Announcing EL DAC, EL Amp, OL DAC, and OL Switcher by JDS Labs

Today’s announcement of the Element Line and Objective Line makes most sense when viewed alongside our mission:

JDS Labs enables exceptional listening experiences, with underlying objectivity in our designs and transparency in our interactions.

JDS Labs is strongly associated with audio measurements these days–perhaps to an excessive degree. Still, the subjective experience certainly matters. Each amp and DAC we’ve offered over the past nine years has in some way made headphone listening more worthwhile. Enjoyable audio equipment just happens to measure well, so we take measurements seriously.

Expanding Connectivity for Desktop Audio


Expanded connectivity for Desktop Audio is the theme we’ve been working towards lately. I listen to powered speakers at my desk whenever I have the chance, and transition to headphones at other times. Many of our customers listen the same way, and agree that a single system should be able to interface with headphones and speakers. Sometimes a system doesn’t involve a USB connection. Thus, optical and coaxial S/PDIF inputs are long overdue. Element Line and Objective Line each provide means to switch between listening to headphones or to powered speakers. Introducing:

  • EL DAC – Self-powered USB UAC2, TOSLINK, and transformer isolated coaxial S/PDIF
  • EL Amp – 1.5W @ 32Ω Headphone Amp with RCA pass-through Line-Output
  • OL DAC – Self-powered USB UAC1 and TOSLINK
  • OL Switcher – 2 Input : 2 Output Passive Preamp
Custom Objective2 + OL DAC + OL Switcher
Custom Objective2 + OL DAC + OL Switcher

Performance Characteristics

Frequency Response 20Hz-20kHz +/- 0.15 dB +/- 0.15 dB
THD+N 20Hz-20kHz < 0.0011% < 0.0025%
IMD CCIF 19/20 kHz -6.03 dBFS 0.00017% 0.00033%
IMD SMPTE -6.03 dBFS 0.00061% 0.00031%
Noise (A-Weighted) -109 dBu -109 dBu
Dynamic Range (A-Weighted) 117 dB 114 dB
Linearity Error -90 dBFS -0.01 dB -0.01 dB
Crosstalk -10 dBFS 100K RCA -108 dB -108 dB
USB Jitter Components 11025Hz -116 dB -116 dB
Maximum DAC Line-Output, 100K 2.00 VRMS 2.00 VRMS

AKM AK4490

EL DAC and OL DAC both utilize an AK4490EQ digital-to-analog converter. Measurable performance is spectacular compared to the older PCM5102A, at similar cost. While it’s accepted that ODAC achieves baseline audible transparency, a look at THD+N shows why we’ve moved to AK4490. Note the order of magnitude improvement across the frequency band (log scale):

THD+N of AK4490EQ vs PCM5102A (EL DAC vs ODAC RevB)
THD+N of AK4490EQ vs PCM5102A (EL DAC vs ODAC RevB)


Support for 24/96kHz audio via USB Audio Class 1 (UAC1) is all you need for audible transparency. For simplicity and maximum value, OL DAC is a UAC1 device, which requires no third-party USB drivers.

EL DAC is the first JDS Labs DAC to support USB Audio Class 2 (UAC2). We’ve caved for two reasons. First, 24/192k and beyond is often requested by customers we hear from at audio meets. Second, Microsoft will soon provide native UAC2 drivers in Windows 10. We’ve promised UAC2 support as soon as the market fully embraces it, and that time is upon us. Until native Win10 drivers are available, EL DAC uses SaviAudio’s Bravo drivers with ASIO support.

Interpolation Filters

Both EL and OL DAC use default filter parameters for AK4490. The alternative filters achieve less satisfactory measurements, especially in terms of high frequency response. If you wish to experiment, we left pads for DIP switches on the PCBs,  Omron P/N A6SN-3104. Ask and we’ll be glad to pre-install.

OL DAC - Printed Circuit Board
OL DAC – Printed Circuit Board

100% Self-Powered

Clean power is one of the keys to achieving high performance audio. As confident as I am in the USB powered regulation performance of past JDS Labs designs, we take feedback seriously, and feedback indicates limited trust in USB power. Also, operating system power management behavior continues to change, creating a continuing battle for support.

I’m glad to report that EL DAC and OL DAC are 100% self-powered. All of our future designs will be self-powered as well. [Nov 25th Edit: To clarify, “self-powered” means the DACs receive power from an AC outlet. Zero (0) power is consumed from the USB cable/hub/PC.]

The first prototypes ran rather hot with full linear regulation. Heatsinks were mandatory for stability in USB mode, and enclosures turned into space heaters. So, we moved to a higher efficiency, split, multi-stage approach. All analog audio circuitry is powered exclusively by linear regulation, while the power hungry digital USB controller receives power from the same primary, linear regulator, through a clean buck regulator, followed by multiple stages of linear regulation. This experiment paid off. Not only does the circuit run much cooler, THD+N improved by over 5dB across the entire audio band, and it passed FCC/CE compliance testing on the first try. Super clean.

