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"This Harbeth User Group (HUG) is the Manufacturer's own managed forum dedicated to natural sound from microphone to ear, achievable by recognising and controlling the numerous confounding variables that exist along the audio chain. The Harbeth designer's objective is to make loudspeakers that contribute little of themselves to the music passing through them.

Identifying system components for their sonic neutrality should logically proceed from the interpretation and analysis of their technical, objective performance. Deviations from a flat frequency response at any point along the signal chain from microphone to ear is likely to give an audible sonic personality to the system at your ear; this includes the significant contribution of the listening room itself. To accurately reproduce the recorded sound as Harbeth speakers are designed to do, you would be best advised to select system components (sources, electronics, cables and so on) that do not color the sound before it reaches the speakers.

For example, the design of and interaction between the hifi amplifier and its speaker load can and will alter the sound balance of what you hear. This may or may not be what you wish to achieve, but any deviation from a flat response is a step away from a truly neutral system. HUG has extensively discussed amplifiers and the methods for seeking the most objectively neutral among a plethora of product choices.

HUG specialises in making complex technical matters simple to understand, getting at the repeatable facts in a post-truth environment where objectivity is increasingly ridiculed. With our heritage of natural sound and pragmatic design, HUG is not the best place to discuss non-Harbeth audio components selected, knowingly or not, to introduce a significantly personalised system sound. For that you should do your own research and above all, make the effort to visit an Authorised Dealer and listen to your music at your loudness on your loudspeakers through the various offerings there. There is really no on-line substitute for time invested in a dealer's showroom because 'tuning' your system to taste is such a highly personal matter. Our overall objective here is to empower readers to make the factually best procurement decisions in the interests of lifelike music at home.

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If some of the science behind faithfully reproducing the sound intended by the composer, score, conductor and musicians over Harbeth speakers is your thing, this forum has been helping with that since 2006. If you just want to share your opinions and photos with others then the unrelated Harbeth Speakers Facebook page http://bit.ly/2FEgoAy may be for you. Either way, welcome to the world of Harbeth!"


Feb. 2018
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If a watt is indeed a watt...

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  • If a watt is indeed a watt...

    I am a proud owner of the Monitor 30.1 series and have enjoyed my pair thoroughly. I have used them with a few different amps and tried my best in being as objective as possible in making comparisons.

    My observation is as follows when it comes to digital music sources:

    Once the internal DAC of the amplifier in question is bypassed and an external DAC connected to the Amp's analog input is used to compare amps, then the differences between amps seem to be considerably reduced. In my particular setup, I use a Sub woofer as well, so bass extension differences aren't quite significant.

    What I have noticed is that differences in imaging, tonality and the other subtleties are mostly a virtue of the Digital to Analog conversion that happens either in the CD player or DAC. So, by isolating the DAC, we can get closer to the fact that the actual sonic differences between amplifiers aren't what we think they are.

    In fact, it could be that all you hear in terms of differences between amps are simply the differences in the DAC or factory tone settings which differ from manufacturer to manufacturer.

    This also leads us to the conclusion that a cost effective way to ensure good sound from electronics could be to use Class D amps (which cost lesser than Class A or AB) and pair it a good DAC.

    Analog sources such as turntables, don't differ as much from amp to amp as digital sources do.

    These are just my observations. I could be wrong..

  • #2
    I agree that for well designed amplifiers watts are watts. I am not sure I agree that DAC's make much of a sonic contribution either, once you have left the rock bottom stuff behind. If you look at the measured data of decent DACs such as noise levels or distortion they are so low (often even lower than for amplifiers) that it is hard to imagine that the DAC can make any difference. I certainly don't hear any difference even between pretty basic DACs reproduced through very revealing speakers. My hunch would be that what you are hearing is the product of level differences. Some DACs produce a rather hotter signal than others. Similarly, some amplifers have a higher input sensitivity than others. And remember, louder always appears to be better.

