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Recordings to explain the 'RADIAL advantage?' - a demonstration of cone coloration

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  • Recordings to explain the 'RADIAL advantage?' - a demonstration of cone coloration

    We've frequently talked here about the wonderful and exclusive RADIAL? cone material that truly defines the Harbeth sound. No other cone materials - no other transducer to our knowledge - has the all-round sonic capability of Harbeth's RADIAL?, especially for low level resolution and clarity. You can hear micro-details in the music which are erased in a sonic fog on other polymer materials, especially in drivers above 6". But how to demonstrate this to you? For me, as the father of the RADIAL? material, I've lived with RADIAL's extreme resolution daily since about 1993, and the weakness of conventional cone materials is strikingly obvious to me in the first five seconds of listening. Perhaps I can explain by short example - and I hope that I'm not creating a copyright problem doing so. So, I'm going to present some recordings which exemplify the 'RADIAL advantage'?. All are MP3 files.

    Note:
    All these example recordings are of moderate bit-rate so much of the fine detail has been erased - the demonstration is much more obvious when listening to the original .wav files. There is no need to play these over your hi-fi speakers - headphones or cheap plastic PC speakers are good enough to train you and make the point.

    When you click on the file it will download. When you try to play it you may have to tell your PC what program to play it with. I just selected Windows Media Player but on a MAC I'm sure QuickTime would play it.

    Example 1: Female voice and piano. Composer: Chaminade.

    Overview:

    On headphones, you can clearly hear that the singer is being picked up by one microphone and the piano by another. The voice is steered into position by the recording engineer; the singer and piano may have even been in different rooms. You can tell this from the pool of acoustic around the voice and piano, which is slightly different: the voice is slightly more 'live' than the piano. However, this is an excellent recording and ideal to make our point.

    What to listen for:


    You may have to play this several times before you hear what I hope you'll hear. What we're listening for is how the performer and the acoustic in which they perform are quite separate and distinct and not fused together.

    Listen very carefully for the bright clean decay of sound between the notes and phrases from the piano into the background. Listen also for the pool of ambience around the singer's voice decays as it decays into the room. Also after she increases the power of her voice right at the end of her exhalation listen for how the room reflects back her previous notes after a tiny delay whilst she is singing new notes. All this extremely fine detail is flattened by conventional speaker cones which have the effect of throwing a light blanket over the microphone, a fogging of the reverberant decay so that it's difficult to separate the piano from the voice; the performers sound as if they are performing in a dead-room. Technically, conventional cones are over-damped; they lock-in the micro-detail as heat.

    Now you've trained yourself, go and listen to this coloration issue on different speakers and contrast with the fine detail you can hear on a Harbeth RADIAL speaker?.

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

  • #2
    The RADIAL advantage? - example 2

    Example 2: Solo piano piano. Composer/player: Gulda

    Overview:


    An interesting recording in that the staccato piano sound is relatively closely miked but combined with good acoustic space around the instrument - you can hear just a little reverberation. If you listen carefully you can hear pianist/composer 'singing' along. I used this particular track back in 1995 for the development of the original HL Compact (the first RADIAL? coned Harbeth) and it shocked me then, as now, how I could hear details on RADIAL? that were missing on conventional speakers.

    What to listen for:


    This pounding style of playing sets the piano into exceedingly complex resonance. As it takes many seconds for a piano to come to rest after the last note is played, throughout all of this piece the new notes combine with the vestiges - the tails - of the previous notes still resonating in the instrument's strings, sound board and body. This is the most challenging 'torture' music for a loudspeaker to reproduce without adding its own character (damping or ringing) on top of the instruments sound.

    Listen for the extremely fine micro-tones as the hammer action sets off resonances and the brightness of tone especially in the harmonics and upper registers. Listen for how there is a continuous warmth from the body of the instrument and how the overall clean, brightness of tone is layered on top of, and quite separate from the weight and warmth. This duality of low/medium weight in harmony to the clean crisp upper tones are all perfectly captured on a Harbeth RADIAL? cone and flattened and softened on conventional cones.

    Try to listen for the pool of ambience around the notes in the small gaps between phrases where you can hear their decay into the acoustic environment surrounding the piano. Technically, conventional cones are over-damped; they lock-in the micro-detail as heat. There is no return path from heat to sound. Once the 'hair' of the notes has been converted to heat in the cone, they're irrecoverably lost as music.

