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"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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Quantifying an "Open Sound"

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  • #31
    Openness and the recording itself

    Originally posted by Euler View Post

    An "open sound" ... suggests to me a different sort of fidelity, something like the accurate reproduction of the "air" or "space" around the performer and in the venue, so that the speakers disappear and the listener feels as if he's been drawn right into the performing space. This may be related to sound stage creation too.

    I had been thinking along similar lines in terms of what "open" might mean, but then it occurred to me that the sense of air or space around the performer or in a venue is ultimately a property of the recording, not the speaker. Yes, the speaker should reproduce it, but only if it's there. What if the recording is dry, close-miked, close-up? You wouldn't want a speaker adding an artificial sense of "openness" in that case, I would think.

    So to me it seems that the idea of an "open" sound ultimately comes back to the issue of fidelity and naturalness. In Harbeth's case, as we've heard a number of times, that seems to include the idea of fidelity not only at normal levels but at very low microtonal levels (owing to the properties of their cone material above all), which may be why they reproduce both natural instrumental tonality and the sense of a natural acoustic (if the recording has one) so well.


    • #32
      Originally posted by EricW View Post
      ...I had been thinking along similar lines in terms of what "open" might mean, but then it occurred to me that the sense of air or space around the performer or in a venue is ultimately a property of the recording, not the speaker. Yes, the speaker should reproduce it, but only if it's there. What if the recording is dry, close-miked, close-up? You wouldn't want a speaker adding an artificial sense of "openness" in that case, I would think.
      This is absolutely correct. Whilst I have in my mind a concept of 'naturalness' I'm far less comfortable with 'openness' as a word whilst I fully appreciate it as a concept and experience. We're down to micro-semantics here. When we talk of someone's personality being open, we are referring to their lack of concealment - we imagine that what we are presented with is the totality of the true inner person, that there isn't a hidden face. And repeated exposure to that person would reinforce (or not) that impression of openness.

      'Naturalness' is a different quality. I don't recognise naturalness as an inner quality (as openness is) but the external manifestation of certain inner thought and personality processes. Taken together then, the inner openness of the speaker lays bare the personality of the speaker and the naturalness of the speaker is the physical manifestation of the speaker's inner personality expressed in the simple traditional constructional no-frills style, the outward presentation in response to different musical situations. You could naturalness is akin to simple, traditional country-clothing where others, less natural, dress themselves up. Could an open personality also be one which is overly concerned with fancy externalisation? I don't think so. Not a truly open personality.You could be disappointed. Since 'naturalness' and beauty are entirely personal matters devoid of any absolute ranking, she could disguise a cold, heartless, closed personality with a cloak of what gentlemen rate as naturalness. The same applies to speakers: a since few of us really know how instruments sound in the raw, we are all exposed to the trickery of the recording engineer and hall can seduce with the illusion of naturalness. But true openness cannot be faked - it is an inherent quality of the heart, not the cloak.

      This suggests to me that the inner quality of openness can (perhaps) coexist with the external quality of naturalness, as it does with Harbeth speakers. But were we to take the very same open-sounding core elements of cone and crossover and mount them in a Beau Brummell cabinet, would we still appreciate the same naturalness of sound? I wonder. Surely part of the Harbeth experience is the absence of pretention, and that reflects back on the personality, and openness.

      I am concerned that whilst openness is bound up with the essential core qualities of the parts, the naturalness may be faked and hence fool the listener. Perhaps some musical examples would illustrate this. (I'm working on them)

      P.S. Consider this. If you spot a pretty girl across the street, based on her external appearance alone you may, according to your internal ranking system, ascribe her as 'natural' - which as a distant observer you take from certain cues concerning the way she dresses and presents herself to the world. But to begin to rank her 'openness' you need to cross the road and make her acquaintance; then, after some hours, days or weeks form a solid impression about the invisible, internal workings of her personality.

      Many would say that a conventional paper cone speaker with a simple crossover and chipboard box sounded natural. But spend time with such a product and the true personality slowly reveals itself: rather faster if an instantaneous A-B switch-over is used, akin to the 60 second get-to-know speed-dating boy-meet-girl method of rapid comparison.
      Alan A. Shaw
      Designer, owner
      Harbeth Audio UK


      • #33
        Demonstaration of more or less open or natural sound? You decide.

        I've been playing around trying to find a simple audio example that could, perhaps, point us in the direction of 'openness' or 'naturalness' - that magical quality which we here commonly value but have difficulty defining.

        There are two audio clips here. The digital recording was made by Decca at the Kingsway Hall, London. Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20, K466. Vladimir Ashkenazy. Catalogue: 414 337-2.

        Are there any audible differences between these clips? Do you prefer one over the other? Does one or other illuminate the discussion about openness or naturalness in any useful way? The frequency range from low to high extends equally for both clips. This is quite subtle and these two clips are definitely the original and one I have processed. As with all these little demo clips they are just made and checked on my Logitech plastic PC speakers. There is absolutely no need to connect-up your hifi system.

        Version A

        Version B
        Alan A. Shaw
        Designer, owner
        Harbeth Audio UK


        • #34
          Open sound greatly influence by recording ambience

          As a percussionist, "Natural Sound" might be described as sound which mirrors reality. For example the triangle I hear is a 4" being played at the bend or on the flat, the 14" snare drum back beat is alternating between the center of the head and edge, the djembe is a 16", not an 18".

