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HUG - here for all audio enthusiasts

The Harbeth User Group is the primary channel for public communication with Harbeth's HQ. If you have a 'scientific mind' and are curious about how the ear works, how it can lead us to make the right - and wrong - audio equipment decisions, and about the technical ins and outs of audio equipment, how it's designed and what choices the designer makes, then the factual Science of Audio sub-forum area of HUG is your place. The objective methods of comparing audio equipment under controlled conditions has been thoroughly examined here on HUG and elsewhere and should be accessible to non-experts and able to be tried-out at home without deep technical knowledge. From a design perspective, today's award winning Harbeths could not have been designed any other way.

Alternatively, if you just like chatting about audio and subjectivity rules for you, then the Subjective Soundings area is you. If you are quite set in your subjectivity, then HUG is likely to be a bit too fact based for you, as many of the contributors have maximised their pleasure in home music reproduction by allowing their head to rule their heart. 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 only, although HUG is really not the best place to have these sort of purely subjective airings.

The Moderators' decision is final in all matters and Harbeth does not necessarily agree with the contents of any member contributions, especially in the Subjective Soundings area, and has no control over external content.

That's it! Enjoy!

{Updated Oct. 2017}
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A mature debate about objectivity & subjectivity

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  • A mature debate about objectivity & subjectivity

    In the past year or so there has been a growing awareness here at HUG HQ that HUG in many ways reflects society as a whole and has many of the same concerns and debates. Just like the real world, there is a tension here between objectivity - the belief that with sufficient personal effort the truth of any matter - including all and every audio matter - can be revealed, understood and learned from and conversely, subjectivity which claims that audio is far too mysterious for deconstruction into core elements. Subjectivists usually have total trust in their biological senses. Objectivists are more cautious.

    I came into this industry thirty years ago from another. My boss and mentor, in my first real job, was Cdr. N.W. Reid, RN (retd). Neville had joined the Navy as a young man and worked his way up to being the Commander (Engineering) in charge of the nuclear reactor in the UK's first nuclear-powered submarine, HMS Dreadnought. Cdr. Reid worked, slept, ate and lived in close proximity to the reactor which he nursed, miles under water for months at a time. Nuclear energy is ruthlessly unforgiving of failure to follow procedures, and Neville drummed into me a lasting sense of challenging observations "check the dials, AGAIN" and double verifying before, as it were, flicking the switch.

    Having come to audio from outside, it was Neville's naval methodology and discipline which made it possible for an outsider to absorb enough of the core competencies to make a go of being a 'professional' (or at least, career) speaker designer, and had I not been taken under Neville's wing and knocked into shape in a general office environment, I would have been completely rudderless, and none of the success of the past 30 years possible. Every new design would have flip-flopped from one crazy experiment to another, whereas what has happened is steady, incremental progress towards perfection as my skill set has expanded and lesson's have been learned and adapted, and recycled. In Neville's speak, I've studied the instrument dials to explain what's going on in the reactor, and used my imagination to interpret from those readings the processes at work - in the loudspeaker. HE and I are through and through objectivists. In his case to preserve the life of one hundred and thirteen men, in mine to make a sustainable business, which amounts to the same thing really. When the economic climate in that company became difficult, it was Neville who unbeknown to me at the time, volunteered himself for redundancy, saving my job, and the months old baby son I had in 1980.

    Obviously, there are myriad of reasons for becoming interested in quality audio equipment, and the big picture is that there are not enough new consumers with a interest and motivation to invest in audio systems. Time will define the shape of the industry regardless of what is said on HUG, but it is inevitably going to shrink, just as the long case clock industry did. So on the one hand, a serious effort must be made by all remaining industry players, including the media, to keep the plates spinning and it could be argued that any dissent from that - such as a thread in HUG which promotes controlled A-B comparisons of, say, amplifiers - is potentially harmful to the industry. It could be argued that HUG would best serve the industry if it got behind the fashions and positively promoted cables, spikes, mains conditioners and all the paraphernalia that provides vital income. And it has to be admitted that in a macro sense, that is precisely what we should be doing to support our own industry.

