"This Harbeth User Group (HUG) is the Manufacturer's own managed forum dedicated to natural sound from microphone to ear, achievable by recognising and controlling the numerous confounding variables that exist along the audio chain. The Harbeth designer's objective is to make loudspeakers that contribute little of themselves to the music passing through them.

Identifying system components for their sonic neutrality should logically proceed from the interpretation and analysis of their technical, objective performance. Deviations from a flat frequency response at any point along the signal chain from microphone to ear is likely to give an audible sonic personality to the system at your ear; this includes the significant contribution of the listening room itself. To accurately reproduce the recorded sound as Harbeth speakers are designed to do, you would be best advised to select system components (sources, electronics, cables and so on) that do not color the sound before it reaches the speakers.

For example, the design of and interaction between the hifi amplifier and its speaker load can and will alter the sound balance of what you hear. This may or may not be what you wish to achieve, but any deviation from a flat response is a step away from a truly neutral system. HUG has extensively discussed amplifiers and the methods for seeking the most objectively neutral among a plethora of product choices.

HUG specialises in making complex technical matters simple to understand, getting at the repeatable facts in a post-truth environment where objectivity is increasingly ridiculed. With our heritage of natural sound and pragmatic design, HUG is not the best place to discuss non-Harbeth audio components selected, knowingly or not, to introduce a significantly personalised system sound. 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 offerings there. There is really no on-line substitute for time invested in a dealer's showroom because 'tuning' your system to taste is such a highly personal matter. Our overall objective here is to empower readers to make the factually best procurement decisions in the interests of lifelike music at home.

Please consider carefully how much you should rely upon and be influenced by 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, loudness and room treatment, not necessarily leading to appropriate equipment selection and listening satisfaction for you. Always keep in mind that without basic test equipment, subjective opinions will reign unchallenged. With test equipment, universal facts and truths are exposed.

If some of the science behind faithfully reproducing the sound intended by the composer, score, conductor and musicians over Harbeth speakers is your thing, this forum has been helping with that since 2006. If you just want to share your opinions and photos with others then the unrelated Harbeth Speakers Facebook page may be for you. Either way, welcome to the world of Harbeth!"

Feb. 2018
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The genius of MP3 - understanding human hearing in action

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  • The genius of MP3 - understanding human hearing in action

    Whilst searching for a book for my wife's neighborhood Book Club, I stumbled across this book - MP3: The Meaning of a Format (Sign, Storage, Transmission). I'm not much interested in MP3 per se, but a quick flick to the section that is likely to interest me and we read:

    ... MP3 discards the parts of the audio signal that are unlikely to be audible. It then reorganizes repetitive and redundant data in the recording,and produces a much smaller file—often as small as 12 percent of the original file size.‘ The technique of removing redundant data in a file is called compression. The technique of using a model of a listener to remove additional data is a special kind of “lossy” compression called perceptual coding.

    Because it uses both kinds of compression, the MP3 carries within it practical and philosophical understandings of what it means to communicate, what it means to listen or speak, how the minds ear works, and what it means to make music. Encoded in every MP3 are whole worlds of possible and impossible sound and whole histories of sonic practices.

    ... MP3 encoders build their files by calculating a moment-to-moment relationship between the changing contents of a recording and the gaps and absences of an imagined listener at the other end. The MP3 encoder works so well because it guesses that its imagined auditor is an imperfect listener, in less-than-ideal conditions. It often guesses right.
    Telephony has also played a crucial role over the last hundred years in shaping our most basic notions of what it means to hear. This has been true both at the level of high science and everyday conversation. The questions, protocols, and findings of much modern hearing research developed out of pressing issues facing the phone system in the early twentieth century. What was the minimum amount of signal that could be sent down the line and still be intelligible as speech? What parts of the audible spectrum were important to hear for intelligibility and which were not? How did the listener's ear react to different sonic conditions, and how did its own processes relate to the economic and technological imperatives of the telephone system?

    Telephonic transmission drove research into hearing for much of the century and, as a result, shaped both what it means to hear and the notion of the hearing subject that subtends most new audio technologies today. In historical terms, MP3s are usually thought of as an extension of sound recording. Perhaps because of their association with art and music, other kinds of sound recording provide a universe of aesthetic reference for MP3s. But recording owes a tremendous technological and aesthetic debt to telephony. Each major technical iteration of sound recording made use of telephone research: the first phonographs were built in labs funded by telephonic (and telegraphic) research; the first electrical recording and playback technologies were borrowed from innovations in telephone systems in the 1920s; and digital audio recording and playback also used concepts that emerged from AT&T’s research wing, Bell Labs, beginning in the 1920s.

    The telephone systems relationship with the history of hearing is therefore a major theme of this book. If we look into the code of the MP3 for its imagined listening subject, this subject is at least as telephonic as it is phonographic or digital.” It owes a debt to radio as well.
    The better we understand the mechanics of the human ear, as those who created the MP3 system are truly master of, the better we understand the audiophiles true human sonic acuity, and the better we are able to establish how much of his opinion is emotional influence, and how much entirely basd on what he hears and what he hears alone.

    Book here.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  • #2
    More essential reading on the ear/brain

    Also discovered these two books on audiology. On the basis that you cannot ever have too many reference works, and the better you understand the way the ear works the better decisions about matters of sound you can make, I've just ordered these:

    Here and here

    Treat yourself for Christmas. No need to buy brand new: I buy the used, good condition copies then I don't feel guilty about running a highlighter over sections.

    As repeatedly mentioned, the ear/brain has been comprehensively studied by generations of researchers, and it is extremely unlikely that any genuinely new discoveries will be made, so well documented the senses are. However, almost all of the deeply held views expounded by the audiophile are incompatible with what is known of the ear. Either thousands of research scientists are misguided or careless or dishonest, or audiophile beliefs (such as the importance of absolute phase) have little or no basis in fact. Arm yourself with a $20 book or two, and decide for yourself. The best investment you can make, and fascinating and rewarding reading.

    The beauty of audiology is that it is a science accessible to all: there are no complex maths (until really deep into the subject) beyond that which a twelve year old could handle, and the pictures and graphs tell almost the whole story. It's a subject truly open to everyone.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK


    • #3
      I am in the business of Machine to Machine communications utilizing Cellular technology. Data unlike human speech is much less forgiving of missing information and a stray or absent bit can be the difference between failure and success.

      The imaginative processes by which human beings are able to fill in the gaps of missing words, sentences, badly expressed ideas, mispronunciations, dialects, speech defects, foreign word substitutions down the end of a bad phone line are myriad and miraculous.

      It may explain the success of the rambling incoherence of Donald Trump that listeners are able to infer what he means, the gist of his thought or build entire complicated policy structures from the unfinished sentences, terminated thought processes, false trails and the verbal footprints of the cerebral road not taken by a seemingly autonomous tongue on a jaunt of its own.

      In the shower this morning I was listening to impact of the water drops hitting the shower floor the directionality of sound, and I wondered about the effects of symmetry and its imposition on the way we listen to recorded music a lot of the time being totally unnatural, but symmetry being something human beings find instinctually attractive and value highly.

      John Lennon always valued the mono recordings of the Beatles music as well as the acetate masters over and above the finished product, as being closer to the original performances.

      I for one find it very hard to distinguish between any number of recorded formats and was absolutely floored when I heard a Nakimichi Dragon Cassette recorder /player in full flight.