JDS EL DAC: A mini-review, and a warning

Kvn_Walker

Kvn_Walker

Senior Audioholic
I was planning to spend more time with both my Cambridge DacMagic 100 and the JDS EL DAC, but circumstances detailed below have made this a one-pony show. I want to say that the JDS DAC is a fine-sounding piece of equipment and would be easy to live with... except that it's not a good choice for my specific use case.

For those who don't know, I use my Windows PC as my media hub. After we moved, noise issues (possibly from the electrical in the rental house) have led me to trying external DAC's vs the PCI-Express sound cards I've relied on for so long.

I purchased two external units, the Cambridge DacMagic 100, and the JDS EL DAC.

Sound-wise the JDS is virtually indistinguishable from the Cambridge (to my ears),other than my perception of a slightly stronger bass response with the JDS. It could be my imagination, and even if not, it isn't a huge difference. Both sound fantastic.

Overall I give the EL DAC a 4 out of 5 stars. The lost point is because of the horrendous POP that emanated from my speakers when I turned on the DAC for the first time.

corn pops.jpg


Turns out, the JDS does not have a soft-ON or a relay. Larger power amplifiers generally don't have volume controls so the sound level is controlled from the source. If the amp is on, then the speakers get the full brunt of this turn-on noise. I contacted JDS and they confirmed as much.

I'd have to remember to always turn on the amp after turning on the DAC (and never before),and I can't trust my memory to do that every time. I'm certainly not going to risk damage to my speakers on my brittle short term memory. The Cambridge has a relay that affords 2 seconds of silence, so it stays and I'll have to sell the JDS unit.

Now in no way am I angry, nor it this a bad review. More just a PSA for anyone who might be considering this for a hi-fi system and connecting it directly to their speakers' amp. If you're buying this for connection to a headphone amp or an integrated amp, where the amplifier can be set to low gain on startup, by all means put it on your short list. I replied to JDS and suggested that they make a mention on their website about the lack of a delay mechanism. My disposition would probably have been 180 degrees different had I lost a tweeter or woofer.

I would advise against custom engraving however, since, while that is a cool perk, they do not take returns on custom designs.
 
P

PENG

Audioholic Overlord
I was planning to spend more time with both my Cambridge DacMagic 100 and the JDS EL DAC, but circumstances detailed below have made this a one-pony show. I want to say that the JDS DAC is a fine-sounding piece of equipment and would be easy to live with... except that it's not a good choice for my specific use case.

For those who don't know, I use my Windows PC as my media hub. After we moved, noise issues (possibly from the electrical in the rental house) have led me to trying external DAC's vs the PCI-Express sound cards I've relied on for so long.

I purchased two external units, the Cambridge DacMagic 100, and the JDS EL DAC.

Sound-wise the JDS is virtually indistinguishable from the Cambridge (to my ears),other than my perception of a slightly stronger bass response with the JDS. It could be my imagination, and even if not, it isn't a huge difference. Both sound fantastic.

Overall I give the EL DAC a 4 out of 5 stars. The lost point is because of the horrendous POP that emanated from my speakers when I turned on the DAC for the first time.

View attachment 31969

Turns out, the JDS does not have a soft-ON or a relay. Larger power amplifiers generally don't have volume controls so the sound level is controlled from the source. If the amp is on, then the speakers get the full brunt of this turn-on noise. I contacted JDS and they confirmed as much.

I'd have to remember to always turn on the amp after turning on the DAC (and never before),and I can't trust my memory to do that every time. I'm certainly not going to risk damage to my speakers on my brittle short term memory. The Cambridge has a relay that affords 2 seconds of silence, so it stays and I'll have to sell the JDS unit.

Now in no way am I angry, nor it this a bad review. More just a PSA for anyone who might be considering this for a hi-fi system and connecting it directly to their speakers' amp. If you're buying this for connection to a headphone amp or an integrated amp, where the amplifier can be set to low gain on startup, by all means put it on your short list. I replied to JDS and suggested that they make a mention on their website about the lack of a delay mechanism. My disposition would probably have been 180 degrees different had I lost a tweeter or woofer.

I would advise against custom engraving however, since, while that is a cool perk, they do not take returns on custom designs.
The are many low cost DACs that measured well, and should perform better than the dacmagic 100.

For those interested in ext DACs, audiosciencereview.com is a good source of info.
 
