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LH Labs Updates: Flex, Infinity, Verb, Soul

20150211113811-pulse_hpa_concept_1

igg_2-630x250I got a chance to chat with Casey Hartwell, the Digital Marketing Manager for LH Labs. It was pretty much required — I’d seen so many updates to the various crowd-funding campaigns that the company was managing, that I had totally lost track of what was new, what was old, and what was what.

For those of you keeping score, LH Labs is a division of Light Harmonic, the maker of the most-excellent Darth Vader Da Vinci DAC that I reviewed for TAS last year. They’re also the team that launched one of the most successful crowd-funding campaigns in audio’s high-end, and then repeated that trick with another right on top of it. The company has since taken a lot of flack, some deserved and some not, around their delivery of those products, but when they decided to add “crowd-designed” to the “crowd-funded”, things got a little hairy. The net-net is that the products are shipping with more to come.

The current hot potato is the Geek Wave, a high-resolution portable digital audio player. If that sounds like Pono, you can be forgiven, but the Wave has moved from Indiegogo campaign to InDemand funding, prior to general retail availability currently scheduled for July. One of the things this last-minute campaign is offering is a greatly simplified buying experience, with the available options narrowed from approximately 8.3 million to just six. One of the newest additions to the design is a low-noise, full-size OLED display — and I for one am thrilled by the move. I didn’t exactly hate the last design mock-up, which made the Wave to look rather iPod, in a dressed up but still 2005 kind of way. The new look will be more industrial and far closer to the big iPhone 6+ and Samsung Galaxy devices (if not quite so big). Delivery on that device is scheduled for May/June of 2015.

What’s new with Wave? Flex. The Geek Wave Flex is a kind of like a “Wave Lite”, that is, a digital audio player missing the on-board storage of Wave (but maintaining the SD-card storage), and stripping out the WiFi and the Bluetooth. Purist? Maybe. But also a little cheaper. Delivery and availability is expected concurrent with the schedule for Wave — May/June of 2015.

Geek Pulse, the Indiegogo campaign that broke records and drove competitors (and some audiophiles) completely bananas, is still on track, if delayed. I understand that most backers looking for the “base model” have gotten their headphone amplifier/DAC combo boxes, and I’ve received assurances that the rest are soon to be on the way, though I am compelled to acknowledge that there are a great many backers that are getting more than a little antsy with the protracted process (see some of the comments, below, for a sampling). Speaking of which, those of us opting in for the Infinity Option for Pulse are still in for a bit of a wait — the brand-new ESS9018aq2m chip needed a whole new PCB to support the 32-pin architecture. Casey told me that we’re going to see an additional 6-8 weeks right there.

Delivery delays aside, the design team marches on and on the coming soon front, expect to see the Geek Pulse Headphone Amplifier (“concept” photo above). This product will hit the Pulse campaign on February 23rd, so keep an eye out. The product is, essentially, a Pulse with all the trimmings — except one. No DAC. That’s right, it’s just a headphone amplifier (like the name suggests). Given the image, I’m expecting tubes as a major feature and/or option. This product is also definitely part of their “desktop class” product line, as opposed to the VI DAC, which we’ll get to next. Anyway, more details on the HPA soon.

vi

Geek Soul, announced recently as part of the Forever Funding edition of the Geek Pulse, was designed to be the ultimate evolution of the many iterations of the DAC to be found in the Geek Pulse. Like I alluded to, the Soul was not a “desktop category” product — it was more of a “home audio category”. Well, Soul got a revamp — say hello to the VI DAC.

