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Risk vs. reward: crowdfunding Nativ Sound’s Vita

  • It’s on the risk/reward axis that the entrepreneur rotates. Product comes to market, consumer buys product, profit is made. The risk is in ensuring bang-for-buck sufficiently stokes demand so that the ensuing revenue outweighs costs. Otherwise, the entrepreneur waves farewell to his/her investment capital and then some. S/he’s in the red.

    What if that risk could be mitigated by re-jigging the order in which the deal goes down: consumer buys product, product comes to market, profit is made? In other words, production costs are covered by pre-orders. Now our entrepreneur (potentially) waves goodbye to more risk and less capital. Hello black.

    Michael Li of Hong Kong’s Nativ Sound wants to pull on our collective coat about his Vita “High-Resolution Music System And Touchscreen Control Center”. Sounds fancy, looks fancier.

    In other words, the Vita is a high-resolution streamer and server that’s also one heck of a looker. Canting back in an American oak or walnut plinth sits a “premium-grade 7000 series aluminium” chassis that’s fronted by a Japanese Asahi glass 11.9” touchscreen “with IPS technology”.

    Baseline functionality sees the Vita connect to an outboard DAC via four S/PDIF outputs (RCA, Toslink, BNC, AES/EBU) or asynchronous USB over which it will dispatch PCM up to 32bit/384kHz or DSD up to quad rate via its in-built, bit-perfect playback app.

    It’ll do MQA too but as the Vita houses no internal DAC of its own, an MQA-compatible D/A converter is still required.


    Getting more technical, the press release reads: “Audiophiles will appreciate the high-end digital output stage with independent ultra-low noise power regulators, galvanic isolation and a special in-line filter to eliminate jitter and noise from the audio signal.”

    Music can be pulled from 2 x (optional) 2TB SSD/HHD drives, configurable as a straight up 4TB or a RAID-ed 2TB, or from over the LAN via 802.11ac or Gigabit Ethernet.

    A Roon playback client is also listed in the Vita’s feature set but requires Roon Core to be running on a Mac or PC elsewhere on the home network.

    Music can also be streamed from a LAN-connected smartphone or NAS via the aforementioned in-built playback app (network transmission protocol unspecified).

    Streaming from Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, Tidal and YouTube are also part of the deal.

    But the Vita will also stream to other nearby devices; over Bluetooth, over Spotify Connect and over Apple’s AirPlay. It will even stream video content via Google Cast to a larger TV display equipped with a Chromecast. The Vita’s HDMI port is for those not yet be in possession of Google’s video dongle.


    Clearly, the Vita begs to be touched. Except if you’re the kind of person for whom even the smallest fingerprint annoys. In which case you’ll want to use Nativ’s iOS and Android apps to control the Vita. Or its in-built voice control. “Simply tell it what to play, adjust the volume or skip to the next track,” says the press release.

    According to Li, the underlying operating system is a combination of Linux and Android and is open source, ready for extension by third party software developers.

    MSRP starts at US$1599. Add US$200 per 2TB HDD. The 2TB SSD version is pegged at US$2195.

    But there’s a catch; and not one to be gleefully ignored.

    The Nativ Vita comes to market in the first instance via crowdfunding site Indiegogo where pricing is was as low as US$699. Still available at time of writing were discounted options at US$999, US$1099 and US$1199.


    For all intents and purposes a crowdfunded ‘purchase’ such as this looks and feels like a pre-order: you pay cash up front – hopefully at a discounted price – and then receive the product at a later date. (Vita is slated for shipping in October 2016).

    Except, technically speaking, it isn’t a pre-order. There is no contract between buyer and seller. Why? Because the consumer is backing a campaign via a donation that merely brings the product into being. It’s within the details of language that the devil lurks.

    Kickstarter’s FAQ tells it like this:

    “A creator is the person or team behind the project idea, working to bring it to life. Backers are folks who pledge money to join creators in bringing projects to life. Rewards are a creator’s chance to share a piece of their project with their backer community. Typically, these are one-of-a-kind experiences, limited editions, or copies of the creative work being produced.”

