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henningh
27-10-2008, 10:11 AM
Hi, which modern amplifiers suit the Harbeth BBC sound best? I am very happy with an old Quad 34/405 (the power amplifier is NET Audio upgraded) and the Quad 34 is a joy to use! However sometimes I am asked for a recommendation... and I am curious myself!

Alan, do you have any recommendations? What do you use at home and at work?

I am thinking of electronics that
1. don't make you want to upgrade for the rest of your life (Naim comes to my mind) but
2. satisfy you permanently and
3. don't bring you in danger of becoming too much of hifi nerd and
4. don't cost an arm and a leg.

Just like a Harbeth loudspeaker!

Regards Henning

Vlado
29-10-2008, 07:03 PM
Hi Henning,
did you ever heard Electrocompaniet? I think it match the sound of Harbeth.

A.S.
29-10-2008, 09:38 PM
I think that I'd be happy with that set-up too.

From experience with the Q34, which I agree has most useful tilt controls, the design weakness is that a fully modulated CD clips the 34s circuitry if the volume control is above about "13". Since most CD are these days recorded 'hot' this is a minor but real issue. You may find that replacing the 34 with a simple passive preamp gives you the confidence of clipping free CD reproduction but alas, you will lose the tit functionality.

An alternative would be to use a CD player that has a volume controlled output so that you have reduced the input that the 34 receives from the CD player (by about half). AN even simpler solution would be to connect the CD source to the 34 input via a resistor of about 22k - 47k ohm on each channel - that's an intuitive value. Please ask QUAD for a precise value to halve the signal reaching the 34s CD input.

henningh
30-10-2008, 06:18 PM
Many thanks for your reply!

Is there a recommendation for a passive pre-amp? My google-ing brought me this one: http://www.hificollective.co.uk/kits/glasshousehome.html Is it any good?

I have a Quad CDP-2 player with volume controlled output, so I will try the other solution as soon I get it back from Quad (the CDplayer has serious hick-ups and is in warranty repair). There is no loss in sonic quality to attenuate the signal in the CD player and then turn it up again in the Quad 34?

A.S.
30-10-2008, 11:11 PM
I can't give you an absolute answer about quality as I don't know. I can say that if I had the equipment you mention, then I would indeed turn down the CD output (on the CD remote?) and turn up the preamplifier to give you the replay volume level over your speakers that you like.

If the input stage (prior to the volume control) of an amplifier is overloaded, then the signal is corrupted regardless of how you set the volume control. So it seems to me sensible to reduce the signal going into the preamp to avoid this potentiality.

Of course, if the preamp/amp can truly handle the typical 2v rms output from a CD player on a fully modulated disk (that's about 6 volts peak to peak, the same as three 1.5V batteries in series) then you don't need to worry. But does such an amplifier exist? And can it be proven that it can handle such a huge signal without distortion? That's why my preference is a passive volume control.

I'm personally convinced that the harshness and 'glare' of some (loud) CDs is in part due to overdriving the amplifier into saturation and hence distortion. Reduce the signal from the CD player into the amp and you've achieved the best possible sound from those ridiculously 'hot' recordings.

henningh
01-11-2008, 09:03 AM
I will give the passive volume control a try. Many thanks for your proposal.

Still I am wondering what kind of amplification the engineer of the Harbeth sound uses himself! Do you differentiate between critical listening sessions and pleasure-listening at home? I suppose you use one or more reference electronics which serve you as a fixpoint in your development and testing?

A.S.
01-11-2008, 03:28 PM
Yes, I use one 'reference electronics' and I made that decision twenty five or so years ago. You will understand that I do not want to publicly state what it is for fear that it will be wrongly deduced that Harbeth 'only' works with that brand/model. That simply isn't true - a design Harbeth to work with any competently designed amp working to its original specification as thousands of customers attest.

I am very relaxed about electronics because I'm much more interested in the emotion and beauty of the music than in cold metal hardware; Loudspeakers built from wood (any Harbeth) seem to have much more soul. I have a slight buzz on my home system that's been there for months and I really should attend to. It would drive an audiophile mad, but I'm not an audiophile and as I'm really only interested in the music it doesn't really trouble me at a normal listening level.

