"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 Science behind (High End) Audiopairing - a fantasy….

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  • The Science behind (High End) Audiopairing - a fantasy….

    The Science behind (High End) Audiopairing - a fantasy….

    This morning I saw a TV documentary about foodpairing and the science behind it and I immediately saw analogies with choice of audio equipment and the difficulties it can bring in decisionmaking processes.
    What makes strawberries and chocolate go well together? In analogy to audio: What makes CD player X pair well with Amplifier Y and Speaker Z?

    In several threads on this forum attempts are made to find ‘objective standards’ and strategies to measure audio equipment, to help finding the ‘best’ matches of audio gear to ultimately get that ‘desired & perfect’ sound out of the -of course ;-)- Harbeth speakers. Maybe the ‘fantasy’ below generates some new ideas and approaches within the world of audio?

    Let's talk foodpairing first....

    Foodpairing is a scientific method to identify which foods & drinks go well together. While writing this ‘Fantasy for audiophiles and -engineers’ I want to figure out if the scientific methods used in foodpairing can help finding parameters for a scientific methodology to pair audio devices.
    The foodpairing guys and girls state with good reason that to understand why ingredients match (vegetables, fish, meat, spices, wine, ….) it's important to know how humans perceive flavour.
    That is also true for the ‘ingredients’ of audio equipment: How do humans perceive sound?

    On this spot there should appear now a chart with a whole bunch of input-, throughput- and output- audio equipment and some lines that pair a few of them together, but the reader has to use his imagination at this moment.

    Our sound experience is complex and evolves most of our 5 senses - if not all! In order of importance and highest sensation:
    1. hearing: expectations of naturalness, transparancy, soundstage, ….
    2. sight: impact of the design
    3. taste: of music
      And maybe -figuratively speaking-:
    4. smell: primary -very first- impression of the sound and equipment on first sight(?)
    5. touch: functionality(?)

    In the context of foodpairing humans are able to differentiate up to 10.000 different odors through the sense of smell. With our ears we can differentiate between countless sounds that consist of one or more frequencies (Hz). Aroma’s are volatile, but sounds are even more volatile which has its consequences.
    What aroma’s are for food are frequencies for (music) listening. Frequencies are the key drivers of our musical experience and therefor crucial for the synergy of audio equipment. (I am pretty sure that I am kicking in an open door at the moment for most of the readers, but it must be done).

    As a starting point for their scientific research the foodpairing guys created a database with an aroma profile for each ingredient, e.g. a strawberry. They used -I quote-: “gas chromatography coupled mass spectrometry (GC-MS)” of which I have absolutely no idea what that means. From the results these scientists extracted the ‘aroma data’ that is relevant to the human sense of smell.
    In other words: a strawberry contains a few dozen aroma’s but, in reality, only a couple of aroma’s stand out clearly and determine that precise strawberry smell. Through enhancing interplay and interaction of different aroma’s the aroma’s creating the typical strawberry smell are a blend of ‘fruity’ (60%, ‘cheesy’ (20%), ‘green’ (8%), roasted (5%), spicy(3%), almond…., citrus….
    In this example it is mainly the fruity, cheesy, green an roasted aromas that are the keys to define that specific smell of strawberry.

    I think that something similar is also the case for sounds produced by instruments and voices coming out of our audio system. (again that open door?)
    If I am right a frequence (tone) in a combination of frequencies from a specific instrument or voice has to reach a certain threshold (loudness) to be audible by humans. That is what makes that the tone ‘A’ or ‘c-minor’ on a cello sound different (has an other ‘aroma’ profile ergo frequency profile) as the same tone from a trumpet or voice. The same goes for chords on a piano or organ. Some frequences stand out.

    With my fanciful head, I can imagine that something similar must be possible for the audio world: Creating sound profiles (read frequency profiles) of instruments and voices. These soundprofiles should be reproducable and than run through each audio-device to measure its output, cought in a chart of some sort, which than can be matched with other audio devices to see in what way they pair.

    Intermezzo: This is the moment where I realize why the single tone/frequence measuring, mentioned in an other thread, didn’t and doesn’t make any sense to me.

    Where the foodpairing guys use characteristics like ‘fruity,’ ‘cheesy’, citrus, etc. in their charts, there is need -of course- for a different vocabulary that describes the output of a device or a chain of devices, in terms such as ‘transparany’ (x%), ‘warmth’ (x%), ‘forwarding’(x%) and the rest of the phraseology especially reviewers like to use.

    This way, each device that hits the market can get its own scientific objective soundprofile: players, dacs, pre- amplifiers, maybe even cables and -last but not least- speakers.

