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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 speakers at Munich show 2012

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  • #31
    Snob appeal sells better than quality

    Alan has made some very astute observations there & it's disturbing indeed.

    Was in a conversation with a group of friends some time back & amongst them was a retired hifi retailer. When asked if he would consider making a comeback, the first thing he said was if he made a comeback, he would only be interested in selling "super high end" stuff. Sound quality aside, just make the exterior look & feel high end & then put an astronomical price tag & there u go, it's 'super high end'.

    What was even more shocking was when he told us the profit margin that can be realised from selling such products. It seems that not many consumers are as discerning as before, especially amongst those with very deep pockets. Sad as it may be but snob appeal definitely sells better than true quality nowadays.

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    • #32
      'Audio machinery' to prove sophistication

      I believe that it is very simple to explain some of the madness on such a show. The steps in audio quality are relatively small over many years, so you need something else as a sales argument. Hence impressive caseworks and ridiculous prices (necessary to "prove" how sophisticated something is).

      I myself had big fun listening to music (Jean-Luc Ponty plays Zappa) yesterday via my SHL5. THAT is better than watching hundreds of audio sculptures.

      I once was at that show years ago (still in Frankfurt at that time). I was someone different at that time and was still impressed by many of the exotic looking exclusive stuff. Still I remember coming back and being a little depressed. Not because I did not have the money for all these beauties. I just saw that (despite audio-press raving about fancy machinery) I was not very impressed by big-money-audio in terms of audio quality.

      It sounded different, but less involving than my "cheap" chain at home (Cyrus & Celestion at that time).

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      • #33
        Behind the sales facade

        When industry associates open-up around the dinner table about their woes and experiences in audio manufacturing and sales, it is entertaining for the dinner group to share confidences. But in the wee small hours, mulling over those tales, we can segregate the completely 'straight up and down' individuals from those who have the most staggeringly cavalier attitude to design, manufacturing, QC and long term customer satisfaction.

        When one well known audio marketing guru proudly announced to the dinner table that he was now an amplifier designer, we were all a little surprised. It transpired that the products appearing at a store near you were 'designed' on a tour of an overseas subcontractor's store room, pointing out this knob and that panel until a kit of parts had been assembled by eye with instructions to cobble it together and get it to the market as fast as possible. As for QC, well that was just an inconvenient cost. The justification of the abnormally high failure rate in the customer's hands is that there is sufficient margin to send them an FOC replacement, no questions asked.

        Your problem, as a consumer, is that we on the inside can smell the rogues driven purely by profit motive who have disregard for your listening pleasure and minimum Total Cost Of Ownership. You on the outside can't sense that. I don't know if I'm particularly sensitive to decoding the driving force that propels industry insiders I meet or not, but the 'good guys' have always been buried under the huff and puff of the less attractive personalities.

        My 25+ years in the audio industry leads to one general observation: the more conservative the product's claims and styling, the more likely the people behind the product are decent, honest folk doing their best with an eye on the long term sales slog, not meteoric success. Turned the other way, the more flashy the product, perhaps the more flashy the people associated with it? I don't know. Frankly, I will only buy audio equipment from people I am confident will look after me when it fails (which it inevitably will): a good contemporary example from Switzerland is quiet, unassuming René Reuter from reson audio who year after year just provides excellent customer care and first class products without the razzmatazz.
        Alan A. Shaw
        Designer, owner
        Harbeth Audio UK

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        • #34
          Working with the customer's needs ....

          In my 40 years of selling Hi-Fi, I have always had a mental check list for products to match. If they don't tick all the boxes, I don't stock it.

          Products for consideration need to sound good, be reliable, well built, practical, be easily serviceable, come from a good company with a track record of taking care of their dealers and be sensibly priced. My agency list is rather short and does include Harbeth.

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          • #35
            The Swiss Lady's tale - and the state of the hi-fi industry

            I really should have written this story a couple of weeks ago but real life intervened, thus precluding the opportunity.

