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HUG - here for all audio enthusiasts

Since its inception ten years ago, the Harbeth User Group's ambition has been to create a lasting knowledge archive. Knowledge is based on facts and observations. Knowledge is timeless. Knowledge is human independent and replicatable. However, we live in new world where thanks to social media, 'facts' have become flexible and personal. HUG operates in that real world.

HUG has two approaches to contributor's Posts. If you have, like us, a scientific mind and are curious about how the ear works, how it can lead us to make the right - and wrong - decisions, and about the technical ins and outs of audio equipment, how it's designed and what choices the designer makes, then the factual area of HUG is for you. The objective methods of comparing audio equipment under controlled conditions has been thoroughly examined here on HUG and elsewhere and can be easily understood and tried with negligible technical knowledge.

Alternatively, if you just like chatting about audio and subjectivity rules for you, then the Subjective Soundings sub-forum is you. If upon examination we think that Posts are better suited to one sub-forum than than the other, they will be redirected during Moderation, which is applied throughout the site.

Questions and Posts about, for example, 'does amplifier A sounds better than amplifier B' or 'which speaker stands or cables are best' are suitable for the Subjective Soundings area.

The Moderators' decision is final in all matters regarding what appears here. That said, very few Posts are rejected. HUG Moderation individually spell and layout checks Posts for clarity but due to the workload, Posts in the Subjective Soundings area, from Oct. 2016 will not be. We regret that but we are unable to accept Posts that present what we consider to be free advertising for products that Harbeth does not make.

That's it! Enjoy!

{Updated Nov. 2016A}
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The international audio industry- operating as any big business does ...

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  • #16
    The ever changing face of economics and how it affects our ears

    Originally posted by Kumar Kane View Post
    Periodically, one keeps hearing the high end audio industry wailing about it being a dying one. Deservedly dying I would say, from all one reads here.
    Your wish has already come true, many years ago but they didn't wail.

    Were the 70 and 80's the peak of sound equipment state of the art when engineering and technology was stretched to the limits? Philosophy and conviction seemed to be the order of the day and it pushed issues like stylus shape and cartridge type to the forefront of discussion. There seemed to be more intense competition as well in technology eg. Pioneer vs. Yamaha when it came to FM tuners or use of available technology like vfets between Yamaha and Sony. All in all, the customer got a good deal through "better" products when technology trickled down and performance gaps closed between models.

    I'm all for state of the art and high end. If it weren't for "high end" products, big spenders and "first mover" consumers, we wont have common technology like anti lock brakes and air bags today. We probably even might not have the transistor and how it is applied as we know it. Today's "high-end" however seems to be a manifestation of the demise of big moneyed organisations, replaced by relatively low investment, low research but high machining and design organisations. its just a sign of the times.

    The large organisation tinkerer and engineer (think Philips and Sony) who sat at tables playing and measuring circuits all day is more or less over, sad to say, at least when it comes to "hifi". Few organisations can afford that luxury . There just isn't a market for that and the small specialist companies you describe just don't have the funds or skills for paradigm moving technology. The last innovation in our hobby was the compact disc. Almost everything else was just tinkering around the edges or an inheritance from the personal computer market.

    Comment


    • #17
      Originally posted by kittykat View Post
      ... the customer got a good deal through "better" products when technology trickled down and performance gaps closed between models. I'm all for state of the art and high end. If it weren't for "high end" products, big spenders and "first mover" consumers, we wont have common technology like anti lock brakes and air bags today. ...
      The curious thing about the audio business as compared to the car business is that the car buyer is (usually) benefiting from real, technical progress decade after decade, like ABS brakes. In the audio industry though, it is as if the ABS hardware is not actually fitted to the car, but in it's (costly) place, a little illuminated switch fitted on the dashboard labelled 'Super Protection Anti-Accident Mode'. A cynic would ask how it worked and how it related to the (non existent) ABS system, but in the upper reaches of audio fantasy, that would be an irrelevant question with the answer 'it works because we believe it works'!

      Or better still, an after-market magic aerosol spray accessory which when dusted over the outside of the car before driving would confer a force-field of protection. The consumer can be fantastically gullible as all marketing people know to their great glee.

