"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 an audible sonic personality in what you hear. That 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 on the face of it, any deviation from a flat response - and the frequency balance of tube amplifiers are usually influenced by their speaker load - 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, aiding the identification of audio components likely to maintain a faithful relationship between the recorded sound and the sound you hear. With our heritage of natural sound and pragmatism, HUG cannot be expected to be a place to discuss 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 faithfully reproducing the sound intended by the composer, score, conductor and musicians in your home and over Harbeth speakers is your audio dream, then understanding something of the issues likely to fulfill that intention is what this forum has been helping to do since 2006. Welcome!"

Feb. 2018
See more
See less

A homage to one's creator. Man, beliefs, product design.

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • A homage to one's creator. Man, beliefs, product design.

    Established readers of HUG will already know of the decade long problem we have faced of providing space for contributor's wholly subjective comments against this brand's dominant objective design stance. There has been no satisfactory solution found to enable both types of posts to comfortably lie together any more than a tiger and goat can be expected to coexist

    Here on Madeira, returning from tours around this lovely temperate island, I've been able to work through Michael Foley's magnificently enlightening book The Age of Absurdity, subtitled 'why modern life makes it hard to be happy'. The synopsis reads 'In a world that demands conspicuous consumption, high-octane telationships and perpetual youth, we can find ourselves tormented by dissatisfaction and anxiety, fearful that everyone is having a better time than we are'. That is often demonstrated in posts that reach out for the promise of ultimate solutions.... 'the best amplifier'..... 'the last word in realism'... '...the most revealing DAC'.... 'the most musical cables' and so on. HUG is merely a microcosm of consumer society at large, and a reflection of the insatiable appetite for more, the deadly concept of 'promise', that the ultimate solution to happiness is the next purchase.

    First, I'd like to briefly explain an insight that's escaped me for fourty years that explains the tension between subjectivism and objectivism not only here on HUG but through the Harbeth product design process. Unrecognised by me these past decades now exposed my Mr. Foley, Dudley Harwood before me developed loudspeakers with a certain look, feel, and subjective and objective performance driven by hi, membership of and total acceptance of the strict, selfless doctrine of the Plymouth Brethren Christian sect.

    My incorrect assumption for the last 30 years has been that Harwood approached loudspeaker design despite his religious beliefs. I now see that his no-frills, fact based, non-egotistical work methodology was intimately bound-up with his ascetic religious views. Harwoods hand in creating an entire class of loudspeakers - the BBC monitor - was not despite his ascetic self-suppression, but wholly because of it. Had Harwood not been a fundamental Christian, these concepts would not have had life breathed into them, and I would not be here today continuing his work. Imagine the contrast in visiting a Brethren Meeting House with its simplicity of architecture and interior decoration in contrast with typical European High Church, with all its gilt magnificence.

    Harwood's creation of the modern BBC loudspeaker in its elegant simplicity and total focus on function, was, given his convictions, an act of personal homage to his creator. In a sense, providing a channel for the voice of his god. No surprise then that Harwood perceived himself, I suggest, as a tool through which neutrality, clarity and transparency could be turned into hardware. He would shudder at the thought of being a maestro, reinterpreting others efforts. And in this respect he shared a similar core philosophy with Prof. Faraday, who also - no coincidence- was an active member of a small Christian sect, also devoted to the simple, respectful life and dedicated to god.

    More later.... on Buddhism and audio.
    Madeira .... welcome to the simple life!
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  • #2
    I've not visited HUG for quite awhile, what a fascinating post to return to. How did this new information come to light? In a recent conversation about my own pair of Harbeth's with a friend, I had to admit that your own philosophy portrayed here on HUG is what won me over. Would love to hear more about this.


    • #3
      I always thought Harbeth had a touch of Scandinavian Cool, but it might just be Shaker design. Har(d)wood, makes sense! Thanks for the Foley reference.


      • #4
        A sect or not?

        It is completely new and unexpected information for me. Great to know where to look for the roots of Harbeth's philosophy and rational, down-to-earth attitude to all audio-related matters.

