The Swarm

September 06, 2013

Sonic Satori: Tripping The Light Harmonic - Bringing Serious Sound to the Masses Via Kickstarter...

Michael Mercer

Light Harmonic designs and builds remarkable high end digital electronics. They’re mostly known for their $30,000 dollar, museum-beautiful DaVinci DAC. Yup, you read that correctly; 30K! That buys you a nice car, and might get you a decent down payment towards a home in many parts of the country; hell, when was the last time you even heard of one of your friends spending thirty grand on a single stereo component? We’re talking a niche within a niche here, to say the least. But this is where Light Harmonic’s products live. They’re up there with high-end audio companies like Wilson Audio, Audio Research, Sonus Faber and Nordost (who build signal cables that cost thousands of dollars per meter). It’s not a world the average customer reaches often; it’s not even a world the average audiophile typically gets to touch, either.

That’s why it was so fucking pleasantly surprising when Light Harmonic decided to fund their latest innovative component, called GEEK – a small-sized headphone amplifier/DAC for the computer, through Kickstarter! Was it because the company ran out of money? Some audiophile industry insiders snickered at the campaign. In truth, Light Harmonic’s VP of Sales and Marketing Gavin Fish has been dreaming of this moment for a couple years now. He’s been working hard towards this goal, and speaking of goals: GEEK got its funding, plus a helluva lot more (currently up to $235,000+, following an initial project goal of $28,000). So what happened?

Fish and his team at Light Harmonic wanted to reach past the already converted. They had the epiphany we’ve been discussing here on Sonic Satori for years: they understood they needed to do something different – not only offer something more affordable, but something that appeals to the larger consumer-electronics demographic. They also needed to establish credibility in the high-end audio market in order to be able to present a project like this and have the greatest possibility for success. Their expensive DaVinci DAC has been hailed by critics from all the standard issue audio rags like Stereophile and The Absolute Sound. So when they put this project on Kickstarter, strangers to the brand were able to do quick research on Light Harmonic that indicated the company was legit and well established in their field. The campaign also has a surprisingly tongue-in-cheek attitude about it. The product is titled on Kickstarter as “GEEK: The New USB Awesomifier for Headphones!” They also throw newly coined terms like “shareulator” to explain the dual headphone output. Seems silly, but, well, yeah – having fun is the point. Imagine that.

Now, there are other products like this on the market today but fortunately GEEK stands out in feature set. It supports multiple data types, such as high res PSM or DSD for audiophiles, and it has two headphone outputs (hence their “shareulator” tag), not to mention a supposedly powerful but diminutive headphone amplifier. It’s got the audiophile buzzwords needed to sell it to that audience, but an approachable $300 price tag that audience often scoffs at. The greatest thing about the price, however is that it opens Light Harmonic up to the Jambox by Jawbone/Beats By Dre demographic. Millions of users have proven they’re willing to spend that kind of money on consumer electronics that lack performance. Not so many have done so for $30,000 dollar DACs! It’s the best of both worlds. Light Harmonic put some terrific street cred behind their high-end establishment, and the avenue to their new users/audience for GEEK already proves built-in. They’ve got product to send once finished to the supporters of the project, and those devotees will spread the Light Harmonic gospel.

With crowdsourcing, there are different ways to express how interested different users are in funding an idea/project, and Light Harmonic understood the possibilities of offering that kind of user engagement today. They recognized the sweeping change in consumerism, and adapted in order to appeal to a new audience.The super early adopters in Light Harmonic’s Kickstarter campaign are getting GEEK for a cool $99! Another brilliant move. From $119 to $249, you could’ve bought in and received the product for the price of contributing those amounts. Of course there are other levels – you can even become a beta tester for GEEK for a $1,000! The difference between this and a straight-up pre-order campaign is that the user decides their level of engagement with the product. With a pre-order, everybody’s putting in the same, and expecting the same. The old paradigms are being shattered: many purists blame the internet for hi-fi retail’s demise, but now you need to offer the customer more than a door to a sale. To those who think this is anything but a smart move: It’s OK that you don’t get it. Light Harmonic’s moving forward in the 21st century. Pretty soon, everyone will be able to hear the difference…

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