Other than a rather swanky case, designed to mitigate internal reflections and maximize damping and overall coolness, the VI DAC includes an option for a tube-output stage. That option, interestingly, is an add on — the “regular” solid-state output remains, so you essentially have a dual-output DAC. VI has been “live” on IGG for about a week now, and like many of the LH Labs campaigns, currently sits at something like 10x it’s target (braggarts). The DAC is about as capable as it gets, supporting sample rates of up to and including quad-rate DSD and 384k PCM. Dual femto-clocks and an option for dual ESS SABRE9018AQ2M DAC chips (brand new for 2015). That last bit is a bit of an oddity — the “base” DAC uses dual SABRE9018K2M DAC chips, but for $22, you can upgrade to the SABRE9018AQ2M chips. According to LH Labs, the new chip set “boasts even better harmonic distortion characteristics than its predecessor, as well as a lower noise floor and greater dynamic range.” Worth it? Up to you, but you better move quick as this chip needs a special-order PCB to incorporate it (see the note about the Infinity upgrade, above), so they’re controlling the orders on this perk to lots of 22. When they’re gone, they’re gone.

In case you missed it, LH Labs also announced a pair of new IEM headphone offerings — the Verb ($39) and the Verb X ($69). Casey tells me that the Verb has a v-shaped response (highs + bass), aka, “a commercial tuning”. This headphone has arrived State-side and is shipping in the next 2 weeks. The Verb X, the fully-balanced IEM with the “audiophile tuning”, is coming in about 4 weeks.

That’s quite a list of updates, so we’ll cap it there. I did, however, ask Casey about what’s coming down the pipe; he said this: “There’s plenty more crowd-funding campaigns planned for this year.”

I asked him to clarify, and he offered: “We’ll be diversifying our product offerings — for both the audiophile market and the mass market.”

Casey, clearly, is a tease. Stay tuned.

29 Comments on LH Labs Updates: Flex, Infinity, Verb, Soul

  1. Scot, I’m a long-time reader and make many audio purchases based on what I read right here at Part-Time Audiophile. Why, because I respect your and your contributor’s opinion(s). Second, I generally don’t post or get “in line” with other complainers…in my opinion, most “write” based on their emotional perspective versus fact. That out of the way, let me say the following:

    1. I made my Pulse commitment in February, 2014, based on your glowing recommendation. And, still glad that I did.
    2. I spent 37 years “working” and fully understand R&D life-cycles, supply chains, and public affairs.
    3. I completely understand the variability – and risk – of “investing” in a crowdfunding opportunity. I’ve invested in many over the last 12 – 18 months. Some have delivered, some have not…but none have done what Gavin has done…it could be that they, too, are continuing to develop new product…but, they aren’t marketing those products to folks still waiting for the first promised product.

    So, while I still love you ;-)…I still believe that Gavin (and yes, I did email him…with no response) needs to carefully manage his excitement and communication for new items with delivering on existing commitments. I would love to be potentially buying into some of their “new” stuff…but not until I’ve experienced the original purchase.

    I’m still very excited about my Geek Pulse and hopefully it will arrive between now and the end of March as promised by Gavin. At that time, maybe I’ll get excited about investing in some of the new stuff.

  2. Scot, I always enjoy your posts and I appreciate your interacting with posters, however I have to say when you get an overwhelming, consistent response from your readers it may be good to give them the benefit of the doubt and research their claims, instead of throwing your hands up in the air and saying you don’t understand their issue (especially while simultaneously stating the solution to their problems – stop whining, take action and/or calm down). No issue with readers warning future supporters of issues they may want to consider is there?

    I’m not trying to pick on LH Labs here, but to clear up a couple misconceptions you seem to have about backers options:

    LH Hands has a clear no refund policy. This is being referenced as an Indiegogo policy, which it certainly may be, though they gave refunds at the start (when products changed, sometimes grandly, often) and only changed after several campaigns. There is no avenue to get your money back, except to sell later and of course that is difficult as the delivery dates keep sliding. Someone please correct me if this has changed.

    [ … remainder of comment deleted … ]

    • Part-Time Audiophile // February 14, 2015 at 8:36 PM //

      This really isn’t complicated.

      If you are a backer and have a complaint about anything at all related to your experience with LH Labs, the obvious recourse is to contact LH Labs.

      If you have not contacted LH Labs, then what are we talking about here? A hypothetical? Or is there some storytelling being done on behalf of some mythical Other? Repeating rumors (aka, hearsay) seems irresponsible to me. FWIW, it’s also potentially libelous.

