, just trying to help a fellow forum member. Best to take up your concerns with JDS support.
 
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