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Thread: The flight of the moth

  1. #1
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    Default The flight of the moth

    Dear forum members,

    I have written already about my slow, moth-like circular motion around Harbeth loudspeakers, not yet solved into a purchase.

    At the time of my last post I had Naim CDX2, Supernait, Naim cabling and n-Sats. My room is a long rectangular of circa 7-odd x 3,5 mt., the right hand long wall opening at about half onto a 3.5 x 3.5 space for dinner table and a low cupboard. The left hand wall has two big french windows with light curtains, and two sofas at 45 create the listening space taking about half of the room. Behind the long sofa a baby grand piano, on the short, end wall close to the piano a large (full) bookshelf.

    The speakers are sited along the opposite short end wall, circa 2.2 mt. apart, 20 cm. from the wall. They so fire across the longer size. The left one fires along the french-windowed wall, the right one along the wall opening onto the dinner space. Acoustics are mellow, non resonant, slightly treble-absorbing. There are carpets.

    Mellow sounding gear is not quite a good match for this room; today - after a period of complete re-thinking of my priorities and of sensible economical and affective investments in life - I have a Naim CD5i, a Nait5i and the same n-Sats. I would be content were it not for a certain nostalgia I have retained after my listening sessions of Harbeth LSs, specifically Compact 7 ES2, ES3, M30.

    I know that changing the Sats for the Harbeths would bring me wonderful midrange and exceptionally musical presentation and I'd lose some 'cheekiness' and the ability of the Sats to project sound totally outside the speakers, which is something I have heard very rarely. But even if I'd do this move, I can't resolve between the C7, that I know, and the PS3 ER, that I don't know but that has excellent reviews from customers and professionals. I never listen loud, and my preferences definitely go to classical music and jazz, with mildly electric and mainly acoustic pop. I am from the 50s.

    Harbeths would mean costly stands: you can't place them on kitchen stools. I am in doubt, so opinions are very welcome.

    Thanks for reading,

    Massimo

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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by maxbertola View Post
    ...Harbeths would mean costly stands: you can't place them on kitchen stools. I am in doubt, so opinions are very welcome.
    Welcome. Don't know where that misconception came from. You most assuredly can place your Harbeths on kitchen stools, a stack of Yellow Pages, house bricks or whatever you have to hand. The C7ES3 was actually designed (as was the M40.1) using $20 Ikea plantpot stands. You've probably seen the picture but I'll look it out anyway.

    It's the height that will make a difference, specifically where your ears are relative to the tweeter.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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    Default An object of beauty

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    Welcome. Don't know where that misconception came from.
    From a desire to treat them as objects of beauty and value, in my living room... But I understand your point,

    thanks

    Massimo

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    Default Listeing the tweeter Height

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    [snip] It's the height that will make a difference, specifically where your ears are relative to the tweeter.
    Speaking of which, do I remember that Harbeth had plans to list the tweeter height among the specifications for each speaker, to make it easier for owners to put the tweeter at ear level?

    Bruce

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    Default Wooden bar stools?

    Hello Massimo,

    I've actually seen on line various wooden bar stools ( cherry with square tops + four tapered legs) that match Harbeth's wonderfully and are often much cheaper than a lot of 'custom' designed black speaker stands. Also the Ikea tables mentioned come in a great range of colors which visually work rather well.
    Quote Originally Posted by maxbertola View Post
    From a desire to treat them as objects of beauty and value, in my living room... But I understand your point, Massimo

  6. #6
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    Default Some listening experiences

    P.C.,

    thanks for the reply and suggestion.

    Yesterday I visited a renown audio importer's store not far from my place. I was accompanied by a friend, my age, who's a semi-professional reviewer and works in the audio business.

    We found a costly system already set up and playing in the same room I had heard the C7 ES3s in, one year ago: DCS Puccini CDP, Spectral DMC 30 preamp, Spectral 200 power amp, all MIT cables and Magico S1 loudspeakers.

    We listened for a while. The global rendition was wonderful, extremely airy and transparent albeit with a hint of belly-ness in the 80/160 Hz octave, not so dampened deep bass and a vague trace of mid/treble recession. The room might have played a role in it of course. Image was high and deep. Price tags were perfectly audible.

