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Thread: UK hifi shows and exhibitions

  1. #21
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    Default Blaming the Show rooms - or accepting unfamiliarity with them

    Quote Originally Posted by weaver View Post
    The most common reason for poor sound at shows that I see put forward is to blame the rooms...
    My comments about the rooms at the show relate to how unfamiliarity with them leads to a lot of difficulty assessing - in any meaningful way - the sound of the electronics being shown. As Alan states earlier, the average domestic living room will contribute 60% to the sound heard. The speakers another 40%. That doesn't leave any room for equipment sound but I assume they are rough figures.

    If the 'untreated' rooms at the show were contributing 60% to the sound and the rolled-off speakers the other 40% I think we can say that the sound at the show was that of blurry, unfamiliar rooms and speakers voiced with some kind of fashionable agenda in mind. Listening to Alan's recording through headphones confirms this for me.

    Of course, the unfamiliarity makes the room seem blurry and unpleasant to us. There are too many reflections that are unlike our own listening rooms. But spend a few weeks living in the hotel and I'm sure our brain's would adjust to the acoustic just like we have done at home.

    That doesn't mean any room will do as long as you get used to it. The advice to damp the room well will still get a much better result, with less room sound, more speaker sound. I was surprised at the relative lack of damping/treatment in most rooms at Bristol. Some seem to think that damping a room sucks the life out of the music - maybe this is why they build dull-sounding speakers. I'd rather use well-balanced speakers (Harbeth) in a well-damped room than dull speakers in a lively room. And results would surely be a lot more consistent too.

  2. #22
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    Default Reviewing the show experience (1)

    Quote Originally Posted by weaver View Post
    ...Another request of Alan I'm afraid: if you were given a room at the show today could you take along a pair of Harbeths and doctor them such that they resembled what you heard last week? Without actually substituting different drivers would it be possible to adjust the crossover so that the sound fell in line with the 'sound of 2011'. The reason I ask is simply to get a better understanding of where the the 'sparkle' and 'musical engagement' are located sonically.
    I've been mentally toying with these types of questions in my mind for the last few days. There is a great temptation to clutch at 'solutions' or remedies based on what could be inaccurate observations on my part. So I've been trying to drag up from my audio memory as much of the show experience as I can recall. Just as I start to work-up some sort of theory or at least explanation for what I heard, I recall an experience there which doesn't neatly fit the nascent theory. So the theory is just downright wrong. A theory needs to explain every similar observation not just the ones we conveniently want to explain away.

    So, "a few steps backwards" as I often say! Let's review the 'facts' or at least, what purport to be honest factual observations. Let's assume (a very good starting point) that if we look closely at those 'facts' we'll see an inconsistency in observation which drives a cart and horses through our grand theory.

    1) I and P stepped off the cold street (about 8 degs C) into the warm, bustling hotel.
    2) We were bombarded with sound from all directions plus normal to loud conversations talking over the music
    3) We made our way by lift or stairs to about the 2nd floor sampling most rooms playing audio
    4) The rooms were hot and stuffy. They were generally crowded. The entrance passageway was often choked and we could only gain admission when others departed.
    5) Most rooms had soft chairs, curtain drapes covering most wall surfaces (to improve the cosmetics and project a corporate colour scheme)
    6) The speakers were generally facing the entrance passageway
    7) The selection of music varied from room to room
    8) It was not expected from previous experience of hotel shows that the bass or lower midrange performance in such rooms would sound great - bass/lower mid issues were generally present and not especially troubling
    9) Nothing sounded like real musicians in the room playing for the audience - this would have been an unrealistic expectation
    10) Most rooms played far too loud. This was necessary to attract visitors and a volume war was the result. Exhibitors were reluctant to close the door to reduce external noise
    11) Demo rooms that played (acoustic) music at a normal appropriate domestic level sounded quiet to the point of inaudibility
    12) In such quiet rooms, a considerable effort of willpower and act of faith on the part of the visitor was needed to acclimatise to a replay loudness many decibels below the average for the show. Several minutes were required to begin to hear any detail at all - the initial impression was of a tiny transistor-radio like sound solely because the ear had been bombarded in other rooms
    13) The impression formed after the first few rooms that there was a inadequate amount of 'sparkle'. P pointed out that certain bell and high hat sounds on familiar recordings seemed to be completely missing
    14) I was aware of the typical cone-coloration-darkness of tone which standard drivers - no matter how pretty or expensive - inevitably suffer from.