            As you have seen, I was in Munich helping to look after the Harbeth stand, which occupied a portion of a larger section which showed the various products handled by Harbeth's German distributor. A.S., of necessity, spent a lot of his time talking to various foreign distributors and would-be distributors, so most of the individual enquiries were moved in my direction - amongst them, a charming Swiss lady who, it was said, had become thoroughly confused by the sheer complexity and apparent illogic of the recommendations from salesmen on numerous stands at the show that had been thrown at her.

            She, like so many others, was simply a music lover who had noticed that most home audio makes a rather poor job of reproducing that most common and familiar of all music, the singing voice. After a highly frustrating day spent touring the many stands purporting to offer supreme sound quality, someone said "Harbeth - they have a reputation for good natural sound, go and see them". And so she did.

            This delightful lady, entirely non-technical, had become thoroughly bewildered by the approach of most of the vendors she had encountered and, worse, had become acutely aware from the demonstrations she had attended, that most of the systems she had heard were poor. I spent about a quarter of an hour listening to the rather sad tale of her attempt to acquire simple "high fidelity" sound in her home, which was in a small village in rural Switzerland. It appeared that the core problem was that most of the vendors with whom she spoke, attempted to drive her along the line of vinyl and tubes; claiming that no other approach was capable of delivering "music" in the home, as was evidenced by the "huge resurgence in vinyl sales".

            What the Swiss lady, as an avid reader of the local equivalent of the UK's BBC Music Magazine, was aware of, was that the only practical way of building a good mainstream classical library these days is via CD. She also remarked that she had listened to several CD players and "didn't find them as bad as some of the dealers were trying to suggest". She smelt a rat. I spend a further twenty minutes or so explaining a few realities and how she should approach the perplexing questions before her. But the whole experience leaves me with a somewhat bitter taste in the mouth, particularly when we are aware of much complaining that interest in decent domestic audio is on the wane. It feels to me more as though there are distinct elements within the industry that are shooting themselves in the foot.

            Many vendors have become so focused on the tubes & vinyl approach that they have lost sight of the goal of many would-be customers, that of simply listening to decent music in the home. The idea of doing so via the medium of vinyl is a joke if you demand a wide selection of music and a good choice of well-recorded performances. Likewise, the fact that most normal people do not want an energy-inefficient, delicate, unreliable and potentially lethal tube amplifier sitting in their otherwise 21st century homes. Of course the vendors see these devices as highly profitable sales opportunities with a good chance that the buyer will, before long, need to return to have some aspect of this liability-purchase repaired or, at the very least, tweaked. In other words, the sellers objectives have become focused on turning their (potential) customers into obsessive camp followers of the tube & vinyl faith instead of treating them as modern music lovers who desire, quite simply, to listen to the music and forego the dubious pleasure of drooling over "sculptures in glass and metal" that have, in audiophile circles, become objects of worship.

            Having counselled the Swiss lady to the best of our respective abilities, she resumed her travels. I doubt that we'll ever learn the eventual outcome. She returned twice more, on each occasion claiming that the mist was clearing and thanking us for our help. She returned a third time, saying that she had had some useful contact with a helpful dealer who operated in the village of her residence. Marvellous!

            When I did a walkabout of the show later that day, I chanced upon the company that the Swiss lady had mentioned so I went into their booth to see what they had on offer. I was distressed to see that they specialised in refurbishing old Thorens record players, produced some 1940's style tube amplification and rather coloured horn-like speakers of their own devising. Meanwhile, I do feel rather sorry for the nice Swiss lady who only wanted to listen to vocal music at home, not become embroiled with the pathetic state into which domestic audio has driven itself.

            As far as I can see, the domestic audio industry might as well commit suicide instead of heading for the slow, lingering self-inflicted death towards which it appears to be plunging. It's a shame that so many customers with a desire for nothing other than musical pleasure will be dragged down with this self-destructive industry that has become so obsessed with short-term profitability that it is failing to look where it really could (and will) be in a few years' time.

