LH Labs Updates: Flex, Infinity, Verb, Soul

I 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.

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.