Something old, something new ... from the UK

1.jpg11.jpg111.jpgThought I’d add a post here. I find the forum very informative, read quite a lot, even if I hardly post.

PS Audio seems to be an established brand in the UK in recent years, probably thanks to a very enthusiastic and clearly effective distributor called Kevin from Signature Systems. I met him at a show (my first in 30 years) and ended up with a P3 regenerator to replace a conditioner.

A bit of background to my main system choices. The world of audio recording and sound reproduction owes a huge amount to British innovation, often state funded, such as loudspeaker development by the BBC and ffrr recording by Decca (the latter to do with detecting German U-boats). One of the truly revered names is Quad’s PJW, a Londoner whose work on loudspeakers was also funded by Ministry of Supply during WWII, designer of the Quad II (still in production 60 years later), the first commercial full range electrostatics (ESL57), Class A current dumping amplifiers and the 33/303 transistor amplifier. The 33/303 was first reviewed by ‘Gramophone’ in 1967 when reviews were on measurement rather than listening. The first thing the reviewer had to do was go out and spend £400 on new test equipment that was sensitive enough to measure its distortion. The ESL57 was adopted by the BBC for studio monitoring until it mostly used its own designs such as the LS3/5, the design being lead by Dudley Harwood, who joined in 1948 and founded Harbeth in 1977 with his HL-1. Alan Shaw took over Harbeth in 1986, designing all the products alone without a leader (that’s an English joke). Possibly the main development was the Radial driver in the early 1990’s, also with government support. Rumour has it that all Harbeth speakers have been designed with a Quad 50 pro amplifier, but it’s only a rumour.

British Audio still seems to have a proliferation of small and financially questionable companies, dependent on export sales for survival.

So using Harbeth and Quad is a no-brainer. It’s about as honest an natural a sound as you can get. About 300,000 of the 405/606/909 amps were made, there are plenty around. I paid $750 for a Quad 909 stereo (160w into 8 ohms) and $1,650 for a pair of serviced Quad 909 mono blocks (300wpc into 8 ohms). A full service and recap is $150 and they come back like new.

In my main system I use the 909 mono’s with Harbeth SHL5+ (the 7th iteration of the HL-1, which Art Dudley recently described in his Stereophile review as “truthfully beautiful”) and in my office system the 909 stereo with Harbeth P3ESR (the latest version of their LS3/5a licensed design).

The PWD Mk2 is the first standalone DAC I’ve ever bought and hopefully the last. It just delivers. I originally used a usb ripping/storage/server. Thanks to reading this forum, I’ve just bought the Auralic Aries Mini for my small system and immediately bought the Aries with external power supply for my main system. The Aries is an astonishingly good product. I bought a Mac Mini to implement the post/blog about building a server for $1,000, but I found the sound smeared. I recall reading that Mr McGowan’s Mac Mini has an external power supply. Paul Hynes is just up the road, but I didn’t face the hassle. All the digital music is on a QNAP connected with Airport Extreme and a few thousand of those round black plastic things. Most of the time I stream from Qobuz in CD or HD quality, a bit like Tidal but focussed on classical and not available in the USA (your loss, our gain). I also used the Mk2 very happily with Airplay via optical, not necessary with the Aries. I also use a $150 blu-ray via coaxial.[2199].pdf for those interested. Anyway, my audio is usually heard but not seen, rather the opposite of other posts here and, by the looks of it, rather cheaper.

stevensegal said The world of audio recording and sound reproduction owes a huge amount to British innovation . . .

And you did not even mention Alan Blumlein. Who knows what else he would have accomplished if he had not been killed at 38.

Steven, while I’ve had a middling interest in previous Harbeth speakers, I can say unreservedly the Harbeth SHL5+ would be a no brainer choice for me if I were to choose a speaker of that size for a new system. I went back to that room at last year’s RMAF 3 times to hear them. The Harbeth that won me over!

Great info, stevensegal. I love the way the cabinet opens up to reveal the goodies, particularly the top. The whole effect is like the Bat Cave.

The cabinet has several purposes:

  1. I don’t like looking at audio kit when not in use

  2. I don’t really like looking at it when in use

  3. My wife would otherwise tell me to go live somewhere else

  4. It keeps the dust off

  5. It costs $3,000 to get a cantilever replaced on a Koetsu Urushi

The thing about the BBC is that it has an unsurpassed tradition in broadcasting the recorded voice. Since the 1930s it has been broadcasting recorded plays and live broadcasts by all the famous actors and actresses. They still do. Because it is a national institution, stars of stage and screen do it for cents and dimes. As the listeners are often very familiar with the voices, whether from the cinema or theatre or TV, it has to be spot on. The BBC has always maintained the most impeccable recording standards.

Harbeth / Alan Shaw is the leading proponent of the BBC tradition, with pro studio and consumer units that are effectively the same. The new M40.2, the LS6/9 big three way, is astonishing. It has been voiced slightly differently for domestic use. As the speakers are so good, the rare updates (10 years or so) tend to be crossover tweaks. The cabinets and drivers remain unchanged.

PMC’s Pete Thomas (and I had their Fact.8) is also ex-BBC. He set up PMC when the BBC asked him to do the monitors in one of their main West London studios. He lives nearby and chatting to him at a dealer open day, he also explained how using a familiar human voice (close friend or family) is the true test of a loudspeaker.

I am also fairly critical. I listen mostly to classical and I go to a lot of live un-amplified music and shows generally (opera, ballet, contemp. dance, orchestral and chamber recitals, theatre), about 100 - 150 annually. It took a long time to get an audio system that I was prepared to spend time listening to.

I recall that both Alan Shaw and Pete Thomas have done the public voice test demo - record someone’s voice in a studio, sit them on a chair next to the speaker and compare the recording with the real thing. I’ve not heard such a test, but I’m informed that most speakers fail this test and it’s nothing to do with price.

PMC is similar to Harbeth in that they have a consumer range that is basically their studio monitor range in nicer clothes.

More importantly, like Harbeth (allegedly), in the early days of PMC Pete Thomas chose Bryston amps for his active speakers, and for the last 20 years has designed all his speakers pro and consumer around Bryston amps. He also became the UK distributor for Bryston. This speaker-amp synergy makes it easy for the consumer.

So my system is basically PS Audio PWD Mk2 at one end, Harbeth at the other, and I filled in the gaps. Quad was a no-brainer, as was the Auralic after reading this forum. PS Audio P3 power. I don’t have a pre-amp per se; I had a passive ALPS volume control inserted in my phono stage, cost about $150. The Mk2 is well suited to the 0.775v input sensitivity of the Quad, so no need for additional attenuation and no risk of clipping or balance issues.

Elk said
stevensegal said The world of audio recording and sound reproduction owes a huge amount to British innovation . . .

And you did not even mention Alan Blumlein. Who knows what else he would have accomplished if he had not been killed at 38.

Yes, he was a bit of a genius, working for EMI, who basically developed stereophonic playback 20 years before it became a commercial reality. Solved all manner of problems, including the technology behind the 405 line TV (the first TV I saw), the platform for the world's first high definition public TV broadcasting system by the BBC in 1936.

Killed in WWII developing a radar system.

Another North Londoner, born and raised a few miles from me in Hampstead, a melting post of European intelligensia who fled the Nazi’s between the wars.

One of my favourites is Michael Ventris (read his biography at some point), an architect also from Hampstead, who in his spare time deciphered Linear B, the ancient Cretan language that had mystified archaeologists and linguists for ages. Killed in a car crash aged 34.