I don't know what sort of white-coated lab technician you imagine me to be but I can categorically assure you the real world here is far less formal! I don't think you can design natural-sounding loudspeakers in a lab under controlled and clinical conditions. My overriding experience has been that the design process needs time, space and peace of mind, not rules and regulations and must do/mustn't do restrictions. Above all, it cannot be rushed as the M40.1 project shows. When it's ready to bring to market it's ready, and not a moment beforehand. If it takes two years to design, it takes two years.

I'm very disciplined in the process of designing but free-thinking about the music and electronics that are at the edge of the design process. I think that's extremely healthy for you, the user, because it means that you are not tied to the music, electronics, stands, cables or any other paraphernalia that I used during the design process. You have a totally free hand in their selection according to your own preferences, budget and lifestyle. That's because they are all external factors to a Harbeth design not in any way mandatory to achieving the Harbeth sound. The Harbeth secret is inside the box and doesn't need the support of exotic gear to draw the magic from the box.

Too much emphasis expended on grand theories about how equipment A must be better than equipment B or how equipment C is absolutely necessary to get the best out of speaker D. The real world is far less rigid and far less certain with really enormous latitude providing that you keep your ears open and resist dogma. Dogma destroyed Europe sixty years ago and must be resisted at all costs.

As an example of (literally) flexible thinking and absence of dogma, take for example the attached picture of a mid-period prototype Monitor 40.1 development crossover. Frightening isn't it! Wires everywhere; components hanging in space on cheap crock-clip leads. But it worked perfectly because the components didn't know that they were in such a messy lash up - they don't know that they have to be aesthetically pleasing to behave -they just worked as they always do when electricity passes through them. And yes, that rats nest when finally tuned was converted to a nice neat PCB to ease production which, of course, sounded identical.

>

henningh
02-11-2008, 01:22 AM
Alan, thanks for your reply. I saw a few pictures of you on the Harbeth website - there was no white coat indeed... I was not surprised by your answer and understand that you cannot disclose the electronics you use. Nevertheless I still remain curious...

I wouldn't call myself an audiophile either. I got interested in HiFidelity when I was a cello student at the Royal Northern Colleg of Music in Manchester in the early ninetees. I noticed that some noteworthy musicians, who I had the chance to meet at home (among others the cantor of the Westminster Abbey in London), all had beautiful small stereo equipment which caught my eye: Quad electronics from the 34/44/306/606 era. The 'form follows function' design was so unmistakable that I was not surprised by the sound when I first heard them.
And it didn't take me very long to notice that most loudspeakers attached to the Quad systems I saw, were originating from the BBC development. A little bit of reseach on my side and I knew from where to order catalogues for first informations: Spendor, Harbeth and Rogers.

I don't remember how I got to know Thomas Heinitz, but I soon visited his shop in Moscow Road/London and was instantly fascinated by the BBC sound of the LS 3/5a which I heard. I didn't know that music could be technically reproduced so engagingly. I still have the leaflet of the Harbeth LS 3/5a (my handwriting says that they cost ? 379 then) however I bought a pair of Spendor, since Heinitz had no Harbeth in stock at the time. Heinitz sold all manufacturer versions of the LS 3/5a -- and not much else: Quad ESL, Quad electronics and Yamaha electronics in case you couldn't afford Quad.

I very much enjoyed the time I spent with Heinitz: those three times I visited him, he was always talking about music and never about HiFi. Unfortunately he doesn't live anymore, however I still remember him as the ideal music equipment dealer. Any shop I visited after gave me a headache: most HiFi dealers make you unhappy with what you have. I have never understood that principle of selling! I guess for many it's an unhappy race without end. I actually haven't been in any HiFi shop for 8 or 10 years!

... I wonder, which HiFi salesmen can actually tell the difference between an oboe and a clarinet! I guess not many...

