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Thread: Working with the human ear: the proper evaluation of audio equipment incl. amplifiers

  1. #1
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    Default Working with the human ear: the proper evaluation of audio equipment incl. amplifiers

    {This thread started here about the selection of an integrated amplifier for the SHL5. It was split and continues here specifically about the objective evaluation of audio amplifiers under controlled conditions}

    ================================================== ========================================
    Hi Everyone!

    This is my 1st posting in this forum.

    I am the proud owner of a brand new pair of SHL5s, together with the Auditorium 24 speaker cables (bi wirable version).

    I am trying to decide on the following integrated amps to pair the SHL5s with:

    1. Pass Labs
    2. Lavardin IT
    3. LFD

    I would really appreciate some feedback from those who have experienced the SHL5s with either of these amps. Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
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    Default Selection of amp by check list ...

    First, any properly designed amplifier working within its limitations will power Harbeths fine.

    A lot of amplifiers are overbuilt/overpriced or just plain overpriced.

    My process of elimination:
    I eliminated any manufacturer that…
    1) Made erroneous claims about their amplifiers in relation to sound quality (this does not mean they don’t mention sound quality, but that their adjectives are carefully chosen). You would be surprised at how few options were left after this. ***Integrity is important to me***
    2) Wasn’t made in Europe/North America. This is of course for personal reasons that I will not justify. I try to support the NA/European economy whenever I can, period.
    3) Was superfluous and overbuilt/exotic.
    4) Showed a lack of respect for the user/product interface.
    5) Did not have a proven track record in terms of warranty and aftercare.

    I needed something that was compact, attractive and truly well engineered and designed. I ended up with QUAD because no contemporary amplifier manufacturer really survived my process of elimination and/or made me feel good about a potential purchase. My love of QUAD gear runs deep.

    Cyrus makes well engineered and flexible amplifiers for a modest price. However, they are a lot like naim insofar that they purport sonic achievements through various "upgrade" paths that the customer can take after the purchase, which can be endless, expensive and ultimately lead to anxiety if the customer is not secure in their judgment.

  3. #3
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    Default Home demo first

    Yes. Quad is owned by China now. As for me, I like my setup simple. Int amp is good and lucky enough Harbeth is perfect with Int amp too. I actually start to think why need pre power at home? It is like another marketing plan to get more money or an impressive setup to show of?

    Try to demo the amps at home before buying if possible.
    "Bath in Music"

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    Default Straighforward engineering

    Quote Originally Posted by aakrn View Post
    I would really appreciate some feedback from those who have experienced the SHL5s with either of these amps. Thanks in advance!
    Here is a quote of interest, from Wikipedia:

    Quad have always had a very straightforward engineering view of their products, and insisted that all amplifiers of adequate quality sounded the same when used within their capabilities, and that speaker cable had no sound at all, unless ludicrously long and thin wire is used.

    To verify or disprove that amplifiers of adequate quality sound the same, Quad commissioned James Moir to organise and conduct listening tests comparing Quad II, Quad 303 and Quad 405 amplifiers. Statistical analysis of the expert listening panel's scores showed that "the decisions of the panel were no better than might be expected from sheer chance".
    And Harbeth speakers are known to be a friendly load to amps, so that amps can remain within their capability. All I suggest you need to do is make sure the amp has the power delivery that is specified to be needed in the SHL5 specs. Perhaps increase that by 20%, if you want to play safe.

    Most well known brands of today's solid state amps - even the budget end of the model ranges - will then be all you need to have the speakers sing as designed. Also, look for a brand that is known for good build quality and long life - again, these don't cost an arm and a leg these days.

    Look to spend time/money/effort on speaker positioning and improving room acoustics to the extent possible, for best results.

    {Moderator's comments: Good to see James Moir's name again. He was first class audio engineer of the like we will never see again. Practical and pragmatic and completely trustworthy. As Alan said reading this, 'if Moir said it I'd bet $10000 on his conclusion'.}

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    Default Amps and origins

    International Audio Group (the QUAD brand) is Chinese owned. But QUAD's headquarters and service depot are still in UK.

    Again, I don't really care because I was only referring to vintage QUAD.

    Again, you guys act like one amplifier will work dramatically better than the other.

    {Moderator's comment: Noted. It doesn't matter what you, or we say about amps, the audiophile demonstrates day after day that he is completely brainwashed. Tragic. What a dictator couldn't achieve the marketing machine has.}

  6. #6
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    Default A challenge ....

    Here is a challenge then.

