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Break-in (burn-in) and biwiring - fantasy?

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  • Break-in (burn-in) and biwiring - fantasy?

    I have owned many pairs of speakers over the years. One thing that has been common to all of them is the fact that every speaker experienced some sonic change, usually for the better, after some break in time. Some speakers came to change within just a few hours, some as high a 200 or more before they really opened up. According to direct information from Harbeth, It is my understanding that Harbeth speakers do not experience this change, or need this break in time that is normally associated with most other speakers.

    Although this speaker design is truly different than others, they still operate upon the principles of new drivers and tweeters being employed within a resonant cabinet, should this benefit also be exempt from either the SLH5 or C7se ?.... Owners with real experience, please reply.

    Secondly, how critically are the sonics affected using the bi-wired feature resident on the SLH5 as opposed to simply leaving the jumpers intact a single wired configuration?

    thanks, Gangstadog.

  • #2
    The big 'burn-in' fantasy

    Originally posted by Gangstadog View Post
    ... One thing that has been common to all of them is the fact that every speaker experienced some sonic change, usually for the better, after some break in time...
    The other thing that is common throughout your experiences is you and your ears. It your ears that are being 'broken-in' (burned-in), or to say that in a more friendly way, your ears are acclimatising to the new sound.

    So what is actually going-on inside your brain during this acclimatisation process with other speakers? Simple: your subconscious mind is hearing various acoustic problems which your conscious mind is suppressing. To draw a comparison which also illustrates the way we are programed by evolution - you start to date a pretty girl. For several dates everything is great but slowly your subconscious mind starts to identify characteristics of her nature or personality which your conscious mind has been deliberately suppressing. She is so pretty that you are carried along on a little fluffy cloud of admiration. But inevitably, at some stage in the relationship as you say maybe hundreds of hours later, either your conscious mind wins through and you live happily ever after or your subconscious mind finally takes dominance, casts the deciding vote and you split with the girl. The subconscious mind is far stronger than the conscious one, but it moves slowly. The subconscious works on the conscious mind like woodworm in oak; it always wins given enough time.

    The "burn-in process" does not exist in any real technical sense as I've said here before. It is a marketing man's way of countering your subconscious mind whispering "there is something wrong with these speakers". Those 'something wrong' signatures may be directly measurable - too bright, too hard, too much bass etc. or they may be more subtle colourations that are invisible in the basic acoustic measurements. In any event, this conscious/subconscious battle has to run its course; it can not be accelerated. The best solution is not to waste time fighting speakers with latent problems.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: SLH5 and C7se bi-wire and break in ?

      OK, I think I can percieve what you are saying here. What about the bi-wiring issue regarding HL5's, Are your findings a more complete sound when utilising the bi-wired option, or little matter.

      Gangstadog

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: SLH5 and C7se bi-wire and break in ?

        The bi-wire terminals (tri-wire in the case of the Monitor 40) are provided to allow for consumer choice. Personally I have never used the bi-wire arrangement, even when exhibiting our speakers.

        As you may know, the Compact 7ES3 has just one pair of terminals, and this is the future trend for Harbeth. As far as I know, not one single customer has commented about the reversion from bi-wire to standard wire.

        You can see previous comments from me on bi-wiring here.
        Alan A. Shaw
        Designer, owner
        Harbeth Audio UK

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: The big 'burn-in' fantasy

          Hi Alan,

          Have you tried to compare speakers right out from their boxes and those so-called "burnt-in" ones with the same make and model and at the same space and time?

          I think one's ears and brain getting used to the sound from the same speakers used for a long time by himself does contribute to his experience of the sound "changes". Then such experience is hard to tell as the proof for speaker burn-in process, one of the biggest concerns of audiophiles on speakers...

          Regards,
          mike

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: The big 'burn-in' fantasy

            Originally posted by eelekim View Post
            Have you tried to compare speakers right out from their boxes and those so-called "burnt-in" ones...
            No I have not. I don't need to. I am sticking to my previous comment based on a lifetime of listening to hi-fi and a fairly strong observation of the psychology behind audio evaluation ..... what is really happening is that your brain is acclimatising to the new sound. Furthermore, in the time it takes to set-up and switch over from the old to new speakers you will not be able to remember exactly how they sounded. And if you set them up side by side they will not be at exactly the same place in the room, so obviously they will sound a little different.