Only recently (15 years after buying the Spendors) I picked up a Harbeth version of the LS 3/5a in very good condition and find them even more engaging than the Spendor version. The Quad 34/405-3/Harbeth LS 3/5a combination is a pleasure to use and listen to everyday! That upgrade (I wanted to avoid the word!) got me interested in HiFi again. I subsequently got my 405 amplifier up-to-date http://www.net-audio.co.uk/quad405mk3.html (recommendable!) and know feel that the 34 needs to be refurbished with new parts as well or replaced entirely.

Thanks again for your advice regarding the passive pre-amp. That might be a good road to get peace of mind again quickly! :)

A.S.
02-11-2008, 11:10 AM
Thomas Heinitz was a giant of the industry. Principally he was a highly respected musicologist pretending to be a hifi salesman. Despite his gruff ways and seemingly hard exterior, underneath lived a highly intelligent, educated soft and kind man. After he assured himself that I was sincere and on the same wavelength as him (that took a year or two) he was extremely avuncular towards me. And yes, from time to time, we just coudn't supply him. What you may not know is that his knowledge of music was legendary. He moved in royal circles and counted world-class musicians amongst his personal friends. He was truly a unique man of the likes we will never see again.

I completely concur with your observations about QUAD and musicians of that era; a focus on the music and the need for a hifi system to a certain realistic standard stripped bare of adornments with the money invested in the engineering, the beating heart of the product not the trimmings. In their case, that was a reflection of the fact that hifi could never totally substitute for the experience of music live so there was no point spending beyond the point of diminishing returns. Thomas, as a man of that wartime generation who could sense real value - form and function as you say - merely had to draw the user's attention to the elegance of a design (highly suitable for London apartments) and they bought.

The system you have, especially upgraded, is a classic. Providing that it's regularly (say, 5-10 years?) serviced I'd be perfectly happy to use it, especially the power amplifier with a passive preamp. Who knows, maybe I have considerable personal experience with certain 'classic' electronics. Good design stands the test of time and has extremely fair and reasonable running/repair costs. Just like a good wife or a great instrument.

henningh
04-11-2008, 09:39 AM
I like your analogy of 'wife and repair costs'!
I had already written another wife-analogy in my previous post, but deleted it before posting: It was about HiFi dealers who often make you feel unsatisfied so you will need that newer, bigger, more powerful and more expensive (!) piece of equipment. Nobody sane would allow anybody to give you that feeling about your wife!

Since I can only guess your I-will-not-change-my-wife amplifier, maybe you would like to shed some light on which music (?) CDs serve you as reference in realistic sound recording and reproduction.
It's the sound engineer who gives us the pleasure of listening to near live-like music at home!
Before I went to England for my studies I was learning at the Universit?t der K?nste Berlin. There was a lot of collaboration between music students and sound engineer students going on (in fact Berlin is one of the only two places in Germnay where you can study that profession). It provided me with first insight and gave me great respect for the sound engineer's work.

I have always been impressed with the constant quality of classical recordings made by Tritonus Tonstudio Stuttgart. Tritonus has engeineerd a big part of the ECM library http://www.ecmrecords.com. Watch out for Peter Laenger and Andreas Neubronner in the CD leaflet. And Tritonus' equipment list of looks somewhat familiar: http://www.tritonus.de/en/equipment.php

CDs that come to my mind are:
1. John Williams: Spanish guitar (Sony) - you can grap the guitar!
2. Morimur (ECM) - beautiful and interesting
3. Bach Piano concertos with Angela Hewitt (Hyperion) - such a strong interpretation, it would sound great on a clock radio too!
4. Brahms Double concert (RCA) with Pinchas Zuckermann and Ralph Kirshbaum - I know the cello (and player) well, since I studied with Kirshbaum for two years.
5. Omara (of Buena Vista Social club)
...

Maybe a music thread in the Harbeth discussions would be a nice idea? CD reviews by proud Harbeth owners!

T.W.
04-11-2008, 10:22 AM
Hi, which modern amplifiers suit the Harbeth BBC sound best? I am very happy with an old Quad 34/405 (the power amplifier is NET Audio upgraded) and the Quad 34 is a joy to use! However sometimes I am asked for a recommendation... and I am curious myself!

Alan, do you have any recommendations? What do you use at home and at work?

