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Review and Measurements of JDS Labs EL DAC

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of JDS Labs EL DAC. It retails for $249 and is kind loan from a reddit member.

The EL DAC uses the same design language/enclosure as their attractive Element DAC and Amp which I reviewed earlier. This being a DAC alone, the big knob is of course eliminated:

JDS Labs EL DAC Review and Measurement.jpg


The momentary switch enables selection of different inputs. I am afraid I could not quite get a hang of how much to push it to advance to the next setting. The color of ring around the switch indicates which input is selected which required more mental effort than this lazy brain wanted to dedicate. Then again if you just use it for USB or whatever, it is not a big deal.

The finish seems to pick some amount of smudges. Not too bad but does require more delicate care to keep it looking good long term. I see that this unit just like the ELELMENT that I reviewed comes with an engraving. I am assuming JDS is providing this service.

The unit has the usual triple inputs of S/PDIF, Toslink and USB. Only one output if provided of course (unbalanced).

Power is provided by an external transformer. As such it only runs at 120 volts. It produces 15 volt AC nominal output. Oddly the back of the EL DAC says 16 volt AC. No matter as the AC voltage will fluctuate anyway.

Anyway, let's see how she measures.

Measurements
I started to measure the USB input and unfortunately quickly ran into the 24 bit to 16 bit truncation in ASIO4ALL wrapper I use with my Audio Precision analyzer. Fortunately JDS provides an ASIO driver which I used to avoid this issue. Here is the dashboard using that:

JDS Labs EL DAC USB Dashboard Measurement.png


This is pretty good performance and much better than the spec (0.0011% THD+N). Some jitter is visible however around our 1 kHz tone. And we have a bit of mains hum at 60 Hz (this is optimized by playing with grounding).

I ran S/PDIF test to see how it does:
JDS Labs EL DAC SPDIF Dashboard Measurement.png


This is without the USB cable connected. With it, performance drops so clearly some USB noise is bleeding into the unit.

Stacking this relative to DACs measured recently we get:

EL DAC SINAD.png


So firmly in "tier 2" performance and comparable to Topping D50 which retails similarly although Topping achieves that performance with its USB.

Let's look at intermodulation distortion versus level:
JDS Labs EL DAC USB Intermodulation distortion Measurement.png


Noise floor is higher than some ESS (chip) based DACs like Topping D50. As expected though, there is no ESS DAC chip hump so overall this is preferable performance.

Bit of saturation is visible in the output buffer at levels exceeding-4 dB or so.

Jitter spectrum is more messy than I like:

JDS Labs EL DAC USB Jitter and Noise Measurement.png


Which goes with dashboard measurement of USB not being as good as S/PDIF. Fortunately none of this is audible so more of a biting of the lip than real concern.

Linearity is nailed:
JDS Labs EL DAC USB Linearity Measurement.png


Dynamic range is worse than spec (117 dB) because I don't apply a-weighting:

JDS Labs EL DAC USB Dynamic Range Measurement.png


THD+N versus frequency using expanded bandwidth of 90 kHz instead of 22.5 Khz used in Dashboard shows above average noise floor:


JDS Labs EL DAC SPDIF THD versus Frequency Measurement.png


Frequency response is uneventful:
JDS Labs EL DAC USB Frequency Response Measurement.png


And for those of you who keep asking :), here is the response to white noise and square wave:

JDS Labs EL DAC USB Filter Response Measurement.png


Nerd out on it all you like. :)

That's it I think.

Conclusions
JDS Labs is a no-nonsense company that sets targets and achieves them. The EL DAC brings unique packaging to this crowded market with opportunity for personalization. Performance is competent. No design errors are visible. Only lack of perfection (e.g. in Jitter and noisier USB vs. S/PDIF). I am going to put the EL DAC on my recommended list.

If you prefer to buy western products, the EL DAC is another good choice for you.

-----
As always, any questions, concerns, comments, corrections, etc. are welcome.

If you like this review, please consider donating using Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/audiosciencereview), or upgrading your membership here though Paypal (https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...eview-and-measurements.2164/page-3#post-59054). It will enable me to pay for gear that is not offered for loan.
 
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#2
I see that this unit just like the ELELMENT that I reviewed comes with an engraving. I am assuming JDS is providing this service.
Yes, JDS Labs offers free laser engraving on all their DACs and Amps at time of purchase on their top-surface.

On a side note, a small touch better than I expected, though not by much. Fairly respectable performance though.
 

Wombat

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#5
Yes, it does. The asymmetrical ringing, as seen on the 1 kHz square wave, is "optimized" for time domain, that is, almost no pre-ringing and all energy in post-ringing. This filter also distorts the phase of audioband frequencies.
Audible distortion or a graphical view?
 
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Veri

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#6
Yes, it does. The asymmetrical ringing, as seen on the 1 kHz square wave, is "optimized" for time domain, that is, almost no pre-ringing and all energy in post-ringing. This filter also distorts the phase of audioband frequencies.
I'm pretty sure JDS uses it since AKM themselves call it the most "natural" filter, although their whole filter flavor thing is bullshit of course.

