Originally Posted by STHLS5
Originally Posted by DSRANCE
Three excellent posts which give us in one snapshot the range of views that we've seen over the last two or so years since the 'amp project' was first mooted. Thank you.
Originally Posted by EricW
Now, EricW is both absolutely right and absolutely wrong. He says that 'Harbeth is not a marketing-driven company'. In fact, what he means is that we are not a sales driven company. We most assuredly are a marketing-driven company if the definition of marketing is something like 'delivering to the consumer what he wants, is willing to pay for and will provide him with long term satisfaction ...'. In that respect, Harbeth and, say, the mighty Apple Corporation have a similar outlook. The difference is at street level. We do not have the resources to thoroughly test-market any new concept by building mock-ups and then presenting them to consumer panels for usability feedback. A large company would use secret internal and public external panels continuously to fine-tune and shape what will eventually be brought to market. Is the LCD display bright enough? Is the battery life acceptable for real-world use? How about the weight and the position of buttons? Does this soap powder wash-out more of the grass stains? As a professional company modelling ourselves on the big boys, we would dearly love to have the resources to invest in market research. But we don't have, and nor do 99% of manufacturers in the audio industry.
So? Well, in effect, the media becomes the test market, wittingly or unwittingly. A typical scenario is that an inventor conceives an audio product. He is not "a marketeer" by instinct or training, he's a creative soul who sees the world through those delightfully naive eyes. In truth, his disconnection from commerce and his total inability to sample the market before proceeding means that has a very slim chance of commercial success. Yet, he has passed the point of mild curiosity and has re-mortgaged his home/borrowed from friends and family/given up the day job/frightened his wife senseless/cashed-in the pension - and he just has to complete at least one production specimen. What then? He wraps a blanket around the product, loads it into his car, and with either ludicrously high expectations (or painfully low ones) sets off to visit a dealer or two on a wet Wednesday when they have nothing better to do. It hardly matters whether he receives rapturous praise or downright ridicule; his market sample of a handful of dealers is not in any sense whatever an arbiter of the products general appeal in this country or abroad. It is a statistically insignificant sample. It is a sample only of an intermediary point in the distribution chain, not of the ultimate consumer. And it cannot factor-in the influence of the media (both positive or negative) in creating a buzz about the product. In my opinion, he would have been better spending the time and money on a long weekend break away from the product and the industry, contemplating from a distance the entire game.
What next then for our boffin?
The next obvious step then is to try and get a review in the media. That's not difficult and could be set-up after three or four phone calls. The media need new products to bill and coo over. That is their oxygen supply. That's what they exist for. They're constantly on the hunt for new girlfriends, new experiences, new thrills. Last years model is an irrelevance. So naturally, the boffin and the media fall into each others arms. Fine. No problem with that at all. Everyone plays their part. The next step is where the inventor's expectations and the market reality diverge: he (as indeed I did at the beginning) assumed (laughably) that 'a great review means great sales' and that he'd be on the road to riches. Life's not that simple. He's competing with dozens, hundreds of new products on the audio catwalk and it will be very surprising indeed if his have features/performance that is so unique that it drives people to him. But he doesn't know that yet. So he sits by the phone and waits, and waits and waits.
The sad part is that, although he doesn't know it, if he had had a more empathetic relationship with his potential market - a forum like this for example - he could have better matched his creation to what the market actually wanted not what he thought that they thought that they wanted. There might be a trivial, rectifiable issue that handicaps sales. The price 10% too high? The colour too shiny? The controls in the wrong place? Had he undertaken basic, even if not extensive market research - were that even possible - and been prepared to absorb whatever usability issues were revealed he could have involved the media not as a substitute for user market-testing feedback but as a shopping window for a market-ready product.
And now back to the point of the Harbeth amplifier. We have seen from the very outset of this concept that there has been confusion about what feedback we have been looking for from HUG, our consumer test panel. Apple's consumer panels are not being asked to decide whether Apple should bring this or that product to the market, or whether Mr. Ives has lost his touch. Or how other consumers the other side of the locked door out on the street will feel and react. The panel have been asked, plain and simple, to judge whatever has been plonked down in front of them for what it is, what is does and what it perhaps could/should do. Apple's corporate executives obviously wouldn't be - and shouldn't be - interested in how a small group of sensitive individuals may use the opportunity to express fear and anxiety about the longer-term corporate thinking within Apple: that is a matter for shareholders alone.
If I consider this entire amplifier issue - which I am personally still very much interested in as a marketing solution to the wretched question '... what amp ...' (when we all know that any credible amp working to spec will drive Harbeth well) - I see that much time and effort has been addressing issues which a consumer panel shouldn't worry itself over. To put it in very simple brutal terms: we (uniquely?) have invited you, HUG members, in public, to tell us how the product should look and feel. We - I - put my neck on the block for delivering a marketing-driven solution to you that will fulfill your expectations. Leave all the strategic thinking to the guy who's putting up the cash and concentrate on performing the normal role of a consumer panel defining what you want the product to do.
Finally, the DSP issue. There seems to be much confusion over this 'jiggery-pokery'. I believe that I have a strong sense of what a Harbeth user expects from us, of his technical abilities, of his tolerance of complexity. I have explained here and here the thought process that I have regarding a DSP solution. I have done this in public and I am aware that the entire industry has been following the public reaction to the HUG 'DSP' issue. Whatever you have stated - for and against - has influenced a competitor's thinking and given them a head-start on the marketing issues and challenges. It is as if Apple set-up a consumer panel in a shopping mall, laid bare their next generation of products and allowed the unscreened, unprofiled public to evaluate and comment - including competitors. That's a risk I had to accept to encourage an adequately large respondent sample to contribute to the debate because for the reasons stated above, bringing a product to market professionally mandates market research. We had not other choice.
One thing that seems to have escaped consideration is this: DSP is a generic, universal, adaptable, precision engineering tool. It can be used to make the smallest adjustments or can be used as a sledgehammer. It could be used in a car ECU to adjust the air/fuel mixture in the 2500-2700 rev range alone where due to turbulence in the manifold there is an acceleration flat spot. Or it could, in an extreme case, apply so much correction that a six cylinder engine could have two or three cylinders turned-off to save fuel without the driver being aware. You can do what you want with it: it's just a mathematical tool.
One disadvantage of a public consumer panel is that whilst I see anxiety reported about "over use" of DSP, I have to keep my mouth firmly shut in telling you precisely what DSP we have experimented with, to great effect. All I can say is my position remains that there are certain performance issues which we have all (obviously) adapted to and taken for granted over a listening generation or two. When digital technology permits you to focus in on, isolate, quantify and attend to those very small issues that you didn't even appreciate were issues, you have a hugely powerful tool to use - or abuse - as you wish.
This is a long post. My fingers are sore. I hope this helps.
Alan A. Shaw
Harbeth Audio UK