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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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A eureka moment in understanding - maybe

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  • A eureka moment in understanding - maybe

    Here on HUG we specialise in trying to make sense of how and why consumers enjoy some sonic experiences over others. Our motivation is to seek out a universal truth that would lead consumers to a generally better purchase decision, first time, without needless equipment and financial churn. That implies the application of logic, deduction and a basic 'scientific method' to, at the very least, separate purely subjective opinion from independent observable facts. At least, as best as we can.

    Unfortunately, despite a really serious effort invested in 'getting at the truth' over the past 10 years here, we still read of the emotional pull that certain hardware audio equipment - usually amplifiers and cables - has on a significant proportion of what we'll call audiophiles. In the case of amplifiers, we have recently discovered, example here, that one element in why they could inded sound significantly different even under controlled conditions is that their frequency response may be very far from 'flat'. They may, by deliberate design, emphasise or de-emphasise regions across the audio band, just as a graphic equaliser would. This raises serious questions about whether such as design could truly be called 'high fidelity', since by definition, it is not the role of any element of the hifi replay chain to significantly and intentionally alter the sound balance, octave by octave, laid down by the producer, artist and recording staff.

    Hence we have a dilemma here on HUG. We know full well that despite often rather poor technical, objective measurements, elements of the home audio chain can take on legendary status, and in turn sell successfully to, presumably, entirely satisfied consumers often at very considerable expense. So we rationalists struggle to balance the clear hard evidence of objective technical limitations of equipment with its claimed sonic superiority. It's a frustrating position for all, but rationalists would say that first and foremost the technical capabilities must be at least understood if not perfected - by careful technical probing - before time is invested in careful listening and the goal should always be kept in mind: deviation from technically 'flat' will inevitably introduce a degree of reinterpretation of the recording and take the listening experience away from a truly high fidelity rendition of the recording.

    It would seem then that there are two quite distinct groups of audiophiles. One seeks to get as close to the microphones as they can, and the imperfections of the performance, recording and acoustic are laid bare, and another group, probably a much larger one, where the emotional experience is everything even if this is significantly different from what was laid down on the recording. Both co-exist, and recording by recording, a serious listener may flip from one camp to the other, as I do when listening to historical recordings or last night's live Radio 3 concert broadcast. We have no issue with any of that.

    For the past few months I have had as bedtime reading various non-specialist books on the operation of the brain. It's now clear to me that it is impossible for a human to be wholly objective or wholly subjective: there is an active voting process at work in the brain which is pulled left and right, such that it is unlikely that if we continue to discuss objective matters ignoring the emotional levers we will never progress to understanding human, especially audiophile, procurement decisions.

    In the last few days, I have found myself in a situation which has significantly altered my understanding of sensory input, and how that internal process of modifies the emotional satisfaction we derive from those inputs. It concerns purchasing a 4k TV which I noticed in the window of our local independent TV store unsold from Black Friday.

    More later
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  • #2
    The uncomfortable sharp truth

    So, as mentioned above, I treated myself to a 4k 40" Samsung (UE40JU6000KXXU) TV. That installed, I found that the lip sync when playing a video through my Pioneer Blu-Ray player was intolerable - at least half a second delay. so when I spotted a Panasonic Smart Network Blu-Ray player with 4k Up-scaling (DMP-BDT170EB) in the supermarket, reduced to $100, I thought that I'd give it a go. It's excellent: out of the box there is no lip-sync issue and once set to up-scale video or Blu-ray discs the picture quality in the 4k TV is very sharp. So sharp that it's really not possible to tell the difference between up-scaled Blu-ray and up-scaled DVD at 2m viewing distance.

    And now to the core point. I looked-out my favourite video, settled back and watched.

    The overall sharpness and picture dynamic range (between the blackest black and whitest white elements in the video picture) is very impressive indeed. In fact, it's so different to what I am used to that it is as if I am looking at the movie for the first time, a movie I've watched perhaps 20 times over the years on various home systems and seen when it occasionally appears in cinemas in the full 70mm Cinerama. I even have it on Laser Disc, and have the player too.