    As a second step the audiopairing team should use scientific techniques like data analysis and ‘device learning’ to create algorithms that can calculate how well audio devices match with eachother based on their ‘unique’(?) sound-profiles. (maybe the word sound signature covers it better?)

    On this spot in this fantasy there should have appeared a chart with a pair of Harbeth speakers in the middle surrounded by audio devices that could give a desired match.

    Step three would be the design of a kind of ‘Audiopairing Inspiration Tool’ that shows how well combinations of devices match on a soundprofile level by means of a match score.

    That’s how far I have come with my fantasy - it is not finished. Maybe some of you can help finishing it?

    Just to beat the reader to it: Of course the sound experience is influenced by much more than a soundprofile. There are other subjective parameters in play as well, but it could be a means to help stopping the endless spiral of buying ever increasingly expensive devices and put an end to the repetitive tautological nonsense in reviews, not to mention giving peace of mind to potential buyers.

    Some random questions:
    • Does this approach make sense to someone here?
    • Could it work?
    • Does this give sound engineers who have been using the same mindset for many years new idea’s to adjust that mindset?
    • What is missing in this fantasy?

    Share & Enjoy,


    Last edited by winfriend; 20-03-2015, 08:27 AM. Reason: better formatting for better readabillity

  • #2
    System limitations: the recording itself

    Interesting analogies, Winfried, but no - this approach doesn't make sense to me. Assembling an audio system is more straightforward - or, in my opinion, should be - than the elaborate scenario you describe. I think AS has clearly shown us that electronics, CD players (or other music suppliers), and wires have reached essential neutrality in their function. Thus finding components that will function well with Harbeth speakers is simple, and need not be expensive. Aesthetics may play a minor role, but to be honest, when I'm listening to music I'm not looking at my system.

    But by focusing so much attention on these parts of our audio system, I think we're overlooking the true weak link in the chain, the recordings themselves. Admittedly limiting my observations to the sound of acoustic music in a chamber or hall, I would say that only a few of my many recordings convey the naturalness of this sound convincingly without using the most important tool that I have; equalization.

    Since I regularly attend concerts in a good hall (acoustically designed by Russell Johnson) and have a good mid-hall seat, I have a ready reference for natural sound in such a hall. By judicious re-balancing of the frequencies on most recordings, I can get gratifyingly close to the natural sound I hear in performances.

    We've had threads about using equalization to better match speakers to rooms, but little has been said about the problems inherent in recordings themselves. Very large improvements can be made in this area with relatively small investments of money.


    • #3
      The art of recording

      A few days ago I was listening to some CD (DDD) recordings of the Concertgebouw under Bernard Haitink. The Decca recordings sounded fine, with a tight undistorted sound, and anyone would be happy.

      However, only the Philips recordings revealed the hall in all its acoustic splendour, and the orchestra's velvet sound. I don't know what the technical differences were.

      Similarly, I have been impressed by the BBC's recordings in Wigmore Hall, and not so much by recordings elsewhere. So yes, I think all this matters. I am not sure how I could reliably improve on the work of the recording engineer, however. There must be more to it than frequency response.


      • #4
        EQ and sound shaping

        You have more faith in the goals of most audio engineers than I do, Willem (though there are some wonderful exceptions). Even though "there is more to it than frequency response", that is a very important aspect of it, and I have satisfied myself that I can reliably improve upon the work of the recording engineers of most of my recordings.

        I really do suspect that were you to apply equalization to the Decca recording you could achieve the wonderful results that you heard in the Philips recording.

        Of one thing I'm sure; if you begin to experiment with equalization you will quickly begin to recognize just how frequency balance effects the sounds of recordings, and of how important it is.


        • #5
          Halls and mics

          I am indeed deeply disappointed by the quality of many recordings, and all too happy if I hear something wonderful. The hall is of obvious importance, and our local hall is not very good: it sounds like a bad multi-miked recording and unable to cope with the range between very low level and rather loud. But even good halls like the Concertgebouw can sound indifferent in a recording. I'll keep your suggestion in mind, but I suspect it demands more skill than I have.

          Your suggestion reminds me of an anecdote about microphones that I mentioned in the recent microphone thread (that stopped in its tracks). Two rather different microphones were compared, and the tester demonstrated that with a bit of equalization they could be made to sound virtually indistinguishable.


          • #6

            Originally posted by willem View Post
            There must be more to it than frequency response.
            I'm sure there is. I expect, for example, that the balance between direct and reflected sound would be quite influential, and largely affected by the number and placement of the microphones. I wonder if your Decca recordings were simply miked a bit closer than the Philips recordings, and hence are "tight" but also a bit dry.