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Group-think: What would a Harbeth amplifier look and feel like?

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  • #31
    Just for Harbeth users?

    I doubt that Harbeth has the software development resources needed to compete in the streaming world with the likes of Sonos Connect or similar.

    I do not see a Harbeth amplifier being competitive outside the world of Harbeth speakers - there are far too many competitors. IMO, to be competitive within their speaker owner install base, Harbeth would have to offer unique differentiation in the form of built-in room correction, equalization and/or speaker setup optimization. The amp should include a microphone along with a "wizard"-like interface to allow basic speaker setup to be done by the average non-technical Harbeth owner. Alternatively, advanced setup could be offered as a remote service offering using a network link.

    As far as core requirements, I think these have mostly been covered already: high power/low energy usage (e.g., n-core), perfect impedance matching to Harbeth speakers, at least one analog input (hopefully with transparent a-d-a), very high quality volume control, and iPad-based remote control for both basic and advanced functions.

    Tall order perhaps, but I don't think this project is worth pursuing unless it is done right. Brand loyalty to Harbeth speakers may be high, but the level of competition in the amp space is even higher.

    ATB.

    Hook

    Comment


    • #32
      Modular solution?

      You know, reading this thread makes one realize that bringing an amplifier to market in 2015 is a pretty daunting proposition!

      Two questions emerge for me. The first is this: is it possible to build the amp in a sufficiently modular way so that individual features - phono, equalization, wireless, DAC - can be added or not as the individual customer desires? Or added at a later date if needs change? Or: could the amp be ordered "bespoke", with the combination of features desired by an individual owner? If this is feasible, it might lessen the pressure to choose exactly the "right" feature set, and it might also future-proof the amp. Power and volume control will always be needed; everything else is likely to change.

      The second question is: who is the likely market? If it's mostly Harbeth owners and Harbeth purchasers, then it may not make much sense to look at trends in the market is a whole, of which the Harbeth owner and would-be owner group is a small subset. Better to figure out what it is they want. (Problem: what people say they want and what they actually buy are not always the same.)

      Presumably any Harbeth amp should also form a convenient and compelling system purchase option for the new Harbeth speaker buyer.

      Comment


      • #33
        Tchnical support issues?

        I would prefer to keep those software/IT stuff away from the traditional amplifier.

        Harbeth will need to run a help desk to answer technical support for firmware, software, connectivity issue, not to mention if there are bugs in software.

        I remember once that Mr Alan Shaw was against all-in-one amplifier. The internal RFI noise would kill it

        Comment


        • #34
          More hassle?

          Originally posted by EricW View Post
          You know, reading this thread makes one realize that bringing an amplifier to market in 2015 is a pretty daunting proposition!

          Two questions emerge for me. The first is this: is it possible to build the amp in a sufficiently modular way so that individual features - phono, equalization, wireless, DAC - can be added or not as the individual customer desires? Or added at a later date if needs change? Or: could the amp be ordered "bespoke", with the combination of features desired by an individual owner? If this is feasible, it might lessen the pressure to choose exactly the "right" feature set, and it might also future-proof the amp. Power and volume control will always be needed; everything else is likely to change.

          The second question is: who is the likely market? If it's mostly Harbeth owners and Harbeth purchasers, then it may not make much sense to look at trends in the market is a whole, of which the Harbeth owner and would-be owner group is a small subset. Better to figure out what it is they want. (Problem: what people say they want and what they actually buy are not always the same.)

          Presumably any Harbeth amp should also form and convenient and compelling system purchase option for the new Harbeth speaker buyer.
          I was also thinking modular. All Midi hifi is modular, as is some hi-end hifi. It always stacks vertically. That was driven by the media (vinyl, CDs). About 25 years ago I bought a modular Unisys computer system for a company I was running. The identically shaped modular units stacked horizontally. They were about 40cm square and 15 cm deep, and clicked together like a row of books along a shelf. This could easily be done with hifi, but I've yet to see it.

