I’ve gotten a chance to try out a few different JDS Labs offerings, including the Objective 2, the Element, and the cMoy BB, all of which sounded fabulous.
I have also long since respected their approach to audio, in which they value neutrality and quality sound over hype.
If you want to hear the music exactly as it’s intended to be heard, look no further than JDS Labs. No fuss, no muss, no B.S.
Nowadays budget audio is getting better and better. You don’t even have to spend that much to get phenomenal sound. In my mind, JDS Labs has always been at the forefront of this movement, ever since the infamous Objective 2 post by the mysterious “NwAvGuy” (Northwest Audio & Video Guy) that caused quite the disturbance in audiophile land back in 2011 up to the present day really.
Ever since then people started to realize that you didn’t have to fork over and arm and a leg to achieve good sound. Some people got mad about it. You mad bro? It was a bold move, but continues to pay dividends today as JDS Labs is a thriving company built on honesty and integrity rather than smoke and mirrors.
The ATOM is no different, as they continue the tradition of powerful, neutral, clean amps that deliver an amazing bang for your buck. The fact that this amp is only around $100 should be illegal. Lol.
So how about some quick specs?
I won’t list them out here. Instead head on over to JDS Labs’ website and take a gander!
We’ll talk a bit about power later, but for now let’s get into the meat of this thing!
Build & Features
I have to admit, I was a little disappointed with the weight of Atom when I first held in in my hand. Being that I’m so accustomed to getting extremely solid and rugged builds from JDS Labs, I was a bit taken aback when I expected it to be heavy and it was rather light.
It’s like that sensation of opening a door you thought was going to be super heavy. Instead of having to labor, you end up feeling like you have super human strength and it swings open fast, perhaps hitting you in the head or foot.
Now that’s not to say the build here is bad; by no means.
The knob on the face of the unit it feels very good to turn, and all of the connections and buttons feel solid. It’s just not an Objective 2 heft wise, and that made me a little sad frog.
On the front, we’ve got a 1/4″ headphone jack, the volume pot which also doubles as the on switch (just turn it and a white halo light comes on behind the pot), the gain switch for extra power, and an input button.
The input button toggles between RCA and 3.5mm input, while the gain button is just that, but it also enables the RCA outputs on the back.
If you weren’t aware, output is for sending audio to another device, like your studio monitors. What are Studio Monitors? Input is for receiving audio from somewhere else, like a DAC or receiver. Because of this, the Atom functions as a preamp as well as just an amplifier.
3.5mm interconnect (input). Perhaps the simplest method of firing up this bad boy. Plug one end into a line out of a DAC (I’m using the K3 currently), and plug the other into the 3.5 mil input on the back of the Atom. Plug in the K3 via USB to your PC. Turn on the K3 and push it to full volume. Now turn the volume up on the Atom to taste. What’s also cool about this method is that you can use the gain switch on the K3 to add some power as well. You can also apply this same concept via 3.5mm interconnect with something like an Audioquest DragonFly Red or Cobalt.
RCA input. If you have a DAC like a Modi or OL DAC, you could use the RCA out from either into the 3.5mm input or the RCA input on the Atom. For this either use an RCA to mini (3.5mm) cable or RCA to RCA.
RCA Output. As discussed above, Output sends the signal to another device. For this you could use some RCA to TRS cables or RCA to XLR to hook up the Atom to your favorite studio monitors! I’m using the JBL LSR 305’s. The Atom in this sense becomes an extremely versatile device with many uses.
Aside from that, the unit comes with a 16VAC Power Brick, and boy howdy is it rather large and in charge. Unfortunately, Atom doesn’t have an internal battery like the Objective 2 so it will need to be plugged in full time.
Still, the Atom is a desktop unit so there’s really no reason to ever move it or worry about unplugging the brick. In that sense, it’s totally fine (and almost preferred), since I strongly dislike messing around with wires after I’ve got everything situated.
Last but not least, there are 4 circular rubber pads on the bottom, and they are embedded into the unit. This ensures no slippage while it’s on your desk. I can affirm that these are indeed pretty effective. Even considering how light the unit is, it doesn’t move around too much.
Now that build and features are out of the way, let’s get into ergonomics and power!
Ergonomics & Sound
The Atom does provide a bit more juice than the original Objective 2. Let’s take a look:
Specs would indicate that the Atom is a bit cleaner than the Objective 2, with it’s Total Harmonic Distortion to be a tad lower, but to me it’s basically negligible. Again, you can check the specs of the Atom and Objective 2 for a more in depth look.
Let’s talk about sound while we’re kind of alluding to it!
To me there isn’t a whole mess of difference between the JDS Labs Atom vs. O2.
I’ve been listening to Atom for a month or 2 now (he talks quite a lot), and he’s just super clean and neutral. Never over the top in his beliefs, always ready to provide good sound, and immensely enjoyable.
Atom basically continues the tradition of the original Objective 2 but adds even more value to the overall package.
The O2 by itself was pretty bare bones, but you can still customize the crap out of it. Even so, you can’t modify it with 2 pairs of RCA jacks (1 Pair of Outs and 1 Pair of Ins), so it doesn’t function as a preamp though you can add RCA outs for about $15 more.
I think at the end of the day, I would probably go with an Atom because I can do all of the following with it:
Hook it up to my studio monitors.
Use it as my dedicated Amp (with separate DAC) on my desktop for music or gaming.
Hook it up to my PS4 (with the help of an OLDAC+Optical) for gaming.
Use it in conjunction with pretty much any DAC that inputs 3.5mm or RCA.
With the Objective 2 I can:
Use it as my dedicated Amp/DAC on my desktop for music or gaming.
Hook it up to my PS4 (with the help of an OLDAC+Optical) for gaming. Another option you have is to simply buy the combo and not have to worry about pairing with a separate DAC. The only caveat here is that you cannot customize it with RCA outs.
Use it in conjunction with pretty much any DAC via it’s RCA inputs and line input.
Aside from the slight practical difference of being able to use the Atom with studio monitors, there’s really not much in the way of sound difference here in my mind.
Is the Atom slightly cleaner sounding? Maybe, but it’s not a big enough difference for me to even care. I’m more concerned with practical application in this case.
My thoughts may change down the road, but for now I’d go with the Atom and call it a day.
If you’re a stickler for build and can’t get on board with how light Atom is (he’s a vegan), then go with the meat eating, carb cycling Objective 2. He’s meatier, beefier, and packs quite a punch. You would also go with the Objective 2 if you don’t really care about being able to pair it with studio monitors.
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.