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Thread: Active Domestic Speakers

  1. #21
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    With their order books full until next year, why would Harbeth want to make another product ? and how would they find the time and the space to do it ?

    The main use for an active speaker in 'hi-fi' not studio use is as a small speaker to tack onto a computer. Well, there are plenty of those on the market. IMO, Harbeth should stick to what they do best. Extreme high quality, passive speakers.

  2. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by hifi_dave View Post
    why would Harbeth want to make another product
    Because it might be better than those they presently make?

    The main use for an active speaker in 'hi-fi' not studio use is as a small speaker to tack onto a computer . . .
    Tell ATC. Tell Meridian. ATC have sold near identical actives into the domestic and Pro markets for years, and Merdian have produced extremely high quality (and expensive) domestic digital actives for long enough. The B and O Flagship speakers are active and well reviewed in the HiFi market. And how could I have forgotten the Quad Active bookcase speakers? There are cheap, poor quality speakers for PC use, and there are "Studio Monitors" available from music shops ranging from about 100 for a home enthusiast to many thousands of pounds for professional use - and there are many fine choices under a 1000.

    But it's not for outsiders to tell a company what it's business plan and development agenda should be.

  3. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Labarum View Post
    Because it might be better than those they presently make?
    That is not a justification for turning our well-honed business upon its head. As I said just a couple of posts back "it's not whether we can make actives (we were the biggest producer of active speakers in the UK when we were making the HHB Circle series) it's whether we should make them". Decode: we designed and manufactured thousands of active speakers (in our days with Xpression! and the HHB brands) and we undoubtedly have put more active speakers onto the market than any other UK hi-fi speaker brand. So we do know a little about running active speaker production alongside their exact passive alternatives. And we know about spontaneous field failures and many other unwelcome issues. Ultimately, we are a business, and our business must make a small return, but margins are very tight. Setting aside all considerations of sonic advantaged or disadvantages, to properly manufacture and support active speakers and look after them in the field, you need to recruit technicians familiar with electronics, modern H&S requirements and international electrical certification*.

    One manager and two technicians would completely consume the end of year profit in salaries and benefits. So we'd be working for nothing. We tried it, but we don't wish to become busy fools again. End of story and why we have made our position about supporting out-of-production Actives so very clear.

    * Our reading of the necessary international UL/CSA electrical safety specs. identifies that the normal foam and bitumen lining found in the better monitor speakers may not pass flammability testing. That's a serious problem when designing a quality active speaker with internally exposed electronics. Fibreglass or similar is not flammable but is hazardous to work with and blows microscopic fibres through the port with bass notes - both H&S issues. As for bitumen sheeting on the panels to control resonance - there is no easy solution. So, examination of active speakers in the market reveals that their designers circumvent fire hazards by removing all the foam and bitumen panel damping. The sound quality obviously degrades. So 'going active' is most definitely not a universal solution to improved quality: the opposite may often apply.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  4. #24
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    I do realise that there are companies selling active speakers. The ATC's are really meant for studio use where they might have an advantage but my concern is that I am not convinced about any sonic superiority with active operation. All of the very best speakers I have heard over many years have been passive and not active. Even when I had speakers which could be passive or active simply by plugging in the mains, the passive version always sounded better. IMO.

  5. #25
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    Default Active and digital design issues.

    I think it's important to say that it is possible to take a successful passive design and clone the crossover as an active solution (I've done that several times) but it is impossible to take an active speaker and make a successful functional passive clone from it. That's because you have far greater flexibility with active circuitry; passive circuits do not lend themselves to ultra-flexibility so the designer has to use every ounce of ingenuity to get a good system result with a passive crossover. He is fighting the limitations of passive technology all the time.

