Greetings mate and Welcome aboard!
Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear) all over again, so…
JDS Labs ATOM
Price: Check JDS!
In The Box
16VAC Power Adapter
- Frequency Response, 20Hz-20kHz: +/- 0.01dB
- SINAD @ 2VRMS, 1kHz: 119 dB
- SINAD @ 50mV, 1kHz: 90 dB
- SNR (20-20kHz): > 122 dB
- IMD SMPTE: -95 dB
- Noise (20-20kHz): 1.99 μV
- Crosstalk @ 10kHz 150 Ω: -92 dB
- Input Impedance: 10k Ω
- Output Impedance: < 0.7 Ω
- Channel Balance: < 0.6 dB
- Headphone Output: 6.35mm (1/4″)
- Analog Inputs: RCA and 3.5mm
- Preamp-Output: RCA
- Case Dimensions: 5.0 x 5.5 x 1.4 in
- Weight: 9.3 oz
- Dual Gain: 1.0x and 4.5x
- Volume Potentiometer Taper: 15A, Hand-Matched Gangs
I didn’t have an official ATOM review and figured now would be as good a time as any to make one, especially considering how often I recommend it.
My previous go-to neutral/clean amp recommendation was the Objective 2 from you guessed it, the same company in JDS Labs.
They’ve since discontinued that one which I’m kind of sad about, but it is what it is.
The good news is that the ATOM fixed some of the minor (but still kind of irritating) things about the Objective 2 – namely its weird choice of connection locations and overall implementation.
the Objective 2’s line input and power input jack were on the front and it made everything really awkward to set up.
Don’t believe me?
Take a look at this image:
Or this one:
I think you get the idea.
All of the main connections are on the back this time and are much easier to work with.
But how does the ATOM stack up with the old O2 otherwise?
Let’s address the elephant in the room first.
I hate to say it,
but The ATOM comes in at a rather paltry 9.3 Oz. and feels rather flimsy in your hand – nothing like the robust, rock-solid feel of the original Objective 2.
It’s made of mostly plastic this time around, and pressing the buttons isn’t nearly as satisfying as it once was.
The unit doesn’t move around on your desk per se, but it’s definitely more unstable than the Objective 2 and you may have to use your other hand to hold it as you’re adjusting the volume.
Fortunately, the gripes pretty much end there as far as I’m concerned.
On the front we’ve got the Volume potentiometer, 1/4″ headphone jack, gain button as well as the input button.
Connect your DAC using the outputs and plug the other ends into the ATOM using RCA or 3.5mm line.
Now press the input button on the ATOM and plug your headphones in.
If you want to use the ATOM as a preamp into separate speakers (such as the Presonus Eris e3.5), just run RCA to RCA or RCA to line from the outputs on the ATOM into your speakers of choice.
Then simply unplug your headphones and the sound routes through the speakers.
To switch back, plug your headphones in again.
Because it’s just an Amp, you’ll need to use a separate DAC and connect it to the ATOM with either RCA to RCA cables or RCA to mini (3.5mm).
This entirely depends on the DAC in question, but when I demoed the ATOM I used a DragonFly Red, FiiO K3 with an RCA to 3.5mm as pictured below:
Any DAC with RCA outputs or 3.5mm line output will work here.
Some other examples include a FiiO K5 Pro, JDS’ own ATOM DAC, a Zen DAC, a DragonFly Red, etc.
As A Preamp
Back when I demoed the ATOM, I didn’t have my Presonus Eris e3.5s yet, but I’ve been really enjoying them with an array of different setups.
Just make sure whatever speakers you utilize have RCA inputs or line inputs and are Active Speakers rather than Passive.
Passive speakers basically need a separate amplifier or receiver to run, while Active speakers do not.
Power Output & Sound
One reason why the ATOM remains a mainstay recommendation when people ask me for help is that not only is it affordable, but it’s also very neutral and clean sounding.
The original Objective 2 boasted an Output Impedance of <0.1 but still somehow managed not to sound completely cold, overly sterile, and/or lifeless.
This time around,
JDS has opted for a slight increase to around <0.7, but you probably aren’t going to notice much of a difference in terms of it being less neutral than its predecessor.
It’s still incredibly clean, and neutral, and sounds great with any headphones you might have, so don’t worry.
- Related: What is Output Impedance?
The ATOM is also a great value because of its power output.
Let’s take a look:
- Max Continuous Power @ 600Ω 136mW (9.05VRMS)
- Max Continuous Power @ 150Ω 545 mW (9.04VRMS)
- Max Continuous Power @ 32Ω 1 Watt (5.66 VRMS)
I appreciate that JDS Labs specifies Continuous power rather than peak power.
A lot of companies out there do NOT differentiate between them on spec sheets and I find it to be rather deceptive, especially since many folks aren’t even aware of the difference and would never know unless you pointed it out.
In any event,
the ATOM is well-equipped and provides more than enough power for 99.9% of headphones.
The majority of the time I’m not even using the gain button but if you’re anything like me, you’ll really appreciate the added headroom and peace of mind.
Continuing the tradition of clean sound, the ATOM ensures that the music you’re hearing is as neutral and honest as possible.
Due to its low output impedance, you can also expect it to deliver roughly the same output into any load (your headphone).