          I have a very example of software issues. I use a NAS/Streamer made by a company called Ava Media. Their main business is fanless servers and processor boxes for commercial use. A NAS/streamer is an obvious product as it is basically a fanless hard drive and processor. So they designed the unit, easy given their expertise, and hired the guy who developed the Naim software to write their software. (It works on a Windows platform thinned down to the bare essentials.) They also included in the package the AMG pro license. The units works very well (i've had it for about 3 years), but there are faults in the software and they have never been fixed. An OS X app was promised, but never materialised.

          Fortunately the Naim app n-Serve can run it because the software is almost identical to Naim, given the same developer. The unit sold reasonably well, it is a sound company, but I can understand that it just does not pay to incur costs on software development.

          Support can be contracted out, but this just does not sound like the sort of hassle and cost that Harbeth want to get involved in.

          Comment


          • #35
            Expensive, appealing amp

            Not sure if it is permissible (please moderate if not) to name other brand but Epilog is one such amplifier. Future proof, configurable, dual-mono

            The EPILOG is a fully balanced inergrated amplifier in dual-mono design. Each of the two mono power amplifier mudules is powered by a powerful 450-VA transformer. The input section of the EPILOG is modular and can be equipped with up to six different input modules as required (Line single-ended, Line balanced, Phono, 4-input D to A) which can be used in any combination. The EPILOG is ultimately flexible, versatile and future-proof, configurable to individual customer requirements.

            However, these type of equipments usually cost tens of Thousand of dollar although it is appealing.

            Comment


            • #36
              Another option

              http://vinnierossi.com/lio-integrated-mosfet-amplifier/
              LIO Integrated Amplifier this is absolutely modular base, but they use tube stage and they must be use those wall plug for 24Vdc

              not cheap..

              Comment


              • #37
                Keep it simple, stupid!

                Harbeth make wonderful, no nonsense speakers and an amp from them would need to be similar.

                Talk of streaming, DSP etc is total nonsense as large companies with whole departments dedicated to digital engineering struggle to get it right at huge cost. Some have even gone bust in the process - Proceed with all their millions and huge engineering/design departments couldn't do it, for instance.

                A Harbeth amplifier needs to be bullet proof, simple, practical and with a performance to match the speakers, at reasonable cost. Trouble is, there is a whole world of amplifiers out there, so what would a Harbeth amp have that sets it apart ?

                Comment


                • #38
                  Solid, reasonably priced engineering

                  Vital:
                  Rock-solid build quality
                  Tone Controls or more ideally a Quad-like tilt control
                  Adjustable input sensitivity
                  Modular internal design (components can be swapped in/out for upgrade and servicing).
                  Oodles of power

                  Desirable:
                  Ergonomic solid remote.
                  Level meters.
                  Anti-clipping circuit

                  Optional:
                  Streaming or digital facilities, I wouldn't want to pay more for these as I have all that sorted out before it reaches my amp, and I'm happy with it as a solution - Ideally I'd expect one model without and one model with.

                  If we're talking anything more than 1000 though it puts it out of my league. Solid engineering for a "straight wire with gain" needn't cost the earth.

                  Comment


                  • #39
                    Photo from a recent hi-fi show in the USA.

                    Originally posted by coredump View Post
                    http://vinnierossi.com/lio-integrated-mosfet-amplifier/
                    LIO Integrated Amplifier this is absolutely modular base, but they use tube stage and they must be use those wall plug for 24Vdc

                    not cheap..
                    Not powerful, either - only 35W into a 6Ω load.
                    Maybe it's acceptable if you sit very close to the speakers?

                    Comment


                    • #40
                      Some second thoughts - a fit and forget amp solution

                      Reading the comments since my first post the focus appears to be changing from "What features would be needed in an amp?" to "What could / should Harbeth contemplate for an amp?" There is a lot of sense in the comments posted but I note the original question did express an interest in hearing views on the digital side (hardware, software, GUI etc).

