JDS Labs ATOM Amp


#1

As you guys likely now the team at JDS Labs has released a new $99 solid state the ATOM Amp, having spend the better part of the night with it I’ve found my self impressed with just how clean and powerful it sounds, and even beyond that I love that is has dual inputs and a RCA Pre-Amp out!

Offical Specs are listed as follows

  • THD+N, 1kHz, 32 Ω0.0008%
  • THD+N, 20Hz-20kHz, 32 Ω0.0012%
  • IMD CCIF 19/20kHz 32 Ω0.0002%
  • IMD SMPTE 32Ω0.0005%
  • Noise, A-Weighted-114 dBu
  • Crosstalk @ 150 Ω-87 dB
  • Output Impedance0.7 Ω
  • Channel Balance< 0.6 dB
  • Max Output @ 600Ω125mW (8.68 VRMS)
  • Max Output @ 150Ω502 mW (8.66 VRMS)
  • Max Output @ 32Ω1 Watt (5.66 VRMS)

#2

The specs and measurements look encouraging.

With more power than the Objective 2, much better ergonomics and better measurements it makes me wonder why one would pay more for an O2 at this point.

Shame it’s housed in plastic though … that’s going to clash with the rest of JDS Lab’s offerings.

I’ll have to order one to include in my ~$100 amp comparison.


#3

I like the little Objective 2 Amp and use one sometimes. But I have to agree with the Atom they seem to have surpassed it. Like you say no need to buy the O2 over the Atom now. I look forward to your roundup.


#4

Look like a great little amp for not a lot of money. The entry level section of amp and DACs continues to get more interesting, and competitive. Hope I get a chance to hear this at some point. I could definitely see a matching DAC coming out some day as well, which would make for a very attractive stack.


#5

It won’t clash as much as you think. It looks kinda like CNC in person, doesn’t feel like it of course but looks quite simmilar.

I’ll post a pic of a full JDS Labs stack later tonight

An I imagine they intend to discontinue the O2 at this point, as this product reflects how they as a company have grown!


#6

I know Amir reviewed this and Reddit is absolutely abuzz about it. In a good way. Seems like it measures very well for $99.

Excited to see what you think!


#7

Yes it will.

Plastic vs. metal is always blindingly obvious - at least to me.

Hell, just the different “blacks” on otherwise identical Massdrop units stick out to me like a sore thumb.


#8

You could always ask them if they’d be willing to build a custom order for you in a Metal Chassis!

But your right, only you know you! An in my dimly lit office [I burn candles at night] nothing stands out as much. So I imagine in a more well lit space it would be much more visually obvious.

I also don’t wear my glasses in the office, so that likely doesn’t help either lol


#9

I could, but I’m only buying it for a comparison review.


#10

I can concur on the Massdrop discoloration, I’m not the biggest fan of the MCTHs coating, but I really like the Airist R-2Rs coating/paint job.


#11

Running my modded Grado with a Soft inner word Hard outer word Sleved over top, like a PS Series but wood built around a Magnum V7 driver and dual sleeved to help make it… not so humpy in the lows. Most of the time I strongly prefer this headphone with either my modded SET or my Vali 1. I almost never listen to it on solid state with the exception of my HM601 which… sounds like syrup.

However line out from the 601 into the Atom is quite nice! It really doesn’t sound like it’s there, that is to say it’s quite transparent. So where as the Vali 1 and even the hm601s crapola opAmp sound hazy, with the Atom there’s clarity, so no haze but there’s still a very natural timbre but without any noise If that makes sense. To further elaborate, I would NEVER feed the HM601 into the Vali 1. That would just be too messy, too… soft and “romantic” no thanks. Rather I feed straight from either my EL Dac or most of the time my NFB10ES2 reference system.

How ever with the ATOM & HM601 I get a lot of similarities in tonality and detail even though the staging and imaging aren’t quite as impressive. My point being, the amp neither adds nor takes away. It reminds me a lot of my Head Amp Pico Power.

And to a lesser degree my iBasso PB2 which runs LME 49900s but in a fully balanced configuration. Now Switching to something nicer like a Soundaware P1, the P1 sounds… equally “not there” but there’s detail the P1 pulls out that I don’t get from the Atom, very fine transient information and staging cues that are just simply not audibly present with the Atom.

So I imagine, scaling up from the Atom MicroDetail/Transient response/imaging or staging cues and even “plakton” are what a nicer amp will bring assuming your DACs not the bottle neck.

