Small States: JDS Labs makes powerful iPhone headphone amps, giveaway worth $279


Small States features small companies that design and manufacture within the United States. 

Update (11/29 11:00am): Adam Scheidegger is our winner – thanks for following along and entering this Small States contest!

There is a lot of pride that comes with manufacturing in the United States, and we’ve enjoyed sharing the stories behind that pride with you. Before we head into the holiday season, there is one more company that we wanted to make sure you knew about.

JDS Labs out of Collinsville, IL is responsible for one of the coolest products that I have ever used. They take very sophisticated technology and squeeze it into everyday products that make your music sound exquisite. We’ve covered the importance of digital-to-analog converters (DAC) and headphone amplifiers before, but never have we seen them in such a cool package like this.

Let’s learn a little more about JDS Labs.

It is a true 21st century made in America story – a guy takes his hobby public on eBay, a blogger spreads the word and huge success follows. It all started in the garage of electrical engineer John Seager’s home. Unable to get his iPod loud enough with his car stereo system, John set out to fix his problem.

Always intrigued by DAC’s, amplifiers and tinkering with wiring, John took an open-source amplification model designed for headphones by the legendary Mr. Chu Moy and created his own modified version. After tinkering and changing, John took the cMoyBB amp to eBay. The success that followed quickly put JDS on a path towards towards becoming well known amongst the audio community.

“This was never something that I set out to do full-time, it more or less just happened” John says of the beginning of JDS Labs. “It was a hobby, something that I enjoyed and now its turned into a functional business as a result of being so passionate about it.”

By 2010, JDS Labs had started popping up on blogs across the web. By 2011, the brand was beginning to take off and John had quit has day job to handle what was becoming an overflow of orders. It was during this time that Nick Amizich hopped on board to help with the burgeoning business.

“We really focus on making our product look great, everyone claims that they have good customer service but we actually focus on making people happy. We want them to enjoy using the product, the whole experience. You cannot argue with something that you enjoy.”

Over the course of the next three years, JDS Labs has continued to grow into a powerhouse go-to for high quality American made audio accessories. The journey has not been without its bumps along the way. Like many American-based manufacturers, finding the resources within the states often proves to be a very costly and at times frustrating venture. JDS Labs now has its own complete manufacturing setup, handling everything from design to plating and CNC’ing. As we talked to John and factory foreman Jude Hopper, it was easy to see that the challenges along the way have made them thankful for what they have now.

“Everything that we do has been built from the ground up, I can’t say that it is the best system, but it is our system. When there is a problem, we know exactly how to fix it.”

What JDS Labs has been able to create here within the United States truly is an incredible feat. Manufacturing anything stateside is not a simple task, but doing high-end audio, design and manufacturing here? Forget about it.

“When you first set out to manufacture, you quickly learn that doing it on your own is not easy. It sounds easy at 2 o’clock in the morning – but its not, it takes a ton of hard work.”

Let alone bringing nearly everything in house, JDS Labs is doing something in the modern times that no longer seems possible. They have made a massive commitment to creating products here in the United States, which from a financial and time perspective is a huge undertaking. The story alone deserves your attention, but wait until you hear the product.

We were lucky enough to get our hands on two amps from JDS, the CMOYBB and the O2 + ODAC combo. Both did a wonderful job of amplifying and driving the music through my Grado SR80e headphones, taking the load off of my MacBook in the process.

I’ll start with the CMOYBB first: obviously what sticks out first is the design. Pulling this Altoids-turned-amp out of my bag felt pretty cool, the metal used in Altoids can provides a solid balance of protection but also helps fight interference from EMI/RF. Not only does it do a great job of being a portable solution, the bass boost really gives an extra push when needed. The ability to open the can and see whats going on inside really makes for a fun user experience, not to mention the conversation starter it is inclined to be. The $60 CMOYBB is a great solution for iPhone or iPod users, especially if you’ve invested in a nicer pair of headphones. Even if you are using the included EarPods there will still be a noticeable difference to your music. The built-in volume control feels sturdy, and the rechargeable battery is a great option for keeping it portable.

Meanwhile, the O2 + ODAC combo really shined when it came to breaking out the heavy artillery. Ever since I got my Grado GC1000e’s I’ve noticed that while they sound great, my MacBook Air cannot quite make them sing. They are of course, studio level professional headphones, so that was to be expected. However, after I hooked them up to the JDS combo amp, I really heard a difference. The DAC does a great job of providing a fuller sound stage, with richer lows and crisp highs. Combining these two products together really makes for an enjoyable listening experience.

We are also choosing one winner this week for our giveaway, and they will be receiving an O2 + ODAC combo (may vary from picture above), valued at $279. To enter this giveaway, follow @9to5Toys on Twitter and retweet the article. If Facebook is more your thing, Like us and share this article with your friends. Additionally, you can enter the giveaway by leaving a comment at the bottom of this article. We’ll choose a winner next Saturday. Good luck!

Previous winners:


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