      Some more here.
      Alan A. Shaw
      Designer, owner
      Harbeth Audio UK

      Comment


      • #18
        Kiddology ....

        Originally posted by jack667 View Post
        Honest answer? Not once - ever. The cables we care about are ones that are reasonably priced, durable and stand the test of time....

        Whenever I talk to anyone who is involved in the industry, the number one thing that's discussed every time is simple: Room acoustics.

        I agree with you completely - people really need their eyes-opening. I don't want to name-names but some of these companies that sell an array of after market products really saddens me, and it's even worse when marketeers have tricked people...
        It really is depressing isn't it. The fact is though, that the marketeers are just doing what their client pays them to do.

        You don't think that those involved in marketing anti-wrinkle cream to women ask for hard evidential validation of the product claims do you before they take on the client? Of course they don't. And they don't ask because they know perfectly well that they and the manufacturer are both playing the same game of kiddology, both for profit. The fact that the product can't work and doesn't work is the truth that dare not speak its name! But the public - ah (sigh) the public - they're outsiders to 'the game' and open their mouths as wide as they can and let the hook drop in good and deep. Then they swallow it right down.

        Even fish recognise what bait looks like.

        Is it too late to make a killing in marketing do you think?
        Alan A. Shaw
        Designer, owner
        Harbeth Audio UK

        Comment


        • #19
          Marketing blah-bla

          What I find even more interesting is that most people at the same time insist on having their own beliefs, thinking that they would not be influessed by marketing.

          But isnīt it hard to see the line between marketing-blabla and real informations?
          I believe it is.

          I want to bring in some new vocabulary:
          common sense

          ....just a joke, but in the end that rather vague thing "common sense" helps a lot, cause there is truckloads of real total ultra-BS out there.

          I like your example of an anti-wrinkle-cream. Here in Germany I find that since maybe two years they are advertised differently now:

          The creams now make 70% less wrinkles, make eyelashes 60% thicker and 80% longer, make hair shine 30% brighter
          (...which in comparison is quite poor, isnīt it?)

          Comment


          • #20
            Rule 11 of Marketing:
            -------------------

            Marketing people are engaged by and paid by their client. They are legally bound to the client by a contract. There is no legal or moral relationship between marketing people and the consumer. Marketing people are answerable only to their client, and only in extreme cases of public outcry, to the Advertising Standards Agency or the law.

            Rule 12 of Marketing:

            -------------------

            Marketing people are paid to present the ordinary as the fantastical. Facts are of little or no interest to the ordinary consumer. Marketing is about creating an emotional response to the product in the consumer's mind without involving facts which the consumer wouldn't understand or may misinterpret anyway. (Examples follow).

            Rule 13 of Marketing:

            -------------------

            Marketing people are neither the guardians of public morals, decency, honesty, health, well being, integrity or value for money. They are not paid to stand in our shoes and judge the truth of the products the promote. They are not on our side of the desk: they are entirely on the supplier's side. They are not working for the consumer, they are paid to work exclusively for the client. They cannot and do not run from the clients side of the desk to the consumers side as advocates for both. The only represent the manufacturer's perspective and will push that as far as the law permits them to do so. They do not actually give a damn about you as an identified individual - all marketing decisions coagulate individuals into a target group.

            They will agressively promote cigarette smoking even when it is a fact that smoking causes innumerable health issues up to the maximum extent that the law permits. They will cheerfully promote cigarettes even when the product packaging, according to UK law, clearly states that the product will kill you.
            Attached Files
            Alan A. Shaw
            Designer, owner
            Harbeth Audio UK

            Comment


            • #21
              Rule 14: People follow people

              Rule 14 of Marketing:
              -------------------

              When human A tells another B of his positive experience, it motivates B to replicate the experience. People respond to product endorsements when they recognise themselves or their needs in the product. It is the task of the marketeer to marry the product with the needs of a certain sector of the public. Never underestimate the power of endorsement even from invisible third parties to prompt others into action!

              It may or may not be necessary for person B to actually see person A, or even to see the product itself. If promoter A (or indeed the product itself) has physical characteristics which are considered to be in-step with the brand image, then showing A or the product may positively reinforce the brands ethos in the consumer's mind. If promoter A (or the product) has physical characteristics which are at odds with the brand image, then it or promoter A should be hidden from the consumer and the brand appeal should be through the voice of an invisible third-party using corporate speak.

