HomeAmps/DACSThe JDS Labs Objective 2 Headphone Amp | THE MR. CLEAN OF AMPS?
September 23, 2018
The JDS Labs Objective 2 Headphone Amp | THE MR. CLEAN OF AMPS?
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3,265 word post, approx. 6-7 min. read
Big thanks to the folks over at JDS Labs for sending me this unit! I am not being compensated by them for this review in any way. I’m simply giving my impressions of the Amp. Read on to find out what I thought!
Before we get into the JDS Labs Objective 2 Headphone Amp Review, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..
You’ve come to the right place!!
What I will bring you in this review
My goal for this article (and all articles really) is an attempt to outline everything you could possibly want to know about the stuff in question. In the case of today, it concerns thefantastic Objective 2, a powerful entry level amp from JDS Labs that trumps pretty much anything else in it’s price range or otherwise as far as value, price to performance ratio, clarity, and cleanliness.
With that, let’s take a look at this articles contents and find out what the review will entail!
One of the first things you might ask yourself before purchasing a set of audiophile headphones is: “Will I need an Amp?”
It’s a question that simply cannot be ignored, especially if your headphones have a lower Sensitivity and/or a higher impedance. How to choose a Headphone Amp!
The second question might be: “Will I also need a DAC?”
The issue of Amps and DACs can be confusing if you’re new to the hobby, and a lot of the time it’s simply because people fail to explain it with any sort of clarity.
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.
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 Objective 2 Amp with the Modi DAC because I’m demoing it.
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.
Here’s a brief list of options that will serve you well:
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into build. We’ll discuss some of the practicality of this stuff in a bit!
The build quality of the Objective 2 is most excellent.
It’s just heavy enough, and feels solid, rugged, and durable. I feel like if I dropped it on the floor it would survive rather easily, and be ready to take more abuse. 😛
The volume knob feels solid, along with all of the input and output jacks. The gain button as well as the power switch both feel satisfying to push in, and not cheap at all. We’ll talk about the gain and it’s effects on sound in a bit.
There’s really not much more to say about this puppy. Surely it’s a bare bones unit simply because it’s a standalone amp, but the build quality is fantastic and far exceeds what it should feel like given how affordable it is.
As mentioned above, this is a bare bones amp, but it does provide a gain button which will come in handy for headphones that simply need more juice, power, or voltage for you technical nerds. 😀
The great news is that this baby provides a ton of power into most any impedance level. Let’s look at the specs again real fast:
Max Output (33 Ohms): 613 mW
Max Output (150 Ohms): 355 mW
Max Output (600 Ohms): 88 mWOW. Lol.
With my HD600 it provides more power than you could ever want or need. For reference, the 600’s with their 300 Ohm impedance need 20mWof power to perform at an optimal level. You can see the 02 easily meets and surpasses these requirements.
For comparison’s sake, an HA2 from Oppo provides 30mW into 300 Ohm, which just makes the cut.
Without the gain button pushed, I find 2 o’clock to be around the sweet spot for this headphone. You simply won’t need to push it past this, so there’s a ton of headroom which I always appreciate out of an amp.
With the gain button pushed in, I find 10-11 o’ clock just about right.
Not only that, but even pushed past 2 ‘o clock and beyond, distortion is non-existent. This amp is clean as a whistle even at ear piercing levels. I do not recommend keeping the volume this high for extended listening, obviously. I simply tested it for at most a couple seconds just to see what would happen. I also did NOT turn the dial all the way. There is simply no need to do so.
Keep in mind that the HD600’s Sensitivity sits right on the cusp of being low. At 97dB, it needs a fair amount of current to sound loud enough. What is Sensitivity in Headphones?
The fact that the Objective 2 drives the Sennheiser to listenable levels with absolute ease tells you just how valuable a piece of equipment it is.
With something like an HD650, I find it’s much easier to reach a stable spot with the volume level and leave it there. At 103dB of Sensitivity, you’ll discover that it doesn’t need as much current and therefore is more predictable with regard to sound level. I tend to adjust and re-adjust the volume a lot more with an HD600, whereas with the 650 it’s more “set it and forget it.”
Not only does it work with all headphones, but it leaves a pretty small foot print on your desk.
It’s extremely good at it’s job, much like an efficient co-worker who gets sh** done.
The sound of the Objective 2 is certainly it’s most impressive quality. Coming from an Amp/DAC like the HA2 or E10K, you can clearly (no pun intended) understand what NwAvGuy’s (Northwest Audio Video Guy) intention was when designing and building this amp.
