View Full Version : The Family Likeness
25-03-2010, 10:28 AM
Those of us who have discovered the characteristic Harbeth sound never want to part with it for another speaker brand. But the other thing that some recent posts have thrown up, is that within the Harbeth range there is obviously a family likeness amongst the most recent Harbeth creations, i.e. the Compact 7es3, the 40.1 and the P3ESR, so much so that listeners often have a clear preference for either the SHL5 (or perhaps Monitor 30) or a member of the new family.
OK, to my question Alan.... Without wanting you to explain your design goals for the recent models, which I know you have done in other posts, I wonder if you could explain whether you perceive or intend there to be a development in the Harbeth sound. You have mentioned that what you have achieved with the recent models just would not have been possible 5 years ago. What have you achieved with the recent models that is not present in, say, the SHL5? And, a related question, is the new family likeness a permanent one? I.e. if, at some point in the future, you were say to revise the Monitor 30 or the SHL5 would they be brought more into line with the new family?
Thanks very much!
It's a very interesting question. I can answer you based on what I've been doing these past weeks.
I mentioned recently that this year's first task is the scanning and then shredding my entire engineering archive. So far, I've scanned 7500 A4 sheets using an industrial multi-feed scanner which little by little has taken about six weeks. Surprisingly, so far, those 7500 sheets scanned in 300dpi greyscale occupy just over 20GB - and I guess I'm about half way through. To think! I bought a 1000GB (1TB) drive thinking I'd need the storage space - a massive overestimate. I've also installed, tested, duplicated and configured a Windows (Home) Server - a most marvellously simple to set-up central archive store with incredible backup facilities for $150 - which allows me to search and locate anything in that archive from anywhere in the world. So 75+ fat ring binders is now a living archive. There are about another 5000 sheets to go to complete the archive for all models.
What has come to light as I shuffle the sheets into correct chronological order before scanning (I've found this to be a much better idea than page reordering inside a PDF containing for example 350 sheet) is how rapidly my speaker design knowledge grew in the first few years (1987-1990, original HL Compact, HL5, P3) and then how slowly it developed thereafter for the next fifteen years or so. Until about 2006 when again there was another spurt of knowledge which resulted in the C7ES3, M401 and most recently the P3ESR. This really has shaken me a little because twenty + years has flashed by. It makes me realise how, by osmotic transfer of the 'BBC concept of speaker design' I absorbed solely from my reading of public BBC documents, reviews and commentaries - plus my own listening experiences of those and other speakers - the BBC methodology of how to design those very speakers. Hook, line and sinker. I can see that the long intervening period was devoted to verifying and improving and piecing together as a whole my 'BBC inheritance' and then finally being in a position, relatively recently, to turn that twenty year quest into those newest Harbeths. Is this answering your question?
So, I think that future Harbeth's must, logically, draw on the accumulated knowledge that has shaped recent developments. But the challenge for any designer is to build on the strengths of earlier - and much loved - icons just as the Harbeth P3ESR can be traced back to its grandfather LS3/5a.
What I think is especially interesting is that, on the day I took over, my personal knowledge of speaker design was extremely limited - I was a serious hobbyist and no more. Yet, the purity and engineering essence of the BBC way of tackling monitor design was - and is - a beacon of shining light which gripped me with its inherent simplicity and fitness for purpose. Freely given to those willing to open their hearts, minds and intellects to it. No special skills required. No formal qualifications. Just the willingness to study and apply what great (BBC) engineers learned a generation or two ago.
27-03-2010, 02:38 PM
Thank you Alan, I appreciate your candour very much indeed. I suppose part of what I was wondering is whether, with the recent Harbeth models, you have been trying to produce something a little different, as opposed to simply better. Perhaps it is a bit of both, or perhaps the two are inevitably intertwined?
