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Verb Earbuds

  1. glassmonkey
    The retail sales of these were stopped for a reason. Bloated bass, and recessed treble. Like old crappy Beats in IEM form.
    Written by glassmonkey
    Published Nov 8, 2015
    Pros - May work well with hip-hop and other bass forward genres
    Cons - Everything else: bass dominates, treble recessed, lack of accessories for MSRP of $159
    Like many folks who've had experience with LH Labs, I was sold on the company by their Geek Out line of dongle style DAC/Amps. I own the Geek Out 1000, and have since purchased an Geek Out V2, several of their USB cables, and a desktop amp, the Geek Pulse X-Infinity. I have generally been impressed by their value proposition and the high quality sound that their products produce, if not their communication, lack of marketing tact, and overloaded crowd-design schedule and inevitable delays associated with the process. A search on most any audio forum will turn up lots of complaints, but I am very happy with every piece of LH Labs gear I own, except for the Verb. The Verb is a disaster that is only mitigated by the fact that it only cost me $49 through the Cyber Monday special in the Forever Funding Pulse campaign on IndieGoGo. At $159 it would be daylight robbery.
    On to the review!
    In and Outside the Box
    The Verb comes in a nice magnetic clasp heavy box with a great finish. This box is retail fools gold. It has some pretty stupid marketing text on the back:
    "Verb/'verb /: 1. Premium headphones that distinguish your actions, occurrences or state of being. 2. Leading-edge acoustic technology and form factor design. 3. Inspired by the movements of life. 4. Verb isn't just another headphone. 5. Verb is a headphone that inspires your every action. 6. The question isn't what can Verb do for you. 7. But what will you do with Verb."
    We'll set aside the uninspired, poorly written inappropriate JFK reference. These IEMs aren't repeatedly trying to invade Cuba or assassinate Castro, almost setting off a nuclear holocaust, embroiling us deeper in the Vietnam war, or moving us toward a more equal America or world. The choice to turn a sentence into two fragments is illustrative of these IEMs sound, though--we'll return to that later. Given the braggadocio and overzealous marketing puffery of the box text, I think it only fair that these IEMs be evaluated according to these claims.
    "Premium headphones..." usually come with more accessories than 3 pairs of eartips (S/M/L cheap generic black silicone). If I'd opened this box having payed $159 for it, my question would be "where's the rest of it?" Where are the double flanges, where is the token pair of medium foamies, where is the shirt clip to protect against microphonics--can I get a 50 cent pouch to carry these in?Everything in the box was nicely encased in foam with felt lining on the top. The foam has a little bit of that diesel smell that cheap Chinese foam has.
    Build Quality / Comfort
    The metal housing is rigid and feels pretty sturdy. The cable has a nice weight to it and feels good. The strain relief at the phone end is pretty chunky. Bending it away from the drivers makes me wonder how the strain relief will hold up to time as it separates away a little bit, but I don't think the kind of force I'm applying would happen in common usage, so they are probably safe on that one. The metal on the splitter and the plug appears to be a polished aluminum. During the review process, my plug has gotten a scratch on the shiny metal surface. The headphones have a line level control. It feels cheap and plasticky. I don't think it would hold up to being battered inside a bag--soft case, anyone?
    "Leading-edge acoustic technology and form factor design."The fit of these is excellent, if you only want to wear them cord down. They fit very nicely to the contours of my medium sized ear cord down, but the rigid strain relief and nozzle angle make these nonsense for wearing over ear. This is another reason the accessories are unacceptable. I think that any IEM that can only be worn down should include a shirt clip. Personally, I prefer wearing IEMs over ear, and I like cable cinches to stop microphonics. I didn't test these for cable microphonics, as I didn't really feel like jumping about when wearing them or going for a walk. You go for walks with companions you like, I merely tolerate the Verb. I'm not sure if these are really "inspired by the movements of life" as they don't seem to account for said movements.
    I tend to use medium tips, but the medium tips never seem to get a quite perfect seal without some force on these. The smalls are way too small for my ears, and the larges are way too large. There wasn't a happy medium for me, no Goldilocks tip. I listened to these for quite a bit with the stock tips before I decided to try some other tips I have on hand, with some improvement in sound.
    I hope that this is the reason that people are reading this review. I won't rule out schadenfreude for those who are familiar with LH Labs, but for now I'll assume you want to hear how these sound for the purpose of informing buying decisions rather than to bask in the dull glow of an opponent's failure. Mmmm schadenfreude is delicious.
