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Munich 2014 - review and thanks

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  • Munich 2014 - review and thanks

    Wow! What a fantastic response we had! It was hugely rewarding and simply wonderful to engage with so many Harbeth users, fans and distributors from around the world. Trevor and I are exhausested but very satisfied. Trevor used a little visitor counter machine to keep track of the number of people we engaged with, and over the four days I lost track at 300 - Trevor has the final figure.

    We met many serious, dedicated, friendly and warm people from all walks of life from students to eminent surgeons who shared the common pleasure of enjoying music on Harbeth speakers at home or in their studios. We talked to visitors from the four corners of the globe, and for my PR/marketing colleague Trevor, (who has not attended a hifi show in some years), he was astonished to see and feel the universal goodwill to the Harbeth brand, in person. See Trevor, I told you so in advance! And I couldn't have done it without you T!

    There was much curiosity about the Super HL5plus, and my task is to complete the pilot production run, and ease the SHL5plus into production as soon as possible to meet the latent demand.

    Today we make a start on writing-up the Show Report, and following up the many distributor enquiries that extend our distribution into territories over and above the 40+ we currently operate in.

    Thanks to everyone who made the past four days so hugely rewarding. We took many photos and will weave them into the next Newsletter.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  • #2
    Some thoughts about hifi shows

    Originally posted by cornelius View Post
    Hopefully more of these switchers will begin to surface, and listeners begin take the idea seriously.

    It seems many people out there have at least a US$1000 or more to spend on a component or cables - at the projected price, this box should be a no-brainer... People will save money in the long run...
    We will see. Having looked around the vast Munich MOC exhibition halls (up from three to four this year) the visitor is immersed in a complex theatre of scientific fact, self deception and willful marketing BS. Does it matter? Not really: it's all harmless stuff, and neither is it going to extend nor shorten ones life by years, nor make one a better, kinder person. It certainly can make you poorer though and take you further from natural sound, as you would hear in the flesh.