    The problem is that I have a certain 'romantic' perception of how this movie looks. Obviously, I was not on the set present during filming (sadly) so my personal reference cannot be directly related to the source experience. It's entirely a personal reference, based initially on viewing the analogue projected-celluloid cinema experience (seen in both 35mm or 70mm), and on ever higher resolution home replay from around 1980's VHS up to now this up-scaled Blu-ray on an UltraHigh 4k TV. It's a shock, and I can't say that I really like the experience - it will take some getting used to.

    The problem is that the romance of how I have been preconditioned to see the movie at home through the soft fog of low resolution (by which I include std. Blu-ray on a std. HD 1920i TV) is my personal, internal frame of reference. And now, with much higher resolution (the up-scaling is not truly higher resolution but turning up-scaling off takes the picture back to std. HD, which is comparatively horrible) I can see that the space ship is nothing more than an elaborate model on a movie set and the actors, ordinary humans in fancy costumer moving around on that brightly lit stage.

    So, the point is this, as it relates to sound reproduction at home. Is the shock of the audio truth simply uncomfortable for many audiophiles? Have we preconditioned ourselves to what we think is the sound of the studio recording?

    Six of us to Jack and The Beanstalk beckons .....
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

    Comment


    • #3
      "Open the pod bay doors", Alan

      Originally posted by A.S. View Post
      And now to the core point. I looked-out my favourite video, settled back and watched.

      The overall sharpness and picture dynamic range (between the blackest black and whitest white elements in the video picture) is very impressive indeed. In fact, it's so different to what I am used to that it is as if I am looking at the movie for the first time, a movie I've watched perhaps 20 times over the years on various home systems and seen when it occasionally appears in cinemas in the full 70mm Cinerama. I even have it on Laser Disc, and have the player too.

      The problem is that I have a certain 'romantic' perception of how this movie looks. Obviously, I was not on the set present during filming (sadly) so my personal reference cannot be directly related to the source experience. It's entirely a personal reference, based initially on viewing the analogue projected-celluloid cinema experience (seen in both 35mm or 70mm), and on ever higher resolution home replay from around 1980's VHS up to now this up-scaled Blu-ray on an UltraHigh 4k TV. It's a shock, and I can't say that I really like the experience - it will take some getting used to.

      The problem is that the romance of how I have been preconditioned to see the movie at home through the soft fog of low resolution (by which I include std. Blu-ray on a std. HD 1920i TV) is my personal, internal frame of reference. And now, with much higher resolution (the up-scaling is not truly higher resolution but turning up-scaling off takes the picture back to std. HD, which is comparatively horrible) I can see that the space ship is nothing more than an elaborate model on a movie set and the actors, ordinary humans in fancy costumer moving around on that brightly lit stage.

      So, the point is this, as it relates to sound reproduction at home. Is the shock of the audio truth simply uncomfortable for many audiophiles? Have we preconditioned ourselves to what we think is the sound of the studio recording?
      It's a pity that the stunning illusions of 2001: A Space Odyssey cannot been conjured by your new TV. Have you turned off or reduced all the 'marketing settings'? Sharpness is the first parameter that I would set to zero. If the TV is boosting the 'local contrast' it will reduce the pleasant blurring effect of black silk stockings that cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth placed on the Panavision lenses.

      Fortunately your Samsung is configurable - it might be worth getting a quote to have it professionally calibrated. I know you appreciate the importance of accurate white balance on a display. In fact that is how I would market Harbeth speakers to a photographer: "Accurate white balance in all lighting conditions"!

      Re. 'audio truth', yes, this can be uncomfortable. I have The Beatles' remastered CDs and you are presented with the sound of valve mics running through valve desks into valve tape machines; layer upon layer of distortion. The result is particularly awful on 'The White Album', although it is much more pleasant to listen to on my C7ES3s than on another example of BBC monitor I have lying around.

      If you use a monitor speaker at home, you will be confronted with the awful truth now and then. However, taking this accurate 'white balance' presentation as the starting point, there is nothing to stop you being creative with EQ in order to tame harsh frequencies (and 'The White Album' needs one hell of a lot of taming).

