Manufacturer's Comment

Dear Michael, Thank you very much for your thorough review of Geek Out 1000. Since founding our company in 2011, we’ve wanted to produce an affordable product that had the same “push the limits” design as Da Vinci DAC. Thanks to our dedicated Geek Force and Kickstarter backers, Geek Out is culmination of that desire. We appreciate your descriptive comparisons of Geek Out 1000 with other similar products, allowing consumers to decide what’s most important to them.

We’re often asked why we would go “down market,” especially since we’ve done so well in the cost-no-object sector of the industry. It’s simple, really. We believe excellent audio performance doesn’t have to be directly tied to the price one pays for it. While Geek Out 1000 certainly isn’t cheap, we hope the $299 price will help break down our hobby’s barrier to entry, bringing more and more audiophiles into the industry we love.

Sincerely,—Gavin Fish, Light Harmonic

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
tubefan9's picture

Thanks for the review. I think I'll be sticking with my meridian explorer for now.. at least until we get the pulse review!

CarterB's picture

Appreciate your thoughts. I have a 450 and like it so far but as this is my first DAC am finding I don't like the hassle of computer software since I don't have a dedicated computer.

Regardless, I have not been able to fine a guide to what is the boundary between lower and higher impedence for the two headphone jacks. Do you or other commenters have a rough estimate. I tried my headphones in both and heard little sonic differences.

BradleyP's picture

What a helpful review! After the headphone market segment, the related mini-DAC segment is arguably the hottest in hi fi. Multiple comparisons like these between the Geek Out, Meridian, Dragonfly and iFi are so very helpful in keeping track of where things stand at this very moment. I'm blown away that a thumb-size USB DAC can drive a *pair* of 600-ohm headphones with no power apart from the USB port. Now, I feel even worse about dissing your Download of the Week. ;-)

ball3901's picture

Thanks for the great review. I find your comparison with the iFi iDSD nano very interesting. And to me, not very surprising.

What follows is the best understanding I have of the ESS chip and how it handles DSD. I am sure folks don't want to hear it, and my flamesuit is on. But I rest assured that my source has intimate knowledge of these things.

The ESS chipset does several things to the audio data. Some of these things we know, others we infer, and some things we have no idea, other than our best educated guesses. ESS keeps a lot of stuff very close to the vest.

The things we know. When inputting DSD data into the ESS, there is no bypass mode whatsoever. DSD must go though the same signal path as PCM. This signal path includes a 32 bit digital volume control, oversampling filter, and ASRC. DSD also has an additional selectable digital filter.

Here is the real kicker. If we turn these things off, NO MORE DSD. There is no direct mode with the ESS chip. Furthermore, digital filtering, volume control, oversampling, and ASRC, these things CANNOT be done to a Delta Sigma signal.

Again, there is no bypass mode. You turn all these things off, and boom, DSD ceases to function at all. They are not optional. Again, no bypass mode, so the signal must be passed through the 64 level Delta Sigma modulator. You can't send delta sigma into a delta sigma modulator. You can only send something that isn't delta sigma.

The only way to do all these things with on chip digital processing is to convert to PCM.

Yes, folks, considering all the above, the only logical conclusion we can come to is the ESS chipset converts DSD to PCM before reconverting back to Delta Sigma.

That said, I am sure it sounds very, very good. After all, if you convert to high sample rate PCM, a good portion of the delta sigma ultrasonic noise is maintained in the signal chain. Which will in the end lead to a signal that still sounds very much like true delta sigma.

But it isn't the same as native, which is what you get with the iDSD. The Burr Brown DSD1793 bypasses all digital filtering and modulation. Any filtering and volume control are in the analog domain.

