Audiophiles guide: The stereo

Paul will they be available in a bundle, book and disc? My preference would be a direct purchase from PSA. Jeff Bezos does not need my $. It would be worth the wait.


Well, I bought it after the previous post as the Kindle price is more volatile than Bitcoin and was at a low of £7.34, and it was a quick read. I won’t do a full review, but will note that with regard to the accompanying disc, only about 2 of the14 tracks have named alternatives (some are sounds recorded at certain distances), so it seems you really need to buy the disc to do the set-up tests. Overall, it does seem to me very much focused on Paul’s view on audio systems, basically passive component systems. I agree with his approach to start with speakers, that’s the key issue and I agree with his comment that at least half of the budget should go on the speakers even in reasonably high-end systems. After that it’s mostly focused on passive component systems and power regeneration, whilst the book aims to cover budget systems, many of which these days are active, as are quite a few high-end. Paul displays his well-known prejudices, for example on actives he says “a passive speaker is still your best bet. Relying on external separate power amplification has the advantage of tailoring the amp and speaker together for best synergy”. Of course perhaps the greatest advantange of actives is that the amplifier matching is already done to perfection for you. It is by no stretch a comprehensive guide. For example digital systems get about 2 pages, the main point being made is that you need a good DAC (my high-end digital system does not have a standalone DAC) and there does not seem to be any explanation of the elements or set-up of streaming systems at all, surprising given it is how most music is consumed these days, whereas there are 7 pages about AC power and regenerators (with the expected trashing of conditioners - based on high impedance and loss of details - mine has very low impedance and the cymbals shimmer). So I think the section on set-up is probably the best part, but you need the disc to make any use of it. At the end of the book there is a good long list of reference tracks and a very log glossary of terms, but the reference tracks would be useful if they were listed by what they can be used for (all my reference tracks have very specific uses), I will read the glossary fully later to find out how little I know. It could be organised by function (Key terms about speakers, Audiophile descriptors of sound etc. There are a lot of the latter).
p.s. Took me almost as long to write this as to read the book.

Thanks, Steven. Indeed, the Audiophile’s Guide was primarily designed as a guide to setting ups your system - the single biggest problem I have found in all my years of doing this.

Indeed, we skim over much in the way of specifics for equipment because, again, that was never the purpose of the book. Robert Harley has a great book that goes through in excruciating detail all the bits and bobs involved.

No, this guide is extensive as a setup guide unlike anything yet published (that I am aware of).

And yes, it was designed as a two-piece system, something I had planned out from the very beginning.

One of my biggest gripes about using mere words or instructions to set up a system is there’s no way for the setup person to know when they’ve gotten it right. It’s why many of us have our favorite tracks for getting this or that correct. With the book and SACD in hand, you can now rely upon an easy to follow system that walks you through the steps and tells you what to do if a particular track isn’t right.

Using recommended tracks is alright, but none that I know of have been recorded specifically with setup goals in mind.

This is the first to my knowledge.

Today if one chooses carefully and optimally, I’d say as soon as you’re in the 20k+ range for speakers + sub, from my meanwhile experience, I’d see a different percentage…much more towards front end, amplification, cabling than the strong speaker focus. With great front end you get 3D magic and control out of quite moderate speakers.

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indeed, Robert Harley’s book runs to almost 600 pages.

If this was intended as a set-up guide, and it clearly was, perhaps it should say so - on the front cover or in a preface on he first page inside the cover.

I have a list of reference tracks that are all well recorded and go through the classes of acoustic sounds (percussion, strings, keyboard, wind etc.) solo voices, trios, small bands, larger bands, tracks for imaging, and then a few things with a bit of everything or just because they are foot-tappers. I recently found a good warm-up track with a bit of everything (Sonny Rollins - I’m an Old Cowhand). I just don’t see any point in a reference track for system selection and set-up unless there is something specific in it that can be used for evaluation purposes. That’s may take and it works for me - it also makes it very quick and easy to decide if things are OK or not.

A good example is Norah Jones, on most people’s playlist, supremely well recorded, but a a very smooth sound and heavily engineered. For a vocal test track I use something with a far more detailed and more dynamic vocal.

You can go to extremes. In my office I have Raidho X1 (£5,700 new) and a Bluesound Powernode 2i (£800), so the ratio is 87%. My dealer’s personal system is a pair of £30,000 Focals and about £300,000 in front of them, so 10%, almost the exact opposite. For the sorts of budgets Paul describes in his book, which are not so extreme, I would agree with his guidance.

That’s right, the 50/50 percentage is probably right up to the 10k speaker level I’d guess.

A great idea. I also am not aware of any other book quite like this. I like the idea of guide + source recording.

On the female vocals I use Barb Jungr (singing Dylan) and Ute Lemper (All That Jazz : The Best of Ute Lemper is incredibly good). May be something to do with them singing a lot of Kurt Weill and cabaret. They know how to vocalise.

Jungr is audiophile quality on Linn. I first heard Ute Lemper when she opened “Chicago” in the West End over 20 years ago, for which she won an Olivier Award, and then get an American Theatre Award when it transferred to Broadway. Her performance still rings in my ears and I can’t think of a better voice to use.

Robert Harley’s book seems to be a positive encyclopaedia of audio, about 600 pages and 5th edition over 20 years. Two chapters on speaker set-up, covering about 75 pages. Not read it and don’t know his methodology. There is a whole thing about designing a listening room, which I scanned the other day in an article he put on TAS.