In 2 words: Cleanliness & Clarity.
This amp is one of the most transparent offerings that I’ve heard out of roughly 15 demoed at the time of this article. In a comparison with the HA2 and E10K, you can tell that there’s a hint of warmth in those, vs. the complete sterility of the Objective. It reminds me of ice actually. It’s cold and clinical, so be prepared to hear everything in it’s most raw state (good or bad). If the song sounds bad, it’s most certainly the source, and not the headphones or amp.
Fortunately the majority of tracks left me speechless with regard to clarity, micro detail, air, space, dynamics, instrument timbre, resolution, attack, sustain, decay, I’m running out of words. This amp really has a way of separating instruments and pinpointing specific sounds with laser like precision and accuracy. What is Timbre?
It’s like you’re getting a glimpse into the recording environment where the track was made. You kind of get a sense of being in the studio with certain tracks, as there’s this phenomenal sense of spacing and air.
You may be familiar with the somewhat narrow image of the venerable HD600. They are almost notorious for not having a very good Soundstage. The precision and instrument separation is there, but the image itself isn’t very wide.
Enter the Objective 2.
I’m not saying that the Soundstage here magically becomes 100x better, but what I am saying is that it improves tremendously. I’ve experienced more “out of my head” feelings with the 600 paired with this amp than any other I’ve tried. There were a few times in particular where I perceived the sound coming from outside of the cans, which is something that rarely happens with this headphone.
For those looking for a fantastic desktop starter amp, look no further than the 02. It’s a logical first pairing and will likely be a mainstay for years to come, even if you decide to upgrade down the road. It’s a great benchmark standard for what an amp is supposed to deliver. Can we say JDS Labs and NwAvGuy fulfilled their “Objective” with this amp? Ha.
Fortunately, I also got to try out the Objective 2 paired with a DAC Magic 100 for Gaming as well!
The results were stunning to say the least.
There was again, a ridiculous amount of head room with the amp, and I only had to turn the dial to around 12-1 ‘o clock to get a loud and crisp sound.
The clarity and dynamics of the gaming environment in Fallout 4 really came to life to a startling degree. Soundstage opened up considerably, and I was able to hear sounds all around me with great precision. What is Soundstage?
As with music, the amp is also squeaky clean for Gaming, with no distortion even at much louder levels. Every intricate detail can be heard and felt with this thing, and in my mind it’s one of the only rigs one would ever need for console gaming.
If you’re into FPS shooters, I would imagine having either of these set ups with a great pair of headphones and a mic would be like cheating. There’s simply not a sound that escapes your perception.
If you’re familiar with the PS4, there’s ambient music that plays when you’re at the dashboard. I always thought the music itself was pleasant, but never gave it much of an in depth listen. With the Objective 2 paired with Craig Boyles’ Black Mage, the sound took on an entirely different character. I sat still for 10 minutes dissecting the intricacies of the song, which is fairly stunning when you consider that I have bad ADD. 😛
It was as if the song itself longed to be understood, admired, or even just thought about. I heard micro details and instrumental passages seemingly so far away through the headphones that it simply astounded me.
In order to hook up a DAC to your console, it will need to have Toslink/Optical capabilities. Here are the 3 DACs I recommend for this purpose to pair with the Objective 2.
JDS Labs OL DAC. Mentioned at the start, this one should be your go to pairing with the Objective for Gaming and music, as they were designed specifically for one another. The OL DAC can be bought as just a USB DAC, but you’ll want to upgrade to the USB + Optical on the JDS Labs Website.
Schiit Modi Uber. This is a great unit and perhaps all you will ever need as far as DACs are concerned. The original Modi sitting in my studio (mentioned earlier) only has RCA and USB. The Uber is more flexible with it’s USB, Toslink SPDIF, Coaxial SPDIF, and RCA outs.
Cambridge Audio DAC Magic 100. This is about $100 more than a Modi Uber, and has all of the above. RCA output, Toslink/Optical, S/PDIF, and USB. It’s a great unit and one that I personally used with the Objective 2. The results were stunning to say the least!
The Objective 2 gets an easy A+ as I’m sure you might’ve guessed.
The only nitpick I had was no bass boost, which some people actually really do need. I used to be a bass head but nowadays prefer balance, clarity, and texture out of the low end, with a cup of coffee to compliment it. I don’t put my pinky out though. 🙂
This amp is simply a must buy for a budding audiophile, and quite an easy recommendation given it’s build, form factor, ergonomics, and stunningly accurate and detailed sound.
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.