HUG - here for all audio enthusiasts


"This Harbeth User Group (HUG) is the Manufacturer's own managed forum dedicated to natural sound, realisable by controlling the confounding variables between tthe microphone and the listeners' ears.

For example, the design of and interaction between the hifi amplifier and its speaker load can and potentially will alter the sound balance of what you hear. To reproduce the sounds captured by the recording microphones, as Harbeth speakers are designed to do, you would naturally select system components (sources, electronics, cables and so on) that do not color the sound before it reaches the speakers.

Identifying components for their system neutrality should, logically, start with the interpretation and analysis of their technical, objective performance, as any and every deviation from a measurably flat frequency response at any point along the serial chain from microphone to ear is very likely to cause the total system to have an audible sonic personality. That includes the contribution of the listening room itself.

HUG specialises in making complex technical matters simple to understand, aiding the identification of audio components likely to maintain a faithful relationship between the recorded sound and the sound you hear. With our heritage of natural sound, HUG cannot be really be expected to guide in the selection, approval, endorsement or even discussion of equipment that is intend to introduce a significantly personalised sound to the audio signal chain. For that you should do your own research and above all, make the effort to visit an Authorised Dealer and listen to your music at your loudness on your loudspeakers through the various electronics offered there. There is no on-line substitute for that time investment in a dealer's showroom.

If you desire to intentionally tune your system sound to your personal taste, please consider carefully how much you should rely upon the subjective opinions of strangers. Their hearing acuity and taste will be different to yours, as will be their motives and budget, their listening distance, listening loudness and listening room treatment, not necessarily leading to appropriate equipment selection and listening satisfaction for you.

Alternatively, if faithfully reproducing the sound intended by the composer, score, conductor and musicians over your speakers is your audio dream, then understanding something of the issues likely to fulfill that objective is what this forum has been helping with since 2006. Welcome!"

Jan. 2018
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Audio-nervosa: a name for the hifi bug!

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  • Audio-nervosa: a name for the hifi bug!

    We've touched on the subject of - or even the danger of - unrealistic expectations of your home hifi rig. Audio equipment (as opposed to musical appreciation) can get a vice-like grip on its victim. Make sure you're not one of them! Surprisingly perhaps, this is not a new problem. I found that in 1977, Harbeth's founding year, these unfortunates were fully fledged and seeking professional medical advice - from the Reader's Letters column in HiFi News. Ah happy days when journalists moonlighted as therapists.
    Attached Files
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  • #2
    Take a rest?

    Perhaps members should take the test?

    It's only a bit of fun.


    • #3
      Your splendid P3ESR has changed all the rules (of audio mania)

      Alan, there are many other facets to the disease too. One of the most crushing is the one where a sufferer spends months poring over magazines and websites and attending demos with the aim of finding the right CD/amp/speaker/cable/magic wand etc.. At last, the item is found and things should be fine. But then shortly afterwards, he starts to miss the thrill of the chase. So he looks at his new piece of kit as he listens to the system and actually starts to feel sad that it's over. I was like this once and felt kind of sad as I gradually bought each part of my system piece by piece. Each new piece closed the door on another avenue of obsession, it's madness!

      My cure is to reduce the number of magazines I 'take', and try to have other interests. I try to turn off the computer and just listen to music without the distraction of hi-fi review websites.

      Otherwise it's just a waste of money plus a lot of stress and worry. I think I am OK now, but having said that I've just got a new preamp, poweramp and speakers (*P3ESR) - kind of like an alcoholic celebrating giving up drink by cracking open a bottle of champagne?! Wish me luck...

      *I should be OK, your splendid P3ESR has changed all the rules for me!


      • #4

        Originally posted by Labarum View Post
        Perhaps members should take the test?

        It's only a bit of fun.
        Phew. I'm all right. Thank goodness I didn't take the test last year.
        Ben from UK. Harbeth Super HL5 owner.


        • #5
          The psychology of upgrading

          Throughout the Harbeth User Group there are numerous posts about the psychology of consumption. I'm much interested in the motivational forces that persuade us as consumers to arrive at the decisions we do - especially in the selection of audio equipment. It's interesting that 'audiophiles' (those who place importance on the performance of their audio equipment) will happily share experiences and recommendations with others about audio equipment but rarely do we hear (or take note of) others recommendation for music. We will consider the investment in a new amplifier or stand based a ecstatic feedback from users but we wouldn't even spend $10 on a CD they recommended. So we value their comments about hardware but couldn't care less about their musical experiences. That's a little odd don't you think?

