PSA: Element is Not an O2

Recent discussions reminded me that misconceptions also surround Element, such as:

    • ‘Element is an O2+ODAC in a nicer box / Element has an ODAC inside’
      • False: While both are designed for transparency, performance and features differ: 1.5W vs 0.6W output power is substantial.
    • ‘Element clips’
      • False: Of course not! Like any good design, gain is configured to avoid clipping.
    • ‘Element is warm/dark/bright/muddy, V-shaped . . .’
      • False: Element is held to the same standard of transparency as all of our designs.
    • ‘The Element’s DAC uses AKM’s reference schematic’
      • False: Element has zero AKM chips inside. EL DAC is AKM based. Neither are reference designs.

Element is my favorite amp+DAC. I’m listening to it now, and keep another at home. It’s my endgame. We’ve updated the design three times since 2015, and until now, have shied away from drawing comparison. I originally expected that a direct comparison would encourage mixups, as the Objective line has such a deep community history. Turns out, the community compares Element to the older Objective line anyway. Okay, let’s compare. They look like this:

The Element Objective2+ODAC
Headphone Jack 1/4 in 1/8 in (default)
Auto Line Output YES NO
Mute Protection YES NO
Amplifier Output Stage LME49600 NJM4556
Amplifier Gain 1.0/4.7x 1.0/3.3x
PCB Stackup 4 Layers 2 Layers
Max Power @ 32 ohms 1.5 W 0.6 W


Amplifier Performance

AMPLIFIER SPECS The Element Objective2+ODAC
Frequency Response, 20-20kHz +/- 0.1 dB +/- 0.1 dB
THD+N 1kHz, 2VRMS Input 0.0009% 0.0016%
IMD CCIF 19/20kHz 150 Ω 0.0002% 0.0002%
IMD SMPTE 150 Ω 0.0004% 0.0004%
Noise, A-Weighted, 1.0x Max Vol -110 dBu -109 dBu
Crosstalk @ 1kHz, -14dBFS, 150 Ω -86 dB -78 dB
Output Impedance 0.1 Ω 0.54 Ω
Channel Balance +/- 0.56 dB +/- 0.6 dB
Max Power @ 600 ohms 140 mW 88 mW
Max Power @ 32 ohms 1500 mW 613 mW

Benchmarks and screenshots were taken for this article with stated test parameters to ensure fair comparison (some published test parameters differ for Objective2 and Element).

Amplifier Frequency Response, 10-22kHz

Amplifier THD+N, 1VRMS input, 20-20kHz, 32 Ω

Amplifier Noise, A-Weighted, 1.0x Gain @ Max Volume

Amplifier IMD CCIF, 19+20kHz

Amplifier IMD SMPTE

Amplifier Crosstalk @ 1kHz, -14dBFS, 150 Ω

Digital-to-Analog Converter Performance

DAC SPECS The Element Objective2+ODAC
Frequency Response +/- 0.15 dB +/- 0.04 dB
THD+N, 20-20kHz < 0.0031 % < 0.0029 %
Noise, A-Weighted -102 dBu -103 dBu
Dynamic Range (A-Weighted) > 112 dB > 112 dB
Crosstalk @ 1kHz, -10dBFS (RCA) -100 dB -86.4 dB
Sum of Jitter Components @ 11025 Hz -113 dB -112.3 dB
IMD CCIF, -6.03 dBFS, 19/20kHz, 24/96k 0.0011% 0.0015%
IMD SMPTE -2VRMS, 24/96k 0.0012% 0.0015%
Linearity @ -90dBFS -0.02 dB -0.08 dB

The DAC chipset is indeed the same, however, there is no physical ODAC RevB inside of an Element. The two boards were prototyped at similar times, and we happened to release ODAC RevB just before announcing Element. In fact, the prototyping success of Element’s DAC was strong encouragement to produce ODAC RevB with the same chipset.

USB Impedance

Notice that Element is built on a 4-layer PCB, while ODAC uses a 2-layer board. Differential USB signals require a characteristic impedance of 90 ohms, and this spec is only tightly controlled on a 4L board. Ideal USB characteristic impedance improves jitter and increases reliability of USB connections when using long cables (6ft+).

If there’s interest, I’ll also publish a deeper look at each DAC (Element, EL DAC, and ODAC). Feel free to ask questions!