Power is Volume

Announcement of The Element has reminded us that output power is widely misunderstood. Most confusion can be resolved by understanding that Volume sets Power.

In the world of audio, Power is the amount of energy that an amplifier can deliver into a specific load (ohms), at a specific frequency (Hz), for a specific duration (seconds), with a specific threshold of noise and distortion. And as we’ll explain, a speaker or headphone needs only enough power to reach your desired listening volume. Listening volume is set by your personal preferences and the efficiency of the driver. Onto the math:

Power in wattage is formally defined as:
P = V2/Z

  • V = Signal Voltage, in Volts Root Mean Square (VRMS)
  • Z = Impedance of the load, technically consisting of Z = (R + jX). For amplifier measurements, the reactive portion X is assumed to be 0, so Z = R. The value of R is specified by the headphone manufacturer in ohms,  Ω.

Signal Voltage, V, is determined by the source strength and amplifier gain. Thus:

V = Gain*Vsource

Gain is set by the amplifier. Many models feature multiple gain levels that you are able able to physically select. Vsource is simply the strength of the DAC or audio player with unit VRMS.

Minimum power in milliwatts (mW) required to reach a specific Sound Pressure Level (dBSPL) is:
Pmin = 10(x-η)/10

  • x = Your desired listening volume in dBSPL
  • η = Efficiency of the headphone, in dB/mW

Next, it’s key to understand that an audio source generates only as much voltage as you select with the volume control (digital or analog), and that volume is only as strong as the particular music you’re playing. Low listening volume means Vsource is small, and high volume means Vsource is big.

From these equations, one can  see that power is a function of volume. Output voltage is dictated by the strength of the input signal (from DAC or external device), which is then multiplied by the amplifier’s gain. More voltage means more volume, which means more output power.

As a purely hypothetical example, a 2.1VRMS DAC operating at 100% volume, playing music recorded at full scale, connected to an amplifier with gain of 4.7 also at 100% volume, into a 32 ohm headphone would yield P = (4.7*2.1)(4.7*2.1)/32 = 3.044W = 3044 mW. But, thermal and current (mA) limitations mean that an amplifier will be driven into distortion at some threshold, and that threshold depends on operating frequency and how long the amplifier has been subjected to the test. This is why we must conduct real world measurements and define test criteria.

Power Test Criteria

Standard audio Power measurements are taken at 1kHz with a maximum THD+N of <= 1%.  Well, 1% distortion is rather obvious, and unacceptable for high fidelity listening. We set stricter standards.

JDS Labs conducts all Maximum Output Power tests into purely resistive loads at 1kHz, while maintaining THD+N <= 0.005% for a continuous duration of at least 45 minutes. Peak Output Power is the same as Maximum Output Power, but restricted to a duration of 10 seconds, still maintaining THD+N <= 0.005%.

Headphone Power Requirements

You do not need to crunch numbers to determine suitability of an amp for your headphones. Simply find the impedance (ohms) and sensitivity (dB/mW) specifications of your headphones, then refer to our SPL Chart:

SPL Chart

Most users are satisfied when their headphones can reach 110dB. If you listen to quiet recordings or demand extreme volumes, look at the 115dB column. If an amplifier’s output power exceeds this number at your headphone’s rated impedance, it’s sufficiently powerful.

Too Powerful?

Since an amplifier only generates as much power as you set by listening volume, there is absolutely no concern of a headphone amplifier being too powerful for a set of headphones or IEMs. You can only damage headphones when you intentionally turn volume so high that the sound distorts. Your ears will let you know when this point has been reached.

That said, an amplifier can have excessive gain. O2+ODAC and The Element both ship with low gain of 1.0x (unity) for low volume listening, and a higher gain for achieving maximum volume/power. Use low gain for most listening. Switch to high gain only when you’re unable to reach desired listening volumes at low gain.

Further Reading

Audio specifications and output power have been thoroughly covered over the past century. Should you have further interest, we recommend the following articles:

Introducing The Element by JDS Labs

JDS Labs has worked tirelessly to share this day with fellow headphone enthusiasts. We are proud to introduce The Element:the-element-top-down-wp

We designed The Element to enjoy our headphones without compromise. Its amplifier renders shocking power, driven by an ultra clean DAC, all housed in a precision machined chassis with a comfortable knob. The Element beautifully drives headphones of all technologies and sizes.


The Element is available for Preorder via JDS Labs. The first batch will ship by June 30th.

Mass production began six weeks ago and is now complete, pending final assembly (engraving, quality control, and packaging). Accessories are in transit with expected arrival later this week. We’ll share updates here, as well as on the item page.

  • June 22 Update – All accessories have arrived and engraving is 90% complete for batch #1. Knobs remain in anodizing. Preorders placed through will begin shipping June 30. We expect to conclude all shipments by mid-July at the latest.
  • June 29 Update – The first batch of knobs have arrived. Final assembly and Q/C is underway. We remain on schedule to begin shipping tomorrow, June 30th.
  • July 7 Update – All preorders placed through July 1 have shipped. A second batch of Elements are due for shipment in the next 3-10 business days.