          We all, me included, have vulnerabilities which marketing people take advantage of. I have only just shaken-off two that have wasted probably hundreds of hours over the last 25 years. Both of them are related to computers. Both have parallels relating to audio hardware. The first one I'm now cured of is the (laughable) belief that if I invest in 'computer optimising software' such as defragmenting programs that I am actually going to speed up my PC. The highly attractive claims made by these vendors of "up to 500% improvement in speed" are based on a compounding maths - and who wouldn't want their PC to work five times faster? The reality is that even if there is a performance enhancement measurable in the lab, the amount of time and effort stolen from other areas of my family life messing about with these suites is a poor return.

          Secondly, the myths surrounding Microsoft Windows which based on zero factual evidence I have been guilty of embellishing and spouting as fact myself, specifically Windows Vista. We at Harbeth skipped over Vista because of the poor press and reinstalled XP. Then Win7 came along and we opted for that convinced that MS had 'learned their lessons with Vista' and have been quite happy with it. However, MS will 'leverage their investment' by recycling function code blocks from one OS generation to another, so under the lid of even Win7 there will be code that dates back to DOS or Win95/98.

          The turning point for me was reading a MS consumer-preference testing report prior to the launch of Win7 whereby they presented normal users with what was, in fact, Vista telling them that they were testing Win7. Those users gave a unanimous thumbs up. But they had deceived themselves. They believed that they were sampling Win7 and they too wanted to believe that MS had learned lessons. In addition, I read that Win7 is substantially Vista underneath - and this should be no surprise as again, it is sensible to recycle code that works. What did interest me was that MS had researched what it was about Vista that was at the heart of its poor reputation, justified or not. And they found that the real user irritation was the 'time-to-live' from power on, to being able to to start typing. So they adjusted the early steps in the boot sequence so that, reportedly and measurably, the time-to-live was shortened to give the illusion that Win7 was nimbler to start-up. But the consequence is, according to lab tests, that overall Win7 is in fact no faster and may even be slower than Vista. So that pile of unused Vista Business disks we have are now being used - and we can't tell any functional difference between Vista and Win7.

          So it's all about psychology. You can sell the same old gear many times over if you can really understand how to manipulate the consumer's vulnerabilities. You should be on your guard.

          Maybe we should just play the game and spin you a yarn that the new Compact 7ES3-X2A1* is the big improvement you've all been waiting for! Place your orders now!

          *I'm interested to see what happens here.
          Alan A. Shaw
          Designer, owner
          Harbeth Audio UK


          • #6
            Observing behaviour

            Originally posted by A.S. View Post
            ... We all, me included, have vulnerabilities which marketing people take advantage of....
            But isn't it often through trials and errors that we find the right equipment? My SHL5 is not my first pair of speakers; I came to know about the merits of Harbeth after I had paid for two other pairs of speakers. And frankly I do not think the characteristics of Harbeth (especially the lack of listening fatigue) could be fully appreciated at a short audition when a consumer is usually very excited at the prospect of owning a new piece of equipment. I love my SHL5, but what explains my present desire (a burning desire indeed) of buying the P3SER - especially after knowing the Stereo Sound Grand Prix award? Had I not known about the prize, I might postpone my purchase for a few months or a year.

            Now I digress - I like the HUG not only for the musical knowledge and sharing of many like-minded persons, but also for the members' and Alan's observations and analysis of everyday behaviors ranging from consumption to computers! The standards of comments made in HUG are rarely matched in other discussion forums.
            ck chan


            • #7
              Buying just because something tickles our fancy (no justification needed)

              Recent posts commented on buying without the need to justify to ones self to others:


              To quote:

              Originally posted by GregD View Post
              .... My reasons for purchasing valves exist separately and are, to put it bluntly, not principally to do with sound quality as such. It is mainly aesthetics and nostalgia. OK, 'I' feel it could be about sound quality to a small extent, but I could never preach to people that valves are best, not when such cheap, readily available SS units are available which deliver such amazing value when compared with technical anachronisms like my valve amps....
              My reply:
              Now, speaking as a marketing-aware person, that is the sort of self-awareness that I respect. There is, as I've said before, nothing whatsoever wrong with the thrill of the chase and the final conquest. That is after all an evolutionary given. What is refreshing is that the consumer candidly admitted that there was no underlying sonic reason for making the purchase of an old amp - he just liked the look of it.