    One reason digital-active speakers can/do sound so horrendously hard and fatiguing is because their designers have never had to learn their craft making passive speakers - doing the job the hard way. With digital actives, a few clicks of the mouse on the development computer in the comfort of the lab, and the response can be made ruler flat. Had those designers (all young men, fresh from digital design degrees) been forced to spend twenty years with a soldering iron and pile of chunky passive components, they'd have more respect for, and empathy with, what we here would consider to be good sound. 'Digital design tools' creates the illusion that anyone sitting at a PC can be a master of audio design without ever needing to listen. And even if they did - deprived of the accumulated knowledge over decades of working within the limitations of passive components - there wouldn't be the foundations from which to draw work-arounds to achieve better sound. Of course, there must be exceptions to this rule, but even the biggest European speaker brands seem to have two parallel design teams: one to design the drive units and the cabinet - the other the electronics and hence, to define the final system sound. That design by committee is, in my opinion, never going to give a truly natural sound.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  6. #26
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    Thank you for that last post, Alan; and thank you for your openness on a public forum like this on matters commercial as well as technical.

  7. #27
    honmanm Guest

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    Last night I took the P3ESRs over to the home of a friend who has Audio Research amps... that was a happy combination! Towards the end of the evening we had a chat about amps that might suit my budget (150) and one of the suggestions might be a useful alternative here - a Denon CD/receiver like the UD-M30 or its succesors. That combines a CDP player, tuner, and "pretty good" amplifier in a single small box - so box count is effectively the same as active speakers + a box that acts as source.

    My friend's son has one of these Denons in his bedroom, so he brought it down and hooked up the P3ESRs (using bell wire from the garage). The little Denon obviously didn't match several thousand pounds' worth of valve gear, BUT it didn't sound at all bad. Unfortunately we didn't listen for long enough to come to any conclusions about its strengths and weaknesses.

  8. #28
    yeecn Guest

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    I have been driving my Harbeth P3ES2 with Denon dm37 in my bedroom. So far I have been very satisfied with the pairing. Denon dm37 is quite miniature, and only cost around ~GBP 200. It has a CDP, USB, tuner, plays MP3 from CD and USB, plus heaps of electronics like sleep timer, alarm on/off, tune control etc.

    The paring of Denon mk37 with Harbeth was actually by accident. I have been searching up and down for a proper sound system for my bedroom to replace a cheap mini combo system. I thought about Harbeth P3, but I simply could not find a 'proper' amplifier and CDP setup that is small enough pass the wife acceptance criteria.

    Then a bit over a month ago the mini combo unit broke down - so I have to get a replacement fast before my wife went banana on me; and I settled on the Denon mk37 together with the speakers.

    When I set it up in my bedroom I found the Denon speakers simply not to my taste. The speakers are of thick wall design with solid internal bracing and a back facing port. I found the bass sound lacking in body. The ported sound is especially ugly, with a sharp hump somewhere between the mid/lower bass region rolling off sharply at both ends. It was OK for modern one-note bass type of music, but was really ugly for classical and acoustics music.

    So I swapped the speakers with the P3ES2 which I was using as the center speaker for the HT system in the living room. The improvement was astonishing to say the least. In fact at present I actually prefer to listen in the bedroom over the Harbeth C7ES3 in the living room because of the much better acoustics of the bedroom, with the parquet floor, asbestos ceiling, thick curtains and the many fluffy furnitures.

    This is another confirmation to me that the speaker and room acoustics are the two most important factor in sound reproduction. Electronics is really way down the list in terms of audible differences it can make. I actually suspected many people will not be able to tell the Denon unit apart from more expensive electronics apart with blind tests.
    Last edited by yeecn; 19-03-2010 at 12:05 PM. Reason: garmmatical corrections

  9. #29
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    Agreed. When a speaker presents an easy and sensible load to an amplifier (as all Harbeths do) the most unlikely pairings might produce amazing results. The speakers with Mini and Micro systems are generally very poor but the is electronics well engineered, so the gap between them and products selling for silly prices can be quite small for digital sources.

