Monday, April 9, 2012

Jade-2 DAC does not sound jaded

There are some pretty interesting DACs in the market now as manufacturers have learnt how to tune them to sound more ‘analogue’.



Orb Audio’s Jade-2 DAC/headphone amp from Japan is one good example and its sonic signature definitely falls within the Ayre QB-9, Bladelius and Rega DAC category.


The Orb Jade 2 - distributed in Malaysia by Nova Hi-Fi - uses the much-praised AKM AK4396 24/192 chip and it accepts 24/192 via its coax and Toslink inputs while the USB port accepts up to 24/96.



The USB input accepts up to 24/96.

The front controls of the Orb Jade-2 DAC.

While it operates primarily as a DAC, it is also a headphone amp and you can connect an analogue source for headphone listening. The volume control only works for the headphones which is a pity because with the quality of the sound produced by the DAC, Orb Audio’s designers should have just included a preamp function. Such one-box solutions are getting quite popular these days - just look at the Wyred 4 Sound DAC2, the Berkeley Alpha and the Weiss DAC202.


On the front panel of the Jade-2 DAC is another USB port which accepts thumbdrives with WMA/AAC/MP3 files.


Shaped like a Cyrus-style shoe-box component, the Orb Jade-2 DAC runs quite hot as its analogue output stage is in Class A.


While I did spend some time listening to MP3 files on a thumbdrive, most of the listening sessions involved streaming hi-res music from my laptop using J. River V16. Since I also received the Pro-Ject CD Box SE (see http://hi-fi-avenue.blogspot.com/2011/12/impressive-pro-ject.html at about the same time that I got hold of the Orb Jade-2 DAC, I spent many hours spinning silver disks and the two proved to be a great match.



After using a few coax cables, I settled on the DH Labs D-75, which proved to be a giant-killer, to connect the Pro-Ject CD player to the Orb DAC.


The Orb Jade-2 DAC’s sonic signature is smooth, analogue-like and on the warm side of neutral. The music also sounded quite dynamic, full and rich though not as full and rich as the Ayre. And these qualities did not change even when I switched to the USB port from the coax input.


I noted that the Jade-2 DAC seemed to emphasise smoothness rather than details and this was evident when I compared it with the resident Wyred 4 Sound DAC2.


The details were there, but they did not stand out from the mix of sounds. The details seemed somewhat subdued; but the smoothness of the sound was quite beguiling and after a while I did not miss the details.



Playing songs from a thumbdrive.

You can connect an analogue source to the Jade-2 for headphone listening.

However, I was quite disappointed to find out that the Jade-2 could not accept 24/88.2KHz files and I had to change the DSP settings of J River to upsample these to 24/96. I prefer to play digital files at their native sampling rates.

I also spent some time testing the Jade-2 as a headphone amp with my Sennheiser HD600 headphones.


The sound quality was quite rich, full and smooth. In comparison with the resident Melos SHA-1 tubed headphone amp/preamp, the Jade-2 did not sound as warm as the Melos. It’s not apple to apple; it is Class A solid state vs tubes. The Melos also sounded fuller and smoother.

One unusual feature is a 'direct' and 'comfort' button on the front panel. After much pressing of the buttons, I ended up preferring the 'direct' function which sounded more dynamic and exciting. The 'comfort' function was too smooth for my liking.

Priced at about RM6,000 (rrp), the Orb Jade-2 DAC/headphone amp is targeted at the advanced CAS fan.


Its rather ‘analogue’ sonic signature is a great selling point, but I would have loved a preamp function. That would have made it a complete package.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lam, just read your article on the Blades and a bit on this one, and just wanted to say Hi, cool ..the Krell, is there a particular model you would choose, I quite like their FBI, I've had a KSA100 at home years ago when I was working with the Listening Post...was pretty deep...was also using a pair of veritas 1.8 (Energy) and Theta transport and a Deltec Dac, through a Plinius Model 12 Preamp...set up in front of the Bay windows...and it was like a bay window to the musical source. (your comments on the Blades could perhaps have been the limits of the amplification??..) I BElieve you WILL Get your Krell
    I currently have a NAD304 running these, some ol Technics 3 ways I customised into the wall..another brick in the wall haha; here's a pic http://www.sella.co.nz/general/electronics-photography/home-audio/full-systems/v15qz7/
    Source: I pretty much use Youtube and/or Foobar2000 and CD, like the quality of DSD through Foobar and look forward to greater transparency and joy..great mix of interests Lam...all the best
    Stephen

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