I am thinking of electronics that
1. don't make you want to upgrade for the rest of your life (Naim comes to my mind) but
2. satisfy you permanently and
3. don't bring you in danger of becoming too much of hifi nerd and
4. don't cost an arm and a leg.

Just like a Harbeth loudspeaker!

Regards Henning

In my opinion an applifier should not sound at all. So it's hard to answer which applifier suits the BBC sound best. I though that's it the Harbeth that produces this BBC sound.

I always had Marantz amplifiers and components. Not sure why. But I liked them.

But technology changed during the years. We have the digital age now. My beloved Thorenz turntable is in the cellar together with all of the old disks.

So I have another combination now that I can highly recommend:
- M40s (the BBC sound)
- Lyngdorf TDAI 2200 with RoomPerfect (the digital age component, very neutral and powerful)
- Lyngdorf CD-1 (digital output, excellent together with the amp)

For my ears it sounds almost perfect in the moment. I like to sit on my sofa and listen to the music.

Just a recommendation ....

A.S.
04-11-2008, 07:29 PM
I like your analogy of 'wife and repair costs' .... who often make you feel unsatisfied ...Nobody sane would allow anybody to give you that feeling about your wife! That's a profound statement and hits the nail on the head. Why do we allow complete strangers to convince us that this accessory or that will transform our lives beyond recognition? It's madness.

Have we completely lost our ability to rationalise, scrutinise and apply a tad of common sense? I'm reminded of those after-market gadgets which claim to give you extra MPG. Even I nearly full under a neighbour's sales charms when he became a salesman for one of them until I pinched myself and asked 'if it really does give an extra 10MPG why the devil isn't Ford, GM and all other makers fitting it'? Or more to the point, why with their huge R&D resources didn't they invent it themselves? Or even more to the point, in this highly competitive world, if a simple low-cost after-market product gave a true marketing benefit, which brand could afford not to offer it?

shseto
05-11-2008, 02:59 AM
That's a profound statement and hits the nail on the head. Why do we allow complete strangers to convince us that this accessory or that will transform our lives beyond recognition? It's madness.

Have we completely lost our ability to rationalise, scrutinise and apply a tad of common sense? I'm reminded of those after-market gadgets which claim to give you extra MPG. Even I nearly full under a neighbour's sales charms when he became a salesman for one of them until I pinched myself and asked 'if it really does give an extra 10MPG why the devil isn't Ford, GM and all other makers fitting it'? Or more to the point, why with their huge R&D resources didn't they invent it themselves? Or even more to the point, in this highly competitive world, if a simple low-cost after-market product gave a true marketing benefit, which brand could afford not to offer it?

I would guess with these things, its either becuase the thing just doesn't work or if it worked, it will damange the engine or whatever or introduce much faster wear and tear to it or it might made the car no longer meet emission control requirement.

or as someone might said, the 'fuel' companies and blocking their ways to the mass market, sounds like a salesman?

......ai ha ?

A.S.
05-11-2008, 08:51 AM
I suspect that the answer is even simpler - under blind (controlled) scientific tests when the user doesn't know if it's fitted or not, there is no improvement.

It's human nature to spend money in anticipation of some benefit, and then to convince oneself that the benefit is real whether or not it truly is.

shseto
05-11-2008, 09:43 AM
I suspect that the answer is even simpler - under blind (controlled) scientific tests when the user doesn't know if it's fitted or not, there is no improvement.

It's human nature to spend money in anticipation of some benefit, and then to convince oneself that the benefit is real whether or not it truly is.

yeah, i used to feel my car going much smoother and faster after i pour in a bottle of slick50 in it !

ruzhyo
07-11-2008, 08:51 AM
Perhaps if anyone knows what amps the BBC uses with the Harbeths?

A.S.
07-11-2008, 10:02 AM
I can answer that as we often supply them along with the passive speakers to the BBC. They will either use QUAD amps that they have in-store (such as the rack-mount 520) or we supply them with a low-cost 19" slimline rack-amp. They don't express any interest in the amp's specification although they would expect it to survive a few years of normal studio use, and they do not like amps with inbuilt (noisy) fans.