Design Motivation

Each project we’ve embarked upon in the past eight years has been a step towards a better listening experience. The cMoyBB delivers better bass. NwAvGuy’s Objective2 and ODAC projects invigorated the headphone community in 2011, inviting disruptive leaps in headphone amp/DAC performance. While our manufacturing efforts have helped propel O2 to its #1 Desktop Amp community rating at, everyone recognizes the glaring problem with O2. It’s ugly. The mechanical design was an afterthought—a bare minimum solution to put the circuit in a box.

Years before JDS Labs, I often browsed impressive HiFi systems that I either could not afford, or lacked the resources to skillfully assemble. The average DIY amp in the early 2000’s demanded access to a machinist, and of course basic mechanical and electrical assembly knowledge. Whether commercial or DIY, a well designed enclosure is a work of art.


The Element places equal emphasis on external and internal design. We began with an ergonomic volume knob size and position (commonly found in pro gear), then designed an enclosure to accommodate the knob, and very last created the amplifier and DAC to fit the enclosure.

On Pushing Boundaries

Some of our competitors have scoffed in disbelief that a niche audio company can sustainably build a product like The Element. We’ve heard that it’s priced too low. We’ve heard that our volumes need to be in the millions. We’ve heard that we’ll ultimately fail and give up.

We thoroughly understand the pressures. The Element is an insane mechanical design–to most. One impressed applications engineer described our initial concept of The Element as, “This is the way it should be. Let the design test the limits of the machines and the machinists.”

The Element’s contoured chassis requires six sided machining, plus three machining processes for its volume knob, another operation for its custom buttons, as well as injection molding for its soft bottom surface. These requirements were beyond the capabilities of our single CNC in early 2014. Contract shops quoted labor costs that would have doubled The Element’s target price. It’s simply not feasible while following ordinary supplier/manufacturer business models.

So, we made a judgement call last year. Rather than dismiss our vision, we chose to do what we’ve done best since 2007. Our head manufacturing engineer, Nick, retooled the company and developed a viable, in-house production process for The Element. Our machine shop now generates truckloads of locally recyclable aluminum chips. More on this another day.


Prototypes of The Element have been on my home and office desks for months, and I cannot stop smiling as it drives a set of Audeze LCD-XCs.

The enclosure was merely our starting point. As with the exterior design, we set strict performance standards of transparency and tremendous output power.

Linear regulators provide 30VDC to clean LME49600 buffer amplification stages, with peak output power in excess of 1.5W at 32 ohms. The Element drives all balanced armature, dynamic, and planar magnetic headphones with ease. A 3-inch volume knob and and dual gain levels make fine level adjustments possible.

Digital-to-Analog Conversion
The Element processes digital audio through an SA9023 controller and PCM5102A DAC. While the PCM5102A supports 32-bit, 384kHz audio, we’ve intentionally selected a UAC1 controller for maximum software and OS compatibility. DSD and 32-bit driver support remain unjustified. Quantization error of 24-bit audio yields a theoretical dynamic range of 144dB, several orders of magnitude beyond an audibly ideal dynamic range of >110dB. In other words, we value a clean implementation and real world performance over a superfluous feature-set.

Tactile Buttons and Logical Relays
We also designed The Element to interact as nicely as it looks and sounds. Custom, tactile buttons control power and dual gain functions. An onboard microcontroller operates failsafe relays which mute the output for 500ms during startup and shutdown, producing headphone silence (no DC offset, pops, or thumps).

Benchmark Performance

The Element was a mess in early prototyping! We started from scratch three times and produced over 125 development revisions of the PCB to achieve desired transparency, power, and functionality. That said, we’ll keep the technical discussion to a minimum. Know that the following specification tables are backed by the same test procedures as other JDS Labs products and Objective series designs.

All benchmarks are conducted on our Prism dScope Series III Audio Analyzer. Certain tests require additional data from a Tektronix 100MHz digital oscilloscope or Fluke 287.

Max Continuous Output Power is conservatively measured at 1kHz with THD+N below 0.005% for 45+ minutes of sine wave output. This endurance test places great stress on any amplifier. Many amps, including O2, overheat during extended 32 ohm sine tests (THD skyrockets and ICs may incur damage). The Element runs stable.

The Peak Output Power test demonstrates the highest power observed under the same conditions for less than 10 seconds. This approach gives a better view of the amplifier’s capability during real world usage.

The Element performs well in all areas: low noise, low output impedance, low harmonic and intermodulation distortion, and high output power.

