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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.

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{Updated Oct. 2017}
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Group-think: What would a Harbeth amplifier look and feel like?

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  • #16
    Who wants more?

    I'm not sure people who have Harbeth loudspeaker want to buy an amp from Harbeth.

    They are already so many good choices on the market of amp/streamer. A company like Devialet has great success with top convenience, good power, flexibility and apple like look and other companies follow that trend.

    I believe that, in the future, loudspeaker will be more and more active ones. New music lover doesn't want boxes/cable everywhere any more.

    I can imagine Harbeth loudspeaker with inside implementation of light, powerful and electrical efficiency class D amp type and an associated DSP chips. This will permit the Harbeth designer to improve loudspeaker linearity by removing passive crossover, allow tone control and room correction in the digital domain. Wireless operation would be a big plus as bluetooth for the younger "connected" generation.

    Simple, convenience, great sound quality. Who wants more?

    Comment


    • #17
      Basic audio enginnering

      I totally agree with Jeff_C about the DLNA connectivity, which would be simply over the top in a high end amplifier. I also like the old school way of thinking about amplifiers that Alan seems to prefer.

      What should be really considered is the quality of components and quality of sound. I certainly do not want to incite here the old discussion whether all amplifiers sound the same or not but I recently read an owner's manual of the QUAD 909 (easy to find on the web) and there is a chapter about the current damping amplifier design. It is basically two amplifiers: one is a small class A amp, the other is big class AB amp. There is a diagram of a current dumping amplifier as well, which is unfortunately very unusual to be published in today's owner's manuals.

      Let me quote the QUAD 909's manual:

      "909 series amplifiers use a current dumping output circuit, a Quad invention (covered by patents in several countries) which eliminates many of the problems associated with transistor amplifiers. In a current dumping amplifier there is in effect both a low power, very high quality amplifier and a high power, heavy duty amplifier. The low power amplifier controls the loudspeakers at all times calling on the high power amplifier to provide most of the muscle. The low power amplifier is so arranged - it carries an error signal - that provided the larger power transistors (the current dumpers) get within the target area of the required output current, it will fill in the remainder accurately and completely. The reproduced quality is solely dependent on the small amplifier which, because of its low power, can be made very good indeed.

      Problems of crossover distortion, quiescent current adjustment, thermal tracking and transistor matching all disappear. There are no internal adjustments or alignments and the choice of power transistor types is less restrictive. The performance of Quad 909 series amplifiers is as accurate as it is possible to achieve by careful design, selection of components and rigorous test procedures."

      Does the current dumping amplifier - or a similar design - make sense? I'd think that QUAD knows their thing and wouldn't implement it if it didn't. Would it be of interest for Harbeth then? I'm positive that design issues like that should be seriously considered by Harbeth, not just bling-bling modern features that are in style today but you can forget them tomorrow.

      Comment


      • #18
        The amp does not need to connect to a NAS

        Originally posted by willem View Post
        ...The essence would be digital inputs, however. Here I would like at least one usb input, two coax inputs, and two optical inputs. I don't particularly believe in support for HD formats, but the market will demand them. As for connectivity, I think you need dlna standard connectivity for home network connection to a NAS (networked hard drive for ripped music and films, approachable from any computer or player in the home network - like a Denon Ceol Piccolo in the bedroom) and Airplay. Wired ethernet is mandatory, wifi desirable in the market (perhaps on a separate board to enable later upgrades - this is a rapidly moving technology).
        Willem, I am usually on a similar wavelength with your thoughts and comments but I do not agree that a Harbeth amp needs to communicate with a NAS via DLNA(uPnP), SMB, NFS or any other protocol. It would only need such communication ability if the Harbeth amp were to be the music player itself. Surely you are not suggesting that are you? That would add lots of complications surrounding issues such as file compatibility, gapless playback etc. which I believe are best left to a dedicated music player sited in front of the amp in the replay chain.

