LHLabs Geek Out V2 Review and Measurements

Discussion in 'Portable and Other Gear Measurements' started by purr1n, Sep 29, 2015.

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  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    LHLabs Geek Out V2 Review and Measurements

    Going to keep things short as usual. I compared the Geek Out V2 with a combination of other gear which included the iFi Nano iDSD, the Schiit Modi 1, and the Magni 2. HD650s (coin modded and damping removed) were used, not an easy headphone to drive to its full potential, but I think a good test.

    I don't normally talk about stuff that can be found the specs or in the manuals, but there are couple things I felt should be mentioned. One of the things I did not like with the prior iteration of the Geek Out was that I had no idea if I was in FRM or TCM mode or what the buttons did. This time around, the user interface is much improved. The GOv2 has colored indicators for gain and filter settings. The bottom bottom selects the gain stages, the top button selects the filter. The bottom LED next to the "C" is blue for high gain and white for low gain. The top LED next to the "DM" is blue for TCM, green for FRM, and red for some filter that is supposed to be used with streaming services. As you can see in the picture, the V2 was used with the high gain and FRM filter.

    DSC_0905.jpg

    The red "streaming" filter sounded the worst; however I wasn't using any streaming sources. I played back only FLAC from JRiver. I know some people prefer TCM (minimum phase filter with no pre-ringing), but I've never liked this filter on any DAC that I've owned or evaluated that gave me this choice. So it's the linear phase filter for me, which would be the FRM "green" LED color. The subject of filters is entirely another topic and won't be covered here. I only want to add that the arguments (found in various marketing whitepapers) claiming reduced pre-ringing as being the most natural sounding are bullshit, at least in my opinion. I see it more as "different" than "musical natural". Finally, I wouldn't say that the FRM filter is better than TCM in every way, but rather that that FRM filter is a better match for what I like to hear. I'll let the rest of you guys open the door to this one with Q&A or perhaps chime in with your own experiences.

    So in a nutshell, I find the Geek Out V2 to be pretty darn good. This is something I wished I had on my trip to D.C. a few weeks ago.

    Let me summarize its strengths (taking into context its size and intended use):
    • Resolving. Ambient decays, low level information, plankton are easily heard.
    • Engaging. Comparatively excellent microdynamics. The prior GO tended to compress sounds, expanding loud and crushing softer sounds - a more exaggerated contrast. The V2 on the other hand does a very good job distinguishing between volumes and digging into the small swings. While not close to serious desktop DACs like Gumby, I can easily say that the GO V2 is superior in this specific sonic attribute to all other portable DACs/amps that I've heard regardless of price. This includes the overpriced garbage from Chord (although the Hugo TT does some specific other things better). Those who know me understand this is my #1 consideration in evaluating gear.
    If I had to nickpick:
    • Lack of power. Softness, and lack of ultimate macro-dynamic ability. The HD650s are notoriously difficult to drive well. They are super high impedance and love a ton of voltage swing. This puts something like the Geek Out V2, which is powered by the USB 5V power rails at a serious disadvantage. There is where balanced bridged circuits shine. Unfortunately I did not have any TRRS to XLR 4-pin adapters on hand. I suspect with the balanced outputs, the GOv2 might be brought to another level with the HD650.
    • Lack of ultimate clarity, blackness, refinement and poise, probably related to #1.
    Now before people get worried, I need to put these criticisms in proper context, the iFi iDSD Nano was significantly worse in terms of softness and congestion. When the music got busy or loud, the iFi iDSD Nano (on a fully charged battery) sort of goes flub flub flub flub and gets confused and congested in the lower registers. In comparison, the Geek Out V2 does get softer on the impacts, but still maintains control and separation.

    For less stressful musical passages, the macro-dynamics on the Geek Out V2 were more impactful. For example, the crescendo on Neal Schon's guitar arpeggio leading up to the drum hits around the one minute mark of Don't Stop Believin' were much more believable on the Geek Out V2 than on the iFi. The Modi 1 / Magni 2 stack had equal macrodynamics and better clarity, blackness, and poise, but this comparison is rather unfair as the Magni 2 gets a huge AC 14V 1.4 amp power brick. I did find that the Geek Out V2 was superior in terms of resolution and engagement than this stack. The Modi 1 / Magni 2 was a tiny bit flatter and slightly less resolving than the Geek Out V2. Among the setups, the iFi was the flattest, most boring, and least controlled sounding, the Geek Out V2 was the most resolving and lively, and the Modi 1/2 was the most controlled and powerful.

