The Audio Harmony Six
|The Audio Harmony Six|
Messin' With Your Mind
27 April 2002
Power Bandwidth: DC to greater than 1 MHz
Frequency Response: DC to 100 kHz (+/- 0.2 dB)
Voltage Gain: 1.8 times or 5.1 dB
Total Harmonic Distortion (20 to 20 kHz, 2 Vrms in): 0.025%
Signal to noise: greater than 100 dB
Dimensions: 2.1" H × 17" W × 6.7" D
Weight: 7 lbs.
26 Northfield Rd.
Simsbury, CT 06070
Distributed by Sound Unlimited LLC
169 Church St.
Bristol, CT 06010
There are a couple of different "black box" audio enhancement products on the market that are intended to fit somewhere between preamp and amplifier and somehow improve the sound. I had read several positive reviews about such products -- including an enthusiastic review of the Audio Harmony Two (the 2 channel version of the model reviewed here) by our Publisher Clement Perry, but it had never occurred to me to actually try one of them. After all, conventional audiophile wisdom states that "more components in the signal path equals bad, and fewer components equals good," so it seemed counterintuitive to me to want to add another component to my signal chain. This is why, even in light of the positive buzz, I never really had an inclination to give one of these products an audition. This also explains why, when listening to the Audio Harmony Six, my brain told me that I should not hear what my ears were hearing.
Can Euphony be Accuracy in Disguise?
Without totally opening up the euphony versus accuracy can of worms, my thoughts are briefly as follows. Philosophically, I think that accuracy has a stronger position from an argumentative standpoint. It is safer to attempt to recreate the sound heard by the engineer at a performance as originally recorded than it is to attempt to editorialize the sound with colorations in order to obtain a sound that is more pleasing to the ear. However, there is one important caveat. What if the sound heard by the sound engineer is a flawed standard for what a live performance really sounds like? What if, in the state of current technology, absolute fidelity to a recording in itself does not recreate a live event? This is the same notion that gives subjectivists victory over objectivists: we cannot rely on measurements alone to quantify sound quality because we cannot assume that we are measuring the critical determinants of sound quality. In the context of euphony verses accuracy, we similarly cannot assume that the accuracy of a stereo system is the most important determinant of how the human auditory system perceives sonic realism. In other words, it may not be relevant how faithfully a system reproduces a recording if that reproduction does not address how humans perceive sound. As such, an additive coloration may actually come closer to recreating live music than the most accurate.
This is my finding with the Audio Harmony Six. The most accurate and resolving systems still sometimes do not sound as lifelike as a system that adds a touch of harmonic richness. Although this added harmonic richness may not have been present in the original recording, who are we to presume that it doesn't result in an overall sonic illusion which more closely approximates reality? We can't presume this, even if an additional component in the chain should otherwise actually degrade a system's realism. The Six apparently adds some even-order harmonics to the musical signal that are said to counteract the evils of harsh-sounding odd-order distortion. I am not claiming that Bob Jendrejac of Audio Harmony has found some sort of Holy Grail in reproducing realistic sound, but I will argue that he has created a product which deserves a listen, even if that means ignoring traditional issues or necessitates adding another component to the sound reproduction chain.
Clement Perry discussed the technology incorporated by Audio Harmony in his review of the Audio Harmony Two, so I won't go into it in detail here. The Six is simply the six-channel version meant for home theater applications. I have a home theater system, but since it is not separates' based, it does not allow the Six to slip into the home theater signal chain (However, Clement's system is and his comments follow this report). However, I think I put it though a more strenuous test than six-channel home theater: I played with different configurations of two channels from amongst the Six's six channels. I am going to make the inferential leap that because the Six sounds good with two channels, it is going to be good with its intended six channel application as well. This may be all the more important if six channel high-resolution digital catches on.
How I Stopped Worrying About an Additional Component in my Signal Chain
The Six's marketing literature claims improvements in bass and dynamics. I don't think I heard this. Nor did I hear any reduction in transparency, which is normally the bugaboo of additional components in a signal chain. But what I did hear was an undeniable harmonic richness, detail and dimensionality which manifested itself as greater ambiance, greater body in each instrument and performer, and simply a more convincing illusion of a live performance. I don't think I heard additional warmth in the form of some sort of lower midrange bloom, but rather the warmth that comes from vibrant harmonics. The Six also contributed a smoothness that resulted from an ever-so-slight reduction in high frequency energy. I venture to guess that this reduction was in the low to mid treble, because I did not detect any reduction in high frequency airiness. For many audiophiles, these are the attributes which make tube amplification (and pre-amplification) desirable. However, unlike golden-age tube components, detail has not been reduced by any significant high-frequency roll-off. In fact, this is the most strange aspect of the Six's performance: even though I got the sense that harmonics were added to the sound, my system sounded more detailed with the Six in place. I think that in combining a marginal high frequency roll-off with greater overall harmonics, Bob Jendrejac simply found a perfect balance that breathes life into music.