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    • #3
      Yes, louder does seem better when comparing. But it has nothing to do with the difference in imaging among DACs. Some DACs like Chord have selectable filters as well. These things make all the difference in tonality as well. Therefore, if the DAC isn't important or crucial even, I'm not sure what is (since watts are watts).

      Comment


      • #4
        Archimago, the audio blogger, has tested (i.e. measured) many DACs, and my conclusion is that they have become so good that they are not worth worrying about. See here for a recent test of the DAC in an Oppo 205 UHD BD player and some other untis: http://archimago.blogspot.com/2018/0...05-part-2.html Read through his site for many more tests with essentially the same result.

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        • #5
          That is 100% what I would have expected. Another audiophile nonsense exposed.

          It's sad that the only way an industry can keep itself alive (post the CD era) is through the perpetuation of consumer anxiety, creating issues out of non-issues.
          Alan A. Shaw
          Designer, owner
          Harbeth Audio UK

          Comment


          • #6
            True, the comparative measurements look like nonsense indeed. How can measurements reveal imaging and tonality ?

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by pshane View Post
              Yes, louder does seem better when comparing.
              That's a well-known psychoacoustic phenomenon when listening to music.

              But it has nothing to do with the difference in imaging among DACs.
              You've previously said "louder does seem better when comparing". This no doubt applies to "the difference in imaging" as well. It's psychoacoustics at play again.

              Some DACs like Chord have selectable filters as well. These things make all the difference in tonality as well.
              I wouldn't say that selectable filters "make all the difference in tonality". If you take a look at the frequency responses associated with different reconstruction filters, then the differences are usually quite small. They are also located so high up in frequency range (around 20 kHz) that they would likely be imperceptible to most listeners.

              Therefore, if the DAC isn't important or crucial even, I'm not sure what is (since watts are watts).
              The quality of the loudspeakers is crucial. I am quite sure of that.

              If using a turntable, then the quality of the phono cartridge is also important, as many cartridges have a non-flat frequency response. Then, of course, the quality of the phono amplifier and its accuracy of RIAA equalisation is important too.

              Comment


              • #8
                Also, lets look at things from a difference perspective:

                Credible Speaker Manufacturer: Focused on making good quality, high resolution transducers that reveal all. Measurements are vital to the manufacturing process. The speaker manufacturer may not have the interest, experience, expertise or resources to compare electronics which may or may not make a difference to the sound. Its not what they do, and they may not be interested. The prime goal is to make sure that anything that you put into the speakers gets revealed as much as possible.

                Credible Electronics Manufacturer: Focused on making good quality, high resolution devices that reveal all. Measurements are vital to the manufacturing process. They way more experience, expertise and resources to compare electronics and state with confidence that what they offer does indeed make a difference. This is what they do as a company. Eventually, the market decides and that's why these products sell. Just like good speakers do.

                Therefore, if there is indeed a difference in the electronics, minuscule as it may be, this information fed into the right kind of revealing speakers like Harbeths, will tell the difference. To a certain degree, consumer anxiety is part of the mix in this industry, just as it is in the case of speaker manufacturers who release newer versions of their products stating improvements in sound.

                Both speakers and electronics have come a long way and neither of them from credible manufacturers have anything worth worrying about. They're good. Period.

                So, if a speaker manufacturer can positively capitalize on consumer anxiety, why cant electronics manufacturers? It's a natural process of evolution wouldn't you say ?

                Comment


                • #9
                  But, in the opinion of those who are familiar with the way the ear works, it has been known since before the first hifi system hit the streets that loudness is the governing factor in human auditory sensation. The loudspeaker manufacturer lives in a world when he ignores that at his peril. His design and measurement strategy is one of decibels, frequency and direction of sound. He is extremely familair with the technical and commercial consequencs of manipulating the loudness of his loudspeaker octave by octave across the audio spectrum to illicit a sensory response in the ear/brain of the listener. He knows that in every case, a speaker that is fractionally louder than a competitor model, in specific frequency bands or generally across the audio band either because it actually is technically more efficient or it is being played slightly louder in the demo, will have huge commercial advantage.

