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LH Labs crowdfunds $1m for Geek Wave digital audio player

  • If you’re a manufacturer bringing a digital audio player to market in 2014 you’d better ensure that a) it can keep pace with the sound quality and UI stability of the Astell&Kern and Sony offerings OR b) sell it for less than the Apple iPod Touch (US$199+).

    Light Harmonic’s subsidiary LH Labs is aiming for both!

    Back in May, LH Labs completely overhauled their third crowd-funded digital audio device from iDevice add-on to fully fledged DAP. And as of right now you have less than 48 hours to snag the entry-level Geek Wave 32 at (apparently) less than manufacturing cost. US$166 gets you over the line for a product not slated to begin shipping until 2015.

    Navigating the Indiegogo page isn’t exactly a walk in the park. It’s a mind-boggling array of upgrades and stretch goals that requires some serious effort on the part of the potential backer.


    Let’s begin at the beginning.

    Whilst the Geek Wave 64, Geek Wave (XD) 128 are ultimately destined for retailer networks the Geek Wave 32 is an Indiegogo-only deal. It won’t be available once this $1m-busting crowd-funding campaign wraps up. 32Gb of internal memory is user-expandable to 2TB with the addition of an SD card. When connected to your PC or Mac these will show up as mounted drives (as per Astell&Kern players). Loading files is then just a simple drag and drop procedure – no iTunes required.


    File support is seriously impressive for the money. The internal ESS 90182M DAC chip (as found in the US$1200 Calyx M) can decode up 32bit/384kHz PCM as well native DSD64 and DSD128.

    The Geek Wave 32’s 3.5mm, 0.47 Ohm headphone output will drive 160mW into 16 Ohms so it’s not a real powerhouse. That said, it’ll be more than enough for most portable-friendly headphones. Owners of the KEF M500 and V-Moda M-100 are likely to enjoy a significant lift in performance. LH Labs’ campaign focus is on sound quality – how very Pono-esque. The main message of the associated promo video is that Geek Wave will trounce Apple devices for aural satisfaction. Unlike Apple devices, the 3100 mAh battery that fuels the Geek Wave 32 is user replaceable.

    Looking at how the Geek Wave 32 is controlled we see echoes of its former incarnation as an iDevice appendage. Hardware buttons and a (fairly basic) user interface take care of the essentials: transport controls and volume attenuation. So far, so standard. However, Bluetooth connect it to your iOS or Android phone or tablet and a far more involved user interface becomes accessible via LH Labs own controls apps.

    Upgrades. Want more internal storage? The Geek Wave 64 (US$299) and Geek Wave 128 (US$399) pack 64Gb and 128Gb respectively. The latter also doubles up on headphone juice for 320 mW into 16 Ohms. If you’ve need for 450mW, the top-of-the-range US$899 Geek Wave XD 128 is your guy. Along for that ride comes optical digital output, twin Femto clocks, 5100mAh battery and a dual mono topology.


    The Geek Station (US$189) and Geek Station X (US$229) are docking stands for charging your Geek Wave and/or a more elegant way of connecting it to your main two-channel rig without using a Y-cable on the Geek Wave’s 3.5mm line output socket.

    Lastly, of note to anyone with a portable headphone amplifier / DAC whose connector is micro USB, LH Labs are offering a customised 1 metre length of their rather splendid LightSpeed USB cable, terminated with micro-B at one end, for US$99.

    Hurry though – 48 hours is all you’ve got. The Geek Wave campaign closes midnight (PDT), July 12th 2014.

    Further information: Geek Wave on Indiegogo

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. Funny picture (or video screenshot) of Gavin there, John. Was he smoking a joint or something? =P

      That Geek Station X looks interesting. Would be even better if they could build a dock with preamp functionality (even if it were bigger sized). That way you could hook it to your speaker power amp or straight to active speakers.

    2. Thanks for the tip! I’m a happy owner of two Geek Outs, but I wasn’t going to buy a Wave because I thought it was too expensive and I’m not such a big fan of portable audio. But at $200 now I couldn’t resist 🙂

    3. Am I the only LH Labs backer (3 projects) that wishes they’d concentrate their efforts on bringing existing projects to market – fulfilling their customer commitments – before launching yet another blooming crowd funding campaign?!? It seems that virtually every month there’s another new product to entice us to part with our cash. So whilst I applaud their innovation, it seems to me that LH Labs have overcommitted themselves and will struggle to meet existing product release dates.

      • Hi Andy – It’s a valid point, and one that we hear frequently. Be assured that your complaint (for lack of a better word) isn’t falling on deaf ears.

        What we’re constantly trying to remind everyone is that our crowdfunding campaigns are really part of our R&D process. We depend on our backers and Geek Force to help us develop products, and we, in turn, deliver them. So far, Geek Out is delivered and Geek Pulse is on the cusp of delivery. Unlike most companies in the industry, we open the curtains and let you see the process, warts and all. It’s a normal R&D process, it’s just very public. 🙂

        Thanks for backing our projects!


    4. Mr. DAR K.O.,

      Thanks for this enlighting piece of advertisement of what is essentially vaporware at this point. Looking back at LH Labs campaigns, you could have taken a more “fair and balanced” approach by not only reporting on the upsides but also the downsides (i.e. half-finished Geek Out drivers, incredibly long shipment delays for Geek Pulse, overall lack of execution at the expense of new crowdfunding campaigns, etc.). Don’t get me wrong, I think you are doing a wonderful job with your audio product reviews but this article just looks like you are riding the hype to get more clicks for your banner ads.