      As for the notes in this thread, it’s pretty well known that there is a significant tendency for the easily affronted or the inveterate gossip to over-represent. Generally, it’s not advisable to take it too seriously. Especially since “failing to meet a deadline” isn’t a health hazard or evidence of a criminal enterprise. Being clueless about the difference between a “crowd-funding investment campaign” vs a “commercial transaction” isn’t really LH Labs’ fault. Caveat emptor, and all that.

      If LH Labs fails to deliver, or delivers crap, I and everyone else will be all over that. But the reason we’re not, to date, isn’t because we’re missing the story. Other than a failure to deliver to schedule, regrettable as that is, there’s really nothing to see here.

      Or am I missing something?

  3. I can understand people’s frustration with the long gestation period of the Geek Pulse. But as Scott has pointed out, with crowd funding you are paying for potential. Similarly if you were investing equity you are paying for potential well, a potential return on your money. This is not a one click purchase from an online store.

    With crowdfunding there is no guarantee of product, you are helping to pay for product development and all the attendant problems that go along with that. Some of the issues Larry has already alluded to with regards to sourcing parts such as OLEDs where big players like smartphone manufacturers purchase hundreds of thousands if not millions of such components versus LHLabs with its relatively paltry sized orders.

    During this admittedly long wait, the Geek Pulse has had a number of significant upgrades along the way. Remember that the original concept for the Pulse was a fairly modest, very compact desktop DAC. The wait time has increased but so has the audio quality.

    As for myself, I was very apprehensive until I received my Geek Out last August. I received my first LPS back in December. The combination sounds far better than it rightfully should for the $500 that I paid for the combo. Others have already received the base Pulse versions. This is not vaporware.

  4. Scott, do you see a pattern here? People, including me, are frustrated because we were told we will get a DAP with some storage and some bells and whistles (if we had chosen then) on a certain date. Unfortunate as it may be, crowdfunding has become synonymous with delays – I couldn’t agree more that supply chain is tricky. But what is happening with LH Labs is they promised whatever they promised and then kept adding more without showing the anything for the original device. To make matters worse they started launching couple of other products each with a millions options for customisation. How can backers gain (or retain) confidence when one product hasn’t seen the light of the day when many more come up asking for us to back?

    Also, I remember CEntrance’s name got pulled up on the same light as LH Labs. I would have done the same until sometime ago when they allowed backers to request a refund if they had lost confidence. I for one own a CEntrance device and sort of lost confidence when one of their IGG campaigns didn’t bear fruit. They offered a refund to anyone who wanted out and some opted for it too. That’s the kind of confidence that LH Labs should exhibit. I’m not comparing one company with another – just comparing one approach with another.

    If LH Labs is so confident of delivering by May or June or July or whatever it is for the moment (I can bet anything that they aren’t going to meet that either), then why don’t they let people who want out get their money back? I’ve heard that some people got told that it’s not as per Indiegogo terms but if LH Labs had their backers’ interest in mind I guess these terms wouldn’t stop them.

    • “crowdfunding has become synonymous with delays” <– Again, I'm not sure that's reasonable. I think, more properly, we could say:

      "crowdfunding has become synonymous with missed expectations" <– the emphasis here on the fact that we, the backers, are suddenly privy to info "normal consumers" never would — and we can see how kinks in the supply chain directly affect delivery … right alongside the would-be manufacturer as they realize in almost real time why and how routes to market are long and treacherous. Normally, all that is hidden from us.

      4K and OLED are clearly superior to HD and LCD — and neither are new. You want to know why every LCD isn’t already 4K and OLED? Wanna take a wild guess? Here's one — it's not because the manufacturers don’t want to deliver at a price that the market will gobble up in insane volumes.

      • If the delays are entirely down to supply chain issues I wouldn’t worry about it, as it out of LH Labs’ control (to an extent only, as it also comes down to choice of suppliers). But in my opinion the issue runs much deeper. You say that backers are privy to information that normal customers never would, but the Wave campaign gained traction much after the original campaign closed (in Aug or Sep 2014? Not very sure). There were no updates (apart from flowery marketing talk) as to what was happening and nothing to show us until recently. Even recently what we all got to see was how the case ‘might’ look like. In the meantime they were getting their head around how to get Pulse delivered, which is good for Pulse backers and not so much for Wave backers.