          "Open Sound" might be described as depicting the air and ambience one experiences when listening to a minimally miked direct to disc recording session, such as Dave Grusin's Sheffield Direct to Disc title "Discovered Again!". If any of the forum members have that disc, listen to any cut and hear the air around each instrument, the ambience of the studio room, the 3D-ness of each performance, how the acoustic bass resonates within itself and the room. That is Open Sound!


          • #35
            Naural sound must be highly pesonal - preference #1

            Morning Alan, I think I understand the differentiation you make between openness and naturalness in relation to human traits, personalities, cultures, societies etc but had some difficulty in joining the dots between openess and naturalness, specific to sound and sound through the Harbeths.

            However after listening to both clips, conclusion I reached is. The music presented in both clips sound natural. Ver. A, to my ears, sounds more open than Ver. B. If that is correct then both present the natural sound but in different ways. Presentation then become one of personal preference.

            If that is correct then that leads me to the next question which may perhaps fall outside the scope of this thread. As you say, since few can tell what is the correct sound of a musical instrument, I gather that absolute correctness in tonality/timbre of an instrument does not come into the equation (a Steinway can sound like a Yamaha) in the delivery of natural sound though preferred, natural sound through a pair of speakers is specific to the music, sound a person or society is used to ( a reference). Say someone who has never heard an orchestra and listens purely to rock would reference natural sound to the music he is accustomed to. Therefore natural sound becomes subjective played through a given set of speakers?


            • #36
              The two audio clips - my personal preference (opinion #2)

              IPAD - A sounded better than B but slightly increased in the highs and the violin group sounded bit artificial. If I were to make a quick buying decision based on the first 20 seconds I would probably have chosen A.

              PC Altec Lansing - A sounded better initially but progressively becoming irritating.

              SHL5 - B anytime is natural and my preference.

              For openness, I don't really sense any marked difference in both versions with A having a very negligible edge.



              • #37
                No right or wrong

                Excellent feedback. I think we're moving towards understanding this issue. More comments appreciated please - there are no right or wrong answers here. We are talking about sound, and that's a hugely personal matter. Not only is it personal, but we've seen that the same clips played on different audio equipment give rise to different preferences - just as we'd expect.
                Alan A. Shaw
                Designer, owner
                Harbeth Audio UK


                • #38
                  Preference # 3

                  Initially i preferred A too but after a few listen, B seems less forward & less fatiguing & probably more natural.


                  • #39
                    Opinion 4

                    on the integrated speakers of my iMAC example A sounds better. a little more harsh in the highs, but open and nice. B is a bit more dull.

                    would prefer A on the iMAC

                    Harbeth M40.1-Naim NAC52-Supercap-NAP 135-CDS2-XPS


                    • #40
                      Opinion 5

                      After listened A, B seem more air and "open" due to it more echoey character to my ear. For piano concerto music i prefer A which is more focus on the piano sound.

                      Was listen both clips thru my Samsung galaxy SII built in speaker.
                      Last edited by keithwwk; 11-01-2012, 10:44 AM. Reason: note down speaker used for listening
                      "Bath with Music"


                      • #41
                        Listener preference #6

                        B sounds much more natural, which rich tonal balance and nice decay trails in the piano sound. Nice imaging and spaciousness.

                        A sounds more 'crisp', but in my ears does not sound more open. It just sounds flatter, brighter and more fatiguing. In general, it sounds processed. How do I learn here about openness vs naturalness?

                        B sounds more open AND more natural, despite the tipped up balance of A.


                        • #42
                          Using headphones connected direct to a macbook - comment #7

                          B is more appealing to listen to. A sounds harsher, a bit of a rasp on the string section. But both tracks leave something to be desired especially the piano sounds, as compared to how it would sound live.

                          So would B then be termed more natural?

                          {Moderator's comment: listening on headphones is perfectly OK, but please state (as you have) that you have arrived at your opinion listening on 'phones not speakers. Thanx for the feedback.}


                          • #43
                            Listener comment No. 8

                            Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                            There are two audio clips here. The digital recording was made by Decca at the Kingsway Hall, London. Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20, K466. Vladimir Ashkenazy. Catalogue: 414 337-2.
                            On PC speakers the main difference that leapt out was the slightly "swimmy" quality of the reverberation of version B. Likewise, there seems to be a tad more top in the strings in version B.

                            The extra reverb. (in example B) could cause the strings to acquire this extra HF "sheen", or a little HF might have been removed from version A, dulling down the presentation.

                            I guess that A is the true sound of Kingsway Hall - B sounds a little artificial in comparison.


                            • #44
                              Internal iMac Speakers - Listener #9

                              "A" sounds to me like it was recorded a little farther back in the music hall than "B".

                              {Moderator's comment: I think you mean that the microphones were further away from the performers in the hall. Right?}

                              Reply: Correct.

                              To me, it sounds if the the microphones were farther back and more in the middle of the music hall with clip A than in clip B.


                              • #45
                                Listener comment #10

                                I listened to both clips on my IBM laptop built-in speakers.

                                The immediate impression was that "A" sounded brighter with perhaps more energy weighting in the HF band and the piano sounded ever so percussive. Upon further listening back and forth comparing both clips, I confirmed "A" as bright and fatiguing - something which does not match my experience of classical music performance in a hall.

                                Both "A" and "B" are Open, yet I felt "B" closer to what I thought as real music performance, i.e. natural sound.

                                In other words, to me, "B" is Natural and Open. "A" is Open but not so natural.