Jadis JS1 MkV Reference D/A processor

"Resolution can be a tricky thing when it comes to digital," my friend Michael Lavorgna recently told me. "Too much, and my focus shifts from music to sound; too little, and I become less engaged." Lavorgna, a visual artist and proprietor of the online audio-and-music publication Twittering Machines (footnote 1), is one of my favorite people to talk to about records, books, art, and hi-fi. We've been doing it for almost 20 years.

What Michael said about resolution mirrored my own experience but nagged at me. If resolution is a good thing, then how can there be too much of it? After thinking about it for a while, I realized that he was on to something. Designing an audio component is less like building a suspension bridge and more like cooking a pot of chili: You balance ingredients in an attempt to create something enjoyable. To put it differently, audio components have to be voiced. This means not just achieving good sound but prioritizing the listener's ability to enjoy music, since we use our systems to listen to humans making us feel things and not to the whistles of tube-nosed fruit bats.

Enjoying music at home is the sole purpose of this pastime. That's really it. Measurements may provide a starting point and show us why the component sounds the way it does—or not—but designing a piece of audio gear that will enhance your love of music requires the application of aesthetic discernment, experience, and many hours of listening. If you doubt this premise, consider a rite of passage that most of us sooner or later go through: "upgrading" to a component that promises more performance and ends up delivering less engagement.

When I was in my 20s, I saved up for a large, impressive-looking turntable with a sprung suspension; it was intended to replace my comparatively spartan Rega Planar 3. I just knew it would deliver deeper bass, a bigger soundstage, and more silent silences—and it did. But when I listened to it for the first time, I found myself having trouble enjoying—and eventually even paying attention to—the Thelonious Monk record I was playing. I could hear the sonic improvements, but now Monk sounded bored, or maybe mildly sedated; soon, that's how I felt, too. I sold the turntable a month later. Has something like this ever happened to you?


The Jadis JS1 MkV Reference
I thought about my conversation with Michael a lot during the several months I spent living with the Jadis JS1 MkV Reference DAC, a two-chassis fantasia in chromed and gold-plated steel that retails for $20,900. Taking it out of its box reminded me of how, as a younger audiophile, I pined for Jadis amplifiers reviewed in these pages; with their gleaming metalwork and rows of tubes, they looked both opulent and steampunk. Handling the JS1, I wasn't disappointed: The input selector knob elicited a distinctly luxurious thunk, and instead of the pinprick LEDs found on most audio gear, the French DAC sports multicolored lamps that shine through tiny portholes, which make it easy to find in the dark. This nautical detail and all that polished metal made me think of Jules Verne; occupying two shelves on my equipment rack, the 66lb Jadis processor resembled a piece of navigation gear scavenged from Captain Nemo's underwater ship, the Nautilus.

Despite its majestic weight, size, and price, the JS1 offers few concessions to modernity or convenience: no volume control, no network connection, no selectable filters, no MQA, no wireless anything. On the front, you'll find power switches for the analog and digital sections, as well as the input selector and those bright lights, which indicate whether the unit's on, the file type, and the sampling rate. On the back are four digital inputs, balanced and unbalanced analog outputs, jacks for the two umbilical cables that connect the two chassis—separate connections for the digital and analog circuitry, with independent grounds—and an IEC receptacle for your favorite power cord. That's about it. The message seems to be that the hot-running JS1 is all about listening, not tinkering.

What makes this a Jadis component—and distinct from most other digital gear—is tubes, which are used in the output stage of the analog section and for regulation in the massive outboard power supply. Digital conversion is accomplished with a pair of AK4497 DAC chips from Asahi Kasei Microdevices. S/PDIF (RCA and TosLink), AES3, and USB inputs are provided; these top out at 24/192 except for the USB input, which allows sampling frequencies of up to 384kHz and the playback of DSD files.


J.C. Calmettes, the JS1's designer, explained that the S/PDIF, AES3, and optical inputs rely on a digital transceiver to convert the signal to the I2S format before it is routed to the DAC chips, whereas the USB input sends the signal to a decoding board that's connected directly to the I2S bus. This may explain why I strongly preferred listening through the USB input, which sounded more open, dynamic, and colorful than the others. In my experience, DACs that rely on delta-sigma conversion often tend to sound slightly better when playing back DSD rather than PCM files. The JS1 proved no exception, and during my auditioning I got the best results by setting Roon to convert and upsample PCM data to DSD256.

When first listening to an expensive DAC, I expect to hear playback that's composed, well-sorted, insightful, and maybe a little buttoned down. What I don't expect to hear is sheer fun. Which is why my first listen to the JS1 floored me. It didn't sound like any DAC I've heard; what it did sound like is a great 7" record minus the groove noise. Okay, that's overstating things a bit, but the Jadis took almost no time in establishing its expansive, easy-to-listen-to, celebratory personality. It allowed the music to flow with not a trace of the edginess, glassiness, and grayness that plagues some digital components, allowing me to forget whether I was listening to a record or a digital file and focus on the performance.

