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Thread: Where does Harbeth take its product development from here?

  1. #1
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    Default Where does Harbeth take its product development from here?

    Alan, you've said that there is further room for refinement of and improvement on your products based on the BBC school of speaker design. I'm curious as to what those might be.

    From a layperson's perspective, here's some of what I've learned so far from hanging out in the HUG (please correct me if I've got it wrong):

    1. If you get the vibrational contribution of the cabinet far enough below the level of the signal produced by the drivers, you've done what you need to and further improvements won't really help.

    2. Driver material is critical. Polypropylene is lossy, paper is inconsistent, coated drivers will be unstable over time. Nothing currently out there is better than Harbeth's proprietary RADIAL material.

    3. Thin-wall construction may not give the tightest possible bass, but gives by far the cleanest, most natural midband because it pushes cabinet resonances out of the critical midrange.

    4. Fancy wiring, boutique capacitors and resistors, etc. may make some people feel good, but are not going to have any meaningful impact on sound quality.

    Given all that (if I have it right, and I know in reality it's far more complicated), how do you improve on what you already have? Surely it can't be easy. In what areas is further improvement possible?

    If you can't answer without providing confidential information, then please feel free not to answer. But the question is genuine, and motivated by nothing but curiosity.

    {moderator's comment: that is a terrific question. I'm sure Alan will look forward to replying to you. Thanks. Mod1}

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    Default Product development ....

    (I'm surprised Alan hasn't replied yet). Forgive me for hijacking this thread but if I were to brainstorm and throw out ideas - how about an active Harbeth bookshelf speaker for starters (or is this inconsistent with the BBC brief)? Or ribbon tweeters? A non-standard shaped cabinet?

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    Default Ribbon tweeters?

    Quote Originally Posted by singslingr View Post
    ... Or ribbon tweeters? ...
    A friend of mine have an old pair of Celestion 7000. You know, the one with the 2 foot long ribbon and two 7 inches woofers on each speaker. A truely hybrid way. I always prefer that "ribbon sound" compare to other companies who use a smaller piece of ribbon, only few inches long (Verity Audio or Dali speakers for exemple).

    But for ribbon, I realized that it is often "too much" on the treble so tonal balance on all the spectrum is not achived. Plus, they are difficult to match with certain amplifier. Certainly not what Alan is thinking of.

    Finally, I don't know if Alan will comment on this one. I realized that certain subject are confidential in the business such as product development.

    Sebastien

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    Default Where does Harbeth take its product development from here

    I had forgotten about the original post - thanks for reviving it.

    I suppose that if there's no official comment from Harbeth, one of two inferences can be drawn:

    1. Harbeths are already essentially perfect, or at least, as good as any loudspeaker can possibly be given current technology, so no further improvement is possible; or

    2. There's no way to answer the question(s) without revealing information that is commercially sensitive.

    #1 is possible, though #2 seems more likely, especially as Alan himself has said there's room for development.

    One request though: could you please remove the apostrophe in "it's" - it's grammatically incorrect in that usage ("its" is the possessive) and I didn't add the headline, though people will think it's mine. Thanks.

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    Default Blending ribbons with standard draivers

    In theory, a ribbon tweeter seems like an excellent transducer & it does show up sonically in well designed examples but its not easy to seamlessly mate a ribbon tweeter to conventional dynamic cone drivers.

    I've owned & heard countless spks using ribbon tweeters mated with cone drivers & NONE really sounded seamless, even those with 5 to 6 figure price tags. Differences in resolution, characteristics & dispersion pattern will always warrant the ribbon tweeter to call attention to itself, as if to tell the listener that there is a superior & separate tweeter in there.

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    Default Going forward but cautiously

    I'm sorry that I overlooked this thread.