An to further elaborate, while I feel the iBasso PB2 is tonally neutral, it’s not entirely transparent. The iBasso in particular is… very authoritative. It typically brings an aggressiveness into what ever system I have it in. An the Soundaware P1… does but doesn’t, I find the P1 again more clearly defines transient response, and even pulls out detail that the PB2 doesn’t. So in a sense it’s equally as impactful but without the perception of being “aggressive” that is to say it’s Transparent!

More to come of course!


#12

Man, that Light ring though! Hmmm…must resist…must resist!


#13

So I’m now at the end of my second night with the JDS Labs Atom, an tonight I had a curious thought.

How would the EL Dac and Atom combo sound? An how would that $350 Combo compare to the fully balanced Fostex HP A4BL which you can get for a cool $455 on Amazon right now?

I decided to perform the test simply, play one song volume matched from each system from my Shanling M2S in full lossless format. The M2S was fed digital out via a USB C adapter and into each of the Dacs “most optimal” digital input. I also used the Fully Balanced output of the HP A4BL and to the end to end Single Ended output of the EL Atom system. Again I felt that this was fair as I was using the “optimal” output for each system or the output that the systems were designed around.

In short, the EL Dac/ATOM Amp system aboustley destroyed the Fostex All in one in three key areas.

  • Power
  • Sound Quality
  • Functionality

Power

I did a simply test for this, I played some Pink noise in Mono and turned the amp all the way up. Now I also did this test with 2 other headphones, so I’ll list the results for all three below

  • HD 800 [300 Ohms @ 102 dB/ 1V RMS]

  • ATOM Amp - 66.7 dBs on Low Gain

  • HPA4BL - 66.4 dBs Balanced Out On Low Gain

  • AKG K240m 1980’s Model [600 Ohms @ 88 dB/mW]

  • ATOM Amp - 68.6 dBs on High Gain

  • HPA4BL - 65.1 dBs Balanced Out on High Gain

  • Dekoni Blue [50 Ohms @ 92dB/mW]

  • ATOM Amp - 74.4 dBs on High Gain

  • ATOM Amp - 63.1 dBs on Low Gain

  • HPA4BL - 64.1 On High Gain

So clearly, the ATOM offers more power with less gain. A standard I’d say for clean power delivery at the $99 price point!

Also regarding how I generated this numbers, I played Pink Noise in Mono [Right from the David Chesky Ultimate Headphone Demo Disc] and a measured output with an SPL Meter, and for most tracks both have enough volume. But I’ve got a lot of classic and some Metal that’s mastered quietly and the HP A4BL didn’t get quite loud enough… and by loud enough I mean an Average of 85 dBs. I’d also like to point out that when performing the same test with my Fiio E17, the E17 can also bring the Dekoni Blue up to about 65.8 dBs on High Gain… so there is no situation or scenario where we as consumers should accept this kind of down right poor power delivery in a fully balanced solid state desktop product at this price point! I personally want the option to listen to ALL of my music, not just the stuff that’s mastered SUPER LOUD.

An YES Digital volume was at 100 or max on my source for all tests

Features & Functionality

This one’s easy we just have to look at the back plates!

  • Fostex HP A4BL

  • a mini SD Card slot maybe?

  • Optical In and Out [Zeo’s would love that]

  • USB In

  • 1 Pair of RCA Outs

  • 1 Complete USB Failure/Drop out that required a full unplug and reset

  • EL Atom System

  • Coaxial In [I like that!]

  • USB In

  • Optical In

  • 1 Pair of RCA Pre-Amp Outs

  • 0 Complete USB Failure/Drop outs that required a full unplug and reset

In this case, I feel the RCA Pre Outs more than make up for the lack of Line Level Outputs. Though I guess you could technically feed output from the ATOM Into a Tube Amp if you so wished! I’ll likely discuss that very concept/feature in another ATOM Based System. But I feel strongly that the more reliable USB Implementation and other functional features of the EL Atom system make it the clear victor in this category too!

Sound Quality

While in Low Gain the HP A4BL sounded… acceptable. But use of High Gain introduced far too much noise, enough that there was a noticeable loss of detail and a noticeable hiss during silence and quieter passages of music. So I under no circumstances used High Gain unless necessary. An thank gawd the HD 800 didn’t need it!

Other wise, the Fostex HPA4BL sounds terrible overall, even with it’s two digital filters

  • One of which has a very POLARIZING sound so;

  • BRIGHT HIGHS,

  • FAT BASS

  • Smeared harmonics in the Mid Range

  • Spacious but lacked precision

  • Never quite congested but often presented sounds a bit disjointedly

  • While the other

  • More tonally balanced but very often suffered from congestion

Thankfully, the HD 800 actually did sound the best out of the three headphones I tried with this unit, but even still it was nothing memorable to listen to.