    When I stepped into Dudley Harwood's shoes, it was lucky indeed that I was already preconditioned to see the world through the BBC's approach to speaker design. You'll know the seminal story of how in my teens I helped out at the local BBC radio station and of the day the LS3/5a appeared in the control room; the point is that no other methodology of speaker design (except, through exposure, the Quad 57s) interested me at all so I was definitely the right man at the right time as far as the Harbeth transition was concerned. Had, for example, the IMF company with their huge T-L speakers been offered to me, or a brand making ribbon speakers, I would have been completely out of my depth because I had no preexisting empathy with or respect for those designs or indeed, designers. So lucky for all that, as it were, I knew Harwood via his pen years before I met him.

    With that background, I recently found a Dorling Kindersley book, The Psychology Handbook*, in The Works, a high street store specialising in overruns. If one was marooned on the proverbial desert isle or wanted to take just one book on a two-week cruise, this is the one. It is packed from cover to cover with insight into human behaviour. One section in particular caught my attention ...
    A man with conviction is a hard man to change.

    Leon Festinger (1919-1989)
    Festinger said ...

    If we hold strong beliefs that are undermined by evidence to the contrary ... we find ourselves in an uncomfortable state of "cognitive dissonance".

    If we accept the contradiction, this causes further inconsistency between our past and present beliefs.

    So instead we may find ways to make the new evidence consistent with our beliefs.

    A man with convictions is a hard man to change.
    This works two ways. In my case, it could be argued that I am trapped in the 'BBC way' and alternatively, it explains why those who are die-hard subjectivists and wholly buy-into the 'mysterious' side of audio (cables, isolators, tuning bells, exotic amplifiers etc. etc.) will utterly dismiss any objectivist arguments about proper comparisons.

    Now, I would say that one of my character traits is that I have no desire to impoverish myself on a matter of principal. I have beliefs in the BBC design approach because I have a reasonable understanding of it and can make it work for me. I also wish to improve my lot, and I am constantly on the look-out for new technology that can be applied to make truly better Harbeth speakers. I am not wedded to any single concept of today's Harbeths. If I was presented with a material, process or technology that could honestly make a better Harbeth, my mind is open to it because I, as the stockholder in Harbeth, would personally benefit from increased commercial success. So I am not constrained by my beliefs as it may superficially appear.

    Festinger really makes the subjectivist audiophile's position crystal clear. My regret is that a proportion of those who hold strong opinions about audio matters that, sadly, do not stand up to scrutiny in the lab, are so unsettled by cognitive dissonance that they cannot allow themselves to step back from those beliefs. There are many of us objectivists who, like my old boss, know how the reactor actually works rather than how the casual observer thinks it should work (cable directionality comes to mind) and we have no agenda other than empowering fellow audio fans by exposing the truth. That said, we have reached a point here of exhaustion with attempting to overcome subjectivist cognitive dissonance, and we are not committing ongoing extensive resources to that frankly hopeless task. Live and let live must apply, and if you want to believe in cable isolators or fairies or aliens, fabulous for you!

    The best procurement decisions require a relatively open mind to the truth. That is a fact.

    * ISBN: 978-1-4093-7055-0
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  • #2

    Well, I got into hifi in the late seventies because I love music, but dropped out of the society after a few years, at the time the started debating how speaker cable colour affected the sound.. After that things got weirder.

    But I didn't give up on playing music, and I have always meant that the weakest link is the loudspeaker, so I bought descent hifi equipment and speakers like the Advent, BBC Ls3/5a, DCM Time Frame, AR Holographic series.. Island Sound. Not perfect, but these speakers have given me so much fun listening to music over the years. I can hear through YouTube demos actually.. that Harbeth is IMHO the same type of speakers, but much much better.

    And about this: A man with conviction is a hard man to change. Is probably true, but I always scrap convictions if I learn something new, and if someone outsmarts me, I learn. So far, the BBC style speaker is king.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by commiesoft View Post
      ... And about this: A man with conviction is a hard man to change. Is probably true, but I always scrap convictions if I learn something new, and if someone outsmarts me, I learn. So far, the BBC style speaker is king.
      If you keep an open mind like that you will have no difficulty sorting the BS from the true product gems.

