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.

Availability

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 jdslabs.com 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 Head-Fi.org, 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-upright

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.

Circuitry

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.

Amplification
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.

ODAC-RevisionB-Web1600x1200

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!

Performance

DAC SPECIFICATIONS ODAC ODAC RevB
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 jdslabs.com, please contact your reseller for availability information. It will take some time for ODAC RevB to make its way to all end retailers.

Summary

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

Introducing C5D, Amp+DAC

Today we’re pleased to release our new C5D Headphone Amplifier + DAC:

C5_Intro2

On a related note, we pushed a major site update to JDSLabs.com last night. Please call, email, tweet, or reply below if you encounter any browsing issues.

C5D Production Status

  • Design: 100% Complete
  • Benchmarks: 100% Complete
  • Production: Ships by November 22

C5D is entirely complete and ships immediately! We temporarily paused production to make a final tweak. Shipments resume no later than November 22.

Design Priorities

C5D adds an outstanding PCM5102A DAC and extra bass boost level to our C5 headphone amplifier. Both C5 and C5D are built for portable users who demand exceptionally low noise, sufficient output power, and a super fine volume control to handle sensitive headphones and IEM’s.

Our goal for C5D is simple: Merge a reference grade DAC with C5, valuing performance and compatibility over superfluous features. C5D works natively with iPhone, iPad, and all devices and operating systems which support UAC1.

Going UAC1

USB Audio Class 1 (UAC1) is the widely compatible standard for transmitting digital audio over USBUAC2 is required to go beyond 24/96 audio, but UAC2 support remains limited and requires special drivers for Windows XP/7/8, etc. In other words, connecting a UAC2 DAC becomes more involved and potentially buggy.

It’s easy to understand why audiophiles develop specification wish lists such as 32/384kHz PCM via UAC2, or DSD, or asynchronous operation. The numbers and algorithms look really impressive. But ultimately, you can’t utilize 32/384 audio when your music collection is the bottleneck. It makes perfect sense from a marketing standpoint to enable the latest features on a new device. Fortunately, we’re engineers and not marketers.

C5D’s hardware actually supports DSD and 32-bit audio. We disabled both. UAC2 breaks compatibility with many portable devices, and C5D needs to work out of the box with phones and tablets. Plus, transparency is achievable through UAC1 and fully utilizing 24-bit depth can be unrealistic.

So instead of giving C5D compatibility limiting UAC2 features, it’s configured for awesome performance under UAC1. And we still managed some interesting characteristics–galvanic isolation, asynchronous operation, and a low latency jitter filter.

Reference D/A Conversion

C5D’s new DAC circuitry fits in previously unused space beneath the battery, so size remains identical to C5. The PCM5102A DAC and SA9027 controller pack incredible performance in this small space.

C5D Circuit Board
C5D Printed Circuit Board

Galvanic Isolation

The large chip next to the USB jack is an Analog Devices ADuM3160. This IC serves two functions:

  • Enhanced ESD protection at the USB jack
  • Galvanic Isolation

Also next to the USB jack is a new toggle switch. Flipping this switch right allows C5D to charge. Flipping the switch left makes use of the ADuM3160’s air core transformer technology to operate C5D in self-power mode*. That is, the DAC runs from its own battery when connected to a portable USB audio player. This is known as galvanic isolation, and it cleverly prevents the DAC from being subjected to noise on the USB +5V rail.

Self-power mode also gives C5D maximum flexibility with portable devices since most smartphones and tablets disable USB devices that consume too much power.

* Full isolation is utilized with low power USB devices. C5D enters a hybrid self-powered mode when connected to strong USB devices, only consuming extra power. DAC performance is identical in all power modes.

Asynchronous Mode

Just weeks before we approved C5D for production, I received word that a code update could convert C5D from adaptive to asynchronous operation. Features are always second to performance at JDS Labs, so we repeated all benchmarks.

C5D jitter already measured extremely well in adaptive mode. We want to see a sharp signal in this test, with minimal sidebands (especially near the signal). Keeping the sum of matched components below -100dBFS prevents an audible impact. C5D in adaptive mode far surpasses this reference goal at -111dBFS:

Jitter in Adaptive Mode, -3dBFS, LLF High
Jitter in Adaptive Mode, -3dBFS, LLF High

Running asynchronously, jitter improves little more than the measurement’s margin of error:

Jitter in Asynchronous Mode, -3dBFS, LLF High
Jitter in Asynchronous Mode, -3dBFS, LLF High

Jitter measures slightly better at -112dB in async mode, and is the only standard test that revealed any difference from adaptive mode on C5D. All other benchmarks returned identical results. Thus, C5D ships in asynchronous mode.

