The Harman Tour Part 2 – Headphone and Car Audio

The New Harman Logo

This is part 2 from our Harman Tour series, you can find Part 1 – Loudspeaker Audio [here].

After all the blind A/B delightfulness of our tour of the Harman headquarters, it was equally impressive to see what the company was up to in the headphone department. While the audio conglomerate has many extensions into both lifestyle and mass appeal products, it still applies its strategic sense of testing and measurement to the personal audio space as well.

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Tucked away in a small room within the maze of corridors that make up the buildings labs and testing facilities there lies a fairly large collection of headphones mounted to a wall. Much of the same research takes place here that occupies the time of the loudspeaker counterparts. Pushing deeper into the nuances of response curve for headphones, the team tests for preferences across the numerous over-ear and on-ear cans they have accumulated. Many headphones are mainstream offerings, but Sean Olive and the team had a few offerings from Audeze to represent some of the open-back audiophile leanings. The aforementioned headphone did provide a few challenges to the blind testing, as subjects often were able to tell what headphone it was just by the weight and wear of the hefty planar magnetic headphone.

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On the opposing wall sits multiple rigs of testing equipment including options for IEM measurement. The portable brother of the full size headphone appears to be another central focus for research for the audio brand. A similar blind test has been constructed using measurements from several popular earphones and then recreating and projecting those frequency responses through a standard “flat” IEM. Surprisingly, the team choose the somewhat new Sennheiser Momentum in-ear ($99) to be this benchmark piece as it produced the most linear response during testing.

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As anyone who has done critical listening of a IEM will tell you, seal matters greatly, especially when it comes to reproducing bass. Harman is keenly aware of this and has taken steps to ensure that what you hear during testing is what you should be hearing. Embedded within the tester Momentum is a tiny microphone that is capable of measuring what the subject is exposed to. According to Sean, a sour seal with the ear canal can affect bass response anywhere from 20-30 dB. Once a good response is confirmed subjects are then exposed to eight various simulated earphone sounds without knowing what products they are listening to (blind). The software randomly generates the order so even the tester doesn’t know what earphone is being reproduced (double blind). Harman also throws their custom listening curve they have developed for loudspeakers into the mix to see how people are responding to it on a more personal level.

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On the opposite side of the building, Harman tests out their audio creations in the automotive market. Having several representations in the field (including the traditional Harman/Kardon brand) the highlight of the tour was a live demo from a 2017 Lincoln MKX partnered with Harman’s premium Revel brand. The elaborate system installed in the sedan utilizes 2o drivers located in 15 locations around the interior of the car. Each door houses a 3 way design with a 25mm tweeter, 80mm mid and 17cm woofer pulling sonic duties. A pair of 6×9 subs can be found on the rear deck and there is even a center channel located in the instrument panel. All this is powered by a hybrid Class A/B and Class D power 20 channel amplifier. On the software side of things, the Revel system packages two unique features into its value proposal. The first is Quantum Logic Surround which entails two specialty modes (from marketing materials):

“Audience Mode – This creates the effect of being in the audience with realistic re-creation of instruments, singers, sound effects and natural reverb. These elements are extracted, steered and positioned in a way that surrounds you with a more enveloping experience.

Onstage Mode – This creates the effect of being onstage with the performers. There will be even more envelopment on the sides and rears of the listening environment. The extracted signals are steered to be more intimate but still create a natural sounding experience without the addition of any artificial elements foreign to the original signal.”

The system also includes a digital cleanup feature that Harman calls ClariFi. The digital crispy scrubber is capable of identifying compressed music (and its rate) and claims to restore quality in equal parts. The software detection is acute enough to sense any non compressed music it is receiving and leave it as is. Promo video below.

More info: http://www.harman.com

[Part 1 of our Harman Tour Series]