"This Harbeth User Group (HUG) is the Manufacturer's own managed forum dedicated to natural sound from microphone to ear, achievable by recognising and controlling the numerous confounding variables that exist along the audio chain. The Harbeth designer's objective is to make loudspeakers that contribute little of themselves to the music passing through them.

Identifying system components for their sonic neutrality should logically proceed from the interpretation and analysis of their technical, objective performance, since deviations from a flat frequency response at any point along the signal chain from microphone to ear is likely to create the audible sonic personality that you hear. This includes the contribution of the listening room itself. To accurately reproduce the recorded sound, as Harbeth speakers are designed to do, you would be advised to select system components (sources, electronics, cables and so on) that do not color the sound before it reaches the speakers.

For example, the design of and interaction between the hifi amplifier and its speaker load can and potentially will alter the sound balance of what you hear. This may or may not be what you wish to achieve, but any deviation from a flat response is a step away from a truly neutral system. HUG has extensively discussed amplifiers and the methods for seeking the most objectively neutral amongst a plethora of available product choices.

HUG specialises in making complex technical matters simple to understand, such as the relationship between recorded sound and the sound you hear. With our heritage of natural sound and pragmatism, HUG cannot be expected to be a place to get deeply into discussing the selection, approval or endorsement of non-Harbeth system elements selected, knowingly or not, to create a significantly personalised sound. For that you should do your own research and above all, make the effort to visit an Authorised Dealer and listen to your music at your loudness on your loudspeakers through the various offerings there. There is really no on-line substitute for time invested in a dealer's showroom because 'tuning' your system to taste is such a highly personal matter.

Please consider carefully how much you should rely upon and be influenced by the subjective opinions of strangers. Their hearing acuity and taste will be different to yours, as will be their motives and budget, their listening distance, loudness and room treatment, not necessarily leading to appropriate equipment selection and listening satisfaction for you.

If some of the science behind faithfully reproducing the sound intended by the composer, score, conductor and musicians over Harbeth speakers is your thing, this forum has been helping with that since 2006. If you just want to share your opinions and photos with others then the unrelated Harbeth Speakers Facebook page may be for you. Either way, welcome to the world of Harbeth!"

Feb. 2018
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Ahoy from the engine room!

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  • #16
    So, tightly profiling that imaginary customer would be ideal, but I'm not much closer to being able to do so than when I started here thirty years ago. Pretty poor effort for someone running a consumer marketing company. How has the brand not only survived, but become a benchmark by which enterprises are graded? How come we've such an unusual anti-marketing stance yet applying conventional business metrics are a secure, independent, brilliantly successful (and by definition, marketing) company?

    The 'BBC speaker philosophy', by which I means the pioneering work in the 1960s and early 70s of course is at the root of today's Harbeth. Had I not been fascinated by maverick pirate radio broadcasters from the North Sea in the 1960s, and had that not morphed into my Saturday helper job at a BBC radio station, and had I not been there the week that the LS3/5a arrived in Studio 1, I surely wouldn't be here today.

    Brands that have hung their marketing hat on the legacy BBC designs have and will continue to come and go. Any marketing strategy that cannot rely on its own innovation cannot ultimately be a sustainable business. The sub-sub-sub sector of the market that buys into the retro dream is minute, far too small for profitablity or or even viability. It is quickly saturated. I could only see a very limited future down that path.

    It is no coincidence that the founder of Harbeth was the BBC's primary audio research engineer - Dudley Harwood. His investigations were was extensively published inside and outside the BBC through the 1960s and 70s. His scientific contributions regularly appeared in the professional Wireless World magazine of the era, which from this distant perspective can be seen as a golden age in the study of reproduced audio. Had loudspeaker development only been a minor part of his remit and interest, had he been in only been in a junior position in the BBC with no voice of his own, had the speakers he created not been innovative at the time nor manufacturable nor usable domestically, then Harbeth could not have existed.

    So, what I inherited was not blueprints for retro products, but an philosophical approach that could, if robust, be applied to any sort of loudspeaker for any sort of customer. Which brings us back to 'and who are Harbeth's customers?'
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK


    • #17
      Creating this blog and being able to write in an unstructured way has exposed relationships that I'd not appreciated. Thinking about this 'customer - who? matter, actually it's not as uncertain as I may have made out. Clearly, if it were wholly unknown, then the chance of serious commercial uptake and reward would be impossible. So unconsciously we must recognise the shape of our customer if not his clothes.

      Back to Harwood; it's related.

      I considered this morning how I might react, compared to an ordinary member of the public, were I blindfolded and led to a speaker audition. I'd insist that the blindfold was on right through the session, because to be objectively fair to the loudspeaker, I'd want to exclude any emotional bias that seeing it would inevitably create. I doubt that one consumer in a hundred would assess like that, which for good or bad, means that their verdict is a combination of looks and sound. Pity really.

      When the blindfold was removed, I'd want to inspect the loudspeaker. If the grille was fixed on, then there would be little to learn about the drive units aside from pressing my ear to the fixed grille to determine how many drive units it had. Beyond that, I'd have to use my imagination. Mentally, I'd have started a process when listening blindfolded of deconstructing the sound I'd heard, and any clues from sighted examination would flesh out my appreciation. I'd be working towards would be an understanding of the mind behind the design. As they said to me on my first trip to Tokyo thirty years ago: 'we had to meet you, although we'd guessed your personality already from your first design, the HL Compact. You are as we anticipated... only you could have designed that speaker system...'