Amplifier Performance

Frequency Response 20Hz-20kHz +/- 0.1 dB
THD+N @ 1kHz 150 Ω 0.0009%
IMD CCIF 19/20kHz 150 Ω 0.0004%
IMD SMPTE 150 Ω 0.0005%
Noise, A-Weighted -108 dBu
Crosstalk @ 150 Ω -67 dB
Output Impedance 0.1 Ω
Channel Balance +/- 0.56 dB
Max Continuous Output, 600Ω 140 mW
Max Continuous Output, 150Ω 505 mW
Max Continuous Output, 32Ω 1.1W
Peak Output Power, 32Ω > 1.5W

DAC Performance

Frequency Response 20Hz-20kHz +/- 0.15dB
THD+N 100 Hz -0.15 dBFS 0.0023%
THD+N 20 Hz -0.15 dBFS 0.0016%
THD+N 10 kHz -0.15 dBFS 0.0019%
IMD CCIF 19/20 kHz -6.03 dBFS 0.0011%
IMD SMPTE -6.03 dBFS 0.0012%
Noise A-Weighted dBu 24/96 -102 dBu
Dynamic Range (A-Weighted) > 112 dB
Linearity Error -90 dBFS 24/96 -0.02 dB
Crosstalk -10 dBFS 100K RCA -100 dB
USB Jitter Components 11025Hz -113dB
Maximum Output Line Out 100K 2.10 VRMS


We hope this article has given you a glimpse of our excitement towards The Element. Let the introduction of this bold new system empower you to hear what you’ve been missing.

Releasing ODAC RevB

Today we’re announcing a chipset update to ODAC. Revision B improves general reliability, while meeting or exceeding the original performance criteria set forth by NwAvGuy.


This announcement will come as a surprise to many, considering ODAC was declared as the be-all and end-all of DAC transparency by a now absent engineer. This article explains who owns the ODAC design, why an update is prudent, and how ODAC Revision B’s objectivity has been exhaustively verified.

Scroll towards the end for benchmarks, or read on for the full story.

ODAC Ownership

ODAC was released on May 9, 2012, shortly before NwAvGuy vanished from the community. While his name is closely tied to ODAC, it’s critical to understand that ODAC was jointly developed by NwAvGuy and Yoyodyne Consulting.

Yoyodyne generated ODAC’s schematic and PCB, and NwAvGuy provided prototyping feedback and performance analysis. Yoyodyne also generated the project title, “ODAC” in 2011 and has remained responsible for all production engineering and distribution of the project to end retailers like JDS Labs and our counterparts.

In other words, ODAC was benchmarked and certified Objective by NwAvGuy; Yoyodyne generated the design and controls its manufacturing to this day.

NwAvGuy’s name has been intentionally omitted from ODAC RevB, so as not to imply an ongoing collaboration.

Why Update ODAC?!

Our job is to deliver perfect audio performance to every user. We’ve hit this goal for 99.5% of ODAC users out of the box, and have found a way push ODAC’s reliability and objectivity to an even higher standard.

To better convey ODAC’s position,  Yoyodyne has shared worldwide distribution data. ODAC’s popularity continues to grow. Over twice as many ODACs shipped in 2014 compared to 2012, with a total of 12,000 units in circulation:

Increasing demand over time is amazingly rare for electronic production, and is a testament to ODAC’s positive reception.

Although ODAC has proven itself in the audio community, JDS Labs and fellow retailers have observed lower than expected yield (<1% DOA units), higher than expected long-term failure rates (< 2%), and an ongoing USB hub issue that NwAvGuy did not have an opportunity to address before his 2012 departure.

One of the first bits of ODAC feedback we received in 2012 revealed odd behavior: severe distortion, completely resolved by a USB hub. This peculiarity would ultimately affect less than 0.5% of all users, and the simple USB hub solution became well known within the audio community (later published to ODAC’s operating instructions). We invested in a dScope Series III audio analyzer in 2012 and verified ODAC’s performance.

The behavior was later identified as a power supply regulation design choice made by NwAvGuy. ODAC performs consistently with all devices, unless the host USB bus has remarkably low ESR ceramic capacitors placed too closely to the USB 5V output pin (rare). When ODAC is connected to such a host computer, ODAC’s 3.6V linear regulator performance plummets from 100% stable operation to extreme oscillation, which turns the perfect audio signal into garbage (lots of very audible distortion). There is no in-between. The regulator is either 100% stable, or 0% stable. Consequently, we’ve offered support for this rare behavior since 2012.

So, ODAC performs as described for about 99.5% of users. As demand grows, that USB bug becomes increasingly pronounced. Add in 1-2% DOA and long-term ES9023 failures, and ODAC retailers have growing collections of bad ICs. DOA boards are easy to catch via quality control, but long-term failures require frustrating warranty service.

Meanwhile, JDS Labs and Yoyodyne have engineered solutions to each reliability concern, meaning we can make ODAC reliable and objective for virtually 100% of users.

Yoyodyne produced a series of ODAC RevB variants in 2014 with reliability fixes. JDS Labs benchmarked each prototype to ensure equal or better performance compared to the original ODAC. Although the update was ready in late 2014, ODAC production runs occur about once annually. This long production cycle  is best for the project, as it minimizes supply constraints and keeps distribution flowing smoothly to several O2/ODAC manufacturers.

I think the community hoped NwAvGuy would return and publish necessary updates to O2/ODAC/ODA himself. At this point, a reliability update is the best judgment we can make for ODAC’s long-term success. Keep in mind that O2 is protected from derivatives by its license; ODAC is coordinated by Yoyodyne and nondisclosure agreements with its IC suppliers. Even so,  we do not want to modify ODAC. Subjective bias is not trivial in the audio business.