        If supply chain is such a thorny issue, shouldn’t they focus more on that than release new perks or even products for that matter? Get the Pulse delivered to everyone, then kick start Wave. Now when Wave is on, don’t concentrate on anything else. But, hey, we have the Pulse headphone amplifier, Vi DAC, Verb, and to quote Casey “There’s plenty more crowd-funding campaigns planned for this year.”. What irks me the is (to quote a fellow forum member) the Forever-Releasing-New-Products-Before-We-Finish-Anything business model.

      • I think you have a legit complaint. A company needs to deliver in order to be taken seriously. But, at the same time, we actually have to let them deliver. Bedeviling them with our expectations is not fair.

        The question then is one of organizational flow. Does the team do absolutely nothing while they wait for PCBs to tool up, get samples, get checked, make changes, get more samples, make more changes, get more samples, make more changes, deal with flaky supplier, redesign around the new supplier, retool, get samples, make changes, deal with another flaky supplier, redesign around new supplier, retool, get more samples, make changes … &c …?

        Or should they take some of that down time and come up with more ways to make money for the company?

        I think it’s fair to say that we, as backers, are entitled to feel annoyed at the delays. We were told one thing and that thing turned out to be another thing. Knowing about such delays in advance may well have changed our buying behavior. Of course, knowing about such delays in advance would likely have led the would-be manufacturer to do something that would have mitigated or eliminated the delays in the first place, so the exercise is more than a little silly. But still, we’re entitled to be annoyed.

        But telling a business how they ought to do business is a more than a little arrogant. Sure, we can critique. We can complain. We can opt in or opt out. We can even go out into the market ourselves and create our own alternatives. But dictating how they ought to do it is silly and claiming to know The One True Way is intellectually dishonest (even if it is a very fertile ground for both personal and professional self-help publishing and consulting). The insurmountable problem is that we’re not them. Given the opportunity to be them, I’m quite sure we’d make our great decisions and promptly discover that such decisions had their own unique issues and resulted in their own outrages.

        Reverse-engineering challenges can be insightful but is not necessarily helpful to challenges-in-progress.

  5. Same thoughts here as the others. Not sure where you got info that most pulses have been shipped. That is not even close to accurate. I paid for mine In Nov. 2013 and I still have not received it.

    • Not every model has been delivered. But many have — their schedule indicates some 60% have already been sent out.

      • “Not every model has been delivered. But many have — their schedule indicates some 60% have already been sent out.” You’re being very selective on this, no?

      • Pretty sure I’ve addressed and readdressed this, but while I’m not privy to company internals, the point isn’t that they’ve successfully met every expectation. At this point, that’s impossible. It’s also silly as many of those expectations were absurd. But they have delivered and are delivering.

        As far as I know, the company has not shut up shop and told backers to get bent — but I’m also pretty sure they’ve offered refunds to the inconsolable, so I’m really not sure what all the hostility is about.

        As for delivery — all I know is what they and other readers tell me. From what I understand, some 60% of the base model (what we all signed up for, before we went perk crazy), are out the door. I, happily, opted for a rather souped-up version. Unhappily, that’s not ready yet. But while I’m still not satisfied — I want my toys pretty much immediately — I’m also not getting wrapped around the axle over it.

        I just have absolutely no reason to believe they’re going to shut up shop and tell me to get bent. I mean, aside from all the hysteria on some of the forums, that is. Reading through some of that, I have no reason to believe that haven’t already shut up shop and told their backers to get bent, all while enjoying margaritas on the beach of some Caribbean island.

        All I can say is this — if you have questions, concerns, or complaints, don’t just sit there with your thumb up your ass. Call them. Email them. Do something other than sharing fantasies about victimization.