    We all know that electro-mechanical loudspeakers, (like their brothers, pickup cartridges) will always have personalities to one degree or another: that's a given. Are those sonic personalities dominant now that we've had 100 years or so to perfect the e-m transducer? Yes and no. It would be wrong for me to meander around as an unpaid critic, castigating other designer's hard won efforts, especially as they seem to have found customers for their products, and I assume those customers are delighted, but one or two overall sonic characteristics struck me from a brief non-scientific tour, as they have done before. I'll share them with you for what its worth, merely to keep at the back of your mind for when auditioning any loudspeakers:
    1. As a general observation, some of the biggest, most advertised, most reputed brands make the most colored sounds
    2. Horn speakers, with very few exceptions, sound like a megaphone, but there are just one or two so well designed that they sound intriguing
    3. Many listeners seem to have, to my mind, a strange interchangeable relationship between soundstage size and soundstage coloration (aka sonic quality). More on this later
    4. Big speaker generally produce a bigger soundstage
    5. The more drive units covering the midrange, the worse the sound
    6. An array of small bass/midrange drive units somehow does not produce the 'weight' of a smaller number of larger diameter drivers
    7. Some otherwise well integrated and sweet sounding speakers using interesting and unconventional drive units (in the mid/top) are crying out for more 'warmth' in the lower registers, which if they had, would propel them into greatness
    8. Loudspeaker brands that successfully market primarily or exclusively to the pro-audio market (but have ambitions to enter the domestic arena) made some of the most colored, unpleasant, pinched, peaky sounds at the show. They were dreadful
    9. Most exhibitors play far too loud
    10. Most exhibitors do not select music which shows off the best of the speakers they are demoing
    11. There is no positive correlation between price and performance beyond a certain ceiling. A Eur. 100,000 speaker may actually be worse - far worse - sounding than a 10,000 speaker. Of those Eur 100,000 speakers, the beautiful cabinets, the things you are paying and arm and a leg for, actually cost only about 3% of the selling price and the drive units even less
    12. Visitors are very influenced by speaker size. Huge loudspeakers big enough to fill a normal room may well produce a mediocre and painfully coloured sound (when they reproduce certain musical notes), but the sheer size of the speakers and the logistic effort and cost to bring them to the show can win over the most analytical, educated, rational and cultured mind (see also 3. above)
    13. The public, generally, have a very short audio memory and (seemingly) cannot deconstruct what they hear as they hear it. This is a serious problem, because without being able to hop between demonstrations recalling the key elements of previous exposures, those technicolour sonic experiences collapse into a monochrome ghost memory within seconds. After an hour of demo after demo, everything sounds the same. Maybe? I find that the differences actually become amplified in my mind
    14. Styling has zero correlation with sound quality
    15. Nobody cares where products or piece parts are manufactured in a global interconnected world
    16. There is increasing brand consolidation and the pace of this will doubtless increase
    17. I rarely heard classical music
    18. All the demo rooms (cabins built for the show) boomed and had a range of coloration issues that made decent demos touch-and-go depending upon the music, how many bodies were in the room to soak up sound and especially, how loud the system was played
    19. Sales staff must have become progressively deaf as the day passed, because they compensated by increasing the replay volume
    20. Audio-only surround sound has been (sadly) almost forgotten, yet a little rear-channel sound can beneficially open-up the sonic experience on classical music if the speaker characteristic are matched all around the listener
    21. Home theatre centre channel is far too 'dark' on the movies I heard, with American actors very close to the microphone
    22. HT using flat, natural speakers (like the SHL5plus in the REL room) can sound comprehensively enthralling at the right replay level
    23. Most/all 'monitor' type speakers are used on stands that are domestically acceptable but technically too short for the intended best sound (tweeter is way below ear level)
    24. Continental speaker designers may (this is gut feel, not fact) design with the reference axis (best drive integration) between the bass/mid and tweeter not on axis with the tweeter. This would mandate a very tall stand for the best sound
    25. The more exotic the bass/mid driver cosmetics, the harder and more colored the sound
    26. 12" (300mm) drivers only work properly in the midrange and bass. They cannot be expected to produce clean, natural sound in the upper midrange, and they do not. That is wholly predictable by science whatever twaddle the marketing boys come up with
    27. The Chinese are making copies of old-style BBC LS series monitors which are (superficially) cosmetically remarkably close to the original 70s/80s models and very inexpensive, devaluing the concept of the BBC licence, which is, anyway, legitimately available to anyone who applies and pays the small fee, irrespective of experience or geographical location
    28. There were no new, interesting, cone materials likely to outperform existing materials, and two exhibitors who displayed their so-called new materials last year have disappeared (as I predicted) because we reviewed and dismissed those candidates over twenty years ago
    29. As a general comment, whilst many speakers produced bass, very few produced an engaging warmth in the lower registers. Cellos sounded far too much like violas
    30. Several non-Harbeth owners commented that their existing speakers just did not integrate properly unless they were seated far from them, too far for convenience. A Harbeth trademark is that regardless of whether you use your Harbeths like headphones (try it - very addictive: huge soundstage!) or in the far field, the sound quality does not change. That is really a defining characteristic of the way we design
    31. Visitors who are impressed by large speakers forget that there is no certainty that such will work harmonious in the domestic room
    32. It would be unwise to use a brief opportunity to audition a loudspeaker at a trade show under unfamiliar conditions as a substitute for a proper listen at a dealers or at home
    33. The contribution of the electronics, cables, stands, room and music in any demo cannot be mentally separated, so drawing conclusions about the speakers alone is risky. Despite this, it is easy to hear visitors comment, upon entering a demo room that the reason the sound is good/bad/ugly is inextricably linked to one element of the equipment chain on demo, typically the cables or mains filter
    34. Most contemporary loudspeakers have too much high frequency energy
    35. An exhibitor may, with justification, modify his equipment to provide a best possible sound under the far from ideal conditions of a trade show
    36. The leakage of sound from competing exhibitors stimulates the fight or flight response: I find that just being in that noisy environment is extremely tiring because of the heightened awareness. I live and work in almost complete silence


    I'll add to that list if I think of anything.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

    Comment


    • #3
      Thanks

      That was great Alan, thanks for your perspective...

      Comment


      • #4
        Agree

        This is fantastic. I especially agree with #9 based on my own past show attendance.

        Comment


        • #5
          Enlightening!

          Very, very enlightening!

          Comment


          • #6
            I wholly agree with most of what Alan mentioned.

            Comment


            • #7
              "Please give me more .... time"

              One more insight which I found especially interesting, and disappointing. I quizzed a highly respected speaker designer with a lifetime of experience and an encyclopaedic knowledge and who I have known for many years (and highly respect) about life in a big corporate speaker brand. He told me that the entire organisation is driven by accountants and that manifests in product development and production plans that are cast in stone.

              New models, no matter how technically challenging or pioneering, no matter how complex the Bill of Materials and the logistics of pulling suppliers together from around the globe, no matter how he expressed his personal plea that he needs more time to bring the acoustic performance up to the standard he set himself as a professional, none of these factors could be allowed to stand in the way of production on time, to the original, immovable date. It follows then, that just because the consumer is paying big bucks for exotic audio does not mean that the product is as good as it could be or anything near as good.

