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JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 – Crystal Clear Sound

JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 – Crystal Clear Sound

JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 is a $129 USD high-quality entry-level DAC for all sound systems with no volume control, but with optical and USB Type-C inputs, UAC 2 and UAC 1 fallback, and with a beautiful design, now with a metallic case and which comes with its own external power supply brick. Today we will take a dive into the workings of the DAC 2, the sound it offers and how it compares to other DACs from the same price range, including FiiO k11 (129 USD), Audioengine D1 (169 USD), and SMSL M300 SE (105 USD). 



JDS upgraded the AMP 2 quite a bit compared to the original AMP, but with the DAC, the biggest difference will be the new metal casing, and the sound which improved from the original JDS Atom DAC+. With the cleanest 2V DAC output you will hear up until you reach about 700 USD, it is a marvel of engineering that we have the honor of exploring and reviewing today. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases, and using the purchase links in my reviews helps me maintain this website and Youtube channel.

I’d like to thank JDS Labs for providing the sample for this review, in exchange for my honest opinion. This review is a description of my personal experience.


Product Link

You can grab one from the official website here – https://jdslabs.com/product/atom-dac-2/

You can grab one from www.amazon.com here – https://amzn.to/42E2vwY

If you’re in the UK, you can grab one from www.amazon.co.uk here – https://amzn.to/3SG29Bh

And if you’re from Europe, you can grab one from www.amazon.de here – https://amzn.to/3SJuqXw


Build Quality/Aesthetics

The new Atom DAC 2 has a full metallic casing, with only the button for selecting between the USB and the Optical input being made of plastic. Besides this button, we have one button at the back to turn the unit on and off, and I absolutely love having a button now, as the original Atom AMP+ had a very odd solution for the on/off switch. The front of the unit has a large ring with an LED light, and at first I was tempted to touch it to get some kind of reaction, but that spot is just a plastic cap, there is no touch button or otherwise, it is a design element. This being said, it is centered perfectly to look awesome in a stack with the Atom AMP 2. 

Not only JDS Labs made the casing for the Atom DAC 2 of metal, which allows for much easier cooling, but the I/V Stage now has improved and it stays cool during usage, much more so than any other DAC I have around the home. You can’t really tell that it is turned on, and happily, it actually turns off after long periods of inactivity to save energy, and turns on automatically too, silently with no popping sound or any problems. The USB has been improved to a Type-C USB input, and JDS Labs uses a custom XMOS solution that has a UAC 2 engine with ASIO and DSD support. There is a UAC 1 mode for consoles. There is a MEMS Oscillator, with a clock of 45/49 MHz MEMS to deliver the lowest jitter possible. To use the UAC 1 mode, you need a special cable which is sold by JDS LAbs, and which costs just 10 USD. 

It takes the JDS Labs DAC 2 just 5 minutes to enter standby, it powers down its LED ring, and will resume working instantly when it receives a signal. The LED ring is also bolted to the aluminum chassis now to keep it more sturdy and rugged. You can get free engraving when ordering the Atom DAC 2 to get a more pleasing experience with it optically. Inside the unit, there are 10 regulators to keep the rail voltage consistent and give it a super low ripple. You can actually upgrade the firmware of the DAC 2 if JDS Labs comes with new features or bug fixes. 

The DAC inside of the JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 is an ES9018K2M Chip, and it is paired with DC Coupled, precision tuned transimpedance stage, having three OPA1692 OP-AMPs per channel, to offer Six OP-AMPs in total. For the geek in me and you, we have a THD of lower than 0.0004%, a SNR of 117 dB, Dynamic Range of 119 dB, Crosstalk of -121dB, and a Jitter of -129 dB. The PCB has a 4-Layer stack design, and the USB input can deliver up to 32 Bit / 384 kHz, while the Optical TOSLINK can decode up to 24 Bit / 192 kHz  PCM signals. The unit is much heavier than the Atom DAC+, as it now has a weight of 425 grams. The output respects JDS Labs’s stand to single ended, and it is RCA single ended using high-quality terminal connectors. 

