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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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What's "snake oil" and what's not - interpreting marketing and media hype

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  • #16
    American English ....

    Originally posted by Kumar Kane View Post
    Yes, I am telling you this, and with the greatest of certainty, because it was I that was so! ....
    Oh my goodness. No. Can't be.

    You know, Americans (not Brits, we'd never say this) have a word for (slight cough) people like, er .... you. "Suckers". And I've heard Americans saying that the consumer has been 'suckered'. How does it feel to be 'suckered'?
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

    Comment


    • #17
      Suckered for more and for longer!

      Originally posted by A.S. View Post
      How does it feel to be 'suckered'?
      Ah well, one born every day, right?!

      And I am not going to talk too much about the power conditioner that I almost bought once. Sanity prevailed when I realised that the only way to get "clean" power was to generate it in the basement of my apartment via a DG set, and I was't totally in a brain freeze.

      The one consolation too is that I have seen people in the hobby suckered for a lot more and for a lot longer.

      Comment


      • #18
        Table d'hote bought-in parts from a menu

        Originally posted by Kumar Kane View Post
        ...The one consolation too is that I have seen people in the hobby suckered for a lot more and for a lot longer.
        It's so depressing, and so avoidable with a constant awareness that whilst 'audio' is a serious hobby to the consumer, it's a business to the supplier.

        The wealthy can take care of themselves whatever we may think or say. It disturbs me that the ordinary hard-working music-appreciating audio fan spends far more than he strictly should and achieves far less value that he rightly deserves for his hard-earned cash. Furthermore, if for example, the motor industry relied on the BS pseudo-science that the audiophile industry is seemingly neck-deep in, the Hindustan Ambassador with various fancy wheel hubs, pink furry trim and dangling dice would be the very pinnacle of suburban motoring performance and style. More on style and grace here*. Mercifully, there is more discrimination amongst car enthusiasts, and that has reflected in real, genuine and progressive development of the car industry such that today's cars are truly superior in every way to those of a generation ago. Not so in audio where what is engineering stasis is spun by brilliant marketing into progress.

        Another example: as you know we are one of the very few that make our own drive units. It's the expensive way of building a loudspeaker system. Not only do you have to design the unit, you have to source and pre-pay for all the piece-parts and stockhold them by the thousands and you have to employ expensive UK people to put them together to the correct standard and you have to cost-in the rejects that fall outside a tight QC window. We do it the hard way because it gives us a performance edge, the 'Harbeth sound'. But it is so much easier to place a PO with an overseas supplier for a complete woofer for literally just a dollar or two. The cost diverted from the core (the drive units and crossover) can then be allocated to beautification of the cabinet and to marketing and promotion as it is these that capture the user's imagination. Not the 'difficult' concepts of cone coloration.

        I think you can broadly classify all loudspeaker system manufactuers into two major groups: those that are satisfied with sub-optimal off-the-peg woofers and those who make their own. It would be the same as Jaguar buying-in a standard GM engine from a catalogue compared with Mercedes designing and building a superb engine from first principles. I really don't know why 'audiophiles' give any credence to loudspeaker systems fabricated around cheap, bought-in table d'hote drivers, regardless of price or styling. I have never seen a $50,000 speaker system with own-made drive units .... and at a few dollars a driver that's a vast cost for mediocre technology.

        *Actually I rather fancy one of these. It is the very antithesis of marketing and appeals for that reason - and it feels good to be different!
        Alan A. Shaw
        Designer, owner
        Harbeth Audio UK

        Comment


        • #19
          The myth of 'microphony'? It's another marketing idea; Stars and Cash-cows

          Alan I read your post expressing shock at the claims about speakers vibrating the ICs in amps/CD players with surprise. Not because you refuted the claim so elegantly by pointing out your experiences with NEC and the example of space travel. But because some of the hi-fi magazines are absolutely full of this theory and I thought you might have read/seen this yourself.