      The relevance of this is that designing a loudspeaker is to give its creator lumps of wood, metal and plastic and toolbox of possibilities. The outcome is entirely down to him unless he is under the hammer of the marketing department where his room for manoeuvre is constrained. So, when I review my loudspeaker enthusiasm and a novice audio enthusiast, what appealed to me, and in particular about the BBC speaker designs, was the ability to read the designer's own explanation in, say, Wireless World. I studied (not that I then or now understand more than a proportion of his work) Shorter and Harwood's writings, and latterly their predecessor Kirke, and the reasons that they took key decisions in their designs was explained in detail. The personality and logical approach of these great audio pioneers took on a tangibility. As I read you could almost hear their voices. Their engineering professionalism manifest itself in the physical loudspeaker in front of me.

      Nobody other than those designers could have designed as they did. Later BBC designers, without the breadth, depth of knowledge, financial budget, general interest and even the self-awareness you find in aviation pilots couldn't and didn't keep the flame burning. And it showed.

      More later.
      Alan A. Shaw
      Designer, owner
      Harbeth Audio UK


      • #18
        Do speaker stands have a sonic signature?

        This issue has been knocked about for years. As stands are physical entities with mass and stiffness, they clearly have the potential to resonate, but the question is - do they when placed under a loudspeaker, and if they do, proportionate to the sound output of the loudspeaker itself, what sonic contribution could they make, and is it likely to be audible?

        By chance I spotted this B&K all-in-one vibration analyser on Ebay. It's on its way from Australia. I have at least six matching B&K vibration sensors already (I have a lab full of B&K equipment, my standard kit) and they will couple to the stand under observation. Results (quantity and frequency of vibration) are displayed on the inbuilt screen in real time and can then be post-processed for further analysis.

        Typical application of this analyser to measuring vibration in a 6 wheeled vehicle, here. Also here. And here. Detecting motion in a loudspeaker stands is a trivial research project compared to the serious (and potentially life threatening) industrial applications for which this equipment is normally used.

        With a little effort, it should be possible to get to a wholly objective, factual truth about this matter. At long last.

        Click image for larger version  Name:	BK2515.jpg Views:	1 Size:	275.9 KB ID:	75615

        Update: Sadly, this unit did not work on arrival and will be returned.
        Alan A. Shaw
        Designer, owner
        Harbeth Audio UK


        • #19
          The way our ears work (factually) and level matching

          Interacting very enjoyably with the public at the Bristol HiFi Show over the last couple of days has exposed again the disbelief, disinterest in and downright refutation of what all audiologists and sound professionals have known for a century: that the ear is a sound pressure frequency and loudness sensitive organ, and arrives at strong subjective opinions about what it is hearing based on that criterea. Think about it: were that not the case, speech and music would be nothing other than an unintelligible jumble of noise. And of course, musicians have traded in the loudness v. frequency business for about 50,000 years since the first musical instrument was invented. It's not a new issue. But in audiophilia, it is ignored.

          So my question is this: just why is it that a significant proportion of 'audiophiles' will not allow themselves the luxury of entertaining, even for a second, the possibility that to sensibly grade audio equipment, that the loudness of the equipment generating the sound wave at the critics ear must be standardised between the equipments being compared? This truly is unfathomable to me as casual, unstructured, unregulated 'comparison' set-up the consumer to fail to reach a repeatable, let alone valid conclusion about the sonic merits of A v. B. He is, to coin a phrase, statistically likely to be buying blind.

          This really is a nonsense. If the consumer was in the market for a fine camera, say a Nicon v. a Canon, would he rattle off some quick shots on their Auto settings leaving the camera to make all the decisions, or would he set them both to the same manual settings to be sure that ISO, aperture, shutter speed and focus were identical before taking the pictures? Surely that is the only way to make a valid comparison of resulting images using our eyes, so why not apply the precise same procedure when comparing audio equipment using our ears?

          When the human ear is tested by an audiologist, the subject is required to wear headphones, the background noise leven reduced and the test loudness is precisely set at an internationally agreed level to arrive at a statistically valid assessment of an individuals hearing wherever he has his ears tested. Surely, the comparison of audio equipmnemt deserves to be based on best audiology practice - regulated loudness - to draw any sort of valid conclusion from the exercise.

          I met some lovely, friendly, engaging and conversational people who demonstrated total conviction in their own personal sonic grading system, and not the slightest degree of willingness to tackle the underlying issue of level matching. It's a sort of elephant in the room.

          Unfortunately for them but fortunately for their credit card issuer, the lack of structure in comparison aided and abetted by emotional attachment to this or that equipment keeps the plates of commerce spinning, and the consumer blind to the very best possible audio equipment regardless of price.

          There is also the matter of the assumed corelation between price and performance, which several were shocked to be told was all too often nothing more than a marketing strategy trading on general ingrained expectation bias. Another story!

          And the industry wonders why so many exhaused wives rolled their eyes .... ! Why isn't there even the slightest willingness to 'give it a go' and work with the notion, no matter how hostile or repugnant or unfamiliar, that there just might be something in this level matching issue? There isn't: it's condemned before even the slightest effort has been invested in actually performing such a controlled comprison.

          Alan A. Shaw
          Designer, owner
          Harbeth Audio UK