              Nothing stands in the way of corporate financial/sales targets it seems. At least the car manufacturers recall vehicles to resolve design/material issues; have you ever heard an audio brand do that?!
              Alan A. Shaw
              Designer, owner
              Harbeth Audio UK

              Comment


              • #8
                Feedback

                I feel a little reticent to post on this and express my own opinions because of my relatively humble position compared with Alan's; I am not as well qualified, and have not had his position of being in loudspeaker manufacturing at the top end for many years, he arguably at the top of that.

                But even so, at whatever point we all are in technical knowledge and involvement, if we pursue loudspeaker design we probably have come to some conclusions about trends in their design. I agree with the following points made by Alan.

                1. Yes, and perhaps increased complexity is a major factor.

                2. Although various in nature, to me horns usually have some sort of peculiar quality.

                3. I am not sure that I really understand this point.

                4. Yes.

                5. Very much so, and I have spoken before of my feelings about the large European 5 unit models, as well as those of the States in which the drivers form a great arc up to about 7 feet tall..

                6. Yes, and perhaps the multi drivers do not coincide in the time domain, thus blurring transients.

                7. I am not sure what you mean by warmth, at a guess the response between about 2-300 Hz and 900Hz may be deficient.

                8. Yes, I used to use them.

                9. Yes, and because it is competitive the whole situation is snowballed and out of control - another form of loudness war.

                10. Yes, and in fact my friends and I allude to a category of music which is for 'Hi-Fi showing off'.

                11. Yes.

                12. The much discussed on this site preconception bias; it is as though we subconsciously think; "They cannot possibly have gone to all that trouble and expense to produce a speaker which is not a breakthrough and has not moved forward, or is in fact retrograde".

                13. Yes, and the stress of the shows does little to help them. It takes years of dedication and discipline to improve it in my opinion.

                14. Yes, but it is perhaps a key to audiophoolery hoodwinking by marketers.

                15. I have heard both terrible and excellent reports of produced parts from any and everywhere. Do you remember those old and often erroneous clichés? The Japanese are clever, German engineering is good, and even the phrase "It is US" to describe something which was inherently poor quality and did not work.

                16. I am not sure what this means, but apparently Naim and JM are now combined.

                17. That has also been my experience.

                18. I have always felt that shows were sabotaged by the venues to a substantial degree.

                19. Yes.

                21. It is my experience that particularly, American films are dark vocally, often to the point of unintelligibility.

                23. I have never understood the deliberate sacrifice of sound quality for a little domestic visual gain.

                24. I have seen text books giving either axis, and it does seem that a definite resolved consensus has not been arrived at.

                26 Yes.

                29. Detachment of very LF from upper bass is to me frequently in designs, and a smooth arpeggio run from mid frequencies to deep bass on a bass guitar very revealing.

                30. You have made the point in posts that the nearfield quality is a great test of speaker balance, and if we are further away there is much more reverberant sound impinging the ear. For these reasons I do not like the MTM configuration.

                31 and 32. These both seriously compromise the process of choosing a loudspeaker.

                33 and 34. Yes.

                35. A worrying truth.

                36. Yes, and this is also this is point 9 related.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Miniature trees

                  Thanks for the detailed feedback. To pick on your comment following my point ....

                  3. Many listeners seem to have, to my mind, a strange interchangeable relationship between soundstage size and soundstage coloration (aka sonic quality). More on this later
                  It occurred to me after exploring a certain huge speaker system that whilst it unimpressed me with its obvious coloration, it captivated the audience. When I listen to a vocalist, rightly or wrongly, what makes the illusion that he/she is performing in front of me (say, centre stage) is that his reproduced mouth/chest is roughly the size of the real mouth/chest. In my mind, that correctly scales the human element and then, if that criteria is met, the instruments around the vocalist fall into the correct mental proportion, excepting the mighty pipe organ which is, anyway, omnidirectional and 'size-less'.

                  If we take a speaker such as the P3, nobody is (surely?) kidding anybody that two 5" drivers can produce the scale, loudness, width and breadth of a real orchestra. They can't. What they can do is produce a sort of 'Bonsai experience' of the real tree: a delightful tension in the mind that what is being heard is a perfect, living microcosm of the real experience, the real world in miniature, a Gulliver's Travels of the audio world. That illusion works because the essence of the live sound is somehow adequately encoded into the little speaker with enough cues that the listener can inflate the miniature sound up into the live sound in his mind. Rather like having a roof garden of Bonsai trees somewhere in Tokyo that is so enthralling that it is a full substitute for the real forest and you have to pinch and remind yourself that this is just a miniature. No need to actually leave the home and seek the real thing.