        However, I suppose the term 'sect' might be viewed as pejorative, so I thought I'd share this information I just found when I was reading about Plymouth Brethren:

        'Our beliefs are founded on the Holy Bible, the text common to all Christian churches. This was formally recognised in the 1926 United States ‘Census of Religious Bodies’: “The body classified as Plymouth Brethren disclaim any designation whatever save those that the Scriptures apply to all believers as Christians. To accept any specific title would imply that they are a sect which they deny, sects or divisions being condemned in 1 Corinthians 1 v 10-15.'


        PS Have a good time on Madeira, Alan! I really liked it when I visited Funchal few years ago. Unfortunately, it was a short business trip so I didn't have much time to explore the island.


        • #5
          I don't think my use of the word 'sect' was wrong in intent or practice, and I am in no position to criticise other's beliefs.. Wiki defines sect here:

          The similarities between Hardwood's fundamental Christianity and the Sandemanian sect to which Michael Faraday belonged are in their approach to science as the manifestation of god. Faraday was a brilliant observationalist of fundamental forces at work (such as electricity and magnetism) and Harwood, able to draw on Faraday's work and add the additional domain of sound, acoustics. It would be fascinating to know if Harwood had been consciously drawn into audio engineering by a spiritual bond through fundamental Christianity with Faraday.

          As to how I was made aware of Hardwoods religious beliefs, that was explained to my by journalist Martin Callous over lunch about a year after I took over from Harwood. Collom's comments were something to the effect that... 'you really don't know what Harwood's business handicap was do you ..... [No]...... it was his fundamental Christianity that didn't allow him to promote sound equipment as entertainment devices.....'.

          I now see Harwood's position somewhat differently. On the face of it, any strong religious principles against pleasure, entertainment and self indulgence would indeed seem to be a serious commercial limitation, but the real issue is that had Harwood not have been designing within these considerable constraints, he would neither have been innovative, creative nor counter-intuitively, memorable nor successful.

          I believe that I may have reported a recent chance encounter in a nearby provincial town with a street preacher, who handed me a printed card with some Gospel text. After shopping, I read the card, turned it over to read that it was presented by The Plymouth Brethren, and aware of the connection with Dudley Harwood, I made my way back to find them. I confirmed they were indeed Members (total membership thought to be under a thousand in the UK) and introduced myself as the man who had bought a business from one of their former members. 'You must mean Mr. Harwood then' one said, 'I knew him well'. This was a considerable surprise as they were some 30 miles from his home. Probing further, I inquired if it was really the case that the Plymouth Brethren were antagonistic to music and entertainment 'pleasures of the flesh'. They confirmed that adding that a distinction was made between recorded entertainment for a mass audience, and musical get-together where music was played directly for the intimate entertainment if a few.

          I left that encounter affirming my former position of amazement that Harwood had made any commercial headway at all upon his retirement from the BBC and founding of the Harberth company due to what I then perceived as a the commercially stifling hand of his beliefs. As I stated in my previous post, that is now evidently a gross simplification and mis-reading. Harwood's brilliance was entirely attributable to the constraints within which he was permitted (by his religious beliefs) to operate. In this ability to work within religious constraints, Harwood, Faraday and others throughout history have explored progressive thinking whilst keeping their heads.

          One dialogue to ponder is that of Harwood's explanation and justification to his Brethren Elders of being the senior audio engineer at the BBC, a globally recognised loudspeaker engineer and later a loudspeaker manufacturer.
          Alan A. Shaw
          Designer, owner
          Harbeth Audio UK


          • #6
            Click image for larger version  Name:	esuits.jpg Views:	2 Size:	7.97 MB ID:	74156
            Religion and learning - the Jesuits (here in Madeira)

            Of all the wonderful sights here on Madeira, and my wife and I always visit religious buildings on our travels, I have been most drawn to the former Jesuits College here in Funchal. It's been on my list for some time to find out more about the Jesuits, and thanks to a most engaging young and laying for such a resource. guide, I did. So much so that after I departed, he hunted for me down the road and brought me some additional reading material.

            This entire thread has a general direction that will take us closer to respect for 'knowledge', so a mention of the importance of the Jesuits to human knowledge is essential. The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was founded in 1540 by ten holders of university degrees, and this respect for learning and the process of learning.