Technical Specifications

Asynchronous mode and galvanic isolation together make C5D a rare UAC1 DAC. These features make it highly self-reliant, generating its own clock and power.

DAC Specifications

Frequency Response +/- 0.14 dB
THD+N 100Hz 0.0014%
THD+N 20Hz 0.0015%
THD+N 10kHz 0.0025%
IMD 19/20kHz, -7dBFS 0.0015%
Noise, A-Weighted -103 dBu
Dynamic Range > 109 dB A-Weighted
Linearity Error, -90dBFS 24/96 0.2 dB
Crosstalk -10dBFS -80 dB
USB Jitter, Marked Sum -112 dB
Maximum Output 2.0 VRMS

DAC measurements were obtained by hardwiring a line-output jack to C5D’s PCM5102A output for connection to our dScope Series III audio analyzer.

Frequency response is excellent, with negligible rolloff of 0.1dB in the final octave of human hearing.

C5D Frequency Response
Frequency Response of C5D’s PCM5102A (direct DAC output signal; amplifier bypassed)

THD+N measures well below our reference goal of 0.005% at all frequencies:

THD+N @ 20Hz
THD+N @ 20Hz
THD+N @ 100Hz
THD+N @ 100Hz

A-Weighted noise exceeds expectations with components at -110dBu, and overall noise better than -100dBu:

Noise, A-Weighted
Noise, A-Weighted – C5D DAC line output

Dynamic range measures quite well at 109dB:

Dynamic Range
Dynamic Range – C5D DAC line output

The DAC’s line output crosstalk measures at -86.1dB, outperforming our reference requirement of -80dBFS. Note that crosstalk is limited by 3.5mm cables in actual use (still excellent).

Crosstalk
Crosstalk (C5D DAC line output)

The IMD CCIF test checks DAC performance during simultaneously playback of 19kHz and 20kHz tones. C5D returns excellent results here, with minimal blurring between the high frequency signals (noise below -120dB). Total distortion measures well at a very low 0.0013%:

IMD CCIF: 19kHz + 20kHz, -7dBFS.
IMD CCIF: 19kHz + 20kHz, -7dBFS.

Low Latency Filter

The PCM5102A DAC used in C5D features a configurable low latency filter. In testing, we’ve observed no significantly audible difference. C5D ships with its Low Latency Filter set High.

C5D’s firmware is released freely under the Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 license. Refer to line 55 if you wish to experiment with the PCM5102A’s LLF feature. Note that a programmer and pogo pins are required for DIY tinkering.

Amplifier Performance

C5D’s amplifier and supporting power circuitry is identical to that of C5, with the exception of an additional bass boost level and smaller output resistors. Output impedance of C5D has improved to 0.62Ω. This specification change minimally impacts overall performance, and ensures neutral operation with low-impedance balanced armature IEMs.

Amplifier Specifications

Frequency Response +/- 0.1 dB
THD+N (20-20kHz, 150 Ω) 0.0015%
THD+N (20-20kHz, 32 Ω) 0.0045%
Noise -105 dBu
Crosstalk @ 150 Ω -67 dB
Inter-channel Phase @ 1kHz +/- 0.01 degrees
Channel Balance +/- 0.55 dB
Max Output @ 600Ω 4.146 VRMS
Max Output @ 150Ω 3.580 VRMS
Max Output @ 32 Ω 1.182 VRMS
Power Supply 14.0 Vpp
Output Impedance 0.62 Ω
Battery Run Time 7-12 Hours
Charge Time 2-4 Hours
Operating Temp 0°C to 60°C
Operating Humidity 0 to 85% Relative
Dimensions 99.5 x 61.5 x 14.0 mm
Weight 4.2 ounces

Triple Bass Boost

C5D’s bass boost has three positions: Off / Medium / High. The High position is identical to C5’s bass boost, with the Medium level residing audibly halfway between off and high. Below are C5D’s bass boost curves in low gain:

C5D Bass boost reponse at Low Gain
C5D Bass boost response at Low Gain (2.3x)

These curves relax at high gain, in effect producing four unique bass boost curves:

C5D Bass Boost Response at High gain
C5D Bass Boost Response at High gain (6.5x)

DAC Compatibility

Compatible Requirements
iPhone Yes Camera Connection Kit and iOS7
iPad Yes Camera Connection Kit
Windows XP/Vista/7/8 Yes
Linux Yes
Android Some ROM and OS must support UAC1
Mac OS X Yes

Android

We considered developing C5D for fully native operation with Android, and discovered the goal is presently futile. Even a DAC designed for native functionality via Android’s Open Accessory Protocol remains limited to 16-bit, 44.1kHz operation. And even then, support is not 100% guaranteed across all Android devices! Only an app like USB Audio Recorder Pro unlocks full 24-bit digital audio, by utilizing alternative drivers.