                  What struck me is that once these huge speakers start producing their huge sound, even though the voices were now 2m or more high and rather imprecisely wide, the instruments ludicrously overblown in size (partly due to being played excessively loud), that the overall presentation was highly appealing to the audience. It didn't do anything for me. In fact, one aspect of really good speakers is the intimacy they engender with the listener: that was entirely missing. In particular, what was absent was any sense of depth; yes there was width and there was height, and that was in its own way interesting, but the poor resolution of huge (paper) coned speakers presented this flat, loud, 2D sound stage. I guess it was the equivalent of a huge TV as opposed to a window onto the real sound stage. A photo of the bonsai, not the bonsai itself.

                  I can only imagine that if the audience spent more time with the system, they would become tired of the uniform blandness, the very odd fluffy bass, the oversize image, and the generally dirty, low-resolution sound with note coloration.
                  Alan A. Shaw
                  Designer, owner
                  Harbeth Audio UK

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Closing the gap with reality

                    I feel that we are all subconsciously impressed with 'big' in perhaps any field, with cars, meals, dare I say female anatomical parts, and loudspeakers. There are implied truths to this, being adequate, greater functioning capacity, ease with which the desired objective can be achieved, strength, solidity, and in many cases perhaps these qualities may benefit from larger size.

                    I think large speakers do generally sound more effortless for a given spl., but that of course is not the only desirable criterion. You speak of the reproduction of voice, and so often in a film for example, people speaking in the open air, who should resultantly sound thin, have their voices reproduced as though they are in a wardrobe at both the left and right, such is their bass boost, and this pulls the attention towards these extremes in the field, completely destroying any hope of a central illusion.

                    In my opinion there is a real problem even with carefully mic'ed speech if done for a central image in stereo; that of sibilants which actually exit the mouth from only one point, but if 'perceived' by a stereo mic., say a crossed pair, these highly directional sounds would still come from the extremes of the left and right tweeters. I can see no way round that but perhaps to attenuate the sibilants a little to ameliorate the effect. But that relatively subtle problem is far less significant than that of the overblown bass, from whichever source it emanates, be it poor sound recording, or incorrect speaker balance.

                    I think you are of course an idealist, and hence wanting to get ever closer to the real event, and many people are not constantly criticising sound reproduction in the way that someone of this disposition is; constantly finding a problem, and then working to eliminate it, and then finding another, etc., this process gradually removing total error, and fine honing a product.

                    I feel that many manufacturers are failing to work towards the true meaning of "Monitor"; a tool which is so accurate that it shows the recording as it is, and they are resting on the laurels they have from wide bandwidth, fast response, deep bass and high sound power O/P.

                    Your point about depth failure I attribute to failings in time, phase and low level decay.

                    I can though sympathise with the Hi-Fi enthusiast, who, if he is to educate his ear, is going to sit in front of his system and analyse the sound in attempts to determine where there are errors from reality, to then when having found them, need to find better equipment.
                    There surely are many errors and they are obvious; if one only imagines someone speaking in between the speakers, and then listens to a recorded voice are we really saying that they are so close that we have difficulty discerning which is which?

                    Sometimes when visitors come, they talk, and stand in the middle of my stereo pair, and it recently happened when speech was being reproduced and so I was able to compare the two; I think that test would invalidate many attempts at speech reproduction.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      High end - descent engineering or manipulated fetishism?

                      Originally posted by Pharos View Post
                      I feel that we are all subconsciously impressed with 'big' in perhaps any field, with cars, meals, dare I say female anatomical parts, and loudspeakers. There are implied truths to this, being adequate, greater functioning capacity, ease with which the desired objective can be achieved, strength, solidity, and in many cases perhaps these qualities may benefit from larger size.

                      I think large speakers do generally sound more effortless for a given spl., but that of course is not the only desirable criterion. .....

                      Your point about depth failure I attribute to failings in time, phase and low level decay.
                      1. I would compare this bizarre situation to that in automotive industry. Every car maker tends to offer as much as possible SUV-like street cars (which are not bad at all, full of amenities helpful in everyday common use of vehicles) pretending to be off-road or motorspot cars, giving very well paying customer an illusion of something more - exclusiveness. But put them all to the real off-road or rally contest. A real grind for scrap metal company to pick all this trash up from the track or from the roadside ....

                      I think it is the highest time so that high end speakers industry followed the path of cellular phone manufacturing - i-speakers of 1st, 2nd and next generations, then series of smart-speakers in let's say 10 generations etc. It's only the matter of invention (or industrial pact) when to combine them with fridge, drink bar or something more peculiar that can haunt mighty potential buyer. Maybe then descent and reasonable hi-fi audio production for music lovers instead of splashing cash snobs will be possible again.....

