If you want to skip to the actual comparison, click here to jump to the Table of Contents. If you want a compelling reason to just buy the Objective 2 right away, click here! If you’re looking to make a quick decision, let me steer you in the right direction.
I got a chance to demo both with some great headphones, and my conclusion is this:
I A/B tested both of these Amps back and forth for awhile and came to the conclusion that there isn’t a huge difference in sound between them. Admittedly, the Element did sound a bit better on a few tracks, but it was very subtle and may not be noticeable to an every day listener.
When the Element did sound better, it was because it provided a tad better resolution, life, space, clarity, and thump. It also seemed to handle the fast paced nature of “Peace Sells” by Megadeth better than the Objective 2. The differences however are very subtle.
The actual, measurable differences come in the form of power output and some cosmetic changes. The Element does provide more power into all Impedance ratings, but the Objective 2 is still ridiculously powerful in it’s own right as well. More on that later. What is Headphone Impedance?
So what’s my recommendation?
I think if you’re on a budget and don’t really want to spend as much, the Objective 2 is an easy solution. It’s going to work with pretty much anything you throw at it, and it’s going to sound stunning regardless. Being that you don’t actually have the Element to compare back and forth, you’re not going to suddenly feel like you’re missing out on something. I think what it really boils down to is just raw power output. With both set at 12 ‘o clock with the gain switches on, the Element sounds louder. When you simply turn up the volume a bit more on the Objective 2, (about 1-2 ‘o clock) I think the sound is roughly the same.
For instance, without the Element as a buffer, I was simply flabbergasted at how good the Objective 2 sounded. The Element simply improves on that a little more.
I would say if you are looking for an all in one desktop solution, and dig the aesthetic of the Element, it’s an amazing Amp. You’re still going to be able to hear each individual note of John Paul Jones’ bass with either though, so get excited friend. With a headphone like the HD600, you really start to get a feel for how artists and bands interact with each other during a track. It’s really something special.
So with that:
Why should you even purchase an Objective 2? Glad you asked. Here are 5 reasons:
It’s price to performance ratio is astounding. This is a unit that provides near impeccable clarity, detail, resolution, air, and spacing. It will make all of your headphones sound better. It even opens up the Soundstage a bit on my HD600’s! Learn more: Sennheiser HD600 Review.
It’s neutral and clean. This is an honest representation of how the music sounds. No BS. If the song sounds bad, it’s most certainly the recording and not the Amp or headphones.
It has a ton of power with a low output impedance. This baby will work with pretty much any headphone, and may be all you ever need for quite awhile before you decide to upgrade to something like a Chord Mojo.Learn more:Chord Mojo DAC Review!
It’s rugged and durable. Don’t tell JDS Labs, but I yanked it a couple times by accident with my headphone jack and it slipped off the top of my Modi and hit the desk. The unit is such a rock that it was completely unfazed by the hits and kept on ticking like Mick Foley. 😛
It’s highly customizable. You can buy it with or without the ODAC. You can add your own DAC. You can use it as a Gaming rig (an incredible one at that). You can rear or front mount the power jack. You can buy it with a 1/4″ headphone jack or 3.5mm. You can choose 5 different gain settings. You can buy it with batteries installed. It comes with 3.5mm line input for hook up to other DACs and sources. If you’re like me and prefer RCA/Analog, you can buy it with those instead. Note: Customization features are on the JDS Labs Website.
Choosing and Amp and DAC can seem like an arduous task.
There’s so many to choose from nowadays that it’s getting quite ridiculous. When I first started out, I had no idea what a DAC even was. Two of the first questions you might ask your self are “Do I need an Amp”and “Do I need a DAC?”
These are both good questions, and shouldn’t be ignored. The answer will largely depend on a couple of factors:
The lowerthe Sensitivity a headphone has, the more current it requires.
The higher the Impedance a headphone has, the more power it requires.
