JDS LABS
OL DAC & O2 AMPLIFIER
“Inseparable”

We’ve been getting lots of questions regarding DAC/AMPs around
Today we will try expand your options and perhaps provide an insight into a great company.
Many of you already have an acquaintance with JDS Labs because of their widely popular O2 and CMOY amps. We’ll look at the new OL DAC and O2 Amplifier combo after the interview!

Q: Hello! Please tell us a bit about yourself and your role at JDS Labs?
J: Hey! My name is Jude and I’m the Marketing Coordinator at JDS Labs, so I do things like organize our reviews, trade shows, headphone meet-ups, social media, etc. I’ve been with JDS Labs since early 2014, when I started in our machine shop back when we only had one CNC machine.

Q: How did it all begin? What is JDS Labs’ core ideology?
J: JDS Labs started with John (the JDS in JDS Labs) hobbying around with a Cmoy amp and his Sennheiser HD-280 Pro headphones. Disappointed by the bass response, he designed a bass boost circuit and shared it with other audio enthusiasts.

JDS Labs was never officially planned to be a company. John’s hobby snowballed in effort to keep up with requests from other audio enthusiasts. Co-founder Nick joined in 2011 and pushed to build the vision we support today:
JDS Labs creates exceptional listening experiences through objectivity. We strive to be honest and transparent in everything we do.

Q: What is driving JDS Labs forward?
J: We only take on projects we can enjoy. JDS Labs is currently obsessed with perfecting interaction with headphone amplifiers and DACs. While I can share little at this time, we’re driven by the success of the Element and Objective Lines. Expect performance to remain the foundation of all JDS Labs designs, with greater simplicity in 2018 and beyond.

Q: Can you briefly run us through the production steps?
J: For the OL DAC and many other JDS Labs products, the journey begins at our board house in California. We receive the boards at our workshop right outside of St. Louis, MO, where we CNC machine all front and rear plates, as well as other parts like the knob and enclosure for The Element. Our machined parts are then anodized in St. Louis and engraved back at JDS Labs.
We then perform final assembly of the PCB and enclosure, followed by a final fit and functionality inspection prior to packaging.

Q: Can you give a little more detail about manual quality control?
J: Quality control has changed over the years, as we’ve accumulated knowledge of likely points of failure. JDS Labs designs its solid state amplifiers and DACs to require no burn-in; performance in the first 30 seconds of operation is consistent with performance after 300 hours, thus, our quality control process is tailored to each amplifier/DAC model to confirm fit and function.

Aside from basic functionality, we hand test each assembly to observe audible startup/shutdown transients, channel balance, output level, and distortion. Only amplifiers and DACs which pass the entire inspection routine proceed to packaging with a stamped inspection card. Otherwise, a circuit board’s behavior is documented and returned to production for rework.

Q: Is all JDS equipment manufactured in-house?
J: Yes and no, if it’s made out of metal and is part of a JDS Labs product, odds are it was machined in-house on one of our three CNC machines. Boards do undergo assembly at their origin in California and our current Objective enclosure is manufactured elsewhere; other than that we try to handle it in our shop.

Q: What do you mean by “real engineering support” Can you elaborate?
J: Technical questions are addressed directly by John, who holds an electrical engineering degree and is responsible for all of JDS Lab’s amplifier and DAC designs. So when we say “real engineering support”, we mean it very literally 🙂

Q: Let’s ask this last one about OL DAC. What are the technical improvements over the ODAC?​
J: The OL DAC exceeds the ODAC in almost every measurable technical spec we test for, adds an optical input, and costs less! While the ODAC performs great and has a lot of satisfied customers, we had the ability to design a better DAC with more features, so that’s what we did. We recently released a USB only version for $89 that’s been a hit as well, both are currently available in our web store.

