The Audio Harmony II Enhancement Device
|5 September 2000|
Power Bandwidth: DC to greater than 1 MHz
Frequency Response: DC to 100KHz (+/- 0.2dB)
Voltage Gain: 1.8 times or 5.1 dB
Total Harmonic Distortion:
(20 to 20Khz, 2 Vrms in): 0.025%
Signal to noise: greater than 100 dB
Dimensions: 2.1" H × 6" W × 9" D
Weight: 6 lbs.
Retail Price: $550
Address: 26 Northfield Rd.
Simsbury, CT 06070
"Another nice feature is this component's ability to depict a wide range of micro-dynamics, combined with a near total absence of annoying audible grain and glare. This unique combination of virtues allows the Harmony II to make music in a way that will be a revelation to anyone who remains skeptical that adding a mysterious black box could ever possibly offer such rewards."
You may remember how much I admired the Source Components Harmonic Recovery System, which I reviewed favorably when I served as publisher of Planethifi.com. It was there I found that the (T)rue (D)imensional (S)ound product actually worked quite well -- even better when placed in tandem with the HRS (also reviewed atplanethifi). These unusual, knobless "black boxes" did a wonderful job at providing greater resolution downstream from their related gear. Together, they created a wonderfully wide, deep and expansive soundstage, with gobs more information. Nevertheless, they had drawbacks.
As my reference system went through its changes, and so evidently did my tastes. If memory serves, it was with the 700-watt Sim Audio Monos that the HRS revealed its warts: flabby bass, rolled off top end and a foreshortened soundstage. The Sim amplifiers are monster amps and didn't need any additional support-sending signal to the speakers. However, the TDS proved still a valuable addition my various upgrades over the past two years, yet it too revealed signs of "getting in the way" and was eventually taken out of the current system because it provided less than the ultra-transparent presentation I've now come to crave. You live, you learn, you move on.
Now Comes the Audio Harmony
Designer Robert Jendrejack, resident engineer and company prez, joins the "black box" community with a pretty impressive background in aerospace engineering and an undying affection for the audio engineering field. BJ, as he likes to be called, began doing audio consulting work with B&K Industries. It was there that he designed special modifications to preamps and amps, i.e., op-amp changes, power supply improvements, and parts upgrades. While designing a variety of modifications, he developed a vast knowledge of audio circuitry design -- most notably, how to enhance a circuit's sonic performance.
How exactly the Harmony II works, their web site describes addressing noise and Total Harmonic Distortion and in part, it states:
Circuits with primarily even order distortion products maintain a more natural, and life-like musical presentation, while circuits with the presence of odd order distortion products have a stridency or harder edge associated with them. Harmony TWO produces a dominant 2nd order distortion product, with very low odd order products. Any audio component connected to its input will have its signal transferred in a more natural sounding, harmonically and musically accurate format.
Physically, the Harmony II resembles the TDS and HRS: simply built. The Harmony II's attractive, brushed black faceplate sports a green pilot light, gold stylized company logo, and power on/off switch. On the rear of the unit we find gold-plated RCA input and output jacks and IEC power-cord socket.
The Harmony II's innards are impressive as a full fledged, high priced preamplifier. Consider: pure class A gain stage employing low noise JFET's, HEXFET's and High-Speed Bipolar transistors in a DC coupled wide bandwidth circuit topology, Draloric/Roederstein 1% metal film resistors Panasonic low ESR capacitors, Wima polypropylene capacitors, encapsulated toroidal transformer, 4700uF filter capacitors, and discrete low impedance voltage regulators with low ESR filter capacitors. In addition, glass epoxy printed circuit board on wide, low impedance printed circuit board traces. Custom House's Bob Finch, who designs affordable high quality cables, supplies its premium gold plated RCA jacks. Internal wiring is all Kimber Kable PSB. That said, the Audio Harmony will retail for frugal $550!
The Harmony II replaces the TDS, serving as the link between the Tact preamp/Room Corrector and the ever-amazing Bel Canto Evo amplifier. CD's spin on the Sony SACD SCD-1 player, affording playback of stellar quality. The speakers are the sadly discontinued Von Schweikert VR6, still a reference dynamic transducer, and the very impressive Coincident Super Eclipse, a downright steal at its price. However, most surprising of all is the newest design from Talon Audio. The company's latest reference loudspeaker, the Khorus, ticketed at $14,000, is doing things I would not have believed possible in a dynamic driver at any price if I hadn't heard it myself. Stay tuned! Meanwhile, all cabling is by way of Analysis Plus Oval Silver. A/C power cords are by way of Audience for the electronics, excepting the Sony and Tact, which use the huge Magic Power cords from Harmonic Technology. The Bel Canto and Sony both sit on some fascinating new stands Star Sound Technologies, called Sistrum Platforms (original Audio Points gents).
On To the Sound
Because the unit operates as a go-between your preamp and amplifier, common sense tells us that the Harmony II should not contribute anything of significance or even remotely pleasing. A component like this should not make one's system sound better, by which I mean clearer, detailed, and more open. Yet it does just that! Listen as I did and then tell me if you hear, after a few sessions, whether you don't agree. Installed between the Tact Room Corrector and the Bel Canto amplifiers, the Harmony II makes the music soar wider, higher, deeper, and seemingly easier, as if giving the system a much-needed boost of energy. Specifics:
Herlin Riley's latest CD, entitled "Watch What You're Doing" (Criss Cross Jazz1179), serves as a case in point. This CD is both a splendid recording and features Riley, a drummer of incredibly talent, and with some of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, showing no mercy on the track entitled New York Walk.
The first startling feature of the Harmony II is its tonal neutrality. In this respect, it reminds me of the big Levinsons, the BAT and my former reference preamp from way back when, the Jadis JPL. The Harmony II in a number of different systems convinces me that it's passing along more information. When Shirley Horn sings, she floats on her cushion of air. With the Harmony II in the mix, the rest of the players share the cushion as well. Shirley Horn with strings, Here's to Life (Verve 314511879) is as beautiful a production as one could ask for. With the Harmony II, you hear to a greater degree the sides of the stage, the size, space and volume of the recording's venue. You also get something more in the midrange, which I'd characterize as information.
Another nice feature is this component's ability to depict a wide range of micro-dynamics, combined with a near total absence of annoying audible grain and glare. This unique combination of virtues allows the Harmony II to make music in a way that will be a revelation to anyone who remains skeptical that adding a mysterious black box could ever possibly offer such rewards.
No matter the make, size, or price, whenever you add a component into the audio chain, transparency takes a hit. The Harmony II is no exception. However slight and hardly noticeable, the feeling of a foreshortened sensation at the 15kHz range and above is there What this amounts to on the grand scale of things is the ever-so-slight, last word in shimmer and sparkle on cymbals, triangles, and bells. Here you’ve got the proverbial double-edged sword in full effect because, with the Harmony II in the mix, there is also a reduced need to duck for cover when you think your amps are about to explode from transient overshoot. This -- let's call it sense of ease -- is possibly the result of a reduction of the treble's upper reaches as well as the removal of grain and glare, in addition to better balance and heft to the lower frequencies. For my tastes, please, yes! Take away the grit and glare! Please, sir, so long as you are up, I'd just love another serving of heft.
Taken in purely musical terms, whether you listen to jazz, classical, R&B, Pop or Rock, I'd have to rate the Harmony II in line after the Tact 2.2 RC, as making for this listener the cherished DIFFERENCE. Exactly what, you ask, is that difference. It's the difference between observing and analyzing the music; or sitting back, chilling with Herlin and Shirley, groovin’ with your favorite musicians, drink, family, and friends.
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