        I agree that linking to a home network via ethernet and/or wifi may be a desirable feature in the amp, so it can act as an airplay receiver, I do not believe the amp should try and be the music player as well. So I see DLNA (and all other communication protocols) as unnecessary. The amp does not need to "see" DLNA compatible media servers on the network, that's best left to the music player.

        As more features which are usually associated with computers are included in the amp, the less likely it is that someone with a CD player, and TT will show any interest in the amp.

        Comment


        • #19
          My suggestions

          The previous posts cover most of the possible functions for an integrated amplifier designed to be future-proof for the next 10 (??) years, however the ranking of their relative importance is the crucial question. Judging from the way I am seeing the younger generation acquire and listen to music my split between vital, desirable and optional features for the amp would be:


          Vital

          Sufficient power - I'd suggest 100-150 watts as a baseline to keep within the target price, but this should be offered with the ability to bridge the amp so that 300-400 watts would potentially be available by buying another slave unit (possibly having only the power amp section).

          The architecture should be based on a microprocessor with re-programmable memory so that the functionality of the pre-amp can be upgraded using software, loaded via ethernet.

          Ethernet access (RJ45) that supports the IEEE 802.11ac standard.

          A DAC capable of handling PCM up to 24bit / 192 kHz and DSD with inputs: SPDIF with BNC, RCA, & AES/EBU electrical sockets, and Toslink optical.
          The DAC should include hardware to convert ethernet packets of music to a form the DAC can convert to analogue (SPDIF or I2S).
          This functionality should include support for UPnP so that the amp may be seen and music playback controlled by generic applications running on an iOS or Android device.

          Two analogue inputs, one on RCA and the other balanced connectors.

          A Multifunctional electronic display that can be customised.
          Controls on the amp should allow choice of source including both the users music available on the local network, and from internet sources such as music streaming services (Spotify, Qobuz etc)
          These controls should be duplicated on custom remote hardware.


          Desirable

          Customised applications for iOS and Android devices to control the amp, including volume control and source selection (not available in generic control apps).

          USB input: while this is a very common way of connecting a computer to the hifi system to playback music from a library (particularly in the USA), it can produce variable results in terms of sound quality, largely because of the direct linkage between the hifi and the electrically noisy environment of the computer. With expert design of the USB interface in the hifi, the power supplies and the music storage system (hard discs, solid-state drives) it can give good results, but using ethernet (classed as a vital requirement above) gives far greater isolation and hence typically better sound quality.


          Optional

          Wireless connectivity: because of the potential for RF interference degrading the amps performance (e.g. adding noise to low-level signals in the pre-amp section) I would not rate this highly for inclusion but potential buyers could see this as a convenient extra. Note a wireless network would be required to control the amp as outlined above, but this requirement can be met by having the transmitter remote from the amp and connected by wired ethernet (e.g. an Airport Extreme can act as a wireless transmitter and network switch).

          Support for Airplay. This is not universal like UPnP but it is in common use in the Apple computing environment. It has a licence cost. It has limitations e.g. the universal conversion of the sample rate of music between 44.1 and 48kHz. Airplay capability is now available on some non-Apple playback devices. Whereas in the past it was necessary to have iTunes running on a system computer this is no longer the case so that, for example, internet radio from the BBC iPlayer radio can use airplay as an output device as an alternative to using the control device on which the iPlayer is running.

          Headphone amplifier: headphone listening is now the most common method for playback, judging from headphone sales. Having this option would attract buyers who would like private listening as an alternative to using loudspeakers.

          Phono amplifier: to meet the requirements of a growing niche group.

          Balance control, phase control, tone controls, and a mono switch: I have found none of these necessary since I switched to primarily using digital sources but in the past listening to LPs did on occasion require their use.
          Last edited by davidlovel; 22-05-2015, 08:04 PM. Reason: Added analogue inputs

          Comment


          • #20
            Keep it simple?

            Harbeth would go broke trying to accommodate that vast list of facilities and features in an amplifier. If someone wants that lot, they might just as well buy an AV receiver for a fraction of the cost. Believe me, Harbeth customers and potential customers never even enquire about numerous facilities and features.