Subjectively, JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 is fun to use, simple, you plug it in, plug in the USB Cable, and get an amplifier which has variable volume, and that’s about it. The only downside to using it is that the power brick has a medium length cord, and you need to have a power outlet nearby. This is a unit with ZERO noise, and I have tested it in a setup with Keces S300+, a large amplifier that detects noise instantly, because it also has no volume control, but to get volume control I got a HIFIMAN x Golden Wave Serenade or a HIFIMAN Prelude to act as a Preamplifier and allow for volume control. 

To get a better idea of the sound and presentation of the DAC performance of the JDS Labs Atom DAC 2, I have used it as the DAC for other headphone amplifiers, including JDS Labs Atom AMP 2, Aune S17 PRO, Feliks Audio Echo 2, SMSL HO100, Violectric HPA V340, Burson Funk, and Rebel AMP. The headphones I’ve been using includes YanYin Canon II, Dekoni x HIFIMAN Cobalt, HarmonicDyne Devil, HIDIZS MP145, Oriveti OD100, FiiO FH11, Soundz Avant, HIFIMAN HE1000SE, and ThieAudio Hype2. Regardless of the setup I’ve put the Atom DAC 2 in, there is no noise to be heard, no electronic noise, no background noise, no hissing, nothing. It has the ideally perfect performance you can expect from a high-end DAC, and most DACs have noise up until the ~700 USD price range, above which most of them are well isolated. Somehow, JDS Labs delivers a performance that just wins against every other device in its price range noise-wise. There are other aspects to the sound, but here JDS Labs delivers really nicely. 

I naturally run a test for USB DAC Delay with any device I review nowadays, and I can happily confirm that there is none with the JDS Labs Atom DAC 2, it has a perfect response and can be used for gaming, watching movies and content where tight timings are important. 


Sound Quality

Sonically, JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 is neutral, clean, clear and sharp. This is a DAC with no coloration, and at times it even has a little too little character, being just transparency and conversion of the signal with no added distortion, noise or other issues. To be honest, reviewing DACs can prove to be even harder than reviewing cables sometimes, as DACs theoretically sound closer to each other if they don’t have noise or added distortions / character, so I have to say, I have JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 feeding a HIFIMAN Goldenwave Serenade, and I can switch between the Atom DAC 2 and the DAC built into the Serenade, and the differences are much smaller than you’d think, with the Serenade driving Keces S300+, and it driving NHT C3 and Aperion Audio RST MKII Super Tweeters. Basically, you can get that crisp, perfect performance with the JDS Labs Atom DAC 2, where it has such good transparency and transparent sound that you actually have to focus to tell what it sounds like. 

The bass is clean, fast, and responds to signal instantly, not adding any kind of delay or prolonging any note, and ti has the perfect, ideal dac performance for the bass, down to 20 Hz extension, but a linear, pure presentations that doesn’t warm up or take away anything from the bass. The upper bass stays linear, and there is nothing added or taken away from the original signal. 

The midrange follows the same linear precision that JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 has, you never hear any kind of distortion, or added element to the sound, no extra warmth, just a pure linear presentation. There are some elements that change when comparing a JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 to DACs costing 10x Its Price, like soundstage and very fine micro-details / resolution, but for most purposes, it has a perfect transient response, sharp, following the input signal, so slow music comes out slow, hard and fast music comes out hard and fast, and the signal being fed to the Atom DAC 2 is reproduced faithfully. The soundstage is wide, holographic, with exceptional instrument separation, and there is no coloration or distortion added by the DAC. 

The treble is clean, sharp, extends up until 20 kHz with no soft or hard roll off, and everything is reproduced perfectly. This means that JDS Atom DAC 2 allows your music to be reproduced perfectly, with no smoothing effect, and you hear the complete, full brightness of the treble, extension, air and a well separated sound with perfect transient, micro detail and texture reproduction. It is basically a completely transparent DAC that will present the input signal as it comes to it. 



JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 vs Audioengine D1 (129 USD vs 169 USD) – Audioengine D1 is a bit smaller, and has a headphone output, so at first we’re inclined to justify the price increase, but it’s DAC performance is not quite as good as the performance of the Atom DAC 2, which has a better noise control, more neutral presentation, while Audioengine D1 sounds less detailed, warmer, smoother and goes for a romantic, attenuated presentation, where JDS Atom DAC 2 goes for being as linear, clean, controlled and crisp as possible. The RCA connectors on the D1 look more solid, but in actual usage both are equal, and both DACs have a solid construction. Overall, if you want a DAC that has a more neutral, linear presentation and adds less coloration, JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 delivers that well, and has better resolution, detail and clarity, while D1 is smoother, warmer and can attenuate the sound if your speakers / headphones / amplifiers are proving to be too bright. 

JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 vs SMSL M300 SE (129 USD vs 105 USD) – There is more function to M300 SE, which costs less than the Atom DAC 2, as it has a headphone amplifier, XLR outputs, and a single 3.5mm SE output, along with Coaxial and Optical inputs, so it feels like the more versatile device, at least at first. JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 has a better design in the perspective where it has a much lower background noise for the DAC output, while M300SE has more noise, the detail on the Atom DAC 2 is better, it has better resolution, a cleaner sound, and a wider soundstage too. SMSL M 300 SE sounds more mid centric, softer, with a softer, dampened impact, less focus on detail and clarity, and more focus on the midrange, rolling both ends a bit. If you want a better just DAC performance, Atom DAC 2 can provide that, while if you want a more complete device, and can live with the limitations and prefer a mid centric sound, M300SE is a good option too. 

JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 vs FiiO K11 (129 USD vs 129 USD) – FiiO K11 is basically the biggest enemy and competitor to JDS Atom DAC 2, as it is to Atom AMP 2, because it has almost the performance of a JDS Labs Atom Stack 2, while having a price that is just a piece of the stack. K11 has a strong DAC performance, it has a traditional RCA Line Out, also has its own external power supply, and it offers a clean signal. Replacing it with Atom DAC 2, Atom has a lower noise floor, and you can hear a bit of a noise floor with FiiO K 11 with very sensitive setups, Atom DAC 2 has none of that, and has a bit more detail, wider soundstage and better instrument separation / definition. If you are really tight on money, K11 can offer almost a perfect sound, while JDS Labs DAC 2 and AMP 2 will perfect on that, offer more width for the soundstage, better dynamics, better clarity, and a bit more precision, but for double the price for the stack. 


Value and Conclusion

With a price point of just 129 USD, JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 has a perfect value, it costs less than what most of the competition does, offers a more silent DAC signal with no noise or distortion, and it also has superb clarity, and even compared to the original JDS Labs Atom DAC+, it has a metallic design, improved buttons, and a better sound, all while having just 30 USD added to the price. 

At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a perfectly transparent, linear DAC that will reproduce exactly what is being fed to it, with a good instrument separation, and no background noise, being perfect even for speaker systems, JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 should be a great choice and a DAC I can recommend for everyone, as long as you remember that there is no volume control and it needs a PRE or an amplifier with volume control. 

I also need to say that the JDS Stack is one of the best things you can do for your headphone system, the amplifier is super good too, so JDS Labs Atom DAC 2 paired with JDS Labs Atom AMP 2 is a setup that will take you really far, without breaking the bank. 


Product Link

You can grab one from the official website here – https://jdslabs.com/product/atom-dac-2/

You can grab one from www.amazon.com here – https://amzn.to/42E2vwY

If you’re in the UK, you can grab one from www.amazon.co.uk here – https://amzn.to/3SG29Bh

And if you’re from Europe, you can grab one from www.amazon.de here – https://amzn.to/3SJuqXw

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Full Playlist used for this review

We listened to more songs than those named in this playlist, but those are excellent for identifying a sonic signature.  I recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new music! The playlists are different for Spotify, Tidal and Youtube, and based on the songs I enjoy and are available on each!




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