  10. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by Labarum View Post
    Agreed. When a speaker presents an easy and sensible load to an amplifier (as all Harbeths do) the most unlikely pairings might produce amazing results.
    Labarum. This is quite encouraging to someone (like me) who does not have the P3ESRs yet, but would have to - by financial necessity - start off with quite modest partnering equipment.

    What are you partnering your Harbeths with? I am interested in the 'unlikely pairing' that gave you amazing results.

    Thanks.

  11. #31
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    I too am an aspiring Harbeth owner, but I do have a spare Quad amp and a spare Beresford DAC ready to drive them from my laptop or from a Squeezebox - a computer source and decent inexpensive DAC will beat many a big name CD Player.

    But if you are taking a more conservative approach I have read the Denon mini systems are well thought of - and YEECN confirms that. In all of the mini systems it's the speakers that let them down.

    A couple of years ago I was running the British Army Chaplaincy Centre in Germany. In the chapel we had a very cheap mini system with plastic speakers. It had a remote control so you could start and stop a CD at any track from anywhere in the chapel. I was convenient, but sounded awful; and if, in the absence of a organist, it was used to play hymns it just could not cope. I found a very old pair of Wharfedale speakers - probably an 8" bass-mid driver and about two cubic feet. I wired them in and the transformation was indeed amazing. Top flight HiFi it was not, but it filled the chapel (80 seater) very decent sound.

    The mini-system was plastic and built to a (low) price, but it was competently engineered and had sufficient power to drive those lazy old Wharfedales that were build in the days when 10w would be a lot.

    I am not an expert on mini systems, but others may advise you.

    There is one caution: the amplifier must be powerful enough so it does not clip when the music is loud. Clipping knocks the top off the waveform, and the leading edge of the clipped waveform is very high in high frequency components. That can damage a tweeter.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clipping_%28audio%29

  12. #32
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    My 'financial necessity'* would keep me to something more like the 450 Yamaha A-S700 than a micro system, but it is only a small step up compared to some of the gear other members here are using. (I like the reports of the build quality of the Yamaha and that it is supposed to have quite well designed tone controls and a non-fatiguing sound.)

    'Yeecn' saying he was getting a good sound from the Denon DRM37 (albeit pressed into service reluctantly) was very encouraging.

    * I have to try and get P3ESRs and a half decent new amp and a DAB/FM tuner into a very inflexible 2K budget and without resorting to the vagaries of used equipment.

  13. #33
    yeecn Guest

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    The Denon mini delivers 30W per channel. Does that sounds small to you?

    Consider this - 10 times increase in power translates to 2 times increase in loudness. So a 300W amplifier is only TWICE as loud as a 30W amplifier. A 100W amplifier is only marginally louder than a 30W amplifier. 30W was considered very powerful not too long ago, and even now hardly any tube amplifiers goes beyond 30W.

    Last weekend I took the system out for a Resident Association BBQ in the playground. The 'tiny' 30W was able to flood the playground with music. It is definitely loud enough for normal listening in a living room.

  14. #34
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    Thanks yeecn. I am not a power-hog and I like to listen at 'reasonable' domestic volume levels to (mostly) BBC radio 4 and 7. My musical tastes don't run to heavy metal (or even 'heavy' classical). I would be interested in the Yamaha (even if it were 50 watts rather than 90) because of the reviews that all seem to mention good build and an emphasis on a detailed and balanced sound that does not major on the sort of 'slam' that seems to be the vogue nowadays. In fact the 'negatives' from one well-known UK magazine review were describing exactly what I like! (The A-S700 even looks nice to me in a classic 1970s Japanese hifi sort of way.)

  15. #35
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    I drive a pair of P3-ES-2's with a Linn Sneaky DS with 20 W of power (I think chip-based). This works very well, even in a bigger room, but the Linn has its volume limits (and so does the P3).

  16. #36
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    I have driven my P3ESRs with my main amp, which has 100 watts per channel, and a smaller amp I own, which is rated at 25 watts. Both produce very satisfying volume levels (for me) in my small listening room (about 12' by 11').

