Geek Out V2 Infinity portable DAC/ headphone amp review
LH Labs has rolled out numerous Geek Out products since their first foray in to crowd-funded audio tech. Their latest product, the Geek Out V2, is the company’s first pre-order campaign on Indiegogo which scored $345,000 in advance orders. I promised you a review back then, so here it is.
Light Harmonic (LH) Lab’s Geek Out V2 has some audio shoes to fill as the previous Geek Outs have been well received overall – even to the point of winning awards!
GadgetyNews has never been swayed by popular opinion, mostly because we don’t do any research before reviewing products. This also means that all opinions on here are our own.
Is the Geek Out V2 Infinity the bomb or a damp squib?
Geek Out V2 Infinity design
The V2’s packaging let’s you know what to expect with the rest of the Geek Out experience. It’s simple, does the job and has everything that matters. In the box’s case you have a cellophane-wrapped, open-ended carton that holds a piece of foam. The top of the foam is covered in velour and in the centre is a cutout where you’ll find the V2. That’s it. No owner’s manual. No additional cables, connectors, or carrying case are included.
Either end of the box have useful bits of information on stickers though. At one end a friendly warning not to plug in single-ended and balanced headphones in at the same time. The other carries the link for the user manual: http://support.lhlabs.com
V2 Infinity headphone amp/DAC
The Geek Out V2 DAC/Headphone amp measures 78mm x 37.5mm x 13mm thick (LxWxH).
The case of the V2 is made of 3D-printed high-temperature resin. This helps keeps the production costs down, no doubt, and it doesn’t look that bad for it.
Naturally, I would prefer a nice slab of metallic goodness but the finish of the V2 I have here is nice enough. There are no rough edges or poorly finished joins.
The swirly pattern on the top side is ornate enough without being flamboyant and the open design allows for great airflow. My only reservation is that, not having a carrying case, how much pocket fluff can the V2 take before nastiness happens?
Ventilation slots for even more heat dissipation populate almost the entire backside of the V2.
Along one side of the V2 Infinity are two buttons. The top button switches between three gain settings: White LED indicates the 100mW output, pale violet (blue and white together) indicates 450mW, blue LED indicates the 1,000mW output. The regular V2 loses the 450mW stage. The bottom button switches between three user-selectable digital modes. These are also marked by LED – more on that later.
Geek Out V2 Infinity performance
The three digital mode I touched on earlier are Time Coherence mode, which uses a minimum phase filter to remove pre-ringing from the signal; Frequency Response mode which uses a slow roll-off digital filter; and Stable Streaming mode which is optimised for streaming sources.
- TCM (Time Coherence Mode) – Uses LH Labs minimum phase digital filter and time optimisation algorithm, which removes all PRE-ring from the converted signal and realigns the impulse response. This presents the listener with a more well-defined and natural soundstage.
- FRM (Frequency Response Mode) – Uses a slow roll-off linear digital filter and frequency domain optimisation algorithm to provide a smoother and clearer sound with even lower THD+N in the high frequencies.
- SSM (Stable Streaming Mode) – this digital mode has been optimised for streaming music through services like Tidal. Its THD performance is further improved by -3 dB.
An LED beside the DM marker denotes which mode is selected. The blue LED shows that you are in TCM (Time Coherence Mode), Green to denote FRM (Frequency Response Mode), and red indicates SSM (Stable Streaming Mode).
The Geek Out V2 is powered by your computer via USB and has no pesky batteries. This makes it lighter, which is always a good thing for portable gadgets.
Input and output
The V2 will play nice with all PCM (Pulse-code Modulation) formats up to 384/32 and DSD (Direct Stream Digital) up to 128x.
The analogue section of the V2 utilises a pure class-A design amp which, like all Class-A designs, generates substantial amounts of heat. The board-mounted heat sinks and extensive ventilation on the V2’s chassis are there to mitigate this possible issue.
Here we have the usual operating system double standards. If you run Mac OS, all you have to do is plug it in. Your Mac will recognise the device immediately. From there just select the V2 as your audio output via Apple’s Midi Control Panel and you’re ready to rock.
If you’re a PC owner there’s just that extra step of downloading the driver from LH Labs’ website and installing it. Then head over to your Playback Device menu and select the Geek Out V2.
Don’t bother looking for any volume controls on the DAC. You get that gain control and that’s it. Well, apart from the volume control on your computer. But don’t fear my lovely audiophiles. Although you adjust the volume via digital controls, the volume is not attenuated by your computer. The Geek Out V2 itself has a 64-step lossless volume control so even at the lowest output levels no data is lost. Phew!
Sources and cans
Sound quality. That’s the real point of any DAC/amp isn’t it?
I have a fair range of digital tunes that I am slowly migrating over to a dedicated NAS now that I have a decent hard drive. These include 128kbps MP3s (I know – don’t judge me! It was a long time ago), OGG, to full fat FLAC and WAV files.