          It comes from manufacturers first though. There are many very popular and well-regarded (and often expensive - more than your speakers cost!) cables, tables, pucks etc. that are sold on the basis that vibrations coming from the speakers will vibrate the electronics in the room which are all (they claim) inherently microphonic and will, therefore, turn these unwanted vibrations into an electrical signal that will ultimately get turned into sound in the speakers. Stop laughing Alan - there's more...

          Furthermore, it is also claimed by some manufacturers that even CABLES and SOCKETS are microphonic and need to be lifted off the ground (where there are most vibrations, they claim) in order to reduce this problem. Sockets must be made of carbon fibre to reduce energy storage too. Some cables even have boxes half way down them that incorperate damping pathways to stop the 'transmission' of bad vibrations BETWEEN electronics (CD players/amps). These internal vibrations are said to come from the power transformers and transport mechanisms and need to be controlled and isolated from each other or they'll get mixed in with the musical signal due to the microphony effect mentioned earlier.

          I think the unpalatable fact is that most parts of the hi-fi chain have reached a virtually blameless level long ago (transducers excepted) that can't be improved to any audible extent. For a marketing department this is a terrible thing. Once you've reached the end of the performance improvements that are possible with a technology (which pushed sales up for a long time) your Star products and Cash-cows become Dogs and people just won't spend anymore money. And then you have no business.

          This is why the high-end industry now relies on tweaks and cables to stay afloat. These are the new Stars and Cash-cows that promise better sound - and many WANT to believe, or feel left-out if they don't believe or feel they have cloth-ears if they don't hear the improvements epoused by the Gurus and their converts.

          I'll end by para-phrasing respected Stereophile reviewer and analogue authority Michael Fremer:

          "Choose the colourations that are acceptable to you with your transducers (cartridges and loudspeakers) and don't worry too much about amplifiers and cables. Transducers still have a long way to go and dominate the sound of our systems."

          I think rather similar to your views in fact, Alan.

          Comment


          • #20
            Apple - last words....

            Originally posted by A.S. View Post
            corporate users ... are, in short, far more intelligent buyers.
            Guess I'm stupid, then!

            Look: you make two points: (1) Apples are not designed for security, and (2) they don't have user-replacable batteries.

            As I've never had to replace a battery even after years of use, I consider the second point an irrelevance for me personally. With harder use, in a corporate setting, it might indeed be a factor. I don't believe it's an issue of revenue stream for Apple though (but I could be wrong), but that designed-in batteries give more storage in a smaller form factor, which is what they're all about.

            The real point is the first one, the security issue. But again, for me, so what? My machine is for home and personal use, and I have no confidential or commercially secure information on it. If I were running a corporation, my priorities would no doubt be different. But I'm not. Surely the "unintelligent" thing to do would be to base a buying decision on a factor that has absolutely no relevance to the intended use? How would that make any sense?

            As for "content creators", amongst many of these (i.e. musicians and artists), the Mac is the machine of choice, again because of the ease of use factor. It depends on what kind of content you're talking about.

            So the intelligent thing to do, I would submit, is to determine accurately what factors are important to the intended use, and purchase based on those.

            Comment


            • #21
              The warm glow of a valve amp smelt through a haze of G&T

              Originally posted by A.S. View Post
              Not so in audio where what is engineering stasis is spun by brilliant marketing into progress. Another example: as you know we are one of the very few that make our own drive units. It's the expensive way of building a loudspeaker system. We do it the hard way because it gives us a performance edge, the 'Harbeth sound'.
              *Actually I rather fancy one of these. It is the very antithesis of marketing and appeals for that reason - and it feels good to be different!
              To your last comment about the good old Ambassador - for the last four years now, I ride a Royal Enfield Bullet on weekends into the hills nearby, for some of these reasons! Also, I am able to fix it myself when it dies on me, which it also does, regularly! It is a 1956 Brit single cylinder, still made in India, and I bought it new. Knowing fully well about its still existing quirks.