        Where I find fault with LH Labs is where I’d find fault with any manufacturer: wildly underestimating the complications associated with supply-chain management. If they keep up grossly mismanaging delivery schedules, then the market will punish them by failing to invest in them or their products. But they’ve really only got one product out the door — Geek Out. And that is out the door. Geek Pulse is not “out”. It’s still pre-production — this hullabaloo is all over not getting pre-general-release products at massive discounts over retail pricing. Geek Wave? Ditto. Geek Soul/Vi DAC? Ditto.

        Backers are investors. I’m baffled that this was not clear to the complaining backers, but the fact of the matter is that IGG is most definitely not Best Buy. You want to wait till all the kinks are out? All the reviews have been written? All the products are lining the shelves? You’re invited to do so. This IGG program is pre-production.

        All I’m seeing is a whole lot of whining about getting a massive price break. You’ll pardon me while I shake my head in chagrin and embarrassment.

  6. Robert. A. Booey // February 13, 2015 at 9:18 PM //

    At times, it feels like a Ponzi scheme.

    • I think that’s unfair.

      FWIW, the “usual” life-cycle of a product includes a rather significant development stage. Going from idea to delivery in less than 1 year usually means that almost all of the design work is already done prior to the clock starting. With the Pulse, that design was quickly tossed out in favor of what the crowd clamored for — and that reset the clock.

      If no changes had been required, Pulse might have been delivered — the entirety of the run — back in early ’14. But no. You all had to go and make all those “special requests” ….

      • Yes I concur, functionality creeps at play. They should have stucked to their original design however I have to admit the latest incarnation is a fire power of features.

      • I wasn’t there, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to conjure up what that conversation might have looked like …

        “Do we hold this back for Version 2, or do we just go for awesome right now in Version 1, even if it means another delay?”

  7. Russ Stratton // February 13, 2015 at 5:33 PM //

    I’ve had my Pulse DAC and linear PS for about six weeks. I understand the frustration with the wait and the constant changes. I was feeling the same way until my gear showed up. I’m also waiting on a Pulse X Infinity, but having something in-hand makes the delay a little more tolerable.

    I’ve learned a valuable lesson participating in crowd funding campaigns for both LH Labs and CEntrance. This process is not for the impatient. You’re buying into potential, not product.

    As for the PulseDAC, all I’ll say is that my beloved Benchmark DAC2 HGC is now collecting dust.

  8. Mike Galusha // February 13, 2015 at 12:06 PM //

    Sadly I’m with the other commenters. It’s now been 16 months since I backed the Geek Pulse and still no DAC. As a backer of the Geek Out, I expected it would be slow but they have long passed the point of ridiculous. I unsubscribed from all the update mail as it seemed there was yet another option every few days but no delivery of what had been bought and paid for more than an year earlier. I was talking to a friend last night who also backed this, we both agreed that even if the top of the line (for today) was only $5 neither of us would pay even that.

    • For the record, my Pulse is still 8 weeks out.

      And while I’ll agree — all the variations and options did them absolutely zero favors with respect to their delivery schedule — each of those options also meant a potential for a completely new design, with all that entails.

      And lastly … a new design, from concept to mass delivery, usually takes several years. Especially if you’re a new company. All those supply chains are tricky to have to work out.

      Again, not an excuse, but I’m not at all surprised that LH Labs is still working through their queue.

  9. They love adding new perks and products, but have not proven themselves by actually delivering products (at least the Pulse). The appearance to outsiders is that they are more focused on the new and interesting than fulfilling prior commitments. I won’t be supporting them anymore once I receive mine.

    • I’m not sure that’s fair, either. I have a suite of Geek Outs, for example. And I spent many months with a Da Vinci DAC.

      They’re more real than most high-end audio companies.

      What I think is problematic is that most of their backers are simply not aware of supply chain economics or product development cycles. The assumption is that crowd-funding and/or crowd-designing is like some kind of transaction done at Best Buy. Point, click, now, where’s my shit?

      Obviously, that’s not a useful analogy.

