Alan A. Shaw
Harbeth Audio UK
I had one last listening session with my previous Spendor S-100's on the week end, and it's now even more obvious than before that they do not possess - by a significant margin - the M40.1's clarity, accuracy, vibrancy, neutrality and richness of tone and timbre. TheSP100 are very engaging and subtle musically though, with a lot of life and contrasts, and are of the M40.1's kind - not sounding like most other hi end brands - if not as accomplished, mature and refined. I must say that i had tweaked these S-100's (driver tightening adjusted by ear) and after that i remember that they sounded more lively than from the factory or than other s-100's and sp-100's that i have heard over the years in different set ups, or at my original dealer.
The Harbeth M40.1 are a delight and i'm amazed each time at their absolutely unrivalled combination of richness with accuracy and clarity of tone. It's a fantastic package, incredibly lifelike and natural.
Mr. Shaw must really be in love with the human voice, the piano, trumpets/brass, flutes and saxophones, their sound and music playing has no peers that i know of, it's simply as close to the real thing as it gets ... listening to various saxes is a revelation. And i forget the cello and double bass, just so real as well!
Yesterday evening, i could not help notice Iona Brown's Stradivarius when listening to Vivaldi's winter, and Biondi's Amati on the same piece.... so obvious and musically meaningful. Same with different piano's, it takes a whole different meaning.
So, thank you very much Mr. Shaw and Harbeth for helping me take that difficult upgrade step from the S-100's. The M40.1 are also incredible value. Couldn't be happier and more satisfied and i wonder how Harbeth will ever manage to better these one day ...
Thay could always knock a couple of grand off the price!i wonder how Harbeth will ever manage to better these one day ...
This query is for Alan,
I have owned the SHL5 for a few years and have sold them off & upgraded to M40.1, the sound of the 40.1 is good in many areas BUT one important area (for me at least) is lacking, that is the drive & attack which in turn affected the pace, rhythm & timing to certain degree! This was not so apparent on the SHL5s. My local dealer have informed me that the midrange driver is sealed off in it's own enclosure. I suspect that this may be one of the factors limiting the drive factor. He has asked me to toe in the speaker further (presently in a slight toe in position) & to plug up one of the bass ports on each speaker. The reason given by him, will tighten up the bass output & free up the mid range driver even further.
Listening position, speakers are 6 feet apart, ears on tweeter level at 6 feet away. The 40.1s have been only driven for 6 hours so far..does it really need more running in time? I have always reckoned that fully run in speakers will only give a smoother response!! I am a little disappointed that these speakers will not present rock music that well. I am using Dynavector 17D3, Naim Aro, Linn LP12 (Full Funk Firm Upgradeds), Naim 52/Supercap/135 monoblocks, Naim NAca5 speaker cables. Please advise!
Well, this is a mystery to me too. It's beyond my comprehension that the M40.1 doesn't excel in the areas you mention, assuming that I understand what "pace, rhythm and timing" actually means*. I've heard this media-led expression, but feel that there must be a simpler, less ambiguous description of whatever it is you are seeking. Do I understand from your equipment list that you use only LP (analogue) not digital sources? Did you try the M40.1 in your own room before buying them? Do you still have the SHL5s? Has anything at all changed in your system?
As for the midrange driver, yes this is indeed in a sealed box but surely that "pace, rhythm and timing" you mention must be a quality of the bass register, not the mid frequencies? I'm at a disadvantage by not being able to translate your comments to a frequency band. Burn-in, bedding-down and all that stuff is not likely. Acclimatisation to the sound is.
I note that you are sitting very close to the speakers (just on the edge of their near-field) about 6 feet away and that they are about 6 feet apart. Because their frontal area is much larger than the SHL5s, they will drive the room somewhat differently and present themselves differently even if they were to have an identical frequency response. Personally I would sit further away than the speaker are apart, and certainly more than 6 feet. For big boxes like the M40.1 six feet away is almost like headphone listening - they need some air to breath.
Please confirm the size of your listening room and how it is furnished to get an idea of how acoustically damped it is.
*Horrendous English-English dictionary definition; applied to audio surely as a cruel joke.
Alan A. Shaw
Harbeth Audio UK
I have listened to my friend's 40.1 just recently and found that apart from the bigger scale and deeper bass of the 40.1 the sonics between the SHL5 and 40.1 are more or less similar. In fact, I felt the combination of the SHL5 and subwoofer in my system was slightly more dynamic and upbeat than the 40.1. However, he was using a Leben CS600 which wasn't the most dynamic amp around although the midrange and highs were truly captivating and beguiling. I reckon most solid-state amps would not be able to achieve the same feat as the Leben in this area. I swapped my Rega Elicit into the system and the bass improved a little, more punch in comparison but the magic in the midrange and highs were lost and didn't quite match the Leben. Overall the Elicit was still a good match. My impressions were based on a short evaluation of less than 2 hours with familiar music.
