- Jun 3, 2019
- New York City
Interesting that in a separate conversation I had (and posted here) he poo-poo’d the idea that a prospect’s in-home experience might be improved with measurement and DSP. Alas, such are the marketing imperatives of high end - it’s no good until it is (re)invented here.
We will be following-up this announcement with a formal Press Release in due course, but I thought that I owe it to you to give you a heads-up.
For the last 18 months we have been developing digital equivalents of the existing Harbeth speakers. We first set ourselves a challenge with the most complex model, the three-way Monitor 40.3, and worked our way through the range to the P3ESR and to other concepts. At the Bristol show next week in one of our three adjacent demo rooms (230, 232, 234) we will be demonstrating the Monitor 40-D amongst other speakers, on open frame studio-style stands.
Over the coming weeks we plan to discuss the development of these digital Harbeths in as much detail as we can in a public forum, hint at the sort of technical challenges we encountered and overcame, and consider together where this digital technology takes our brand. Digitising the existing models is a logical but hardly radical move: the M40-D is our 'concept car' that hints at a journey which is already significantly mapped-out. But first, for the avoidance of any doubt, I want to make it absolutely clear that there has been no change in ownership of the Harbeth company, no buy-ins or buy-outs, all R&D has been self-funded from our reserves and most importantly, there have been no tie-ups or commercial or contractual arrangements with any third parties with the exception of expert guidance in PCB physical layout of our prototype circuits to avoid hum and noise problems from digital circuitry sharing a PCB with analogue circuitry.
In short, the entire design has been undertaken in-house with my continuous guidance as to what sounds 'right' as my colleagues experiments with different potential DSP implementations. The team collaboration has worked effectively because we have given each other space and time to experiment and respect each other's contribution, and no timescales of any sort were set. And when they invite me to listen to alternative candidate DSP strategies, I'm confident that they have carefully pre-selected potential winners from a myriad of possibilities. My colleagues know that I'm going to listen carefully and give them constructively feedback in meaningful language that they can understand, absorb and build in to DSP code. Absolutely no hi-if mumbo jumbo guff. No audio poetry. Comments on frequency, level, balance, distortion and integration. They can work with that sort of feedback.
The power of even a moderately sophisticated DSP engine is simply incredible. The smallest lump and bump in the already world-class frequency responses of our Harbeth-made drive units can be completely eliminated. The energy in sub-sub-sub octaves can be minutely adjusted on a Hz by Hz basis to achieve any desired sonic experience. The relative timing between drive units can be adjusted to subsample accuracy (a few microseconds): none of this would be remotely achievable using passive crossover components at any cost or complexity. That said, the investment that we've made in designing sophisticated passive crossovers over the past near 50 years has stood the test of time: the passive solutions have set a high benchmark, and will continue to be honed and refined as our digital solutions trickle down to new passive implementations. Both can and will coincide - forever - as they solve different problems.
There are and were many unknowns at the start of our journey, not all technology matters, many are pragmatic consumer-led issues. Will enough consumers abandon their love-affair with hi-fi amplifiers and cables and opt for an all-in-one, buy-and-forget digital solution? How would such a package make business sense to a hi-fi retailer whose income depends upon continuous upgrades? What sort of connectivity is required at a minimum and how would that allow the continuing use of existing sources (incl. vinyl)?
Then there is the issue of how much access to give to the user to tinker with the Harbeth DSP. This is really a serious matter and our opinion has much altered as we have purchased and analysed many competitive DSP speakers and familiarised ourselves with how they have addressed that question. In every case, the graphical user interface (GUI) that sits between the DSP chip and the user's plugged-in laptop both (reasonably) protects the DSP and speaker but locks-out more than a superficial sub-set of the available DSP facilities. In some cases, the speaker manufacturer's default ex-factory (reset) DSP settings are so bizarre, that the motivated and able user could indeed sort-out and dramatically improve the speaker if only he had deep access to the DSP. So the question is, do you give the user complete access to the DSP, for which he will need a minimum level of acoustics/DSP/loudspeaker design knowledge as the 'real' DSP code is not managed through a pretty consumer GUI but in a much less familiar engineering language - or none at all? Or somewhere in between?
For me, the experience of taking the M40.3 that I designed and know well and digitising it has confirmed, above all, the excellence of the 'raw' electro-mechanical-acoustic properties of the Harbeth-made woofers/midrange drivers and their exclusive material science and injection moulded cones. I assumed, wrongly, that the 40.3 was as about as good at it got for transparency, neutrality, imagery: the 'being there' sensation. But I was wrong.
We'd love to see you at Bristol new week. If you do come, please introduce yourself and allow us to take you on a new sort of journey into sound.