JDS Labs Standalone ODAC (Objective DAC)

Device Type: Digital to Analog Converter
Input: mini USB 1.0
Output: 1x pair RCA analog, 3.5mm analog line level
Dimensions (L x W x H): 99.0 x 63.0 x 13.0 mm
Weight: 2oz
Availability: Direct Online
Price: $169.00
Website: www.jdslabs.com

The Objective DAC
Once upon a time, there was a guy who went by the name of NwAvGuy (Northwest Audio Video Guy). I don't know much else about him except what I've learned from reading his blog (see nwavguy.blogspot.com) which you'll see hasn't been updated since May 9, 2012. As far as I know, no one knows the true identity of NwAvGuy or why he chose to disappear from the scene at the height of fame, having just released his statement ODAC. Perhaps Sherwood Forest needed him back.

The subject of today's review is the JDS Labs implementation of the ODAC (Objective DAC) with RCA outputs. There's another version of the ODAC that does away with the RCA's but retains its 3.5mm output ($149) as well as a few headphone amps all designed by NwAvGuy and produced by JDS Labs. The ODAC is USB bus powered and its USB input is adaptive mode USB Class 1.0 and supports 16/44, 16/48, 16/96, 24/44, 24/48, and 24/96 file resolutions so no drivers are required. For 24/88.2 files, NwAvGuy recommends downsampling them to 24/44.1, "...there really is not an audible difference". The DAC inside the ODAC is the ESS Sabre ES9023 and the USB receiver is the Tenor TE7022.

For those concerned about jitter/clocking and the ODAC's adaptive USB interface, the ODAC supplies its own clock according to NwAvGuy, "...but just to be clear, the ODAC is NOT clocked by the USB port. So the quality of the audio clock, and any resulting jitter, is largely independent of the PC’s USB timing. It has its own low phase noise 12 Mhz crystal controlled oscillator that’s used to generate the MCLK and SCLK audio clocks."

The ODAC's black metal body is about the size of a deck of cards and very nicely built especially considering its price. I appreciate its un-fussiness. On one of its ends sits the micro USB input and 3.5mm line level output while the other ends hosts the RCA outputs. Since the ODAC is USB powered the only thing left to talk about in terms of physical stuff is the nice retro-ish white logo from JDS Labs up top.

In terms of setting and hooking up the ODAC, it really is a plug and play device. I used the included USB to micro USB cable to connect the ODAC to my MacBook Pro and a pair of Auditorium 23 ICs to communicate with my Pass INT-30A. I ran both Audirvana Plus and the new Pure Music 2 which I'm enjoying quite a bit more than the previous version. I ran the ODAC for a few weeks before sitting down to pen my thoughts.

There's Nothing Objective About Listening
I followed my typical review routine with the ODAC which consists of putting it into my system while completing other reviews. The ODAC followed on the heels of the Geek Out 1000 (see review) and iFi iDSD DAC (see review) reviews which was fortunate timing seeing as the latter comes close to the price of the ODAC. As I completed those reviews, the ODAC spent more and more time in my main system until it got my undivided attention for a few weeks. It is here, through listening over time, that I find I get to know a piece of hi-fi gear intimately. While A/B comparisons can also be of interest, that's not how we use hi-fi gear which is built purely for our listening pleasure.

I can say I enjoyed listening to the ODAC and found it to be at once resolute, smooth, detailed, and relatively colorful in terms of its tonal spectrum. Overall it is an easy DAC to listen to and enjoy. Bass response is fine, I have heard more controlled bass from other DACs including the Geek Out and iDSD, and while the heart of music is pleasantly rich, I've heard richer midrange again from the iDSD DAC as well as from more costly DACS like the meaty Halide HD. There's a relative thinness to the overall presentation of the ODAC that is not particularly bothersome but I find hearing more meat on music's bones to be more engaging.

The sound picture is nice and wide and deep although it is a tad flat-sounding. The iDSD DAC delivers a more natural and dimensional sound image as if the music is originating from a real place. Again this is not a troublesome trait of the ODAC, but I find that over long term listening a richer, fuller sound also engages me more emotionally.

You can find NwAvGuy's detailed measurements of the ODAC here which you may find useful as he also compares the ODAC to the FiiO E10 and the Benchamrk DAC1 Pre.

The Subjective DAC
NwAvGuy claims he never made even a thin dime from his design and work on the ODAC and that is both rare and commendable. Basically just a very nice thing to do. I also think he did a good job and delivered a very good sounding DAC at a reasonable price. While I've heard more color, weight, and breath from similarly priced DACs like the iFi iDSD DAC which also supports DXD and DSD playback and adds a headphone amp, the ODAC delivers a healthy helping of musical satisfaction for a nice price.

Associated Equipment

Also on hand and in use during the ODAC review: LH Labs Geek Out 1000, iFi iDSD DAC

Alex Halberstadt's picture

"Perhaps Sherwood Forest needed him back." Mwah! Genius.

ball3901's picture

NvAVGuySip*(* or whoever the heck he is, has established transparency at the -100 db threshold. I am glad some one has finally been able to definitively answer where exactly the audibility threshold lies. The only thing is, well, at least one of the other DACs mentioned in the review, and probably both, significantly better the ODAC on the test bench. Hmmmm.... And apparently they sound better.

Correlation? Surely not, since we have been so infallibly instructed in where the transparency level lies.

thatsit's picture

"NvAVGuySip*(* or whoever the heck he is"...err ... or maybe whoever the heck he WAS ... think Robin Williams, Curt Cobain ... couldn't stand the publicity...the limelight (he they asked for it).

fmak's picture

Go to a fundamental acoustics textbook and there you will find that the human year has a dynamic range of perhaps 130dB.

Listening to sine waves is one thing, human perception to noise is another

fmak's picture

I said dynamic range

Kenny Kuo's picture

And ODAC is one nice design too.