            The Harbeth amplifier must provide great sound (sorry), performance, battleship build, adequate power, reliability and plug in boards for DAC and phono. Simple and practical is the way, as with the speakers.

            Any more than that - go and buy a Quad or Yamaha.

            Comment


            • #21
              Reinventing the wheel?

              Originally posted by A.S. View Post
              Munich 2015 introduced us to the world of modern amplifiers, which combine advanced networking/streaming (and similar) facilities into one box.

              We claim no particular insight into what the modern consumer expects from his audio amp other than the basic facilities of adequatre power and sensible input sensitivities to match the sources properly. What is clear is that if even one up-and-coming feature is accidentally omitted from the design due to ignorance of market trends, the resulting product could struggle. Even amp designers are sometimes too close to their technical work to see and sense the changing consumer environment around them.

              Three very clearly defined categories.

              Take, for example, a phono stage, inside the amp case. How many would consider that a vital feature or only an optional one? If I'd invested in a fancy phono head amp, it would be a feature that I'd not need or want to pay for again.

              I think we all know that the power reserve must be generous - no need to even dicuss that - that's assumed and available. What we're curious about is the digital side of the design in terms of hardware, software features, GUI and technical interface with streaming systems and of course, target retail price, which from what I have been told knowing something of the costs, would be around $6000 (US) for this all-in-one high end box.
              For $6K, it's difficult to see how one might improve upon the Accuphase E-470: http://www.accuphase.com/model/e-470.html
              180W+ output, plus two slots for optional plug-in boards with phono equalizer (for both fixed and moving coil cartridges) or DAC (with both USB and optical inputs).

              At a significantly lower price point, the NAD C375BEE offers a similar feature set: http://nadelectronics.com/products/h...ated-Amplifier

              Originally posted by A.S. View Post
              I'm rather ambivolent about combining computer and audio technolgy. In my old fashioned way of thinking, if music is worth playing, it's worth owning. And that means a physical media that I can collect, is at arms length and is mine forever. Yes, I know: old fuddy duddy thinking and I'm well aware that my personal requirements are not those of today's market.
              Agreed.

              Originally posted by hifi_dave View Post
              The vast majority of my customers use turntables, so a phono stage would be very desirable. This could be an add-on, plug in board so that those without a TT aren't paying for something they don't need.

              Similarly with a digital input and internal DAC. Many already own a DAC or quality CD player, so an add-on board would suit everybody. Another thing is that digital does tend to change, as manufacturers chase the numbers game. An optional plug in board could be upgraded as new procedures become available.

              No one ever asks about tone controls or room correction.
              Agreed upon the fluidity of the requirements for digital inputs.

              Regarding tone controls, I'd suspect opinions might change if your customers ever had the opportunity to use a Cello Audio Palette equalizer or the more affordable AR Classic version.
              6 bands of EQ: +6dB @ 500Hz and 2kHz; +12dB @ 120Hz and 5kHz; +24dB @ 15Hz and 25kHz.

              http://www.stereophile.com/solidpreamps/692cello/

              Reviving this item might make more sense than trying to reinvent the amplifier.

              Comment


              • #22
                Tidy system

                Originally posted by Bensim09 View Post
                New music lover doesn't want boxes/cable everywhere any more.
                Sounds right to me.

                Comment


                • #23
                  Streaming market

                  Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                  *I'm rather ambivolent about combining computer and audio technolgy. In my old fashioned way of thinking, if music is worth playing, it's worth owning. And that means a physical media that I can collect, is at arms length and is mine forever. Yes, I know: old fuddy duddy thinking and I'm well aware that my personal requirements are not those of today's market.
                  I feel the same, but (a) streaming is probably where the market is going, inevitably; and (2) streaming and ownership are not necessarily mutually exclusive: you can stream from a commercial service such as Qobuz or Spotify or Tidal, or you can stream your own purchased music, that you've loaded or downloaded to your computer, over your internal network to the amplifier(s) in your home. Many do the latter. Streaming capability I think will be a must going forward (see for example the new Hegel H80 and H160 amplifiers for a "high end" implementation, or Yamaha at a more reasonable price point).