      A broader point is, if you buy hi-fi equipment that is ruthlessly accurate, but don't enjoy listening to it, have you gained anything by buying it?

      P.S. If you are a fan of all things Kubrick, the late Mr K's family throws open their estate to the public once a year for the Childwickbury Arts Fair. Well worth a visit - no fruit scones for sale (sorry Alan), but plenty of Kubrick family and crew members wandering about if you want a chat with them.

      Comment


      • #4
        Truth, laid bare

        Originally posted by Dougal View Post
        It's a pity that the stunning illusions of 2001: A Space Odyssey cannot been conjured by your new TV. Have you turned off or reduced all the 'marketing settings'? Sharpness is the first parameter that I would set to zero. If the TV is boosting the 'local contrast' it will reduce the pleasant blurring effect of black silk stockings that cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth placed on the Panavision lenses.

        Fortunately your Samsung is configurable - it might be worth getting a quote to have it professionally calibrated. I know you appreciate the importance of accurate white balance on a display. In fact that is how I would market Harbeth speakers to a photographer: "Accurate white balance in all lighting conditions"!

        Re. 'audio truth', yes, this can be uncomfortable. I have The Beatles' remastered CDs and you are presented with the sound of valve mics running through valve desks into valve tape machines; layer upon layer of distortion. The result is particularly awful on 'The White Album', although it is much more pleasant to listen to on my C7ES3s than on another example of BBC monitor I have lying around.

        If you use a monitor speaker at home, you will be confronted with the awful truth now and then. However, taking this accurate 'white balance' presentation as the starting point, there is nothing to stop you being creative with EQ in order to tame harsh frequencies (and 'The White Album' needs one hell of a lot of taming).

        A broader point is, if you buy hi-fi equipment that is ruthlessly accurate, but don't enjoy listening to it, have you gained anything by buying it?

        P.S. If you are a fan of all things Kubrick, the late Mr K's family throws open their estate to the public once a year for the Childwickbury Arts Fair. Well worth a visit - no fruit scones for sale (sorry Alan), but plenty of Kubrick family and crew members wandering about if you want a chat with them.
        Yes, you are right: 2001 was what I played first. Whilst reminiscing, I first saw that as about a twelve year old in a long defunct cinema. I was, and had remained up until the above '4k' experience something of a quasi-religious experience, becoming entirely enthralled by the storytelling, and of course, photography. Coincidentally, I was given the recent 2001 book for Christmas.

        Yes, maybe tuning copuld be improved, although I do have a DIY video tuner and am pretty sensitive myself to skin-tone and DR etc. I think what the apparent increase in resolution jolted my attention to was not in the close-ups of the actors in their environment, because Kubrick was so fanatical about set detail that one can only be amazed at his vision, but with the camera drawn back to encompass a scene (in Discovery 2) where the actors are now seen for what they are: actors.

        This mirrors your comments about hearing the Beatles recordings for what they really are, objectively, rather than the subjective emotional wrapper through which they are normally enjoyed. And back to my point, which you repeat:

        A broader point is, if you buy hi-fi equipment that is ruthlessly accurate, but don't enjoy listening to it, have you gained anything by buying it?
        Many thanks for the Chidwickbury Arts Fair information. I've subscribed to their newsletter.
        Alan A. Shaw
        Designer, owner
        Harbeth Audio UK

        Comment


        • #5
          'Realism'

          Maybe I can chime in with someting really simple indeed. I agree that we have no knowledge of anything like "objectivity" and thus the goal of reaching "Hi Fi" is out of our reach. And it is also quite reasonable that some kind of "fogged-up" experience might be more comforable than a more "realistic" replay.

          But even with this agreed upon I still firmly believe, simply from experience, that a "realistic" approach to sound-reproduction is what I desire and what goes best with my expectations. What I mean with that is clearity, minimum coloration, and no distortion at all. Luckily, I have that.;-)

          Comment


          • #6
            Muted visuals better?