  17. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by TSH59 View Post
    Thanks yeecn. I am not a power-hog and I like to listen at 'reasonable' domestic volume levels to (mostly) BBC radio 4 and 7. My musical tastes don't run to heavy metal (or even 'heavy' classical). I would be interested in the Yamaha (even if it were 50 watts rather than 90) because of the reviews that all seem to mention good build and an emphasis on a detailed and balanced sound that does not major on the sort of 'slam' that seems to be the vogue nowadays. In fact the 'negatives' from one well-known UK magazine review were describing exactly what I like! (The A-S700 even looks nice to me in a classic 1970s Japanese hifi sort of way.)
    Hi TSH59,

    I don't want to "press" any decision making, but definitely go and get the A-S 700... I happened to see with my own eyes three times within the past 20 years an opened Yamaha integrated and couldn't believe how they managed to use such a good quality of materials to build a tank-proof device at such a low price... And we did it together with a friend of mine, an electronic engineer. We opened as well (even against the warranty terms) the all new A-S 1000, and was equally amazing. As for the sound, you don't need anything more to learn except these that the whole world knows: Fine allrounders, smooth and 100% reliable. Built to last. A friend here uses the "old" DSP A-3090 since it came out in the market, with excellent results both in stereo and surround. It beats down many contemporary AVR's at three times the price... So, if you can afford it, just go and get it, IMHO.

    Regards,
    Thanos

  18. #38
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    hi TSH 59

    Please check out (the tech download especially) of the A-S700 which was just reviewed in Aust hifi (one of the few magazines which still does test measurements).

    http://www.avhub.com.au/ProductRevie...ctReviewID=461

    Im (non trade) and a big Yammy fan and feel similar to what Thanos has described ie. superb engineering and value. The A-S are made in Malaysia and the 2000’s and 1000’s come with a 5 yr warranty (where I am). I compared the tech measurements of the A-s2000 (also measured in Aust hifi) and A-s700 and there is actually not much difference between the two. In fact the A-S700 has lower distortion across a wider freq. range. The A-S700 loses out in channel separation & s/n ratio, due likely to the full dual mono balanced config. of the A-S2000 which costs 3x more.

    One of the things ive realised after this harbeth experience (and awakening) is to be a slightly more hardworking consumer. I use to go straight to the conclusion of reviews and disregard the tech measurements (which seem to be more dependable for electronics than for speakers). This weekend was spent going through stereophile’s amp measurement graphs (I now skip their BS opinions and writeups, ditto for all the garbo UK magazines which make woman’s day reviews of lipsticks look far more sophisticated).

    The things I learnt

    1. Reviewers don’t know what they are listening to. Why are they praises for amps like naim and rega which are full of harmonics. Ditto most tube amps, some of which measure terribly esp. Prima Luna’s. Am I missing something here?
    2. There is some correlation between measurement and listening but bias kicks in. I see UK magazines giving faint praise to good solidly engineered amps like the Yamahas, Denons (but Marantz and Rotels seem to be getting praises) without a full rational reasoning.
    3. There are indeed some superb measuring amps (eg. Brystons and some Marantz power amps) and there seems to be some correlation between measure and sound.
    4. You still see UK mags praising items of questionable build quality –(the British brand which starts with “R and ends with N”). The question is why?

    Cut a long story short. You can’t go wrong with an A-S700 at a good price. It will blow away the cheaper Naims and Regas if you want clean, low distortion & low harmonics together with great engineering.

  19. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by kittykat View Post
    ...
    4. You still see UK mags praising items of questionable build quality –(the British brand which starts with “R and ends with N”).
    Que? Am I being thick? I can't tell what brand this refers to.

  20. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by EricW View Post
    Que? Am I being thick? I can't tell what brand this refers to.
    the turntable maker. one guy said the volume control sticks to the fascia and is hard to turn it...

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