Personally, I use REW to measure the room and use DSP. Paul made a comment in the book against all-in-one systems, naming certain brands, saying they can do lots of things but nothing well. That will disappoint owners of Hegel, AVM, Devialet, Audionet, Vinnie Rossie, Mckintosh and no doubt many others, especially given some of these systems include programmable DSP that is much harder or impossible to do in component systems. It’s one of the reasons for buying such systems. To say nothing of active systems with DSP.

Building my new room, one of my issues is that Robert Harley and others usually assume people have stud walls that can be highly reverberant. In my room I have three brick walls and the rear wall will be 50% glass.

How much does it share with the Genesis speaker set up guide relative to reference set up sources?

Yes agree that is a good piece I have been using for several years. You quickly know things are not right if Sonny’s sax sounds like flatulence versus air rushing through the sax with a blast vibration on the brass on a few notes. You can also hear the valves clicking and his fingers on the pads distinctly as well as feel the reed vibration as he changes how he presses up on it.

It is also good piece to get soundstage height right.

I have read Harley’s book. the setup chapter is nowhere near as helpful as in Paul’s. it simply states basic principles (equilateral triangle, and so forth), and ends up with the rule of thirds, which you can transform to a rule of fifths, should the thirds not be feasible in your room.

regarding Paul’s method, i really like the rather in-field design (speaker 10ft apart, listening position 8ft from the speaker plane). In my experience (prior to reading the book), I ended up with the speakers 10ft apart, and the listening position at 7ft from the speaker plane. the soundstage becomes huge. Can’t wait for the reference disk.

Thanks for sharing this set-up guide, as I have misplaced mine that came with my Genesis V speakers, which I still have and enjoy to this day. :grinning:

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The difference is that Harley’s book is a comprehensive guide and Paul’s is just his personal preference.

So, for example, the very first thing he says in the section on basic set-up is “Speakers need to be away from the wall”. That’s fine, as long as you don’t have, for example, Tannoy or Audio Note, that are designed to go flat against the wall.

An objective guide would first say “check your speaker manufacturer’s guide for recommended speaker placement”.

When Paul starts describing actual distances, he starts by saying place the speakers at least 4 ft from the far wall and 11 ft apart. In my new room, smaller than the current one, the speakers would be touching the walls.

Of course this highlights the point that there is no good distance for all speakers. With one of the best and most popular speakers like Harbeth P3ESR, 6 ft apart would be more than enough. I’ve re-scanned the chapter on how to choose speakers and - unless I missed it - the most basic piece of advice is missing: choose speakers that are the right size for your room.

In that chapter there is one of many classic Paulism’s, where he says: “While you may decide on a stand-mount speaker for some mysterious aesthetic reason, like my wife Terri did, I cannot imagine why”. Well Paul, the answer is engineering. All Harbeth and similar BBC-based soft-wall speakers are stand-mounts, designed to sit on open frames, so that they dissipate energy and manage resonances, which are fundamentals of speaker design. The other main benefit is to be able to get the tweeter at ear level, which can be difficult or impossible with floor-standing speakers. If PS Audio ever make a speaker as good as the stand-mount Harbeth M40.2 I’ll buy a copy of the book and eat it.

Whilst I’m having a minor gripe, there’s an interesting comment at 32% that says “By the time this Guide is published, my company PS Audio will bear making a line of great speakers - which makes your choice simple. Buy ours!”. Paul then apologises for the shameless plug, but that does beg the question about if the book is early or the speakers late. What I do not agree with is the next paragraph “My advice is rather straightforward: choose the company, its people, and its mission - not just the speaker.” (There is a comment after that disparaging old companies, which doesn’t sit comfortably with Harbeth - see above). I must admit that I fundamentally disagree, because he’s saying believe the marketing. As far as I’m concerned the only thing to believe is your ears. The last two speakers I bought are from companies I know nothing about when I first heard them. You know a speaker is good when you hear it, not because the company has a mission statement.

One final point. In the set-up one of the first listening tests is a a nice even bass response. You need the disc. You also probably need extremely good hearing and many years of experience to do this. My dealer did this when he set up my sub and I just watched in amazement. I had no idea what he was hearing. I could never do this accurately by ear and, as Paul says, you will likely drive yourself nuts doing it. These days, all you need is a $100 UMIK microphone and a laptop with REW downloaded (for free). This is the single best investment I ever made after my record cleaning machine. I would say it’s an invaluable tool. And if you have noise cancelling headphones you can do it without risk of insanity. At no point can I see Paul recommending using a microphone and frequency generator, which would seem to be set-up 101.

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Although they’re not floor standers, I can’t see myself ever parting with my Harbeth C7ES3s.

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I see that we come from very different experiences, perspectives and expectations. I would just agree to disagree. Peace.

I’ve parted recently with 2 pairs of Harbeth (but still think they are fantastic), the main speakers because my wife hated the stands more than the speakers. When I got them originally they came with open metal frame stands and the wife objected immediately, so they were replaced with wooden stands.

I had a pair of Focal Diablo Evo on home demo and she hated the stands so much they had to be covered up. I didn’t like the speakers, so it was no loss.

So in December we got floor standers. In the last 40 years I’ve only had floor standers for about 4 years. I’m wondering what Paul thinks of these (they do sound excellent).

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Fortunately, I have a dedicated listening room (my son’s old bedroom) and my wife doesn’t care how I have it configured. If Harbeth had floor standing speakers available, I’d give them a listen but until they do, I’ll stick with my C7s which to me are the most natural and organic sounding loudspeakers I know if.