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Thread: What speakers at Munich show 2012

  1. #21
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    Default Munich 2012 - a great success and some thoughts ....

    First, again a big thanks to our friends at Input Audio (Harbeth Germany) for making the stands look so attractive, to HUG member Pluto who attended throughout to help man the Harbeth stand again, to all our distributors and industry friends who attended from Moscow, Tokyo, Seoul and all over Europe and North America, to many new prospective distributors who wish to handle the Harbeth brand in new territories beyond the 44 we currently supply and to those of you who introduced yourselves. Thanks! I really enjoyed it.

    What I was told time after time by those in audio marketing is that Harbeth is a completely unique brand: they all said that despite the general economic gloom and doom effecting the industry Harbeth is one of the extremely few product lines that has growing sales .... 'Harbeth speakers sell themselves after a demonstration' ... 'a must have' sums it up. So thank you all for your support during what I was made aware first hand is a really tough time for the audio market. I was unaware that things are quite so 'tight' generally. Visit your dealer! Push some money into his hands! Make him smile!

    There were one or two interesting observations Pluto and I independently made. As a sound professional and a Harbeth user/owner disconnected from the sales process, he was able to dispense honest, pragmatic advice to members of the public devoid of commercial or political bias, and this seemed to be well received by those less familiar with the Harbeth brand and what we strive to achieve. He spent hours in the company of one or two consumers who really were completely befuddled about investing in a quality audio system - he's going to write that up in the next days. As the show drew to a close, we both wondered if those we spoke with in the 'confused about technology, just want to listen to quality music' category are only the tip of a very big iceberg. If they are ...... well, he'll write it up in his own words.

    Show by show we note that the number of fancy cable, pucks and spikes and assorted room tuning merchants are diminishing. A real pity as their poker-faced clap-trap and outrageous claims were sometimes accompanied by the most generous liquid hospitality which drew one (well, Pluto especially) back to their booths on a regular hourly circuit just to check again if perhaps he'd missed the vital sonic 'night and day' experience. Please bring back the hosepipe-thick speaker cables with their mouthwatering profit margins that used to fund conviviality for at least for four days a year! At this rate of attrition, we'll be surviving on - at best - their largess of only boiled sweets, TUC biscuits and bottled water in just a year or two.

    P.S. As I explained to various questioners and journalist (and will illuminate in more detail shortly) the development of the M30 > M30.1 was much more challenging that I assumed it would be for what was a 15 year old design. My admiration for whoever designed the original M30 in 1997 grew during my re-evaluation in 2012.

    AS + Pluto "very much at home" attached ....

    >

    P.S. Had no idea that Britain's Got Talent is watched in Germany. It's made on Monitor 40.1s and Monitor 30s.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  2. #22
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    Default Mountains of machinery at Munich 2012 ....

    I have just come across an amazing collection of photos here

    http://www.flickr.com//photos/224989...89507661/show/

    There is very little I would want in my house. There's a few rather understated designs, Harbeth among them, and mountains of fanciful nonsense! Speakers, amps and accessories.

    Of course in a picture gallery you can only look, you cannot listen.

    I look forward to more detail on the 30.1 - a product that might actually grace my lounge.

  3. #23
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    Default It's all a game ....

    Quote Originally Posted by Labarum View Post
    I have just come across an amazing collection of photos here... There's a few rather understated designs, Harbeth among them, and mountains of fanciful nonsense! ...
    The observation that HUG member Pluto (a professional sound engineer) and I took away from (yet another) show is the utter gullibility of the public. I'm sorry if that doesn't make pleasant reading, but it's the truth. This is a multi-dimensional psychological issue. When Pluto and I meander around shows, we are no more attracted to the flamboyant, glowing, exotic materials, beautifully machined, high-ticket priced audio products we see than if we were perusing an auction of used processing equipment at an abattoir. In other words, we share an almost total disinterest in 'audiophile gear' because none of it is strictly necessary to make great music at home. What we solely care about is the most direct route to the music.

