One man's natural is not always another mans ....
Thanks for your feedback on this particular pair. I've looked at the pictures, taken a look at rosewood speakers on the production line today and am now in a better position to comment.
Originally Posted by engjoo
First: As my staff well know, the cosmetic appearance of any veneer greatly depends upon the type of light falling on it. A standard incandescent bulb, a modern CF bulb, a fluorescent strip light and natural sunlight will all present the veneer in a different way, and some will emphasise features that others will completely mask. A camera flashlight does magnify grain features. So in production both at the cabinet makers and at Harbeth, the selection and positioning of factory lighting and its proximity to the cabinets has a very large influence on what grain features we can actually see, what we think of them, whether they are truly natural (as your is), whether they evidence avoidable human errors (scratches) and so on. A cabinet that would sail through inspection under incandescent lighting may reveal multiple issues when viewed under halogen lamps (or vice versa) and not only that, the angle of incidence (and polarity) of the lighting critically effects appearence too. So for these reasons, there cannot ever be a hard, black and white QC pass/fail for veneered cabinets. If only it were that simple! Trined humans must make decisions on pass/fail and naturally, they will have their own tastes, preferences and likes/dislikes.
Second: What we are really weeding out from production is cabinets that evidence the occasional human error such as too much/too little lacquer. When working with natural materials we have laid down a fairly wide range of cosmetics that we will accept* from our suppliers and providing the cabinets meet our basic QC requirements we will accept and pass on a significant variation in vener characteristics. Most fall withing a general range, but inevitably a few are at the extremes of nature - and I'd say that yours is just that. The veneer leaf that forms your pair (matched, left to right speaker) records something unusual and interesting in the life of that tree. It's not really our role to discriminate against that tree, but I completely understand that this unique pair may not be to your personal taste. Personally, I like the idea of owning a pair with a grain that will never, ever be seen again: but that's just my preference.
Third: I hestiate to show you pictures, even videos, of the destruction of (rosewood) cabinets which failed QC on 'human error' grounds, which have rather neutral and standard veneers. But you are right - we occasionally get into protracted disagreements with cabinet suppliers over issues where we put our foot down and they say 'natural feature'. Clearly they have no use for the occasional returns from us that fall into that category and they know that if we were to really push the issue and it went to court, we'd be unlikely to win: refusal to pay just because we don't like a natural veneer pattern just wouldn't stand-up. We have no choice: to protect the Harbeth brand image we sometimes just have to take the hit and destroy the cabinets for those 'grey-area' cosmetics. But we have to be realistic or as you say, costs would increase and worse, the already wafer-thin supply options would turn their back on us. What then?
All of this is background. Above all, we want contented customers. If this pair is not to your liking, the best option is for you to have a friendly discussion with your retailer mentioning this thread, and to arrange with them to examine other options. We've already reported your comments to Harbeth Italy, and feel sure that - stock levels permitting - a satisfactory conculsion for all parties can be reached very soon.
* Actually, a wide range in veneer which means that no two pairs look the same aids job morale on the 'line.
Alan A. Shaw
Harbeth Audio UK