Kvn_Walker

Kvn_Walker

Senior Audioholic
Heh when I searched Audioholics for "DacMagic" a couple weeks ago, your name came up quite a lot. I've wondered why you didn't care for it, but I didn't want to thread necro. I went ahead and pulled the trigger on it anyway because most user reviews were pretty favorable. I'm not disappointed with it, and I at least know it won't ever send the Pop of Death to my amp. A soft, quiet turn-on is something enthusiasts should be able to take for granted by now. This DAC that I can't use cost me nearly $300.

I've spent so many hours reading and reading and no matter which unit you research, some say it's the best out there and others say it's trash. I've had to close tabs in disgust when I realized I had stumbled onto an "audiophile" site and the discussions turned into which $565,000 coax cable had the most air and fluidity, because you know, 1's and 0's, right?

Ironically, for as long as it's been out, the DacMagic has never been reviewed by ASR. I was toying with the idea of loaning Amir mine, but now I would be left with nothing unless I purchased another to tide me over. And to do that means... more hours spent reading and pulling my hair out.
 
lovinthehd

lovinthehd

Audioholic Slumlord
I've spent so many hours reading and reading and no matter which unit you research, some say it's the best out there and others say it's trash. I've had to close tabs in disgust when I realized I had stumbled onto an "audiophile" site and the discussions turned into which $565,000 coax cable had the most air and fluidity, because you know, 1's and 0's, right?
LOL that is a nice summation of reading what folks say about their favorite dac vs others'.
 
P

PENG

Audioholic Overlord
Heh when I searched Audioholics for "DacMagic" a couple weeks ago, your name came up quite a lot. I've wondered why you didn't care for it, but I didn't want to thread necro.
It is not true that I don't care for it if you were referring to me. I was tempted by the magic plus a few years ago every time it went on sale but move on as they quickly became outdated and better by many lower cost options.

I do have a usb dacmagic XS and love it. I also love my CA preamp a lot. The only thing I have against CA is that they don't use a better DAC chip, presumably just to save a couple dollars (if that..). I know people say implementation matters and that is true, but why not spend a couple more dollars to get a top or at least 2nd or 3rd to the top ESS, AKM, or TI chip? The Wolfson WM8742 has reasonably good spec and is compatible with some lower sampling rate DSD, yet the DACmagic100 can't play any dsd, at least that's the case last time I checked on them.

The WM8742's specified THD+N is -100 dB, vs the 3 or 4th from top chips found in D&M avrs AK4458's -107 dB, that is a significant difference. With the mediocre (at best) -100 dB, it is not going to measure well on any competent reviewers bench whether is is Gene, Amir or others and that's even if it is implemented in the best possible way including the differential/balanced approach (obviously in that case it should help close the gap... ) Practically speaking though, -100 dB is 0.001%, still better than most power amp specs, so audiophiles will not likely hear a difference, compared to the AK4458's 0.00045% (more than 4X lower).

Sorry I don't mean to say anything negative about what you own, but I just thought if you care enough about using external DAC for better sound quality (okay, let's say you have the ears for it...),that nowadays you can get one for much less that offers superior specs on paper, and verifiable by measurements, and I hope you would try one out. I still have 7 or 8 DACs in my systems, none of them would cause any pops with any of my preamps/prepros/avr. May be they all have relays but I didn't bother to check because I have never experienced such an issue, though I am sure some of them do have some sort of quiet turn on feature.
 
Kvn_Walker

Kvn_Walker

Senior Audioholic
....

I did buy one that has superior specs on paper. Other than possibly a better low end, I could not discern a difference. And the manufacturer confirmed there is no delay circuit, so anyone connecting that unit directly to their amp is going to get a nasty pop when they turn it on

The Cambridge 100 definitely has a relay because I can hear an internal click and the sound doesn't play until 2 seconds after turning it on. It also clicks immediately upon shutoff so there's no discharge into the amplifier inputs on shutoff either. That's good safe design, and should be baseline.

I will have to sell this unit first and cut my losses, but I am interested in other products under $300 with no headphone amp (an unnecessary added expense) so suggestions are welcome.
 
Kvn_Walker

Kvn_Walker

Senior Audioholic
Got a bit retrospective this morning and it dawned on me that I've been using a PC as an audio device for over 20 years now

SoundBlaster 16 was sweet, but then ISA got phased out in favor of PCI.

I got an SB16 PCI but I remember it sounding pretty crappy. Funny I just looked it up on wiki and sure enough it was a SoundBlaster 16 in name only. It was based around an entirely different chip.

I kinda remember trying a few others since the SB16 pci was so bad. I know I had an Aureal A3D card at one point. It was my first experience with true positional audio, and I was hooked. From that point until we bought the house in 2011 I always used surround audio. Was super fun especially in shooter games...