    In terms of digititus and tonal balance, the Modi 1 is the most grainy and least warm. The Geek Out V2 (FRM) and iFi iDSD Nano are actually on par in terms of lack of digital nasties. Both exhibit a warm tonal balance. Both lack any significant digital sheen or glare, which is impressive for the Geek Out V2, being Sabre. While I've never thought highly of the iFi, I do have to acknowledge that one of its strengths is lack of digititus. In the end, don't expect R2R type sound though. Finally, I should mention that the Geek Out V2 in TCM mode is too digital sounding for me.
     
    Dino, rayfalkner, Jokko and 2 others like this.
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    As requested, this is my follow up to using the Geek Out V2 via the balanced output TRRS jack. Sorry it took me so long. I was too cheap to pay $30 on Amazon for TRRS to 4-pin XLR balanced adapter. Instead, I ordered a TRRS pig-tail from www.sparkfun.com to DIY my own cable. It looks like this:
    [​IMG]

    And a Neutrik NC4FX-B 4-pin female conector like this:
    [​IMG]

    The connection diagram from the LH website looks like this:
    [​IMG]

    I soldered everything together so it looks like this:
    DSC_0933.jpg

    So what's the result? Let's put it this way: I put the darn adapter cable together a bit more than an hour ago, but ended up too distracted listening to music to post anything. I actually had to take the headphones off (only because my wife came home from a night with her friends) in order to concentrate so I could write this up. Here's proof:
    DSC_0934.jpg

    I'll be succinct as usual. With the HD650, there's still a touch of dynamic softness at the lowest registers, but the balanced out is much more impressive than the SE out. The SE out is just barely able to get the HD650 to a good volume. (Keep in mind that the HD650 is a moderately inefficient headphone - some orthodynamics are actually more efficient than the HD650). The balanced out has no problem with cranking the volume up. The SE out sounds veiled, weak, soft, and blurry. The balanced output has better clarity and focus. It's quite a drastic improvement almost making the SE output unlistenable when given the option.

    Offering a balanced output was a genius idea on the part of LH. The approach makes total sense given the limits of a 5V power supply rail from USB and limited real estate of the Geek Out V2. Sort of like how some car amps ran in balanced bridged mode to have of only lower noise, but also to make the most use of the 12-14V from the alternator. Also, the HD650 is a high impedance headphone. That means this headphone likes a lot of voltage to make it sing.

    The LH Geek Out V2 is pretty much a no-brainer. Buy this if you can use it. If I have to sum it up in one word, it would be INVOLVEMENT. The Geek Out V2 handily destroys its competition in the same price bracket and even another device around 2495USD. The competition starts with A, C, and M. The 2495USD device looks like a Fisher Price toy.

    ChangApproved5.jpg

    If you've enjoyed this post, help me help you,
    I have a growing family, blah blah blah,
    consider buying a soldering station from Amazon.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2015
  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    1kHz -1dBr
    [​IMG]

    1kHz -1dBr (close up spectrum below 1kHz)
    [​IMG]

    1kHz -60dBr
    [​IMG]

    1kHz -90dBr
    [​IMG]

    19kHz + 20kHz Two Tones
    We are seeing some ultrasonic products. IMD at 1kHz is minimal.
    [​IMG]

    19kHz Tone
    We get an ultrasonic product at 25.1kHz. There seems to be another spike at 64kHz. These are not audible and nothing too out of the ordinary.
    [​IMG]

    Frequency Response for the FRM Filter
    This was my preferred filter.
    [​IMG]

    Frequency Response for the TCM
    More incisive sounding, but also more "digital".
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2015
  4. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    measurements (as an amp)
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2015
  5. JK47

    JK47 The Beer Houdini

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  6. jexby

    jexby Loves propane and propane accessories

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    Thanks for the great (continued) write up Marv, and indeed the GOV2+Inf has been a favorite of mine for awhile!
    to the point of getting rid of any/all other mobile gear.