Which is all a long way of saying, the difference you hear between the Geek and the iDSD, well, imo is the difference between real DSD and PCM converted DSD.

firedog55's picture

I directly asked the people at Mytek (uses ESS chips) and they said the DSD is not converted to PCM and that the volume control in the Mytek 192 DSD DAC is applied only at the analog output stage and not before.

junker's picture

This sounds like a summary of what Thorsten of ifi (a competitor) said here on Audiostream a few weeks ago. While that was a very nice article which covered a wide spectrum of topics with all due respect he doesn't know what ESS is doing, and if he did he would have had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Just as with the Sonoma mastering station my best guess it that 1-bit is treated as 6-bit for volume control, etc. 1,6,16, or 24 bit are treated similarly in a delta-sigma. As Thorseten said there is no pure multi-bit pcm or dad is a DSD but whatever they are doing is pretty good. I'm sure ESS has a lot a great EE's CE's. CS's, and mathematicians with a lot of experience designing very good DACs. The Auralic uses a very similar piece of silicon and is generally very favorable reviewed.

labjr's picture

This is what Thorsten said in the Audiostream article. Does this means iDSD doesn't use the Wolfson chip or have a "Direct DSD mode"?Maybe that's not really what makes the difference in the two?

I'd like to hear a DAC with "Direct DSD mode" Maybe someone can squeeze FGPA chips into a USB thumb drive sized DAC for a pure DSD DAC?


"One part from Wolfson Micro offers such an option to bypass the DSD > PCM conversion, digital filter and digital volume and to convert DSD directly, however in this case a completely different analogue stage is needed that is optimised for DSD and incorporates the required steep 50kHz low pass filter. Up to today I am unaware of any DSD DAC that implements this DAC chip in “Direct DSD” mode."

mytek's picture

In response to post: dsd new
Submitted by ball3901 on May 7, 2014 - 11:34am

Hello Ball3901

I wanted to comment on your highly detailed technical post on Sabre DAC. I believe that you don't need a flame suit but rather a more accurate understanding how this chip works. Most of inner details are not in the data sheet, and it looks like whatever you write was largely misinterpreted bit and pieces of information. Essentially what you wrote is entirely incorrect.

Sabre DAC works in purely DSD mode, the signal path n this mode is 1 bit input >32 bit fader> DSD filter performed in DSD domain > 6 bit DSD (DS PWM) DAC > analog

The fact that the DAC is 6 bit DOES NOT mean it's not DSD. Basic DSD is 1 bit but it can be any number of bits, in the case 6 if it helps the performance.

Number 1 is a subset of 6 - a 6 bit DSD offers better D/A performance than 1 bit , that's why it's there. It's still DSD though.

Sabre in DSD mode DOES NOT use interpolation filters or any other PCM processing as you imply.

In fact Sabre DAC sounds better in DSD mode because signal path is simpler.

Best Regards, Michal at Mytek New York, creators of the first DSD DAC using Sabre chip.

Larry Ho's picture

I want to double confirm that Michael at Mytek write here. He is right!

Also, I want to point out one thing while designing Geek Out.
In the first prototype, we use PCM1795 which has very similar architecture like DSD1793 you mentioned. TI (BB) called it ADVANCED SEGMENT architecture, which allows you to bypass the
digital filter in the front. But definitely NOT the internal modulation like you mentioned.

And DSD1793 has an important design issue which limit its performance that even worst then PCM1795. Not only shown TI's own data sheet, and you could easily hear it. DSD1793 is the direct voltage output DAC IC. Ask around the DAC designer, they will tell you what the problem is.

Personally, I do understand what Michael Lavorgna appreciated about the little 'darker' sound from other DACs. These are the sound character from BB/TI chips. For some type of music and proper design, I like that too.... ;-)

So Geek Out is one of the best sample to witness the journey from TI vs ESS. We start with TI then settle in ESS. We use the SAME architecture, SAME amplifier and SAME USB processor and do the direct comparison, just different DAC IC.

After few carefully listening tests (and with our beta tester), ESS's Sound stage is wider and deeper. Highs are silky and open. Mid range side, TI has its own flavor, ESS has another kind. Both Bass is good. we decide to move away from PCM1795 and move to ESS9018 IC which overall sounds better.