                  The makers of audio electronics do not live in that world.

                  There has not ever been, to the best of my knowledge, not ever, a public wholly objective comparison of audio electronics under controlled conditions that has identified and validated the sort of claims made about their sonic signatures. The opposite is true. Furthermore and perhaps more importantly, when selecting a super-dooper world class amplifier for listening to music over (with an objective to driving-up the standard of good loudspeakers under development), it has not been possible to sonically identify under controlled conditions (as long reported here) the difference between a thrift shop 1980s amplifier and a world-reputed North American design (which unlike the $25 amp, later failed and has an impentrable case).

                  However - there are two provisos: a) the loudness must be extremely carefully matched (I have found experimentally to about 0.2dB) between electronics A and B, (which mandates test equipment) and both amps must obviously be operating within their linear region (not overloaded, not clipped) and the power (loudness) is governed by the maximum potential of the lower powered amplifier. Which would mean in the above example that even though the NA unit could deliver, say, 150W/channel, a fair comparison with the charity amp would necessitate that it played at a comparable power/loudness - say 30W.

                  This subject has been done to death here. Indeed, some years ago a pair of Monitor 40s were offered if sonic difefrences could be identified between amps of broadly the same class (to make the comparison useful - i.e solid state v solid state, 100W v. 100W etc), but although the thread was read nearly 100,000 times, there were no takers.

                  We are not going to debate this again. The subject is closed. Fresh experiments, new thinking and open minds are always welcome, and should approach the subject with the intention of writing-up the experience for publication so that others could precisely replicate the comparative process and validate the outcome. But a great starting place would be to identfy where previous serious researchers, who did write-up their experiences for peer review, went so wrong.

                  P.S. Audio electronic makers have one seriously useful tool available which the poor old speaker designer does not have. They can arrange, at the cost of a dollar or two, to take the output of their circuit, drop it in level to precisely match the input to the circuit, and subtract one from the other, proving - or not - that the circuit does indeed behave (or not) a "straight wire with gain". That "difference signal" - if any - can then be listened to. If there is no audible difference, that logically and actually, the signal that comes out of the circuit and the signal that went in are absolutely identical, save for the extra gain (needed to drive speakers, for example).

                  Again, this technique has been known and used in proper publised comparative tests for about 50 years - refer to the QUAD one. Sadly, discussion of it or even testing arranged using it do not grace the pages of WhichWhatHiFiQuarterly.
                  Alan A. Shaw
                  Designer, owner
                  Harbeth Audio UK

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by pshane View Post
                    How can measurements reveal imaging and tonality ?
                    Would you kindly define the terms "imaging" and "tonality" to which you refer?

                    Also, could you identify one or more DACs and/or CD players whose "imaging" and "tonality" seem to suit your preferences and, likewise, any units that you have found to be less than acceptable?

                    If the unit offers a choice of reconstruction filter (and presuming that it does have at least one), indicating which settings were more or less preferable would be useful, as well.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Dear A.S,

                      I think you are missing my point completely.

                      For sake of argument, let me get a few things straight for the record: I do not represent any electronics manufacturer whatsoever. I am but a simpleton who in his limited experience has chosen to spend over 80% of his audio equipment budget on his speakers. However, despite the minions in the forum jumping in to defend the facts that have been debated over an over, my point remains deviant nevertheless.

                      I did not bring up the factor of wattage and power which you have used to counter my argument. I am a true believer of the fact that watts and power are tangible aspects that cannot be compensated by other means.

                      In fact, my point could be a reinstatement of what you have been trying to say all along.

                      I simply mentioned that all things being equal, including the wattage served to the speakers, the DAC could be the critical component that decides imaging and tonality. Yes, loudness is a factor, but given the fact that we have not used wattage as a variable in this argument, let us not resort to loudness as the key component in impairing our judgment.

                      All I'm saying is that what an equalizer used to do in the past, a DAC is probably able to do today, Given the right DAC and optimum wattage, the electronics may indeed be indistinguishable.