                  Built in DAC with coax, optical and USB (asynchronous) input I think is a must.

                  A snap in module for phono would be ideal.

                  I don't really see the point of a tape loop. A headphone output is a "nice to have" but not a "must have"; serious headphone fans will likely buy an external headphone amp anyway.

                  Comment


                  • #24
                    Precise market?

                    Originally posted by Bensim09 View Post
                    I'm not sure people who have Harbeth loudspeaker want to buy an amp from Harbeth.

                    They are already so many good choices on the market of amp/streamer. A company like Devialet has great success with top convenience, good power, flexibility and apple like look and other companies follow that trend.
                    On second thoughts, your statement is true, other than die-hard fans of Harbeth, who will buy an amp from Harbeth. Who is the target group for Harbeth amp? Most of us here has an amp and how will Harbeth convert them? How can Harbeth win new customers? or targeting studio setup?

                    I love integrated amplifier and I would love to see one from Harbeth. However any slight deviation (design, function, cost) could spell doom. eg if Harbeth would to go Class D, for sure I would be out. If you add the useful tone control, you might cancel out others too

                    Comment


                    • #25
                      Too much burden?

                      Originally posted by hifi_dave View Post
                      Harbeth would go broke trying to accommodate that vast list of facilities and features in an amplifier. If someone wants that lot, they might just as well buy an AV receiver for a fraction of the cost. Believe me, Harbeth customers and potential customers never even enquire about numerous facilities and features.

                      The Harbeth amplifier must provide great sound (sorry), performance, battleship build, adequate power, reliability and plug in boards for DAC and phono. Simple and practical is the way, as with the speakers.

                      Any more than that - go and buy a Quad or Yamaha.
                      Yes I hate to admit that but Harbeth might just stick to Speakers Manufacturing. It would strain Harbeth. nonetheless, I would support Harbeth decision

                      Comment


                      • #26
                        Long term market

                        Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                        That Yamaha R-N500 looks astonishing value, here.

                        I'm not up on all this streaming stuff* - what doesn't it do for GBP 300 incl. tax?

                        *I'm rather ambivolent about combining computer and audio technolgy. In my old fashioned way of thinking, if music is worth playing, it's worth owning. And that means a physical media that I can collect, is at arms length and is mine forever. Yes, I know: old fuddy duddy thinking and I'm well aware that my personal requirements are not those of today's market.
                        I'm old school too and I have my music collection stored on physical media but having said that... Direct streaming of music from external services is the future. No doubt about it.

                        It's like digital radio but you can select the music the "radio" plays. You can call it digital radio on demand. No downloading, no ripping, no storing, no NAS hard drives, DLNA etc. Simple Bluetooth device like Arcam rBlink and Hi-Fi subscription at Tidal is all you need to have all the music in the world in CD quality at the touch of your hand. Simple.

                        Quality of sound is the only problem at this moment because Tidal is the only service that provides CD quality, rest is MP3. But it will change. Other thing is that the streaming market is developing rapidly now, many services emerged and it's hard to say which ones will last. Time will tell.

                        Is it the point to discuss here in the topic about Harbeth amplifier? It's to show the future of digital music and this future is not in downloading but direct streaming so discussing the former here makes even less sense if Harbeth amplifier should be built to last.

                        BTW Looking from the legal point of view, it really makes no difference whether you are streaming or downloading because downloaded files don't belong to you anyway. You cannot sell them for example, unlike conventional CD's or LP's. So downloaded files are "yours" only from the practical point of view because they are being stored on your hard drive. But in fact they are no more yours than a streamed content.

                        Comment


                        • #27
                          Link up with someone?

