Geeking Out On The Road With The Light Harmonic Geek Out 1000
Portable audio continues to evolve and amaze. Twenty years ago it was a Walkman cassette player (Hiss provided for free!) and a pair of Sony headphone buds.
Yes, it still works.
Portable headphones got better and then Apple blessed us with the iPod. I think I have about 15 different versions. 1000 songs in my pocket and no hiss.
But all is not well. Something is missing. Unfortunately, the lack of hiss reveals a lack of detail. 16/44.1 is not enough. I need a better DAC and a better amp to get me there. Thankfully, our friends at Audioquest presented us with the Dragonfly. I bought one the first week it was out and teamed it up with my venerable Sennheiser HD650’s for weekly travel bliss. All my lovely loss-less AIFF rips from iTunes and FLAC from HDtracks.com brought to life. Things were good. At least that’s what I thought. What is DSD, Precious? (Did you read that in Gollum’s voice? I typed it that way)
Well, my Dragonfly can’t do DSD. So, now what? And what is Kickstarter anyway? Who is this Gavin Fish guy? Larry Who? Er… Ho? (BTW, these guys are dedicated and passionate audiophiles. I really appreciate them!)
I did some research on Light Harmonic. They offer a TOTL DSD capable DAC, the DaVinci Dual DAC for a tidy $31,000. It is also really big, 61 lbs to be exact. Not exactly portable pleasure.
Our friends at Light Harmonic went the crowd-funding route to birth their latest creation. They had a vision for a new portable audio device and tapping the audio community for comment, input and funding was the perfect way to make it happen. A lot of people felt the same way as their $28,000 goal was over funded by nearly 11 times over! I am in the market for portable awesomeness. Enter Sir Gavin and his crowd funded Awesomifier, the Geek Out 1000. A truly portable DAC/Amp barely bigger than a typical USB thumb drive. The Geek Out 1000 offers a maximum 1Watt of true class A power. More than enough for my TOTL HD-800 Sennheiser’s.
A couple of basics on the Geek Out 1000: There are Three models starting at $199 (450mW) $249 (720mW) and the 1000 at $299. 5 colors are available for the aircraft grade aluminum casing. I chose red.
I have enjoyed many quality DAC’s over the years and while there are many great DAC chipsets, I am generally partial to the ESS Sabre Reference 9018 models. The Geek Out uses the 9018M and puts it’s full capabilities to work using 384/32 decoding and DSD128 as well. They even take advantage of the 64-step volume attenuation. With this you can use your own choice of software to manage the volume rather than use the volume control buttons on the device. I have found this works great with iTunes & Amarra, (Non DSD) as well as JRiver and Audirvana+ (With DSD).
The Geek Out has LED indicators that let you know what signal it is receiving, whether it is DSD and if the Awesomifier is active or not. Awesomifier? What is THAT? It is a snazzy crossfeed circuit that for certain recordings can greatly expand the soundstage for the listener. You can invoke it by holding down both up and down volume buttons.
Press them again to turn it off. While this is not new, the SPL Phonitor and Decware Taboo Mk III Headphone amps are great examples of this type of circuit; It can be a fun alternative listening experience with the right recordings. I have found small group recordings particularly benefit from the expanded soundstage created by the Awesomifier.
There are also two headphone 3.5mm headphone jacks, one for 47ohm full size headphones and the other at .47 ohms for IEM/CIEM use.
Using the Geek Out while traveling is a nice evolutionary step up from the venerable (Can something only 2 years old be Venerable? It can in the tech world we live in!) Audioquest Dragonfly. I have hundreds of hours on my DF and it is an all time great audio purchase. The Geek Out raises the portable bar.
Close listening between the two Sabre driven devices has the Geek Out lifting a veil I had not noticed with the Dragonfly..(Long time Head-Fier’s will appreciate the irony of any veil being lifted while listening with a pair of HD650’s!) Clearly two more years of technological advances as well as the implementation choices can make a difference in each devices particular sonic characteristics. An edge has been removed particularly in the upper mid range and treble. There is also a more pronounced bass emphasis likely due to the stronger Geek out amp. I actually have found this a bit distracting with my JH Audio JH16 Freq Phase CIEM’s. It is almost too boomy on some tracks with strong bass lines. This is not an always thing as certain tracks like Steely Dan’s Jack of Speed are rock solid and deep.
My home system includes a Wyred 4 Sound DAC2 DSDse. This is a solid current generation DAC with a Femto clock upgrade for additional jitter control for USB sources. It is also an ESS Sabre 32 Reference chip device, using the full 9018 not the 9018M chips. I have enjoyed this device for quite awhile and it is my DAC reference. The Geek Out does not offer the full bloom of sound I enjoy from the DAC2, however, it gets me close enough that being away from the Big Rig is not the Audiophile sacrifice it had been.
I have used the Geek Out with several headphones. The afore mentioned HD650 and JH16’s as well as my Beyer DT1350’s, Sennheiser HD25-1 ii’s, ACS Custom T1 CIEM’s and my flagship Sennheiser HD800’s. The Geek Out 100 has no problems driving any of them to volumes I would not use. With the HD800’s I am at 80% of volume when I reach my own volume limit. This is a class A amp too. It does get warm. You won’t burn yourself, but it might surprise you compared to the Dragonfly or other portable DAC/Amp units.
At the moment I have found my end game portable rig. (Yeah, right….) In the world of “Audiophile”, the concept of End Game is just a cruel hoax. Where is the e-mail with my coupon from HDtracks?
MacBook Pro with Mac OSX 10.9, Amarra 2.6, Audirvana + 1.5.12, JRiver MC19, iTunes Geek Out with supplied external cable Sennheiser HD650 with Toxic Cables Silver Poison’s Sennheiser HD800 with Toxic Cables Silver Widow’s Sennheiser HD25-1 ii’s Beyer DT1350’s JH Audio JH16 Freq Phase with Toxic Cables Silver Widow’s ACS Custom T1’s LaCie 1TB USB external drive Audioquest Dragonfly V1.0
A 30+ year Audio veteran, I sold high-end two-channel in college and defected to Multi-channel for many years only to be pulled back in to two-channel once more. Tubes are a favorite. I run Cary gear. I am a Sennheiser and Apple fan-boy. I switch between Vinyl and digital. If it sounds good, it is, and the chain is the thing.