    I can add no measurement magiks here, only to state that I run HE-400S balanced into GOV2+Inf daily and it's a superb pairing on High Gain.
    (even ignoring the overall low combo cost.)

    hooking the XLR to TRRS adapter up to HE-560s--> plugging into GOV2+Inf results in fine listening also, but less bass grip and attack due to lack of mohr power perhaps due to the less efficient 560s.

    other great aspect of GOV2+ Inf is the dead black background with IEMs, and complete flexibility of gain switch to move from low to mid (or high) depending on the source or (in)efficiency of the IEMs.

    I've been waiting for a device of this quality, size and flexibility since the CEntrance M8 design days (1.5-2 years ago?), but it took Larry Ho and krew to nail it.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2015
  7. firev1

    firev1 Friend

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    oh damn the lust for this gone up, a little regret selling of my first GO IEM. V2+ with the battery and all looks like a winner.
     
  8. Azteca

    Azteca Friend

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    Excellent. Thanks, Marv. I'm really hoping the Wave keeps all the magic just with more versatility. That's how Larry made it sound.
     
  9. Koth Ganesh

    Koth Ganesh Friend

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    Marv: thanks for the confirm. I did spend the $30 + shipping from Amazon for the TRRS to 4 pin XLR female adapter. My permanent bed side rig is the laptop > GO V2 > HD 600 (most of the time, at other times its the LCD 2.2 or the Slants). Hi gain + FRM has been my choice combo.
     
  10. sorrodje

    sorrodje Carla Bruni's other lover - Friend

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    Bought mine a few days ago. Will order a trrs to xlr adapter and see how it works with my hd650/800 and my zmf.

    Good point the go is now plug & play on my Ubuntu. Not any flaw.
     
  11. JewBear

    JewBear Wow, I made it this far without being a friend?

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    I would love to get this but I'm a bit weary of the lack of dc spike protection. The reason I got rid of my first geek out was it's lack of protection relays, but I do miss it.

    Edit: Thought I may as well ask, if this something I shouldn't be worried about? I had a bad habit of disconnecting my GO450 from my computer when I'm in a rush, and I know I'll probably do it again some time if I get the GOV2.
     
  12. Koth Ganesh

    Koth Ganesh Friend

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    Hell, I do that all the time:oops:.
     
  13. Enigmatic

    Enigmatic Friend

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    Nice one, Marv. I could probably just get a GO V2, one of those TRRS Crystalline cables from Head-Direct, pair them up with my HE-560 and call it a day.
     
  14. laevi

    laevi Friend

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    Would I gain anything using the GO V2 SE outputs to an amp like the Valhalla 2 versus plugging a pair of balanced HD800 into the GO V2's balanced outputs? Thanks Marv.
     
  15. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I can try this with HD800s, but with EC ZDS instead. Will report back. Ask again if I forget.
     
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  16. blackships

    blackships Friend

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    @Purrin, is the GOV2 with a HD650 in balanced an acceptable stopgap solution until I can afford a desktop amp? The HE400S is the other direction I'm considering and suspect it'll be served better by the GOV2.
     
  17. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    GOV2 + HD650 is more than an acceptable solution.

    As for HE400S, the Focus pads are highly recommended for proper bass extension. Once this is done, the HE400S has better quality bass, is a little cleaner, is a little faster than HD650. HD650 has better frequency response, resolution, and dynamics (and it will keeping scaling with better amps.)

    I feel GOV2 in balanced mode tends to improve the HD650 a bit more than the HE400S. Both are good headphones to start out and you can't go wrong. Just need to prioritize what you want. If you've heard the HE400S at the shows and meets, the HFM answering machine amps do it no favors.
     
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  18. jexby

    jexby Loves propane and propane accessories

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    of course I am no DAC-genius like Marv, and have GOV2+Infinity and not simpler GOV2-

    but the 400S (Focus A) balanced and GOV2+Inf is my office #2 rig and have nothing but compliments about the pairing.
    feel welcome to send a PM with any specific questions if it may dilute the thread.
     
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  19. sorrodje

    sorrodje Carla Bruni's other lover - Friend

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    I confirm HD650 + GOV2 pairing works really really well and can replace few full $$$$ desktop rigs easily. Even in SE.
     
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  20. blackships

    blackships Friend

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    Thanks for the advice, everyone. I went with the HD650 and feel pretty good about it after a couple hours of listening.
     

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