                      I agree entirely with the view that getting into the digital aspects from a standing start would require a major commitment by Harbeth, either in terms of adding new capabilities and the associated staff, or through the major sub-contracting of design and development. I guess Harbeth in asking for comments on the HUG were well aware that Linn, Naim and Devialet (to name 3) invested many man-years of digital design & development work before being ready to market an amplifier product with comprehensive digital capabilities. As also noted above, going down the digital route brings with it a need for comprehensive software support for the amp in addition to traditional hardware support.

                      For a relatively small manufacturer like Harbeth (albeit a very successful one) maybe the amplifier requirement should be limited to a power amp, as 95+% of the digital aspects are handled by the pre-amp element of an integrated amp. This approach would reduce considerably the design and development work required but has the big drawback of requiring gain to be matched to the range of analogue output levels from pre-amps that potential buyers of the power amp might use. I have found that when I use the variable output from a DAC to drive a power amp I need to ensure the gain of the power amp is sufficiently low so that I do not lose significant bits when playing 16 bit CDs (for example).

                      Overall I still think a future-proof amp needs to be an all-in-one component that is easy to use and requires minimal setup time. Perhaps we as HUG members should remember that Harbeth speakers have a far wider usage than that represented here, and I'd guess most of those users would like a fit-and-forget box to drive their precious Harbeth speakers!

                      Comment


                      • #41
                        The attraction of 'all in one'

                        Originally posted by hifi_dave View Post

                        Talk of streaming, DSP etc is total nonsense as large companies with whole departments dedicated to digital engineering struggle to get it right at huge cost.
                        Granted, useful DSP is very serious business from a software engineering point of view, but surely that's not true of wireless capability and an onboard DAC? Those are now available even in quite low-cost products. I don't think they're that big a deal to implement, from an engineering point of view.

                        A basic, simple, well-engineered, solidly built, not too expensive amplifier would be nice too. But ... how much of the market are you leaving aside by ignoring digital sources? Yes, people can use external boxes for D/A conversion, etc. but then you lose part of the attraction of an integrated amp, which is that it's an "all in one" solution.

                        It may depend on whether you're designing for the present, the future, or both. But I think the future is coming fast.

                        Comment


                        • #42
                          Strategic alliances?

                          Originally posted by hifi_dave View Post
                          Harbeth make wonderful, no nonsense speakers and an amp from them would need to be similar.

                          A Harbeth amplifier needs to be bullet proof, simple, practical and with a performance to match the speakers, at reasonable cost. Trouble is, there is a whole world of amplifiers out there, so what would a Harbeth amp have that sets it apart ?
                          Replace/switch a few words and you get:

                          Croft make wonderful, no nonsense amplifiers and a speaker from them would need to be similar.

                          A Croft speaker needs to be bullet proof, simple, practical and with a performance to match the amplifiers, at reasonable cost. Trouble is, there is a whole world of speakers out there, so what would a Croft speaker have that sets it apart ?


                          Get the message? I used Croft from the little I know about it as a common Harbeth match and with reference to its use in Art Dudley's recent review of of the SHL5+. He obviously used it for a reason.

                          So let's say AS and GC get together as a marketing exercise to badge an amp/speaker combination as a perfectly matched pair - or pairs for each speaker model.

                          - Would it result in increased sales? Probably not, the synergy is already established
                          - Would it facilitate increased prices? Only if it is perceptibly better than existing products, which I doubt it could be.
                          - Would it save on marketing costs if combined? Possibly.

                          So as the only relatively low risk concept, what is the point for Harbeth? AS might just as well simply recommend Croft, which might help his customers, but not make him any more money, and go against the grain of recommending other products or suppliers.

                          You would, of course, have to persuade GC to implement a remote control. From what I understand, fat chance.

                          I would also ask this question: Is the intention to design (a) an amplifier to sell speakers, or (b) to use the Harbeth speaker brand to sell amplifiers? The answer would define the market and hence the nature of the unit.

                          I suspect (a) would result in a simple power amp or line/mm integrated, (b) a multi-functional computer-based integrated/DAC etc.