    There are some really disturbing observations that one takes away from shows. These observations are not only related to audiophile gear; a serious semi-pro cyclist told me that in that market there are exactly the same issues of neurosis and compulsive purchasing behaviour losing sight of the fact that the roads are full of pot-holes and the omnipresence of cars makes cycling challenging at best. So this is (sadly) a much wider problem than in our tiny field of work.

    Issues that the consumer really needs to think about ....

    1. Not one visitor in 100 is female. That's really odd. Why?
    2. ... Yet we know that music is equally appreciated by women and men
    3. Most composers of classical music are male - what's the significance of that?
    4. ... so audio hardware is created by men for men .....
    5. and uses styling and adornment which seems uniquely attractive to the male mind and particularly uninspiring, even repugnant to the female mind...
    6. The perception in the male mind is that the shinier, bigger, heavier, more impressive the product the more musical it must be
    7. The perception in the female mind that that the shinier, bigger, heavier, more impressive the product is the less about music it must be ...
    8. That taking some of the working elements and placing them on the outside of the case seems to add value (tubes, capacitors, drive units)
    9. Using exotic, expensive, rare and barely pronounceable (toxic?) minerals must (obviously) improve sound quality [completely illogical]
    10. The higher the price the better the product obviously must be

    The depressing fact is that the public by and large are completely and utterly incapable of separating the enthralling sales/psychological story from the actual performance reality of the product. What has been lost is the connection between great music and simple, functional, reliable, built-to-last equipment. Just why is that?

    Fact: the more complex the design, the more component parts (electrical or mechanical), the hotter it runs, the higher the voltages, the more features, the more fragile glass, the less reliable it is likely to be and the higher the Total Cost Of Ownership when considering service costs. And not one of those elements can truly be said to enhance sound quality.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  4. #24
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    Default

    It's a bit like the *Crufts Dog Show, Alan. If you want real dogs go and find a shepherd with his sheep dog, a school training dogs for the blind, or go to the local police dog section!

    * Crufts (for those outside UK)

    http://www.crufts.org.uk/

    And as a cyclist too I concur. There are a lot of cheap rubbish bikes in the supermarkets and chain stores, there's a lot of extremely expensive over engineering, and in the middle there are some fine serviceable and safe bicycles.

  5. #25
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    Default

    It is interesting to note the view of a major player in the tube world, with whom we dined one evening, that most of the tube amplifiers on show were just "sculptures in glass and metal". It seems even the true believers in tube electronics are now feeling betrayed by the direction in which the market appears to be heading.

  6. #26
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    Default Let's own up... an audiophile speaks his mind

    I've looked at a lot of pictures from the Munich Show and I have to say that I don't find many of them exciting anymore. Years ago I would have been fascinated by the outlandish designs and heavy metal work etc. The many crazy-looking speakers are particularly underwhelming after you see the price tags and realise they're using off-the-shelf drive units and loads of expensive wood and metal which isn't going to sound as good as Harbeth at a fraction of the price. That's not sycophancy - just plain old fact.

    I find it slightly perverse in the HiFi world how many people talk about their focus on sound quality in their systems, yet the manufacturers are producing amplifiers where probably more than 90% of the build cost has gone into the casework and machining. And the same people then buy those amplifiers! I've got costly dCS and Nagra electronics, but I accept that I'm paying for prestige, heritage, unique design and precision manufacture in Switzerland and UK. Nothing wrong with that, but I don't sit there saying its essential for my musical enjoyment, they do sound very good but I like well-made exclusive things and am prepared to pay for them.

    So why can't the industry and HiFi enthusiasts come out in the open and admit that they like the visual design appeal of equipment for its own sake as well as enjoying the music? They aren't mutually exclusive! You don't have to try to justify CNC aircraft grade aluminium as a sound quality enhancement. If you like it, buy it and admit why you like it.

    But don't chase that new £10k preamp as the route to musical happiness.

  7. #27
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    Default Science-fiction props ....

    Quote Originally Posted by Labarum View Post
    There's ... mountains of fanciful nonsense! Speakers, amps and accessories.
    To me, they actually resemble props from a science-fiction movie of the 1950s or 60s, which, when you think about it, was probably about the time most current audiophiles were children and would have been affected by such imagery.