              Example:

              - In Europe, it is prohibited to market tobacco products showing images of people actually using the product so the promotion has to be by more subtle influence. Marketing is adept at inverting serious product disadvantages - surely the best example is tobacco: it cripples you yet is promoted for a healthy, relaxed, glowing lifestyle. Remember the Marlboro cowboy?

              - The actual designer of a Sony CD player is unknown, so marketing cannot engage with the designer, who remains invisible, ethereal, anonymous. As we have no access to him, we are unable to begin to estimate his value system, what commercial/costing/technical pressures he was under. We are buying blind.
              Alan A. Shaw
              Designer, owner
              Harbeth Audio UK

              Comment


              • #22
                Rule 15 of Marketing:
                -------------------

                Breed discontentment, anxiety and neurosis in the consumer. Then to alleviate his stress sell a solution which is only just available and just out of reach .... it merely requires cash to bring it into range. Allow a decent interval to pass then repeat. And repeat.
                Alan A. Shaw
                Designer, owner
                Harbeth Audio UK

                Comment


                • #23
                  Rule 16: the early addict is the best addict

                  Rule 16 of Marketing:
                  -------------------

                  'Born to buy'. Hook the consumer and hook him/her early.

                  ---

                  Interesting book just available: Brandwashed: Tricks companies use to manipulate our minds and persuade us to buy. Read more here. Extract ...

                  Brandwashed is a shocking insider's look at how today's global giants conspire to obscure the truth and manipulate our minds, all in service of persuading us to buy
                  Free chapter preview here. It's all very obvious and simple to us on this side of the desk, but the consumer may have the greatest difficulty believing how easily and continuously manipulated they are.

                  Meanwhile, over at Apple, a through understanding of consumer needs and the great rewards that brings .... here. Proof positive that profiling the consumer and appealing to him/her through the heart is what modern business marketing is all about. This is no plan B.
                  Alan A. Shaw
                  Designer, owner
                  Harbeth Audio UK

                  Comment


                  • #24
                    Golden ears need eyes wide open

                    thurston,

                    As Alan said...

                    The illusion of limitless improvements in fidelity is a fantasy created by the marketing machine of the audio equipment industry not the record industry.
                    It's quite simple.

                    So far, no one has been able to tell the difference between a CD player, costing over a thousand pounds (Ģ), a 10+ year old dvd player and a couple of squeezeboxes (A Touch & Duet - Ģ200 each-ish...).

                    Interestingly, the hard core subjectivists have ignored the challenge completely at the other places I've posted this. I guess the golden ears really do only work when the eyes are there...

                    Comment


                    • #25
                      Rule 17 of Marketing - prejudices

                      Rule 17 of Marketing:
                      -------------------

                      'Work with people's prejudices, not against them'.

                      If the consumer belives that green apples are the most nutritious and healthy, there is no point whatever in creating and trying to sell blue apples even if they are proven in the lab. to be more nutritious, more healthy and taste better.

                      In audio: if the consumer believes that analogue is better than digital, it is better.
                      Alan A. Shaw
                      Designer, owner
                      Harbeth Audio UK

                      Comment


                      • #26
                        Really rather a shock

                        As I'm sure you've deduced from my comments over the years I've never ceased to be amazed at how easily hoodwinked the audiophile is by convincing salesmen/websites/blogs/forums/chat rooms etc. etc. etc.. I thought that such people were as instantly identifiable, just as you would immediately detect a non-native speaker of your own language or spy a burglar in a yellow and black striped top creeping about. I've just had a nasty experience that's disturbed me. I now see the issue in a new light from your side of the table......

                        I have been introduced to a hardened audiophile who has invented an audiophile gadget that he wishes to bring to market. He was a personable, well dressed, eloquent gentleman who, had he not been involved in the audio industry could have been a bank manager or teacher: respectable to the core. My defenses were obviously lowered.

