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Challenge From Harbeth - Free M40.1 For Those Who Can Identify Amplifier Differences

Discussion in 'audio' started by ryder, Apr 6, 2012.

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  1. ryder

    ryder pfm Member

    Those who stay in Lindfield, near West Sussex may want to give it a try.


    Here is a challenge then.

    If, in a controlled experiment with all variables accounted for (incl. differences in frequency reponse and within the power range appropriate to the amps) under instantaneous A-B relay switchover, driving any Harbeth speakers, if you can positively identify an amplifier by sound alone, I will give you, FOC, a pair of brand new Harbeth speakers, up to and including a pair of M40.1 in any veneer you fancy.

    I am quite confident that under controlled conditions, these fabled amplifier differences disappear and that I will never be parting with my money!

    However, I don't have the time to play around. You have to conceive of the test, design the switch over system and bring it to us here and we'll cooperate fully. There are plenty of examples of carefully constructed tests over the past 30+ years to draw on that meet my critera, and every one of them comes to the same conclusion. As far as this 'amp matching to Harbeth speakers' issue goes, it is a non-issue. As dead as the dodo. I cannot comment on the amp matching for other speaker brands. We take care to make our speaker an easy load: other speaker designers may be less consumer-focused.


    Amplifiers should be selected not for "sound quality" (whatever that is) but for facilities, design integrity, durability, after care and likelyhood of being able to source service parts in 5 or 10 years. Also, if you're really serious, a quick peek at the financial standing of the brand might tell you if they are likely to have the financial resources to weather the economic downturn of the next few years which is effecting the whole consumer electronics sector. Some of the most likely surviving (UK) brands rarely advertise, rarely exhibit, have relatively old-fashioned designs, use standard parts, have been around for a generation and are rock solid businesses. They deserve to be respected and supported because they will be there to look after you in 10+ years.

    There are some very difficult times ahead for the consumer industry: now is a time to be cautious.

    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK
  2. DuncanF

    DuncanF pfm Member

    Isn't this possibly a spectacular own goal?
  3. Errol

    Errol pfm Member

    Is he saying, with this atonishing and rather confusing statement, that Harbeth speakers are so coloured in their presentation that all amplifiers not built with "sound quality, whatever that is" as their prime objective will sound the same when driving them?
  4. canonman

    canonman Mirror slapper

    I had to laugh at the comments regarding financial stability, bearing in mind the late 90's rather quiet death of Harbeth Acoustics ......He has a short memory!
  5. avole

    avole He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.

    Interesting when you click on the link from Chrome:

    Warning: Something's Not Right Here!
    www.harbeth.co.uk contains malware. Your computer might catch a virus if you visit this site.
    Google has found malicious software may be installed onto your computer if you proceed. If you've visited this site in the past or you trust this site, it's possible that it has just recently been compromised by a hacker. You should not proceed, and perhaps try again tomorrow or go somewhere else.
    We have already notified www.harbeth.co.uk that we found malware on the site.
  6. Phil Craddock

    Phil Craddock pfm Member

    I've just been on the Harbeth forum and this is not a spoof challenge. Alan Shaw is effectively saying that under controlled conditions, especially relating to gain, he believes that it is impossible to tell the difference between different amplifiers.

    To win, you need to be able to identify the difference by a factor of 60 out of 100. Remember, there will be no variability in the gain between the two amps. A comparator is to be used for switching between amps via a foot pedal!

    To win, you will need to be able to select the "better" amp 60 times out of 100. One poster on there has commented that the chance statistical probability of a positive 60% selection may prove costly to Mr Shaw!

    Either way, I just doesn't seem correct to me that the difference between say a Lavardin IT and a cheapo integrated amp from Richer Sounds cannot be heard. If this is the case, are we all wasting our money when upgrading electronics?
  7. rbrierle

    rbrierle pfm Member

    Exactly what some would argue, inc the Harbeth man.
  8. jcbrum

    jcbrum pfm Member

    I've just had exactly the same problem warning occur when accessing the link to the Harbeth forum posted by Alan Shaw.

    It appeared when I was using a Mac running OS X 10.6.8 with Safari 5.1.5

    VirusBarrier Express reported no problems.

    I changed to a Win7 64bit compute running Internet Explorer64 and got no warning.

    I ran Safari on the Win7 and got the warning.

    Microsoft security Essentials scan reported no problems.

    It's possible that the virus warning is related to the recent Java trojan virus.

  9. Paul R

    Paul R pfm Member

    You have to eliminate frequency response variations and clipping from the comparison. Under those conditions I think you might be surprised.