            Setting visual values on a TV can be difficult, often the player itself has variables too. I try to watch something very familiar, eg 'last tango in Halifax' which has the northern moors and farms as its setting, I try to adjust so it appears as realistic as possible to my eyes and use that as a basis.

            I sometimes prefer the rather 'muted' appearance of DVD over bluray for certain films.
            Getting to know my C7ES3

            Comment


            • #7
              Art and its environment

              I find high definition reveals all sorts of flaws. Doesn't matter if it's audio or an old film. I guess you just have to take the good with the bad.

              But also art can be presented in many different ways. The room and lighting is key to how a painting is presented. If you saw it in broad daylight it would look quite different and maybe worse.

              Comment


              • #8
                Our expectation bias

                There is difference between audio and movies. In music reproduction the live sound is still the criterion, at least for the classical repertoire. In movies the movie itself is the reality to be reproduced. So here we see that Alan's observation involves something rather different: it is not the technique but our expectations. Technically 4k UHD cannot improve on the original 70 mm format - by definition. However, what once looked like completely realistic in 70 mm now does not anymore, whether viewed on 4k UHD, or in 70 mm. We have simply come to expect better/more sophisticated special effects. The difference may have been obscured by lower resolution HD Bluray, but it was always visible if you watched the 70 mm original.

                As an aside: did you connect the screen to a proper audio system for good sound? In my experience proper audio is responsible for at least half of the impression a movie makes. For me that is full range stereo rather than little tinny multichannel speakers. I have neither the budget nor the space to have five full range speakers like the SHL5+ let alone M40.2's in our living room.

                Comment


                • #9
                  A sensory re-education experience

                  The experience described of going to HD to 4K TV does remind me of facets of my experience going from ProAc's to SHL5+, the romantic lower resolution of the PA to the higher resolution of the SHL5+.

                  I love the realism of the latter and yet I now see into the often less than natural recording/engineering of many of my fave recordings. While I don't want to go back to less real but I also am either in the process of adjusting my mind/experiences of listening to cherished music.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Sharp truth to the square.

                    I am just looking at 100mp tiff photo samples sent to me by manufacturer of digital pro cameras on 3840 x 2160 (8 Mpixel) monitor. Cropping to 100% makes shocking amusement that it is really possible to operate with such a resolution. The best joy is that xeon and new graphic card are passing this test with flying colors. One photo weights 0,5GB. The amount of information delivered is truly shocking.

                    Link - https://www.phaseone.com/en/Products...s/XF100MP.aspx

                    Enjoy!
                    Last edited by pkwba; 17-01-2016, 01:03 PM. Reason: Mess with naming new standards of video display.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Oversharpening video (and audio)

                      From my experience, a lot of the "high definition" 4k video-material is actually over-sharpened, btw. I have seen that lately in an electronics market (the one with the planet), where they were advertising a new 4k-screen, I guess it was LG's latest offering.

                      They showed pics from Hongkong, Victoria Harbour to be precise, and at first glance, this was impressively sharp indeed (even given the fact that the air in HK is normally so polluted that you cannot possibly see anything 50 m away THAT sharp at all ;-) ). That set aside, I then realised that the pics were totally artificial, things in the foreground had no connection to the background, it looked like the theater-settings of old where differently painted screens float in front of each other. It is actually the same you get when you play with "sharpening" in your graphics program of choice and overdo it...

                      To make the connection to audio, it was like some speakers I have heard that have been advertised for "clarity" which was only an overly harsh sound in the upper midband and the highs. Not pleasent. In contrast, the SHL5+ are very precise, but never cutting. This "sharpness" may be useful for production, like a very bright light in the whitest white ay be good for practical reasons for very precise work, but not for reading a book in the living room. And, no, this is not "pipe and slippers". ;-)

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Overblown reality?

                        After spending several weeks wondering the shops with a view to a 4K purchase I'm not quite sure yet if a like the experience.

                        I find the 4K experience really rather explicit with a certain edge or sharpness which on the one hand I can't seem to stop looking at yet on the other it's not a viewing experience I am quite yet comfortable with.