To put all of this into perspective, what the Six did for me was render many of my otherwise unlistenable 80's recordings listenable. This may not be important for many of you, but it is very important for someone like me who is a product of 80's new wave pop/synth/modern rock. In fact, any attempt to write-off that decade musically is a surefire way to get my riled up. However, I'll be the first to admit that much of this music is burdened with technology issues analogous to music recorded in mono during the 50's: 80's music was recorded in the heyday of the "perfect sound forever" belief, and we listeners are stuck with that belief's ramifications. For example, some of my favorite recordings, such as The Cult's Love[Sire], are so harsh and undimensional that I can't bear to give them the crankin' that they demand, let alone give them extended serious listening. The good news is that the Six renders these recordings listenable, and actually even enjoyable. As discussed above, there is a slight reduction in high-frequency energy (for all of you calculus types--sight, meaning "at the margin"), but this isn't really what makes the difference. I think it is the added dimensionality that gives instruments and performers more body. The roll-off may help, but the two attributes together combine to make the recordings actually enjoyable. I sadly had assumed that my 80's recordings would never have the details that make hi-fi so enjoyable, but now, with the Six in place, I could finally hear the ambiance of recordings without any bleeding from my ears. All this from counterintuitively adding another component between the recording and me.
Perfection for $900? Are you Dreaming?
The Six's impact on my system may have been dramatic, but depending upon the recording and the playback system, the changes were not uniformly positive. As discussed above, the Six brings with it harmonic detail, smoothness and dimensionality. However, a system must have enough resolution to fully appreciate the Six's benefits. For example, I did not have a truly unimpressive mid-fi system on hand to determine if the Six could save the day, but I decided to move my system to a different room in my house (rather, my wife decided that I should move the system). The move dulled midrange focus and robbed the system of all of its detail. Stripped of its resolution, my system was not capable of portraying the harmonic detail that the Six had previously added. Nor could the Six's dimensionality shine through the cloudiness of the setup's midrange. What I ended up with was a cloudy, dull sound that was devoid of detail -- the antithesis of the palpability we audiophiles crave. It seems that a system must meet minimum performance standards to benefit from the Six. Its ability to balance a sizzling treble or bleached midrange is pretty remarkable, but when added to an already smooth or rich system you end up with muck.
Similarly, an already smooth or rich recording will not necessarily benefit from the Six. For example, in Love Deluxe [Epic], Sade's rich vocals are recorded with thick, rich textures. I couldn't wait to hear if the Six would bring out more harmonic texture and dimensionality to one of my favorite recordings. Surely you can't blame me for trying to make Sade more palpable? Alas, the Six made the recording overly syrupy and thick. Instead of making the recording seem more real, the extra harmonics congested the soundstage and reduced my ability to hear individual musical details.
Conclusion: Is that really air that you are breathing?
So there you have it: for $900 you may be able to drastically increase the musicality and listenability of your system. The Six can add harmonic detail and smoothness to a system without adding warmth or robbing it of transparency. Unfortunately, added harmonics and smoothness may not be a welcome addition to every system -- but that of course is something that can be said about almost any component. In addition, you probably have to spend close to a grand on an amp or integrated amp for the Six to really begin to shine.
But if you have a reference rig so accurate that you find it has lost a bit of the life in music, you may want to give the Six a spin; you may not realize the impact that an injection of harmonics could bring. You just might agree with me that a little euphonic deviation may ironically lead a more convincing reproduction of the original event. Furthermore, I say free yourself from your audiophile shackles and add another component to your playback chain-you just might realize that your worries were all in your head.
Publisher's second opinion.
Cognitive Dissonance Indeedy.
A lot of audiophiles I know wouldn't use the Audio Harmony product for no other reason than it being placed in the signal path. Funny, these are the very same people I find changing equipment like I change my socks. It's for this very reason that I would compliment Dan on such an honest and thorough report of Bob jendrejac's Audio Harmony Six. Particularly in light of the fact Dan originally didn't want to do a review of it, or any device for that matter, that went sandwiched between the signal path of your amplifier and preamp. I remember our short spiel going something like: "Less is more isn't it Perry?" "More or less Dan… until you hear this device." My comments at that time were reference to the 'Harmony Two that I reviewed awhile back. When the six-channel home theater version became available, I jumped at the chance to take it for a spin after Dan. Well, as it turned out the Audio Harmony Six took me for a spin. I was left clutching my pearls.
In short, I placed the 'Harmony Six between my Panasonic DMR-E10 DVD Recorder and the Musical Fidelity HTP surround sound processor. Surround amplification in all five channels is by way of the Bel Canto eVo (4) while video hardware used is the impressive DLV-100 DLP projector from Integra. In addition, Integra authorized Faroudja to manufacture an accompanying video processor named the FPV-1. This dynamic duo offers outstanding picture and features. What's more amazing is this package lists for only $8k (review forthcoming). Loudspeakers are the Talon Audio Peregrines in the center and rear while the Talon Khorus X and 2002 series subwoofer complete the system.
Simply put, the Audio Harmony Six does for home theater what nitrous oxide (NOx) does for tricked out Toyota Supras. The one thing any home theater system can never seem to have enough of is power on demand. It is the most important piece to the home theater puzzle because it lends so much more to the ease and flow of whatever movie you watch with the least amount of distractions. Well, the Audio Harmony Six appears to double the power going into my loudspeakers from the eVo's. Another great feature is because the 'Harmony Six is a six channel preamp devoid of a volume control it doesn't give a hoot what format passes through it (of course you can't use the latest 7.1 though it). SACD, DVD-A, and standard DTS encoded music all came through more explicit and alive, with oodles more aural expanse. You get the drift. I can go on an on detailing its virtues but I think Dan did quite a good enough job of that already. To sum, if the Audio Harmony Six had a catchphrase, I'm sure it would be GE's "We Bring Good Things to Life."
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