LH provided Stella on loan for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.
Stella sells for $1,299
When I contacted Light Harmonic, I knew there was controversy surrounding Stella, but I didn’t quite appreciate the full weight of the situation. When I posted some early impressions on the forums, however, I realized I had stepped into a war zone.
Not only did the understandably angry folk attack me, but I was also warned, by a number of reviewers I respect, not to go down this road. That it would not be worth it.
Now, as a reviewer for The Headphone List, my articles represent more than myself. And since it’s not just my reputation on the line here, I owed it to the team to hear them out on the matter.
I won’t pretend it was unanimous, but support for this review was overwhelming. Even our DoctorJazz was for it, who by rights ought to be one of the pitchfork-carrying LH protesters.
Pinky was approached with an offer to review the new LH Labs, and, not knowing the crowd funding history and other controversies LH Labs had generated, he agreed to do it. When he mentioned it on Head Fi there was the usual response LH Labs triggers, namely incredible anger (totally understandable, as “investors“ hadn’t received their gear more than 4 years after the offers). In the light of the outpouring of emotion, Pinky ran it by the other THL staff members. As one who had sunk close to $10k on various projects, I certainly understand the animosity towards them; I’ve alternated between sadness and anger over the whole affair myself. However, my (not unbiased) take is that there was never an intention to defraud-overstated promises, bad management, bad decisions, yes, but if the intent was to take the money and run, they forgot to run. It seems to me the new product should stand or fall on its merits… All the issues associated with the company are out there (check any LH Labs Head Fi thread), and certainly should be taken into consideration when deciding on an order. Furthermore, while I haven’t heard it, initial buzz is that it does seem the LH Labs crew have actually come up with a good sounding product, and if it helps their bottom line, that would be a cash flow to the company that COULD HELP THEM COMPLETE AND SHIP THE CROWD FUNDED GEAR THEY OWE!
Of course, I understand bitter supporters having a different take, but that’s how I see it.
Furthermore, here is an update from Ken Bell…
If you’re scratching your heard right now, confused by all this, Google is your friend. I have no intention of turning my review into a Tell All report on the Company’s history. Though I suspect the comment section will soon yield a treasure trove of gossip. For myself, I read everything, from both sides of the argument, and found not a single shred of evidence to back up the claims levied against Stella. In fact, the only people who offered actual evidence to support their case, was Light Harmonic.
My stance on all this is simple. I don’t claim to know what happened with any certainty. Innocent until proven guilty. Always. I believe in that for the Courts, and in public opinion. Furthermore, I strongly believe mismanagement of past failures should have no relevance on whether or not I review a new product. If this were a pre-order, or another Crowdfunding project, I would feel differently. Their history would be of utmost relevance. But Stella exists, and is in-stock right now. Which means the only pertinent information is whether or not Stella is good. And if it is good, I want the community to know about it. That is, as I see it, my only real duty as a reviewer.
So let’s get into that, shall we?
Stella is constructed of sturdy metal, with interesting angels and geometric symmetries, taking inspiration from their famous Da Vinci DAC and the artwork of Vincent van Gogh. A copper alloy was used for the front housing, as part of the tuning. Along the back plate of the internals, there’s a hexagon pattern to eliminate unwanted resonances.
The image from their website makes it look like a hexagon fractal. I’m not sure how much of that is real, and how much is artist’s rendering. But it’s cool, regardless.
Stella is a hybrid, utilizing a 9mm beryllium Dynamic Driver and dual Balanced Armatures. Considering the marketing, I’d say LHL is quite proud of their crossovers, diffusers, and other innovations. There seems to be a lot of fine technology to help set Stella apart.
A truly unique carry case is included, hand-crafted, and of the highest quality. The cable, which is a high-purity copper with silver plating, is super light, supple, and comfortable. Both a Single-Ended and a Balanced cable is provided, which is very nice indeed.
Ergonomics are decent with Stella. Insertion depth is good and she sits well. However, I would not call this the most comfortable IEM. While there are no weird edges or sharp ridges, Stella is of a fairly geometric design and clashes a bit with the organic contours of your ear. I find I need to make regular adjustments to how it sits to hinter the slow development of hot spots. If I keep on it, I can enjoy a good four hours of music before it grows painful.