All of that being said, we’re confident ODAC RevB is a perfect reliability update. The newer DAC IC has proven reliable in other projects. In addition to thorough benchmarks, we’ve shipped  ODAC RevB to a few users seeking support for their original ODACs. Feedback is perfect. We also shared ODAC RevB at the 2015 AXPONA tradeshow and allowed some random visitors to perform A/B tests. No one could differentiate.

Change Log

ODAC RevB resolves all reliability inadequacies of the original ODAC, while meeting or exceeding original transparency requirements.

ODAC RevB utilizes the same PCB footprint and is a physical drop-in replacement to all existing ODAC and O2+ODAC assemblies. Revision B’s stronger output voltage of 2.10VRMS must also be accompanied by a slight DAC volume or gain adjustment when used in O2+ODAC; optimal gain is now 1.0/3.33x.

Analog filters and power supply passive components remain identical to the original board. The new chipset consists of an SA9023+PCM5102A, and the LDO has been updated to a ceramic stable Analog Devices ADP151 equivalent part. Fixes include:

  • Added 16x vias to USB support pads to improve mechanical strength of mini-USB jack
  • New chipset and locked EEPROM to prevent IC failures
  • Fixed USB supply stability, affecting < 0.5% of systems
  • Minor performance improvements (audibly equivalent)

Test Methodology

ObjectiveDAC was designed for measurable and audible perfection. Reduced performance from ODAC RevB would be absolutely unacceptable, so we took great care in checking our work.

Engineering test methods impact test results. While THD+N, frequency response, and crosstalk are straightforward, even these basic tests are impacted by audio analyzer setup parameters and real world hardware setup. Certain ferrites on the mini-USB cable improve dynamic range by up to 10dB versus an ordinary USB cable. More complex tests like Jitter and IMD produce surprisingly different results based on signal strength, averaging, etc.. As Yoyodyne and I analyzed performance of the original ODAC through a TDK ZCAT2035-0930 ferrite equipped USB cable via dScope audio analyzers, it was clear that NwAvGuy had utilized averaging and custom dScope routines. We would never be able to definitively duplicate his work due to unknown averaging, scripting variables, and exact ferrite type.

To ensure a fair comparison, we  measured a randomly selected ODAC production unit to establish baseline requirements. Measurements were repeated with two additional, randomly selected units to confirm consistency. The exact same cable and test scripts were then repeated with ODAC revB. All tests are performed under a standard 100k load.

In particular, please note that many of our measurements are taken at different signal strengths and sampling rates than used by NwAvGuy. Our table results are also taken without averaging; instead, we observe worst case performance over the course of 5 seconds of data collection.

So do not be surprised that our baseline ODAC measurements reflect lower performance than NwAvGuy’s nicely averaged 2012 results!


Frequency Response, 20-20kHz +/-0.14 dB +/-0.04 dB
THD+N 100 Hz, -0.15dBFS 0.0022% 0.0013%
THD+N 20 Hz -0.15dBFS 0.0017% 0.0015%
THD+N 10 kHz -0.15dBFS 0.0056% 0.0024%
Noise, A-Weighted -102 dBu – 103 dBu
Dynamic Range (A-Weighted) > 111 dB > 112 dB
Dynamic Range (Un-Weighted) > 107 dB > 109 dB
Crosstalk @ 1kHz, -10dBFS (3.5mm) -80.4 dB -86.4 dB
Sum of Jitter Components @ 11025 Hz, -1dBFS -105.8 dB -112.3 dB
IMD CCIF, -6.03 dBFS, 19/20kHz, 24/96k 0.0027% 0.0005%
IMD SMPTE -2 dBFS, 24/96k 0.0008% 0.0008%
Linearity @ -90dBFS -0.09 dB -0.08 dB
Maximum output 2.00 VRMS 2.10 VRMS


Frequency Response: NwAvGuy’s DAC Transparency Guideline calls for response of +/- 0.1 dB from 20 Hz – 19 kHz. RevB is slightly flatter than the original ODAC, exceeding the proposed transparency requirement for the complete audible range, 20 Hz – 20 kHz.

THD+N: The original ODAC measures 0.0056% at 10kHz -0.15dBFS using our worst case scenario measurements (see above table). RevB manages just 0.0024% under the same condition.

Shown below are THD+N -1dBFS,  8x averaged sweeps of each channel, directly comparing ODAC to ODAC RevB . The original ODAC’s right channel closely resembles NwAvGuy’s 2012 THD+N sweep, with a peak of 0.005% at 9kHz, and 0.004% at 10kHz. Note that the Left channel of the original ODAC differs from its Right channel in our sweeps. This observation is consistent across each unit tested from 2013 and 2014 production batches, despite no channel differences visible in 2012 benchmarks. RevB’s THD+N is consistent between Left and Right channels.

Revision B also cuts THD+N in half at 10kHz, and remains below 0.0030% across the entire audible spectrum for each channel. Both versions are well below NwAvGuy’s suggested transparency limits (green line).