    Creative people are by nature never completely satisfied. The more you look at a photograph or painting or garden landscape the more suggestions pop up about how given a second chance you'd do things a little differently and better. The problem is that what may seem to the creator just a logical development or extension may prove otherwise, and a product evolutionary dead end. I'm reminded of the mad rush into tower-block housing in the 1960s. That ticked many boxes for housing density, best use of land area and economy of construction and affordability compared to the urban sprawl of individual residences that proceeded then for hundreds of years. It was of course an unmitigated disaster, not just in the UK but a disease that was exported to and blighted cities all over the world. That outcome seems blindingly obvious from today's perspective, yet at the time, not only were architects and developers championing this new wave but so were city councils and consumers. All were caught up in a short sighted wave of euphoria. And if that can occur in housing, such an important aspect of society, then it can and does happen in audio design very easily.

    So, back to speaker design. To extract even a 1% improvement - or what I think we would universally agree would be a worthwhile step-up - is a massive undertaking given today's technology. That's not to say that in fifty years loudspeakers won't be more accurate, smaller, cheaper - I'm sure they will - but we are at the outer reaches of what today's technology can achieve. And if we are really honest, a technical plateau was reached across the entire speaker market perhaps twenty years ago and since then styling and marketing have been the dominant engine of creativity. There are one or two exceptions of real ingenuity but generally, there hasn't been much progress, and indeed discussions with a dealer this week who has good ears and a long experience says that he is rarely able to balance a glowing modern review of (non-Harbeth) speakers with the pitiful colored reality of what actually arrives at his store. So maybe the acoustic standard is regressing not progressing?

    The odd thing is, that the technical measurement and simulation tools to design a good speaker have been around since DOS days, the late 80s, and I've used them since then. So if I can do it and turn-out a speaker that you like, why can't others using the same or similar tools? That's the mystery to me.

    As I mentioned at the end of 2009, this year is Consolidation Year, specifically scanning my entire engineering archive to searchable PDFs and looking for those 1% golden nuggets buried in the data which I just can't see in the paper files. I now have hundreds of PDFs from the 13000 sheets scanned so far, plenty more to do, and have earmarked several potential avenues for exploration that I'd forgotten or overlooked. But until the whole paper mountain is digitised I have an open mind and I'm reluctant to undertake any design work at all. The four year P3ESR design utilised every trick I had up my sleeve.

    P.S. Please, when imagining what I'm thinking or planning do remember that I sleep, have a family life (the not-so children are back here for the weekend), have many management duties running Harbeth, exercise, eat and sleep so my silence from time to time is nothing more than being busy! Now I must bake some bread (special request) before their wife/girlfriend wake up .......
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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    Default Harbeth - if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it !!!!

    Harbeth are amongst the best speakers in the World, regardless of technology. They are also very good value for our hard earned cash and I can't think of any gaps in their range that I would like to be filled.

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    Default Product plans ....?

    Quote Originally Posted by hifi_dave View Post
    If it ain't broke, don't fix it !!!!

    Harbeth are amongst the best speakers in the World, regardless of technology. They are also very good value for our hard earned cash and I can't think of any gaps in their range that I would like to be filled.
    1. A narrow fronted floor stander? That probably means a side fireing woofer, and that may introduce unacceptable compromises; but is some domestic circumstances it could be a good choice.

    2. An active P3 with on-board DAC for the computer audio folk.

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    Default Radial2

    About Harbeth's development, I'm thinking about the entire range that could eventualy be with the Radial2 (TM) woofers. What about that?

    Sebastien

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    Default Product ideas?

    Quote Originally Posted by Labarum View Post
    1. A narrow fronted floor stander? That probably means a side fireing woofer, and that may introduce unacceptable compromises; but is some domestic circumstances it could be a good choice.

    2. An active P3 with on-board DAC for the computer audio folk.
    I think those are both great ideas. I guess the question would be, apart from the technical aspects, whether Harbeth has any reason to branch out at present. If you're selling 100% of what you make with orders booked well into the future, are using 100% of your production capacity, and are not inclined to expand capacity, how do you introduce anything new?

    One longterm issue, I suppose, is whether Harbeth can keep producing what it does now indefinitely with the same market acceptance, or whether it eventually needs to get into new areas to sustain sales.