                          The question implies a single box solution. As far as features, I would have thought the answer is for it to do everything. No priorities. The basic approach must be for the box to be computer driven and programmable to be adaptable to anything plugged in to it. It must run cold, which says class D. It would help if it looked good as well. And if by this point you're not thinking Devialet, where have you been the last few years?

                          This is what excites me about Devialet:

                          Founded in late 2007 in Paris by Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel (technical), Emmanuel Nardin (design), Quentin Sannié (strategy and marketing), Manuel de la Fuente (commercial) and Mathias Moronvalle (technical)

                          As of 8 November 2012, Devialet has reached a new milestone by fundraising $19 million.

                          Thanks to this fundraising drive, $15 million are provided by a consortium of investors bringing together investment structures from Bernard Arnault, Jacques-Antoine Granjon, Xavier Niel and Marc Simoncini. They were convinced of the unique approach of Devialet and wished to encourage the growth of a company at the forefront of innovation in its industry.


                          Source: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-relea...178833511.html

                          Design, strategy, marketing and commercial were central to the project from Day 1. It now has lots of money, one investor being worth €40billion alone.

                          The other multi-function product I like, and was originally a professional system, is the Grimm LS1. Again, based on using class D to minimise everything and have the system fully upgradeable by software updates.

                          So it would have to look great, use class D amplification, and be fully programmable so, for example, a line input could be used for a CD player or MC phono.

                          I use Airplay about 50% of the time. I use the Qobuz service, CD red book quality. I cannot tell the difference between it and files stored on a NAS/server connected with an expensive USB cable. I think Devialet and Grimm, for example, avoid tying themselves to other manufacturers. A good example of this going wrong is Naim, who launched Spotify Connect - a software update that embeds Spotify in Naim streaming products. At the time all streaming services were 320kps. A few weeks later both Tidal and Qobuz lauched CD quality streaming so, if you were ok to pay £20 per month, made Spotify Connect irrelevant.

                          Unless Ed Balls left his money tree in AS's back garden, I fear for such a project. The financial consultant's advice would be link up with an amp manufacturer and do some joint marketing/product development. Given my perception of AS's fierce independence, this is unlikely to happen.

                          Comment


                          • #28
                            Build basics

                            I also have the feeling that if you ask people what they want they go mad (aka want it all and are getting very very specific).

                            I very much believe that hifi_dave is correct:
                            Build quality, reasonable power, tone controls (cause we know they are important, right?) plus (and that may be the only "modern" thing about it) streaming as an option.
                            That´s it.

                            And let´s be honest: it has to look well in a non-fancy, more "serious" way. And it has to look somewhat different to the super-ultra-mega-feature-loaded Asian amps,
                            otherwise it won´t be taken serious by the audiophiles.

                            And in the end they are also needed for the sales (the objectivist-audio-friends will not be enough for the niche-product like Harbeth, compared to the likes of Yamaha and such).

                            Comment


                            • #29
                              Based around a mini-PC?

                              I think streaming from sites like Spotify, Tidal or Qubuz is the future, I am convinced. It is what my kids do, and it is what I will also do more and more. Compare it to an academic library. Once upon a time universities bought books and journals, now they largely buy subscriptions. Both with libraries and with music we are still in a transition phase, where we need the possibility to purchase hard copy, but also need the possibility to play subscription material.

                              The problem with dedicated streamers is that they need a dedicated application for every single service, be it Spotify, Tidal, Netflix or Qobuz. What you see with all of them is that those applications are appearing only very slowly. Harbeth would not want to be in the situation where their customer base rightfully expects them to develop/offer a dedicated application for every new service that comes to the market.

                              Look at networked BD players from the major brands: they too only offer a limited subset of services. So all that should be located in the domain of the pc where compatible software exists to use any conceivable service. And perhaps that is indeed also where the dlna connection belongs. Put all those rapidly changing digital options in that networked pc, and you are largely done, apart from the remote from a mobile device.