That’s a really simplified way of looking at it, but it works well for our purposes today. Impedance is simply the resistance and reactivity that the headphones present to the amp as an electrical load.
For example, a headphone like the Sennheiser HD600 has a low (ish) Sensitivity at 97dB, and has a high impedance (300 Ohm). It most certainly needs both power and current. If you don’t provide it, the headphone simply won’t sound loud enough and you’ll feel as if you wasted your money.
But as far as what a DAC is? Let’s go over it real quick!
What is a DAC anyway?
A DAC is simply a Digital to Analog Converter my friend. It converts the digital signal from your computer (the 1’s and 0’s) into the sweet sweet analog sound that you hear. Related:What is a USB DAC?
In a microphone recording, you’re screaming obscenities into the mic and your computer has to process it into language that it can understand (called binary). It does this in the form of 1’s and 0’s. So essentially, either of these processes can be happening depending on what you’re doing.
All an amp does is amplify that conversion and resulting signal from the DAC to a listenable level. This is why it’s important to have a good DAC in the first place.
If you’re stuck with a poopy DAC like the built in one of my Lenovo T510, you’re in for a world of pain like Smokey from Big Lebowski.
It’s a league game Smokey. Lol.
Why will you be in for a world of pain like Smokey if you use a crappy internal DAC?
Simple answer: You will only end up amplifying an average, below average, or even downright bad signal.
To prove my point, I just did a little experiment with my Magni Amp from Schiit.
Right now I’m using the Element, as well as the Objective 2 Amp with the Modi DAC because I’m demoing both.
The Objective 2 does not have Analog or USB inputs, so we have to use one of these RCA to mini (3.5mm) cables. I’m currently using the ones pictured to the right if you were interested to know.
This cable’s 3.5mm jack plugs into the front of the Objective 2. The RCA males run into the back of the Modi.
Now because I have this cable, I was able to do an experiment.
I ran the mini end of the cable into the 3.5mm jack on my laptop, and the RCA ends into the Magni. This basically means I’m using the internal Soundcard of my laptop as a DAC (discussed previously). What is a Soundcard?
In a nutshell?
The sound wasn’t bad per se, but it took the gain switch on PLUS the volume turned up all the way to reach a listenable level.
I was actually quite surprised by how decent the actual sound quality was once I got it loud enough, but you could hear a clear difference vs. the magnificent Objective 2. There was really no comparison as far as crisp detail, impact, cleanliness, and weight. My laptops internal Soundcard DAC was a bit flabby/loose sounding, with poor volume and some faint static/noise that I could hear.
In no way ideal, friend.
One thing to keep in mind is that I am in fact using an older laptop with a somewhat bad internal Soundcard. Newer laptops, PCs, and newer technology have come a long way. Whereas 5-10 years ago (and beyond) you had to put up with this sort of thing, nowadays most computers, phones, tablets, etc. do provide better built in converters. You may not even need a DAC at all in some cases, but for audiophiles it’s kind of how we roll. 😛
Alternatively, you could also use something like a FiiO E10K as a standalone DAC. Instead of using the RCA to mini that we discussed above, you would use a simple 3.5mm to 3.5mm interconnect cable such as this one.
The main point?
Invest in a good DAC. Also understand that it’s not necessary to go crazy in buying a really expensive one. The differences are fairly marginal in my opinion, and a DAC around $100-200 will be more than enough. The important thing is to just have one.
Power Brick. The Element has a 16VAC power input while the Objective 2 has 15VAC. Make sure to only use the power bricks supplied for best results. The brick for the Element is also quite a bit larger. ‘Merica.
Power Output. The Element provides more power than the Objective 2. We’ll get into the numbers in a bit!
Power Indicator. When you turn on the Element, a halo ring light comes on below the large volume knob. Pretty sweet! On the Objective 2, a small red light comes on to the left of the smaller volume knob.
