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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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Credibly reviewing audio equipment

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  • Credibly reviewing audio equipment

    Originally posted by broadsword View Post
    Yes, it boosts the bass (and treble?), I suppose to compensate for the human ear's lack of response to those frequencies at low volume levels. I tend to keep it on even when playing at middling to loud levels, but I guess it would have less impact then.
    As we keep reminding readers, the ear is a loudness-sensitive device (technically it is a sound pressure sensor just as a microphone is) and
    these pressure variations are interpreted as what humans call sound in the brain. So the first requirement of any perceptible change in sound, be it quantity or what we would interpret as quality, is a change in pressure, because we must have that to trigger an interpretational consequence.

    If only the ear's mechanical performance was linear such that loudness had no impact on perception, audio reproduction as we know it would be a very different game. For one thing, regardless of how loud you listened the frequency response of the ear would be constant (it is hugely non-constant, by far the least linear element from the mic through the entire replay chain). One consequence would be that almost all audio equipment would sound the same or very similar because even if the levels of A and B were greatly mismatched, what would now have defining influence on perceived sonic quality would cease to do so.

    A loudness compensator may be intelligent enough to adapt the frequency shaping depending upon actual listening loudness or not. It is extensively used in car audio to make it sound good by overcoming road noise etc.. Beware that loudness-on is addictive!
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  • #2
    The ear

    I'm just wondering aloud how little or how much effort the audiophile makes to appreciate the weird characteristics of the human ear which are as far from 'flat' as you could imagine.

    Do we, collectively, have a rudimentary understanding of the workings of the ear/brain? Surely that's an essential first step in critiquing fine audio equipment and essential before pontificating about minutia in public? If we, collectively, don't, let's admit it and deal with the issue with some basic insights. Then we are in a far better position to be duly cautious of our ear/brain once we appreciate how it works.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

    Comment


    • #3
      Fundamentals of hearing

      Plenty of information here for the curious:

      http://www.aes.org/sections/pnw/ppt.htm

      Comment


      • #4
        A certificate of reviewing competence?

        Just a to add another thought to this thread, when was the last time anyone here saw an Audiogram(hearing test report graph) for ANY hifi magazine/audio reviewer, printed and displayed in the magazine or online as evidence of their hearing ability?. The way they poetically express themselves you would think they might like to wear it as a badge of pride.

        I don't read any reviews now, I stopped doing that about 9 months ago, so I cant speak for recent times but I can never recollect ever seeing one before. You could say it was their qualification to enable them to professionally do their job, a "certificate" to frame and hang on the wall.
        My guess is most of them would be too embarrassed to put into print a recent Audiogram. High frequency hearing loss is very common beyond middle age for many.

        I personally have had many full Audiogram hearing tests carried out through necessity, these tests involving much more than just beeps in the ear. These tests are a great way to clearly demonstrate and confirm what Alan has stated about the non linearity of the ear and the effect of volume on interpretation of sound.

        In my opinion any audio/hifi reviewer who does not have proof(an Audiogram chart) has no real credibility.

        Comment


        • #5
          Reviewers and hearing

          It's a good question. I suppose they would argue that the mechanics of their hearing is only part of the overall audio mechanism, and that the mechanics of their hearing should be comparable with their readers if certain assumptions about the circulation demographic are made. I don't know. But there are so many other issues with subjective reviewing that honestly, I doubt that publishing hearing test results would significantly increase credibility.

          My son has had a couple of hearing tests, and I was a bit surprised at how limited they were in scope - for example, they only chose about 6 spot frequencies, topping out at 8kHz. I was also surprised to learn that the audiologist, while obviously very knowledgeable about the medical side of things, didn't seem to know so much about audio. They were expecting to get results that were a straight line, and in dBs. When I asked what sort of dBs are we talking about - dBA, for example, they couldn't answer that. The scale was just dB, but a dB on its own is just a ratio, like a percentage - if taking an absolute measurement, then you must quote some sort of reference. Perhaps the reference is some sort of mean level that has been established from healthy subjects, but they couldn't tell me. Also, when I asked if the measurements were weighted, as we were expecting a flat line, they didn't understand that either. I tried to explain as simply as possible that the ear is much more sensitive to midrange than bass and treble, but this was clearly something that was new to both the audiologist and the nurse. Actually, the nurse seemed to be the more interested and knowledgeable of the two, and she went on to ask me lots of questions about audio engineering.