            Unlike the Benedictines of the Middle Ages and later the Franciscans and Dominicans, the Jesuits defined the staffing and management of their schools as their primary ministry, took upon themselves the creation, maintenance and continuance of their educational establishments and crucially, did not use the cloak of education as the primary means of spawning priests. This huge undertaking had, by 1773 when it was suppressed by papal edict, some 800 educational establishments around the world. There has never been such an organisation since. To give an idea of the scale of this enterprise, by the 18th century, the Jesuits library here alone had 1300 books. Just imagine the logistics of acquiring such a resource.

            The problem for the Jesuits was that they were so successful at creating trained, intelligent young men (average age, late teens) that they became a threat to Catholicism, and were banished. It seem that throughout history, those in power are none too comfortable with too many in the general public who can think independently. And that situation is far worse today. And audiophilia is just a manifestation of a global problem in that respect.

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


            • #7
              Perhaps this discussion may be enlightened by considering how successful the Quakers were in business, and how they led the advance of technology in their manufacturing - along with the best employment practices to be found.



              • #8
                Originally posted by Labarum View Post
                Perhaps this discussion may be enlightened by considering how successful the Quakers were in business, and how they led the advance of technology in their manufacturing - along with the best employment practices to be found.

                Agreed, and we should also consider the Amish and their simple lifestyles and plain, functional manufactured goods. It raises the general question: is the audio industry over or under represented by folk of strong, or even simple, personal ethics and principles?

                I've been mulling over the contribution of DEL. Shorter, Harwood's boss and predecessor. I was not fortunate enough to meet Mr. Shorter, but his distinctive and engaging writing style (see his fabulous 1957 IEEE paper) suggests a depth of character and modesty. If I recall correctly from hearsay, he was of Irish extraction, and it could be expected then that he was brought up with a healthy respect for orthodox Christianity.

                One can only wonder at coffee machine conversations between "the warm leprechaun, he was you know" and Dudley Harwood. They must have both been well aware of each other's conviction and capable of coexisting. It is reported that Harwood was not shy in encouraging, but without success, his technician Spencer Hughes and other colleagues, to attend after-work sermons at the Plymouth Brethren's chapel. In such situations, a willingness to be affable, especially to one's superior, could rapidly slide into an unshakeable obligation....!
                Alan A. Shaw
                Designer, owner
                Harbeth Audio UK


                • #9
                  About 15 few years ago I advised on the sale of a business that happened to be from Plymouth Brethren to Orthodox Jews. There were no interfaith issues, everyone got on fine, indeed we didn't know they were Brethren during the purchase process. We advised the purchasers that they ought to computerise the stock management and accounting. The deal went through and when the computers arrived the sellers and all their staff left. It turned out they thought they transmitted evil, or something like that, and also had a big issue with mobile phones. It never occurred to ask us why they didn't have either. I doubt they have much interest in hifi, but if they did, it would probably be Harbeth, the grey pro series.

                  Meanwhile, I've been touring Spanish cathedrals (Salamanca, Burgos, Seville, Toledo etc.), mostly built in the 16th century whilst they were killing Incas and stealing their gold. Modesty was not part of the equation - have a look at the altar of Seville Cathedral. Like the Vatican, all deeply lacking in spirituality. There is no doubt that modesty and purity is a more spiritual experience, whether in religion or audio.


                  • #10
                    I sometimes feel like I have been exploring the relationship between the sacred and secular much of my life. I love gaining this religious/spiritual perspective on D Harwood's life and Harbeth work. There is a simplicity and purity in the sound and design that does seem to align with DH's faith.

                    I know nothing of the Plymouth Brethren, but I can imagine a stoicism in life. It feels so easy to get caught up in the 'best' and 'refinement' of all things hi fidelity. Thanks so much Alan for this post looking at deeper values at work and all here for creating a forum where we can explore our respective experiences of the science and the mystery of music and it's reproduction.


                    • #11

                      I'm back from Madeira (lovely) and have almost finished Mr. Foley's book. It make many profound comments about modern man, and especially modern man's cravings. To make the most of what Prof. Foley has observed, I want to create a mind map otherwise small but vital details are going to be lost. That needs some space in the diary. I'm on it: I annotated chapters throughout as I read with this objective in mind.

                      One word keeps cropping up through his text. "Promise". This describes the phenomena whereby man is teased with the prospect that tomorrow's love affair, tomorrow's new car, the next holiday, the film sequel, next month's UHD TV system, the next generation mobile phone and, let's not forget, the latest model audio equipment, are sure and certain to be better than all the previous ones. We are drowning in 'promise'. This is totally unrealistic as it assumes a positive linear progress in life, when with a moment's thought we appreciate that as organisms with a finite lifespan, finite personal resources, finite knowledge, good looks, intelligence, social skills there is absolutely no logical reason that the future should treat us any more lavishly that the past.