            There is a large market of people who truly desire decent sound quality, but have no wish to join the ranks of obsessive geeks who claim to be "audiophiles".

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            • #36
              Addressing a market's needs (the old fashioned way)

              Originally posted by Pluto View Post
              There is a large market of people who truly desire decent sound quality, but have no desire to join the ranks of obsessive geeks who claim to be "audiophiles".
              That is why Harbeth's sales continue to grow. It's meeting the needs of what I suspect is an under-served market.

              Of course, you could always shoot for the quick buck by combining mystification and cosmetics in an appealing way, and at an enormous (short term) profit, but the barriers to entry in terms of that approach are, as the photos and show reports reveal, not very high, which means you could easily be swept away by a competitor playing the same game.

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              • #37
                Foisting the wrong gear on the unwitting consumer

                Many vendors have become so focused on the tubes & vinyl approach that they have lost sight of the goal of many would-be customers, that of simply listening to decent music in the home. The idea of doing so via the medium of vinyl is a joke if you demand a wide selection of music and a good choice of well-recorded performances. Likewise, the fact that most normal people do not want an energy-inefficient, delicate, unreliable and potentially lethal tube amplifier sitting in their otherwise 21st century homes. .... In other words, the sellers objectives have become focused on turning their (potential) customers into obsessive camp followers of the tube & vinyl faith instead of treating them as modern music lovers who desire, quite simply, to listen to the music and forego the dubious pleasure of drooling over "sculptures in glass and metal" that have, in audiophile circles, become objects of worship.

                Having counselled the Swiss lady to the best of our respective abilities, she resumed her travels. I doubt that we'll ever learn the eventual outcome. She returned twice more, on each occasion claiming that the mist was clearing and thanking us for our help. ...
                That's a good summary of Pluto and my experiences with a charming lady who just wanted quality music without the fuss and bother having made the decision (in mid life) to treat herself to a first quality audio system.

                As Pluto said, I was busy with visitors and only made occasional contact with this music lover as she returned to our stand. I deliberately directed her to Pluto because as a professional sound engineer he was disconnected from the audio business and of a similar generation. What was, frankly rather shocking to experience first hand was that it was impossible for the lady to separate out outrageous BS - of which there was plenty - from solid fact.

                Far, far worse, was that none of the vendors actually listened to what she wanted. Sales people were falling over themselves to sell her what they wanted to sell her. It's simply outrageous that she should be told by a dealer (I overheard this) that she needed a vinyl, turntable and tube solution. The last thing she needs is fuss and bother and that combination is the fast track to complexity, ongoing cost and a narrow and difficult to source music selection - as Pluto says. What she needs is a really simple, high-end equivalent to a supermarket-audio all in one system. Put the CD in, press the button, music plays: end of story.

                I can understand that at this once in a year jamboree sales people are wound-up to sell their wares, but what excuse does a dealer have for foisting his pet likes on a customer? How on earth can a dealer build a credible relationship with a consumer - and we all know that that relationship is crucial for the survival of the industry - when it starts out with selling completely the wrong hardware solution?

                Maybe one day we will hear the outcome. I suspect that this will be another lost opportunity for the audio industry which could have had a different outcome if sales people had taken the trouble to enquire what the user actually needed. What has happened to basic sales training? When I started out I was trained to patiently listen to what the customer needs, if there is something suitable that matches those needs present it and if not, be honest about it and point them in another direction.

                All that matters in business is the long term; as I learned during my time at NEC Corporation, it's too late to influence today or tomorrow, they take care of themselves. All effort should be directed to building an incremental path to a golden future. One has some chance of influencing events that are not on the immediate business horizon.
                Alan A. Shaw
                Designer, owner
                Harbeth Audio UK

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