          Back to reviewers though. There is one I could name who has a distinctive and enjoyable writing style, but has a strong preference for loudspeakers with an exaggerated HF. We have a set of one of his favourites at work, and the tweeter level is so high relative to the bass driver that I can't listen to them for more than a few minutes. And I remember an example in the past where he reviewed a certain loudspeaker in isolation - with no objective measurements to support it - only for the same loudspeaker to appear in a group test a few months later and for it to do poorly. In the scheme of things, I'd generally give more weight to a group test with measurements than a solo outing.

          Ultimately, no matter how experienced you are, you simply can't understand a loudspeaker after just a quick listen. OK, you can get an idea of things like tonal balance and colouration after a few tracks, and perhaps weed out the obviously poor models just as quickly, but it takes weeks to really see what a good loudspeaker can do. But remember, the job of the reviewer is to write copy that people want to read...

          Comment


          • #6
            A standardised approach to reviewing?

            I just want to add that along with checking reviewer's hearing ability, a more standardized testing procedure should also be in place. Over the years I always preferred the group tests the British audio magazines published. I felt more confident with a panel of listeners, and it was interesting to read comparisons between components tested. But I think that these groups aren't level matching among the group of components, so I'm not sure how valid these reviews are.

            A recent UK magazine made a point to clarify that they used blindfold tests with a cable shoot-out. But nowhere in the sidebar did they mention any other specifics on the testing procedure. I have no idea how much time there was between each cable switch. For the test to be valid, they would have to switch between cables instantaneously, in order to cater to how their ears/brain works. IMO, the review world would change dramatically, if reviewers adopted Alan's switch-over comparator... What would they write about?

            Comment


            • #7
              A-B and failing hearing

              Originally posted by cornelius View Post
              ... if reviewers adopted Alan's switch-over comparator... What would they write about?
              One not so obvious advantage of the switch-over comparator is that, regardless of the actual acuity of the listener's hearing, that hearing ability, good, bad or indifferent remains a constant when in position A or B. So, if these audio events really do yield the night and day differences that audio poets wax lyrical about - strangely correlated with price I observe - then even someone well into middle years should be able to clearly identify A from B even if their actual hearing had degenerated with age, as it always does.

              If they cannot differentiate A from B, let alone have a preference for A or B (which is what I expect under controlled conditions) then what?
              Alan A. Shaw
              Designer, owner
              Harbeth Audio UK

              Comment


              • #8
                Goodbye subjective reviewing?

                Originally posted by A.S. View Post

                If they cannot differentiate A from B, let alone have a preference for A or B (which is what I expect under controlled conditions) then what?
                Then what? Then there wouldn't be much left of the audio press, and what remained would look quite different. What would there be to talk about?

                Comment


                • #9
                  What's left?

                  Originally posted by EricW View Post
                  Then what? Then there wouldn't be much left of the audio press, and what remained would look quite different. What would there be to talk about?
                  Precisely. All that would be left to talk about is speakers, DSP and room acoustics. The media has probably realised this years ago and adapted to survive.
                  On the other hand, perhaps there could be a lot more on music, mastering quality of different CDs/music files and the like.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Tittle tattle at trade shows

                    One of the entertainments at a trade show (such as the Munich show a couple of weeks ago) is meeting fellow exhibitors and catching up on events since the last show. Two topics seem to reoccur. Disrespect shown by some reviewers in they way they treat loaned and very expensive audio equipment when it is in their care, and how poorly repackaged it is for the return journey, the original and purpose designed packaging having been discarded. Also, and not unheard of, the sealed and stapled carton being returned in original condition .... and a subsequent review appearing in print. It's a curious old game.