      Alan A. Shaw
      Designer, owner
      Harbeth Audio UK

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by A.S. View Post
        ... I have no desire to impoverish myself on a matter of principal. I have beliefs in the BBC design approach because I have a reasonable understanding of it and can make it work for me. I also wish to improve my lot, and I am constantly on the look-out for new technology that can be applied to make truly better Harbeth speakers. I am not wedded to any single concept of today's Harbeths. If I was presented with a material, process or technology that could honestly make a better Harbeth, my mind is open to it because I, as the stockholder in Harbeth, would personally benefit from increased commercial success. So I am not constrained by my beliefs as it may superficially appear.


        * ISBN: 978-1-4093-7055-0

        It does seem interesting from a point of view of pedigree ( as far as a man made object can have a pedigree), ie how the BBC design has evolved to make the current set of units and yet as you say, should another technology (say cone material, crossover type, cabinet type, etc, etc,) come along that would be adopted. So indeed a future Harbeth model might not have any relationship to the prior models and would be a completely unrelated beast. (Of course in a sense any engineering design is unrelated to another, unlike living things they are not inheriting directly their features). It would almost seem weird for a Harbeth to not appear as a beautiful veneered box however!
        Getting to know my C7ES3

        Comment


        • #5
          My mind is more open than ever to genuine progress. The key word there is genuine. I have a good nose for a marketing tale.

          I am absolutely unconstrained by the past. At this point in human evolution, my interpretation of the 'BBC monitor concept' - rather that a sad regurgitation using tired and discredited technology of has-been models - seems to be about as good as it gets. But that's only a snapshot. Looking back fifty years hence, it will seem rather delightfully quaint. I'd like to be part of the cutting edge, to make the difference between being there and being at home seamless.

          We have the resources to invest in the future. The issue is that consumer audio expectations are so easily satisfied, in a macro sense, that there is actually no meaningful blue-sky investment in speaker technology across the entire industry.

          There is probably 100 times more investment in cable marketing than speaker R&D. Which speaks volumes about cognitive beliefs.

          A hobby of mine is flight simulation, like nuclear power, unforgiving of misreading the dials. Yesterday, at our monthly meeting of the club I was introduced to the next generation of immersive flight sim, enhanced even more by 3D goggles. At a stroke it makes the worn-out simulators we've struggled with for years redundant. I came home and ordered what is self evidently genuine progress. If I had the same eureka moment with breakthrough loudspeaker technology, I'd throw my entire energy behind making it work in a recognisable Harbethesque way.
          Alan A. Shaw
          Designer, owner
          Harbeth Audio UK

          Comment


          • #6
            Sometimes, advancement is simply constrained by physics. Your flightsim might not be yet, but perhaps stereo sound is the most effective way of filling a room with music, and perhaps having the tweeters at ear level is the only way to have the best of it.

            Because thats the point isnt it, what would make sound reproduction- quality sound reproduction at that- more enticing for the domestic market would be for it to be less intrussive. You at Harbeth understand that better than most. Your list of do and donts are about how to place the speakers in a safe way to fit in with people's living circumstances as much as endlessly moving them about to get the critical best noise.

            I photograph artists in variable light- here is a recent picture
            Click image for larger version

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            To get such a picture in what was VERY low light I need an aperture very wide and a sensor with a surface area as large as possible to gather the greatest TOTAL ammount of that light- think of a small diameter and a large diameter bucket collecting rain. There is no way around this, it means equipment of a certain size. However much improved were film emulsions over the years and more recently digital sensor technology, the size of cameras and lenses to do that job of work in the dark have not changed since the mid 1960s. I wish I could work with my phone or a camera as small and slim but in order to get the correct subject isolation I'd still need a lens roughly as big as the lens on my camera. It would have a much shorter focal length perhaps, but would need a much much larger aperture- the diameter of the front element.

            I'm not saying there hasn't been progress in lens design, zoom lenses in particular are completely amazing in a way they just weren't 40 years ago, but they too have to conform to the laws of physics, and as much as the cameras may shrink, in order to get THE SAME IMAGES the lens must stay roughly the same size. Phones actually take very compelling images, but they are not that same images as a camera with a larger sensor takes.