    So that's for starters. What do we make of that? Where have my observations failed me?

    As you can see, setting aside the bass and midrange performance which are always a little or a lot sub-optimal in a normal room, the two real issues are to do with the upper middle/presence region and the top end.

    As to what I would do to down-spec a pair of Harbeths to give a similar generic sound at the show I would deliberately set the tweeter a couple of dBs lower than normal, roll off the top with a filter starting at about 7kHz or so, and I'd either glue or staple an empty cotton pillowcase over the bass/midrange driver or I'd punch a hole in the speaker's frequency response (by disturbing the crossover) at around the crossover frequency. That would introduce the darkness of tone which is so very typical of hifi speakers using standard drive units. I'd take care not to cover the tweeter, so that the overall effect is of a roughly normal bass and midrange, a depressed presence region with dull harmonics and transients but the illusion of upper detail from the tweeter. Avoiding this sonic darkness issue is really at the heart of why we don't use bought-in bog standard cones. I've tried my best to explain why we are so certain that the fundamental character of a speaker can be no better than the bass/mid cone material here and here before, but it's one of those things you have to experience yourself to really appreciate. The electrifying shock comes from reverting back to the conventional speaker technology after an hour or two with the Harbeth sound. I very much doubt that anyone would willingly wish to remain in a dank sonic dungeon when they have breathed fresh air in the sunlight.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  3. #23
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    Default Shows, arriving early to listen and equipment partnering

    Many thanks for the reply Alan, that's exactly the sort of detail I was after.

    the two real issues are to do with the upper middle/presence region and the top end
    Given that you (the two of you) noted some particular difference this year, it struck me that although we are aware of the benefits of Harbeth's RADIAL driver it's not something that any other manufacturer has ever had; the qualities of that driver will have been missing from other speakers all along (ie. in previous years). This situation may have been exacerbated by other factors this year though.

    I may have read a little too much into what you are saying, but I think there is a suggestion that the way shows (or this particular show at least) are conducted at present is a major contributory factor here; which is to say that even in those rooms where a 'good' sound may have been heard, the cumulative effect of the rest of the environment was such that much of the quality was lost.

    To return to my experience as a visitor, if there is anything I specifically want to hear I try to get there as soon as the doors open. I hadn't yet realised how important this was when I visited the Harbeth room in 2005, but having made a mental note to return later in the day, by the time 'later' arrived I don't think I was in a fit state to listen to anything properly.

    Coming back to the 'grand theory' (by which I assume we are talking about a possible 'sound of 2011') it is fair to say that fashions in audio do change over the years and that similarly the goals of audio manufacturers may change along with them.

    Would it be fair to say that for the past 30 years Harbeth has had a consistent goal, that it has known what it wants to do and has stuck to those aims?

    One last illustration from my own experience: the UK company that I bought an amp and CD player from getting on for ten years ago had a reputation for clear, detailed sound (according to people who liked them) or somewhat forward and bright (to those who didn't). When I first saw them at a show they were using speakers that had a similar reputation with the result that if you liked it, you really liked it, but if you didn't it re-affirmed your dislike.

    Some years later they switched to a different brand of speaker and when I asked why I was told that the feedback from dealers was that this was what a lot of customers were in fact partnering the equipment with. Now, there may well be other commercial factors behind such a switch, but the effect was to 'tone down' the presentation at the show - in my view a sensible thing to do as I had been finding the demonstrations a bit much even though I already owned items from the brand.