C5D works with every Android device we’ve tested under USB Audio Recorder Pro. We met a few Android users at the 2013 CanJam who successfully used C5D natively (i.e., with any app). Some Android phones and tablets output UAC1 natively. Others require special ROMs or apps.

Guaranteeing DAC operation with all Android devices is currently not realistic. Since Android is opensource, it’s definitely possible to enable 24-bit digital audio output on any Android device. Hopefully Google will make UAC1 output standard in future Android updates to simplify the user experience.

The good news: C5D is self-powered, so its power consumption is not a limitation. You’ll only need to enable digital audio output on your device if it’s not already available.

iPad and iPhone

C5D works out of the box with iPad and iPhone! Apple has finally enabled UAC1 output as of iOS7. You simply need a Camera Connection Kit cable. C5D is self-powered, so power consumption is of no concern.

iPhone connected to C5D at CanJam
iPhone connected to C5D at CanJam

Questions?

 

 

 

Endplate Experiments & RCA Jacks for ODAC

** Scheduled Maintenance: We’re moving our server tomorrow night at 1:00AM CST, Saturday, July 14th. Anticipated downtime is 1-4 hours. JDSLabs.com may be difficult to access in some parts of the world for the next 24-48 hours while our new IP address propagates. **

CNC Experiments

Nick has spent the past three weeks making noise, breaking drill bits, and splashing super fun blue coolant all over the office. Most people don’t pick up mechanical engineering and machining as new “skills” in just three weeks, but we do what we have to here.

First batch of reasonable test parts, despite artwork mistakes and over-sized screw holes

With the basics of CNC’ing out of the way, our attention has turned back to the reason we bought the CNC in the the first place. We want brilliant quality, and we want our parts now.

We’ve specified brushed aluminum on our endplates since they were first designed. It turns out that most aluminum suppliers do not offer brushing. The process is a time consuming and challenging task even for most machine shops. That was a disappointing discovery!

Our endplates will still be brushed, but this sourcing realization led us to experiment with the aluminum. The test pieces shown above were machined at our shop on Friday afternoon, then plated on Monday morning in downtown St. Louis. Clear alodine and black anodizing finishes both look fantastic. And it was all done in under 2 business days. 🙂

O2+ODAC Rear Panel with 3.5mm Output

Rear B2-080BK endplate with 3.5mm ODAC output

Although we don’t recommend that you install a 3.5mm output jack on your O2+ODAC, some customers have requested to do so anyway. This is for you: Machined O2+ODAC Endplate w/3.5mm output. These are made from stock endplates included with the Box B2-080 cases, thus, the price is lower than other endplates.

RCA Jacks for ODAC

RCA jack on an O2 Endplate. Hey, it fits!

Okay, this isn’t an ODAC or even a reasonable device. But it is a proof of concept for our Standalone ODAC w/RCA outputs.

We’ve avoided RCA outputs on the Standalone ODAC for several reasons. RCA jacks take longer to assemble and cost more than a 3.5mm jack, but this has been irrelevant to our decision.

We haven’t offered RCA jacks on the ODAC due to virtually identical performance: Why complicate a product with multiple variations and increased build cost at no benefit? The 3.5mm jack on the ODAC circuit board is wired to the same line output header as used by RCA jacks. Some customers have asked, “Aren’t 3.5mm cables more lossy than RCA?”. As NwAvGuy has stated, characteristic impedance is a non-issue in unbalanced audio systems. There are no impedance mismatches to be concerned with, and there are no significant losses resulting from the use of a 3.5mm cable. Crosstalk might change negligibly (1-3dB), but overall, it’s a myth that RCA cables are less lossy than 3.5mm cords. Case in point, why would NwAvGuy (an audio benchmark and measurement fanatic) have designed the ODAC with a 3.5mm jack if it were “lossy”? He wouldn’t have! I’m sure NwAvGuy can provide benchmarks if badgered.

3.5mm to RCA Cable
3.5mm to RCA Cable

Moreover, you can use a common 3.5mm to RCA cable for direct connection of a 3.5mm device to an RCA device.