    Then we decided to try other speakers at the end of the same system, so we selected an old pair of Harbeth 5/12s, Rogers LS3 /5As, Sequerra Metronome 7.7 and a brand new pair of M30.1s. These came with apparently dedicated stands, labelled 'Harbeth'.

    In short, we concentrated on voices, ambience, piano, acoustic guitars, strings and the usual repertoire of reliable sounds, and the result was that our (common) list of preferences was (best to worst):

    Harbeth M30.1

    Magico S1

    Sequerra Metronome

    Rogers LS3/5A

    Harbeth 5/12

    Funny, isn't it?

    What I disliked most in the 5/12s was their fat, unnatural bass and the shrieking treble - which, to a certain extent, was unsurprisingly the same with the Rogers. I sincerely can't understand how such a craze developed over years for these mini-wonders. And the sound was so proper with the other speakers that I don't think we could blame the electronics. The Puccini sounded especially wonderful, although I deeply detest the association of composers' and opera names to audio gear.

    In the end, the Monitor 30.1 was amazing. Its only minor point, to my ears, is a relative incapacity to project sound outside the speakers laterally, but for the rest they were a window on the music of unusual correctness, limpidity, coherence. And what natural, lively dynamics! I understand what people mean saying that you can listen to these for long.

    I haven't much more to say: in a way, that was the best sound I have heard so far, excluding perhaps an eerie sensation of 'reality' I had with YG Acoustic Anats at the Munich 2012 Audio Show (where I met Alan Shaw and my interest in Harbeth became adult), and another listening session with Burmester, Vitous and Kharma gear a few years ago, but in both cases it ended up sounding more 'splendid reproduction' than 'acceptable trueness'.

    Yesterday MIT cables alone costed like the M30.1s, though. So, their (the M30.1s') absolute value looks even higher to me.

    Food for thought, if not for the wallet.
    Massimo

    {Moderator's comment: the LS5/12 was not designed by Harbeth: it was designed by a young engineer at the BBC out of hours long after the Engineering Directorate terminated official development. It was designed to mimic the sound of a larger BBC monitor. Harbeth simply offered to assemble the speakers. Many uncomfortable insights were gained about the technical reality of fancy drive unit marketing during the short production run.}

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    Default The LS5/12a trade response

    I remember well discussions with several manufacturers at the '97 Hi-Fi show at Heathrow, in which they all said that the 5/12 was seriously flawed. In the case of one, he said that its phase resonse alone was so poor as to rule it out for manufacture.

    I think the bass unit is a {---} which exhibits several problems.

    The 3/5a was designed a long time ago, for OB use in vans where a small monitor was required, and for its time it was very good, but it pales a bit now with its obvious 1kHz peak; but it seems to have accumultaed a massive (cultural) following.

    A lot of what I consider to be OTT aeronautical grade engineering goes into {---} speakers, in my opinion inappropriately so, and I have recently heard negative reports of them for the price.

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    Default Some insider info on the 5/12

    Quote Originally Posted by Pharos View Post
    I remember well discussions with several manufacturers at the '97 Hi-Fi show at Heathrow, in which they all said that the 5/12 was seriously flawed. In the case of one, he said that its phase resonse alone was so poor as to rule it out for manufacture.

    I think the bass unit is a {---} which exhibits several problems.

    The 3/5a was designed a long time ago, for OB use in vans where a small monitor was required, and for its time it was very good, but it pales a bit now with its obvious 1kHz peak; but it seems to have accumultaed a massive (cultural) following.

    A lot of what I consider to be OTT aeronautical grade engineering goes into {---} speakers, in my opinion inappropriately so, and I have recently heard negative reports of them for the price.
    I've reported here before the sequence of events which led to the creation of the LS5/12, and at my personal insistence, the LS5/12a remedial redesign, before which I refused to put the thing into production in my factory. It was a sorry tale. The core problem is of making a crucial technical decision too early in the design process, treating a vital component as a commodity, and rushing into (and locking down) that important element too rigidly.

    The heart of the speaker design is the bass/midrange unit - let's call that the woofer to save typing. That alone defines 70% of the eventual sonic character of the entire system - perhaps more. With that one element being so critical to the eventual sound, and the tweeter, crossover and cabinet accounting for, say, 30% together, any latent issues in the woofer's sonic output are going to be exposed in the final system, and just cannot be hidden.