    If, in a controlled experiment with all variables accounted for (incl. differences in frequency response and within the power range appropriate to the amps) under instantaneous A-B relay switchover, driving any Harbeth speakers, if you can positively identify an amplifier by sound alone, I will give you, FOC, a pair of brand new Harbeth speakers, up to and including a pair of M40.1 in any veneer you fancy.

    I am quite confident that under controlled conditions, these fabled amplifier differences disappear and that I will never be parting with my money!

    However, I don't have the time to play around. You have to conceive of the test, design the switch over system and bring it to us here and we'll cooperate fully. There are plenty of examples of carefully constructed tests over the past 30+ years to draw on that meet my criteria, and every one of them comes to the same conclusion. As far as this 'amp matching to Harbeth speakers' issue goes, it is a non-issue. As dead as the dodo. I cannot comment on the amp matching for other speaker brands. We take care to make our speaker an easy load: other speaker designers may be less consumer-focused.

    NO CORRESPONDENCE PLEASE - CALL ME WHEN YOU HAVE THE WHOLE PLAN EXECUTED!

    Amplifiers should be selected not for "sound quality" (whatever that is) but for facilities, design integrity, durability, after care and likelihood of being able to source service parts in 5 or 10 years. Also, if you're really serious, a quick peek at the financial standing of the brand might tell you if they are likely to have the financial resources to weather the economic downturn of the next few years which is effecting the whole consumer electronics sector. Some of the most likely surviving (UK) brands rarely advertise, rarely exhibit, have relatively old-fashioned designs, use standard parts, have been around for a generation and are rock solid businesses. They deserve to be respected and supported because they will be there to look after you in 10+ years.

    There are some very difficult times ahead for the consumer industry: now is a time to be cautious.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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    Default What does the designer know? Nothing.

    Quote Originally Posted by aakrn View Post
    Thanks everyone for pitching in. Appreciate it.

    Based on the discussions above (excluding the made in China discussion), for an integrated amp, it seems a toss up between Lavardin IS, Lavardin IS Ref, Lavardin IT, LFD LE Mk4, LFD NCSE, Sugden A21SE. Has anyone had the privilege of making a comparison of these amps with the SHL5s?

    I listen to a wide range of music from vocals, to pop, R&B, soft rock and jazz.
    With all due respect, why would you completely ignore the advice given by the one person who is most intimately connected with the design of the HL5?

    Groupthink is the psychological term.

    Use a process of rational elimination. Be honest with yourself: what is important to you in an preamp/amplifier that does not pertain to "sound quality" in a transcendental sense.

    Regarding Alan's challenge. Sounds like a very cheap way to acquire a brand new pair of M40s. Even if you have to do a little leg work and pay for a $1,000 round trip ticket to England, it would still be cheaper than a pair of P3ESRs. Good luck to anybody who tries--you will desperately need it!

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    Default Disturbing belief...

    Quote Originally Posted by aakrn View Post
    {Moderator's comment: so you changed the speakers and didn't like the dryer sound. How can you blame the amps .... surely that's to do with the speakers ....}
    Oh no, people actually believe that the amplifier is the most critical component in the sound of their stereo system. Either that or they lack critical thinking faculties. Sorry if this sounds harsh. I'm not trying to be confrontational but it's become all too clear to me and quite frankly, it's disturbing.

  9. #9
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    Default Hifi should't sound impressive

    Hi aakrn, you are too used to your previous speaker sound. Now you suddenly into natural sound of harbeth you feel less engaging. It is like audiophile comment the sound of a live unamplified music in a decent concert hall no high and dull and his home hifi sound is much transparent and airy.

    You can contact Roland for the LFD (Sg dealer). He is using SHL5 and enjoying it very much.
    "Bath in Music"

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    Default Ponder winning M40.1

    @aakm:
    You have the possibility to show these different sound characteristics (of brands).
    I just made some "research" on amazon. There is a Sony amp (even a receiver) called STR-DH 100 with 2 x 90 watts for 132,- € (here in Germany).
    The engineers say (and know) that it sounds the same as any of your mentioned Lavardins or whatever.

    If you can hear the differences in a blind-test you can get a M40.1!!

    If someone who knows more about audio than (presumably) any of us that should at least make you pondering.

  11. #11
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    Smile You're pulling my leg aren't you?

    Quote Originally Posted by Zemlya View Post
    Oh no, people actually believe that the amplifier is the most critical component in the sound of their stereo system. Either that or they lack critical thinking faculties. Sorry if this sounds harsh. I'm not trying to be confrontational but it's become all too clear to me and quite frankly, it's disturbing.
    Get away with you! You're pulling my leg! How? Why? What logic supports that?