However, I found that the EL Atom system was noticeably better. It’s lack of noise and distortion translate universally as benefits for ANY headphone that it has enough power to drive assuming your Dac isn’t the bottleneck of your system or assuming you don’t have an equally noise/distortion free system in place

So with noise and distortion this low we get

  • No Audible Hiss or static
  • More detail retrieval
  • clearly defined transients
  • Clearer Lyrics [Like I literally couldn’t make out some words on the HP A4BL]
  • improved positional cues and imaging
  • Natural tonal balance throughout the spectrum
  • it’s not “explosive” or “smooth”
  • No harshness in the highs or excessive softness in the bass and midrange
  • No added “weight” or “hardness” or “impact”

Overall the EL ATOM system had a more balanced presentation, so again

  • no emphasis or de-emphasis on any harmonic content,

Just a system that as a whole sounded much more natural with no audible changes to frequency response.

All in all I again implore you guys who are on the fence about what Solid State amp to get to give the ATOM Amp a try especially if it’s your first! Its is hands DOWN a breathtaking unit to listen to and it unquestionably sets a new standard for what’s possible from a $99 Amplifier! At least in my mind anyways.

Now this isn’t to say the ATOM is perfect as there are two things it doesn’t do,

  • Drive my PreFazor LCD 2
  • Resolve detail at the same level of my fully balanced Geek Out v2+ or Soundaware P1 or even my NFB10ES2 All in One

But again, for a $99 amp it’s astonishingly good and I even feel confident in saying the Single Ended output of the Atom is a clear step above my own NFB10ES2 single ended output, but that shouldn’t surprise any of you since the NFB10ES2 was designed to be operated and listened to from it’s balanced outputs.

Still, it’s everything I want from a solid state amp. Tonally neutral and transparent, with clean power as that lack of distortion & noise translates literally into “fidelity” and I have to say this is one of the few solid state amps I really enjoy my HD 800 with and I feel that’s because the ATOM eliminates all possible notions of “pairing”


#14

An I’m happy to say the quantity of output in dBs is more than sufficent with the Atom even on Low Gain for the LCD 2, but again I feel that the overall power is lacking.

So tonight I’m exploring more subjective comparisons featuring all of my portable Solid State amps both the balanced and un balanced ones!

Right off the bat, volume matched of course the issue I find with the Atom & LCD 2 Pre Fazor is authority and resolve in the lows, been playing this album/track a lot lately

With the Atom it’s loud, but there’s a lack of authority, when she lowers her voice the Atom doesn’t convey the slight weight of her chest, the same when the piano comes in. There’s a nice punch but no sense of weight or authority and that Piano has SUCH a heavy register!!! Very percussive and very deep, took me by surprise when I re-listened to this album the other night

Now switching over to the PB2, now I have sense of weight and authority. An it’s most noticeable for me on the release of those heavy piano key notes, as those note’s fade to silence you can still feel their weight. Gradually lessening but with sufficient power always present on the LCD 2 PreFazor. That’s it’s “magic” or appeal, that authority and bottomless low end resolve.

On the Atom that low end simply isn’t resolved at the level I expect, there’s just not sufficient power for the driver to be able to reproduce those transients at such low levels. Thus the one thing the LCD 2 does better than my HD 800 is missing, so I’ve no reason to listen to it on the Atom.

But again, for $99 I’m not by any means complaining. An it’s not entirely fair to compare the Atom to my PB2 which has been modded quite specifically around my LCD 2! I believe it does 2.5W max with a 32± Voltage Swing [if I’m stating that right] and to further improve if that big black thing is a battery pack that outputs a constant 16V with no sag [via what I think is an active conditioner built into the plug], plus 4 LME 49900 Op Amps alongside high Current Buffers [don’t have the specs at the moment but can get them]

Again, yes the Atom get’s loud but no it’s not powerful enough for something like the older PreFazor LCD 2. An I doubt it’ll be powerful enough for something like an HE 560. But thankfully there are plenty of amazing planars like the HE 4XX and LCD 2C/F that don’t need high powered amps like the PB2. An as I stated earlier it’s even more powerful than some balanced Desktop Amps!

I only really make that cast/point again’st the Atom to keep my impressions and review of it grounded. I give it a lot of praise, and a lot of praise is deserved. An even it’s faults are really non issues in the grand scheme of things.


#15

Great write up. I found it very informative as are all your write ups. Thanks, I enjoyed that.:grinning:. Makes me want to order one.


#16

Video review is up!


#17

I asked and they told me no.


#18

Thank you for the feedback! You can also request more weights for it. But they may do an update to the EL Amp which should be in a metal chasis!