      • Hey Rank. One could level accusations of ANY news items being an advert. My intent here was to better disseminate the product info – their Indiegogo page is a mess of bonuses and additional products. Besides, I’d reported on the GeekWave’s original incarnation and it would’ve been remiss of me not to inform readers that it’s now a completely different product! I was waiting until the campaign tipped a $1m to make the story doubly newsworthy.

        I know nothing of the half-finished Geek Out drivers – is that for Windows? I’m almost exclusively Mac-based nowadays. And yes, I hear the Geek Pulse has yet to ship. The reasons behind any production delay can only be explained by LH Labs themselves. I’ll see if I get comment from Gavin Fish on this.

      • That’s perhaps a bit rough Rank, although you do have a few valid points. I’ve been part of the Pulse campaign and yes they are a bit behind schedule. However, their first crowdfunded project, the Geek Out, does sound pretty cracking to many ears and I am willing to bet that the Pulse will too (when it arrives).

        I would bet too, that all the little delays and problems (mamma dramas!) that have frustrated some backers are part and parcel of manufacturing just about anything, and particularly prevalent when bringing a new product to market. However, we, the public normally see very little of this backstage ruckus. The notable difference between most other companies and LH Labs is not the mistakes made, it’s that the latter have opened up the whole manufacturing process to public scrutiny. And by gum, they really DID ask for backers’ ideas in the forum, and implement many the things that we asked for! (Quite astounding, when you stop to think about it). It’s arguably a risky way to operate, because along with the ups we’ve had to swallow some downs. Too many downs and the ship sinks. Personally though, I admire their innovation and courage – and if the end product(s) do eventually shake up the audio market, heck it may just all be worth it!

    5. Thanks for not censoring my earlier post and I am glad you replied.

      Concerning the Geek Out drivers, the default value is at max SPL and depending on the OS, when you play around with the volume control with the OS volume slider and the Geek Out volume buttons, the SPL reverts automatically (and unexpectedly) to the max. That’s pretty scary when you get 0.5W to 1W in efficient IEMs and it’s potentially harmful to hearing. Besides, the first units of Geek Out were shipped while the driver was not out yet so it had to be rushed out before an all out rebellion from backers materialized.

      Concerning the shipment delays on Pulse, it looks like LH Labs painted a bit of rosy picture during their campaign. They are still fiddling with prototypes 9 months after starting the campaign. The entire part supplies has yet to be secured and initial production runs to test for QA haven’t yet started. Given the complexities of configurations, their online order confirmation system is still buggy and plain rudimentary after months of development. I think they’ll eventually get through this campaign but backers are probably looking at Q4 2014 shipments.

      In light of this and other issues (just take a look at their forum). Is it really the time to launch yet another campaign with gazillion of product configurations, variable pricing during throughout the campaign, several products launched at once: Geek Wave, Geek Station, Geek Stream, Geek Source? Putting out a DAP and a transport is order of magnitude harder than a DAC because you need a very strong UI and integration of streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, Qobuz. LH Labs doesn’t even have a Wave prototype with a working UI at the moment, has yet to get Apple certification for their device, and probably hasn’t talked to Spotify and such. All these take months if not years to get right and that’s with a substantial team of dedicated engineers.

      The question begs to be asked: did LH Labs bite-off more than they can chew with this last campaign? Did their previous crowfunding success go to their head? Time will tell.

    6. I think this whole crowd-funding phenom and using a magazine’s news section to point at various campaigns is a modern way to cross lines again. It’s one thing to announce a new component which just arrived in the stores or can now be direct-ordered from the maker. You can buy it now, you might even demo it. Is it the same thing to by proxy get involved in a maker’s fund raiser for a product that at the time only exists as a concept? On that count I’m not so sure. I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s a new trend and as always, the press is expected to react and report. I’m simply less convinced that in this case it’s really the job of us in the press… any comments?

      • Srajan – yes, it’s possible you might have a point here, especially when products only exist as concepts. I don’t see Kickstarter’s strength as only a method of advance funding a production run. It also plays on consumers’ fear of missing out: a limited run, never to be seen again, at least not for the original price. I think that can make it newsworthy…the counterpoint being, as you suggest, that the reporter is playing into the hands of the manufacturer.

        In the case of the GeekWave, I’m in the middle of a run of posts about personal audio setups and for that alone I thought it was a good fit. Besides, I reported on the original incarnation of the GeekWave and really felt the revision required calling out.

      • In my opinion John is furnishing his readers with useful information about potentially innovative new conceptual products by referring to audio equipment on crowd-funding websites. Whether a reader commits funds to projects is entirely their own decision and the onus must be on individuals to exercise caution in this respect.

        • Yes, but I think (part of) Srajan’s point is that things can get murky when said product doesn’t yet even exist, not even in prototype form. And thus I find myself having to ruminate on some not insignificant implications.

          Thing is, if you don’t report on Kickstarters and Indiegogos you run the risk of not moving with the times. Readers want to know about their existence BEFORE funding expires and not after the fact (which would see lines not crossed).

    7. My (implied) point was that the press as a sales agent to/for the manufacturers has always been contentious. And I was wondering whether promoting fundraising campaigns doesn’t get us in the press even more deeply on that side of the fence.

      • Obviously the promotion of a ‘tried and tested’ product is responsible and laudable. The better value the product, the more effusive the review. That’s all sensible. Perhaps a potential solution to the predicament of promoting an untested (yet newsworthy) product is to exercise particular caution and minimize language that might be construed as endorsement.

    8. Manny here at Light Harmonic,

      I do find the article full of information about the products we make and offer. I cannot tell you how many people want to look at the DAC chip ESS 90182M (or how many photos we show with this in our boards) but this is the best way to get full range of all the audio decode up to 32bit/384kHz PCM and DSD64 and DSD128 I mean not many can do that at our price (if any). I am looking forward to this product.

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