    Indiegogo has their FAQ doing a similarly lively dance with semantics. Substitute ‘project’ for campaign and ‘backer’ for contributor.


    recent report suggests that around 9% of all crowdfunding campaigns fail to deliver on their promises. That’s a seemingly small percentage but cold comfort to anyone contributing to a campaign where production schedules slip and crowdsourced funding evaporates.

    One of the more high profile collapses of recent times was the Zano mini-drone. Multiple delays and a loss of CEO preceded the manufacturer’s voluntary liquidation last November. Of the 12,000 backers who generated a whopping 2.3M GBP of upfront capital, only 600 received a (barely functional) Zano drone. The rest came away with nowt.

    Or how about the Coolest Cooler that loaded a USB charger and Bluetooth speaker (among other features) into a cool box to become the second largest Kickstarter campaign of all time? 56,000 people stumped up between US$165 and US$225 for their very own Coolest Cooler. That was mid 2014.

    Two years on, 20,000 had received their ‘reward’ when the Coolest Cooler appeared on Amazon at full retail US$399; remaining backers were asked to stump up an additional US$97 for ‘expedited shipping’. Oh dear.

    How did this happen? Campaign creator Ryan Grepper reportedly seriously underestimated production costs and ripped through the initial crowdsourced US$13m faster than expected, leaving a US$15m hole in the company’s balance sheet and 36,000 unsatisfied project backers in its wake.


    It’s not only hardware manufacturers that test their backers’ patience. Animal Collective’s Josh “Deakin” Dibb took seven years to make good on his promise of an album that would be recorded on the back of a trip to Africa. Funding to the tune of US$26,000 was raised via Kickstarter in 2009 but the album only saw light of day several weeks ago.

    Clearly, with reward comes risk.

    But who really shoulders that risk here? With little to no comeback when things go awry, one could argue that it’s the customer more so than the entrepreneur.

    According to Indiegogo: “When you contribute to a crowdfunding project you are supporting a startup or a new creative endeavor. The reality is that many startups and new ideas – and even some established business – fail. This is why it’s important for each contributor to assess the risks of the project to determine if they are willing to accept them before supporting a campaign.”

    In other words, you’re on your lonesome in dealing with the project creator and his company should your reward not ship on time, not function as promised or see substantial changes to its form.

    Perhaps the crowdfunding manufacturer has done the hard yards on costings, production and distribution and is all set. Or perhaps he hasn’t (and isn’t). How to separate the kid out of college with a brilliant idea to the experienced businessman with the same? Clues don’t come easy.

    This apparent lack of buyer protection is the number one reason DAR ordinarily takes a pass on covering crowdfunded products that have yet to ship.

    In fact, the Nativ Vita would have happily sailed on by had my personal interest not overcome my skepticism: funding before production = cart before horse.

    I plugged creator Michael Li for further information via email.

    “I assume you have a working prototype with ALL the features mentioned in the video?”

    Li’s prompt reply: “We are still about 6 months away from shipping so not all features are implemented yet. However, all key features are currently working such as music browsing & playback, streaming from Mac/PC/NAS, music importing to local HDD, playlist & play queue creation and music service support.”

    “In the coming months we will focus on refining the UI and implementing the other open features, the biggest ones being full integration of smartphones and multi-room streaming.”

    “All factories for A-parts are chosen. We are in the final phase of refining the mechanical design and will then start tooling. Tooling usually takes around 8 weeks and should be complete in July.”



    “A-parts are all parts that are crucial to the product (either based on cost or lead time or both) such as processor, DAC ICs, toroidal transformers, enclosure, glass, touchscreen, LCD etc.”

    “We plan to start a pilot run production in August, with first shipments going out to supporters in October,” continued Li.

    “We do not anticipate any major delays as we factored in enough buffer times. Of course there can always be natural disasters that can affect the supply chain (like the earthquake in Japan just now), but we hope this will not be the case.”