    I don't know the answer to that. I do know that if Harbeth were to make a computer speaker, or a high-WAF floorstander, they would likely be the best of class in their respective categories. Whatever technical compromises a floorstander might necessitate, I would be very interested in one from Harbeth.

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    Default Waiting lists at HArbeth ....

    Whilst all Harbeth production is selling and there are waiting lists in most markets, why would they feel the need to bring in new models ? They struggle to keep up with demand as it is.

    As for slim cabinets with sideways firing bass units, I have rarely heard this layout perform optimally, regardless of price. I have heard many such designs and had a few models in the shop but they all seem to produce bass that lags behind the note and lacks punch. I've got a pair here now on loan and they really don't do it for me.

    As for 'computer' speakers, there are hundreds out there from £50 upwards and some are very good. Personally, I can't see why a specialist speaker company would want to get into this market.

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    Default "Mon petit doigt me dit..."

    As I understand, the main development from Harbeth's last years is the Radial (1 and 2) woofers. This development doesn't require a change in the look of the product.

    Harbeth, working since years with the same design cabinet, remain conservative in the appearance. But I guest Alan would say yes for the appearance, but no for the rest. So I guest that there could be changes around but not too much to influences main visual design.

    Like we say in French: "Mon petit doigt me dit...". My little finger tell me that we can expect a change in the SHL5 in the next years. It is one of Harbeth "best" seller, have been in the same production for already many years now and doesn't have Harbeth's Radial 2 woofer.

    On the other side, Harbeth's amplifier was looking like a good project. But it seems that it is on ice actually.

    By the way: Happy Halloween everyone!

    Sebastien

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    Default Slim with bass?

    Quote Originally Posted by hifi_dave View Post
    Whilst all Harbeth production is selling and there are waiting lists in most markets, why would they feel the need to bring in new models ? They struggle to keep up with demand as it is. As for slim cabinets with sideways firing bass units, I have rarely heard this layout perform optimally, regardless of price. ....
    You may be entirely right, and in any event the last thing I want to do is argue. In fact, I made the same point. Anyway, this is all just chatter: the company will decide what to do, and when to do it.

    I would point out, though - apropos of nothing, perhaps - that having a side-firing bass driver is not the only way to achieve a slim-fronted floorstander. You can have a 2.5 way arrangement, for example. Two of the P3ESR's drivers plus a tweeter in a floorstanding box would give quite a slim profile but with added bass weight owing to the extra driver and larger cabinet.

    Should Harbeth do so, however? There are probably all kinds of good reasons not to, including the ones you point out. And it doesn't really matter to me all that much - I was only saying that if they decided to introduce such a model, many - myself included - would probably give it a serious look.

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    Default A dish with the most exotic and expensive ingredients

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    So if I can do it and turn-out a speaker that you like, why can't others using the same or similar tools? That's the mystery to me......[/I]
    Iíd personally liken a great loudspeaker to a great dish. And like great dishes, they are crafted with feeling, with a fine sense of balance between judgement of one person and the skilful execution as well as appropriate use of ingredients.

    Your question Alan, would also suggest anyone can be a great cook, as we have access to similar ingredients and utensils but most of us will be very far from being Bourdains and heaven forbid Gordon Ramsay in terms of execution.

    Iím certain some of us have heard loudspeakers with all the fancy technology thrown at them, but imo they also sound exactly like that eg. a dish with the most exotic and expensive ingredients cooked by someone like me, without sufficient skill and expertise to balance out the flavours and most importantly prioritise what matters most to our palettes. A great dish is a great dish, and its currency doesnít expire because it is what it is. And this imo definitely means we do not need to tell the chef how he does his work and let him do the magic.

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    Default Computer speakers .... clutter free domestically acceptable?

    Quote Originally Posted by hifi_dave View Post
    As for 'computer' speakers, there are hundreds out there from £50 upwards and some are very good. Personally, I can't see why a specialist speaker company would want to get into this market.
    The use of the term "'computer' speakers", which I did not use, looks like a put down, Dave. That is quite unnecessary.

    Should a top ranking speaker manufacturer make available a digital active pair of speakers the "computer audio folk" (the term I did use) would have an easy and clutter free way to achieve extremely high quality audio using domestically acceptable boxes, rather than high tech studio horrors.

    The audio stream via S/PDIF or even USB from a Macbook or Windows 7 Laptop will match or better source available (much more expensively) using traditional separates. An audio streamer like Squeezebox or Airport Express is similarly capable of delivering a bit perfect stream.

    A Harbeth to receive this bit perfect stream and convert it into high quality sound would be a worthy addition to the range.

  16. #16
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    Default Product suggestions

    I suspect that a "slim" speaker using a pair of 4" drivers would work out to be the same sort of price as the SHL5. About the same amount (and complexity) of cabinetwork, crossover complexity - and the manufacturing cost of the 4" driver is likely to be more than half that of the 8".

    While it would be nice to see an "affordable" Harbeth, that would probably involve an unacceptable sacrifice of some aspects of sound quality (the cabinets and drivers must be the major cost components and a compromise in one of these will affect the whole speaker).

    The only gap in the range would seem to between the SHL5 and Monitor 40. Could that be filled by a smaller 3-way speaker employing the 4" midbass driver, modified Monitor 40 crossover, and either the 12" bass driver from the '40 or a smaller derivative?

    While it should be feasible to produce a P3ESR derivative in a somewhat larger and ported cabinet (sort of shrunked Compact 7) - and only slightly more expensive, would there be a market for it?

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    Default Computer speakers .... for the average man

    'Computer' speakers wasn't a personal attack, I am attempting to point out that the market for small desk-top speakers with onboard DAC and amp is well covered in the market by all the 'big boys'. The average man in the street will go for one of them and not give a thought to the expensive specialist manufacturer.

    The enthusiast will probably add some form of streaming + quality DAC to his existing Hi-Fi system.

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    Default DAC streaming etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by hifi_dave View Post
    The enthusiast will probably add some form of streaming + quality DAC to his existing Hi-Fi system.
    They might. That is what I have done: Squeezebox or TV Box > DAC Pre > Power Amp > Passive Speakers; but in the longer term I would hope to order things differently. Source > Speakers has a wonderful simplicity, empties the lounge of junk, and has the advantage that the same design team has managed the engineering compromises of an integrated system from DAC to speaker cones.

    'Computer' speakers wasn't a personal attack, I am attempting to point out that the market for small desk-top speakers with onboard DAC and amp is well covered in the market by all the 'big boys'. The average man in the street will go for one of them and not give a thought to the expensive specialist manufacturer.
    I certainly didn't see it as personal, Dave, but maybe I am asking for bigger conceptual jump. I did not have in mind "desk top speakers" such as the Audioengines, but a small P3 type speaker capable of making music across a small room - or even a bigger box. The Studio Monitors I have heard do tend to shout, and I would not want anything looking like that in my lounge! A top notch speaker manufacture could surely make a better job of it.

    I think there have been conversations like this before, and the word was that electronics in a bitumen lined box is not a good idea. I guess the answer might be putting the electronics in a custom stand, but that is detail for the manufacturer.

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    Default A marketing conundrum?

    Would we as consumers be missing the point if we liked Harbeth for being a house for the tradition of BBC loudspeakers, for example, yet suggest me-too products. Just a thought.

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    Default Tradition and speaker design, core objectives

    The active loudspeaker is not foreign to the BBC tradition. The narrow fronter floor-stander is.

    "Tradition" is literally "that which has been handed down", but if it is to survive it must be "handed on": it must look forward and develop to meet current and future needs.

    And we should ask what is the core of the tradition: using thin wall cabinet construction with carefully designed drivers and crossovers to achieve a natural un-coloured sound that does not fatigue the listener. I would suggest any product faithful to those core objectives is worthy of bearing the Harbeth name.

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