2013-09-10

Co.Labs

The $300 Headphone Module That Can Replace Your Studio Monitors

When you listen to a stereo, emerging sound has been processed to hit your ears in directed cones so that there’s no left-speaker sound hitting your right ear--just as the recording artist intended. Meanwhile, headphone audio feels like it’s originating in the middle of your brain, making it awful for music studio production. This digital-to-analog converter changes the sound’s intended direction so it hits your ears from realistic angles, finally making it possible to make music without monitors.



Anyone who’s worked in music production can tell you that working on headphones just doesn’t cut it--you need the full sound of studio monitor speakers to correctly master tracks. This little module by Light Harmonics, the Sacramento-based innovators who gave the world the professional-scale Da Vinci Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC), might change that forever.

Light Harmonics has brought its audio-enhancing quest to the midrange crowd with the GEEK, a three-inch box that ditches your laptop’s paltry headphone jack for a USB experience boasting ten times the audio power.

DACs are found on any electronic device that translates digital binary information to sound, from a chip in your laptop that converts streamed music into sound to a disc player (remember those?) that reads digitized music off a CD. But the GEEK isn’t just a DAC chip on a circuit board: it’s a Light Harmonics-termed awesomifier, which means it engineers the sound pumped into your ears to where it SHOULD be. When you listen to a stereo, for example, emerging sound has been processed to hit your ears in directed cones so that there’s no left-speaker sound hitting your right ear (as the recording artist intended). Headphone sound seems to originate in the middle of your brain, so each ear gets spillover from the other headphone. Not so with the GEEK: It changes the sound’s intended direction so it hits your ears from realistic angles.

All this tech usually comes at a price, and Light Harmonics’ vaunted Da Vinci model is built-to-order at $12,000 a pop. Hence the Kickstarter: bringing an audio engineering middleman to the masses in order to make those midrange headphones perform better than they can from your $4 headphone jack. While the GEEK will retail for $299, it’s being offered at various Kickstarter-friendly rates. But fair warning: Every level of early-adopter rate from $99-$149 has sold out, because 800 backers beat you to the campaign. Juggle the numbers and it’s easy to see how the GEEK hit its Kickstarter goal of $28,000 in eleven hours and has raised over $260,000 thus far.

The GEEK comes in three variants: regular, Super, and Super-Duper, with differing max output voltages (2.65 Vrms/3.4 Vrms/4 Vrms) and max output voltages (450 mW/720 mW/1000 mW). Standard GEEKs are still available at the $159 Kickstarter rate, with Super and Super-Duper coming in at $189 and $219, respectively. All models have two 3.5 mm jacks for line out and headphone (with 64-bit precision) and buttons for volume control. Stretch goals for cute-color cases have already been met and Light Harmonics hopes to ship GEEKs in January.