We have supplied rack-amps made in India (cost to us about USD 300) which they see perfectly happy with. As an example, the BBC TV program Question of Sport is made with M30s/Indian amp. They also don't state any preference in cables. We've supplied QED79 strand with the amps/speakers.

I think that we can conclude this: professional sound engineers within the BBC consider the microphones and speakers to be important, but the amps to be of little importance in the chain compared to the two transducers.

ruzhyo
08-11-2008, 06:16 PM
Thanks for your quick reply Alan.

I am thinking of getting myself a QUAD 99/909 for my SHL-5 but could not get a chance to listen to the pairing.

McIntosh-Fan
18-01-2009, 03:38 PM
I wonder how many Harbethians do use Quad valve amplifiers? I have just bought my first set of them to drive my M30. The setup is now: Quad II classic, Quad QC Twentyfour and a Dynaco CD. I realise that I should probably change my user-name to Quad-Fan...

McIntosh-Fan
18-01-2009, 03:58 PM
Of course Alan is absolutely right (and how could he not be?!): 15 W per channel is more than enough to drive the Harbeths. I've just heard the Mass in b minor of Bach - I thought I was sitting in a church...
Alan, your speakers are fabulous. They really are. Thank you.

coredump
18-01-2009, 04:15 PM
playing the CD from TELARC.
EIN STRAUSSFEST II. CINCINNATI POPS ORCHESTRA.

I need to turn the volume to almost 11-12 o'clock to have a wide soundstage or the feel of the Orchestra. However, for jazz / pop / vocal genre, normal listening, at 9-10 o'clock, it's already very loud.

using a Lavardin IS 35Watts, Marantz CDP

Any reason for this? Has it got to do with the Label?

Tks

DSRANCE
18-01-2009, 05:02 PM
playing the CD from TELARC EIN STRAUSSFEST II. CINCINNATI POPS ORCHESTRA.I need to turn the volume to almost 11-12 o'clock to have a wide soundstage or the feel of the Orchestra. However, for jazz / pop / vocal genre, normal listening, at 9-10 o'clock, it's already very loud.Tks

The problem with "contemporary" music these days (and for years in the "pop" field) is that the record companies seem to want the average "mean" volume levels as high as possible. Done properly, this can work quite well, but the recent trend to screw the levels into hard unpleasant clipping has had a very negative effect on tthe music. Surprisingly, giving the i-pod wearing target market, the results seem even worse when played on these things, using MP3 or similar digital processing.

The Telarc discs you have come from the opposite end of the spectrum I suspect and having spoken a number of years ago with one of their engineers, I reckon that only the very loudest peaks come anywhere near the maximum level allowed on CD, so the mean "average" volume level will be much lower. It's a bit like comparing the BBC's Radio's 2 and 4 in the UK. Radio 2 is compressed and spoils the music (the "pop" radio 1 station is now totally unlistenable!), whereas Radio 4 (and Radio 3 most of the time) is broadcast at a much lower level and sounds much better on a "HiFi" system. The other thing with FM in the UK, is that many tuners don't sound good at maximum modulation levels and add further distortion, but if you set the levels too low, you get too much hiss.....

By the way, Alan would confirm, but I don't think Harbeth monitors (or any "classic" BBC speakers) feature in Radio 1 and 2's listening output - they seem to prefer something far more agressive to listen on.

A.S.
19-01-2009, 10:50 PM
It's very interesting that you should mention that particular CD. Upon my return from CES I was going through my CD collection (again) and giving away unneeded CDs to the local charity shop who can turn them into money. In fact, I remembered seeing the CD you mention (Telarc CD-80314) and found it in the box ready to go.

I remembered it because I'd written a label across the cover which said "murky" so it's of no use to me. Giving it a quick listen I agree that it's recorded at rather a low average level and just doesn't seem to have the correct spectral balance: over-rich and not enough sparkle for my taste which enhances the sense that it's rather quiet.

The earlier Ein Straussfest (1) I regularly use as it's extremely well recorded. That's progress!

henningh
21-03-2009, 03:39 PM
From experience with the Q34, which I agree has most useful tilt controls, the design weakness is that a fully modulated CD clips the 34s circuitry if the volume control is above about "13". Since most CD are these days recorded 'hot' this is a minor but real issue. You may find that replacing the 34 with a simple passive preamp gives you the confidence of clipping free CD reproduction but alas, you will lose the tit functionality.