                    As they say about television and the movies 'nothing you see there is as it appears to be'. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the public will not only allow non-specialist journalists to be their eyes and ears but that they then allow the same to have a vice-like grip on their bank accounts. I could not be a public reviewer of other's work. I just wouldn't have the self-confidence. The fact that I don't have the skill set is irrelevant; we live in a world where an admired audio critic can freely admit that he has no technical knowledge at all, has never used a soldering iron or test and measurement equipment and has supreme confidence in his hearing (presumably unchecked), long term audio memory and imagination. That cannot make for reliable observation, year in, year out.

                    If you are going to be a professional critic, some precautions have to be taken to ensure consistency over a working career. You wouldn't put a schoolboy in command of a nuclear reactor; why would you promote someone who has only a vague idea about how the ear works, the importance of A-B testing and how easy it is to be fooled to a position of authority, shaping the public's perception of audio equipment? To be authoritative you need an awareness of how easily you can be self-deceived.

                    "Surely some mistake"
                    Alan A. Shaw
                    Designer, owner
                    Harbeth Audio UK

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      A "black box" review strategy

                      I would like to see the following procedure implemented for reviews, at least for reviews of preamplifiers, amplifiers, integrated amplifiers, and dacs. For each component to be reviewed:

                      1. Have the editor ship component to reviewer in a nondescript, unmarked carton, the components themselves having been placed in a nondescript, unmarked black chassis that cannot not be opened, but allows full use.

                      2. The entire review will be written under these conditions, with only a serial number for the critic to identify each piece.

                      3. After the article is written and sent to the editor, product names would be substituted for the serial numbers by the editor. Print the unexpurgated listening impressions, along with measurements of the component and any other relevant information.

                      With all identifiers of price, appearance, and reputation removed, it would be interesting to see if the hyperbole and poetry came to an end.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Unbiased reporting?

                        The audio market is now so small, I fear the above would never happen.

                        Worse is the fact that one top end magazine, the pages full of very expensive boxes with the minimum of internals, is now apparently owned by one of the UK's most well known Top End importers. So much for unbiased reviewing.

                        {Moderator's comment: which magazine, which importer?}

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          More facts

                          Originally posted by DSRANCE View Post
                          Worse is the fact that one top end magazine, the pages full of very expensive boxes with the minimum of internals, is now apparently owned by one of the UK's most well known Top End importers. So much for unbiased reviewing.

                          {Moderator's comment: which magazine, which importer?}
                          Wow! If true, this has so many sides to it that I really don't know where to begin, but the questions start and end with the extent to which the new owners are honest about the relationship, and the (audited) steps they take to distance themselves from the editorial.

                          We mustn't become too cynical without evidence: it is arguable that a big distributor can see the virtue in simply stirring the marketplace, whether it be for stuff sold by himself or rivals it's no good for anybody on the playing field if the game gets cancelled.

                          However, the chances of such a journal emerging financially unscathed in the event of publication of a damning review (of a rival's product) are somewhere close to zero, so the chances of such a journal working in the way that we idealists expect an 'independent' publication to work don't appear that great.

                          More facts are needed.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Internet audio

                            Originally posted by DSRANCE View Post
                            The audio market is now so small, I fear the above would never happen.
                            Not quite so - I suggest that with Apple's I Tunes, Streaming solutions such as Sonos, MP3 players, Docks/dock speakers and the rest, it has never been bigger. It has just changed in nature from an elitist hobby of a select few to mass market appliance users far greater in number than any time in the past. Allied to internet based radio stations and music services, the access to music for listeners has never been as wide and diverse, and easily and cheaply available as it is today. For someone that wants better quality as well, it is a simple matter to amplify the internet feed and provide it to fine speakers - quality plus quantity.

                            The market of audiophile navel gazers and their support structure is what has shrunk, and I think that is no loss to the world.

                            Comment

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