One of the things that strikes me in what you say is your admiration for your inheritance, which you have taken and then built upon and developed and improved. One of the most brilliant books that I have ever read, an exploration of a knotty philosophical problem, opens with an open appreciation of those who have written on the subject before and on whom the author depends. He then says something like, "and I hope that by standing on these giants shoulders I might be enabled to see a little further." It was a very humble thing to say, but quite pertinent. I love that image and I am sure it applies to many fields of knowledge and research.
No, not aiming to be deliberately different for the sake of making a statement of some sort. But human nature is such that anyone who is blessed with a spark of curiosity combined with even modest creativity will inevitably build upon their own experience, and that of others they admire. On day one I decided that the 'BBC legacy' was deep and strong enough to see me through my entire working life and that I could never mine to exhaustion the golden heritage. Indeed, had I not felt that I would have never taken on Harbeth but would have stayed in the semiconductor business. It never occurred to me to start a speaker manufacturing business based on some other spurious design philosophy - it was the BBC way of doing things - or nothing. And that's how it is and will remain.
It also is rather interesting how history has been very kind to us. Around 1990 when we were growing at a meteoric rate, there was no inkling that the then 'tiger economies' (when did you last hear that term?) were about to collapse, and nearly take us with them. I read last week that the Nikkei index in Japan - twenty years later - stands at a quarter of the level it did in 1990 when our sales were expanding rapidly in Japan, our biggest market. The shocking facts are clearly shown in the graph here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikkei_225). So, the 1990s was a difficult time for the audio business and one where management had to concentrate on managing the situation, not leaving much time for new product development for which you need an absolutely clear mind and desk.
And here we are again, history having repeated itself twenty years on and at the same point in the cycle as we were in 1990 with one major difference. In 1990 our response to rising demand was to ramp up our fixed costs and move to a factory four times the size with perhaps ten times the overheads which proved in the downturn of the 90s to be a very poor decision. This time, we're far wiser and resist the temptation to run too fast, hence long lead times - not a problem if your distributor has planned orders in the pipeline as most do. As for the global downturn from late 2008 on, it has only resulted in an increase in business, perhaps because the consumer chooses to buy products with a heritage and with solid real value - precisely what we offer. That's how we perceive it anyway.
Yes, I too have read that quote. The archive preservation I'm undertaking is essential for the next generation of designers who will not have the patience or interest to trawl through paper archives. My role in this lineage is merely transitory. The best I can do is protect the flame I was handed and enhance its purity with, for example, the RADIAL™ cone.
28-03-2010, 08:29 PM
While I'm glad to hear that you're scanning such an important wealth of information to searchable indexed docs, PLEASE remember to make a backup copy of the data before you commit all that paper to the shredder ! Even something as simple as porting a copy of your existing scanned data to an outboard USB based laptop harddrive in a little enclosure that can be safely stored at an alternate location will do wonders to safegaurd what is a VERY valuable asset.
There, now that I've soapboxed myself for a Sunday afternoon, I would really hope (and given what I can surmise from the road thus far) that any future changes to products (new or existing) will only be "evolutionary" rather than "revolutionary" (perhaps better termed "revolting" .. laff) There are SO many speaker products out there that capitalize on the "boom and zoom" mentality, and so few that can capture the naturalness that a Harbeth speaker can in the subtle and articulate nature they present the material presented.
My own experience has essentially brought me full circle from the original stand mounted 2 way monitor of the late 1970's (notably my ill-fated Rogers Studio 1's.. that met an early demise due to a power disruption sending a surge through the amp, vaporizing the main drivers in them.. they were never quite the same after rebuilding) through a series of more modern efforts at trying to capture that magic. Some were more successful than others, but ultimately, it was a chance encounter at a pair of after market M30's that brought me back to realizing what it was that I was seeking all these years.
So, let's hope that IF such remarkable products like the M30 do get a makeover, that they will only exceed themselves. Given the intellect and focus that Alan brings to his craft, I can't imagine it any other way.