  10. jcbrum

    jcbrum pfm Member

    p.s. Apple have issued an anti-malware update yesterday. Mac users should run software update and install it.

  11. Teddy Ray

    Teddy Ray pfm Member

    Yes. Absolutely. audiophiles always fail blind tests. most fail spectacularly.

    I buy based on warranty(my bryston has the best warranty in the business), specs, and durability.
  12. spxy

    spxy pfm Member

    why? aren't those part of the sound?
    A bit like saying if we set them up to be the same they will sound the same?

    Remember we can "set" a 911 and a mini metro both to travel at 70mph, it doesn't mean thats all there is to their potential performance.
  13. jcbrum

    jcbrum pfm Member

    I agree about clipping, but not frequency response variations.

    If your amp doesn't have a flat frequency response, - it's broken.

  14. avole

    avole He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.

    Just checked both macs for the malware - nothing. Get the warning on one mac but not the other.

    Anyway, back to topic.
  15. jcbrum

    jcbrum pfm Member

    That's a bit odd ?

  16. timhum

    timhum pfm Member

    You might be confused and astonished by his challenge but he owns the company so he would not be implying that, still less saying it. He is an engineer and I imagine he has tried it out himself and is confident others will come to the same conclusion once expectation bias is removed by blind testing. I know blind testing for audio components is different to any other blind test but lets give him the credit for his long career shall we.

    I notice that he is however rightly careful to stipulate that the amps must be matched for level, frequency response and used within their power range. The rest, he is saying, is tosh. I think I can put those words in his mouth.

    I understand his confusion about "sound quality". The word quality is a noun but it is used these days more as an adjective. To describe the quality of a sound properly an adjective is required. If instead we used the term "management quality" or "road quality" we would want to know more about the management or road. He is saying the term "sound quality" means nothing in itself but advertisers know it implies much. Actually it would mean a tweaked frequency response or an anaemic power supply for example, I refer you to the previous paragraph.
    He is implying that blind testing with the very basic paramaters of amplifier design, equalised and working into an easy load removes all the identifying characteristics of the electronics and he is putting his money where his mouth is.
    It has to be said also that he makes loudspeakers and not amplifiers. We may or may not like the sound his speakers make but we are testing amplifiers here, not speakers.
    A couple of get outs to avoid actually having to go to the effort of designing a test to prove to oneself that amplifiers don't matter would be to either misunderstand his challenge and obfuscate or say you would not want to go to all the effort to win a pair of his top range speakers anyway.
    This appeared on his forum as a put up or shut up challenge but it will presumably run here as a re-run of rubbishing blind testing and nit picking.
    I am on the fence on this one, I think I know that Alan is right but it would be fascinating to find out he is wrong with the proof supplied by a free pair of speakers changing hands. If anyone here is able to "put up" or at least suggest a suitable pair of amplifiers to use as a test, let's hear it!
  17. paskinn

    paskinn pfm Member

    So, it really is time to put-up or shut-up. Harbeth has issued a direct challenge, and the 'audiophile community' either faces it or continues to duck and dive.
    I do have concerns, simply about stress and sheer fatique. Listening carefully to 100 exerts takes a long time, and the differences will be minor. So you need great concentration over an extended period. And that concentration is likely to be disturbed by the 'athmophere' you find yourself in, with barely concealed contempt (I suspect) thr order of the day.
    So, even if amps can sound different (which I think is probably true) it will take an unusually tough and dedicated listener to prove it. Is someone up to this challenge? And can there be a neutral 'ref' to ensure relaxed, unstressful, conditions for the listener?
  18. sq225917

    sq225917 situation engineer

    I wonder if he picks the music.
  19. Evil Emperor

    Evil Emperor Taller Than Stalin

    Good ol' BBC way of doing things. Make a reactive load (a loudspeaker) into something close to a resistive load (a dummy load). Who cares that a loudspeaker should be a reactive load, simply slug the dynamic properties of the loudspeaker until it turns into a test bench.

    Electronics make virtually no difference to sound quality, but the BBC way of doing things almost guarantees it. Because it does a bad job properly.
  20. sergeauckland

    sergeauckland pfm Member

    I'm not surprised Alan Shaw making this challenge. He doesn't suffer audiophools gladly (or at all!).

    Why should stands make a difference? What do stands do that alters the sound measurably and therefore audibly?

    Why should amplifiers make a difference? What do amplifiers do that alter the sound measurably and therefore audibly?

    Some will be saying that 'speaker cables make a difference next!

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