Back on track when Creative released the SB-Live I jumped on it. It was a step up, but I don't think anything up to that point was equal in SQ to the original SB16. I remember doing comparative tests between the Live and the crap Realtek integrated, and the Live was better, but by no means great. And the drivers were junk. This was the beginning of Creative's bad reputation for junk drivers.

Then came the Audigy. That was a HUGE leap in sound quality over the Live. I switched back and forth several times (damn how did I use to have so much free time?) and there was no comparison. The clarity and detail were unbelievable. I would call the first Audigy the first true "audiophile" sound card I had owned.

I eventually got an Audigy 2 ZS and it was a minor upgrade over the original Audigy but not earth shattering. I fought with driver issues for years though, ultimately using the Daniel K drivers for peace of mind. I lost some features and options with those vs Creative's, but I had to trade off for stability. That's Creative in a nutshell- great hardware, horrendous software.

Then came the fabled C-Media CM8788. After hearing all the raving over this chip, I finally dumped the Audigy 2 for an HT Omega Claro Halo XT. And WOW they weren't kidding! It was as huge a leap over the Audigy 2 as that card was over the Live. I mean I had never experienced that level of detail and crispness. It was one of those "I never thought it could get any better" epiphanies. And the added plus was never having to deal with garbage Creative drivers again.

When the Claro began to fail last year (noise supression was shot so I could hear way too much interference) I went with the Xonar Essence STX, which is also CM8788 based. I just loved that sound. Heck if I could find an external DAC with that exact sound I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

So it's been a journey and now that journey has taken me outside of the box since I've started down the external sound card road. Who knows where it'll lead me.

Once I get my replacement PC power supply put in, I think I'll reinstall the Xonar and compare it to the Cambridge. The DacMagic is different, but I can't call it "better" necessarily. Quiet passages are eerily quiet, in a way that's harder to explain. There's "quiet" and there's "dead" and I'd place the external DAC's in the latter category.
 
Last edited:
P

PENG

Audioholic Overlord
but I am interested in other products under $300 with no headphone amp (an unnecessary added expense) so suggestions are welcome.
This is my newest addition to my DAC fleet:


It measured a touch better than my Oppo HA-1 that I paid a lot more (3.5X iirc) for. Anything from the green group should be more than good enough in terms of specs and measurements. Whether "good enough" means you can pay a lot more but there won't be audible improvements, is a different story.
 
Kvn_Walker

Kvn_Walker

Senior Audioholic
There's a revision of the SU-8 right around the corner so I'm going to hold off till then. Looks like it'll have a knob and a better interface.

In the meantime I got a Musical Fidelity M1-DAC rev A off eBay. It sounds beautiful, but has two dealbreaker traits. It doesn't pop turning on, but pops when turned off. Whatever sense that makes. And it forgets its input selection when turned off, and defaults to coax. Had me scratching my head the first couple times why I wasn't getting any sound. At least the seller offers hassle free returns, so back it goes.

I'm starting to get the feeling that these companies (except for Cambridge) aren't taking the user experience into consideration at all. Even more annoying are the "professional" reviewers who don't point out any flaws and are only allowed to say "good things" and "lesser good things" by their advertisers.
 
P

PENG

Audioholic Overlord
There's a revision of the SU-8 right around the corner so I'm going to hold off till then. Looks like it'll have a knob and a better interface.

In the meantime I got a Musical Fidelity M1-DAC rev A off eBay. It sounds beautiful, but has two dealbreaker traits. It doesn't pop turning on, but pops when turned off. Whatever sense that makes. And it forgets its input selection when turned off, and defaults to coax. Had me scratching my head the first couple times why I wasn't getting any sound. At least the seller offers hassle free returns, so back it goes.

I'm starting to get the feeling that these companies (except for Cambridge) aren't taking the user experience into consideration at all. Even more annoying are the "professional" reviewers who don't point out any flaws and are only allowed to say "good things" and "lesser good things" by their advertisers.
To avoid pops, power amp should be turned on last, and turned off first, but I am sure you know that already. My stuff don't pop anyway except my diy passlab amp, but I still follow the best practice on/off sequence regardless.
 
Kvn_Walker

Kvn_Walker

Senior Audioholic
Yeah it's the fact that anything is still made this way... it's not the 1990's anymore so this kind of design is unacceptable for me. A DAC shouldn't POP, a preamp shouldn't POP.