                        I know little of the detailed physics of his invention, but even giving him the benefit of the doubt, it became clear from my prior and basic knowledge of the universe that he was completely deluded. The gizmo simply could not work as he was describing it, if at all. This was not an issue of performance somewhere in the grey area between science and art - it just couldn't conceivably work. The more I resisted his pitch, the more convincing he became; the more examples of happy customers, the more accolades, the more industry insiders had blessed the wretched device. Eventually I made my escape and set off for the pub alone to think the experience through.

                        I was lucky. Starting from a position of incredulity and drawing on a wealth of pragmatic experience of the real world, I made my mind up within the first minutes that this device could not fit with my prior-knowledge. Nothing more than common sense told me that. Either I had to re-appraise 40 years of audio or walk away. And there was no good reason to throw away a lifetime of experience 'just in case' this was a real breakthrough.

                        The difficulty I now understand that you face daily in audiophilia is that, without a reservoir of knowledge to draw on and/or self confidence and/or strong will power and/or a psychiatrists training, all audio marketing men and all audio gadgets look equally credible.

                        How on earth do you navigate through the infested waters? It beggars belief that even one ordinary music lover has the wherewithall to stand up and say "BS" against an army of marketters peddling what is, without a shadow of doubt, nothing but BS all presented with such astonishing conviction. Indeed, how do you know what you read here isn't a another massive confidence trick eh?

                        Very alarming indeed.

                        (How I am going to get through the Munich show in May without sedation is already worrying me ..... [no joke]!)
                        Alan A. Shaw
                        Designer, owner
                        Harbeth Audio UK

                        Comment


                        • #27
                          BS and knowledge

                          Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                          The difficulty I now understand that you face daily in audiophilia is that, without a reservoir of knowledge to draw on and/or self confidence and/or strong will power and/or a psychiatrists training, all audio marketing men and all audio gadgets look equally credible.
                          Precisely. Discriminating between BS and reality can only be done on the basis of sufficient knowledge of the subject. Otherwise judgement is made on the basis of secondary factors, chiefly the confidence and persuasiveness of the speaker. And sometimes quite untrustworthy people can be the most persuasive. Not infrequently, they've even persuaded themselves.

                          Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                          Indeed, how do you know what you read here isn't a another massive confidence trick eh?
                          Easy. Although you're generous to a fault with your time and energy, you are occasionally a bit crotchety and irritable. Someone who's trying to BS you to sell you something will never allow himself to be that human - might scare away the potential purchaser.

                          Comment


                          • #28
                            Nietzsche and truth

                            Perhaps while in Munich you could ask the local exhibitors how they regard Nietzsche's notorious statement,

                            "Men believe in the truth of all that is seen to be strongly believed in".

                            Rather disturbing, to say the least.

                            Comment


                            • #29
                              The art of 'spinning' - how to convince people that black is white

                              Time after time we come across examples both on HUG and quotes from wider afield of the deliberate manipulation of engineering/commercial facts into something deemed more 'palatable' for the consumer, more in-keeping with corporate objectives. We can trace PR back to Edward L. Bernays, here.

                              To quote:

                              "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society," Bernays argued. "Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. . . . In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons . . . who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind."
                              PR and media manipulation is not new. It's as obvious to me as a bad smell when I see it. But it is a persistent worry that the public are swept along so readily and there is no better example of the effectiveness of PR than in the audio industry.

                              So, here are some examples of fictitious marketing-talk of the sort you'd read on an advert, brochure, review or a forum somewhere. See if you can suggest what the engineering truth is behind them: I have my own suggestions for later. I'd strongly suggest that unless you have the ability to visualise what is really being implied here, you are putty in the hands of the marketeer, as Bernays says.



                              1) "We recommend that you leave your new ABC brand TV powered continuously, day and night 24/7 ... that's the sure way to see rich, faithful colours as nature intended ...."

                              2) "If sitting in traffic we recommend that you consider the environment and take your foot off the clutch and put the car in neutral ...."

                              3) "Please ensure that this product is used out of doors ...."

                              4) "The super new 'magiali' tweeter material reproduces the sound of the spheres ... accurate, fast and revealing ....."

                              5) "Naturally, there is no ugly grille over the tweeter dome .... we want the sound to flow out to you unimpeded ....."

                              6) "It's always a good idea to retain the original cartons ...."