              Why do you think there has been an engineering stasis in audio? Change in customer taste? People are still spending billions listening to music, but I suspect the days of a couple, sitting down in front a pair of speakers, listening to music for a couple of hours are gone forever. Which is the cart and which is the horse?

              Finally, why is it that there are so few reviews in the specialist magazines about Harbeth? Is it because there are quid pro quos involved that you will not be a part of? Or is it something more innocent?

              PS: I am writing this in front of a singing system, acoustic jazz, validating my version of the G&T concept! What also helps is turning the lights down low. When I was in my tube amp phase, seeing the tubes glow was also a part of the music sounding good! So much for objectivity...

              Sometimes I wonder if I should just put down an old tube amp on the shelf, have it run without connecting it to anything, just to have the tubes glowing!! That of course, is very definitely tongue in cheek. I think.

              Comment


              • #22
                Originally posted by GregD View Post
                ...There are many very popular and well-regarded ... cables, tables, pucks etc. that are sold on the basis that vibrations coming from the speakers will vibrate the electronics in the room which are all (they claim) inherently microphonic and will, therefore, turn these unwanted vibrations into an electrical signal that will ultimately get turned into sound in the speakers. Stop laughing Alan - there's more......
                I don't read audio magazines or belong to any audio group aside from this so I confess ignorance. Is that really what's being discussed in the mainstream magazines? It can't be so. It just can't be.

                As an amateur just-about-everything I've long had a deep respect for 'real' engineers, physisists, mathematicians and chemists of the type that could design a semiconductor, put a man on the moon (and bring him back) and deconstruct DNA first in theory and then in practice. To be able to even begin to comprehend the challenges they face daily would be a humbling experience. But do those who perpetrate such utter balloney never consider the complete and utter contempt with which they are regarded by 'real' scientists? Surely self-integrity and preservation of 'face' is the core of human dignity. Surely nobody would spout such drivel in the presence of real scientists would they? I just can't imagine how they could preseve a shred of integrity afterwards. I refuse to believe that all those barmy claims are anything other than made with tongue very firmly in cheek - the same cheek that next day writes ad copy for shampoo products.

                There is a molecule or two of truth, massively distorted in the claims about microphony. First, every atom in the known universe above absolute zero degrees is in motion. That means every atom of our bodies, every atom in our ears and brain, our eyes, every atom of distant stars light years away and every atom of the CD player and amplifier and the disc itself is vibrating at some absolutely determined and defined frequency. In short, the whole universe is buzzing and the hotter the object, the more energy it has and more energetic it is. The more comprehensive 44 page TI data sheet for the TL072 IC shows the junction temperature at which the transistors operate at deep inside the die as 150 deg. C - (page 6) more than hot enough to boil water but very localised. We also know that the electrostatic forces that bond atoms together are so hugely, unimaginable stong even in one atom - yes ONE atom - that when the atom can be broken down into its component parts it unleashes vast energy*. So the atoms are held in a vice-like grip in the same way that the planets are held in relative position to each other in our universe. No external force, and certainly no vibrational force as pathetically small as that, for example, in a whirring motor in a home audio system is remotely capable of influencing the atomic matrix of any part of the audio system. To make any impression on the mini solar-system that is each atom you would need to shake the matrix with a massive (nuclear) explosion to tear apart the atoms killing yourself and all around for miles with the forces unleased.

                Surely I don't have to spell this out? It's blindingly obvious to me an a non-scientist. Isn't it?

                * Atomic forces are truly massively powerful. I read that the British nuclear programme has been generating electricity for about 50 years, and represents about 30% of UK power production. Can you imagine how many billions upon billions upon billions of watts have been generated over that period? The total amount of spent, used uranium consumed over that entire generating period is ..... about 100kg. That's about twice the weight of a pair of monitor 40s. Atomic forces that hold everything together are fantastically strong: a little bit of audio-frequency vibration pass through them like a mist through trees and cannot influence them. If they could, our entire physics would have to be re-thought because there would be a real danger that we and our world would fall apart.
                Alan A. Shaw
                Designer, owner
                Harbeth Audio UK

                Comment


                • #23
                  Total disbelief ....

