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Thread: Ultimate Integrated Amp For Compact 7ES-3 and SHL-5

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    Default Ultimate Integrated Amp For Compact 7ES-3 and SHL-5

    Firstly, I apologise if this thread comes up as redundant to the "Amplifier selection for your Harbeths" thread created more than 3 years ago with many positive responses. After going through numerous posts here in the Harbeth user forums and Audiogon, I got to know that two consistent recommendation of high-end integrateds to match Harbeth speakers are the LFD Zero MkIII and Lavardin IT. These two integrateds particularly the former have received many praise from owners especially on the excellent sonic attributes and are claimed to rival some of the best integrateds in the market.

    I am considering either one of these amps in near future when my financial allows but there is no distributor for both brands in my country. Hence, I am seeking advice as to which will be a better option to match the SHL-5 although I do know that listening preferences will ultimately determine which will be the "better" amp. I realise there are many happy owners here who use both Lavardin and LFD amps to drive their Harbeth speakers to great effect and I would appreciate your thoughts. I am currently leaning towards the LFD as it seems to be considerably cheaper than the Lavardin IT. There is currently a listing of a used Lavardin IT in Audiogon at $4,800 and the price is about double a brand new LFD Zero MkIII.

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    Default Re: Ultimate Integrated Amp For Compact 7ES-3 and SHL-5

    Hi Ryder,
    I am using Lavardin IS Reference and I love it... If I were to start it all over again I would choose Lavardin IT instead. I was using Lavardin for my previous C7ES2 and now SHL-5. I have yet to hear the LFD I am sure it is a fantastic amp... GanCK can help you on that!

    Cheers...
    Music is not to be denied... is to be enjoyed!

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    Default Re: Ultimate Integrated Amp For Compact 7ES-3 and SHL-5

    I started a thread over at AudioCircle entitled, "Search for an Integrated Amplifier" sometime early last year, and in this time I have auditioned numerous Integrateds, owned at least three well regarded Integrateds. The Leben CS600 was good but, compared with several other Integrateds that came after, it was not spectacular. Issues with heat and tubes made me switch to Solid State. Of the SS that I have the privilege to audition or own (YBA Passion, Rega Mira, Bryston B100 SST, LFD MI100, Accuphase E-450), there are only two that particularly stood out for me - the YBA Passion and the Accuphase E-450, but I finally settled for the latter Integrated. Both have power and refinement, the 3 Ts (timbre, tone, texture) and PRAT, qualities that are very important to me. While the SHL5 needs very little power to sing (the proverbial 50 watts has been extolled enough in this Forum, with some succeeding in sonic nirvana with less power), I feel that the extra headroom of the Accuphase (180 watts into 8 ohms) allows the music to flow effortlessly and with great refinement. The Accuphase E-450 should be at the top of anyone's list of possible amplifiers! As they say, its a divine match! As a friend once advised, an Accuphase is the cure for anyone suffering from audio nervosa and once heard, I daresay few will ever look for anything else! Its that good!

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    Default Re: Ultimate Integrated Amp For Compact 7ES-3 and SHL-5

    Now we've got 3 ultimate amps for the SHL-5 although I initially plan to narrow down the choices to one. Not looking too good. Anyway thanks for the thoughts, I will still keep the Accuphase in mind. I don't doubt any of these amps will sound excellent with Harbeth speakers and it's just a matter of choosing the ultimate one that suits one's budget. I am leaning heavily to the LFD Zero MkIII since it is by far the cheapest among the rest. Anyway I will see how it goes. It is just a matter of time before one of these integrateds sits on my rack. I am extremely pleased with the current sound I'm getting with my Plinius-based amplification, and if any one of these little gems can outperform my separates I will be in seventh heaven.

    Thanks again for all your time.

  5. #5
    Vlado Guest

    Default Re: Ultimate Integrated Amp For Compact 7ES-3 and SHL-5

    Quote Originally Posted by ryder View Post

    I am considering either one of these amps.....
    Hi Ryder,
    consider also Glenn Croft amplifiers (ex Eminent Audio).
    Glenn is running now his own company and I got excellent references on his pre and power amps and they are much cheaper as the Eminent products.

    http://www.croftacoustics.co.uk/

    Regards

    V.