Dear Alan, is it only the CD player which can be clipping the 34s circuitry or other sources (phono) too? With other words, should I generally not set the volume control to above 13 (louder)? I understand that this is a matter of the circuitry and not the potentiometer itself? Sorry for the off-topic question!

I am pleased to tell you how satisfied I am with my 1-month-old M30! What an upgrade to my old Harbeth 3/5a!

I am browsing the forum every now and then and appreciate your insight sharing and your healthy approach to loudspeaker design and music reproduction in general.

A.S.
22-03-2009, 10:25 AM
...I am browsing the forum every now and then and appreciate your insight sharing and your healthy approach to loudspeaker design and music reproduction in general.I'm pleased to hear that you now have the M30s in addition to your LS3/5as; thank you for your investment.

For over twenty years I've been trying to debunk and demystify loudspeakers (specifically) and high-quality audio generally. Why? A basic marketing axiom from my business-study course days:

"A confused customer never buys anything. He pushes his hands deep into his pockets and will not take them out".

To me, this is the core problem with audiophilia; it's alienated, alarmed and confused ordinary folk (like me) who don't understand (or don't want to understand) the mumbo-jumbo of hi-fi witchcraft. Result? It's pushed audio - once a significant consumer aspiration and a thriving business sector - to the margins of society and commerce. The communication void between manufacturers and designers and their consumers has been filled by gossip, misinformation, marketing BS and downright lies. How has this been allowed to happen? I've wondered about this for years, but now we're six months into a global economic trauma it's crystal clear that our industry has merely reflected a much larger malaise in society and business generally, namely, sloppy thinking.

It seems that the economic situation that will blight a generation is entirely the consequence of the systemic failure from the bottom to the very top of society to ask probing questions. I was trained to ask open ended questions .... who, what , when, where, why. We simply must retrain ourselves to be more sceptical, to tease out the hype from the facts. Thinking critically .... interesting links here (http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/thinking.html) and here (http://www.daylightatheism.org/2008/08/run-your-car-on-water.html) - this one sounds horribly familiar with its parallels in the hi-fi industry.

I care about cutting through all the BS because products that need the oxygen of BS cannot fully satisfy the buyer. They won't last. They're a needless waste of the consumer's cash. They're a disgusting waste of precious environmental resources and move us one step needlessly closer to the coming global struggles over diminishing resources. These manufacturers are unlikely to survive even after they've financially bloated themselves and financially enslaved the consumer. Worse, they've make a fool of him in front of his family and friends. And that's adds up to being very bad policy for the audio industry, long term. Confused would-be consumers don't consume.

==============================

About your Q34: I think that overload margin is better on the p/up input, but in any event, a volume setting of 13 or so is very loud when coupled with a matching amp .... so be careful!

s.a.b.
22-03-2009, 07:36 PM
About your Q34: I think that overload margin is better on the p/up input, but in any event, a volume setting of 13 or so is very loud when coupled with a matching amp .... so be careful!

For anyone interested, the current Quad 99 pre has the same "tilt" controls as well as three different sensitivity levels (775mV, 300mV, 100mV) for each input.

I'm using the 99 pre and 99 amp (though I own a couple of more powerful amps, including the Quad 909) with my Harbeth C7s in my tv/bedroom system and am very very happy with it.

Ned Mast
23-03-2009, 01:24 PM
Alan,

Thank you for a refreshing, alternative look at audiophilia! It is definitely a field in need of less mysticism and more critical thinking. The sites you referred us to are excellent.

Ned

Stephen PG
23-03-2009, 06:28 PM
For over twenty years I've been trying to debunk and demystify loudspeakers (specifically) and high-quality audio generally. Why? A basic marketing axiom from my business-study course days:Alan,

Keep up the good work, it was exactly this attitude to hi-fi that persuaded me to make the effort and hear a pair of your speakers, and to buy them.

I shall be contacting the dealer first thing to order a pair of SHL5s.