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Grand self delusion or inspired genius?

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
I received a call last week from an insider in the audio industry concerning a product he makes and wants me to use in our loudspeakers. Let's disguise the actual product and just call it a widget. A widget not of his manufacture is used inside all loudspeakers. This gentleman has apparently been listening to a pair of Harbeths. He has not apparently looked inside nor does he have any detailed knowledge of the design although in his own technical field he is highly respected.

Now to the point - what would you have said? He told me that after listening to the Harbeths that he could hear that we were not using his super-widget inside but a standard one. I didn't know whether he was pulling my leg so I stifled my incredulity. But he was deadly earnest; based on listening alone he claimed that he could clearly identify the standard widget. But how could he have the mental discrimination (after such brief exposure) to hear through any inherent characteristics of the woofer, tweeter, cabinet, crossover and intended frequency response shape and dispersion of the speaker, the room etc. etc. to clearly pick out the use of a standard widget? And to then call the designer to point this out.

When the call ended what would you have said or thought? Would you have allowed him to send you the super-widget samples? Would you have invested precious time validating his convictions? Does extreme self-belief move our industry forward or add another layer of confusion?

How would you have reacted? I'm very interested to discuss this issue.
 

T.W.

New member
Re: Grand self delusion or inspired genius?

I received a call last week from an insider in the audio industry concerning a product he makes and wants me to use in our loudspeakers. Let's disguise the actual product and just call it a widget. A widget not of his manufacture is used inside all loudspeakers. This gentleman has apparently been listening to a pair of Harbeths. He has not apparently looked inside nor does he have any detailed knowledge of the design although in his own technical field he is highly respected.

Now to the point - what would you have said? He told me that after listening to the Harbeths that he could hear that we were not using his super-widget inside but a standard one. I didn't know whether he was pulling my leg so I stifled my incredulity. But he was deadly earnest; based on listening alone he claimed that he could clearly identify the standard widget. But how could he have the mental discrimination (after such brief exposure) to hear through any inherent characteristics of the woofer, tweeter, cabinet, crossover and intended frequency response shape and dispersion of the speaker, the room etc. etc. to clearly pick out the use of a standard widget? And to then call the designer to point this out.

When the call ended what would you have said or thought? Would you have allowed him to send you the super-widget samples? Would you have invested precious time validating his convictions? Does extreme self-belief move our industry forward or add another layer of confusion?

How would you have reacted? I'm very interested to discuss this issue.
First of all this gentleman is a clever salesman. He could have told you that he has a super widget and ask you if you are interested. But he told you that you don't use it because he can hear it. This touches you and leaves you in an uncomfortable state. You feel that there is no super widget available that makes such a difference ... but you are not sure.

I (and probably many others) have the same problem with all the other equipement like cables and all that stuff. I know that a cable doesn't make that big difference ... but I'm not sure. What if I'm wrong?

I would probably order that super widget and try it out... But you have to give this guy the feeling that it's a honor that you even give it a try ... :)
 

denjo

New member
Re: Grand self delusion or inspired genius?

Sounds like a great marketing ploy! he should do well selling refrigerators to eskimos or fresh air to New Yorkers! Its marketing hype because:

1. he solicited you, not the other way around;
2. his claim that, after listening to a pair of Harbeths, he is confident his widget is not used inside Harbeths (but surely he knows this as a fact not from listening but the knowledge for his sales people that Harbeths does not use his super widget!);
3. he poses a challenge (by implication that Harbeths would sound much, much better with his super widget) and entices that you take up his challenge.

How would I reply him? "Thanks very much for the invitation but my Harbeths have been winning Awards, accolades and sales just on those not so super widgets of mine so I would be happy to leave best alone!"

When you have garnered a reputation of manufacturing one of the finest loudspeakers in the world, let's face it, you are going to get a lot of cold calls from diverse people claiming that their super-woofer or cool duper tweeter will make your Harbeths sound even better!! That is the privilege and bane of being No 1!

best regards
Dennis
 

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
Re: Grand self delusion or inspired genius?