  4. #24
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    Default Fatigue at shows - and in recording

    Quote Originally Posted by weaver View Post
    ...Given that you (the two of you) noted some particular difference this year, it struck me that although we are aware of the benefits of Harbeth's RADIAL driver it's not something that any other manufacturer has ever had; the qualities of that driver will have been missing from other speakers all along (ie. in previous years). This situation may have been exacerbated by other factors this year though....
    As mentioned, it is many years since we exhibited at the Bristol show. Someone suggested we were there in 2005 - I very much doubt it but I may be wrong. I thought it was at least ten, possibly twelve years ago. It certainly seems a long time. So what we don't know is ....

    1. Is my general unfamiliarity with (UK) hifi shows a factor?
    2. Is there something particular about UK hifi shows or this specific show?
    3. Have there actually been 'cultural' changes in the sound heard at (UK) hifi shows since I last looked-in
    4. Am I going deaf?!

    I caution you about drawing valid conclusions from what was just a few hours immersion. I absolutely do not like being in small, hot, noisy claustrophobic spaces and I'm sure that my ears were fatigued within minutes.

    Incidentally, I enquired about the unusually poor sound on a big, live TV show recently. The explanation was that mid week the entire experienced (read: older) production/sound mixing team had been replaced at the producer's demand. The new young sound team had worked enthusiastically without sleep for 36 hours. When they proudly handed over their mixes they were extremely bass light to the point of being unbroadcastable. The chief sound engineer - a wise old bird who guessed what had transpired - did his best rescue job on the mix but it still sounded odd. Listening exposure at loud levels results in fatigue which skews ones perception of what sounds 'right'. The sort of sound levels at the show were far, far higher than we would normally experience at home. This could effect any part of the sonic spectrum, not only the bass end. It is, after all, a protective mechanism in the ear which turns-on as nature intended.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  5. #25
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    Default On or Off Axis?

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    I caution you about drawing valid conclusions from what was just a few hours immersion. I absolutely do not like being in small, hot, noisy claustrophobic spaces and I'm sure that my ears were fatigued within minutes......
    Did you get a chance to judge the speakers sitting at the sweet spot? I find some speakers are highly directional so much so if you are more than 30 degrees off axis the highs disappear.

    ST

  6. #26
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    Default 'Am I going deaf?' and adequate sound at hifi shows ....

    'Am I going deaf ? ' is something I sometimes ask myself when auditioning new speakers. I am always on the hunt for new, good product but for me, there are precious few good speakers on the market. My reality check comes when customers agree with my opinions about the sound.

    As for the Shows, it's many years since I have heard decent sounds at a Show and I mean 'decent' not good or great.

  7. #27
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    Default The unfamiliarity of ..... everything

    Quote Originally Posted by hifi_dave View Post
    'Am I going deaf ? ' is something I sometimes ask myself when auditioning new speakers. I am always on the hunt for new, good product but for me, there are precious few good speakers on the market. My reality check comes when customers agree with my opinions about the sound.

    As for the Shows, it's many years since I have heard decent sounds at a Show and I mean 'decent' not good or great.
    Ummmm.

    Did you get a chance to judge the speakers sitting at the sweet spot? I find some speakers are highly directional so much so if you are more than 30 degrees off axis the highs disappear
    I made a bit of an effort and yes, you are right that one should try and judge listning on axis at the sweet spot. But even though I didn't often sit down (couldn't, room too full) even standing, my hand held mic was intentionally aimed at the tweeter of the nearest speaker.

    You know, in the days when we did exhibit (an who knows, we may again in the UK) over three or four days you osberve all sorts of interesting comments from visitors. The most interesting ones are those they make to each other, when arriving as a listening team. Earlier in this tread we noted how the rooms distrurb the sound of even the finest equipment. Somone noted that the unfamiliarity of the room combined with the unfamilarity of the system (and music) mean that to draw valid conclusions is unwise - by all means build a shortlist but then go and verify that with a listenings session at your dealers.