  10. LH Labs really should focus on delivering what they’ve already committed versus spending so much time on the new stuff. My Geek Pulse was supposed to be here by the end of July. They’ve had my cash since 01Feb14. Why would I buy anything from them until I’ve experienced the original product I purchased? I get that it was a crowd-funded item…but, from a credibility perspective, you should focus on delivering against the original promises before you spend so much time all the new stuff. It seems like we get a “new” item update in our email weekly. The latest Pulse update…61% shipped…the rest of us by the end of March. Right!

  11. “…most backers have gotten their headphone amplifier/DAC combo boxes” – curious where you got that impression? Few have shipped and repeated deadlines missed.

    • Supply chains are tricky biz.

      When one doesn’t work out, or shit changes (as it’s wont to do, what with global markets and all), the option is to find a random replacement — or a good one. That means testing. Testing means you might actually find a better one. And what if you do? What if it’s more expensive? Should you hold that back? Or offer it to your backers? What if you do that — and it turns out that the better part means more changes?

      It’s very complicated. Obviously.

      The problem with crowd funding and crowd-designing is that you’re privy to more-than-usual in the development process. But still not all of it. Which means we get left wondering where our shit is, even though every option we wanted and opted in for meant that we fubared our release dates ….

  12. Issue with LH Labs is that they are extremely way behind on their delivery date and are very bad at keeping schedules. Does not breed an environment of trust and happiness.

    For me, I am on my 1 year plus wait for my Geek Plus Xfi. At time point in time, with them constantly breaking their deliverable dates on the constant changes that they seem to keep making. It is really hard to believe that they have the ability to fulfill even half of what they talk about.

    Seeing as they have so many campaigns and they are still unable to fulfill their near 2 years ago 2nd campaign. If they are already so delayed and still not fulfilled or fulfilled with tons of bugs on that old campaign. How can one trust them with all their new campaigns.

    Also does not help that … why they keep on coming out with new stuff when their old stuff cannot even complete it first.

    That is the core issue. Trust. Can you trust them? Especially when near all you have to go on is that.

    I strongly believe that new buyers must be told this side of the story too.

    • Delays are better than failures, no?

      And lets not go nuts — the Pulse is late, yes. But it’s not 2 years late. It’s about 6 months late.

      I really don’t get the whole “no trust” issue. Seriously. They delivered Geek Out. I know folks with Geek Pulses. It’s not like they haven’t been absurdly up front with backers about what’s happened and when. You think Sony would be this open? Or Dodge? Be serious.

      Y’all just need to settle down.

      • Hi Scot, the Pulse in the original campaign was scheduled for April 2014. For those still waiting or a base model Pulse from the first campaign, I think it is fair to say that it is now ten months late.

        LHLabs’ shipping page indicates that 61% of the base Pulses have shipped. That model accounts for less than half of the total number of Pulses. In fact you can see on the same page that there are another five Pulse models that have not started shipping. The statement “most backers have gotten their headphone amplifier/DAC combo boxes” is definitely not correct.

        Regards

      • I think the trust issue stem from the fact that the marketing department does not have a clear vision.

        I understand that one of the advantages of crowdfunding is to get feedback from buyers. It’s a super solid focus group because you’re talking to actual buyers. It’s great concept, and properly executed, can lead to building a product that meets market demand.

        But a company has to drive this process. LHLabs are horrible at this. Products continually change and morph into other new products. This leads to broken promises, and give the impression to a lot of backers that they are left behind.

        It feels to me like the company is split into two parts tugging on the same blanket. The marketing/fundraising team, and the technical team. While I have total faith in the technical team, I don’t trust the marketing side of LHlabs anymore.

        I’m interested in backing and witnessing the development of a product. I didn’t contribute to participate in the development of a whole company.

      • Part-Time Audiophile // February 14, 2015 at 8:37 PM //

        “I’m interested in backing and witnessing the development of a product. I didn’t contribute to participate in the development of a whole company.” <– Well, that's a shame. 😉

        The bottom line is this — if you have a specific complaint and require some kind of redress, there are avenues for that. Failing to take advantage of them isn’t really their fault.

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