By all the usual measures, LH Labs’ last crowd-funded product called “Wave”, was a success. At 140% of their funding goals, this smart-phone-coupled super-charger of a headphone amp/DAC combo was fully funded, ready to go. It was done. In the bag. Complete. Finis.
Sometimes, you just nail it. And sometimes … yeah.
The problem wasn’t the Wave. Well, not exactly. The problem was the fan base. The tepid response to the Wave was not quite what LH Labs had been excepting. Given their track record, it’s not hard to see their concern. With their first crowd-sourced project, the Geek Out, they hit 1000% of their funding goal. With their second outing for the desktop version of their headphone amp/DAC combo, they hit 3000%. With that as a backdrop, 140% seemed … off. At best.
What the fans wanted was an actual stand-alone portable, not a techno-lamprey, glued to the back of iPhone. Fine, it charges, but that’s two devices and kinda kludgy. Given the wild success of Pono and the critical acclaim of the Astell&Kern AK240, LH Labs decided that it was time to stop dancing around the problem and address it head on. With their own, dedicated and fully independent, digital audio player. Again, Pono and Astell&Kern have clearly shown that the market is interested in “something better” than an iPhone. The Wave, at least as originally conceived, didn’t quite capture the market’s interest. So, what to do?
Well, they could have just delivered. The project was finalized and fully funded. A lot of folks clearly wanted it as it was. LH Labs could have scrapped it, but that would probably have alienated and outraged their invested fan base and the conspiracy nuts would totally have collectively crapped a brick highway. Yeah. Not good.
In the end, they decided to start over. This approach will likely piss off quite a few fans, especially those that liked the idea of the Wave and actually wanted one. I’m just guessing here, but I suspect that it would be easier, more interesting, and better business in the long-term to simply write off the expenses already invested (I’m sure this isn’t inconsiderable), and do what they should have done in the first place — listened to their users.
So, the Geek Wave will be rebooted. Tomorrow. Those of us that invested in that earlier project will be upgraded, pretty much automagically. There are a variety of options with the proposed new devices (this is still LH Labs, after all), so customizing to your budget is always a play.
If, however, you are less than thrilled by the process, your handling, the new product, LH Labs generally, or simply want to jump for a completely random reason, all prior investors will have the chance to completely opt out and get a full refund on their earlier investment. Gotta give ‘em props for that.
So, the new player will be just that, a player. With a screen. On board storage. Removable storage, too. Support for high-resolution audio files, up to and including double-rate DSD. A And a lot more. Bluetooth 4.0. A user-replaceable battery (!). And on the top model, there’s even a TRRS output jack (aka, “balanced”). The only thing missing seems to be WiFi.
Here’s the chart:
Note the “early bird pricing” for all those folks getting in good and early on the campaign. You snooze, you lose.
The tech being layered in is very similar to what I saw and heard in their big $20k Da Vinci DAC: the “Duet Engine” for improving “Redbook” playback, and the triple-buffer for all data to ensure the lowest possible jitter during playback, will both make an appearance on the new Wave. That’s great news.
Even with all the fuss and bother, I’ll submit that this is shaping up to be a pretty interesting package. And, truth be told, I think it’s more interesting than the last thing, though I thought that would have been pretty handy. Retail pricing looks pretty competitive, even for their top-tier player. Form factor is a little retro — think 1st Gen iPhone and you’re in the ballpark, but with a first-gen iPod’s tiny screen and buttons laid out like the old wheel. All that works. The question, of course, is this: will this be enough to win back their discontented and now likely confused fans? No clue.
The new campaign can be found at Indiegogo, here.