Also, you can get a DIP-switch installed if you ask when ordering to change the filter.
 

andreasmaaan

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#7
I'm pretty sure JDS uses it since AKM themselves call it the most "natural" filter, although their whole filter flavor thing is bullshit of course.

Also, you can get a DIP-switch installed if you ask when ordering to change the filter.
I'm not sure it's the "natural" AKM filter, looks more like the "acoustic sound" filter to me (as opposed to "acoustic tone", lol):

 

Wombat

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#8
There is still debate whether this is audible to humans or not. You can test for yourself with the examples.

Sounds with a short attack time (such as drums, especially snare drum) distort due to phase distortion as the energy pack that builds up that short sound diverges (for example, the higher the frequency the later it comes in comparison to the original).

Personally, I would not want a DAC's digital upsampling filter to additionally distort phase in the audio band. Perhaps it is not consciously audible with certain test signals. But it may be subconsciously audible with actual music.
Testing for myself is not conclusive. More controlled testing is of interest.
 

andreasmaaan

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#9
Yes, I think you're right. And AKM's claim for this filter is really funny: post ringing enhances bass. o_O
I think what AKM calls "Natural Tone" is actually a NOS "filter" (no delay, no ringing). Welcome back to the 70s? :facepalm:
Nice marketing by the way.
From those six types only one makes sense to me (you know, I'm a traditionalist who likes "power"). ;) My very personal view, of course.
Haha, yes. I guess if ridiculous marketing is the trade-off for making great DAC chips, I can live with it.

Re: phase distortion of this filter, could you elaborate a bit? It seems to me that this filter would introduce group delay, but not ringing within the audio band.

And the degree of group delay would be nowhere near any experimentally established audibility threshold IMHO ;)
 

solderdude

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#10
@amirm:

Is it possible to show an FFT plot that doesn't have a lot of averaging (to lower the noise levels) ?
Wondering how high the jitter originated? 'poles' around 1kHz (and for jitter at 12kHz) will be.
Just curious .... no other reason.
 

dir

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#11
what is level of white noise ?
-4dB (as Stereophile like) or -1 dB they looks are very different, don't forget about inter-sample peaks
 
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andreasmaaan

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#12
Thanks @Eddie and nicely done.

I’m still having a hard time imagining this kind of phase distortion is audible though...

Sure, there’s some uncertainty about exactly where group delay audibility thresholds lie, but that range of uncertainty is well off where we are at with this kind of filter, wouldn’t you agree?
 
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#13
Interesting. Would love to see a review of the El Amp too. The Dac measurements aren’t quite what I expected with all the positive press of the El Dac El Amp combo. Trying to decide if I want the combo or just get the Element.
 

amirm

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#14
I think this shows that the DAC3 plays in a higher class after all. Of course, one could argue that out-of-band noise and distortion are only a concern for dogs and bats. But in the end it also reveals better engineering. Unfortunately for a lot more money :(.

In this context it would be interesting to see how the Khadas Tone Board masters this measurement.
You certainly separate the boys from men when you try to keep high frequency noise down.

Here is Khadas measurement:
Khadas Tone Board DAC USB THD versus Frequency Measurement.png


Its measurements may improve if placed in a metal case to keep external interference low.
 

amirm

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#15
what is level of white noise ?
-4dB (as Stereophile like) or -1 dB they looks are very different, don't forget about inter-sample peaks
It was 0dBFS. Here is -6 dBFS overlayed on it (in blue):
1539448568141.png


FYI this is with S/PDIF. ASIO interface is not coming up and I don't feel like rebooting my machine. :)
 

amirm

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#16
@amirm:

Is it possible to show an FFT plot that doesn't have a lot of averaging (to lower the noise levels) ?
Wondering how high the jitter originated? 'poles' around 1kHz (and for jitter at 12kHz) will be.
Just curious .... no other reason.
Per my last post, I can't get ASIO to work so here is S/PDIF averaged 16 times as I normally do:

1539448768911.png


And no averaging:

1539448802976.png
 
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#20
According to Headfonia...
https://www.headfonia.com/review-jds-labs-el-dac-amp/2/
"The DAC on the Element is slightly bright, and on the thin side, though it is definitely good enough to be the built-in DAC on a $350 amp. That the EL DAC is a different design is immediately apparent upon first listening. The sound kicked out by the EL DAC adds a noticeable amount more body to the sound. It provides a much more full sound, and, due to the added body in the bass and mids, brings a touch of warmth to the proceedings as well. It does give the DAC a somewhat laid back feel to it."
and on the El Amp
"While the EL DAC is a new creation, the JDS Labs EL Amp IS the amp from The Element, just without the built-in DAC."

I'll probably just order the combo so I don't wonder if I should have...
 
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