    I do wish the public could get into their collective heads that, regardless of the fancy price tag of a speaker system in a retail store, if its woofer(s) come from a catalogue of similar standard parts, made even in very nice factory conditions in the orient, that one elements predefines the 70% sound of the entire system. That has various direct consequences:

    1) It gives all speaker brands a very similar/the same technology pool to draw from which . . .
    2) gives all speaker brands a similar cost base so that the retail price refects not the core sound generating technology of the speaker system (the drive units) but . . .
    3) the cabinet work, the crossover (over complex, costly super-materials which look great, do nothing technically), the substantial marketing budget*, and profit margin . . .
    4) drawing from the same uninspiring technology pool of drivers which define 70% of the final sound, many speaker systems have a broadly similar sound, as you would expect using basically the same drive units from basically the same range of suppliers and basically the same crossovers.

    The BBC LS5/12a was made outside hours. There was no development budget available, nor equipment and no peer review. In fact, had management been aware of this project, it would suerely have involved disciplinary action since the top brass had stated unambiguiously that the BBC had ended all speaker development. In the circumstances, any supplier willing to submit sample parts for a 'private job' (PJ) was taking a commercial gamble. Any supplier who could take an philanthropic view on the basis that it just might pay off could be rewarded. And so they were.

    Unfortunately for audiophile history, at that precise time in the BBCs troubled past, they had woken to the idea of squeezing every cent out of their good name and reputation, and had brought in one or more Business Managers, tasked with turning BBC intellectual property into an income stream. The discovery of the LS5/12 PJ was music to their ears, and inconvenient questions about who authorised the design, who vetted it and why certain suppliers had been pre-selected were conveniently ignored. The designer and the business manager fell into each other's arms. The situation became farcical when I was told by the proud manager, that he had authorised the costs of application for a patent for the novel port arrangement. It clearly didn't work, and couldn't work occupying as it did, nearly the entire depth of the cabinet. The bass, as described, was dreadful.

    The shocker was the harmonic distortion from the woofer. A stanley knife to the cone revealed why: felt 'corn plasters' dotted around the dust cap presumably in an attempt to mask instability and untamed resonances. I have the correspondence still between myself and the BBC when I discovered the reality and asked why they had not. The answer was that they were using an impulse measuring system (MLSSA) and I was using sine waves: they were blissfully unaware of the distortion peaks, and hadn't heard them either. I put my foot down and they were obliged to sharpen-up the crossover roll-off to try and suppress a third harmonic distortion peak (3kHz as I recall) which was right on the very crossover frequency. That was a bodge; the mechanical problem of resonance should have been solved mechanically. We commenced production of the revised crossover LS5/12a, and I was (and am) astounded by the lack of objectivity by those who really should have known better. Admittedly, the cabinetry, especially burr walnut, was lovely.

    The design was doomed from the off. Had designed-for-the-job drive units been used, capable of wide range, low distortion performance (without significant hygroscopic issues involving the remedial use of the canteen oven as we were instructed to do) then perhaps the outcome would have been rather different.

    The cheaper (original) P3 outsold it by perhaps 20:1 and in time, there was no market role for the 5/12a if there ever had been. Corporations, it would seem, have surprisingly short and selective memories.

    *the marketing/advertising/promototional/transport cost per speaker pair of a large exotic speaker system, could be much more than the cost of the cabinet, drivers, crossover and shipping cartons combined. You are paying not for technology, but for being romanced.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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    Default Accountants rule?

    What an absolute shame that the BBC's heritage in excellent and pioneering work in loudspeaker design, should finish on such a sad note, soiling what was once a 'golden trail'.

    Sometimes the business people do compromise or sabotage good work. I have been in maintenance capacities in which business managers and accountants have exerted their authority to the extent that I have been unable to correct faults because of their decisions that keeping spares in the stores is a waste of collateral, this resulting in the customer having to wait for parts to be ordered, and then arrive, before their systems are restored.

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    Default Original thinking?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pharos View Post
    What an absolute shame that the BBC's heritage in excellent and pioneering work in loudspeaker design, should finish on such a sad note...
    Perhaps this, from my archives, casts another light on the product? The heritage you fondly remember, involved new thinking, and pioneering engineering dried up in the 80s.