Thanks mainly to technology and careful choices, I don’t own any difficult to drive or power hungry headphones. But, given the power capabilities and gain choices of the V2, I can’t imagine it not being able to attain good levels of volume in any case.
Kicking off the testing with my computer audio cans of choice, the Oppo PM-3, and Vivaldi’s ‘Griselda’ from the naive collection.
Through the PM-3s this album was presented with a big sound from a small orchestra. Dynamic range was big, right from the opening piece. The soundstage through the SE-MHR5 and standard cable wasn’t as big as the PM-3 but swapping over to the balanced cable and output on the V2 remedied some of that.
With the PM-1s plugged in the soundstage spanned from ear to ear. The frequency range is wide, with plenty of detail evident in both voices and instruments. Arias, such as Act 1. Scene IV “Brami le mie Catene”(Griselda) and Act II. Scene III “Dal Tribunal d’Amore” (Roberto) are presented with an energetic and spirited performance. The is an abundance of dynamics when moving from female to male voice too. In Act II. Scene X: Recitativo (Gualtiero, Constanza, Griselda) the clarity from the lead’s contralto vocals (Marie-Nicole Lemieux) to the rich tones of Steffano Ferrari’s tenor keeps you on the edge of your seat through this exchange.
Frankly, I could listen to Verónica Cangemi’s aria performance as Costanza at Act 1. Scene VII ‘Ritorna a lusingarmi’ on loop through the V2 and the PM-1 cans. The V2 Infinity presents this with such elegance and style. Through the NAD headphones I got similarly wide sound as the Pioneer cans although slightly diffused.
‘Quarter Chicken Dark’ from the Goat Rodeo Sessions; featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile, Stuart Duncan and Edgar Meyer is a great angular test for the DAC. This mixture of Bluegrass and Classical shouldn’t work, and some amps and DACs seem to get confused. Not so the V2 Infinity.
Through the Pioneer cans using the balanced output, the violin, cello, mandolin and bass were distinctly and realistically depicted. The PM-1 and the V2 Infinity really produced the most vivid portrayals of the instruments though. The V2’s accurate speed reproduced this almost faultlessly in my opinion. I realise that some of you might baulk at using £1100 headphones through a £300 DAC/amplifier but then you’ll be missing the point: The V2 Infinity at no point embarrasses itself when in such highfalutin company.
Dominic Miller’s ‘Tokyo’ was so rich and spatial through the V2 and PM-1 combo. There was plenty of detail throughout without being peaky. The bass is nice, rounded and weighty. The percussion was realistic with a well-defined leading-edge.
Getting something more with a pound – Boris Blank’s ‘Big Beans’ thuds away before percussive stabs hands off to panning synth sounds. The soundstaging is such a wow factor all the way through the ‘Electrified’ album. Just take the jet and horns intro of ‘Key Largo’, for instance. So cool.
Big sound was produced when Symphony No. 3 in C Minor “Organ”: II. Maestoso came on, as performed by the Chicago Gargoyle Brass and Organ ensemble. The V2 Inifnity even opened up the HP50s. I could sense the scale of the room and the instruments were nicely separated. Naturally, the PM-3 improved on this and the PM-1 gave an even more pure, natural sound.
On the whole, even though the headphones all have their own characteristics, the V2 Infinity performed well. Granted, the lower res MP3s showed themselves for what they were. But, Red Book CDs/rips, WAV, FLAC and streaming from Tidal were all handled perfectly.
Let me get my niggles out of the way first. Whilst using 3D printing is great, and I have no real issue with the fit or finish, the writing on the case is almost illegible. The other minor point is that the Geek Out V2 Infinity doesn’t feel the sturdiest of devices out there. I have not attempted to flex it, as I have to return it, but I am not sure how much time on the road it will take.
Using the V2 Infinity in my laptop was a great experience overall. Having so many vents did help with the heat quite a bit. Although, as you can see in the picture below, there’s not much clearance for airflow underneath the unit but, as heat rises, it should stay coolish after a few hours play. I was also thankful that the DAC/amp didn’t encroach on my Ultrabook’s charging port.
Geek Out V2 Infinity price and availability
Technical specifications at a glance
Type: USB DAC and headphone amp
Frequency Response: 2Hz-55kHz (–0.1dB)
Max Power Output: User switchable 1,000mW @ 16ohms, 450 mW @ 16ohms 100mW @ 16ohms
Max. Output Voltage: 4.0Vrms (high gain setting)
THD+N: < 0.01% S/N: >105dB unweighted, >108dB A-weighted
Input: USB 2.0 (asynchronous)
Outputs: Dual 3.5mm analogue stereo (one TRRS balanced, one single-ended)
Output impedance: 0.47ohms
Sample rates supported: 44.1kHz-384kHz (PCM), 2.8224MHz-6.144MHz (DSD)
Bit rates supported: 1bit-32bit
Dimensions (W×H×D): 37.5 × 13 × 78mm