                  Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                  I don't read audio magazines or belong to any audio group aside from this so I confess ignorance. Is that really what's being discussed in the mainstream magazines? It can't be so. It just can't be.
                  Greg, thank you! Alan, I know I was suckered, but it's not so difficult to be done in, and I am glad it has been pointed out

                  Comment


                  • #24
                    Allocating your budget ...

                    Originally posted by GregD View Post
                    I'll end by para-phrasing respected Stereophile reviewer and analogue authority Michael Fremer:

                    "Choose the colourations that are acceptable to you with your transducers (cartridges and loudspeakers) and don't worry too much about amplifiers and cables. Transducers still have a long way to go and dominate the sound of our systems."
                    .
                    That is an interesting statement. Why? Because of two others that I have also read in the specialist magazines. One, that advises that most of your money should be spent on the source equipment. And another, that the wise thing to do is to spend a third on each - source, amplifier and speakers, after leaving aside 20% for cabling.

                    I am not sure of the names of the people who wrote this, but I do remember that these are people that have been writing in their respective magazines for a long time.
                    It's a jungle out there

                    Comment


                    • #25
                      Science and beliefs - where do they begin and end?

                      In answer to your above post Alan, yes these views are taken very seriously in some of the magazines, with recommendations to investigate the products for yourself. No-one writing today totally trashes the idea, that's for sure. Occasionally a reviewer might take a blind-side swipe at the stuff, usually from the angle that they personally can't be bothered anymore. Anymore than that and the letters pages become a battle ground between the factions.

                      What's more these products based on these far-out claims almost always use scientific-sounding language and quote independent test results carried out by eg. defense contractors who usually work on making submarines quieter (!)

                      I think some of the designers of the products are educated people with a technical background, but that doesn't stop it. I think intelligence is no barrier to brain-washing and indoctrination. These intelligent, educated people of a scientific background are just as susceptible to 'audiophilia' as anyone else. They've been conditioned to believe that the ear is king, the foundation of the Golden Eared High-End ethos. After years of conditioning, high-end fanatics can percieve differences in anything, it's simply that this mind-set has got mixed-up with their proper scientific background perhaps. Not hearing a difference is not acceptable in that social group, hearing a difference equals self-esteem. Scientists often seem to think they are more objective and less susceptible to suggestion, but I don't think that is the case at all.

                      I believe there are many cable designers who are mere charlatans. However I also believe that there are plenty who work hard to make their products measurably better and strive for the best sounding product using their scientific knowledge and believe that is what they have achieved. That their efforts result in improvements that are below the level of human perception on any rational basis is irrelevant to them or their followers. They are high-end audiophiles and believe they can hear ANY improvement, no matter how small it is or whether a physician explains that their senses are just not that powerful.

                      So people who lump all cable manufacturers together as simply cynical businessmen, miss the point that some of them believe it too!

                      Comment


                      • #26
                        Apple is wonderful ...

                        Originally posted by EricW View Post
                        If I were running a corporation, my priorities would no doubt be different. But I'm not. Surely the "unintelligent" thing to do would be to base a buying decision on a factor that has absolutely no relevance to the intended use? How would that make any sense?

                        So the intelligent thing to do, I would submit, is to determine accurately what factors are important to the intended use, and purchase based on those.
                        Listening to my music, using an ipod as a source for my systems almost all the time, I have to agree and doff my hat to Apple as well. To me, it sounds just as good as my CDs that are all inside it in lossless files, and sound just as good to my old ears, as my LPs played on a turntable. It is now so convenient to use, making playlists etc., and it has worked flawlessly for a few years, with no need to change the battery yet. The music is also on the hard disk of my Mac, that works fine for my non corporate use, and the entire Mac is backed up easily on an external hard disc.