If a sound card from the previous decade could get it right, if a $200 DAC can get it right, then there is zero excuse for more expensive "high end" equipment to get it wrong.
 
slipperybidness

slipperybidness

Audioholic Spartan
Yeah it's the fact that anything is still made this way... it's not the 1990's anymore so this kind of design is unacceptable for me. A DAC shouldn't POP, a preamp shouldn't POP.

If a sound card from the previous decade could get it right, if a $200 DAC can get it right, then there is zero excuse for more expensive "high end" equipment to get it wrong.
Hey, but those relays and other circuit add-ons just degrade your pure audio signal :rolleyes::rolleyes::rolleyes:o_Oo_O
 
Kvn_Walker

Kvn_Walker

Senior Audioholic
Hey, but those relays and other circuit add-ons just degrade your pure audio signal :rolleyes::rolleyes::rolleyes:o_Oo_O
:D Yes I cannot wait until they invent the BRAINDAC and we can plug USB cables directly into our heads. :D Hmmmm I don't know though... when all that's left are cables, that means the Audioquest's of the world have won...

In seriousness, I'll have some news soon on this front. How soon, and whether the news is good or bad, is TBD though.
 
BoredSysAdmin

BoredSysAdmin

Audioholic Overlord
I've paid around $80 for my current PC external DAC and I'm happy with it:
I consider it an improvement over my old AE D1 dac
 
panteragstk

panteragstk

Audioholic Ninja
Got a bit retrospective this morning and it dawned on me that I've been using a PC as an audio device for over 20 years now

SoundBlaster 16 was sweet, but then ISA got phased out in favor of PCI.

I got an SB16 PCI but I remember it sounding pretty crappy. Funny I just looked it up on wiki and sure enough it was a SoundBlaster 16 in name only. It was based around an entirely different chip.

I kinda remember trying a few others since the SB16 pci was so bad. I know I had an Aureal A3D card at one point. It was my first experience with true positional audio, and I was hooked. From that point until we bought the house in 2011 I always used surround audio. Was super fun especially in shooter games...

Back on track when Creative released the SB-Live I jumped on it. It was a step up, but I don't think anything up to that point was equal in SQ to the original SB16. I remember doing comparative tests between the Live and the crap Realtek integrated, and the Live was better, but by no means great. And the drivers were junk. This was the beginning of Creative's bad reputation for junk drivers.

Then came the Audigy. That was a HUGE leap in sound quality over the Live. I switched back and forth several times (damn how did I use to have so much free time?) and there was no comparison. The clarity and detail were unbelievable. I would call the first Audigy the first true "audiophile" sound card I had owned.

I eventually got an Audigy 2 ZS and it was a minor upgrade over the original Audigy but not earth shattering. I fought with driver issues for years though, ultimately using the Daniel K drivers for peace of mind. I lost some features and options with those vs Creative's, but I had to trade off for stability. That's Creative in a nutshell- great hardware, horrendous software.

Then came the fabled C-Media CM8788. After hearing all the raving over this chip, I finally dumped the Audigy 2 for an HT Omega Claro Halo XT. And WOW they weren't kidding! It was as huge a leap over the Audigy 2 as that card was over the Live. I mean I had never experienced that level of detail and crispness. It was one of those "I never thought it could get any better" epiphanies. And the added plus was never having to deal with garbage Creative drivers again.

When the Claro began to fail last year (noise supression was shot so I could hear way too much interference) I went with the Xonar Essence STX, which is also CM8788 based. I just loved that sound. Heck if I could find an external DAC with that exact sound I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

So it's been a journey and now that journey has taken me outside of the box since I've started down the external sound card road. Who knows where it'll lead me.

Once I get my replacement PC power supply put in, I think I'll reinstall the Xonar and compare it to the Cambridge. The DacMagic is different, but I can't call it "better" necessarily. Quiet passages are eerily quiet, in a way that's harder to explain. There's "quiet" and there's "dead" and I'd place the external DAC's in the latter category.
Funny, I've had damn near every soundcard you have with the exception of the x-fi that I used until I went full USB DAC/Amp. Before that I simply used HDMI out because it would carry any audio format untouched to my main rig. Only reason I have a DAC now is because I have a set of desktop speakers for work/gaming. If I want sound quality out of my PC I go to the main rig in the office via HDMI. It's just easier.

Granted, I quit using HTPCs full time years ago. Foobar 2000 and JRMC are both still great pieces of software though. Especially for my few DVD-A and SACDs.
 

newsletter
  • RBHsound.com
  • BlueJeansCable.com
  • SVS Sound Subwoofers
  • Experience the Martin Logan Montis
Top