In other words, the device’s ability (in this case the ATOM) to deliver unrestricted current or power when passing a musical signal to your ears.
This is one of the biggest reasons why higher output impedance sources (like receivers for example) can sometimes radically alter the way music sounds – and not always in a good way.
This also brings Tube amps into the equation, but that’s a can of worms for another day.
Just know and understand that I recommend the ATOM a lot because of its ability to realistically and honestly portray the music in its most raw and genuine state – without any details or artifacts missing.
Low-ish output impedance is also important because of what we just touched on – that is, there are hundreds of different types of headphones out there all with varying Impedance and Sensitivity ratings.
A low output impedance amp means your experience listening to music will be much more consistent and won’t vary wildly depending on the headphones you’re using.
As nice as it is to have an amp like this, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
One of the main reasons why low output impedance isn’t always ideal is due to source discrepancies.
In other words,
how well the music was recorded, mixed, and mastered.
If the quality of the source is poor, an amp like the ATOM, in conjunction with your headphones, will absolutely reveal that and it might not make for a very pleasant experience depending on who you are.
The flip side is that sometimes it can really enhance the experience and you may even enjoy those quirky errors and abnormalities in the track.
So in short,
tube amps sometimes mask errors and subtle artifacts in recordings while solid-state amps like the ATOM most certainly do not.
As far as matching, most of the time, I’d say the majority, you won’t have to worry about it.
As long as the headphones in question are about 10x higher in impedance than the amplifier, you’re not going to lose out on any of the energy that the music provides and won’t be stressing out the amp.
Considering everything we’ve discussed today, the only thing left to mention is the price.
Would you believe that after all that, the ATOM is only about $100?
Hard to believe, isn’t it?
Yes, you’ll have to pair it with a DAC, so snag the ATOM DAC or E10K and be on your merry way.
With this setup,
you can also run an optical cable into something like a PS4 and use the setup for gaming/film as well.
The ATOM represents everything I love about entry-level products and it’s something I’ve recommended a lot over the last few years.
Because it’s an incredible value and sounds excellent.
I’m still recommending it today as a budget solution that doesn’t sound budget.
it’s a fantastic product that’s stood the test of time and likely will continue to as we move forward into the audiophile rabbit hole of oblivion that we’ll never ever be able to come back out of, ever.
Did ATOM receive a much-needed upgrade?!
Well that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this JDS Labs ATOM Review and came away with some valuable insight.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!
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Does the ATOM sound like a can’t-go-wrong purchase? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…
All the best and God bless,
It’s sad, after about one year of use one of the RCA inputs got a bit loose after unplugging the tight cable sold by JDS themselves and now if I connect any cable to it, there is a lot of ungrounded noise reactive to touching the plugged-in cable. The plastic case is a very unlucky solution and I would certainly welcome a more expensive amp with the same parameters, but in a metal case. When unplugging a tight RCA cable, the whole plastic back wall flexes. At first, I thought that it is somehow OK, but now I rather hold the back wall when unplugging cables from my other Atom amp. Sending the damaged amp for a repair would not make much sense for me, the shipping would cost as much as a new amp. However, the 3.5 mm input jack still works well. But overally, this occasion shook my belief in the perfection of Atom. On the other hand, it has not destroyed my headphones like some other amps do.
I totally understand your frustrations. I remember playing with the RCA jacks with my fingers and found them to be a little too “Wiggly” for comfort.
I love the unit but wish JDS would make any future iteration of ATOM as rugged as the original Objective 2. Everything about that one was perfect but it had the issue of weirdly place inputs and outputs.
Do you think you want to try a different amp?
I have been looking for a better amp even though even the damaged Atom is usable via the 3.5 mm jack, just for the sake of having a more reliable amp, but I have not found any amp which matches the parameter of +/- 0.01 dB within 20 – 20k Hz. The more expensive amps tend to boast with ranges above 100 kHz, but with larger deviations. I consider boasting with anything above 20 kHz a cheap trick possibly covering up that the largest deviation happens in the listenable range. So for now, I just intend to keep my Atoms and hold the back wall when working with RCA cables.
Ah, that makes sense. I would definitely reach out to JDS. They’re really awesome and I’m sure they would send you another one. Let me know what happens and I will also consider emailing them as they’ve sent me stuff in the past.
Hi Stuart. Starting in the hobby and wanted to get a Hifiman HE400SE, but heard it needs significant amplification. Wondering if the JDS Labs Atom can handle it. It seems like so from the numbers, but since the HE400SE has this weird 25ohm impedance (91db sensitivity) and I know these measurements aren’t linear, I got a bit confused.
Also, would I be able to simply go 3.5mm output from my Macbook Pro > JDS Labs Atom RCA input, or do I really need to (or absolutely should) get an external DAC?
That’s a myth, but yes you will need some sort of amplification. JDS Labs ATOM will be more than plenty. Yes, the 400se is a bit inefficient but you’d be surprised how easy it is to drive with most any amp.
As far as your DAC/laptop, I’m not familiar with those but heard they do have very good internals. I’d try out just an ATOM paired with the MAC via 3.5mm to RCA and then see how it sounds. If you’re not satisfied, then I’d get the ATOM DAC to pair up.
Keep me posted!!