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Harman Research vs Consumer Product Development Are They Related?

by June 01, 2015
JBL M2 Speaker in Anechoic Chamber

JBL M2 Speaker in Anechoic Chamber

Our YouTube Channel has exploded with growth and engagement over the last year since Hugo and I have been doing topical videos on audio myths, how to's, etc.  We've tackled such topics as how to measure subwoofer, amplifier and loudspeaker performance to cable myths and Loudspeaker Myths: Separating the Scientific Facts from Science Fiction which is the focus of this very editorial. 

While our video did NOT target any particular manufacturer, one of the discussion topics dealt with was whether the research manufacturers do really does trickle down into their products.  The most obvious company one would ponder this question about would be Bose as their slogan is "Better Sound Through Research".  Though as most audiophiles have found, Bose often falls short on this promise.

Some folks on our YouTube channel have shared their views on various loudspeaker companies in the feedback section.  A comment that really caught my eye pertained to the brand Harman.

Loudspeaker Myths: Separating the Scientific Facts from Science Fiction

User Comment: My only concern is; Why do sound engineers like Sean Olive, work and produce products for what is obviously such a low rent performing brand? I'm not here to say I'm into Sonus Faber or Wilson Audio, however having owned many Harman products from Personal, Home to Car audio, they are decidedly average at the very best! . My concern is not that he doesn't know what he's talking about as an engineer, but his association with such an average sounding product (Harman).

My Response: It's a valid concern. However, realize that research doesn't always trickle down into product. Marketing usually rules companies that are for profit and publicly traded. That said, a lot of the great research Harman does makes it into their professional products and luxury brands like JBL Pro with their new M2 speaker and Revel loudspeakers.

After I sent off that response in haste, I did some more thinking and actually had a pleasant conversation with one of the pioneers of the research funded by Harman; Dr. Floyd Toole. 

If you think about it.  The research, funded by Harman, is made public through papers, lectures and a book, for the entire world to benefit from.  Thus, Harman research is actually helping Harman competitors - or so they implicitly say by giving Harman peer awards - in effect saying "thanks". 

In addition, Dr. Sean Olive does not "produce product".  He creates new knowledge - that's what a real research group does. Products come and go, knowledge is forever. 

Harman Research group is among the best in the industry and their work on the benefits of multiple subwoofers to deal with small room acoustical problems of standing waves has really helped improve the fidelity of home theater systems.  Their study of the importance of loudspeakers having flat frequency response with uniform off-axis dispersion has helped the industry understand how to make more tonally neutral and accurate loudspeakers.  For that, Harman should be commended regardless of whether or not ALL of their consumer products are home runs or "decidedly average".

Short Biography of Dr. Sean Olive

Sean is Director of Acoustic Research for Harman International, where he has worked since 1993. He directs the Corporate R&D group, whose research has mainly focused on improving knowledge and technology related to the perception and measurement of sound reproduction including consumer and professional loudspeakers, room acoustics, automotive audio, and more recently, headphones.

From 1986-1993, he was a research scientist at the National Research Council of Canada where he worked with Dr. Floyd Toole on research related to perception and measurement of loudspeakers, listening rooms, and microphones. Sean received a Bachelor degree in Music from the University of Toronto, and his Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Sound Recording from McGill University in Montreal. Dr. Olive has written over 35 research papers on the perception and measurement of audio for which he was awarded the Audio Engineering Society (AES) Fellowship Award in 1996, and two Publication Awards (1990 and 1995). In 2012, Sean received the Harman Achievement Award, and in 2013, the ALMA Titanium Driver Award for scientific contributions to the loudspeaker and headphone industry. Sean is the current AES Past President.

Short Biography of Dr. Floyd Toole

Floyd E. Toole studied electrical engineering at the University of New Brunswick and at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London where he received a Ph.D.  In 1965 he joined the National Research Council of Canada where he reached the position of Senior Research Officer in the Acoustics and Signal Processing Group.  In 1991 he joined Harman International Industries Inc. as Corporate Vice President – Acoustical Engineering.  In this position he worked with all Harman International companies and directed the Harman Research and Development Group, a central resource for technology development and subjective measurements, retiring in 2007. He is currently a consultant to Harman.

Dr. Toole’s research has focused on the acoustics and psychoacoustics of sound reproduction in small rooms, directed to improving engineering measurements, objectives for loudspeaker design and evaluation, and techniques for reducing variability at the loudspeaker / room / listener interface.  For papers on these subjects he has received two AES Publications Awards and, for service to the society, the Board of Governors Award.  For his achievements he has been recognized with both the AES Silver Medal (1996) and Gold Medal (2013) Awards.  He is a Fellow and Past President of the AES, a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America and a Fellow of CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association). He has been awarded Lifetime Achievement awards by CEDIA and ALMA (Association of Loudspeaker Manufacturing & Acoustics International).  In November 2015 he will be inducted into the Consumer Electronics (CEA) Hall of Fame. He is the author of “Sound Reproduction: the Acoustics and Psychoacoustics of Loudspeakers and Rooms.” (Focal Press, 2008).


About the author:
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Gene manages this organization, establishes relations with manufacturers and keeps Audioholics a well oiled machine. His goal is to educate about home theater and develop more standards in the industry to eliminate consumer confusion clouded by industry snake oil.

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