                              Since sophisticated customers will demand a measure of visual elegance, I think a matching fanless pc case may be a good idea. Harbeth could even decide to offer such a pc, because technically it is not at all difficult, given all the off the shelf components that are used for such mini pc's. Any little local pc shop could build one for a few hundred euro, but Alan could experiment with one of the little boxes from Asus, or a laptop.

                              Compatibility with the new ultra HD spec for Bluray would be relevant: http://www.avsforum.com/forum/149-bl...finalized.html I still think it would be nice if the amplifier had Airplay, because it allows you to use a mobile device like a tablet or a phone as a wireless quality streamer. Admittedly, such facility could also be added by the customer, using a cheap Airport Express or Apple TV.

                              For me, it would be at least as important to have advanced equalization options such as included in the DSpeaker Antimode Dual Core. This is a basic pre amplifier with one analogue and some (but not quite enough) digital inputs, and very advanced processing to combat room modes, plus advanced digital filters for additional manual control, including manual measurement facilities.

                              I have become convinced that the room is the elephant in the room, and the pre amplifier is where the room should be dealt with. So as a target to beat, my ideal powerful amplifier on a shoestring would be that Dual Core pre amp, plus a refurbished QUAD 606/707/909. Total cost about 1500 euro. What it lacks is visual elegance, and all the streaming stuff would have to come from a mini pc, costing at most 500 euro, plus a 100 euro windows 8.1 tablet as a remote.

                              To sum up, the challenge is to decide what function goes in which box. The power amp will not really ever be obsolete, the pre amp will be obsolete earlier, and the pc streamer probably within a few years. The latter is easily coped with because these mini pc's are cheap, and all they need is a matching case.

                              Comment


                              • #30
                                An amplifier does not have to be a 'streamer'

                                Originally posted by EricW View Post
                                I feel the same, but (a) streaming is probably where the market is going, inevitably; and (2) streaming and ownership are not necessarily mutually exclusive: you can stream from a commercial service such as Qobuz or Spotify or Tidal, or you can stream your own purchased music, that you've loaded or downloaded to your computer, over your internal network to the amplifier(s) in your home. Many do the latter. Streaming capability I think will be a must going forward (see for example the new Hegel H80 and H160 amplifiers for a "high end" implementation, or Yamaha at a more reasonable price point).

                                Built in DAC with coax, optical and USB (asynchronous) input I think is a must.

                                A snap in module for phono would be ideal.

                                I don't really see the point of a tape loop. A headphone output is a "nice to have" but not a "must have"; serious headphone fans will likely buy an external headphone amp anyway.
                                What EricW says about streaming and ownership is correct. The term streaming has become blurred. We do not say that anyone with a CD player streams music to their amp. So really those with a ripped music library on a NAS and a music player such as Sonos or a computer loaded with music player software do not stream music to their amp in my view, rather they just send a digital (or analogue) signal to the amp, in exactly the same way that a CD player does. I think streaming proper is when music or other services are delivered "live" over the internet.

                                Just like we have never expected an amplifier manufacturer to include a CD player, I do not expect (or at the present time want) an amplifier manufacturer to include streaming capability. I just want the amp to be able to take a digital signal from a streamer or music player which is sited in front of the amp in the replay chain.

                                No two streamers are alike in the way they present information about the music being played or the way navigation to the required music operates. It is a big ask to expect a Harbeth amp to include streaming capabilities and get everything right about the presentation of information relating to the music. Then there would be the firmware updates and general maintenance required to correct bugs/improve the user interface, keep up with advancing technology, etc. I just want an amp.

                                A HUG "definition" of an amplifier is a "straight wire with gain". We are a long way from that with some of the proposals.

                                Don't get me wrong I would be all for an all-singing, all-dancing feature packed amplifier if the implementation was easy and it was truly everything to every man. At the moment I just do not think that is possible. In my experience streamer manufacturers have released their hardware and firmware too early before it is properly functional, with promises of improved features on the way. All too often those improvements / bug fixes either materialise far too late or not at all.

                                Comment

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