You may have already read about the great mystery in Room 323 at the Capital Audiofest from Eric Franklin Shook of PTA and David Blumenstein from Dagogo. These two audio scribes conducted a sonic experiment of sorts, borne from the idea that something in the sound of this system—Rogers Fidelity 34S1 amplifier and PA-1A phono stage, Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary loudspeakers, Acoustic Signature Double X turntable, Bel Canto DAC, Accusound cables and Wolf Audio music server—didn’t quite click.
“…and they keep pulling me back in!”
Eric approached me first—he knew I was a big Harbeth fan and thought I’d be particularly interested in the changes he and David made to the system. These changes were based on these hypotheses:
- Harbeth speakers tend to sound better with music recorded/performed no more than 40 miles outside London.
- The Roger Fidelity amplification had to be switched from triode to ultralinear operation.
- Harbeths have a distinct sound to them, but it’s not the sound we American audiophiles think it is, and therefore we’re not really listening to the real Harbeth sound.
The Harbeth Fan Weighs In
The first premise is intriguing. Eric and David used the Wolf Audio server to play a series of tracks for me that included London acts—Corduroy, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and particularly lovely album from Irma Thomas called Straight from the Soul. This music is mostly energetic funk and soul from Britain, and the newly tweaked system didn’t sound like a Harbeth-based system usually did. It was loud, funky and fun. I think I may have heard some PRaT waking up in the system after a decade-long exile imposed by the audiophile press.
The second premise is reasonable. The Harbeths are moderately easy to drive despite their low sensitivity ratings, but I think they sound best with solid-state amplification like LFD and Naim. (Vinnie Rossi’s LIO is also a great match.) Switching to ultra-linear mode probably gave them the kick in the pants they needed.
The third premise is more problematic. I made the mistake of not hearing the room before Eric and David performed their magic. I like the “wrong” Harbeth sound—warm, realistic, tactile and inviting. I also like Rogers Fidelity—that phono stage is a sonic monster. I think the take-away here is that Harbeths are more chameleonic than I thought, and are able to accurately convey both the rest of the system and the music. That’s pretty impressive when you think about it.