    >>
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: The RADIAL advantage? - example 3

      Example 3: Solo piano piano. Rehearsal at Fairfield Hall, Croydon. Performer: Ozgur Aydin*

      (Private recording direct to DAT made by Alan Shaw)

      Overview:

      This was the warm-up rehearsal made to an empty hall with Ozgur on a Steinway D concert grand piano. I used two B&K 4001 omni microphones about 2m away from the open lid. There is no signal processing at all. This is a hugely impressive performance of power and grace from a young musician at the start of his career.

      What to listen for:


      The Steinway has a perfectly tempered resonant structure - every note decays at a precisely controlled rate conveying incredible clarity and a slightly sour tonality. The acoustic space around the piano is huge. Listen to how the piano interacts with the space and the build-up of micro-details around the notes in all registers. The brightness of tone lifts the middle/upper notes well clear of the lower warmth. This recording captures the Steinway in a large space and fills me with wonder at the skill of the Steinway craftsmen that they could craft such perfectly balanced harmonics. Note how even as the piano is pushed harder there is still perfect separation between the notes - no sense of muddiness.The recording has an electric clarity on a Harbeth RADIAL? loudspeaker as the notes evenly decay into the space. This 3D transparency is just what I experienced sitting in the front row with my recording equipment. Again, conventional loudspeakers just can't reproduce the correct air or ambience around the instrument.

      NB. Later that day, discussing the inner workings of the Steinway, it inspired me to develop the SuperTunedStructure for the cabinet, as first used in the HL Compact 7.

      * Ozgur was a star pupil of concert pianist and Chopin maestro Peter Katin, pictured recently at the Steinway Hall, London. The piano is similar to the one I recorded.

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

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: The RADIAL advantage? - example 4

        Example 4: Orchestral music: The explosions polka, Strauss.

        Overview:

        This well recorded piece features an explosive sound. Although it has a relatively slow rise-time (otherwise it would sound very sharp and frightening) there is a dramatic leap in transient energy. This really challenges a speaker cone. On a conventional speaker this transient energy shock overwhelms the cone's molecular structure and the perturbation is only partially transmitted as sound - what remains is locked-up as heat in the rubbery molecular cross-bonds. And there it stays building up a persistent mush that fogs successive notes.

        What to listen for:

        The explosion should have a definite 'crack' which a conventional cone cannot replay - the RADIAL? cone, with it's wider dynamic range, can. The air around the orchestra should have an acoustic space that is clear and separate from the overall warm sound and you should be able to hear a short, but distinctive reverberant decay. The string tone should have a sweetness and microtonal 'hair' which is masked on conventional cones. The bells and cymbals present a challenge to speaker cones because conventional cones are at their worst in cleanly reproducing the upper registers,. On a RADIAL? cone, these instruments are perfectly identifiable and separated from the orchestra, not swamped by it.

        This excerpt again demonstrates the remarkable of RADIAL? to separate the individual instruments even when the music becomes loud. This indicates extremely low transient and intermodulation distortion.

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

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Recordings to explain the 'RADIAL advantage?' - a demonstration of cone coloratio

          Hi Alan, do you think its possible to compile all the above & perhaps some other good recordings into a sort of sampler CD that will fully highlight the advantages & strengths of the superb Harbeth Radial cone? You can also put in some close up pictures of the Radial cone as well as the different models available within the Harbeth range on the CD. Just a suggestion.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Recordings to explain the 'RADIAL advantage?' - a demonstration of cone coloratio

            Or to make it simpler: Except that private recording, list the CD titles that the demo recordings were ripped from. Then we can use the CD's instead of the lossy files at moderate-bitrate. Thanks!

            mike

            Comment


            • #7
              Cone coloration - homework needed ....

              Actually I really don't want to go down the 'recommended recordings' route and make a precise list of what to go and buy. That makes it too easy and misses the point a little: explaining RADIAL? is really about explaining by example cone coloration, and coloration is the most difficult concept in the whole of audio to convey.

              I know about this self-training path: my very last words to Harbeth's founder, Dudley Harwood, once I'd signed the contract to take over Harbeth, arrived at his lock-up with a van and loaded the 'assets', shut and locked the doors were .... "Dudley, what exactly is the meaning of the word coloration?". After a hesitation and a stroke of his beard he said "You'll know it when you hear it".