With all of that said, it’s easier to build products customers want, than to convince everyone that what we’re building is the best solution.

So last week we set out to fit RCA jacks into our Standalone ODAC enclosure. I had briefly collaborated with Stefan of Head ‘n’ HiFi earlier this year on the Standalone ODAC case. We’d been asked by NwAvGuy’s contractor to lead the design and distribution of a standardized ODAC case for the DIY community. I wanted ultimate enclosure quality, and was willing to wait until late July for a custom case fabricated in the USA.

However, Stefan wanted cases immediately, and didn’t think he could fit RCA jacks into our thin case, with only 10mm to work with (a typical RCA jack is 9.5mm). Stefan’s a nice guy, but we had to agree to disagree on our design goals. Product excellence is more important than expedited delivery and cost, especially when a product will stick around for years to come.

Despite the tiny clearance, we’ve managed to design ODAC endplates that will accept 2x RCA jacks and still fit into our thin ODAC enclosure, without losing ground isolation. This is only possible due to a beautiful, black anodized finish. More pictures are coming soon. For now, imagine the gold RCA jack pictured above on our Standalone ODAC.

ODACs are scheduled to arrive July 19-25. All Standalone ODACs will ship by the end of July.

On the ODAC, and Recent Reviews

Okay, this post is in reply to our full email inbox this morning. Regarding NwAvGuy’s upcoming ODAC:

  • JDS Labs is an official distributor of the ODAC
  • An ODAC preorder page is live
  • ODAC production began late last week in the USA, and will take about 4 weeks (release = May 2012)
  • NwAvGuy has not released specific information yet; we have little more information than what’s already revealed in his blog [Edit 4/18/2012: Now Released]
  • ODAC absolutely requires a headphone amplifier for proper operation

I know many of you are looking forward to installing ODAC in your O2’s, or having it retrofitted at our factory. (For those new to this project, three wires from ODAC must be soldered to input jack terminals P1 on the Objective2, a couple traces must be cut, and the 2x9V batteries must be removed.) A retrofit is a nightmare of a design choice for us. Sorry, NwAvGUy! Soldering one DAC is no big deal for a do-it-yourself’er, but we’re faced with soldering hundreds. And that means hundreds of our past O2 customers might want to send their amps in for the upgrade. Cost for the O2+ODAC retrofit will be announced after ODAC is released. But we’ve devised a far more elegant solution.

Option 1: Standalone ODAC in Enclosure

NwAvGuy equipped ODAC with an optional 3.5mm line-output jack, for use with other headphone amps. It just so happens that ODAC fits into the same custom aluminum enclosure we built for c421. Nick sketched new end-plates, and voila:

This is only a preview! We’ve printed prototypes and tested fit. Design files are now under review by our machine shop, so things could change based on manufacturability.

Placing ODAC in a standalone enclosure means:

  • Objective2 owners can add an ODAC without modifying their perfectly good amp
  • All features of the O2 are retained (no need to remove 9V batteries)
  • Standalone ODACs can be paired with any headphone amp!
  • Same performance as coupled to the O2

This standalone ODAC edition will be added to the preorder page as soon production begins–any day now. Available approximately upon release of ODAC.

Option 2: O2+ODAC Combo

As NwAvGuy plans, we’ll offer ODAC preinstalled in new O2’s, which will look something like this:

These will also appear on our preorder page after production begins. Available approximately upon release of ODAC.

Option 3: O2+ODAC Retrofit/Upgrade

Identical to option 2, but for those who already own an Objective2. Available in late May.

Option 4: Assembled ODAC PCB

Consists only of an assembled ODAC circuit board–no amplifier or enclosure. This is the only offering on our preorder page for now. Ships mid May.

ODAC SUMMARY

As you can see from the above images, the ODAC product lineup is well underway. All prices and preorder options will be available by the end of May.

A Note on Reviews

The first time I browsed to Headfonia.com, I couldn’t imagine seeing our products on Mike’s awesome review site. It was all high-end gear, way beyond anything we’d built at the time. So I was surprised when Mike e-mailed me for a cMoyBB sample in early 2011. The review went well.

Note: We are not a Headfonia sponsor. In fact, we don’t sponsor or endorse any audio publications. I’d rather see our great products spread through the audio community by word of mouth, and use cash-flow instead to increase product development and distribution.

Headfonia Review - Flyin’ High: JDSLabs C421

Anyway, Mike posted a well received review of our c421 last month, with the OPA2227. But he was quite opposed to the AD8620, totally contradicting my opinion.