“OL DAC”
Specifications
AK4490EQ DAC
USB Type B and TOSLINK Input
RCA Output
Case Dimensions: 11 x 8 x 3 cm
Weight: 370 grams

“O2 Amplifier”
Specifications
RCA Input
3.5mm Output
Max Output @33 Ohms: 613 mW
Max Output @150 Ohms: 355 mW
Max Output @600 Ohms: 88 mW
Dimensions: 11 x 8 x 3 cm
Weight: 310 grams

Build Quality, Packaging
Designed, sourced and manufactured in USA. Packaging is quite straightforward, the stack comes in a static bag inside a cardboard box. Like the packaging, the design itself is simple and practical. JDS aimed for one thing. Efficiency. Both of the devices have excellent thermal capabilities so they run cool and occupies little to no space. Switches and plugs feel solid, well made. One thing I can’t seem to wrap my around is why RCA plugs are not aligned? I can’t use my ultrashort RCA interconnect with them because of this. It’s not a big deal though, I am sure if you leave a note they’d adjust plugs accordingly.

Features
OL DAC offers a rare feature for a relatively affordable price tag. Optical input! Good news folks! We will not be enslaved by petty USBs anymore., I always prefer Optical because with my high-end desktop computer USB audio is tricky, USB ports are not as clean as I’d like, fortunately my motherboard offers an optical out so I pair it with OL DAC without any jitter/noise issues.
Oh by the way, OL DAC is driverless! Just plug it in & you’re ready to go!

Customer Service
Unfortunately I ran into several problems with the shipping & customs. They flagged the shipment “volatile/flammable” and in result this delayed the review quite a long time.. In every step, JDS was understanding, patient and solution-oriented. Thanks again Jude!


Sound Signature
Transparent. This is perhaps only label that we could put on the JDS Stack. Both OL DAC & O2 sounds raw. Clean. Clear. If you’re looking for pure performance, you’re in the right place. If you’re looking for fun signature, look elsewhere. Converting the signal from digital to analog, nothing more. No colouration, no particular band elevation, no emphasize, nothing. Pair it with a studio monitor and you’ll have the perfect mix/master combo.

Low Region
Low frequencies are tight and snappy. “JDS Stack” does not overdo the low section, you hear exactly what is in the recording. Entire bass freq line is flat. This results in accurate reproduction but it is not as musical as, say, something like Centrance Dacport. The bass detail level and attack/decay is impressive as well.

Mid Region
When we look at the mid region, it is easy to see that they are similar to rest of the spectrum. They’re accurate, articulate and linear. Tonal balance is impressive. No out-of-place elements in the presentation. Lower mids are perfectly balanced, there is no sign of any humps. Upper mids are similar as well, they’re not boosted therefore no sign of harshness. Cymbal & Hi-hats are crisp and well controlled.

High Region
Treble has excellent control just like the rest of the spectrum and I did not encounter with congestion of any kind. (I even tortured it with Blind Guardian – Mirror Mirror)
Detail-wise it is ahead of many and it offers great value for price.
Treble extension and attack/decay is really impressive.

Instrument Separation, PRaT, Soundstage
Soundstage is wide, rather than deep. Instrument separation is good, instruments have plenty air and space between them. Presentation does not suffer from PRAT issues, which is quite amazing at this price because many do. JDS Stack’s background is vantablack.

Comparisons
Modi & Magni
They’re in the same pool but there are some distinguishing factors between them. Modi&Magni’s soundstage encircles you, JDS stack does not. JDS Stack have more distinctive soundstage area. Blacker background. Detail wise JDS is 1 step ahead. I find JDS tad better in the control area, especially during complicated metal passages.

Audioquest Dragonfly Red
Red sounds tad lighter, little more emphasis on the treble section. Similar soundstage. JDS stack is much more powerful. JDS stack offers much better PRAT and handles congestion without any “screeching”.

O2 vs H10 (both with oldac)
H10 adds warmth to the sound, low frequencies get slight boost and authority, treble takes a step back compared to O2. Both are great, detail-wise but with good recordings H10 is more revealing. H10’s soundstage is deep rather than wide.

Final Words
When you add the performance, features and JDS support into the equation, OL DAC & O2 combo is a no-brainer. You can even customize them to your liking. Even the gain. Today, the JDS stack is inseparable from my desktop rig. It really doesn’t matter whether I am gaming or listening. I know that I am in good hands.

Aero

Author Aero

Tech Enthusiast, Audiophile, Perfectionist.

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