            Only a difference in temperature can have a small, very temporary influence on sound i.e. cold speakers delivered from an unheated UPS van will need a few minutes to reach room temperature.

            Ok, let's look at this from your perspective then. Let's assume you are right and that 'burned-in' speakers sound different to fresh ones out of the box. Could you perhaps advance a theory as to which parts inside the speaker have 'aged' and why? If you are right there must be a simple, repeatable physical reason for this process. And also I'd be very interested to know why you think that ageing process only applies to the material parts in a hi-fi speaker and not in say, a camera, guitar or aircraft.
            Alan A. Shaw
            Designer, owner
            Harbeth Audio UK

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: The big 'burn-in' fantasy

              Hi Alan,

              Thanks for your reply. I do respect your expertise on speaker design and experiences in hi-fi. I'm just curious if there is any way to get close to the reality of the burn-in issue, which has been talked about among audiophiles for a long time and still can't be settled. As a matter of fact, I can't tell if the different sounds I heard from my very limited experiences with some so-called "burnt-in" speakers are really from the speakers or just my own mind.

              Our memory surely may not be reliable. That's one of the reasons why test equipment exists. I'm interested in knowing the result of a test on the burn-in issue by test equipment with fresh and "burnt-in" speakers.

              I have no idea on which parts of a burnt-in speaker that may have changed after a period of time that leads to its different sounds as claimed by the general audiophiles. Is it the surround? Or the components of the crossover? Or the enclosure material (e.g. wood)? Or some combination of any or all of them? My guess only, which I think is not so wild.

              I haven't expressed that ageing process happens in speaker only. I've heard from people that acoustic musical instruments made with natural materials (e.g. wood) including acoustic guitar sound different as time goes by even though the difference may not be drastically big. I don't know and haven't heard if ageing process exists in camera, aircraft and other things.

              mike
              Last edited by eelekim; 13-03-2008, 07:21 PM. Reason: Addition and clarification

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: The big 'burn-in' fantasy

                Originally posted by eelekim View Post
                ...I'm just curious if there is any way to get close to the reality of the burn-in issue, which has been talked about among audiophiles for a long time and still can't be settled....
                I have explained the reality of the so-called burn-in issue. As far as loudspeakers that I know of are concerned, the issue is 100% in the mind. It is entirely about acclimatisation. I am so sure of this that I am willing to eat any Harbeth speaker that you or anyone else can demonstrate changes its character after a so-called burn in.

                This is one of those wretched non-issues that has been hijacked by marketeers as a cover for poor speaker design. They've cunningly switched the responsibility from the designer to the consumer saying 'if you, the consumer can't hear how wonderful these speakers are then you, the consumer are in the wrong'. In fact, the design is wrong.

                Speaking as a designer, it is 100% my responsibility - my duty, my job to design you a speaker that you will enjoy from the moment you open the carton. It is not your responsibility to have to endure some half-baked, ill-conceived excuse for a quality speaker for hundreds of hours until you are so ground down by the experience that you can't tell right from wrong. Sorry, but that's the reality - poor design covered-up by marketing BS: that's the top and bottom of the 'burn-in' fantasy!

                =============================

                P.S. I've been thinking through my own listening experiences over many years. It's occurred to me that mine are the completely opposite of the burn-in brigade that you mention. The BIB you say is often seduced over a long period of acclimatisation (or maybe not) - that is, the more they listen the less faults they hear; the less pimples, spots and blemishes they notice on their new speaker girlfriends. However, during either my own product design and development phase (or evaluating other speakers) my personal experience is the exact opposite of the BIB's. Initially I am under my new design's mesmeric spell, because I've created this beautiful baby and it charms me ... but the more I listen the less the spell binds me, the more issues I can hear. Sometimes it takes hours, sometimes days and in the case of a complex speaker months for them to bubble up from my subconscious. Then one has to roll up ones sleeves and resolve those subtle and concealed problems until finally the design is truly ready to go to market. Unresolved issues irritate me. They're unprofessional. But I have the huge luxury of being my own judge, juror and executioner. I never invite anyone to listen at any time during the design phase over perhaps a year or more. How could a brief exposure to a well intentioned visitor contribute meaningfully to the design cycle when it's taken me innumerable hours to identify issues? But that's not the way anyone else I know works - they have pressure form other departments and hence the outcome is a speaker designed by committee with latent technical issues that nobody takes ownership of. And those are the ones that you need to acclimatise to. Not a Harbeth.
                Alan A. Shaw
                Designer, owner
                Harbeth Audio UK