    There is one comment that I've heard a few times and it completely baffles me. A guest will arrive, completely ignore the speakers and cast a long critical or approving eye over the electronics and the speaker cable. Then, based on ten seconds of listening to unfamiliar music in an unfamiliar room with 'invisible' speakers announce to his chum or the audience or staff that 'Ah ha! I thought so! I could tell from standing in the corridor that they were using XYZ brand amp and ABC brand speaker cable! See - I'm right ....'. Should I play along or just zip it?! We were never sure if it was intended to be serious.

    The point was well made earlier that humans are remarkably adept at acclimatising to sensory input. We can adjust to just about anything, even persistent pain. That alone explains why there are so many choices of audio equipement, to suit all tastes. And that must be a good thing. There is no such thing as a perfect loudspeaker, but there is a good choice for your room, your tastes and your personal definition of the 'being there' experience.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  8. #28
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    Default Grab them freebies!

    When manning rooms at various Hi-Fi shows over the years, I have observed that approx 50% of the visitors to the rooms take a cursory glance at the equipment then dive at the brochures. These they carefully stuff into the freebie plastic carrier bag with hundreds of other leaflets and off they go to the next room to grab some more goodies.

    They are far more interested in the brochures than they are in listening to the equipment.

    It's a man thing !!!

  9. #29
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    Default Room correction .... the room is so important ...

    One of the many things I've learned from the HUG (and from this thread) is the critical importance of the room to the final sound, whether it's at home or in a concert hall. It's one of those points that doesn't seem to be discussed a great deal amongst audiophiles, but seems completely obvious and self-evident once you "get it" (or have had it properly explained to you).

    That being so, I wonder if this would be something that Harbeth could incorporate into its plans for the future. Is there a way to offer a room analysis product at a sensible price, which would be complementary to and synergistic with specific Harbeth products? Maybe a software package, maybe a module built into a Harbeth integrated amplifier, maybe something else?

  10. #30
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    Default DSP and self-strangulation

    Quote Originally Posted by EricW View Post
    One of the many things I've learned from the HUG (and from this thread) is the critical importance of the room to the final sound, whether it's at home or in a concert hall. It's one of those points that doesn't seem to be discussed a great deal amongst audiophiles, but seems completely obvious and self-evident once you "get it" (or have had it properly explained to you).

    That being so, I wonder if this would be something that Harbeth could incorporate into its plans for the future. Is there a way to offer a room analysis product at a sensible price, which would be complementary to and synergistic with specific Harbeth products? Maybe a software package, maybe a module built into a Harbeth integrated amplifier, maybe something else?
    Well, you've reminded me of some experiments we made last year with such a system. The results that surprised the demonstrators who brought it here and had hauled it around numerous other speaker companies in Europe was not the room and it's correction (it's rather live by comparison with many 'professional' listening rooms) but by how little digital correction was needed with the Harbeth speakers (P3ESR and M40.1 as I recall). They checked several times that the system was actually engaged and doing its DSP room correction. The difference in/out was small. That is, it was small untill you switched back and forth twenty times (using a foot switch, no sonic break) when you finally 'got' the difference. They concluded that it was something to do with the superiority of the RADIAL cone material: they'd heard massive in/out differences elsewhere.

    So it can be made to work. But do you think after the crushing defeat I suffered here last year over the amp (which resulted in moderation bing turned on) that I'm going to put my head in that noose again? Not bleeding likely!
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  11. #31
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    Default Abandoned (?) amplifier project

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    So it can be made to work. But do you think after the crushing defeat I suffered here last year over the amp (which resulted in moderation bing turned on) that I'm going to put my head in that noose again? Not bleeding likely!
    Sorry if this is off-topic Alan, maybe there is a thread elsewhere I could have found. I noticed you mentioned the Harbeth amplifier. I read something about it on another thread a while ago but did not know you had pulled the idea completely. What happened? What exactly was the crushing defeat? I remember reading lots of rabid audiophile-type questioning of the plan and people seeming to get confused over details even though you kept repeating and reiterating your position. If it is a sensitive issue for Harbeth then I apologise in advance for bringing it up again. I would buy a Harbeth amplifier, I'm sure, and was just curious about the whole idea.