    See first letter, and response from Business Manager in question. I think this fills in the political climate rather nicely.

    Also, my measurement from '93 (the LS5/12) of the curious harmonic distortion in the midrange, rising to about 1%, as marked. The third harmonic of a tone of 771Hz appears as a peak at 2.3kHz, close to crossover frequency and impossible to hide with an analogue crossover. Perhaps a digital filter could do it but I doubt that it could do it without leaving an audible residue, possibly even more objectionable than the original issue, assuredly due to the cosmetics/geometry of the driver.

    The moral of the story is: if you buy-in your drive units based on their aesthetics or price, there will always be compromises in sound, some trivial, some serious. Harbeth makes all its own bass/midrange drives and has done so for years. That gives us total control over the design and it's execution, and a year to year consistency which others can only dream of. Cost is always a disadvantage though.

    Out of curiosity, what does 1% third harmonic distortion of a 771Hz tone sound like? Can we hear it without straining?

    Here is 15 seconds of pure 771Hz and then I introduce 1% third harmonic, which appears as a tone at 2.3kHz. Audible or not? Note: if your PC speakers are like mine, the 'pure' tone is not absolutely pure, but the difference when I add the third harmonic should still be audible. So that's what 1% third harmonic in a frequency band where the ear is sensitive sounds like. All loudspeakers add distortion - lots of it. Which makes a nonsense out of seeking-out amplifiers and sources that boast tiny amounts of distortion.

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    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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    Default It's now about consumer art

    I am very surprised at the language in the HFN letter because it seems to be from earlier, perhaps even 20 years earlier because of its dry and pithy expression; this particularly true in the (almost irate) engineer's letter on the right about cable impedance matching.

    It seems also that the magazines, as well as the public, have lost that rigorous questioning/interrogation, which is consistent with my recent post on societal decline, and particularly so with the decline of the audio industry into one producing expensive bits of industrial design, in the 'furniture art college' sense of the word.

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    Default Limbering up towards Harbeth (after meeting Alan)

    To me, the most relevant fact is not that a 'Harbeth' labeled loudspeakers could sound so bad - the presence of a bought-in mid-woofer and just everything in their sound, compared to what I have, so far, heard from C7 ES2, C7ES3, M30, M30.1 quickly told me those had nothing to do with Mr. Alan Shaw and present day Harbeth.
    The interesting fact was that for both (experienced, I should say) listeners the M30.1 was overall better than the Magico. For die hard Harbeth owners & fans it might be obvious, but for me it wasn't. I never take anything for granted, and a 15000 speaker system being taught how to play music by a 3000 one was rather unexpected.

    But I have already showed my appreciation for Mr. Shaw's work here. Our brief encounter in Munich was enough for me to recognize a kind, relaxed and competent gentleman, now all I've got to do is buy two of his units. Only, my difficult room is being fussy. Six months ago I bought expensive floor standers from the makers of my Cd and amp, and they simply didn't work. I've become very cautious since. But in the end I'll get there, I suppose.

    Massimo

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    Default Very, very good SHL5

    A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine, who's an audio retailer, added Harbeth loudspeakers to his assortment, namely the C7ES3 and the SHL5.
    I have so listened to the SHL5, which were new to me. I tried them with the electronics I normally use at his store - Naim entry levels, which I know well and are very revealing of the pros and cons of basic products of an excellent brand. I used a Nait5si. I myself have a Nait5i presently, a very surprising little amp.

    I must say that I didn't expect such a sound. Placed on relatively high stands, they were somehow taller than could be thought as proper; yet, the image was ample and focused and the woofers stood a little more far away from the floor than with lower stands, and it helped.

    I played them in the same room where a bunch of extremely more costly speakers were on demo, and I was seduced by the vividness, the warmth, the musicality of the SHL5s. Their overall presentation - as is customarily my impression with Harbeth - was bodily and a little 'in the box' (different to what I am accustomed to), but also more rich, more natural, more involving than the other speakers'.

    Very, very good indeed. I won't mention the other units that were in the room, but they were all floor standers, and a couple pairs were in the 5-figures cost range.
    Impressed.

    Massimo

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