              So, MP3 or not, if you don't object I'm going to illuminate this subject with more of these short clips. You should use them to build your knowledge and to seek out more examples of your own. There is no alternative but very critical self-exploration of this issue - that's your homework. A list of recommended recordings would give the impression that only those recordings demonstrated the RADIAL advantage? when in fact, there are millions of examples - you just have to develop your analytical skills to hear coloration for yourselves.
              Alan A. Shaw
              Designer, owner
              Harbeth Audio UK

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Cone coloration - homework needed ....

                Got it! Please keep guiding us how to spot the outstanding strengths of RADIAL? by sound clips. If the clips are not too long, I hope uncompressed wav or lossless file formats like ape or flac can be used. Thanks!

                mike

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Cone coloration - homework needed ....

                  Remember I did say that there is no need to play these clips on your hi-fi speakers. For the purpose of explaining the issues (especially the way the sound decays into silence around the instruments) you only need cheap PC speaker or headphones as part of the 'training kit'. In fact, even basic iPOD type headphones are all you need. Hence, moderate bitrate MP3 is perfectly good enough.

                  It occurs to me that there is a similarity with the way an MP3 file throws away some of the fine detail in the recording, and the way a conventional speaker cone loses fine detail as heat in the cone structure itself. I'm thinking of other ways of illustrating this point ... bear with me.
                  Alan A. Shaw
                  Designer, owner
                  Harbeth Audio UK

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Cone coloration - homework needed ....

                    Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                    Actually I really don't want to go down the 'recommended recordings' route and make a precise list of what to go and buy. That makes it too easy and misses the point a little: explaining RADIAL? is really about explaining by example cone coloration, and coloration is the most difficult concept in the whole of audio to convey.

                    I know about this self-training path: my very last words to Harbeth's founder, Dudley Harwood, once I'd signed the contract to take over Harbeth, arrived at his lock-up with a van and loaded the 'assets', shut and locked the doors were .... "Dudley, what exactly is the meaning of the word coloration?". After a hesitation and a stroke of his beard he said "You'll know it when you hear it".

                    So, MP3 or not, if you don't object I'm going to illuminate this subject with more of these short clips. You should use them to build your knowledge and to seek out more examples of your own. There is no alternative but very critical self-exploration of this issue - that's your homework. A list of recommended recordings would give the impression that only those recordings demonstrated the RADIAL advantage? when in fact, there are millions of examples - you just have to develop your analytical skills to hear coloration for yourselves.
                    Alan, i see your point there but coloration means different things to different people. For eg, on our local forum here, some people have pointed out that Harbeths are more colored that say a pair of Thiels...haha...but of course we know better. Developing analytical skills to hear coloration is not easy. If it were so simple, then everybody will be buying Harbeths & all the other loudspeaker manufacturers can cease to exist. Much also depends on what music these people listen to. Well for me, coloration or not, i just know that Harbeth sounds inherently correct with regards to critical parameters like tonality, timbre, pace & conveying emotion.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Types of speaker coloration?

                      Originally posted by Gan CK View Post
                      ... coloration means different things to different people. Developing analytical skills to hear coloration is not easy If it were so simple, then everybody will be buying Harbeths & all the other loudspeaker manufacturers can cease to exist.
                      Agreed, but just because a skill takes a little exposure and effort to develop doesn't mean we should remain ignorant. I regret if anyone would wish to remain deaf to what is a profoundly complex issue when I'm willing to make the effort to try to explain it - by audio clip!

                      I was thinking as I was running in the gym (highly recommended) that even the global word 'coloration' has many facets. When I listen to other speakers I try and separate gross coloration (clearly offensive and fairly rare) from benign coloration which whilst audible may (or may) not be offensive - and may even be quite attractive depending on mood, music and time of day. But what I'm talking about in these examples is far, far more subtle than even benign coloration. It is better perhaps to use the word fogging' or masking.

                      I've thought of another way to exemplify this - more later.
                      Alan A. Shaw
                      Designer, owner
                      Harbeth Audio UK

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Types of speaker coloration?