Footnote 1: Lavorgna is also the former editor of AudioStream.
Jadis Electronics
US distributor: Bluebird Music Limited
1100 Military Trail
Kenmore, New York 14217

georgehifi's picture

"where the Jadis left me wanting slightly more is detail."

For a $21k dac, the output impedance today is pathetically high and variable over the frequency range, and the bandwidth also way too rolled off -2db at 18khz already.

Great 20 years ago, but not for today.

Cheers George

Long-time listener's picture

Given that 21-bit resolution is now fairly common -- and you can get 21-bit resolution, combined with really excellent sound with the $700 Topping D90SE DAC for example -- it seems the solution would be for Jadis to up their game a little bit, digitally speaking. Put a 21-bit capable DAC in front of those tubes. Why only 18 or 19 bit?

Jonti's picture

Why not simply run a solid state DAC through an excellent tube preamp? That's what I do, and the results are very enjoyable.

Jack L's picture


This Jadis DAC already got a built-in tube preamp, delivering over 2.5Vrms enough to drive directly any power amps to their rated output power.

So nooo need any external tube preamp, pal.

Jack L

rwwear's picture

But you may still want a volume control

Jack L's picture


My "alternative" way is even much much more simple - go without any premp virtually.

My solid state 24bit192KHz DAC hooked up to my tube linestage (switched to PASSIVE bypass mode) electrically drives directly my tube power amps since day one a couple years back.

The music videos I stream always sound soooo DETAILLED, transparent & 3-D & sooo punchy powerful that the volume control never needs to turn beyond the midway.

As I always maintain: less electronics in the signal path, better will be the sound.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Jonti's picture

I can imagine how great your setup must sound, Jack. You're definitely onto a winner there.

I should clarify that my (solid state 24/96 Luxman) DAC is also hooked up to a tube linestage (EAR Yoshino), albeit one which feeds a Class A solid state power amp. At any rate, the sound this produces strikes an excellent balance between detail/resolution and transparency/musicality. To replace my DAC and tube linestage with this all-in-one Jadis would cost me 10 times what I paid for my gear, but I very much doubt it would sound 10 times better.

PeterG's picture

Thanks for the excellent review. I have not heard the Jadis, but it seems you've gotten at it's true character, with both plusses and minuses. Or maybe they're aren't plusses and minuses to all, but a better way for each reader to understand whether it's the right DAC for their ears

Long-time listener's picture

The way this review is written gives the reader a very clear idea of what he'd be getting with this product, for better or worse. The review uses language that is mostly confined to audio terms -- soundstage, insight, detail, color, etc. It doesn't confuse the issue with terms like "proletarian" that tend to obscure (sometimes one might think intentionally) what's actually going on, and doesn't lavish endless praise and expressions of wonder on the product (which has sometimes been done with products that end up in Stereophile Class B). Clear, straightforward, informative. Bravo.

shp's picture

"To the presumably clean output of the AKM4497EQ DAC chip, it adds low-order harmonic distortion and a random noise floor that increases in level at low frequencies. In other words: tube sound"

I think audiophilia needs a "tube screamer" for solid state systems to add low-order harmonic distortion and a random noise floor.
It needs to have at least one tube, but that might just be for show. The actual sonic affect could be done with DSP. Or go full on modeling and let the customer pick which classic tube sound you want to emulate.

JHL's picture

I think audiophilia needs a "transistor blender" for tube systems to add odd-order harmonic distortion and intermodulate music through the built-in random tone bleacher.

If it has at least one transistor the sonic affect will be inherent and guaranteed. Or go full on assumption-mode and let the customer pick based on having not actually heard great audio gear from across the ranges.

Jack L's picture


Well, if designed properly an anode follower beats any cathode followers in term of phase reversion, total harmonic distortion & gain control (over unity) using the NFB loop, PSRR, & consistency due to tube ageing.

If Jadis designers would copy Aikido linestage design : anode follower (1/2 ECC833) + cathode follower (1/2 ECC82) as output tube, the too low load impedance should not be an issue, IMO.

Jack L

hollowman's picture

It's a little weird that throughout the text of this entire review, there is NO mention of the Stereophile Jadis DAC review from March 1995, p.101: Jonathan Scull auditions the Jadis JS1 Symmetrical D/A processor & J1 Drive CD transport.
I don't think that review has been websited yet ???? It LOOKS exactly like this "new" model on the exterior .

That 1995 review is here: