From what I can gather from the posts here, there are purists, seeking virginal sound reproduction and there are experiential lovers, both groups after the rainbow. One groups however appears to be naggingly more philosophical, and the other, more immersed and interested in the experience.
As it stands, the sound entertainment market already recognises this, and has segmented the hifi ones (former) from the surround sound- home theatre markets. I can already see the comfort zone of some purists here being probed.
I have a funny suspicion that sound experience markets are very practical. They would appreciate anything which can enhance their living room experience, be it to create a phenomena or to reduce room or recording issues. The odd observation I have of the purist market, is that most of the commercial recordings floating about are of pretty poor quality and undergone loudness compression. Some Hollywood recordings (and some soundtracks), on the other hand, possibly have a much higher technical or “audiophile” (if you’d like to call it that) benchmark. My room has no hope of taking in the dynamic range, as meant to be, thrown at it by “Avatar” for example.
Whatever the reason, it seems that the goal to maintain sound virginity, ie without any intervention of tone controls etc, in audio reproduction is akin to keeping the bride chaste for the worst partner. Wanting pure reproduction and a “live” experience at the same time is even more polarised and unattainable imo. How the 2 can be achieved without any electronics intervention is curious.
A DSP mode to “uncompress”, even mildly, the loudness of modern pop albums would be most welcome imo, and I’d personally love it. Think the Harbeths are almost perfect in tone, and I personally wouldn’t need a function to correct this.
If sensitively applied technology can genuinely improve fidelity far beyond what one could reasonably expect then, like it or not, we are going to thoroughly investigate it. Our goal is greater fidelity and we have to move with the times. I will re-write the rule book as we go along, if necessary.
Likewise, as I said in the 'amplifier challenge', if someone had stepped forward and actually demonstrated one amplifier of such immediate and exceptional fidelity (compared with any other amp) they would have done us all a big favour by moving the fidelity goal posts forward. We would then have bought such an amplifier and re-written our position on amplifiers when compared under instantaneous A-B conditions to highlight and recommend that model for use with Harbeth speakers.
Until that time when superior technology steps in, our position is as already stated. We have to be adaptable and when we can prove not only to ourselves but to you, the listener, that technology has truly made an sonic advance possible, we will do so as we always have done.
Alan A. Shaw
Harbeth Audio UK
Eurofighter), all aircraft are designed to be fundamentally in-balance with hands off the controls when in flight. This imposes certain performance constraints (wing size, drag, lift, speed, centre of gravity etc.). If you want to design an aircraft that can do remarkable things, then you have to reconsider the entire theory of mechanical stability and make the plane inherently unstable, unable to fly without electronics, and then use the electronics to perform millions of in-flight corrections to allow it to achieve the impossible in flight. Example video here showing what 75 computers talking to each other can do. I'm not suggesting that Harbeth abandons the primary requirement of mechanical stability and DSP-unassisted technical excellence. I'm saying that we are close to what we can ever achieve with purely mechanical systems, as car designers realised 20+ years ago when the Engine Management Systems appeared.
In the case of speakers using already well designed high-performance drive units, crossovers and cabinets, we are at the point (and have been for some years) that as there are no new materials available, we are most unlikely to achieve additional dramatic performance from mechanical solutions alone in hifi speakers. The best we can do, as in the case of the M30 > M30.1 is a few percent improvement. Worthwhile - yes - but not as much as we'd want. So, assuming that the basic mechanics of the speaker are truly as good as possible then there is every reason to consider what electronics can do.
The fact is - and I am speaking from personal experience here - we are all conditioned to expect a certain "sound" from our audio equipment. We long ago set that as our mental reference. Once in a generation, something comes along that makes us reconsider that personal reference. Analogue to digital was one of those game changers. This is another. I just do not understand the negativism.
Alan A. Shaw
Harbeth Audio UK
I am happy to see this discussion on the Harbeth amp revived. As I read through the posts, this one from STHLS5 really struck me as interesting.
A subwoofer is something that would be a natural add-on for many Harbeth customers. A subwoofer with an integrated power amp designed for Harbeth speakers would be a very unique proposition in the marketplace. The addition of room correction in the sub/amp unit itself would make for an even more interesting product.
The trend toward DACs with integrated preamps coupled with the fact that most people get their music in digital form make a product like this more viable than ever before. Imagine, the dealer sells a pair of Harbeth speakers along with the Harbeth sub, which also serves as the power amp for the speakers! All that's needed is a DAC/PRE from any number of very good makers and the customer is all set. The sub can be hidden out of sight, and its integrated power amp means less clutter for the customer. Make the sub so that it goes into some kind of sleep mode while waiting for an input signal and the customer has only to turn on his DAC/PRE and source to start the music. For that matter, he could connect something like a Squeezebox into the Harbeth sub/amp/eq unit so that playing music is just a matter of pressing the play button. Clean, green and simple.
Alan's idea of including room correction into the amplifier dovetails nicely with this concept. DSP correction for room correction could be integrated into the sub/power amp unit. Wouldn't that be a natural place for it anyway? Most of the trouble people have with their rooms have to do with the low frequencies.
Such a product would be consistent with values that Alan has expressed here many times. It would remove the amplifier question from many customers' minds, since they could rest assured that the amp has been well tested by Harbeth for use with their speakers. Same goes for the subwoofer portion of the product. No longer would people agonize over which subwoofer is best for Harbeths, which are "fast enough" or any number of other concerns. Integrated room correction would solve the worst problems people tend to have with subs. Executed properly, this product could represent a real step forward in terms of sound quality, ease of use and simplification. It may even help loosen audiophilia's grip on some of Harbeth's customers, freeing them to relax and enjoy music, confident that their Harbeths sound exactly as intended.
I note that other speaker brands both have digital solutions and others (including us) are on the outside looking in with curiosity. Just to jot down a few words that summarise my thinking at this point ...
- We remain 100% committed to making the very best mechanical (i.e. electronically unassisted) speakers that we can for the remainder of my working career because I understand them fairly well by now ...
- that gives us the largest potential sales market and ...
- we know that a significant number of users are suspicious of/hostile to the idea of digits between their music and their ears (which is why analogue has a following) ...
- and our experiments reveal that the digital correction advantage for a well designed speaker in a tolerably well damped room is relatively small ...
- and most people - definitely including me - just cannot be bothered with any more needless complexity in our lives so ...
- whatever we come up with has to be simple to implement at home and foolproof. And affordable.
That says to me that we should concentrate our efforts not on a universal speaker-room-subwoofer-amp digital fix, but on the one aspect of that entire universe of possibilities which a) we have the greatest control over and b) is the simplest to implement and bring to market and c) that is within our (limited) mental capacity to comprehend and d) is not necessary or mandatory for any user - it is an after-market add-on for those with the curiosity and the time to play.
I don't know where you sit on the subject of complexity, but although I experimented with setting-up streaming audio I have never actually used it for recreational listening. With hindsight it was a bit of a mistake ripping hundreds/thousands of CDs because I miss the ability to reach for a disc, savour the artwork, pop it into the transport and in seconds I have great music with zero mental effort. Yes, I know the streaming servers are now probably very intuitive, it's just that I'm resistant to change I suppose. I just want the music not any avoidable hassle. I've never been a techie.
Alan A. Shaw
Harbeth Audio UK
An excellent summary, which shows why many of us chose to buy Harbeth speakers.
One thought: rather than "a universal speaker-room-subwoofer-amp digital fix" could a simple kit of an electronic box, with a microphone for setup, be used modify the input to any Harbeth speaker to correct for the low-frequency characteristics of individual listening rooms? As noted in an earlier thread on the HUG, the latter are very hard to modify by physical changes to the listening room.
Very well said. I agree with your point of view, and would wager that most Harbeth owners, and potential owners, would also agree with you.
Alan's amplifiers challenge is a proof that under DBT all reasonably well built Amps are the same and therefore Harbeth's amp will be similar to any of the well built High End amp. Theoretically, a $1000 - 80 watter is as good as $5000 - 80 watter Amp. So, as a customer, which Amp should I buy? What would a smart consumer's decision be? Do I buy from the established amp maker or from a new player? Should a customer take the risk?
Now, let's say under subjective listening Harbeth Amp is better or equal to an acclaimed $5000 Amp then what would be Harbeth position? Is Harbeth going to insist that it is just placebo - the Amp is same as a $1000 Technics or Sony or a Yamaha? Or does Harbeth Amp sound better because the gain is higher - a commonly used trick in marketing? But, if the amp is going to be subjectively better than any other Amps then there's a huge market for it but if the amp is not going to pass the subjective test then it got to compete with long established brands in High End market with the odds against a new player.
Leaving that aside for a moment, let's see the pros and cons including a DSP and maybe an IPod dock as well.*
(will continue later provided this post pass thru the Mod)
It was, and is, my personal belief that there is a significant sector of the music loving market which never have been and never will the slightest interested in technology. My feet, heart and brain are firmly in that camp. As EricW suggests (post #195) these are conceivably a similar demographic group to the Apple user base, and Apple has comprehensively outsmarted 'traditional' audio brands (like Sony) by building -in and focusing on real, user tangible features not airy-fairy BS about technical minutia possibly disprovable as quasi-science. And whilst Apple have been rewarded for understanding the needs of the real world user and giving them more usability, amplifier manufacturers persist in the deletion of tone controls proudly giving the real-world user less influence over music reproduced at home under (always) sub-optimal conditions. Completely and utterly nonsensical. Were the Harbeth amp ever to see the light of day, we would concentrate of returning democracy to the audio enthusiast. Use your vote and apply a little tone adjustment to suit your room, recording or taste here of there, or don't. You decide. It's up to you, not us as the amp manufacturer sitting listening in a perfect laboratory listening room.
I, we, Harbeth identify ourselves with folk who want the shortest, cheapest, simplest route to great music at home. I would never waste a molecule of energy trying to convince folk that the Harbeth amplifier was 'better sounding' than any other competently designed, reliable, mature analogue design because that simply would not be and could not be true. I have always admired the QUAD marketing strategy of the 50-80s, where the true music lover pops into his hifi dealer and says, 'give me a system preferably from one credible brand .... I'm not interested in the technology, reviews, cosmetics, shape, size, colour or price - but I do expect tone controls that allow me to get the best from my listening room and source material'.
BTW: the issue of amp sonics is absolutely not proven one way or another. How could it be? Nobody stepped forward to allow the rest of us to hear the difference, so the issue is still unresolved. Clearly, judging by the never ending fascination here and in the current media with amplifiers and the rave endorsements I read, it is as if the 'challenge' was never proposed. The sea opened, Neptune briefly appeared holding up a QUAD 405, the sea closed again and life has continued exactly as before!
Alan A. Shaw
Harbeth Audio UK
Harbeth speakers are high quality reproducers of music, produced specifically for the Hi-Fi enthusiast. They are not for the mass market where price, marketing and gizmos are the be all.
A Harbeth amplifier should sound good, measure well, be practical and bullet proof, reasonably priced and simple - just as the speakers. Harbeth's market is not, IMO, interested in high tech gizmos and complicated circuitry. If the Harbeth amp had well designed tone controls, then so much the better but few Harbeth customers would need or desire any form of DSP room correction.
I believe that numerous and varied controls, facilities, switches and knobs belong on the bling AV receiver and play no part in the design of a high quality amp. If you want to play, or impress your mates, then the Hi-Fi chain store has that in abundance along with a range of matching 'high tech' floor stand speakers.
What am I thinking? I am a consumer. I should have as many choices as possible to choose from. *I shouldn't *be concerned with the manufacturers dilemma or their marketing strategy. *I didn't show any apprehension when my preamp designer decided to go into DAC manufacturing. In fact, I encouraged him, privately. Another choice for me.*
But why is my thinking different with Harbeth? Unknowingly I am sucked into Harbeth cult!*
So now I am going to be a smart selfish and shrewd buyer. Harbeth has given me an opportunity to shape their DAHLE Amp. I am going to make full use of the opportunity given which is something not many manufacturer willing to do.
1) Harbeth is making an Amp - good for the consumers. I would like to listen to them at the dealers place.*
2) Harbeth is including a DSP - not sure. I did use Auddsey DSP to setup my HT but in a well damped room but DSP didn't improve the sound. It is often too complex for people like us to setup. What I hated most was the need to refer to the manual each time I want to adjust the DSP. *So hopefully DAHLE is going to be less complex.
3) Wish list - It should include a IPOd dock with digital output.
4) Tone control- I have had used three Amps with tone controls but it wasn't required in my setup. Not even once I used them in the last 10 years. But I still use them in my HT despite using a DSP. And there are still many good amplifiers made with tone controls. Not sure why Alan is saying " returning democracy to us" unless he is referring to the special tilt control type of the QUADs.
5) big consumer base - important for consumers. It gives assurance of lower price, better secondhand market and spare parts availability long after the expiry of warranty period. Otherwise with the complex DSP it may not easily serviceable locally.
6) will I buy one?- Yes, if the sound quality is subjectively better than my current Amp AND the price is right. No! I am not going to take the Amplifiers challenge to prove it is better than others
I'm sure DSP will be excellent in a controlled studio environment, but what *currently* worries me is in a domestic situation. Not for the technology exactly, but as music reproduction at home is such an emotional experience, the amp will be bought as a heart purchase as much as a cold and clinical objective "head" one.
I had the pleasure of listening to *and through* some M30.1's yesterday, using a variety of amps, most memorable being a £2200 icon Audio valve confection. Lookded lovely to me and performed to my ears as well or better than the good solid state amps we compared it with (not under scientific conditions I grant you). I found I was able to "suspend disbelief" with consumate ease and although the reproduced sound could be "monitored" with ease as befits a speaker designed for such a purpose, I found it was the "musical details in the playing/singing" that kept coming forward, not just image placement in a mixing or production sense. This combination for me was far more than the typical "tape hiss and distortion revealing" kind of small monitor one used to get (I'm thinking of the very cold handed LS5/12A here, which was incredibly un-musical to my ears).
What has all that got to do with a Harbeth amp with DSP? Apologies for my ignorance, but is all this digital jiggery pokery really going to combat room issues, or is this technology going to be applied to the speaker itself, removing the passive crossover from the equation and giving the driving amps better control of the speaker system?