                              7) "We offer the cheapest car service in the town ...."

                              8) "FrenziWash leave your whites whiter than ever .... the pride of every good mother ...."

                              9) "We have invested a billion dollars in environmentally friendly furnaces ...."

                              10) "Nuclear energy will be too cheap to meter ...."



                              The list is endless. What is the real message that the savvy consumer can read between the lines? (There are no right answers).

                              Wake-up people!! Remember when you used to make your own decisions based on common sense before being told how to think and act?
                              Alan A. Shaw
                              Designer, owner
                              Harbeth Audio UK

                              Comment


                              • #30
                                Decoding Marketing/PR talk into FACTS ....

                                Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                                Right-oh. Let's have a look at these and decode the marketing/PR talk into the cold reality. Naturally, these are fictitious examples (well, some are), so we've freely applied a little imagination. Can you come up with better alternatives?
                                1) "We recommend that you leave your new ABC brand TV powered continuously, day and night 24/7 ... that's the sure way to see rich, faithful colours as nature intended ...."....

                                Truth: 'We have pared down the design to save as much cost as possible. Despite the Chief Engineer's calculations and dire warning, Marketing must hit a certain retail price point for this TV to sell. His advice was that the elimination of the anti-surge PSU protection circuit (saving: $4.33) means that the PSU is prone to instantaneous failure when the set is switched on more than three times in 24 hours. Marketing say that warranty claims are not their problem ....'

                                2) "If sitting in traffic we recommend that you consider the environment and take your foot off the clutch and put the car in neutral ...."

                                Truth: 'We have pared down the design to save as much cost as possible. Despite the Chief Engineer's calculations and dire warning, Marketing must hit a certain retail price point for this car to sell. His advice was that the use of flimsy pressed tin parts in the clutch mechanism (saving: $2.97) means that the clutch is prone to burn-out when engaged for more than a continuous 55 seconds in any one hour when the ambient temperature is above 25 degs. Marketing say that warranty claims are not their problem and that this car was never designed for use in 'tropical climates'.

                                3) "Please ensure that this product is used out of doors ...."

                                Truth: 'We have pared down the formulae to save as much cost as possible. Despite the Chief Chemist's dire warnings, Marketing must hit a certain retail price point for this household cleaner to sell. His advice was that the use of highly corrosive, industrial strength substances (cost saving: $0.88) means that exposure to the noxious fumes could kill, and is positively addictive to solvent abusers. Marketing say that claims they've made in a TV advertising campaign that this product works 'three times faster, twice as well' as the competitor products is why it is now the No.1 brand leader and that they have no choice. Consumer deaths are absolutely not their problem and any such ill-founded, mendacious approaches will be met with a stiff rebuttal by the legal dept.. Anyway, the product is imported pre-packed from the far east and they say that it's perfectly OK to sell and use it there'. Legal have doubled the public Liability cover just to be on the safe side.'

                                4) "The super new 'magiali' tweeter material reproduces the sound of the spheres ... accurate, fast and revealing ....."

                                Truth: 'We have pared down the design to save as much cost as possible. Despite the Chief Engineer's warning last year that stocks of the original cone material were running dangerously low, he was not given the resources and budget to tool-up for an alternative. Marketing are now in a panic because Purchasing say the source has dried up. A couple of lads from Sales were sent down to the street market to see if they could find something 'shiny and sexy looking' that could be turned into tweeter parts. Luckily they did find an interesting-looking material with a beautiful metallic sheen being sold by a very nice lady of middle eastern descent. After some ferocious haggling they bought all she and her uncle had - enough for a few thousand tweeters - and the crisis is over (this week). Chief Engineer advises in Memo that alluring the material is, he doesn't have a suitable glue and he's worried about reliability. The Marketing Director called all the magz to announce the new tweeter - several excited reviewers have begged him for an exclusive and he's gone to the golf club to celebrate the fastest new product launch in the company's history. Technical Director (last heard of throwing a chair across the lab and shouting "How the **** can I be expected to work with this ****?" barricaded himself in the rest room early this morning and hasn't been seen since. Strange smell.' (This one is very nearly the truth not once, but twice in the tweeter industry. If only you knew what really goes on!).