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: The big 'burn-in' fantasy

                  As a humorous aside (hopefully), I know of a once popular speaker that took twenty YEARS to burn in (or out if you prefer).. When new, it had a treble region that could take your fillings out... Twenty years of thrashing later, the tweeters had fatigued and dropped in level to be almost neutral. One of these tweeters failed and it's replacement restored the filling rattling levels - on that one channel only. Fortunaltely, the manufacturer had one more tweeter left...

                  It was suggested in some circles that in tweeters, the ferro-fluid needed to even itself around the gap in which was inserted, but I suppose that's marketing rubbish too.

                  Alan, don't the drive unit suspensions need any work before they reach optimum, or is this done when the units are made?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: SLH5 and C7se bi-wire and break in ?

                    This "20 year burn in tweeter" sounds like simply a bad tweeter to me. And, consequently, a speaker to avoid. In speculating about speaker "burn in", I think one does well to consider what the speaker designer says. With the Harbeth speakers, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to speak directly with the designer. My SHL5s and M40s sounded wonderful from day one.

                    I think we should all be aware that we are involved in a 'hobby' that is based on basic, pretty well unerstood science, but is perceived by many audiophiles as something operating on some more metaphysical - beyond the pale of science - plane. So there will be many who talk of issues such as burn in simply because they 'intuitively' think it makes sense, even though in the electro/mechanical sense it may not. Those involved in the design of audio components are continually trying to give us components that behave properly and predictably from the moment they are 'fired up', while we audiophiles are continually looking for reasons why they should require a certain amount of masochistic suffering - and/or tweaking - on our part before we're able to fully appreciate them. Perhaps this is a remnant of the Protestant Ethic, whereby we feel we can only experience enjoyment after an obligatory period of discomfort and work (tweaking).

                    As I said earlier, I loved my Harbeths as much the day I first listened to them as I do today. And that also applies to my electronics and wires as well. From their beginnings in my system, they simply disappeared from my awareness and left the music.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: SLH5 and C7se bi-wire and break in ?

                      True. Audiophiles like to torture themselves with neverending worries about and changes to the whole system and the individual components and think they can be able to get greater and greater joy after what they have been going through. It's more a psychological than physical thing. I'm afraid such thing is hard to be "fixed" by facts and sound scientific reasoning. Simply helpless. But if the audiophiles love music as well, the situation should be better as their concern can be focused into music. If they like wine too, it should be even better. :P

                      But the fact that one loves what a speaker sound from day one doesn't mean its sound doesn't change as time goes by. He can still love its changed sound as long as the sound has not changed towards the way they don't like. However, does the sound really change as a result of the burn-in process? According to Alan, there is even no such process. But to be frank, it may be rather not easy for a speaker designer to investigate into the case as it can be a threat to his designs and make him insecure. On the contrary, as Alan says, it can be a marketing way to cover the sad fact of a probably poor design and at the same time the heart and mind of the designer has to be sacrificed unfortunately.

                      I love my M30 for all the gorgeous music it has been bringing to me from the very first moment it sang too. As I'm writing now, Johnny Hartman is singing behind me with a natural and open sound. The sound is so natural and open that I'm simply touched. :)

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Michael Faraday and the Scientific Method ... (running-in speakers?)

                        All noted.

                        Now my friend, we can not progress the subject until you take up my challenge which was .... 'tell me which parts of the speaker could physically age, could 'burn-in'. In other words, which physical components are unstable? Then we can together try and understand why, using the same or similar components planes don't drop out of the sky, boats don't sink and cars don't veer off the road. Resistors, capacitors, coils, circuit board, wiring, cabinet, terminals are exceedingly stable with perfectly defined characteristics. So what could the source of this instability be? I'm baffled.

                        Once identified, let's take our discoveries to the Royal Institution lecture theatre where for over 200 years ordinary people have been encouraged to demonstrate their discoveries to their peers and answer questions. The RI is definitely the place to explain our discovery! I'll lay down the ?1000 booking fee for the RI Theatre. We'll invite the science correspondents from all the national newspapers, specialist engineering magazines, TV and radio to observe the gravely worrying phenomena that loudspeakers age in a way quite different to other physical systems and hence do not seem to obey the rules of normal physics. I guess that we'd better invite Boeing and Airbus too as what we report may have serious public safety implications!