                          Comment


                          • #43
                            Just don't bother!

                            I have to agree with Hifi_dave.

                            The market place is filled with dozens of products across all price ranges pretty much covering all the requirements/suggestions from forum members. For Harbeth to build some "Frankensteinian" beast of an amplifier with dozens of facilities would be a huge mistake.

                            A simple no nonsense design would would the best way to go but at the end of the day why would you buy one other than the fact that it had the Harbeth brand name on front. There are also a number of affordable simple amps out there too.

                            Surely, though ,it would also go against the Harbeth philosophy that any amplifier will suffice so long as it is well designed?

                            Harbeth could I suppose team up with a specialist amplifier manufacturer (Croft maybe) to produce a Harbeth tuned product but again this goes against Alan Shaw's amplifier philosophy.

                            My view is not to bother at all. There my be a limited market out there for Harbeth speaker owners (surely the only market as non Harbeth speaker owners would see little point in buying) but the R&D costs, manufacturing, testing etc would, to my mind, make it an unenviable proposition.

                            Good luck with the project - I'm very interested to see what comes of it.

                            Comment


                            • #44
                              Keep it simple and price down

                              My idea of a Harbeth integrated amp is something like their speakers. Keep it simple. No digital displays, no GUI's. Stick with knobs and switches. It's amazing how frequently I see multi-thousand dollar preamps/integrateds with burned-out or faulty digital displays. Someone who buys Harbeth buys it for keeps usually... they don't want to worry about things like firmware updates/patches/etc.

                              Have a look at the Audio by Van Alstine amps.... that's how I picture a Harbeth. Put all the quality inside. Include tone controls, balance, mono... sounds old-fashioned, but it seems everyone else has abandoned those useful features. I smell opportunity.

                              Keeping it simple will also help keep the price down. I have my doubts about significant customers for a Harbeth amplifier priced over $2500. Let them spend their money on your speakers where the money is well-spent.

                              Comment


                              • #45
                                Inexpensive but not attractive

                                I was thinking along alternative lines: how would the most minimalist modern kit look like functionally? Thinking should begin at the source end of things. Rationally, only digital sources are relevant, and that simplifies things enormously. The relevant digital sources are: streamed content from the likes of Spotify, Tidal or Qobuz, and internet radio, all listened to through the web browser, so no special apps are required; discs (CD, DVD and BD) but no storage for rips or downloads, as in my view that is only a transitory distribution model. All this can be played from a small and not very powerful pc, provided it has a BD drive. I think BD (and even more ultra BD) will have to remain an important distribution medium for video, as such resolutions simply demand too much bandwith for streaming. I also think an audio system should cover 2 channel video sound.

                                After this, there is traditionally the pre amplifier, but that is no longer necessary. All that is required is a usb DAC like the ODAC. Volume control can be done in the computer (provided the dac has enough bit depth - as the ODAC does), and the same applies to tone control.

                                After this, only the power amplifier remains, and that is the easiest part of the story. A power amplifier should be beefy but frugal with electricity, and have adjustable gain. To be honest, almost any pro audio amplifier would fit the bill.

                                The only complication for this very basic set up is that it cannot handle ordinary TV sound from cable or satellite. Those normally output through coax or optical connections, so to make this possible the DAC needs those connections as well, and the possibility to switch between sources.

                                I am convinced all this can be bought from existing but visually not very appealing components for some 1000 euro. The question is how the Harbeth implementation could differentiate itself in the market. Nice small matching boxes would be one part of the story, and that would certainly appeal to me and many other buyers (think Dieter Rams). Good built quality would help, but even the 1000 euro bargain kit is not shoddy.

                                I think that for a speaker manufacturer the only added value could come from upgrading the DAC stage to some sort of modern day pre amplifier status by including dsp processsing such as the Antimode Dual Core, with special curves to optimize the Harbeth range. I noticed that e.g. Denon already do this for their own matching speakers for the Ceol line of micro systems. For Harbeth, it would be an added refinement for an already superb range of traditional speakers.

                                Comment

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