Very interesting comments.

But remember - this approach was from an engineer, an expert in his field, and that's what made his approach and comments so disturbing to me. Surely at the core of an engineer's approach to life (whether formally qualified or not) is a rationality, a logic which would permeate his work life; how is it possible that he could (in my opinion) suspend objectivity and logic?

It would have been perfectly acceptable to say as an open-minded engineer, 'I have a product here which you may gain benefit from - please try it and I'll leave you to decide' but to claim that he could hear the standard widget destroyed his objectivity.

More comments welcome.
 

Ned Mast

Member
Re: Grand self delusion or inspired genius?

As an engineer, he should be able to explain in specific mechanical/electrical terms what is significantly different about his product from other similar ones. If he can't or won't, then a polite "thanks and good-bye" would seem to me the best response.

Ned
 

DSRANCE

Guest
Re: Grand self delusion or inspired genius?

I'm an ex-dealer here, well able and once willing to play with such "widgets."

As you haven't told us out here what the "widget" is Alan, it's difficult to ascertain where the "supplier" and Harbeth are on this.

If I had been you, I'd have gracefully accepted it with an open, if doubtful mind, tried it in one of your products and when it did nothing for them, put it down to experience and reported back as "carefully" and "humbly" as possible. A waste of valuable time? Only you can say, but having once been an inveterate tweaker, I'd have given it a go. But then I'm not a hard working company owner/product designer with obvious pressures on his time.

You never know, you could have had something to try that just "might" have made a positive difference, however small, which could have set off some research into why this item made a difference at all when all the indications are that it shouldn't. Had it been "boutique" capacitors for instance, I'd expect a difference of sorts, as much of the "improvements" are measurable I understand (in Harbeth's case, this would affect the workings of the crossover and probably upset the balance achieved in the original design with standard components).

Just my thoughts, not necessarily well constructed ones...
 
S

shseto

Guest
Re: Grand self delusion or inspired genius?

If i were Alan, I would ask myself why Harbeth doesn't use his 'widget' in the first place? or why the standard 'widget' is being used?

I bet there is a reason to it, but since no mentioning of what the 'widget' is, it really is hard to come to any conclusion.
 
V

Vlado

Guest
Re: Grand self delusion or inspired genius?

C?mon Allan, don?t be shy, tell us what?s the super widget.
 

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
Re: Grand self delusion or inspired genius?

That damned super-widget! I almost wish I'd never mentioned it.

At the end of my Yoga class this evening, when we're lying on the floor under a nice warming blanket supposed to be thinking and meaningful cosmic transcendental and deep thoughts, all I could think of was widgets and bi-wire links! No wonder the teacher gave me a strange look as I left. Do you think this is all getting to me?

OK, OK. I'll tell you a little more about the super-widget. Soon. Any suggestions?
 
S

shseto

Guest
Re: Grand self delusion or inspired genius?

Alan, you gonna offer us DIY upgrade if the widgets worked ? !

or will it come the C7ES4 and the M40.1a?

:p
 

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
Mental check-list before changing internal specification

Mental check-list before changing internal specification

Ah now that's a good question. OK, I hesitate to be specific as to what the widget (or super-widget) is because I feel obliged to protect the identity of the salesman, so here is what ran through my mind as he rolled out the super-widget concept ....

1. Total scepticism. I just didn't believe that logically the currently-used widget could fail in its rather simple task such that a super-widget could perform the task better. In other words, although he claimed that he could hear the presence of the widget through all the other characteristics of the speaker, I found this degree of hearing acuity unbelievable. I found it doubly incredible that as a manufacturer himself, he couldn't see that the claimed sonic benefits was just one (small) consideration in whether we could or should use his super-widget ....

2. How to fit the s-w? For 30+ years we've been fitting the std. widget using quick, foolproof simple methods. We would have to develop new methods.