              I assume that the same logic applies when we see another human that we find attractive - there is no need to justify the feeling; no need to sell that reasoning to others, and no need to play down the imperfections. I applaud the candour - it's all we ask for here. Everyone should be free to pick-out whatever they fancy without others imposing their justification on it. That's why we Moderate posts making what we consider ludicrous justifications of cables and the like. If you fancy a flutter on a cable, please do so. Your dealer will welcome you! But don't try and sell your dream to the rest of us. Some prefer blondes. Some brunettes. Neither is better. They're just different.
              And in turn that led to this comment:
              One of the problems with the Internet is that everyone's opinion appears on a level playing field. I was on another forum once and innocently expressed praise and a preference for a particular headphone. To my astonishment, I quickly gathered a small number of followers who would ask for my opinion and advice about all sorts of hi-fi issues, as if I were some kind of Guru. I had to disappoint them!
              And then this:
              Keeping with the evolutionary theme, I suspect there are at least two other things at play:

              1. Human beings crave social acceptance, and seek consensus on all kinds of things including the "best" hi fi to get.

              2. Human beings seek to defer to authority as it provides a sense of security and stability to think that someone else has The Answer.

              I think it's not hard to see that these tendencies predate the Internet but, as with so many things, they have become more manifest because of the incredibly greater ease of communication now compared to previously.
              And that's a good summary. We do value the contribution of others (seemingly here concerning hardware, not music/software) but we should always consider that the deeper forces that drive a consumer to seek like-minds are not necessarily common across a group of ostensibly similar individuals. So to proclaim that the ABC amp or cable has transformed the life of one member may be an irrelevance to another who is driven by different motives and a different value system. For that reason, we are cautious about allowing this loudspeaker forum to appear to endorse non speaker equipment.
              Alan A. Shaw
              Designer, owner
              Harbeth Audio UK


              • #8
                Trial and error leads to the right choice

                Originally posted by C K Chan View Post
                But isn't it often through trials and errors that we find the right equipment?
                You've hit the nail on the head, there. Personally, I've had to figure out what I don't like before fully appreciating what I do. It's the same with nearly everything for me. Audio, bicycles, binoculars, job, home ownership (the only thing I really don't care about is the car for some reason. Except that I wish it were practical to go without.) Too much disposable income and no financial sense are the root causes I expect.
                Ben from UK. Harbeth Super HL5 owner.


                • #9
                  "Just right" and nervosa

                  Perhaps it’s an innate challenge humans have with addressing, harnessing and sometimes taming technology. It’s all a big misunderstanding we have with it, and I think a lot stems from not defining what we want exactly, or marketing is not listening. How many products do we have which are inherently right? I’m not asking for a perfect product, but just right?

                  Do we underestimate our sensory perceptions for judging “rightness”? or an engineer’s lack of restraint in establishing it? Could this be the impetus of nervosa?


                  • #10
                    What is "best" - what is "the truth"

                    Originally posted by kittykat View Post
                    ... How many products do we have which are inherently right? I’m not asking for a perfect product, but just right?...
                    The very reason we started this Harbeth User Group was to communicate (two-ways) directly with users and prospective users. There is no more a perfect speaker than a perfect wife - it totally and entirely depends upon what you yourself deem important. And what's right to you may be irrelevant or even completely wrong for your neighbour just the other side of the wall. Who is right? You both are. Should one try and persuade the other that his wife is "better"? Of course not. Live and let live.

                    What this boils down to is to an understanding of human motivations. We're here on the HUG to communicate, free of charge, all we know about audio with the hope (proven by ever rising sales) that it underpins the core values of buying-into the Harbeth brand. So you know, well in advance, what we consider important in our products (and audio generally) and you can decide at your own pace and leisure whether we empathise with you or not. Clearly, on a numeric basis we are a global marketing irrelevance with only perhaps 0.00001% of the market - but that's more than enough business for us. If you like what you read and hear, consider us. If you don't, you've saved yourself time and money and I encourage you to keep looking - there is plenty of choice.