I would not give up so soon. I believe the 40.1 can be amazing if set up properly. Although Alan does not believe in running-in, I do. Give the speakers more hours to run-in, it may improve to a certain extent. The large 12" bass driver may need to loosen up a bit. It can be possibly due to amplification. Not familiar with your Naim monoblocks. You may want to try some Mcintosh MC402 or other solid-state amps from Jeff Rowland, Pass Labs etc. if some of your friends can loan them to you. One of my friends is using the MC402 to drive his M40 and the dynamics and bass is amazing. However, this was in a very small room of 9' width with the speakers extremely close to wall boundaries, so not an accurate comparison with the 40.1 in a considerably larger room with the speakers in free space. If you want dynamics, drive and attack, a powerful solid-state amp would be more suitable for fast and dynamic types of music. For a smooth, refined and beguiling sound, some tube magic from the Leben would be appropriate but punch and drive will be lacking.. Can't have everything in a package.
One thing I concur with ALan is to sit further apart from the speakers. For big boxes it would be more feasible to sit further away from the speakers.
In response to Alan's post, I am mainly listening to vinyl replay at the moment. Nothing has been changed in my system from the SHL5 period till now. Will not consider changing to another brand of amplification because Naim does the PRAT very well. To illustrate my point, try playing Eagles-Hotel California/Hell Freezes Over Lp, it sounded a little lifeless on the 40.1s, even the Laser Disc or DVD version sounds livelier. Secondly, try Led Zeppelin-Moby Dick/Led Zeppelin II Lp (Mobile Fidelity version prefered) the cow bells on this track was so much more lifelike, more forward on my previous speakers. I suspect it's a combination of these few possibities, namely the enclosed portion of the midrange is harder to drive (compare sealed speakers like the old ARs or Yamaha NS 1000 with ported designs and you will know what I mean), the size of the bass unit or woofer generate bass frequencies with some bloom and decay therefore interfering with the tweeter and midrange drivers in terms of speed & timing, the design of the tweeter to sound less bright or shrill to give a smoother response which in turn may affect the immediacy or attack on certain instruments like cymbal crashes or cow bells.Lastly, crossover design which greatly affects the output. Sitting further away may not be the answer as it will not change the speed & timing. These speakers sound great with vocals, jazz even pop music but not rock. What I am striving for is to try and get as close to live music as possible. If any of you have listened to any live bands, then you will know what attack & immediacy means, it gets people excited, foot tapping to the music and want to cheer the band on. One of the reasons why so many Hi Fi reviewers all over the world keep a Linn LP12 in their homes, because of it's PRAT abilities, It's loud & blousy. Incidentally I have listened to the speakers before purchase but the dealer was not using Naim amps or even turntables. My listening area is in my living room which measures 13 ft by 26 ft. A huge shelf which houses my records reaches almost to the ceiling is placed next to the wall facing the speakers, there is a 2 seater sofa in front of the speakers. Due to the amount of things in the living room, I would say that it adequately damped. Sorry, no measuring instruments was used only the simple hand clap test. Sorry Alan, I hope this does not offend you in any way. Just some of my humble after thoughts. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong. Thanks for taking your time to read & reply my message.
Last edited by rockadelic; 18-11-2009 at 07:48 PM. Reason: Add in more notes
I listen almost exclusively to 'rock' and 'blues rock' music and I like it loud. I use M40.1's in a smallish room approx 14 x 21 ft and I have used Naim from the Nait 5i upwards, LFD, Rega Elicit and Osiris, EAR/Yoshino 899, Puresound A30 and the new and wonderful Croft Series Seven hybrid. With all these amps, the M40.1 performs superbly with the sort of bass that makes you wonder where it is until it hits you in the stomach. They have a stunning, natural and very present mid band and the PRAT factor is first rate. These are not fat boom boxes by any stretch of the imagination.
I would suggest you persevere with running in and also experiment with position. The comment you make about a settee near the speakers worries me as that can't be a good thing. They also need to be on the correct stands. I have found that they must have a light, open frame, not something fat and mass loaded which slows them down and adds 'bloat'.
The M40.1 is one of the very best speakers I have used and whilst it is nowhere near the most expensive, it is giving me more of the fun factor than I can ever remember.
May I suggest that the reason you are confused by the Pace, Rhythm and Timing term is that your speakers all perform extremely well in this department and therefore, it is something which you do not have to suffer with. IMO
Many speakers sound sloooooow, as if the music source is running a little slow. This phenomena is apparent whether you listen to a turntable, tape, tuner or CD and I have no idea why. It also occurs with the souces and amplifiers which is also a mystery but once you have latched onto it, it's extremely disconcerting.
Naim equipment, traditionally, has excelled in the PRAT area and although it might not be as good as some when it comes to sound-staging and imagery, the speed and pace more than make up for it. Your speakers on the end of a Naim system has all the pace, attack and speed of a live performance and that is something we are all searching for.
Of course, there is a lot of equipment which does the PRAT factor well and it needn't be expensive but there is a lot more which doesn't and this we need to avoid.