While I'm glad to hear that you're scanning such an important wealth of information to searchable indexed docs, PLEASE remember to make a backup copy of the data before you commit all that paper to the shredder !... to safeguard what is a VERY valuable asset.That's very good advice. Yes, I am very concerned and I think careful about backups to, as you say, external USB drives.
I have almost completed the DIY Windows Home Server (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/windowshomeserver/default.mspx) project just as I would like it. We always try and handle new projects in-house (no IT department here) if we can and I've only recently discovered and am extremely impressed with Microsoft's WHS concept. Its strength is simplicity of user interface and that it sniffs for and backs-up client PCs connected to it automatically. Its weakness is its self-backup. So, bearing in mind the unique and irreplaceable nature of the data it will hold, I have investigated data integrity and arrived at the following solution of data archive which I commend to anyone in a similar situation. This advice would be equally applicable to centralise an archive of music or video files or any type of documents:
Break away from the familiar concept we all have of stand-alone PCs and set up one as a Windows Home Server, in my case as I want to minimise electricity consumption based on an Intel Atom processor (as found in Netbooks). My server box is the Compaq CQ2000, available factory refurbished for about GBP 150. You do not need cutting edge hardware performance because the limitation of the entire home server concept is how fast you can squirt data down a 100Mb Cat5 cable. 1GB of RAM is more than enough for WHS. I measured the power consumption as 49W all running incl. cooling fan, 2W standby.
Admit that having data spread around several PCs may well be more secure, but finding and using that data then relies too much on human memory and ...
If you can't find the information you want, you might as well not have it at all
Assume that the server will fail and lay down a backup-recovery strategy
What I've done - and this hardware/software costs much more than the Microsoft WHS package and the server hardware itself is to install and configure:
Replace the supplied internal 500GB SATA drive with new high-spec 7200rpm 1TB 32MB cache drives, with 3 year warranty. Do this before you install WHS because WHS OS is very fussy (as a good server should be) about disk geometry/size changes one it is happily up and running. If you intend to clone your server (see later) buy two absolutely identical hard disks that will be big enough from the outset to hold all your data for many years ahead.
Install Acronis Backup & Recovery 10 for Windows Small Business Server (same codebase as WHS)
Install Diskeeper Undelete Server edition (because I have accidentally deleted entire folders and this creates a protected recycle bin)
Put an eSATA PCI Epress card in the WHS box and hooked it to external eSATA drives. After testing I found eSATA to be 3-4 times faster than USB2.
Purchased another identical micro-server, set it up with exactly the same hardware and clone its hard disk (via Acronis) to have an immediate replacement server in the even of a catastrophe
I think that this is a sensible archive backup and recovery strategy. Hope that this is of help to someone. Note: WHS is based on Server 2003 - a massive, complex beast that needs specialist skills, far beyond by abilities. WHS is really an out of the box solution - almost.
29-03-2010, 01:29 PM
Alan, take a look at RAID (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAID) as well. It is getting very cheap nowadays. You can get a RAID box as low as 200USD.
29-03-2010, 01:46 PM
For added peace of mind, I like to make periodic physical backups to DVD or spare usb HDD (depending on what I'm backing up) and store those backups offsite to mitigate against the threat of fire or theft at home.
I think for my purposes RAID is just one step too complex. Better to have two, physically separate external eSATA or USB drives.
Far, far too much data for a DVD and I have no interest in or confidence in splitting archives across several DVDs!
29-03-2010, 08:04 PM
Sounds like you're on top of the backup situation Alan.. good stuff ! I'm a firm believer in "diversifying data" ie: keeping redundant backups in alternate locations. After all, technology often loves to fail us just when we need it most !
I suppose one day I'll implement a home server for music, for now, I only use it to feed movies to my PS3 via a gigabit wired home network. (multiple pc's, netbooks, laptops .. all that jazz) but, when it comes to music, I'll stick to hard media for now, SACD, CD, and good old vinyl. I still like the physical interaction of dealing with the source. However, as the availability of hi-rez downloads increases on more music titles, I'm sure I'll move towards a music server too.