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    Default (Don't remind me of the amp, link)

    Quote Originally Posted by GregD View Post
    Sorry if this is off-topic Alan, maybe there is a thread elsewhere I could have found. I noticed you mentioned the Harbeth amplifier...
    Here's the link:

    http://www.harbeth.co.uk/usergroup/s...beth+amplifier

    Sebastien

  13. #33
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    Default Harbeth Integrated Amplifier

    Quote Originally Posted by Sebastien View Post
    Thanks for pointing out the link Sebastien. I've just read the whole thread. Sore eyes and a headache now! Well, all I can say is that I hope and pray to high-heaven that the Harbeth amplifier sees the light of day soon.

  14. #34
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    Default Harbeth amplifier?

    To follow on from GregD's post, I too am sorry the project died. I won't presume to judge Alan's reaction to the HUG response, but going back and reading the thread, there did seem to be a lot of positive feedback, as well as some confusion and perhaps misplaced criticism.

    I for one would be very interested were this product ever to make it to market. I have a high regard for the values underlying the Harbeth brand, and would pretty much buy it on faith.

  15. #35
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    Default Positive comments about Harbeth amplifier

    I thought there was a lot of positive comment too. But for some reason the issue got hijacked and turned into a message board about audiophile nervosa, cynicism for the high-end and assumptions/concerns about the Harbeth amplifier's 'sound-quality'. I can well sympathise with Alan's frustration.

    It was clear as day that Alan did not intend it to be the silver bullet for obsessed, nervous audiophiles so that they'd never need another amp. These people will not be satisfied with ANY amplifier. These people's problem is psychological - not sound or music related (although they think it is). They'd be better off spending money on a psychotherapist to help them understand and deal with their difficulty, I'm serious.

    A lot of people here say they have got off the upgrade merry-go-round but according to that thread it seems the only thing they've stopped buying is speakers because they've discovered Harbeth. Everything else in the chain is still up for grabs.

    Why people could not see the Harbeth amplifier project for what it was and accept it on those terms I do not know. A lot of people only saw it in the context of their high-end worry-bubble and needlessly commented on issues irrelevant to the amps target market, derailing the whole project.

    It would have been a neat solution for pragmatic, realist music lovers. Sufficient in the Rolls Royce sense. When a confused person asks the HUG "Which amp do I buy?" Alan's advice about "anything competent and well-designed" is often invoked. Offering a Harbeth amplifier is consistent with that advice. To that answer he/we could now add "our integrated will be entirely sufficient for all models of Harbeth speakers". I see no reason why that advice should be contentious or wrong - then or in the future. Let's cross our fingers...

  16. #36
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    Default The amp was much more than an amp ....

    Quote Originally Posted by GregD View Post
    ...It was clear as day that Alan did not intend it to be the silver bullet ...
    Surely one of the most insightful and pertinent contributions ever made here on the HUG. Maybe at some point in the future we should look again at the Harbeth amplifier. What Alan didn't say, or did not want to admit at the time was that the Harbeth amp was conceived as a launch platform for a DSP concept he'd been playing with. He always has a reason for doing things. Stifling the amp concept killed the DSP platform. A real pity for Harbeth users and a real shame that those on the sidelines did not speak up in support. That is human nature I guess.

  17. #37
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    Default The psychotherapist and the quest

    Quote Originally Posted by GregD View Post
    ...These people will not be satisfied with ANY amplifier. These people's problem is psychological - not sound or music related (although they think it is). They'd be better off spending money on a psychotherapist to help them understand and deal with their difficulty, I'm serious...
    I think that we must be cautious here. The need for a psychotherapist should be base on a problem that brings suffering to someone. Plus, it affects in a negative way one or more spheres of his life: personnal, social, work, etc. When someone is in a hobby, like many of us in audio, he can have a real pleasure to experiment different set-up in that infinite quest of the "Grail".