  8. #28
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    Default Golden memories from youth

    Quote Originally Posted by EricW View Post
    To me, they actually resemble props from a science-fiction movie of the 1950s or 60s, which, when you think about it, was probably about the time most current audiophiles were children and would have been affected by such imagery.
    Interesting thought... :)

  9. #29
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    Default Norwegian friends

    The norwegian member Griffenfel and Alan in Munich



    Griffenfel (Medium).jpg

  10. #30
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    Default Small active speakers

    Quote Originally Posted by EricW View Post
    To me, they actually resemble props from a science-fiction movie of the 1950s or 60s, which, when you think about it, was probably about the time most current audiophiles were children and would have been affected by such imagery.
    Yes; and most of the small active monitors sold for home studio use look just like that - left overs from Star Wars. Very good value for a second system, but no one of "mature taste" would want such a grille-less box in a domestic environment. Most of them don't even pass the test of "good industrial design".

  11. #31
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    Default Snob appeal sells better than quality

    Alan has made some very astute observations there & it's disturbing indeed.

    Was in a conversation with a group of friends some time back & amongst them was a retired hifi retailer. When asked if he would consider making a comeback, the first thing he said was if he made a comeback, he would only be interested in selling "super high end" stuff. Sound quality aside, just make the exterior look & feel high end & then put an astronomical price tag & there u go, it's 'super high end'.

    What was even more shocking was when he told us the profit margin that can be realised from selling such products. It seems that not many consumers are as discerning as before, especially amongst those with very deep pockets. Sad as it may be but snob appeal definitely sells better than true quality nowadays.

  12. #32
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    Default 'Audio machinery' to prove sophistication

    I believe that it is very simple to explain some of the madness on such a show. The steps in audio quality are relatively small over many years, so you need something else as a sales argument. Hence impressive caseworks and ridiculous prices (necessary to "prove" how sophisticated something is).

    I myself had big fun listening to music (Jean-Luc Ponty plays Zappa) yesterday via my SHL5. THAT is better than watching hundreds of audio sculptures.

    I once was at that show years ago (still in Frankfurt at that time). I was someone different at that time and was still impressed by many of the exotic looking exclusive stuff. Still I remember coming back and being a little depressed. Not because I did not have the money for all these beauties. I just saw that (despite audio-press raving about fancy machinery) I was not very impressed by big-money-audio in terms of audio quality.

    It sounded different, but less involving than my "cheap" chain at home (Cyrus & Celestion at that time).

  13. #33
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    Default Behind the sales facade

    When industry associates open-up around the dinner table about their woes and experiences in audio manufacturing and sales, it is entertaining for the dinner group to share confidences. But in the wee small hours, mulling over those tales, we can segregate the completely 'straight up and down' individuals from those who have the most staggeringly cavalier attitude to design, manufacturing, QC and long term customer satisfaction.

    When one well known audio marketing guru proudly announced to the dinner table that he was now an amplifier designer, we were all a little surprised. It transpired that the products appearing at a store near you were 'designed' on a tour of an overseas subcontractor's store room, pointing out this knob and that panel until a kit of parts had been assembled by eye with instructions to cobble it together and get it to the market as fast as possible. As for QC, well that was just an inconvenient cost. The justification of the abnormally high failure rate in the customer's hands is that there is sufficient margin to send them an FOC replacement, no questions asked.

    Your problem, as a consumer, is that we on the inside can smell the rogues driven purely by profit motive who have disregard for your listening pleasure and minimum Total Cost Of Ownership. You on the outside can't sense that. I don't know if I'm particularly sensitive to decoding the driving force that propels industry insiders I meet or not, but the 'good guys' have always been buried under the huff and puff of the less attractive personalities.

    My 25+ years in the audio industry leads to one general observation: the more conservative the product's claims and styling, the more likely the people behind the product are decent, honest folk doing their best with an eye on the long term sales slog, not meteoric success. Turned the other way, the more flashy the product, perhaps the more flashy the people associated with it? I don't know. Frankly, I will only buy audio equipment from people I am confident will look after me when it fails (which it inevitably will): a good contemporary example from Switzerland is quiet, unassuming René Reuter from reson audio who year after year just provides excellent customer care and first class products without the razzmatazz.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  14. #34
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    Default Working with the customer's needs ....