Full-Scale Performance: Rumor suggests that PCM5102 clips at full scale. We first investigated this concern in 2013 with the then newly released PCM5102A. Empirical results show clean sine output at all frequencies. ODAC’s ES9023 reaches 1.99VRMS, and RevB’s PCM5102A generates 2.07VRMS at 0dBFS.

RevB’s full-scale performance is remarkably similar to the original ODAC. Notice that both DACs produce THD > 0.005% at 0dBFS due to FFT summing phenomenon at full-scale:

Elevated THD at 0dBFS is consistent for all DACs we’ve measured, and is the reason engineers (including NwAvGuy) typically conduct DAC benchmarks at -1dBFS or -3dBFS. Simply put, digital to analog conversion is less ideal at 0dBFS. Any reasonable recording should be free of such peaks. At any rate, it’s ideal to slightly reduce DAC volume when listening to recordings containing frequent 0dB peaks.

Noise: The newer PCM5102A DAC automatically enters a soft mute condition in the absence of an audio signal, pushing the measurable noise floor to an impressive -115dBu (near the dScope’s measurable limit). Therefore, noise was also measured with an applied -180dBFS, 20kHz signal, revealing the active state noise floor. RevB manages -103 dBu, slightly superior to the original ODAC’s -102 dBu. All noise components of RevB are well below the transparency requirement of -110dB for both mute conditions.

Dynamic Range: RevB improves A-weighted dynamic range by about 2dB, and achieves a cleaner noise floor.

Crosstalk: The PCM5102A’s soft mute function causes a standard crosstalk measurement to produce abnormally impressive results, as one channel is digitally muted. Thus, crosstalk looks substantially superior at all frequencies for RevB.  Crosstalk measurements are similar between ODAC and ODAC RevB with a sufficiently small signal applied to the “muted” channel. Also note that the 20kHz “Ch A” test point is invalid for all four curves, as the dScope script conducts the test too quickly during relay initialization. “Ch B” curves at 20kHz are accurate.

Crosstalk (RCA output) - ODAC vs ODAC RevB
Crosstalk (RCA output) – ODAC vs ODAC RevB

Jitter: Testing is conducted using an 11025Hz, -1dBFS signal with 8x averaging.

Reliability fixes only necessitated a new power supply LDO and DAC IC. We swapped the USB controller for two reasons. First, the SA9023 provides 16/88.2kHz support. Second, its jitter performance is noticeably superior to the older TE7022L. We actually tested a TE7022L+PCM5102A prototype in effort to stay closer to the original ODAC. The SA9023 was ultimately a finer choice. Keep in mind that even the TE7022L produced audibly insignificant jitter (components below -110 dB). Hopefully 16/88.2kHz functionality adds value to some.

IMD SMPTE: The 60Hz/7kHz IMD test returns similar measurements for both DACs: 0.0008% using a -2dBFS signal referenced to 2VRMS.

ODAC produces audibly negligible sidebands (below -120dB) within a few thousand Hz of 7kHz, whereas RevB’s distortion shows less jitter but higher amplitude components around the same tone. Note that all of these components are more than an order of magnitude below the audible transparency limit of -90dBFS (green line).

IMD CCIF: Twin tone amplitude is closely matched in the IMD CCIF 19/20kHz test. The test returns numerically superior measurements for RevB due to smaller 1kHz components.

Sidebands are slightly more pronounced from RevB. While sidebands are higher, NwAvGuy prescribed a maximum sideband limit of -90dBr with 2VRMS reference for frequencies below 19kHz, and -80dBr above 20kHz to achieve transparency. RevB meets expectations.

The dScope is internally limited to -6.03dBFS for the Twin-tone script. Yoyodyne points out that NwAvGuy displayed a sum of powers and utilized custom scripts when conducting IMD measurements (-6dB + -6dB = -3dB).

Linearity: Both versions demonstrate excellent linearity from -1dBFS, down to their respective noise floors.

Price and Availability

ODAC RevB begins shipping in all JDS Labs ODAC products ordered after 9:00AM  CST on Monday, May 11 with unchanged pricing:

Please note that product titles are unchanged, as performance is audibly the same for both versions of ODAC.

For orders placed outside of, please contact your reseller for availability information. It will take some time for ODAC RevB to make its way to all end retailers.


ODAC RevB maximizes long-term DAC reliability,  adds 16/88.2kHz support, increases measurable performance, and most importantly, remains audibly transparent.

Custom Engraving Examples

Custom engraving is free with any new JDS Labs amplifier or DAC ordered through It’s a fun process, both for us, and for you.

When you click the “Engrave” button during checkout, our production staff receives and pastes your custom text or image into Adobe Illustrator, then prints to one of our two laser engraving machines. Here’s our new Trotec laser engraver in action:

A full image takes just 2-3 minutes, and custom text takes only seconds.

Engraving Examples

Engraving image quality is comparable to that of a black and white laser printer. The key difference is print media. With a laser printer, black toner prints onto white paper. With a laser engraver, the result is always white onto all anodized aluminum, regardless of aluminum color.