                      The DAC is the modern day equivalent of an equalizer.

                      A speaker after all can only deliver what is fed into her...



                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Well, I apologise if I have misunderstood you.

                        However, I stand by my point - indeed emphasise it - that loudness is immensely important in the human evaluation of sound, live and reproduced. It is Factor Number 1 (when combined with pitch, obviously). If loudness is not a controlled variable, then by definition it is a confounding variable which means that the attempted 'comparison' between A and B is not a 'comparion' of A and B at all; it is a comparison of the effect in the human brain of two audio events of dissimilar loudness pretending to be a comparison of A v. B. It wouldn't stand up in court because it is a failed test, flawed at the very first level of design.

                        Originally posted by pshane View Post
                        ...The DAC is the modern day equivalent of an equalizer.
                        This I don't understand, but I'd like to. Perhaps you could explain.
                        Alan A. Shaw
                        Designer, owner
                        Harbeth Audio UK

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by A.S. View Post
                          Well, I apologise if I have misunderstood you.

                          However, I stand by my point - indeed emphasise it - that loudness is immensely important in the human evaluation of sound, live and reproduced. It is Factor Number 1 (when combined with pitch, obviously). If loudness is not a controlled variable, then by definition it is a confounding variable which means that the attempted 'comparison' between A and B is not a 'comparion' of A and B at all; it is a comparison of the effect in the human brain of two audio events of dissimilar loudness pretending to be a comparison of A v. B. It wouldn't stand up in court because it is a failed test, flawed at the very first level of design.

                          This I don't understand, but I'd like to. Perhaps you could explain.
                          What I meant was that modern DACs unlike those of the old days have a plethora of tone control options as well. They have functions such as bass boost, tone and gain control filters and settings. Even average priced DACs today have complicated circuits in them such as Field Programmable Gate Arrays which simply aren't comparable to a speck on the mother board of a computer which is used by most people to listen to music stored in a computer (CDs aren't that popular today).

                          I agree that the basic function remains the same but they aren't simply digital to analog converters that are found in older conventional CD players. Therefore, if an equalizer is a component that is used in an A and B comparison at a constant loudness level, my point is that replacing the equalizer with a DAC with its many filters and settings could be a viable solution. An the corollary of the argument is that if the DAC is the prime component in an A and B comparison, then it can be said that the DAC does make a difference to the sound in the end (everything else being equal, including loudness).


                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I think I understand you. And yes, a DAC - or indeed many modern audio silicon solutions - have Digital Signal Processing (DSP) facilities which as you say can be turned-on to act like traditional tone controls and/or sound filters, plus a lot, lot more too. And as we know, all that a tone control exists to do is to boost or cut the sound energy in particular audio bands: nothing more or less than that.

                            That said, when comparing anything A v. anything B, wouldn't it be best to bypass or defeat or disengage all tone controls since they are a confounding variable? Not because there is anything evil about tone controls (despite the witch hunts surrounding their 'evil' since the 1980s) but because by definition, changing the tone of audio almost certainly means changing the loudness of some frequency bands (upwards or downwards).
                            Alan A. Shaw
                            Designer, owner
                            Harbeth Audio UK

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by pshane View Post

                              What I meant was that modern DACs unlike those of the old days have a plethora of tone control options as well. They have functions such as bass boost, tone and gain control filters and settings.

                              All you are doing with a "tone control" is increasing or decreasing loudness in a specific frequency band. The basic point about loudness therefore remains.

                              I think part of the conditioning/brainwashing process that the modern audiophile press engages in is to teach listeners to interpret any discernible difference in the sound, even tonal balance, as a major difference in sound quality. In other words, it supplies them with a vocabulary and a mindset. But the basic premise is flawed.

                              Speakers vary hugely because they're electro-mechanical devices that have mass, and therefore are subject to the inevitable constraints and trade-offs that are part of the real, physical world. In the world of electronics, there are fewer constraints, and unless something is very poorly designed, there are largely no longer any meaningful (audible) differences save for power output.

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