Then came the controversial Objective2 review, which led to a follow-up article from NwAvGuy.

I’m not taking sides. I fully endorse NwAvGuy’s work and his rebuttal, and I’ve always been a fan of Headfonia.

I personally prefer to listen to c421 with bass boost on, with DT-880’s. I have nothing bad to say about the Objective2. It’s a technically brilliant amp. But I’m a bass boost guy. Hence, cMoyBB.

The fact is, audio is subjective. NwAvGuy can post measurements and discuss psychological theory all day long, but we’re humans. Our brains operate subjectively (“expectation bias”, as NwAvGuy wrote).

Case in point, Nick says O2 and c421 sound the same. But Nick isn’t an audiophile and doesn’t spend his free time reading audio forums and reviews. He just knows that JDS Labs sells nice headphone amps.

I don’t intend to discredit Mike or Headfonia. There’s a lot of truth to what NwAvGuy writes, especially in regards to expectation bias. Mike e-mailed us after the O2 review went live; I replied explaining that I wasn’t disappointed. He expresses his honest opinion in his reviews. NwAvGuy blogs about objective audio engineering. JDS Labs has to tie everything together. We build amps that we believe in, both in terms of design, and in terms of taste/expectation bias. We receive dozens of emails each week asking for comparison of one amp to another. While I could steer a customer one way or another, I sincerely avoid replying in depth to any of these messages.

Read reviews and blogs. Read specifications. Look at pictures. Borrow a friend’s amp, or go to an audio meet. In the end, pick an amp that meets your needs and expectations.

Sticky Bumpers

I bought a birthday card this weekend for my grandfather. When I handed the card and envelope to the cashier, he said “Thanks for doing that!”

I asked, ‘Sorry, what do you mean?’

“You placed the barcode face up.” He shook his head and explained that not many customers realize the time he spends flipping cards over for the cash register to read…

No big deal. Similarly, you’ve probably seen these before and will agree that they’re a minor detail, but nevertheless awesome:

Adhesive Bumpers! Unfinished c421 pictured.

These adhesive bumpers attach to any surface. Use four on the bottom of your cMoy, Objective2, or c421 to keep the amplifier from sliding off your desk. They also work great in-between your amp and audio source or phone.

Red 3mm LED

Red 3mm LEDs have also been added to our store. You’ll need one of these to build a rechargeable cMoyBB v2.03R.

Production Updates

The bumper photo above is an engineering sample of our final c421 enclosures (without final brushed coloring). c421’s will ship at the very end of February.

Free adhesive bumpers will be included with every c421 preorder and case shipment. 🙂

Cyber Monday – O2 Front Panels!

It’s doubtful I can convey anything more worthwhile than the pictures, so here’s this week’s big news:

Looks amazing, doesn’t it? Nick had a difficult time stepping away from the 3D model:

Our JDS Labs branded O2 front panels and fully assembled O2’s are available now for preorder.

c421: Quality Inspection 3

Continuing from our last update, the third batch of c421 cases arrived last week. To our great dismay, the manufacturer damaged our $1500 custom die (a tool to make the cases), so batch #3 turned out far worse than the first two batches. Instead of scratches, batch #3 pieces weren’t even the correct shape.

We’re moving case production to a high precision aluminum manufacturer. These guys understand the perfection we’re seeking and will ship nothing less than excellent. Since they’re starting from scratch, it will be February before final c421 cases are ready.

All c421 preorders will be shipped this week in batch #2 cases. You will be able to request a final case for free in February. Batch #2 cases aren’t terrible; they’re simply not up to our standards. Keep watching for more updates…

Side note: We had no trouble with c421 front panels. O2 panel production really will be done by January! We’ll post a “lessons learned” story when this mess is finished.

O2 Boards, c421 Reviewed

It’s time for a few short updates. First, we’re helping out with NwAvGuy’s do-it-yourself O2 project. Bare O2 circuit boards are in stock:

O2 Objective2 PCB, Front

The O2 has created a stir in Head-Fi.org’s do-it-yourself community. After posting one too many “objective” (or possibly stubborn) comments, NwAvGuy found himself banned from the forums. He proceeded to design O2 for maximum benchmark performance to prove his points. It’s large and heavy, so hardly worth consideration as a portable amp, however, O2 so far lives up to its name.

c421: Quality Inspection 2

We hoped quality control of c421 enclosures wouldn’t turn into a saga, but here I am posting a progress update. The second batch of enclosures arrived in much finer condition than the original run. Although better, we also rejected batch #2 due to minor manufacturing scuffs. Dozens of phone calls, e-mails, and meetings later, we’re approximately two weeks away from receiving enclosure batch #3…

Assembled c421's in enclosure batch #2 (sitting atop our office subwoofers).