    The way I see it, shipping delays and feature trimming are two big pressure points for crowdfunded products. Unforeseen delays can and do occur. Of the Vita we might want to know before ordering if the UI smooth or janky? With crowdfunding sales we have no way of knowing. Or what if Spotify Connect gets the chop at the last minute? One particular feature might prove pivotal to one’s decision to back a project with cash.

    Therefore, could a backer seek a refund if the Nativ player didn’t ship in October as planned? Or, if certain features advertised in the IGG campaign didn’t make it to the final product, could a backer also then seek a refund?

    Li’s response was encouraging: “Yes, we offer a refund to backers if we do not ship in time, or if features that are communicated for the shipping version of the product are not implemented.”


    Few outside Nativ’s inner circle will get hands-on with the company’s products before they ship. Unlike the traditional sales model where the first production run is completed and samples sent out as stock is dispatched to dealers, the Vita will remain untested by reviewers or early adopters prior to arriving at your door. The consumer is the guinea pig in the crowdfunding sales model.

    If you’re not motivated by FOMO, the Vita – along with Nativ’s Wave DAC and Pulse power supply (LH Labs much?) – will be made available via Nativ’s website once all Indiegogo contributor rewards have been fulfilled. That’s the plan. Here’s hoping the Vita ships on time with all features in tact and doesn’t appear for sale on Amazon before then. If it does, at least you have Michael Li’s word on refund availability.

    Further information: Nativ on IGG | Nativ Sound


    UPDATE 18th April: An email from Nativ Sound’s Michael Li. “As usual your article is beautifully written and well researched. It’s nice to see that there are still real journalists out there that try to understand the product and see where it fits in. Many just copy and paste the press release. We really appreciate the coverage.”

    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. I participated in two crowdfunding investments which were disappointing (Olive because of disappointing product quality and an LH headphone amp which took forever and a day to deliver). The rest turned out Ok.

      Would be an interesting project to track launches which delivered a product but did so quite late to the point where the promised technology was then widely available elsewhere for lower cost.

      Great article.

    2. I crowdfunded Olive One and Geek Pulse dac.
      NEVER NEVER again I will be trapped in things like those!

    3. I lost small amounts of money on two gadgets that I crowdfunded. Both of them also had prototypes built already.

      This project actually looks like the perfect item for me, but I can’t afford to take a $700-$1000 risk.

      Especially as the company and the quality of it’s products are unknown.

      If it was being proposed by a known player like PS Audio or iFi, I might have gone in on it.

    4. The Nativ product is just confusing. A lot of pretty video showing a 2.5″ thick tablet with a nice wooden dock. No cabling shown or implied. They are even highlighting a wall mount option.

      But it clearly requires mains power, and unless you are connecting it to wireless speakers (howzit work with Sonos again, with the Aux jack on a Connect?) it needs either an Ethernet or USB or coax or optical connection). How does that make it wall mounting viable? Or having it sit centered on a coffee table as highlighted in their videos? It isn’t clear if the wood and metal are seperable and if the thick metal part with the screen can move place to place in the house. I assume not due to the wires and no battery mentioned.

      But why have a wall dock if you can’t? And do you have to drill behind the wall to conceal all those wires like with a wall mounted TV? Even if it’s wireless you still have power to contend with.

      I don’t get why the approach of screen and streamer merged into one unit is more viable or better than an off the shelf tablet and an Aries Mini which I can buy today. Toss in the free year of Tidal, pay for a year of Roon, and buy dock of choice on Etsy and it is still in the same price range as the thing you can’t yet buy.

      I’m not dismissing or dissing. I’m genuinely curious what has people excited about this. I must be missing something obvious. I guess I could look at it as a really big Squeezebox Touch without analog outs.

      If this were a freestanding wireless head unit paired with a dedicated DAC that lived in proximity to the stereo setup via an proprietary high bit wireless protocol, that might be unique.

      As it is, this just feels like the videos and sales pitch gloss over the practical problem of this approach. The only thing I might be interested in is if I were to connect this with say some XEO wireless speakers for a from scratch system.