    When I first put these IEMs in and turned them on playing out of the Geek Out 1000 DAC/Amp, I was overwhelmed by the muddiness and bass forward sound presentation. It sounded like details were masked in there and just desperately trying to escape the hold of some mud wrestling luchador called El Verbo. So I burned the headphones in using three flavours of noise: pink, white, and brown--the neopolitan ice cream of noise; and accompanied that with full frequency glide tones from the Ayre Acoustics - Irrational but Efficacious CD, interspersed with digital silence from the Bink Audio Test CD. Noise and glide tones are hard work for speaker diaphragms, you need to give them rest in between exercises. With each successive 8 hour session of burn-in the sound cleared up a bit, but didn't change after about 32 hours, El Verbo was still hanging out, but decided to get in the ring instead of wrestling in the pit.
    I listened to a variety of music with them, but where they really fell down was in passages with complex mids. When listening to Anamanaguchi - Prom Night the female vocals were strangled by the bass, it just bloomed out and swallowed everything like Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, but without any great tongue in cheek song renditions. I was not pleased, and complained about them on LH Labs' forums. How did they find some shill "audiophile" reviewers to like these things?
    I did some tests of frequency response, and these guys can reproduce tones to 10hz with authority, which I guess is a plus. These aren't v-shaped, or neutral, they are an L-shaped curve like a curve that has fallen over after one too many pints. These are bass forward with progressively receding other frequencies until the treble just fades away into obscurity. It isn't an audiophile sound, it's Beats by LH Labs.
    I put these buds away for several months. I was despondent. These didn't sound like "premium headphones" and they didn't do anything to "distinguish" my actions because I didn't want to wear them while doing anything distinguished. It's hard to affect something if you aren't involved. They also made me worried for this young company I was supporting, LH Labs. If this was most people's introduction to LH Labs, they wouldn't be inclined to buy the Geek Out DAC/Amps or any other quality LH Labs gear.
    After several months of them sitting exposed and unused on a changing desk and several gear upgrades I decided to give these another shot. Here's a flow of how the music got to the Verbs:
    Computer ==> Supra USB Cable ==> iUSB3.0 ==> LH Labs Lightspeed 2G USB (split power and data) ==> Lindy adapter ==> Geek Out V2 on 100mW ==> Geek Verb IEM
    I tested the Verbs with a number tracks, the list is below (all 16/44.1):
    2Pac - Keep Ya Head Up (starting them off if their comfort zone)
    Massive Attack - Angel
    Metermaids - Break Down (get it from their Bandcamp for whatever you want to pay)
    Anamanaguchi - Endless Fantasy
    Creedence Clearwater Revival - Lodi
    Dragonforce - Heroes of Our Time
    Eagles - Hotel California (DCC Gold CD, Steve Hoffman remaster)
    At that point in the playlist I started trying other tips.
    Through the first 4 tracks, the Verbs sounded really good. They were still bass forward but they were handling the tracks that I was throwing at them with aplomb. My remark in my notes was that the iUSB3.0 must be like audio steroids. The sound was much cleaner and I found myself enjoying the listen. It made me wonder whether Casey Hartwell at LH Labs had been listening to these playing out of the Geek Pulse XFi with a LH Labs LPS hooked up instead of a more typical portable setup.
    Over the next three tracks, the headphones started to be exposed more. Lodi sounded thick and not as clear as I'm used to it sounding through speakers or through my HD600 headphones on the same set-up. Dragonforce exposed the drums and speed capabilities of the IEMs. They sounded loose and the drums were lacking impact and their decay was cut short. The treble was noticeably recessed. The sound stage was lacking depth (which is something that every LH Labs built DAC is good at showcasing). Guitars were a bit veiled. I think these tend to have trouble with highly complex and layered passages. I missed the ambience that usually accompanies the kind of ethereal backing choruses. When I put in Hotel California, the shimmer was gone in the intro. The panning aerial sound effects were pushed to the background till they were nearly out of the picture. Drum impact continued to be a problem.
    At that point in the playlist I started suspecting that the tips might be some of the problem and tried out my fake Sony Hybrids and the white tips that came with my SoundMAGIC PL30.
    When I put the PL30 tips in the treble slightly improved and the mids came forward a bit. The soundstage width also improved. Switching to the fake Sony Hybrids further improved the sound, they got more airy and the treble improved. The mids were still a bit recessed. The bass is still way forward. These IEMs are more tip dependent than my HiFiMan RE0, and the SoundMAGIC PL30. I decided to continue with the fake hybrids, and to start comparing them to some more headphones to avoid too much brain burn-in.