Like a laser printer, black and white images engrave perfectly:

A monochrome image with a black background needs to be inverted. Our production staff uses their best judgement and corrects images as necessary, for example:

Laser engravers handle shaded images acceptably. This customer did not realize his image contained shading, and was surprised to see the result. [Note: We use calibrated IPS monitors. Check your screen brightness if you cannot see shading in the dark images!]

A gradient test pattern reveals engraver shading limitations:

Color images and photographs can be engraved reasonably well even with limited shading:

In summary, custom engraving works best with monochrome images.

Fischer Headphones In Stock

We select a few fun headphones to display at each audio show to demonstrate our amps and DACs. Fischer’s FA-011 attract curious visitors, and have earned a spot on both my home and office desks.

So, we exchanged messages with Fischer and now stock their most popular models.

Fischer FA-011 Natural Wood
Fischer FA-011 Natural Wood

We’re extremely pleased with the FA-003Ti-W. Sound quality is exceptional. These are Nick’s go-to set to drown out the sound of coworkers on the phone:

Fischer FA-003TiW Bog Oak

And last for now, triple-balanced TBA-04’s:

Fischer Audio TBA-04
Fischer Audio TBA-04

How to Connect Android, iPad, or iPhone to a DAC

There are three basic requirements to connect a USB DAC to any Android or iDevice:

  1. Power: The DAC must not consume more power than the phone or tablet permits.
  2. Support: The phone or tablet must be able to stream digital audio over USB.
  3. Cables: You must use an appropriate cable for your device.

Below we’ll show how you can connect a USB DAC to most Androids, iPads, and iPhones.

Nexus 7 connected to C5D via OTG cable
Nexus 7 connected to JDS Labs C5D via OTG cable

Power Requirements

All iPad, iPhone, and most Android devices enforce a peripheral power consumption limit. If you have a self-powered DAC like C5D, this requirement is easily satisfied since the DAC only consumes power from its own battery.

Connecting a more common, power hungry DAC is still possible! USB devices declare their power consumption in software, during USB enumeration (connection). Therefore, it’s easy to trick a phone or tablet by connecting the DAC to a small USB hub. With the right USB hub, your phone only reads the low power consumption of the USB hub, and not the larger power consumption of the DAC.

For example, directly connecting ODAC to an iPhone or iPad does not work. ODAC consumes about 20mA, while iPhone/iPad permits a maximum current consumption of around 5mA in software. With a portable USB hub connected, ODAC now works!

iPhone 5S successfully connected to ODAC, employing a USB hub.
iPhone 5S successfully connected to ODAC, employing a USB hub.

Power consumption has not actually changed here since we’re using a non-powered USB hub; ODAC still draws power from the iPhone.

A powered USB hub would be more ideal, but this experiment shows it’s possible to fool the software power limitations. Also note that a USB hub will only work with your phone or tablet if it reports itself as “self-powered”. Not all portable USB hubs report their power consumption this way. We’ve had success with Plugable’s USB 2.0 2-Port hub, but it’s worth mentioning that some customers have received Plugable hubs that do not work. Again, a powered hub is the best choice.

History Lesson: It’s safe to bypass the tiny power consumption limit of your iDevice. Maximum power consumption of iPad was much higher in iOS4 and earlier, so most standard DACs worked out of the box with iPad back then. Apple later reduced the software power limit causing standard DACs and other peripherals to only connect when used with a powered USB hub.

Android Devices – DAC Connections

Cables: Any USB On-the-Go (OTG) cable will suffice. Android devices use a micro USB port, while most DACs rely on mini USB. A micro-to-mini OTG cable makes a perfect connection.

Micro-to-Mini USB OTG Cable
JDS Labs Micro-to-Mini USB OTG Cable

Support: Digital audio support with Android continues to improve. While only some Android devices support digital audio out of the box, nearly all Androids can connect to a DAC using USB Audio Player Pro. And if you’re adventurous, Cyanogenmod is known to enable streaming digital audio systemwide (all apps) for most devices.

Tip: Even with the proper cable and support, Android sometimes needs a reboot. Make sure to turn your DAC on and connect it to your phone/tablet, then reboot Android. This will give Android a chance to initialize the DAC.

For more background information on Android digital audio support, see our C5D release article.

Android Summary

  • Power – Use a self-powered DAC. For other DACs, you can use a self-powered USB hub.
  • Support – Varies with Android device. If default Android does not work, use USB Audio Player Pro or Cyanogenmod if needed.
  • Cables – Use any USB OTG cable.

iDevices – iPhone & iPad DAC Connections

Apple unlocked digital audio support under iOS 7, so all iPhone and iPad  devices painlessly connect to self-powered DACs. Support is excellent.

Unlike Android, Apple’s proprietary cables are the only point of confusion. There are presently four possible connections, and only three of four work.

Lightning to USB Cables

The best solution for now is Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter, part number (MD821ZM*) MD821AM. This cable conveniently provides a USB port from your iPhone/iPad, allowing you to connect a short mini-USB cable to your DAC.