                      I still wonder why all this peculiar audio folklore (almost) does not exist in professional audio business, at least from my occasional experience ....

                      2. I encoutered some very good or excellent speakers with rather big bass drivers. The point is that they were thought by their designers to bring the listener possibly most undistorted and not boomying low sound at ear-acceptable level only then , when it was contained in musical material.

                      I cannot totally understand stubborn pursuit of some, quite numerous group of hi-end wizards to make believe audiophiles they can obtain well articulated low bass registers from many, nevertheless how many , how connected or how arranged into how tall cabinets, and how constructed small diameter woofers. In real these miracle believers can be given only a bit higher level of higher bass or a lot of fatiguing almost one-note rumbling from of any kind applied air resonator, nothing more - it's a high school level physics.

                      I don't like "high end audio" nickname. I use in everyday professional and private life electronic equipment that could be easily described by snobs with this term. In fact it means everything and nothing, can be top engineering but also stinking lemon.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        How far?

                        Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                        If we take a speaker such as the P3, nobody is (surely?) kidding anybody that two 5" drivers can produce the scale, loudness, width and breadth of a real orchestra. They can't. What they can do is produce a sort of 'Bonsai experience' of the real tree: a delightful tension in the mind that what is being heard is a perfect, living microcosm of the real experience
                        Doesn't it just depend on how far you are sitting from them? A pair of headphones with 2" drivers can sound quite satisfying!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Reasons for no depth of sound stage?

                          Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                          ...It occurred to me after exploring a certain huge speaker system that whilst it unimpressed me with its obvious coloration, it captivated the audience. When I listen to a vocalist, rightly or wrongly, what makes the illusion that he/she is performing in front of me (say, centre stage) is that his reproduced mouth/chest is roughly the size of the real mouth/chest. In my mind, that correctly scales the human element and then, if that criteria is met, the instruments around the vocalist fall into the correct mental proportion, excepting the mighty pipe organ which is, anyway, omnidirectional and 'size-less'...

                          ...What struck me is that once these huge speakers start producing their huge sound, even though the voices were now 2m or more high and rather imprecisely wide, the instruments ludicrously overblown in size (partly due to being played excessively loud), that the overall presentation was highly appealing to the audience. It didn't do anything for me. In fact, one aspect of really good speakers is the intimacy they engender with the listener: that was entirely missing. In particular, what was absent was any sense of depth; yes there was width and there was height, and that was in its own way interesting, but the poor resolution of huge (paper) coned speakers presented this flat, loud, 2D sound stage...
                          I am more or less forced to use smaller speakers because of limited room sizes. I have observed similar experiences with large speakers creating an unrealistic oversized scale of voice and instruments. However the reason for lack of depth may be :-

                          (1) down to the recording(s) heard. You have mentioned in another post that rarely was classical music being demo'd and other genres more rarely show up any depth.

                          (2) the small "cubicle" demo rooms may have restricted any ability of large speakers to reveal any depth.

                          In my experience (but I may be wrong) small speakers seem to recreate depth better than large speakers. Small speakers in a room larger than where such small speakers would normally be used can completely vanish within a 3D soundstage. That is a much harder "trick" for a large speaker to pull off.

                          Jeff

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Loudspeaker Recalls

                            Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                            Nothing stands in the way of corporate financial/sales targets it seems. At least the car manufacturers recall vehicles to resolve design/material issues; have you ever heard an audio brand do that?!
                            I just tried "googling" this. It has happened

                            http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/2011/...Impact-Injury/

                            https://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/1996...peaker-Recall/

                            Jeff

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Emotionally disconnected speakers

                              Alan's opening post makes fascinating reading for someone who is not an engineer. Nonetheless, as someone who takes pride in having some awareness of the sound of live acoustic instruments (particularly with reference to classical music), three of Alan's points strike me immediately:

                              17. The scarcity of classical music (or let's say acoustic music as this will include jazz) used as a medium with which to assess speakers makes the vast majority of reviews redundant.

                              29. The lack of warmth in most speakers' lower registers is an obvious failing of many contemporary speakers. I would be interested to learn the reasons for this fault. Is it due to flawed cone material, or intentional tampering with frequency response as a means of meeting what marketing departments consider to be public preference?

                              34. The exaggerated high frequency energy produced by many modern speakers is excruciating. I have heard (and unfortunately owned) speakers made by famous names that make violins and brass sound astonishingly thin and abrasive.

                              From a user's point of view it is a delight to see companies such as Harbeth take these issues seriously. Keep up the great work!

                              Comment

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