                      Tragically, there is no better evidence than the failure of 'promise' to automatically deliver the current terrible hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico which has ruined the lives and property of so many people. Yesterday they, like the rest of us, had 'promise'. Today, reality catches up.

                      One challege for us here at Harbeth is to walk the tightrope between celebrating the current products we designed to be durable and fulfil expectation for, basically, decades; the slow incremental progress of (my) skills reflected in objective product improvement (towards Harwood's goal of perfect transparency) and of the wish to grow our business and make it sustainable by fuelling sales demand. Not easy. I'd like to think that we have retrained ourselves in playing the game of consumerism wit the constant tease of the promise, and especially by not using highly emotive language in our marketing to get the consumer's mouth watering.

                      It would be so easy, at the stroke of my command, to just open the marketing flood gates and pull everyone's emotional consumption strings, but that would be anathema to the very spriit of Dudley Harwood, Prof. Faraday and my own view of thw world.
                      Alan A. Shaw
                      Designer, owner
                      Harbeth Audio UK


                      • #12
                        I haven't read the book, Alan, so I comment in a vacuum, but "promise" has two faces.

                        There is indeed the false promise that that beguiles us all, and that is what you describe. In the Jewish Scriptures (and therefore also in the Christian) this is "chasing after false gods". It is the great deception of the serpent in the opening of the biblical narrative - Eve reaches out and takes the forbidden fruit, and paradise is shattered.


                        So the story contains the truth that we are compelled to grasp false promises.

                        But "promise" has a very positive side, and that is found in the notion of "covenant" - God's promise that he will be with and for his people (all humankind). Humankind for its part has to promise to turn away from deception and "false promise" to live by better precepts. The good things of creation are not to be despised or refused but eagerly embraced for the flourishing of all peoples; and individuals are to commit their talents and their wealth to the promotion of the common good. This you see in the Brethren, the Amish, the Quakers (who gave us chocolate!), but also in those who practice in more mainstream communities.

                        Of course the failure of promise you reference in the hurricane is a challenge to the belief that there is a benign, rational ,overarching providence, and mountains of books have been written on the problem of evil:


                        But I end with one observation; that whenever the devastation of the false promise shows itself, so also does the better side of human nature, as the children of the true promise step forward to offer loving service to their fellows in need.

                        (And please forgive this graduate theologian his pontifications.)

                        I agree: "Promise" is a very important idea.


                        • #13
                          And we must not forget the positive embracing of the concept of "promise" by the nascent entrepreneur. I gave up an extremely well respected and remunerated post with a large Japanese corporation on the 'promise' that I could adequately absorb enough of Harwood's speaker design philosophy, and that without the decades of academic and high-level research he'd accumulated, to his work.

                          At the time, I had a young family (8 years old and 3 year old) and all the usual overheads and committments of a home to support. I accepted as my part of the bargain that I would work seven days a week ( and still do!) to make post-Harwood Harbeth a success. That's because, I suppose, like Harwood, my needs and wants are simple, and have never once in these past thirty years had the need to create a sales forecast. Sales just happen (thank god) - and thanks to our customers. I'll keep learning and turning that tacit knowledge into genuinely better products.
                          Alan A. Shaw
                          Designer, owner
                          Harbeth Audio UK


                          • #14
                            Alan, nice example of embracing 'promise'. Sent me back to Foley's book, which I loved for his wide ranging and eclectic reading and thinking. One of my fave bits is when Foley is exploring the notion of a sort of detachment and connects to Marcus Aurelius,

                            'If our inner power is true to Nature, it will always adjust to the possibilities offered by circumstance. It requires nothing predetermined and is willing to compromise, obstacles are merely converted into material for use. It is like a bonfire mastering a heap of rubbish'.


                            • #15
                              The peculiar inverted "promise" is the one of "nostalgia", a competing ideology that shares many of the same attributes of "promise" and again is linear in nature, as if you can trace back to a time, in some cases an exact point in time when everything was better.

                              The Hi-Fi market encompasses this time line in both directions.