One might expect that Apple’s Lightning to Micro USB adapter (MD820ZM) and a short USB cable would also work. We’ve confirmed this adapter is NOT usable with DACs! Apparently it was made only for charging.

*Update, October 19, 2015: We have successfully tested Apple MD821ZM with iPads and iPhones running iOS versions 7.XX through 9.0.2 (most recent version as of today). Apple has recently replaced MD821ZM with a newer version, MD821AM. DAC support of MD821AM has not yet been confirmed.

Apple 30-Pin to USB Cables

For iPhone and iPads with an older 30-pin dock connector, you’ll need Apple’s 30-pin Camera Connection Kit (CCK), Apple part number MC531ZM.

Note that iOS 7 is mandatory to use a DAC, meaning these adapters are suitable for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch running iOS 7. There’s currently no standard digital audio support for iPod Classic or iPod Nano, as they do not support iOS 7.

If you already have a 30-pin CCK and a Lightning-to-30-pin Adapter (MD823ZM), it’s possible to pair these two connectors together to form a bulky Lightning to USB adapter:

Lightning to 30pin --> 30pin to USB --> mini USB --> JDS Labs C5D
Lightning to 30pin –> 30pin to USB –> mini USB –> JDS Labs C5D

Addendum: You can use any mini USB cable with the above Apple accessories. The stock, 1.5ft cable provided with C5D will work, or you may choose a shorter cable. Some users also prefer to strap their devices together with silicon bands for better organization:

Generic Lightning Cables

Now you’re probably asking yourself, “Why doesn’t someone make a short Lightning to mini-USB cable?!”

It was a quick task for us to find a great manufacturer for our custom Android OTG cables. Sourcing the equivalent Lightning-to-mini-USB cable is vastly more challenging. Apple controls the accessory market under its MFi Program. JDS Labs has applied twice in the past 3 years and has yet to receive a go ahead. This leaves us with three options: We can either source generic Lightning cables from non-MFi certified manufacturers, or we can partner with an MFi approved developer, or we can continue to wait for our own MFi certification.

We’ve found several overseas vendors willing to product custom Lightning cables, but we have no interest in breaking Apple’s MFi agreement or distributing cables which may not always work. So, generic cables are not an option. We’ll continue seeking a path of MFi approved production.

iDevices Summary

  • Power – Use a self-powered DAC. For other DACs, you can use a self-powered USB hub.
  • Support – iOS7 fully supports streaming digital audio!
  • Cables – Use Apple Camera Connection Kit cable + mini USB cable



Cyber Monday 2013 @ JDS Labs

After a busy Black Friday sale, we bring you Free Shipping this Cyber Monday. All amplifiers and DACs ship free today, including international orders!

  • Free shipping applies to all orders weighing 3+ ounces
  • Orders placed with free shipping will be mailed via USPS First Class or USPS First Class International. If your order is too heavy for First Class mail, we will upgrade your shipment to the next fastest shipping method.
  • Shipping insurance remains mandatory for international orders over $75 USD
  • Offer applies only to orders placed on Cyber Monday, December 2, 2013 from 12:00AM to 11:59PM Central Standard Time (UTC-6).

C5D Shipments Continue

This morning we’re glad to resume production of C5D! UPS delivered parts at 10am and I’ve been listening to C5D for more than two hours with a smile on my face.


In case you missed the drama, we caught a tiny error in the first batch of C5D and temporarily halted production. Our terrific engineers, George Boudreau and Ken Mathews, collaboratively resolved the mistake in less than 48 hours. We owe them many thanks.


A few C5D’s shipped on Monday and Tuesday without the correction. We’re emailing affected customers today and will offer an easy exchange.


C5D shipments to distributors resume next week:

  • Headphone Bar / Canada
  • Munkong Gadget / Thailand
  • Headsound Audio / Germany
  • Kingsound Audio / Hong Kong
  • Noisy Motel / Australia

C5D samples also ship to reviewers by Monday.

Technical Explanation

If you’re curious, C5D is a complex device that makes use of 12 highly regulated, onboard power supplies.

C5D Printed Circuit Board
C5D Printed Circuit Board

Prior to the production fix, the first batch of C5D exhibited an extremely low level hum under USB data transfer. Hum vanished while music was not playing over USB, so it was easy to miss while listening. And by nature of its presence, it could never appear in Noise measurements, and was simply a tiny component of THD measurements (all excellent). This type of problem could only be found by an engineer actively looking for it. Conclusion: Subjective results matter as much as Objective measurements!

Working backwards, we disabled individual power supplies in C5D to isolate the issue. We found that when the USB controller placed its heavy load during data transfer (0.5W), it brought the primary +7V rail to 60% capacity. The +7V rail has been stable in C5, and the amplifier and DAC measure well independently. While powering both amp and DAC, the higher power draw pushed the rail slightly out of regulation. Line ripple increased by a factor of 10.

The solution was shockingly simple–we added a larger capacitor to the +7V rail (this capacitor will be hand soldered on the first batch of C5Ds). Ripple decreased more than 10x, to levels better than ever. Performance is restored. Low level hum is gone.

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