    The really challenging parts of the audio system are not the electronics, but anything that involves mechanical components, that is, moving parts: microphones, pickups, turntables/arms and loudspeakers. That's because all mechanical system have billions of variables, none of which can be perfectly optimised - the end result is just a compromise. Amplifiers have variables too, but the designer's 'room for manoeuvre' is exceedingly limited. The mechanical designer starts with a completely blank canvass: the amplifier designer doesn't because he has dangerous voltages and reliability to consider which means that the circuitry has to take a certain shape or the amp will fail, catch fire or (worse?) destroy the speakers. The actual difference between mechanical systems can be very significant indeed (as we know with loudspeakers, musical instruments and cars but the actual difference, at a circuit functionality level between amps of the same Class technology (A, AB, B etc.) is insignificant. All amp designers have to follow design rules and electrical safety* considerations. Mechanical designers have no rules to obey because there are no dangerous voltages and few if any safety issues. Amplifier designers are constrained by a straight jacket called physics, safety and durability. The mechanical designer can do whatever he fancies.

    If anyone really believes that the home amplifier is the golden heart of the hi-fi chain then it's as barmy a saying that the engine management system (black box computer) that controls the car engine timing is more important for a smooth ride than the suspension, gearbox, wheels, engine and seats. It just doesn't make any sense at all. When and where did this ludicrous notion slip into the open minds of the hifi consumer?

    An analogy between amplifier designer and nuclear engineer: there are so many safety and durability issues of paramount importance that both are obliged to use standard, proven, reliable parts - even though each may in his dreams, conceive exotic solutions he just cannot use them. Hence, despite the fancy case work, underneath the skin, they are functionally identical.

    We on the inside know this to be the truth. You on the outside may chose to substitute fantasies for the facts. I could be saying the same thing in twenty years, you still wouldn't believe me.

    * as we found when exporting active speakers to the USA, UK insurers heavily load the annual public liability premium when they're made aware of exports of powered equipment. This means that the amplifier designer is highly constrained by the materials, clearances, insulation, grounding and even selection of components which is why, functionally, lift the lid and you'll see the same circuitry replicated over and over again across amp models and brands. If the insurers mandate 'UL', Underwiter's Labs approval (look for the UR backwards printed symbol on the equipment) - it means that they have scrutinised every single resistor, transistor, capacitor, IC, circuit board, tie wrap, connector, plug, socket, cable, transformer and wiring right down to the smallest part, and demanded that they are individually UL approved. That's creates a shallow pool of approved parts that the amp designer can draw on because it costs money for suppliers to get those piece parts through the UL approval process. Again, the amp designer is working in a highly constricted environment. The amp has to be designed to rarely break down and fail. That means the input > output concept is rigidly defined. He just doesn't have the freedom to create a 'sonic personality' because there are no components that can be added-in to do that.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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    Default Last try ......

    Last try:

    Maybe the others have really hit the nail, only you do not want to believe it.

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    Default Need assistance

    I am new to the Harbeth family. And I was sharing my own listening experience over a period of time with the SHL5s. Merely needed some assistance with new equipment matching and generally the feedback has been helpful. However, the sarcasm is not welcomed.

    {Moderator's comment: I do not think any comments are to be taken personally. You have touched a nerve with this subject. As you read, there is wide range of opinions. We are frustrated with the whole non-subject of amplifiers to Harbeth match. Please be very careful how you spend your money.}

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    Default Will proceede with caution

    Quote Originally Posted by aakrn View Post
    I am new to the Harbeth family. And I was sharing my own listening experience over a period of time with the SHL5s. Merely needed some assistance with new equipment matching and generally the feedback has been helpful. However, the sarcasm is not welcomed.

    {Moderator's comment: I do not think any comments are to be taken personally. You have touched a nerve with this subject. As you read, there is wide range of opinions. We are frustrated with the whole non-subject of amplifiers to Harbeth match. Please be very careful how you spend your money.}
    Dear Moderator,

    Thanks for the advice. Appreciate it. It is because I am careful with money that I was asking for recommendations. I will be selective pursuant to what I've read.

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    Default I'm bemused ....

    Hi,

    Must admit I'm a bit bemused by this forum.

    It seems that nothing makes a difference to the sound quality of ones system. I previously posted about a suitable CDP to go with my set up and promptly blinded with scientific facts as to why I'd be mad to spend much more than £1,000 on a player and now it seems you can hook up some cheapo amp from Comet and still get the same results soundswise from your Harbeth speakers.