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    Default Re: Ultimate Integrated Amp For Compact 7ES-3 and SHL-5

    Quote Originally Posted by ryder View Post
    Now we've got 3 ultimate amps for the SHL-5 although I initially plan to narrow down the choices to one. Not looking too good. Anyway thanks for the thoughts, I will still keep the Accuphase in mind. I don't doubt any of these amps will sound excellent with Harbeth speakers and it's just a matter of choosing the ultimate one that suits one's budget. I am leaning heavily to the LFD Zero MkIII since it is by far the cheapest among the rest. Anyway I will see how it goes. It is just a matter of time before one of these integrateds sits on my rack. I am extremely pleased with the current sound I'm getting with my Plinius-based amplification, and if any one of these little gems can outperform my separates I will be in seventh heaven.

    Thanks again for all your time.
    I am sure any of the above 3 amps will be a big leap from your Plinius combo. While i won't say that the LE III is going to be the best of the 3 in absolute terms, but it will definitely stand out as far as value for money is concerned. Happy huntin.

  7. #7
    macraddy Guest

    Default Re: Ultimate Integrated Amp For Compact 7ES-3 and SHL-5

    Sorry to throw another, obvious one in. The best integrated I've heard, and the second best amp I've ever heard is the Sugden Masterclass. I've heard it with the C7s. I've also heard the A21SE with C7s which was splendid... (I have another Sugden Amp with the SHL5s.)

    I'll try not to repeat all the usual stuff about Sugden, but will just say, if you know what a violin, orchestra or piano sound like in a concert hall, to my ears only Sugden/Harbeth will do. Tone, texture, body, grain-free illuminated top end &c. &c.

    Good luck with the search...

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    Default Keeping our feet on the ground .... amplifier choices

    I disagree that the differences between any first-grade amplifiers are as marked as you state. There may be incredibly subtle differences but they are not, in my limited experience, always repeatable under uncontrolled domestic comparison.

    I think that it may be unhelpful to the consumer - especially in these credit crunch times - to create the impression that if he spends his hard earned money on exotic electronics that the performance of Harbeth speakers can be significantly enhanced. They really can't be. It might be possible to squeeze another, say, 0.1% of performance, but that's about it. If you left the room and someone swapped the amp, could you detect with absolute certainty a 0.1% change for better or worse? I couldn't.

    Is that 0.1% worth paying for? Is it a good use of your money? Only you can decide.

    There is a regular undercurrent through this group of people who say what attracts them to Harbeth speakers is that they can now 'can get off the hi-fi merry-go-round' and enjoy the music. Please can we be very careful about strong claims about particular electronics when as I say in Section 2 here, any properly designed amplifier will make a Harbeth really sing. Let's not forget that the weak links in the chain are the mechanical devices (microphones, turntables, speakers) and that is where real improvements can be gained.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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    Default Our amplifier expectations ...

    Hi Alan,
    I appreciate your views and concur with your thoughts especially on the statement below.

    I disagree that the differences between any first-grade amplifiers are as marked as you state. There may be incredibly subtle differences but they are not, in my limited experience, always repeatable under uncontrolled domestic comparison.
    Problem is I am not sure whether my gears can be categorised as first-grade or not.

    The Lavardin and LFD will probably be in that group with minimal/negligible sonic differences between them so it makes sense that a Lavardin user does not consider upgrading his amp to the LFD or vice versa. May I know if you are responding to other posters in comparing first-rate amps(Sugden, LFD, Lavardin) or to my post in comparing the Plinius to other first-rate amps (which may further suggest that my Plinius is in the same rank as the other highly-rated amps)? The reason I ask this question is I have compared the Plinius with Yamaha and Sony amps, and the Plinius totally blew these two amps away. The Plinius made both Yamaha and Sony sounded like garbage.

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    Default Our amplifier expectations ...

    Hi Ryder,

    Audio Research and Plinius that you have, makes a fine amplifier(and is definitely first grade product) and i'm sure music sounds wonderful at your end. You'd already invested a sum so should be making the most out of them, do not be a slave to these equipments. Even if you are to change to any of these amps, you'll gain and lose some. So don't lose sleep over them, enjoy your setup.

    Cheers,
    Sunshine

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    Default Our (amplifier) expectations... designers and their constraints

    Quote Originally Posted by ryder View Post
    Problem is I am not sure whether my gears can be categorised as first-grade or not.... The Plinius made both Yamaha and Sony sounded like garbage.
    Good question. How do we define "first-grade". Indeed, I chose those words carefully.

    In my opinion, at the core of this issue is the integrity and motivation of the designers. Japanese multinational corporations have shareholders and hence a business agenda which imposes a certain approach to product design. In simple language: pressures are brought to bear on the designer and if he is under the hammer to minimise cost then he cannot simultaneously maximise quality. If he is tasked by management with maximising fuel efficiency then he must give up his personal dream of designing for incredible acceleration. Design is all about the art of compromise. But what compromise? Ones that you'd agree with?