            In the studio it is the same story, we use the same kind of light modifiers pioneered decades ago, there is just no substitute for making the light source bigger or smaller than making it bigger or smaller- we cannot fool light into hitting the subject in a way that it does not. We cannot shrink the subject. There is no substitute for bringing that light source closer or moving it further away. Light behaves as light behaves. The further it travels the dimmer its effect.

            Back to sound reproduction. I have a logic suround processor in the car- it works fine there but I am aware that it is a compromise- just as the phone camera is a compromise (and I use it plenty enough too). I have tried playing music through a surround sound at home, and it just doesn't work very well. It produces a smaller image than stereo. It is a gimmick- or appears to be to me. I occasionaly listen to the radio through my sonos playbar and sub, it is quite a full sound but as flat as a pancake, it doesnt seem fit for that purpose. The stereo trumps it every time.

            I'm not saying stop trying because there's nowhere to go, everything can and must be improved, but I think you are mulling over a different direction for reproducing music and it just might not be possible.
            Attached Files

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by A.S. View Post

              There is probably 100 times more investment in cable marketing than speaker R&D. Which speaks volumes about cognitive beliefs.

              A hobby of mine is flight simulation, like nuclear power, unforgiving of misreading the dials. Yesterday, at our monthly meeting of the club I was introduced to the next generation of immersive flight sim, enhanced even more by 3D goggles. At a stroke it makes the worn-out simulators we've struggled with for years redundant. I came home and ordered what is self evidently genuine progress. If I had the same eureka moment with breakthrough loudspeaker technology, I'd throw my entire energy behind making it work in a recognisable Harbethesque way.
              Point 1: Your cable statement makes me very sad, because it illustrates how vast parts of this industry have lost their way. I read once that a recording engineer by the name of Tony Faulkner used extension cord to wire up his Quads. I had no idea who he was until I looked at the \ credits of many of my Hyperion discs (and many of the LSO live discs as well). He has engineered some of the most natural sounding records to my ear. I guess he knows something the cable firms don't.

              Point 2: Your 3D googles are just the starting point- enterprise level applications for VR like the flight simulator you mentioned will really advance many forms of simulation and training. The hardware needed to drive these goggles at 90-100 fps per eye is becoming more accessible.

              Point 3: the most natural and realistic recreation of recorded sound I've ever heard wasn't at a dealer or fancy hi fi show, it was at pro audio studio who specialized in post production for film and tv commercials. They had a a wall of Harbeth Monitor 40s -- must have been at least 7. To my ears it was a complete suspension of disbelief - It felt Live. The space was very large however. So in the end perhaps you are right -- it is a good as it gets. I guess one can't get more cutting edge than that.

              Comment


              • #8
                I could not agree more with Georges and Luthier. For domestic audio the remaining challenge is to project the music in the room (electronics are already perfect). This implies better speakers as these remain the weakest link, even with all Alan's efforts. The second part of this problem is the interaction with the room. Here dsp room equalization already offers tantalizing improvements, with surely more to come. Finally, there is the question whether stereo offers the best spatial approximation of the real sound of music. Or do we need something like Dolby Atmos, at the expense of more ugly intrusion into the interior? As for the latter, until now my view has been that even for home cinema, two large stereo speakers offer a more realistic sound than a multitude of little boxes costing about the same, and jointly taking up as much space.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Luthier View Post

                  Point 3: the most natural and realistic recreation of recorded sound I've ever heard wasn't at a dealer or fancy hi fi show, it was at pro audio studio who specialized in post production for film and tv commercials. They had a a wall of Harbeth Monitor 40s -- must have been at least 7. To my ears it was a complete suspension of disbelief - It felt Live. The space was very large however. So in the end perhaps you are right -- it is a good as it gets. I guess one can't get more cutting edge than that.
                  Well something very similar came to mind too- not from experience however.

                  I may have got the wrong end of the stick, but I'm sure I've read in a history of audio reproduction that one of the early attempts at stereo involved a wall of loudspeakers. If someone were standing in a position just in front of where the original recording microphone was, then they would feel the sound came from behind them. As I say, I may have got completely the wrong end of the stick!



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