The Geek Out DAC caused quite a kerfuffle in the forums when its maker Light Harmonic started making all sorts of claims for its performance. I even had comments from competitors, and they were not entirely positive, something was clearly afoot. How could a pocket size USB DAC make so much impression in an increasingly crowded market. The Light Harmonic factor has something to do with this, prior to Geek this company had only built a large and very (very) expensive DAC called DaVinci. Less radical is the fact that Geek Out was one of the first crowdfunded products to make it into production, which showed a forward thinking approach to marketing. Finally there is the spiel that LH Labs uses on its website and packaging, which is very down with the kids or at least that is what I presume it attempts. This is the sort of thing “When you plug Geek Out into your computer's USB port, you're replacing that crappy sound card with pure awesomeness.” There is even an 3D Awesomifier feature for headphones.
I guess if you are trying to break out of the audiophile market into the wider world of headphone users then a new approach is required. But Geek Out is a serious DAC, it’s asynchronous, runs at up to 32-bit/384kHz and decodes both hi-res PCM and DSD 128. All in a very compact unit that starts at £199 (Geek Out 450) and has an anodised aluminium shell with metal buttons to control volume. It has seven LEDs to indicate the sample rate of the incoming signal, what each means is marked on the other side, there are two for the base sample rates of 44.1kHz and 48kHz and three multipliers; 2x, 4x and 8x. So if the 48kHz and 4x lights are on then the DAC is receiving a 192kHz signal. There are two other indicators, blue for DSD and 3D to indicate awesomification. The two buttons need to be continually pressed to change volume over quite a wide scale, but as I used the Geek Out in a system context it was given a software update that bypasses the volume control element. I used this DAC with a Macbook Air running Audirvana Plus software and connected its output with an AudioQuest Big Sur interconnect, I also tried it with some Vertere Dfi cable for extra intensity.
The output of the 1000 model, 1watt, is designed to drive pretty much any headphone on the planet. It is certainly high, higher than your regular mains powered DAC or CD player’s two volts in fact, I had to turn it down two to three notches (2-3dB) on the Townshend Allegri preamplifier compared to other sources. Quite possibly this output level is unnecessarily high for a domestic system but it didn't stop the Geek Out from delivering a pretty spectacular result. It has quite a distinct sound, a lot of precision in the treble and lots of power in the bass. It’s an exciting and slightly ‘hot’ sound that makes for big dynamics and surprising amounts of detail, pretty invigorating in fact and a lot of fun. I really got into the drumming on Frank Zappa’s The Ocean is the Ultimate Solution (Sleep Dirt), the speed of Terry Bozio’s stick work is something else. It delivered the full reverberant effects on this and made it even more engaging than usual. With the more relaxed vibes of Bugge Wesseltoft’s Trialogue the detail and flow are brought to the fore, the down tempo vibe of the track Valiant is just sublime. With a big expansive soundfield created by Dan Berglund’s bass and a bed of less natural sounds coming from Henrik Schwarze’s computer this is quite an aural treat.
With DSD material the sound is very similar, excellent retrieval of low level sounds and very good tracking of micro dynamics, the way that Adele changes the inflection on nearly every word in the intro to Rolling in the Deep has rarely sounded more powerful. The chorus is still heavily limited and the bass line is totally OTT in the fx dept but the overall effect is better than I’ve encountered in the past. Maybe there is something in DSD after all?
Contrasting the Geek Out to a Metrum Octave MkII is a bit silly because the latter is a mains powered, non DSD DAC, but it’s one of the very best at its price (£949). It sounds more relaxed and natural with better timing but details levels are much the same, which is impressive. A more appropriate although rather less pricey alternative is the AudioQuest Dragonfly (£129), this is clearly less detailed than the Geek Out but is its equal in musical terms and sounds a little more like most DACs in its presentation. However, the power and dynamics of the Geek Out are very convincing, maybe not entirely neutral but very entertaining. It puts a rocket up the system and brings out the thrill power in your music, it’s easy to hear why it might divide opinion. Geek Out is new school hi-fi no doubt about it.
Supported bit depths: 1, 16, 24, 32
Supported sample rates: 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz, 352.8 kHz, 384 kHz, 2.822 MHz, 3.072 MHz, 5.644 MHz, 6.144 MHz
Class A amplification
Asychronous USB 2.0
3.5mm minijack outputs: 0.47 Ohms, 47 Ohms
Dimensions HxWxD: 13 x 64 x 34mm (plus USB plug)
Accessories: USB extension, soft case
Anthem AV Solutions
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