                        When the ipod dies, changing it will not be a big issue for me. Apple is a fabulous, even in your face marketing machine, but it isn't all fluff.
                        Just my 2 cents

                        Comment


                        • #27
                          Why was I so gullible?

                          Originally posted by GregD View Post
                          .....There are many very popular and well-regarded (and often expensive - more than your speakers cost!) cables, tables, pucks etc. that are sold on the basis that vibrations coming from the speakers will vibrate the electronics in the room which are all (they claim) inherently microphonic and will, therefore, turn these unwanted vibrations into an electrical signal that will ultimately get turned into sound in the speakers.....

                          When we have A real engineer who pioneered the DSD convertor implementation saying "If you put a CD player into an anechoic chamber, in front of a loudspeaker and sweep frequency, you will find a really vicious peak in the focus servo current around 800Hz, very high Q The disc resonates and the focus wants to follow it. This current demand modulates the power supply and generates jitter, which is influenced by the acoustic energy going to the CD player from the speakers. Since itís around 800Hz, we have this problem with female voices. If you know someone who can sing in that frequency range, very loud, they can shut CD players down (because once focus is lost, the player canít recover)." and more about vibration as can be read here....

                          I am sold!

                          ST

                          Comment


                          • #28
                            Analogue and digital sources: The value for money approach

                            Originally posted by Kumar Kane View Post
                            That is an interesting statement. Why? Because of two others that I have also read in the specialist magazines. One, that advises that most of your money should be spent on the source equipment. And another, that the wise thing to do is to spend a third on each - source, amplifier and speakers, after leaving aside 20% for cabling.

                            I am not sure of the names of the people who wrote this, but I do remember that these are people that have been writing in their respective magazines for a long time.
                            It's a jungle out there
                            Be careful about using the word 'source' in hi-fi. A turntable/arm/cartridge is very different from a CD player or server/DAC. If your source is analogue - like a turnatable, then it's mechanical quality is very important to it's performance or sound quality. With a turntable, good quality mechanical engineering sounds better but also costs more. A good turntable is unavoidably expensive.

                            With digital sources, the rules are different. It's like amplifiers really. The engineering is less important, as all the parts are mass-produced in (usually) big Chinese factories that turn-out near perfect components (like Alan's NEC example earlier). Put them together and you have a very low distortion CD/DVD player that measures far better than any turntable. Spending a lot on a digital source does not reap greatly better sonic benefits like it can with turntables. The basic level of digital components is already very high.

                            Use a £150 turntable in a high-end system and the result is not good. But use a cheap DVD player as a digital transport in the same system and it still sounds fine compared against your resident £10,000 pro-derived CD transport! I should know - I've done the experiment at home!

                            Comment


                            • #29
                              Yeah yeah, but how loud do you have to play the speakers? Is this relevant in the real world? Wouldn't you say that a CD player (even the cheapest one) that skips or jitters in a normal room even when playing really loud and when actually sitting on the speaker is just poorly designed? I have a cheap portable CD player and I'm going to try it myself!

                              I'm sure if you place even the finest CD trasport out on an airfield and point a jet engine at it and wind up the thrust it will bugger it up but so what? Is that a relevant worry? No.
                              Alan A. Shaw
                              Designer, owner
                              Harbeth Audio UK

                              Comment


                              • #30
                                Pip pip! Bottoms up old bean!

                                Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                                Don't underestimate the importance of a G&T. It can transform any one of the above steps beyond recognition!
                                How about providing a small booklet of cocktail recipes together with the purchase of a new pair of Harbeths (domestic models only). It would be interesting, unusual, and both funny and serious at the same time. And very British (if you focus on quintessentially British cocktails like the G and T).

                                You could even have a little link on the website: call it "Harbeth Recommended Audio Accessories" and link it to a list of your favourite gins. Now that would be amusing!

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