                                5) "Naturally, there is no ugly grille over the tweeter dome .... we want the sound to flow out to you unimpeded ....."

                                Truth: 'We have pared down the design to save as much cost as possible. Despite the Chief Engineer's dire warning, Marketing have said that this is surely the best money spinner in many a long year. Legal have been instructed to carefully review the Warranty exclusions to be absolutely sure that there is no way that the company can be held liable for accidental damage which is, according to over-dinner chit-chat at the annual Audio Maker's Association (followed by much guffawing and raised glasses '"to the asses who buy this junk"), "a virtual dead-cert". Finance say that if this caper works, they won't cancel the annual sales shindig so everyone is praying for little curious fingers exploring the shiny domes (repeatedly). NOTE: Concerning 4) above - hopefully the user will destroy the tweeter just before the glue joint collapses, and providing this keeps happening in a cycle of just a few months, it's one-up on that sissy Chief Engineer. Warranty implication: zero.''

                                6) "It's always a good idea to retain the original cartons ...."

                                Truth: 'We have pared down the design to save as much cost as possible. Despite the Chief Engineer's calculations and dire warnings, Marketing must hit a certain retail price point for this product to sell. His advice remains that the overall effect of the recent cost-down initiative (saving: $14.22) means that the life expectancy of the cheaper parts used throughout is likely to have an impact on overall reliability. After Care have chimed in with their estimations of the consequences of field failures (and are daily reminded of last year's disastrous cost-down drive) and said that whilst the repairs/mods is one issue to cope with, a far bigger ongoing frustration is customers returns to the factory arriving in ex-supermarket cartons and as a result, trashed in transit. Legal say that we have to insist on original cartons as the hassle of dealing with angry customers is out of control and two girls in Customer Services are already on long-term absence with stress...'

                                7) "We offer the cheapest car service in the town ...."

                                Truth: 'We have speeded-up and pared down the service to save as much cost as possible. Despite the Chief Mechanics warnings, Marketing must hit a certain retail price point for this promotion to sell. His advice is that it's well known in the trade that the use of cheap 'pattern' replacement parts (filters, oils, seals etc.) made in sweatshops in the far east are prone to failure weeks or months after fitting, with potentially catastrophic consequences. Marketing say that the small print on the back of the sales invoice limits Warranty to 14 days/500 miles after fitting so any liability claims are unlikely, and should the vehicle break-down on a motorway and the driver be injured or killed, if he is that sort of high-mileage driver he should have gone to the main dealer and paid through the nose for a Manufacturers Service which we definitely are not offering (at this price).'

                                8) "FrenziWash leave your whites whiter than ever .... the pride of every good mother ...."

                                Truth: 'We have pumped-up the formulae as much as we dare within what Legal say we can get away with. Despite the (outsourced) Chief Medical Officer's vague warnings, Marketing insist in sticking to their bombastic claims to get a foot hold in the lucrative detergent market. His advice was that the use cheap industrial strength bleaches (cost: $0.02) rather than less aggressive (although admittedly less effective and more expensive) modern alternatives means that the upon opening, the user will be hit by a wall of noxious fumes which whilst not necessarily fatal, repeated exposure is likely to burn-away the sensitive tissues inside the nose. Marketing say that they're delighted with the cleaning performance which fully endorses their advertising campaign slogan '... the pride of every good mother ...' and sales are soaring especially in the developing world amongst the up-and-coming middle class. Consumer health issues through use (read: ludicrously excessive daily use) are absolutely not Marketing's problem as they never said this detergent could be (or even should be) used daily or even at all at home. In actual fact, the chemistry is so strong that daily use will rot-away a typical 60 poly/40 cotton shirt within a week so the strong chlorine (read: sea-side freshness smell) vapours are a very good thing in that they act as a brake on the idiotic, dimwitted users over-enthusiastic application of the product. (Note: product disguised but very similar conversation overheard by AS in a train in southern China where travellers in front were unaware of another westerner (with flapping ears) sitting behind.)

                                9) "We have invested a billion dollars in environmentally friendly furnaces ...."
                                Attached Files
                                Alan A. Shaw
                                Designer, owner
                                Harbeth Audio UK

                                Comment

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