                        It reminds me of the time I purchased a pair of ATC loudspeakers, a really rather explicit and bright sound that I never really got used to and eventually sold. I do need to buy a new TV as our current Sony HD freesat is looking like the screen is on the way out, just not sure if I can do the 4K experience just yet.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Sound AND moving pictures

                          Perhaps it's a bit of a diversion, but my wife recently made a comment to me about TV sound. She commented that, although I have two high quality audio systems, I am happy to watch television and rarely ( if ever ) comment about its sound quality.

                          This set me thinking... Is the the sound content of what I'm watching ?

                          I rarely watch music programmes, except the odd one on BBC 4 on a Friday evening, usually about popular music. As for Classical music, I rarely watch that on the TV.
                          That is almost always by listening to Radio 3 or playing a CD or LP. The same is true of popular music.

                          To diverge a little, many years ago I went to my Brother's house and discovered he was using an Arcam Nicam tuner for TV sound.

                          We watched a film and I have to say the sound was impressive. The film was 'The Yangtse Incident' and the sound of the boat's engine was well reproduced.
                          The experience was very good, but I didn't have the desire to go down the same road.

                          What do Forum members think about the TV sound experience? Do some have 'Home Theatre Systems' in addition to their audio systems ?

                          I will be interested to read others' thoughts.

                          Just as an aside, my wife has just reminded me that I DO sometimes comment on TV sound. She said I once went on and on about the sound quality of the Australian 'Neighbours' programme, commenting about the compression/limiting.

                          Yes, I am willing to admit I watch 'Neighbours.' Is that enough to get me banned from this Forum ?

                          I have tried to analyse this, but haven't come to any conclusions.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Brain overload

                            Originally posted by Miles MG View Post
                            ... although I have two high quality audio systems, I am happy to watch television and rarely ( if ever ) comment about its sound quality.
                            ...
                            Psychoacousticians report that to process and make sense of the light image entering our retinas, consumes 80% or so of our available simultaneous mental processing capacity of the human brain. That leaves 20% for everything else, including making sense of the sound stimuli from our ears - which, as a signal waveform, bears no obvious correlation between the sound waves entering the ear canal and the digital stream of pulses our cochlea sends to the brain representing that sound wave (as a pulse code not as a varying analogue signal, analogue fans take note).

                            There are a few TV programmes where the sound quality is exceptional, even for location filming in difficult environments. Countryfile and Great Train Journeys (Michael Portillo), University Challenge (proper desk mics not clip-ons) are three that pop to mind. The issue is that in the good old days, a TV location crew would be a team of at least five trained persons, with a dedicated cameraman, dedicated sound recordist and dedicated microphone boom operator plus various assistants. The transition from film to video tape, and then video to solid state memory reduced that to one combi camera operator/sound recordist/microphone rigger. He or she finds as we do at home that peering down the camera viewfinder absorbs 80% of their attention, and quality sound is the first casualty. The monitoring of sound, if it is done at all during recording, is reduced to just being aware that there is something being captured, not a critical decision about whether the sound is muffled (usual problem), distorted or swamped by local environmental noises (common).

                            I have frequently complained about the abysmal sound quality on BBC programmes like inserts recorded for The One Show, improved somewhat of late. The issue seems to be that there is virtually no training given to this one-man superhuman video/sound recordist - long gone are the days of extensive residential courses to learn the craft. Everyone is an expert now by just picking-up and pointing. But then in a brutally competitive industry with low barriers to entry and massive technician oversupply, just for peanuts, there is no incentive on either side to hone ones skills in formal training. So hard-won sound recording knowledge has not passed from one generation to the next.

                            You'd be amazed how poorly paid - if paid at all - those creating TV content are; even headline shows rely on unpaid interns for surprisingly significant roles.
                            Alan A. Shaw
                            Designer, owner
                            Harbeth Audio UK

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Good sound from tv brroadcasts

                              Usually it is standard now we can hear good full bandwidth sound from cable tv decoder or directly from modern digital tv sets when connected to home hi-fi system (even via rca output). Great Continental Train Journeys with Michael Portillo, listened via hi-fi system have extraordinary sound indeed.

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