A Field Trip To Harman: Part II

I was fortunate to be able visit the world headquarters of Harman Kardon International this past Friday. My tour guide was the Director of the Acoustic Research, Corporate Technology Group, Dr. Sean E. Olive. We had lunch and then returned to the 8500 Harman building on the campus located in the San Fernando Valley. I had driven by the company numerous times when I lived and went to school in Northridge, but to finally see behind the scenes was a special opportunity…all thanks to Dr. Olive.

Our first stop after lunch was the John Eargle home theater, named in honor of a very well respected audio engineer and the author of many texts on the recording art. The Harman home theater is a relatively small room with two rows of raked luxurious leather seating, a big screen with projector and a typical theatrical surround sound system. The rack of equipment driving the whole thing was in the rear of the room. There was a high-resolution demonstration Blu-ray disc playing in the Oppo BDP-95 (I wasn’t surprised to see one of my favorite machines amidst the other equipment).

Sean had the AIX Records HD-Audio sampler that I had brought along and we put it into the Oppo unit. Everything in that theater is control by an iPad equipped with a number of applications so that it can be used from the best seat in the house. So as my disc was making its way through the FBI warning and animated logo, Sean and I sat down in the second row. I started by playing “On the Street Where You Live” sung by Steve March Tormé, a standard arranged by his dad for “dektette”. The sound of the brass on this particular track is amazing, especially the trumpet solo by Dr. Bobby Rodriguez at the end.

I wanted to move between the three different audio mixes, which I can easily do with the standard Oppo remote control (using the AUDIO button) but was unable to do with the iPad control app. The app didn’t include ALL of the buttons that are available on the actual Oppo remote. It wasn’t until Sean dug out the Oppo remote that I was able to demonstrate the stage”, “audience” and “stereo” mixes in quick secession. The people that programmed that app came up a little short. The buttons on the remote are there for a reason.

The next stop was the “blind” speaker evaluation room. The clever folks at Harman designed and built a listening room that can change which speaker you’re listening to and maintain the exact physical location. They do this with a series of speaker sliders (see the figure below) that can quickly retract one speaker, slide it out of the way and then replace it with a different make and model. Of course, this is all done behind a sonically transparent black curtain and under the control of the operator via computer control. It works.


Figure 1 – The speaker evaluation room at Harman with the “swap out” mechanism.

Sean played a looping selection of a Steely Dan track (which sadly was edited rather poorly causing a rhythmic bump at the edit point) through three different speakers (this evaluation was done in mono, but the system can work with stereo pairs as well). The room was dark. All you could see was his selection screen with the letters A | B | C on it. I listened twice to each speaker and selected speaker B as my favorite. The curtain was rolled back and the brands were revealed.

Speaker A was a small B&W model 684, speaker B was a JBL model and speaker C was a comparable small driver floor standing model from Klipsch. It was nice that I preferred the JBL since I was in their facility. It really did deliver a more uniform and pleasant sound.

The last stop was the large playback room with the M2 studio monitors and a Benchmark DAC1. Sean saved the best for last.

We’ll talk about that tomorrow…


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

13 thoughts on “A Field Trip To Harman: Part II

  • November 11, 2015 at 9:01 am

    I ran across this article while researching the purchase of new speakers. I would really like to know the model of the JBL speaker that you chose as sounding better than the B & W 684!

    “Speaker A was a small B&W model 684, speaker B was a JBL model and speaker C was a comparable small driver floor standing model from Klipsch. It was nice that I preferred the JBL since I was in their facility. It really did deliver a more uniform and pleasant sound.”

    Thanks for your reply.

    • November 11, 2015 at 12:30 pm

      The model was the M2 Studio Reference Monitors.

      • November 11, 2015 at 4:08 pm

        That picture does not look like an M2. Also, not very fair to compare the B&W 684 ($500) with an MT ($10,000)!

        • November 12, 2015 at 8:21 am

          James, you’re absolutely right. I didn’t bother looking at the photo when I responded to your question. I honestly don’t know what model it is.

          • November 13, 2015 at 10:48 am

            I have id’d the 3 speakers pictured as (L to R) B&W 684, Klipsch Reference series, JBL Studio 290. The B&W is at the top of my list for new speaker purchase, but if you preferred the JBLStudio 290, I will definitely put it up there to audition. If it impresses you, I think it would impress me also. Any further comment you could make would be appreciated.

          • November 13, 2015 at 10:55 am

            I’ve been a lifelong fan of B&W and don’t doubt that you’d be happy with them. That being said, I was very impressed with the JBLs, I love the M2 Studio Reference model, and the Revel Salon II that we used at the AXPONA show last year were absolutely fabulous.

          • November 13, 2015 at 11:29 am

            The diaphragms are too heavy to reproduce sounds correctly.

          • November 13, 2015 at 4:28 pm

            Thanks Jay…the JBL M2 Studio Reference speaker is among the very best I’ve ever heard. If you disagree, then you didn’t hear what I heard.

          • November 13, 2015 at 6:26 pm

            And you didn’t hear the Chord Electronics QBD76 HDSD DAC !

          • November 14, 2015 at 12:57 pm

            I’ve used Chord products in the past…very high quality. I have my favorites and they not CHord.

          • November 14, 2015 at 1:58 pm

            Was a DAC amongst those products ?

      • November 12, 2015 at 8:05 am

        Stuck to 40kHz?) Isn’t it disappointing to you that the M2 don’t deliver infrasound that, as known, can be perceived through the body?

        • November 12, 2015 at 8:37 am

          I’ve never heard better speakers than the JBLs.


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