    In my 40 years of selling Hi-Fi, I have always had a mental check list for products to match. If they don't tick all the boxes, I don't stock it.

    Products for consideration need to sound good, be reliable, well built, practical, be easily serviceable, come from a good company with a track record of taking care of their dealers and be sensibly priced. My agency list is rather short and does include Harbeth.

  15. #35
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    Default The Swiss Lady's tale - and the state of the hi-fi industry

    I really should have written this story a couple of weeks ago but real life intervened, thus precluding the opportunity.

    As you have seen, I was in Munich helping to look after the Harbeth stand, which occupied a portion of a larger section which showed the various products handled by Harbeth's German distributor. A.S., of necessity, spent a lot of his time talking to various foreign distributors and would-be distributors, so most of the individual enquiries were moved in my direction - amongst them, a charming Swiss lady who, it was said, had become thoroughly confused by the sheer complexity and apparent illogic of the recommendations from salesmen on numerous stands at the show that had been thrown at her.

    She, like so many others, was simply a music lover who had noticed that most home audio makes a rather poor job of reproducing that most common and familiar of all music, the singing voice. After a highly frustrating day spent touring the many stands purporting to offer supreme sound quality, someone said "Harbeth - they have a reputation for good natural sound, go and see them". And so she did.

    This delightful lady, entirely non-technical, had become thoroughly bewildered by the approach of most of the vendors she had encountered and, worse, had become acutely aware from the demonstrations she had attended, that most of the systems she had heard were poor. I spent about a quarter of an hour listening to the rather sad tale of her attempt to acquire simple "high fidelity" sound in her home, which was in a small village in rural Switzerland. It appeared that the core problem was that most of the vendors with whom she spoke, attempted to drive her along the line of vinyl and tubes; claiming that no other approach was capable of delivering "music" in the home, as was evidenced by the "huge resurgence in vinyl sales".

    What the Swiss lady, as an avid reader of the local equivalent of the UK's BBC Music Magazine, was aware of, was that the only practical way of building a good mainstream classical library these days is via CD. She also remarked that she had listened to several CD players and "didn't find them as bad as some of the dealers were trying to suggest". She smelt a rat. I spend a further twenty minutes or so explaining a few realities and how she should approach the perplexing questions before her. But the whole experience leaves me with a somewhat bitter taste in the mouth, particularly when we are aware of much complaining that interest in decent domestic audio is on the wane. It feels to me more as though there are distinct elements within the industry that are shooting themselves in the foot.

    Many vendors have become so focused on the tubes & vinyl approach that they have lost sight of the goal of many would-be customers, that of simply listening to decent music in the home. The idea of doing so via the medium of vinyl is a joke if you demand a wide selection of music and a good choice of well-recorded performances. Likewise, the fact that most normal people do not want an energy-inefficient, delicate, unreliable and potentially lethal tube amplifier sitting in their otherwise 21st century homes. Of course the vendors see these devices as highly profitable sales opportunities with a good chance that the buyer will, before long, need to return to have some aspect of this liability-purchase repaired or, at the very least, tweaked. In other words, the sellers objectives have become focused on turning their (potential) customers into obsessive camp followers of the tube & vinyl faith instead of treating them as modern music lovers who desire, quite simply, to listen to the music and forego the dubious pleasure of drooling over "sculptures in glass and metal" that have, in audiophile circles, become objects of worship.

    Having counselled the Swiss lady to the best of our respective abilities, she resumed her travels. I doubt that we'll ever learn the eventual outcome. She returned twice more, on each occasion claiming that the mist was clearing and thanking us for our help. She returned a third time, saying that she had had some useful contact with a helpful dealer who operated in the village of her residence. Marvellous!

    When I did a walkabout of the show later that day, I chanced upon the company that the Swiss lady had mentioned so I went into their booth to see what they had on offer. I was distressed to see that they specialised in refurbishing old Thorens record players, produced some 1940's style tube amplification and rather coloured horn-like speakers of their own devising. Meanwhile, I do feel rather sorry for the nice Swiss lady who only wanted to listen to vocal music at home, not become embroiled with the pathetic state into which domestic audio has driven itself.