Enjoy!

Larry

junker's picture

The Green was only for Kickstarter orders as a limited-edition and is no longer available. Currently, pre-orders come in 3 colors: silver for the 450; black for the 720; and red for the 1000. Pretty sure your pretty blue isn't available either anymore.

The suggested headphone port is to use the 0.47ohm with low-impedance headphones, and the 47ohm with high-impedance headphones and for line-out:

http://geek.lhlabs.com/downloads/Geek_Out_User_Manual_Version_2014_04_08...

"There are two 3.5mm analog output jacks found on the bottom of your Geek Out with an output impedance of .47ohm and 47ohm. You will want to use the .47ohm that is indicated with a headphone symbol for lower impedance headphones. The 47ohms is a line out for bigger impedance headphones. This is also used for other equipment such as external amplifiers and stereo equipment."

Thanks for your impressions. I've also had mine for about 2-3 weeks and my impressions are a little different than yours on my PASS INT-30A (same amp). I find that the defining characteristics are a silky, detailed presentation that is not dry but not lush either, but more notably, the vast soundstage and imaging are what grabs my attention...better than 3-4 previous DAC's I've had and much more than I expect from such a tiny, USB powered device.

Per chance did you have the opportunity to test it with you iUSBPower?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I corrected the text regarding the high/low impedance. I've sent an email to LH Labs to verify the color choices since they did a fact check on this review prior to publishing and did not correct that one ;-)

I did not test with the iUSBPower.

junker's picture

Yeah, I grabbed the color info from the pre-order page. From LHLabs those were the only options I had at this time when going through the purchase process. Thanks!

gavn8r's picture

Junker is right. During the Kickstarter campaign, we offered all three version of Geek Out in five different colors: green, blue, black, silver, and red. Now that the campaign is over, we've listened to our distribution partners and have decided to offer Geek Out 1000 in red, Geek Out 720 in black, and Geek Out 450 in silver.

Sorry about that, Michael. We were given the opportunity to fact check and I let one slip through. :)

lithium's picture

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the insightful review. You have compared all of these popular small form factor DACs and I was wondering about their redbook performance. The majority of my collection (and I am pretty sure of 99% people)is redbook so it is vital for me. Is their any particular DAC whose redbook performance stands out?

Thanks in advance.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
While they all handle redbook well, they do differ in how they sound. My feeling is personal preference will determine which is "best". That said, one does stand out for me but I have not reviewed it yet ;-)
junker's picture

As per the white paper from Gordon Rankin did you warm these units up for 24 hours? I always leave my Geek so I'm not sure what effect that might have.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I rotated the DACs between my main system and desktop system so they were all warmed up and ready to roll.
ulogin's picture

Interesting that the reviewer made sure readers know that his headphones are 40 ohm. Noise floor is high (vs. Meridian Explorer, for example) with my Shure SE846 and AKG K3003, and becomes unbearable when the "3D Awesomifier" is activated as also reported by many users.

12V Trigger's picture

I noted your disclaimer ie, dogs, kids & comfort that headphones aren't a preferred listening method. At the same time with Meridian Explorer, DF, Ifi iDSD, and GeekOut all in your possession. It may be worth it as a professional reviewer to have a reference pair of cans at the ready. The "industry" seems to be making an effort increase offerings that at least have a headphone option if not totally tailored to head-fi listening.

Taking a look at other reviewers, even the staunch hi-fi only sect, I think you may be the last hold out. You may even find that some of your objections to them are over-turned with something more up to date.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Here's what I said:
I mainly listened to the Geek Out 1000 in my hi-fi, since that's our focus here at AudioStream so I'll leave the heavy headphone listening to our sister site InnerFidelity.

And...

In order to properly suss any headphone amp, you'd ideally have a bunch of 'phones of varying flavors and loads. I don't and I also don't spend any real time listening through headphones since I don't really enjoy the experience.