                        Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                        When I listen to other speakers I try and separate gross coloration (clearly offensive and fairly rare) from benign coloration which whilst audible may (or may) not be offensive - and may even be quite attractive depending on mood, music and time of day. But what I'm talking about in these examples is far, far more subtle than even benign coloration. It is better perhaps to use the word fogging' or masking.
                        Good segregation there Alan. For myself, i would rate gross or even severe coloration when listening to some horn or fullrange speakers. Its severe coloration for me because some of these speakers totally alter the tonality & timbre of say cello, piano, violin giving a very screechy & honky sound. Imagine cello or piano sounding very honky & peaky.

                        One very popular danish spk i heard made brass music sound like the brass instruments were made of plastic..haha...how so many people are still able to enjoy music on these spks really baffles me. Benign coloration to me is like listening to some italian spks. Rose tainted somewhat but still quite pleasant to listen to.

                        Masking or fogging is like listening to some old british monitors. Compared to the other 2 examples above, this is more acceptable. At least tonality & timbre not too far off. Of course the above are just my own reference. I am sure others here may have a different benchmark altogether.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Types of speaker coloration?

                          Yes, I absolutely agree with you. As you say, 'fogging' is the least objectionable type of coloration and yes, as a class (although there may be examples otherwise) horns do impart a marked character on the music they reproduce. But I can't think of an example in nature of a sound source that has a horn on it and this is why our subconscious 'ear' finds it difficult to accept the horn as a source, because of its relative unfamiliarity in evolutionary terms.

                          The maths behind modelling a horn is horrendous and to design one without all the compromises in sound quality v. high efficiency is something I'd never take on as a task.
                          Alan A. Shaw
                          Designer, owner
                          Harbeth Audio UK

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Types of speaker coloration?

                            Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                            Yes, I absolutely agree with you. As you say, 'fogging' is the least objectionable type of coloration and yes, as a class (although there may be examples otherwise) horns do impart a marked character on the music they reproduce. But I can't think of an example in nature of a sound source that has a horn on it and this is why our subconscious 'ear' finds it difficult to accept the horn as a source, because of its relative unfamiliarity in evolutionary terms.

                            The maths behind modelling a horn is horrendous and to design one without all the compromises in sound quality v. high efficiency is something I'd never take on as a task.
                            That's why i can never comprehend why people like horns. Other than high efficiency & wide dispersion, i really can't think of any sonic advantages of horns. Perhaps the only horn spk i can accept is Tannoy dual concentric, colorations notwithstanding. But they are at least more refined & less honky than their american counterparts. I was brought up by the british sound or more precisely the BBC sound so i am more biased towards the british way of designing loudspeakers. Even in the arena of panel speakers like planar, ribbon & electrostatics, i still prefer Quad over to say Martin Logan, Magneplanar or Acoustat. British spks generally sound more correct & musical to my ears. And currently i feel that Harbeth represents the epitome of the british or rather the BBC sound. Alan, if you had purchased Rogers instead of Harbeth back then, i guess i'll probably be using Rogers as my reference now, is it not?

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Types of speaker coloration?

                              Originally posted by Gan CK View Post
                              ... i can never comprehend why people like horns. Other than high efficiency & wide dispersion, i really can't think of any sonic advantages of horns
                              I'm no expert, but aren't the two technical advantages of horns the high efficiency and the narrow dispersion? Isn't horn coloration in (large) part because the energy that would evenly disperse around a conventional speaker is focused, bunched-up and beamed exclusively forwards in a horn? Isn't this what imparts a forced and megaphonic quality to horns? Horns make use of that character as excellent PA speakers when you want to 'zone' a public area, and talk to sections of the public in more-or-less isolation - e.g. a train station.

                              One of the many lessons learned from the London King's Cross underground station fire was that much more research was needed in the design of PA speakers for emergency situations especially in the noisy and highly reverberant environment of an underground station where speech intelligibility is paramount. Enough horn speaker - carefully designed and placed would reduce the influence of the harsh acoustics by minimising the 'splatter' of sound off the tiled walls. So horns do have their uses.

                              What attracted me to Harbeth was that our founder (Dudley Harwood) was the inventor and patent holder for polypropylene speaker cones of used in 90% of speaker cones around the world. He abandoned the patent in favour of a superior material and for anyone to patent and become famous for an invention and then to move on to a better solution struck me as a remarkable tribute to him as a dedicated audio pioneer.
                              Alan A. Shaw
                              Designer, owner
                              Harbeth Audio UK

                              Comment

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