    We, the consumer, are not privy to the precise route map that a manufactured products took to market, nor the corners cut, performance trade-offs and (slight? major?) compromises here and there - certainly not after the marketing dept. have put a positive spin on the product.

    If the product emanates from a smaller company - Sugden for example - it's possible to actually identify the designer, talk to him and get a feel for his challenges and how he balanced cost v.performance v. ease of manufacture v. size v. long term reliability v. retail price. I believe that the public (and the media) should be far more curious about identifying who the designer really is, what's in his head, what his design brief was, how he thinks he performed; that's why I'm here. In my opinion, you should be able to identify the designer by calling the sales office or emailing the company. If you don't get a satisfactory feeling from that contact then I'd be very cautious. Audio products designed by an anonymous committee just can't satisfy picky audiophiles.

    So - to answer your question - I'd say as a general rule, if you can identify and build a bridge to the designer then he has a personal reputation to nurture, and this would most likely lead to a better product, a 'first grade' product. There are many examples of audio amplifiers (and designers) in this category. But, integrity or not, skill or not, ability or not, desire and goals or not, amplifiers are electronic devices that obey fixed universal physical rules: there is very, very little magic that even the most highly talented and motivated designer can apply without risking amplifier breakdown, unreliability, warranty claims, radio interference, whistles, hums and buzzes. The circuit design parameters have to fall within a very tightly controlled window in the interests of stability and reliability. Tizzy, neurotic, highly strung amplifier designs that just might have a minor sonic advantage are not marketable because the consumer will not tolerate the inconvenience and cost of random breakdowns (possibly destroying the amp and speakers) for a minor performance advantage. So the amplifier designer is highly constrained in what he can actually do with his circuit design* if he is to minimise after-care and stay in business.

    Sadly - realistically - mechanical systems including microphones, turntables, gear boxes, car suspensions, car engines, rockets and loudspeakers are hideously complex in comparison with electronic systems, which is why there are so many variants available to the customer - and not one of them perfect.

    * About 20 years ago a point was reached where all amplifier design concepts had been explored and those 'mainstream' designs which proved to be reliable were identified. No radically new approaches are possible with current technology unless the consumer is willing to tolerate random breakdowns and amp/speaker destruction. It's exactly the same situation with racehorses - highly strung champions burn themselves out but are thrilling on the day.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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    Default Re: Our (amplifier) expectations... designers and their constraints

    Further thoughts about power amplifier design .....

    Logically, if an amplifier is sold with a specification of (for example) 300W (a monstrous amount of power), and assuming that the company wanted to stay in business and not be swamped by customer returns due to failure, the designer would have to make some design choices ...

    1) He would have to assume that if the amp was rated at 300W customers would actually try and draw 300W from it. They'd use the power. The same with sports cars .... if the engine is specified as 'max. rpm 7000' then you can be sure that someone will run it at 7000 rpm - and they would expect it to work reliably at that (for a while anyway)

    2) It would then become very hot: hot enough to boil water.

    3) Hot electronics = reliability problems = strain on components

    4) He'd have to uprate all components to be sure that they could take the strain and the heat

    5) This would surely define the number 1 design goal as coping with the extreme power and currents inside the amp ....

    6) regardless of the sonic performance?

    Conversely, designing a small amp that will not run (very) hot would allow the designer the freedom to consider other more subtle factors of design ... and sonic quality?

    So, in my opinion, it is more likely that a smaller amp (say, 100W) would be a perfect balance between sonic resolution, heat dissipation, size, cost and long term reliability. For those reasons, 'studio amplifiers' rated at 500, 750, 1000W are not used in home hi-fi. They're designed to fulfil other priorities.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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    Default Re: Our amplifier expectations ...

    Quote Originally Posted by ryder View Post
    I have compared the Plinius with Yamaha and Sony amps, and the Plinius totally blew these two amps away. The Plinius made both Yamaha and Sony sounded like garbage.
    How did you compare - were you aware of which component you were listening to during the comparison and were the comparisons one after another?

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    Default Reaching out to the designer ...