3. We are working at 100% production capacity, approx. 30% up on same time last year. We've streamlined our assembly operation, have more dedicated staff (making RADIAL drivers) and are at an efficiency peak. Before I even introduce the concept of the super-widget to production I can anticipate their response, which in blunt language would amount to 'if you think it's such a great idea, you fit it yourself into each Harbeth because we're not: it will impeded efficient production'.

4. The super-widget could conceivably come loose and rattle or buzz at some point in the future which would be extremely irritating for the user, and could result in needless warranty issues.

5. If Harbeth endorses such a product by fitting it, then we would surely create some anxiety amongst our customers as we would have created an unwelcome have/have-not culture. This would result in appeals from existing Harbeth owners for us to re-work speakers or supply "upgrade kits" which would in-turn relate to (2), (3), (4) above. It would distract staff from making complete systems into this side-issue. It would dominate discussion on Harbeth internet groups etc. etc..

6. How to handle the potential situation where the supplier of the super-widget changes the specification (for better or worse), ceases production, ceases trading, jacks up the price or fails to deliver on time? That would gravely impact on our ability to keep up with orders for Harbeth systems.

7. Potential for some hidden defect in the s-w which only becomes apparent months or years later, presenting a serious long term QA situation for customers?

8. The super-widget would present needless complications to a customer who wished to replace a drive unit and may even make it impossible for the average non-technical user. I've always envisaged that the most non-technical user should be able to service a Harbeth using just the most basic tools without reverting to long journey to a dealer.

So, you'll note what's missing from the list - no discussion about sonic performance of the super-widget because whether or not the super-widget has any sonic merit can only be considered at the very bottom of this incomplete list. This is how we do business in Harbeth; others brands may be less cautious.
 

Gan CK

New member
Re: Mental check-list before changing internal specification

Re: Mental check-list before changing internal specification

Ah now that's a good question. OK, I hesitate to be specific as to what the widget (or super-widget) is because I feel obliged to protect the identity of the salesman, so here is what ran through my mind as he rolled out the super-widget concept ....

1. Total scepticism. I just didn't believe that logically the currently-used widget could fail in its rather simple task such that a super-widget could perform the task better. In other words, although he claimed that he could hear the presence of the widget through all the other characteristics of the speaker, I found this degree of hearing acuity unbelievable. I found it doubly incredible that as a manufacturer himself, he couldn't see that the claimed sonic benefits was just one (small) consideration in whether we could or should use his super-widget ....

2. How to fit the s-w? For 30+ years we've been fitting the std. widget using quick, foolproof simple methods. We would have to develop new methods.

3. We are working at 100% production capacity, approx. 30% up on same time last year. We've streamlined our assembly operation, have more dedicated staff (making RADIAL drivers) and are at an efficiency peak. Before I even introduce the concept of the super-widget to production I can anticipate their response, which in blunt language would amount to 'if you think it's such a great idea, you fit it yourself into each Harbeth because we're not: it will impeded efficient production'.

4. The super-widget could conceivably come loose and rattle or buzz at some point in the future which would be extremely irritating for the user, and could result in needless warranty issues.

5. If Harbeth endorses such a product by fitting it, then we would surely create some anxiety amongst our customers as we would have created an unwelcome have/have-not culture. This would result in appeals from existing Harbeth owners for us to re-work speakers or supply "upgrade kits" which would in-turn relate to (2), (3), (4) above. It would distract staff from making complete systems into this side-issue. It would dominate discussion on Harbeth internet groups etc. etc..

6. How to handle the potential situation where the supplier of the super-widget changes the specification (for better or worse), ceases production, ceases trading, jacks up the price or fails to deliver on time? That would gravely impact on our ability to keep up with orders for Harbeth systems.

7. Potential for some hidden defect in the s-w which only becomes apparent months or years later, presenting a serious long term QA situation for customers?