    Sebastien

  18. #38
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    Default Music is important, time is short ...

    I don't disagree that trying lots of different equipment is interesting and exciting if you are a hi-fi hobbyist. However, people posting in the Harbeth amplifier thread spoke of "mental torture" and "suffering".

    Endless frustrating endevours to feel happy with their system, even though they are more or less 'there' by choosing Harbeths did not sound like people enjoying a leisurely promenade through the high-end's wares. We are talking about people who cannot properly enjoy their music even though they have - in some cases - spent tens of thousands of dollars perhaps over decades. This is IMO a psychological problem that evidently causes distress, rumination, financial burden and a lot of frustration - these feelings could easily have wider implications in other areas of life too.

    As you will agree, music is very important to most of us here and our lifetime is finite. If we can't enjoy our favourite music (which should be therapeutic, to quote AS) because of this problem, then we are wasting our precious time by not enjoying it to the full and experiencing the full emotional connection to music.

    As time is the most precious commodity we have, I feel a bit sad when I hear of people who have taken decades to reach satisfaction with their hi-fi systems. That is a terrible waste. If someone can be helped out of the audiophile nervosa trap (eg. by a therapist - as ludicrous as that may sound) then that can only be a good thing. And in many cases, cheaper!

    I feel very fortunate to have learnt about Harbeth speakers and a more rational, sensible approach to hi-fi at a relatively young age. It sounds as if you have too Sebastian - I hope we both have many decades of wonderful listening ahead of us!

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    Default A hobby-life balance.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sebastien View Post
    I think that we must be cautious here ... When someone is in a hobby, like many of us in audio, he can have a real pleasure to experiment different set-up in that infinite quest of the "Grail".
    That's a good point but I do wonder if chasing that grail you write of can sometimes take a really worrying hold on someone to the detriment of their life. I've certainly seen the never-ending quest get its long fangs deeply into the tragically afflicted making them extremely miserable and financially empoverished. That can't be right can it? Almost all of that could be avoided if the consumer showed more skepticism and less gullibility - nothing more of less than that is needed. Many human conflicts have their roots in one group of individuals hoodwinking another.

    As I mentioned a few posts back, we at Harbeth try to provide solutions to those wishing to get off the audio merry-go-round. It seems to work. We regularly recieve very touching calls, letters and emails from those who have terminated their dependence by gravitating to a pair of Harbeths. We haven't pushed our solution on them, they've discovered it for themselves. But we're not a social service; we're a business. And one which is growing solving this particular problem. So that's a win-win I'd say.

    If you want to become involved with a pretty girl - go for it. Or to buy a fancy car or some hifi equipment - great! There is absolutely no need to justify it to others. But when that justification motivates other to spend their precious money chasing your dream, not theirs, that's when the anxiety takes hold. Dream your own dream. Solve your own needs.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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    Default The illusion "our dream, our needs"

    I read Alan's and Greg's posts two times. I retain from Alan that we should do this hobby for ourselves "Our dreams, our needs." and it shouldn't be at the detriment of our life. Plus, Harbeth offers a way to go away that infinite merry-go-round audiophile trick. I must say that it's one of the rare company to do this. From what I know.

    To continue on hifi shows, I always have a lot of respect for demonstrators that show you a good system at a realistic price. Coincidence, last year at the SSI in Montreal, the cheapest set-up I'm and remind was the one from our local Harbeth dealer, Son Ideal. They were showing the C7ES-3 with a Rega P3-24 turntable and a Rogue Audio Cronus amplifier. By the word of many, that was one of the best sound of the show and... one of the most economic set-up.

    I come back on Greg's last post, I retain from him that many hobbyists have frustration with their systems and it limits their appreciation of music. Like him, music sits at the top of my pyramid. Then, there are the lives shows, then there is hifi at home, but priority to music. The gear is there to help us attain a more realistic illusion of live music intent by their musicians. Harbeth's a part of this.

    Sébastien

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