    Thanks for the insight Alan. Yet again I somehow agree with your thoughts in that the designer plays an important role in coming up with a quality product and that it is important for the public to be able to reach out to him and get more information about the aspirations and goals of the company concerned. Unfortunately not all designers are as approachable as yourself and participate in the forums to answer questions from the public. In this sense, I feel you are a role model to other designers in being part of service to the community and we appreciate your effort in setting up this Harbeth user forum. I have written a few times to Plinius asking them some technical questions pertaining to the amp, and since the designer himself personally attended to my queries, albeit a little slow, I believe the company cares for the owners(and make quality products). I didn't ask him about his challenges and how he balanced cost v.performance v. ease of manufacture v. size v. long term reliability v. retail price since I don't think I'll ever get a response out of it. I might give it a try sometime. :-)

    Steve, yes I am aware of the components I am listening to and the comparisons were made one after another, although the listening tests performed were not carried out blindfolded. I own the Sony amp so it was easy for me, and the Yamaha integrated was loaned to me by a friend of mine. After a few listening sessions with the Yamaha that lasted for about 30 minutes, I unhooked the amp and chucked it aside at a corner. It stayed there for a week untouched until I returned it to the owner. It was that bad. Anyway I have owned some pretty decent integrateds which include Arcam, Classe, Krell and YBA Integre to name a few but sold them all away. The Plinius amp has remained the longest in my system so far as I am pretty satisfied with its sonic performance.

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    Default Blind listening tests of electronics

    I have come to the conclusion that sited tests are always suspect. They is a lot of stuff on the web about this and inspired by it I have tried one or two informal blind tests with some friends and on both occasions we heard clear differences sighted but on blind tests we could not reproduce those differences. This was using Super HL5 as the front end - a speaker I am sure we can all agree is an accurate one!

    So I am not prepared to buy any component without a blind test from now on and am very sceptical about differences people here in amps and digital sources (the components we blind tested).

    Here is a link to some people who have done this kind of thing much more seriously then I have;

    A Spanish site;

    http://66.163.168.225/babelfish/tran...s.htm&.intl=us

    A classic article from the stereo review;

    http://bruce.coppola.name/audio/Amp_Sound.pdf

    And a recent article from a speaker designer

    http://seanolive.blogspot.com/

    Question to Alan - do you use or have you considered using blind tests when sounding your speakers to test small improvements?

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    Default Re: Blind listening tests of speakers

    I've been harping on about the dangers of sighted (rather than blind, unsighted) listening test here for years. Nobody has taken me seriously, so it's good to have an ally! Just to restate the obvious: we are visual animals. Everyone knows that when a pretty girl enters the room, all heads turn towards her. That's how we are built - pretty things (people, houses, paintings, flowers, cars, jewellery, clothes, cameras, films...) appeal to us and the very same applies to the appraisal of hi-fi equipment. Once we've admired the beautiful milled aluminium panels, run our hands over the soft curves, been wowed by the gold connectors, our soul is as lost to the product as if that same girl had strolled across the room and whispered in our ear. It's all part of the human condition! But a Harbeth is really capital equipment, not throw away consumer goods. Different rules apply. The cosmetics are intentionally restrained, understated, conservative. We could easily repackage the products but that would move us out of our market niche and into unknown, dangerous and fiercely competitive territory.

    To answer your question about comparing speakers and how I work ... again, this has been covered in detail. I don't need to blindfold myself because I have two tried and tested techniques that achieve the same effect but without the inconvenience ...

    a) I don't look at the speakers when I listen - I look at a point on the floor half way between me and them*
    b) I do comparative listening tests, operating a foot switch to instantaneously change-over from speaker pair AA to pair BB (video on this will be uploaded soon)

    * If anyone has seen me cruising around hi-fi shows listening to speakers you will notice that I stand at the back of the room avoiding eye contact with the speakers (and the staff). Ideally, I enter the room without looking at the speakers and only when I have developed an opinion (after a minute or two) will I look-see. I really don't care how they look; nor do I want to reinforce any (inherent) preconception that I may have that a certain type, brand or model of speaker has a certain sound. You must eliminate the visuals when critically evaluating anything man made.

    As all marketing people know, consumers buy with their eyes. For Harbeth to have taken a position on this and to offer products which appeal initially to the ears is a very interesting, counter-intuitive, product-placement marketing strategy. One that marks us as mavericks.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  17. #17
    Hu Guest

    Default Visual animals

    I totally agree with "we are visual animals", that are we! One reason that I insisted on Harbeth is their pretty appearance when I hate those modern fashion ones. I went to Plinius SA102 getting rid of Quad 909 because of its huge solid style, that make my eyes and heart comfortable thinking that such Heffalump must give my speakers plenteous food. I did not want to go to Electrocompaniet CDP is because its golden beard.

    About hotness of amplification: my Plinius SA102 could boil an egg within 5 minutes when he is at his A class mode. Very small Sugden a21a could do that too, probably within 6 minutes.

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    Default Eyes open or shut?