8. The super-widget would present needless complications to a customer who wished to replace a drive unit and may even make it impossible for the average non-technical user. I've always envisaged that the most non-technical user should be able to service a Harbeth using just the most basic tools without reverting to long journey to a dealer.

So, you'll note what's missing from the list - no discussion about sonic performance of the super-widget because whether or not the super-widget has any sonic merit can only be considered at the very bottom of this incomplete list. This is how we do business in Harbeth; others brands may be less cautious.
Alan, as the MD & designer of Harbeth Audio, customers around the world have come to expect extremely high exacting standards as far as build & sound quality is concerned. We also have great faith in your expertise in maximising each & every single model in the stable based on the 'well trodden path' that you mentioned before. Now, i am sure none of us would want to see Harbeth sinking like the way it did when Dudley Harwood introduced the TPX material in the HL-MK4. Couple that to the items you mentioned above, i think its still best to remain status quo. Nevertheless, its good that you are sharing this super widget thingy with us here.
 

DSRANCE

Guest
Re: Grand self delusion or inspired genius?

C'mon Alan, SPILL :)

If it really is one of those devices that may cause you much grief (designer cable, trendy cap, bolt-om goodie), then there will be a fashion aspect which will change in a year or three, causing the widget to go out of production. I don't think Harbeth needs to concern itself with flights of fashion particularly.

I'm still intrigued.......
 
V

Vlado

Guest
Re: Mental check-list before changing internal specification

Re: Mental check-list before changing internal specification

Ah now that's a good question. OK, I hesitate to be specific as to what the widget (or super-widget) is because I feel obliged to protect the identity of the salesman, so here is what ran through my mind as he rolled out the super-widget concept ....
Alan, I suspect, that is a "wonder chip" glued on the magnet of the (mid/bas) driver,
but maybee I'm wrong. Could be almost anything what's inside the box. From cabling to foam...
 
S

shseto

Guest
Re: Mental check-list before changing internal specification

Re: Mental check-list before changing internal specification

Alan, I suspect, that is a "wonder chip" glued on the magnet of the (mid/bas) driver,
but maybee I'm wrong. Could be almost anything what's inside the box. From cabling to foam...
Alan mentioned, it is somehing to replace a standard widget used in almost all speakers and they have been fitting the standard one for all those 30 past years, so a 'wonder chip' add on is not replacing a standard widget and I guess is not what it is.

It is also mentioned that it might come lose in the long-run and buzz and could make it hard for an average user to DIY a swapping of new driver when required.

It's not an easy swap from the current design and it shouldn't be a part that is measureable or is currently being measured before assembly, otherwise Alan wouldn't even consdier it.

It's inside the speaker cabinet and you can not see it from the outside.

it made Alan think bi-wire links during his Yoga class.

Its hard to have any resonable guess, let me put out my not very resonable guess.....

....ai....i give up..................
 

keithwwk

Member
Re: Grand self delusion or inspired genius?

Hi Alan,
My english is poor. I got a lot to say but after 2 hrs type and delete, i decided to wirte short.

If you keep thinking of it, you will lose your confidence. Something like you doubt abt your belief.

The fact is, Harbeth owner is increasing worldwide. You no need his "Super.W" to let habreth to sound good to his ear and please him. Harebth owners had proved to you your 30 plus yr old plug and play "stand w" is superb!
 

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
Re: Grand self delusion or inspired genius?

We can all understand you perfectly; no need to apologise.

Don't be concerned that I am nervous or anxious about the widget/super-widget. As I explained, there are so many factors that must be carefully considered before considering the inclusion of a new part in a Harbeth speaker. Before I ended the conversation with the supplier I had weighed up the situation, and as politely as I could said 'thanks but no thanks'.

The key point is that this super-widget was presented to me by an engineer, someone trained to be rational. That is the mystery of the whole experience.
 

Will

New member
Re: Grand self delusion or inspired genius?

The only explanation I can think of is... not all engineers graduate at the top of their class!
 

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
What is an 'engineer'?

What is an 'engineer'?

