Published on August 13th, 2013 | by Celina


JDS Labs C5 Amp: Four Ounces Of Listening Pleasure

The promise behind a portable headphone amplifier is simple: your average portable MP3 player or smartphone doesn’t offer the circuitry or power to really drive really good headphones- even on your average set of decent earbuds, you will probably hear a variety of artifacts because of this problem. But there is an easy solution: a device like today’s nifty gadget.

The JDS Labs C5 Portable Headphone Amp isn’t the smallest amp we’ve seen, nor is it the best. But it does do a fantastic job of balancing size and cost, build quality and sound quality. The sturdier a case gets, the heavier it is and thus the less portable, and typically the cost goes up as well. This one weighs only a bit over four ounces, and the included USB-rechargeable lithium-ion battery is pretty impressive: 1200mAh total, good for eleven or twelve hours of use. We plugged in our iPhone 5, iPad, and other devices as inputs and then used a wide variety of headsets including pairs from beyerdynamic, Sennheiser, and even the stock Apple earbuds for comparison.

As you might expect, even before we burned in the unit for the requisite forty or so hours, we noticed a few immediate positive changes. For starters, there was a noticeable decrease in noise, which is audible especially at lower volumes or during “silences” in tracks. At higher volumes, where high-end headphones and monitors can feel restrained, using an amp like the C5 offers them additional power and “headroom” to drive more expansive sound. We loved using the amp on high bit-rate files or lossless music, and there is added depth and a much larger sense of space to most music when using a decent amp. Once burned in, we found the unit added a bit of warmth- some amps are more clinical- but the sound never felt boosted. That is, except when using the bass boost feature, a decent addition for hip-hop fans but one that we rarely made use of.

A quick note on the build quality- this is a very solid, aluminum unit that felt well-engineered. It handled bumps and a drop or two, and couldn’t be simpler to use. Recharging is handled via the included USB cable, and though we might’ve liked a battery life indicator, there wasn’t a lot of space. There isn’t a built-in DAC, but it’s unlikely that you will miss it much on a unit this size and price, but it does combine well with M2Tech’s HiFace DAC for example. The volume knob is easily adjustable but doesn’t stick out nearly as much as, say, the Sunrise DA-P1. But it offers plenty of steps, something that indicates an attention to detail. Granted, it’s not as pretty of a unit as the Matrix, though the C5 is definitely more portable. And the C5 is available in three nice colors, red, slate, and black, directly from the manufacturer for a very reasonable $189. It’s a surprisingly good value, perhaps because it’s not as widely available from resellers, and highly recommend for the audiophile looking for a truly portable headphone solution.

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About the Author

Celina Kelly is passionate about New York, scarves, and puppies. She also loves writing about herself in the third-person. She graduated from Barnard College having double majored in English & German Literature. While a student, she worked with The New Yorker as part of the editorial department for ‘Goings On About Town’. Since she was not busy enough, she added a concentration of creative writing, completing her thesis project in the form of a yet-unpublished novel under the guidance of a bestselling author. Celina operates a retail store on the Upper West Side, where she spends most of her time. She enjoys being able to design, order and merchandise a new collection twice a year with the help of a talented staff of minions. She is also currently pursuing a certificate in Millinery at the Fashion Institute of Technology. If you ask her nicely, she might make you a hat!

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