Aesthetic/Size. The Element looks radically different than the Objective 2. It resembles a small turntable, while the O2 looks like your standard issue Amplifier. The Element also leaves a much larger foot print than the more compact O2. This could be a determining factor depending on the amount of space you have.
Knobs. The Element has that huge knob in the middle and it sits on top. The Objective 2’s knob is small and sits on the front facing you. Both have indicators as to where they would sit on a clock, but only the Objective 2 has the dashes that actually mimic the time.
Feel. The gain switch and power button on the Objective 2 are a bit different than that of the Element. On the Objective 2, you push the button in, and it comes back out slightly before clicking into place. On the Element, the buttons just make a hard and fast click. The clicks also sound a bit different on each. Both are rugged in their own right.
Headphone Jack. While you can customize the size of the headphone jack, the default on the Objective 2 is a 3.5mm input. The Element provides a 1/4″ jack on the front, and is geared more towards headphones needing more power.
RCA/Analog. The bare bones version of the Objective 2 has nothing on the back, and doesn’t provide RCA inputs or outputs. The Element does provide 2 pairs: 1 pair of Analog inputs and a pair of automatic DAC Line Outputs. This basically enables you to switch between powered monitors and headphones with the click of a button. What are studio monitors?
Sound. As mentioned before, there is a small difference in sound quality between the two, but in my estimation it’s fairly minuscule and takes a lot of going back and forth to discern. A lot of the time you won’t even really hear a difference unless you turned up the volume a smidgen on the Objective 2 to match the Element (since it provides more power and doesn’t take as long to reach louder levels). That said, the Element sometimes does provide a bit more clarity, resolution, air, and space, but it doesn’t happen on all tracks and it’s not a huge discrepancy at all.
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Let’s take a look at my notes!
By the second page you can see that my impressions were mostly about the same from song to song. There was really no point in going any further. I have also tested both of these extensively while not directly A/B comparing and they both sound fantastic and roughly the same give or take.
You may be wondering about my source files. Most were Spotify and some were iTunes CD quality as well as some Vinyl rips. 44.1/96kHz, 256/1411kbps, 16 bit. Would I have preferred 24 bit? Yes. The important thing to remember is that the average human cannot even hear 20kHz. Even the most trained ear can’t hear much past that. 44.1kHz is perfectly fine here considering that both of these DACs have great converters.
If you would like a more in depth discussion on this topic, My article on Bit Depth vs. Sample Rate goes further with these concepts from a more technical/scientific standpoint.
I am also very familiar with all of these tracks and know how they sound like the back of my hand. I can detect subtleties a lot easier than with tracks I haven’t heard quite as much. For the comparison I mostly stuck to:
Because the HD600 isn’t quite as good with Jazz or Classical as something like an HD598, I left those genres out this time around. Learn more:Sennheiser HD598 Review!
It’s also important (or not so important) to note that I was using a Modi DAC to pair with the Objective 2. Is there a whole heap of difference from DAC to DAC? Not really in my estimation. A $100 DAC will do you just fine in most cases, and sounds pristine. The differences from DAC to DAC are even more minimal than that of headphone amps. You’re just not going to perceive it very easily. I got a chance to try out a Cambridge Audio DAC Magic 100 as well and the conversion is a tad better but it could have just been my imagination.
As stated in the open, I think the Objective 2 is a perfect solution for most people. I absolutely loved my time with both though. From a cosmetics and convenience standpoint, I think I do prefer the Element over the Objective 2 but I can’t use the Element for Gaming on a console so there’s that. Learn more: The Best Headphones for Gaming (plus lots of Amps).
I have a soft spot for the Objective 2 and would recommend it to most people starting out. You can always try the Element later. The thing about these two is that they will sound pretty similar most of the time. The Element does provide more power, but how much do you really need at that point. It’s like throwing gasoline onto an already blazing fire.
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, attend church, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His strict attention to detail and perfectionist attitude are what allow him to excel and stand out among-st the crowd.