Noted. Every time I hear that ghastly expression my skin crawls: I recall being in the company of the first journalist (?) to coin the phrase in the late 80s and I had the definite impression it was a huge joke at the expense of over-zealous hi-fi consumers. Surely there has to be a better way of describing whatever audio quality we seek than a derogatory slang word?
Alan A. Shaw
Harbeth Audio UK
There is. The word is rhythm. A moment's reflection makes it clear; adding 'pace' and 'timing' is redundant; all that is contained in the meaning of rhythm. To quote from the Oxford English Dictionary online:
...rhythm...5 'a. That feature of musical composition which depends on the systematic grouping of notes according to their duration. b. Kind of structure as determined by the arrangement of such groups.'
I don't have a great alternative, though. Maybe change the order and call it "TRaP" instead? Or "TaRP"? Or just call it "pace"? just forget the whole thing entirely?
My speakers are set up close to seven feet apart and I am listening close to eight feet away. You can see my set up in my Photo Album.
I am very surprised that you feel the 40.1 does not do rock well. LP exclusively also and the 40.1's are very impressive here for rock.
Not to dismiss what you consider the preferred version for Led Zeppelin but I can assure you it is not the Mobile Fidelity. The version to own is the UK with Lemon Song or Livin' Lovin' Wreck on the Label. You will pay for the copies I have mentioned but I was involved in a shoot out with all copies using the Harbeth 40. Mobile Fidelity did not make it.
As suggested give it some more time and try to sit a wee bit further back.
I saw the pictures of your system in your photo album. I spotted a subwoofer on the far right of the room. May I ask if you are using the sub with the 40.1? The 40.1's in my friend's system were placed further away from wall boundaries, both front and side walls. I was wondering whether the bass presence and punch would improve with a sub(or ideally a pair). May I know which model of Audio Research amps are you using to drive the 40.1? The Leben is a nice amp that sounds sublime with selective types of music but lacks the punch and drive to cater for a wider variety of material.
Thanks in advance.
I think this is getting slightly off-course. Anyway GanCK has his point. Harbeth speakers are not too suitable for hard rock and metal.
To relate a recent experience, a guy came to my place last Saturday to audition the Plinius amp I was selling. He brought his Proac Response 2.5 along with him in his car. We set up the speakers and put on some music. To my amazement his music was mostly metal, very noisy and in a mess. And this guy listens at deafening levels and doesn't seem to care whether the woofers of the Proac would blow up in flames of fire. The excursion of the drivers was tremendous. The Proac takes it all in its stride. We tried it with the Harbeth, doesn't sound too good.
For hard rock and metal other speakers can do better. As for reproducing live music and to hear all the twang of guitars, hitting of drums and harmonics of real instruments as real and lifelike as possible just like the real thing, I reckon this is very difficult to achieve even with a very good system. Probably some very high-end systems may be able to get you closer to that though.
I have said here many, many times that the speaker designer has to have in mind a clear, unambiguous design goal when he is designing. I'm obviously just not communicating this vital point well - please tell me where I'm failing to get the point across. I covered this just a week ago.
By definition, "rock optimised" speakers are played loud because rock music is all about the thrill of the loud sound. The essential point - stated recently - is that the design brief for a 'rock friendly' speaker is a replay loudness many decibels higher than a Harbeth listener would normally listen at. This has dramatic consequences for the sonic balance of the speaker, its duty-cycle, power handling, life expectancy, size, drive unit size(s) and so on. It is not possible to design a universal speaker that can be played extremely loud or extremely quiet and sound full and natural at both extremes, because the ear is very non-linear regarding level sensitivity. Are you fully aware of how the ear's perception of equal loudness varies dramatically with frequency and the prevailing loudness of sound?
So what am I supposed to do? Throw away the well-honed rule book that drives us to produce speakers for connoisseurs of sound who want quality (and for whom RADIAL? is essential) and chase the user who thrives on a diet of heavy metal at ear splitting levels and for whom any cone material would suffice? No. Leave that to those who fulfil that market.
The key to this is listening level. Any music, including head-banging rock music can be reproduced well on a Harbeth at a moderate listening level. In my personal experience that's totally true of The Eagles, Michael Jackson, Steely Dan .... all of which and similar are used through the design process. The music selection is not the issue. The issue is that the user, seeking the thrill that rock music represents and enjoying the open clarity of the Harbeth sound, then turns up the volume far beyond that which I had in mind when I designed the speakers. I can't be held responsible for that can I?
The situation I as a speaker designer face is exactly that which a car designer faces. How to balance the quality of the ride in a straight line with tautness and control when cornering. The designer cannot optimise both simultaneously and he must, under guidance from his marketing dept., prioritise one parameter over the other. A Rolls Royce gives a beautifully smooth, effortless ride but cannot be thrown around the race track at 150mph. An Aston Martin has a hard ride around town, but excels at high speed cornering. Take your pick.
As we say in English "horses for courses" - there is no universal horse that suits all types of running conditions. The attached "Equal Loudness Contours" (ISO 226) is the most important graph you'll ever see concerning the way we judge sound. Questions?
Alan A. Shaw
Harbeth Audio UK