                        Conclusion: feelings or opinions, even very strongly held ones that claim to be 'scientific fact' yet that cannot be attributed to some sort of practical working theory (even if it proves to be wrong after more investigation) are unhelpful and in scientific terms, worthless. Worse, they confuse the consumer. The audio industry makes physical products: we should all use the tools and descriptive language that science has available to define, explain and improve those products. The proper way to move engineering forward is by careful observation and the master of that was Michael Faraday*. We are all capable of observing as he did in 1845. He had no formal training yet our entire modern life is based on his studies of electromagnetism and chemistry. The Scientific Method is available to every man: you do not need any qualifications to be a first rate scientist, but you do need discipline and curiosity. From your observations you develop a working hypothesis and then ceaselessly test it and refine it during your entire working life. That leaves behind something of value that the next generation can get their teeth into. There is no shame in revising a theory but you have to have a theory! We badly need some sort of theory in the 'burn-in' debate!

                        * Prof. Farday left behind voluminous notebooks in which he meticulously recorded his many experiments and detailed observations. Remarkably, throughout his entire work and numerous discoveries (including electromagnetism and what is now quantum mechanics) there is not one single equation. Putting numbers to Faraday's observations was Maxwell's great contribution. We also don't need maths, but we do need intellectual rigour.

                        My plea is that real science is not just about numeracy (which puts it far beyond the ordinary man i.e. me) but about the discipline of making reliable, repeatable observations isolated from emotions. Anyone can train themselves to do that. Elements of the audio industry have spun the yarn that hi-fi products are above and beyond scientific reason. This has had unforgivable consequences: the alienation of the public (especially women) towards hi-fi and high-end audio which they associate with geeky gurus, and the decline in the importance of quality audio to society generally as we've slid into the MP3 culture. More logic. More careful observations. More honesty; that has to be our future.

                        March 2008
                        Alan A. Shaw
                        Designer, owner
                        Harbeth Audio UK

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Michael Faraday and the Scientific Method ...

                          Have any of said that any of the components in a Harbeth monitor are unstable? None to my knowledge.

                          I did, however, think that perhaps the suspension (spider and surround) may need a few "cycles" before they reached optimum from first assembly. This may be taken care of when the unit is first tested. I also have first hand experience of fatigued tweeters (I should have been able to measure the drop in output from "nominal" as some sort of "proof" but I didn't).

                          One of the things that set Harbeth and its owners apart is that "we" tend to be a very reasonable and intelligent bunch, who love their speakers so much that the last thing they want to do with them is abuse them in any way. As a result of this, a pair of Harbeths should have a much longer life in use than a typical "head bangers" speaker.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Michael Faraday and the Scientific Method ...

                            I actually said, "...tell me which parts of the speaker could physically age, could 'burn-in'. In other words, which physical components are unstable".

                            Something that ages must, by definition, be fundamentally unstable. Just what components in a speaker system are the source of that instability? It is taken for granted that the suspension of the bass unit may soften by a measurable 5% or so at very low frequencies but without any audio consequence. So, the promoters of the 'burn-in changes sound' argument must be referring to their perception of audible changes in the middle and upper frequencies, well clear of the room's influence.

                            Perhaps before we shoot off on a tangent we really should hold back for some answers as to just what inside the speaker could make these ageing differences - yet at the same time be unmeasurable and not applicable to other man-made equipment?
                            Alan A. Shaw
                            Designer, owner
                            Harbeth Audio UK

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Michael Faraday and the Scientific Method ...

                              I was going to use a quote from elsewhere about how a well known European bass/mid unit changes measurably during the first few hours of use, but then realised that it probably wouldn't apply to a Harbeth drive unit.

                              To be fair, a pair of speakers I owned for four years until I married went back to the manufacturer for checking just before I reluctantly passed them on and they measured exactly the same as the day they were made (the bass units are run at 5Hz for a short time when first assembled however...)

                              [edit] I've done some reading on the main Harbeth site and it appears that the spider assembly needs a short while to "adjust" to its role, after which it settles down for life..

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