To be an "engineer" as Faraday (and many others) have amply demonstrated requires no formal qualifications. What is mandatory above all other considerations is as open a mind as possible so that a) radical ideas are not dismissed as being hostile to your formal training (if you have any) and b) a willingness to be your own man and walk your own intellectual path c) careful observation and even more careful documentation of every step of your journey in 'engineering'. Faraday excelled at documenting his daily observations but not one equation exists in his written work. Others - Maxwell in particular - was able to precisely replicate Faraday's experiments from Faraday's careful notes and then to apply mathematics and hence develop mathematical theories of electromagnetism which of course are totally reliable. But that process commenced with Faraday's curiosity - and attention to detail. I often wonder how Prof. Faraday would react if he were here now and we presented him with "audiophile cable". I'd be ashamed to be in the same room. In fact, wild horses couldn't drag me into the same room.

What has strangled the audio industry is not that it attracts manufacturers, reviewers and designers who have migrated into audio perhaps as a second career (that's potentially very healthy, bringing with it fresh ideas) but that the imperative to carve out a market slice and have a rapid cash-flow often overrides real, honest 'engineering'. The commercial needs have mightily confused real marketing with real engineering to the detriment (I'd say) of the consumer - both marketing and engineering are vital in the modern world but are not substitutes for each other.

Just to make the point about how slowly the audio industry has progressed in the last 50+ years, attached is a scan of a couple of adverts from 1951/2. I've been collecting more historical info for the History section and it's quite shocking to see how little real progress there has been in audio; in the same time period mankind has invented the LP record, been to the moon, invented the transistor and the microchip, the satellite, colour television, mainframe and then personal computer, cassette walkman, fibre optics, CD, mobile phone and the internet, GPS, LCD screen, MP3, iPod etc. etc.- all made possible by the application of science - sobering thought isn't it!
 
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S

shseto

Guest
I am a non-believer in modifications ...

I am a non-believer in modifications ...

Bottom line, whatever this super widget can do, I am not very interested. I have heard lots of different speakers in and around homes of friends and showrooms, althought briefly. Every manufacturers claim they used best or very good quailty parts inside, but none sounds like a Harbeth. I always think its because of the lossy box structure and the RADIAL driver that make it special. you can perhaps (or perhaps not) make a Harbeth better if better connection cables are used , better caps and parts are used in the crossover network (provided these top quality parts are used in the testing and design stage and the QC quality remains the same as now) but i would guess the imporvement is not worth the money and time.

I personally use Naim and Rega in my system. both company use plain good old quality normal parts, no fancy widget parts. yet they made very good music partnered with the right speakers and simply let the music dominate the room not the hi-fi. I have heard many copycat brand who claims to copy the classic design but utilises super widget pure gold silver parts but sounded aweful or funny (good but just sounded no right).

I always think when you mass manufufacture a product, you have to 1. get the design right 2. you have to find a way to ensure the end product is what you acutally designed, ensuring all the parts are same specs as in your design, measure the same (with in a set limits). Therefore I am a non believer in modification.

Many ppl like to open up their amps and CDP change the op-amp which those tweakers say its of normal or low quality to a more expensive ones. 1 dollar parts to a 10 dollars parts and it will (make huge difference) (squeeze the last bit of performance) (overcome the budget limit of the manufacturer). I wonder how much as a % are these parts to the total cost of the manufacturer? consider the labour and factory fixed cost, if this little bit more expensive parts really is this important to the products, i am sure they would be there already !

How many companies actually test every caps, transistor , transformers when delivered from suppliers to ensure they are all up to spec for their deisign and how many companies will really not compomrise for out of specs parts? That's what all we need? the classic formula is here already, either breakthrough, or just do it the classic way, careful , no compromise in parts quality, staff training (if the ppl who are physically making the products have no idea what they are making, what can you expect?), good QC, after sales service. on top of it, something very special woud be easy and real time interactive direct access to the designer.
 
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