    As far as I can see, the domestic audio industry might as well commit suicide instead of heading for the slow, lingering self-inflicted death towards which it appears to be plunging. It's a shame that so many customers with a desire for nothing other than musical pleasure will be dragged down with this self-destructive industry that has become so obsessed with short-term profitability that it is failing to look where it really could (and will) be in a few years' time.

    There is a large market of people who truly desire decent sound quality, but have no wish to join the ranks of obsessive geeks who claim to be "audiophiles".

  16. #36
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    Default Addressing a market's needs (the old fashioned way)

    Quote Originally Posted by Pluto View Post
    There is a large market of people who truly desire decent sound quality, but have no desire to join the ranks of obsessive geeks who claim to be "audiophiles".
    That is why Harbeth's sales continue to grow. It's meeting the needs of what I suspect is an under-served market.

    Of course, you could always shoot for the quick buck by combining mystification and cosmetics in an appealing way, and at an enormous (short term) profit, but the barriers to entry in terms of that approach are, as the photos and show reports reveal, not very high, which means you could easily be swept away by a competitor playing the same game.

  17. #37
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    Default Foisting the wrong gear on the unwitting consumer

    Many vendors have become so focused on the tubes & vinyl approach that they have lost sight of the goal of many would-be customers, that of simply listening to decent music in the home. The idea of doing so via the medium of vinyl is a joke if you demand a wide selection of music and a good choice of well-recorded performances. Likewise, the fact that most normal people do not want an energy-inefficient, delicate, unreliable and potentially lethal tube amplifier sitting in their otherwise 21st century homes. .... In other words, the sellers objectives have become focused on turning their (potential) customers into obsessive camp followers of the tube & vinyl faith instead of treating them as modern music lovers who desire, quite simply, to listen to the music and forego the dubious pleasure of drooling over "sculptures in glass and metal" that have, in audiophile circles, become objects of worship.

    Having counselled the Swiss lady to the best of our respective abilities, she resumed her travels. I doubt that we'll ever learn the eventual outcome. She returned twice more, on each occasion claiming that the mist was clearing and thanking us for our help. ...
    That's a good summary of Pluto and my experiences with a charming lady who just wanted quality music without the fuss and bother having made the decision (in mid life) to treat herself to a first quality audio system.

    As Pluto said, I was busy with visitors and only made occasional contact with this music lover as she returned to our stand. I deliberately directed her to Pluto because as a professional sound engineer he was disconnected from the audio business and of a similar generation. What was, frankly rather shocking to experience first hand was that it was impossible for the lady to separate out outrageous BS - of which there was plenty - from solid fact.

    Far, far worse, was that none of the vendors actually listened to what she wanted. Sales people were falling over themselves to sell her what they wanted to sell her. It's simply outrageous that she should be told by a dealer (I overheard this) that she needed a vinyl, turntable and tube solution. The last thing she needs is fuss and bother and that combination is the fast track to complexity, ongoing cost and a narrow and difficult to source music selection - as Pluto says. What she needs is a really simple, high-end equivalent to a supermarket-audio all in one system. Put the CD in, press the button, music plays: end of story.

    I can understand that at this once in a year jamboree sales people are wound-up to sell their wares, but what excuse does a dealer have for foisting his pet likes on a customer? How on earth can a dealer build a credible relationship with a consumer - and we all know that that relationship is crucial for the survival of the industry - when it starts out with selling completely the wrong hardware solution?

    Maybe one day we will hear the outcome. I suspect that this will be another lost opportunity for the audio industry which could have had a different outcome if sales people had taken the trouble to enquire what the user actually needed. What has happened to basic sales training? When I started out I was trained to patiently listen to what the customer needs, if there is something suitable that matches those needs present it and if not, be honest about it and point them in another direction.

    All that matters in business is the long term; as I learned during my time at NEC Corporation, it's too late to influence today or tomorrow, they take care of themselves. All effort should be directed to building an incremental path to a golden future. One has some chance of influencing events that are not on the immediate business horizon.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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