    Here is a video on the main Harbeth website showing exactly how I listen. As I mentioned, I'm looking down at a point on the floor: I rarely look at the speakers themselves. That means I can concentrate my total attention on the sound without diverting attention to the visuals. As your optic nerve feeds electrical stimulus to your brain, this invokes complex mental processes within the brain to interpret those nerve impulses. In part, this involves sifting through your internal library of known visual images acquired since birth to try and identify what you are seeing and intially, to decide if it is a threat or not. That's the hand of evolution at work.

    So, as you look at a loudspeaker you just cannot avoid trawing through pleasant and unpleasant associations based upon your past experiences with the class of inanimate object* called loudspeaker which will greatly impinge upon your judgement. When politicians appear on TV its always a good idea to look away (or close your eyes) and concerntarte fully on their words, how they articulate themselves and then decide for yourself whether you believe them or not. Open you eyes, and you are subconsiously overwhelmed with your own latent preconceptions about the class of thing called politician - it's the same process evaluating loudspeakers.

    * Imagine for a moment that an opera is playing on your speakers. Your brain correctly identifies two loudspeakers from your visual input as non-threatening inanimate objects. This is very quickly decided - within a tiny fraction of a second, fast enough for the fight or flight response to project you away from the sound if it was in fact an animate predator. This is where the mental stress we call listening fatigue has its origins. Your look-up table of animate objects (subgroup people) includes a comprehensive description of how they look, how they move and how they sound. Your brain can accept that there is only a weak correlation between the speaker cabinet and the human body so that's tolerated, but what if the sound of these loudspeakers reproducing that voice does not correlate well with your preconceptions of how real people actually sound? That's when the subconscious gnaws away at you and no amount of self-conviction can overcome the underlying tension in your brain whispering "that just doesn't sound natural".

    P.S. Some 'hi-end' loudspeakers are styled to look like warriors. They are physically intimidating and in their height and proportions can look threatening. Again, this keeps the listener in state of some subconscious tension, which is not ideal for relaxing listening to music. A traditional box speaker like a Harbeth is self-evidently not threatening: it's proportions indicate that it is man made, it is no threat and the listener just gets on with enjoying what he hears - it's not going to bite him.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  19. #19
    Hu Guest

    Default Re: Eyes open or shut?

    Alan, are they M40s? If I have a proper room, I shall save all of my money to go to M40s!

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    Default Re: Eyes open or shut?

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    Here is a video on the main Harbeth website showing exactly how I listen. As I mentioned, I'm looking down at a point on the floor: I rarely look at the speakers themselves. That means I can concentrate my total attention on the sound without diverting attention to the visuals. As your optic nerve feeds electrical stimulus to your brain, this invokes complex mental processes within the brain to interpret those nerve impulses. In part, this involves sifting through your internal library of known visual images acquired since birth to try and identify what you are seeing and intially, to decide if it is a threat or not. That's the hand of evolution at work.

    So, as you look at a loudspeaker you just cannot avoid trawing through pleasant and unpleasant associations based upon your past experiences with the class of inanimate object* called loudspeaker which will greatly impinge upon your judgement. When politicians appear on TV its always a good idea to look away (or close your eyes) and concerntarte fully on their words, how they articulate themselves and then decide for yourself whether you believe them or not. Open you eyes, and you are subconsiously overwhelmed with your own latent preconceptions about the class of thing called politician - it's the same process evaluating loudspeakers.

    * Imagine for a moment that an opera is playing on your speakers. Your brain correctly identifies two loudspeakers from your visual input as non-threatening inanimate objects. This is very quickly decided - within a tiny fraction of a second, fast enough for the fight or flight response to project you away from the sound if it was in fact an animate predator. This is where the mental stress we call listening fatigue has its origins. Your look-up table of animate objects (subgroup people) includes a comprehensive description of how they look, how they move and how they sound. Your brain can accept that there is only a weak correlation between the speaker cabinet and the human body so that's tolerated, but what if the sound of these loudspeakers reproducing that voice does not correlate well with your preconceptions of how real people actually sound? That's when the subconscious gnaws away at you and no amount of self-conviction can overcome the underlying tension in your brain whispering "that just doesn't sound natural".

    P.S. Some 'hi-end' loudspeakers are styled to look like warriors. They are physically intimidating and in their height and proportions can look threatening. Again, this keeps the listener in state of some subconscious tension, which is not ideal for relaxing listening to music. A traditional box speaker like a Harbeth is self-evidently not threatening: it's proportions indicate that it is man made, it is no threat and the listener just gets on with enjoying what he hears - it's not going to bite him.
    Wow, what a video...no matter what music was played, everything sounded so full yet transparent & lifelike. I was rather surprised that there was a segment where you actually played some chinese vocals by popular vocalist Cai Qin.

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