    Some more tracks with quick impressions:
    Billy Joel - Keeping the Faith (DSD64)
    Drums really thin. Billy Joel's voice sounds great on these. Bass too forward. HD600 only headphone that I have that captures the soundstage. RE0 sounds best of IEMs. PL30 rich and bassy, but not detailed enough.
    Neil Young - Out on the Weekend (24/192 Pono remaster)
    Neil's voice sounds a bit thick, the treble is recessed. The stage echo comes across well. I really have to re-evaluate this bass, it isn't forward, it is the entire front of the stage. No matter what track you listen to the bass is in front of the vocalist, which isn't appropriate, not even in hip-hop.
    Electric Light Orchestra - Sweet Talkin' Woman (24/96 vinyl rip, sounds much better than remastered CDs)
    Thick sounding. Bit of upper bass bloom. Bass a bit more controlled in this track.
    Fleetwood Mac - Dreams (Original West German Target CD pressing, massive dynamic range)
    Little mmm-mmm at start of track almost completely forced out of the picture. Dynamic range compressed. This sounds terrible. The drums are really thin and unrealistic sounding, like a badly done drum machine. This isn't realistic sounding and is very coloured. When I switched to the PL30 the mids were better, but it thickens up Stevie Nicks' voice too much.
    John Butt - JS Bach Well Tempered Klavier Prelude #21 in B Flat Major (24/192)
    I put this track in to test a theory: the 4mm driver size on the headphones is insufficient to handle wide dynamic range and tuned to emphasize bass. By going for an all treble track, I could see how the Verb did without the distraction of bass. It did a good job. The track sounds natural with good weight on the notes. Because there isn't anything to move the priority of the treble down it doesn't sound recessed. I think the driver is the problem. The PL30 was more detailed.
    Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven (1980s Sidore West German Target CD)
    The intro is fine and the flute sounds good, but when that bass shows up it swallows all the other guitars. It's a massacre.
    Schizoid Lloyd - Suicide Penguin (16/44, highly compressed but good sounding track)
    This sounds pretty good on the Verb. This is also a very loudness war kind of track. I'm detecting a pattern here.
    Queen - Bicycle Race (24/96 Vinyl Rip)
    Freddy's voice is too thick. Bass is swamping the front of the stage. Track sounds muddy and veiled. PL30 better, with more balanced and natural presentation.
    Osamu Kitajima - Benzaiten (24/96 Vinyl Rip)
    This is the only track that the bass wasn't in front of the vocalist, but that is only because the bass is so deep in the mix (confirmed with HD600). The soundstage was really compressed and the whole presentation lacked texture with the verb.
    Overall Verdict
    Do not buy these headphones. I decided out of honour to not try to sell them and not to give them as a 'gift'.
    I think the problems are as follows:
    1. The tuning is dramatically unbalanced and doesn't fit any audiophile tuning profile, which is who these were supposed to be for.
    2. The 4mm driver is not physically capable of pushing all frequencies at once without some of them suffering. On bassy tracks it was fine, and an exclusively treble track was also fine.
    3. It doesn't like music with high dynamic range. It crushes the music like a can of Budweiser. Good music isn't analogous to Budweiser, it's more of a craft beer kind of thing. The Verb performed decently on modern highly compressed tracks. I have a feeling this is primarily what the folks at LH Labs listen to. No accounting for taste, I guess.
    4. Treble is grossly recessed most of the time
    5. Sound is highly dependent on fit and source. These needed a really good source to sound decent.
    6. There is simply not enough in the box for the MSRP of $159. Most competitors offer far more at lower price points and are also produced in China.
    I found that the PL30 was consistently better than the Verb. I imagine that SoundMAGIC's current offerings would also beat the Verb.
    These headphones aren't a Bay of Pigs type fiasco, but they aren't good either.
    1. smial1966
      Excellent review Micah. Despite LH Labs protestations, you really can't make an audio silk purse out of an inherently flawed sow's ear. I've had the misfortune to audition these monstrosities and one word immediately sprang to mind; ghastly!   
      smial1966, Nov 8, 2015
    2. Tobias89
      I agree with this review!..it was a huge fiasco to me...all the marketing and claims lhlabs made...even defending the verb after we all realised how bad the verb was...was rather inexcusable to me....the biggest I had since entering head fi.
      Tobias89, Nov 9, 2015