    5. For all the reasons you mentioned, I didn’t run this crowdfunding announcement nor any other like it in our news page. And I remember another wrinkle to this risk-deferring scheme: the build just 5 review units scheme which get reviews, signs dealers, *then* commits to production. This happened to both of us with the Eversound Essence speaker which still isn’t in production but which both of us reviewed thinking it already was or would be very soon. Now the company name has changed to Feniks Audio and there’s a pledge-funding campaign to finance first production…

      That’s not my idea of a proper chain of events…

      • Agreed. And that won’t happen again. I wrote about the perils of covering crowdfunded audio gear last year. That was from a journalist’s point of view.

        The comments sections of LH Labs articles here are littered with dissatisfied customers who haven’t seen their ‘reward’ but who are apparently unable to get a refund from the manufacturer.

        So, this year, I wanted to tackle crowdfunded gear from a consumer’s point of view, hence this piece. It could’ve featured any one of the KS/IGG news releases that hit my inbox but the Nativ got a run because 1) it’s a very interesting looking digital front end and 2) Li has promised refunds to backers should delays arrive or features get dropped.

        That no contract exists between buyer and crowdfunder only came to my attention very recently.

        • While Nativ has developed since this article was launched maybe it is fair to look at the Company again. What I do not like about the concept of this article/Comments is to mix up the uncertainty of crowdfunding and this new Company. By the way, what about the well received and crowdfunded PS Audio Sprout?
          In the meantime, Nativ did not only offer new products (CD Ripper and Player), they also continue to inform people and make them part of the development. I believe that it would have been good to write an article about indiegogo or about Nativ. The Companies approach is interesting enough to be mentioned separated from the crowdfunding hikups.
          Kind regards, Benjamin

    6. Hmmmm…As with pretty much all monetary slight of hand dealings, you don’t want to blind them, you just want them to blink…a little.

      I have several Internet Radios in my home and my favorites are the Grace Digital Encore and Squeezebox Radios (the latter of which you could not pry from my cold dead hands. Are you listening (ill)Logitech?).

      As regards audio or rather, High End Audio, I sometimes wonder whether or not we are caught in a never ending retelling of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Some of this must surely be nothing more than FM. I think that what the world of audio needs now is not love, sweet love, but rather a simple, effective program and device that will label, categorize, add art work and play back one’s music without adding or subtracting anything the author(s) put there. And by music I mean that which you own and that which you listen to, e.g., streamed music via the interwebs.

      Simple to use with a display capable of showing relevant information to both the enthusiast (read: OCD Audiophiles) and my mom (read: just wants to hear some good music, see the album art and think about the good times associated with all of it).

      Don’t make promises or claims you won’t or can’t keep. For that matter don’t make ones no one asked for. For the greater part, people want to hear the music, not the equipment.. They want to push play without kneeling to pray. To paraphrase Schiit, we want equipment for the music we already have…and if I may be so bold, this equipment would deliver so well that it makes us want to have i.e., “purchase” and listen to even more music.

      Simple, really.

      Oh, and Srajan? I blame you not one bit on your reticence as it pertains to “Crowdfunding”. Perhaps they should rename that stillborn speaker, “Neversound”, my friend. All the best to all associated with this thread.


    7. I got LH to refund my $€£¥. I sent a slew of increasingly annoyed (and presumably, annoying) emails and copied its senior exec. I also noted the broken promises as to delivery dates on its Facebook wall. It took a while but it worked.

    8. Promise to refund? Does the company have the wherewithal to honor that promise? Do they have local presences or will aggrieved customers have to chase them in the Chinese justice system (an oxymoron along with military intelligence, British cuisine, feminist humour, etc. etc.).

    9. I’ve got too many bad experiences now on Igg/kick to go down that path again. Besides the well-commentated LH Labs cases (which I committed big-time) I’ve had two other electronics products that I’ll probably never see nor get a refund.

    10. Crowdfunding is betting. I am with nativ (799 for the vita plus 2 TB). Not sure if I made the right decision. Worst case would be an “olive one experience”. October seems very ambitious. I do not care that much. I like the article becaue it reminds me of my bet versus pre-ordering.

    KIH #33 – Hearing the forest for the trees

    Talking ’bout pop music: Pet Shop Boys and James