My objections, as they were, were based on listening through my hi-fi, not through headphones. But yea, I'd like to get a new pair of cans ;-)
brandtlj's picture

Hi Michael,

I was curious about how the geek out would work with separate amplification into speakers rather than headphones. I know the signal is once amplified inside the GO...but sending that signal into another amp and then to speakers seems less than ideal. Is the geek out's amp 'disableable'?

gallardo's picture

I'v been using the GeekOut 1000 for a month, and I can say this little red Geek sound more than I have dreamt. In a comparison whit the very stable and friendly DragonFly 1.0 there's just points counting in favor of the GeekOut 1000. The size of the soundstage is bigger, the bass are fuller and deeper, the mid's richer and the trebles a lot more silky than the DragonFly, and also is the Awesomifier effect that's really awesome for the price. I also compare the GeekOut with my Musical Fidelity V-DAC 192, and the only difference I found was a more relaxed presentation in a DAC costing near 850 bucks with the V- PSU and V-LINK 192 , but there's no 32/384 or DSD. So for me this little red thing is just a great pleasure.

mink70's picture

Hi Michael, and thanks for another lovely review. I've been playing with my Geek Out 720 for the better part of a week, and I have to say that while it has many pluses and a few minuses (ground loops making the 3D function noisy, etc.), it's provided my first taste of DSD. In short, for me DSD is some of the finest playback of any kind I've heard—I was, honestly, a bit unprepared for how different it sounds. No, this not the difference between different masterings. I hear a categorically distinct sound—so much more engaging, dimensional, organic, tonally rich, present and musical than any flavor of PCM that there's no comparison. This is the first time I've been genuinely excited about digital. Not "okay, it's convenient, and my record player is on the fritz" excited, but "this is crazy awesome good" excited. And all thanks to a widget I got for $139 on Kickstarter. If, as you say, DSD sounds even better on other devices, I can't wait to hear them. Keep spreading the word. Regards, Alex.

howardk's picture

Hi Michael,

I'm surprised you didn't include the Schiit Loki in the comparison, at least for DSD-only. Can you comment on how it compares to the Geek Out?

Thanks -- HIK

Michael Lavorgna's picture
So a direct comparison was not possible.
maricius's picture

How would the Geek Out DAC compare? I know it's been almost a year and you probably no longer have it with you but based from memory, what would be the better performer? Audiostream is becoming my main resource for DACs (more of a headphone listener).

Regards,

Marc

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I've never heard it so I cannot offer even a dusty memory ;-) Obviously if DXD and DSD are of interest, the Geek Out wins on that score.
agb's picture

I gave my 1000 to my wife. She would have preferred pink or lavender. She says the black 1000 I gave her is dark sounding. Perhaps the silver wouldn't have offended her with its silvery sound. She likes jewelry anyway.

SebieDreamtime's picture

Does anyone know if/when these are actually being shipped? I've gone to the website and it says I can "pre-order." I asked the manufacturer twice in the last week using their website but have gotten no response, which makes me nervous.

SebieDreamtime's picture

Per my comment above, I never did get a response from the manufacturer but I found the Geek Out 1000 on Amazon and ordered one. Sounds great!

dalethorn's picture

I read through the article and comments, regarding the issue that this device "runs hot". You may have had the model 1000 sample only, but I wonder if the low-power version runs cooler.

wendell's picture

Lary Ho is a brilliant,
I have the geek out 450 and it proforms. i say wow big bang for my bucks. Although i did not like the fact i had to wait 8 months before i recieved my geek out 450 dac. Crowd funding for the birds and its been over yeare waiting for my Pulse dac to arrive at my door.

Frans's picture

Meanwhile LH has released a new 1.5 firmware (Sept '14) that improves sound quality (details: http://lhlabs.com/support/geek-out-v1-5-firmware-changelog.html). Has this been taken into consideration?

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