Positive Feedback Logo

Audio Ramblings - The Audioengine D3 and the LH Audio Geek Out 1000

04-20-2015 | By Dave Clark | Issue 77

Been awhile since I have had either the time or the desire to sit down and write about audio—let alone even spend much if any time listening to music. Too many personal and other things have happened this past year or so that have consumed all my time and energy. So most days my music release occurred driving to work where I got lost in whatever came up on my iPod Classic. But things are improving, there is light at the end of the tunnel, music in the home is back on track… and so here I am faced with a backlog of reviews and whatnot.

Two items that are long overdue are the 'portable' DAC/headphone amps from audioengine (the $189 D3) and that from LH Labs (the $299 Geek Out 1000). Each of these is intended to plug into the USB port on a computer and feed the signal to whatever headphones you prefer. In my case, I choose either the AKG k712 (with Double Helix cabling) or the Oppo PM1 (stock cabling) as they offer a rather 'different' sound when driven by whatever I have tried them on giving me two different perspectives on the headphone/DACs' performance. The AKG k712 is leaner and more 'open' in terms of the upper mids, whereas the Oppo offers way more bottom end and punch. Either is musical and engaging, but on their own terms. Different strokes for different music, times, etc….

The audioengine D3 and the LH Audio Geek Out 1000

The audioengine D3 upsamples to 24-bits and samples rates to 96kHz (it will accept a 192kHz input, but that resampled to 96kHz). I would assume the unit runs in class AB (2.0V RMS) as it really does not get hot—perhaps warm, but nothing to cause any alarm to go off. The D3 is designed to drive any headphone from 12 ohms to 10K ohms. The D3 uses the AKM4396 D/A converter (one of the largest chip manufacturers in the world) and the TI LME49726 amplifier which offers outstanding performance combined with low noise.

The LH Lab Geek Out 1000 outputs one full watt of pure class A power, and is designed to power headphones that are > 300 ohm impedance. The Geek Out 100 supports bit depths up to 32 and 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 samples rates (via the ESS SABRE32 Reference 9018M DAC). Meaning it will play just about anything you throw its way. Naturally, the Geek Out benefits from the technology and knowledge that went into the Light Harmonic Da Vinci Dual DAC… trickle down, down… way down. The Da Vinci Dual DAC costs $20k.

The audioengine D3 and the LH Audio Geek Out 1000

I used a dongle from Double Helix to keep either unit away from the Mac, especially so with the LH 1000 as it gets pretty hot. Both units allow for volume to be controlled via the computer or software, though the LH 1000 also offers volume control via two buttons on its side. I used Audirvana Plus 1.5.12 to control the volume and to play back a handful of songs (loaded into the Macbook - OS X 10.6.8, 2.4 Intel Core 2 Duo, SSD, 4GB ram) for serious listening, but also feed the Mac music from an external 1tb drive via a Furutech USB cable.

Each unit is housed in substantial aluminum housing and that gives the user the impression of money well spent. Nicely done.

Since the Geek Out 1000 runs in pure class A, well that means it runs hot—but not hot enough to burn you or anything it is near. Even so, it does get hot enough that if you leave it plugged in for a good number of hours (say 6 or more) the unit shuts down, though letting it cool down gets it back to working. Even so, the heat cannot be the best thing for longevity. I mean, damn man, this thing gets hot, so what is that doing to the components inside?

The audioengine D3 and the LH Audio Geek Out 1000

Now since it runs in class A, it sounds like class A with all the characteristics that offers the listener: warm, clean, harmonically rich… slam, punch, dynamics… way open and clear. Bass is very well controlled, there is not etch, glare, or analytical fatigue. The 1000 makes music and drives either 'phone quite well. I did prefer the Oppo with the 1000 as it really opened up the 'phone in terms of air and light. That is, the Oppo PM1 tends to be darker than lighter, fuller than leaner, and so on. With the 1000, they really made listening to anything a real joy—slam, bam, thank you ma'am. Presence, clarity… you got it all. Not that the k712 were second cousins here, but the k712 needs bit more heaviness, darkness, oomph… of which the 1000 does not bring to the table on its own. Even so, using the k712 on the 1000 was not anything to shake a stick at… it was a great match, just a different match. Lighter, less slam and bass oomph. The 1000 is more about the here and now, the details… I found myself listening moreto the music and what was going on, than what was going on with the music. Not something you chill to, no the 1000 asks to pay attention.

On the other hand, the D3 is more about the whole of the music… relaxing and getting carried away while not fretting over what is going on to the music, but more of where the music takes you. Relax, immerse yourself, and be swept away. Chill... we be easy here man.

The D3 and k712 mated very well together with the D3 and its slightly darker, heavier presence making the k712 to sound fuller and richer. Not heavier in the sense of, well slow and turgid. Nor darker in the sense of where did all the details go… it is just that the D3 is a wee bit less resolving, visceral, and analytical than that of the 1000. Not a deal breaker or something anyone would ever experience unless you compared the two side by side. On the other hand, the D3 is fuller sounding with a bottom end that is rich and warm. The treble is sweet and clean with nothing that resembles glare or etch. Easy to listen to for hours, the D3 played music.

I feel that these two headphone/DAC units are aimed at somewhat different consumers. The 1000 appears to be for listener who wants something more 'audiophile-like' in terms of the sonics and how the music is presented (say visceral), whereas the D3 is aimed at the listener who simply wants something easy, musical, and still engaging... and for not that much money. That is, the D3 is perhaps not an audiophile product per se, but more of a life-style product. It does what you want and it does it really well without breaking the bank. Clean and simple. Cool and neat... like all the stuff from audioengine!

Even so, both units played my music and to did it very well. As such, I find each to be musically equal—though from a somewhat different perspective tonally—one that any purchase decisions would reflect price and music format. The D3 limits you to 24/96 whereas the 1000 lets you listen to pretty much anything. Love them both. Pretty much like two great wines or beers… both have such wonderful redeeming qualities that choosing one over the other is rather silly. It is more about the time, the feeling, the mood… what are you looking for now?


Mogwai - Raves Tapes, Come on Die Young, and Rock Action (assorted tracks)
Massive Attack - Heligoland (assorted tracks)
The National - High Violet (assorted tracks)
Atoms for Peace - Amok (assorted tracks)
James Blake - James Blake (assorted tracks)
Gang of Four - Return the Gift (assorted tracks)
Kruder and Dorfmeister - The K&D Sessions 24-bit Remasters (assorted tracks)
Recondite - Iffy (assorted tracks)


LH Audio Geek Out