    All I know, is that I've had various amps over the years from a Sony tuner amp in the 80's which was dreadful right up to my current amp, a Sugden Masterclass IA-4, which, would be ridiculous to in the extreme to try and compare with said Sony.

    The only thing I don't like about the Sugden and the reason I may consider changing to a Lavardin, is the heat it radiates.

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    Default its simple....nothing to be bemused about....

    Quote Originally Posted by Maccar View Post
    Hi,

    Must admit I'm a bit bemused by this forum..
    Hi maccar

    There’ll be sound differences, im sure, between electronics but the quantum is the one most can’t agree on, or even perceive, to make an objective cost benefit assessment. I think the issue is made more complex by some electronics giving off a flavour, however subtle, of its own. It reminds me of pimply school boys arguing vital statistics of the page 3 model. Its at best pretty academic!

    Would you actually use a comet or target cd player if you could afford say a 20 kg behemoth such as a Teac? The Sony PS3 makes a great CD player but it is rough as a camels back when its spinning ie. its noisy and vibrates.

    So, imo, it all really comes back to what we can afford and whether we like the look and how it sits in your setup. Do you like the philosophy of the company selling you its cd player/ amp? It all sounds rather shallow but if I had a mint ill buy an Esoteric CD player. Why care who thinks what? Ill then get a Bryston monoblock even if the SHL5 doesn’t need 1/10th of the current. If that is not responsible spending, where do we draw the line then. Only we can make that decision.

    What im trying to say at the end of the day is it doesn’t pay to ask for a cd and amp opinion.  cause they really do sound the “same”.  same same as they say in Thailand.

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    Default Alterntative truths?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maccar View Post
    I previously posted about a suitable CDP to go with my set up and promptly blinded with scientific facts...
    What would you prefer to facts?

  18. #18
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    Default Differences are relatively (very) small between electronics: Buy Wisely!

    I think we should tread a sensible approach. The differences between amps, CD players, stands, cables etc are relatively small, sometimes miniscule when compared to the gross differences between speakers. Sometimes, you sit and struggle to discern the differences between cables but swop speakers and it can be wham, bang - huge changes. I believe that is what the Forum is trying to explain.

    Earlier this week, I spent a few hours with a customer, auditioning speakers using his recently purchased, megabuck integrated amp and matching CD player. He settled on Harbeth speakers, even though he'd never previously heard of them and then I did a 'naughty' - I swopped in my Croft Integrated amp and Rega Saturn CD player. You should have seen his face because these two cost less than his fancy mains leads and incons but were clearly, audibly superior to his expensive electronics.

    Moral of the story is buy wisely and you don't need a small fortune to assemble a system when the speakers are easy to drive, Harbeth.

    {Moderator's comment: but did you investigate *why* the other amp sounded different? It cannot be a circuit design/component issue. It must be a loudness difference which of course is a variable that you couldn't control without measuring equipment. A change in loudness utterly changes human perception of 'quality'. An M40.1 FOC winner is found?}

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    Default You are welcome here ....

    Quote Originally Posted by hifi_dave View Post

    {Moderator's comment: but did you investigate *why* the other amp sounded different? It cannot be a circuit design/component issue. It must be a loudness difference which of course is a variable that you couldn't control without measuring equipment. A change in loudness utterly changes human perception of 'quality'. An M40.1 FOC winner is found?}
    Teaching Granny to suck eggs methinks. I've been listening to Hi-Fi systems for 50 years and selling high quality Hi-Fi for 39 years, so I'm well versed in the art of keeping volume levels the same and to keep everything constant whilst you make a change, one unit at a time.

    In this instance, the amp and CD player were large, very expensive, very powerful and very OTT in the design department and it was these versus simple designs from people who care and listen to everything they make. Differences were clearly audible and if you don't believe, you are all welcome here to do similar comparisons.

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    Default Science, Not Art

    Quote Originally Posted by hifi_dave View Post
    I'm well versed in the art of keeping volume levels the same and to keep everything constant whilst you make a change, one unit at a time. [snip]

    Differences were clearly audible and if you don't believe, you are all welcome here to do similar comparisons.
    But wouldn't Alan and Hug-1 tell us that volume matching must be science, not art: it cannot be done by ear, or else you're using your ear to test your ear, so it must be done electronically. And when the levels are matched in this way, what were {significant} audible differences are no longer audible.

    Bruce

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