                    When I open a newspaper I'm conscious that every piece of information I read is third hand. I wasn't there at the event; the journalist who was my proxy had an editor and between them they have motivations to present the facts in a certain way, with a certain spin. Audio journalists are still journalists - they have to eat, they have to write. They have motives. They are human. But we should constantly look for evidence of inconsistency in journalism and for regurgitation of hearsay. So my pleas is look for the hidden agenda in every aspect of consumerism. Not to the point that you are a cynical - I'm certainly not, but I am a realist - and then you can be sure that you squeeze real, honest, durable value from every dollar that you spend on consumer products.

                    And today, surely a great example of motivation and saying one thing and doing the opposite. Is it any wonder the public have such scant regard for politicians - B---r and five months before the invasion of Iraq. Here:

                    But in that example, the game plan was reasonably predictable and semi-transparent and really shouldn't be a surprise. But in consumer audio, motivations are far from obvious. Hence you should be on guard. Why would anyone actually want to become a (professional) critic? What would motivate them to believe that unconnected with the design process and design goals they had a real deep insight into the product? I'm a very interesting question for me as a designer willing to share my knowledge.
                    Alan A. Shaw
                    Designer, owner
                    Harbeth Audio UK


                    • #11
                      Crying out for the truth?

                      Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                      . Hence you should be on guard....
                      My point is that if we all as consumers can articulate what we want, then we will find the right product (unless there is nothing there to fill the gap or we have no interest in it). If we are passive consumers, then the person you describe in your last paragraph arises and takes control. I’m not cynical, also very realistic with the psychology and economics.

                      There will never be a perfect product, from mass electronics down to monopolies eg. consumer computer operating systems. Does television nervosa not exist? Or does anyone of us not try to convince our colleagues to buy the same brand tv as we just did. Or does the tv have a simpler task eg. showing James Bond reruns (simple need) vs. complex need (display super sweet reds and palpable apple like greens”). Why is the tv so right and the hifi so wrong? Are our eyes better at determining what is “right” and our ears so poor?

                      When open ended questions arise eg. “what amp sounds best with M30’s”, it is the first symptoms of a man crying out for help, not because he needs help with what amp, but “please tell me the truth”. Unfortunately the truth is sometimes far from being palatable esp. in the example you just gave.

                      Maybe there can be a "truth" voting section eg. "Amps sound quite similar so buy the cheapest one" etc.


                      • #12
                        More polish, less annoyances = progress?

                        Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                        However, MS will 'leverage their investment' by recycling function code blocks from one OS generation to another, so under the lid of even Win7 there will be code that dates back to DOS or Win95/98.
                        If it isn't broken, don't fix it. I hear some loudspeaker manufacturers still use design choices made in the 1960s and earlier!

                        Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                        But the consequence is, according to lab tests, that overall Win7 is in fact no faster and may even be slower than Vista.
                        I used Vista and am now using Windows 7. Windows 7 offers more responsiveness and perceived speed and also has a lot of usability polish in selected places. By now I think it would be safe to say that if Windows 7 really was no better than Vista, which had numerous annoyances, the secret would be out. For a regular user it does not matter if things you do rarely are a bit slower as long as the things you do every day feel fast and responsive.

                        I don't know if there is a lesson here for the Hifi industry or not - maybe its a lesson that was learned already.


                        • #13
                          Will legalisation control addiction? Pseudoscientific technobabble

                          Thumbing through The Economist (22 Oct), the article “Skin-deep truths about beauty; Advertising standards” (p.67) caught my eye. The Advertising Standards Authority appears to be cracking down on product claims in the beauty industry particularly those who make technical/ scientific claims. Nothing really new, but thought to mention that a pharmacologist from University College London thinks “that such companies should test their products in double-blind, randomised controlled trials, using control groups issued with placebos.” Walking the talk so to speak.

                          How much hifi advertising/ paid advertising (ie. including reviews) fall into the category of what David Colquhoun brands as “pseudoscientific technobabble” (PT)?

                          Question 2: If we lessen PT, will it lessen nervosa?