Therefore, the November 14th ship date may slip. We’d rather ship great products late, than ship ‘okay’ products early. All c421 preorders will be held until the final batch of cases are available. Onto the good news:

  • Anyone who has preordered may request immediate shipment in a batch #2 case; final enclosures will be made available in a few weeks (free + shipping).
  • Samples were sent to professional reviewers last week, and initial feedback of c421 is strong! Customer Tony .G writes:

    “Got the headphone amp and wanted to say that I’m quite happy with my purchase!  Can’t wait to put in some good listening time.  I’ve just given it a limited run and it is quite stellar.”

  • Hexibase of PWK Designs posted a great unboxing:

Welcome, Nick!

JDS Labs is quickly expanding. Nick has joined our team to help with soldering, programming, and new product development.

Rechargeable cMoyBB, First c421 Image

Rechargeable cMoyBB v2.03R

When we released the NiMH Module earlier this year, the idea was to bring recharging to the cMoyBB in a versatile fashion. Owners of existing cMoyBBs could add the feature to their older amps, and there was no need to revise the cMoyBB circuit board.

cMoyBB v2.03R Printed Circuit Board

But, the charging module placed too many limitations on the amp: no 18V support, batteries were difficult to remove, and the dual DC jacks confused new users.

As of this week, the NiMH Module is discontinued. In its place is a brand new cMoyBB v2.03R circuit board, which adds simple NiMH recharging support to the cMoyBB.  The cMoyBB finally accepts single- or dual-9V NiMH batteries!

Slip-on on 5.5 to 3.5mm Barrel Adapter

Ordering a rechargeable cMoyBB has been streamlined as well. Simply select standard or rechargeable.

To make matters even easier, we now stock a rare 5.5mm to 3.5mm barrel adapter. This allows you to power the cMoyBB from common AC/DC adapters, including most laptop power adapters.

NiMH vs. Alkaline vs. Li-Ion

Adding recharging support to the cMoyBB has never been a high priority, despite popular request. We’ve avoided it for a few reasons:

  • NiMH batteries are typically 1V weaker than alkalines = Less voltage swing.
  • NiMH recharging circuits lose 0.7V-1.2V on top of the battery voltage! More lost output power.
  • NiMH run-time is about half that of alkaline batteries
  • Separate AC/DC adapter required
  • Long charge time (10-12 hours)
c421 - High Performance Li-Ion Headphone Amplifier

If you’re using moderately low impedance headphones (under 64 ohms), a single 8.4V NiMH is usually adequate for high volume amplification. Even if you have higher impedance headphones, voltage is no longer an issue since the cMoyBB v2.03R supports 18V (2x9V)!

For top performance, a fixed voltage Li-Ion amp like c421 is the way to go. You’ll always have maximum output power, long run-time, and short charge time. For those who have already pre-ordered c421, we’re 1 week ahead of schedule!

c421 Pre-order Goes Live

Someone reminded us that we haven’t posted a c421 update in “forever”. Today’s your day:

  • The c421 preorder page is now up! Note that the release date is tentative, so the page cannot yet be found through our store, and the formal announcement e-mail has not been sent out. We’ll send the official message when the date is 100% certain.
  • Features, specifications, and a description of c421 can be found on the preorder page.
  • Fewer than 95 amps are available for pre-order.
  • Price: $169

Quality Inspection 1…

The first batch of enclosures arrived Monday, but we rejected the shipment due to a total lack of packaging. Every single case was scratched. I don’t know about you, but if I’m paying $169 for a device, it better look decent! The manufacturer is redoing the job immediately. This sets us back 1-3 weeks, but high quality is more important than speed.

Timeline

Assembled c421 circuit boards are scheduled for arrival by October 24th [Edit: Arrived OCt-21]. If you preorder now and get impatient, we can send the amp in a temporary rejected enclosure. You can order another enclosure later for the cost of shipping. Just send us a note.

October 31 is the earliest expected shipment date. Realistically, we anticipate all preorders to ship by November 14.

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest

It’s 1PM Wednesday and I’m scrambling to fly out to Denver for the 2011 RMAF. We’re not exhibiting, however, I will be wandering around the show. Tweet (@jdslabs), e-mail, text, or call if you’d like to hear c421!