Are Harbeth S HL5's As Good As Reviewers Claim?

I'm looking at acquiring a pair of these but have gotten mixed opinions. The reviewers say they're the best thing since sliced bread but some say they are dull, boring and a bit on the "warm" side. Any thoughts, experiences would be appreciated.
My fav speaker of all time. Yes, they are that good.
They are good. Warm and delicious sounding - great midrange. I think you would only be disappointed if you expected them too play loudly or that they would give you last word in bass response and dynamic attack. Like many BBC designs they have a pleasant "dip" in the upper mids making the sound particuarly pleasant and non-fatiguing and of course they absolutely excel at vocals.
Warm great mid range, bass shy, will not go real loud but they just sound right. Good with Naim, Rega, and other british electronics. Not a great value with dollar sliding though...
One of the better products I heard at "The Show". They sounded wonderful and I love the traditional look.
Very warm. Not transparent to what comes before them in the chain. Not highly resolving. Tweeter is fair, not great. Dynamics not great. Can be boomy in some rooms/systems. Delicious on vocals and acoustic instruments. You may love them or ask, WTF?
i have heard harbeths and spendors many times. while they won't bite your ears, they have audible cabinet colorations. something that is absent from most panel speakers.
I have said in previous posts on this website that if I only listened to vocals, jazz, chamber music, and other lighter music this would be my speaker. They DO have good bass (note some said they can be 'boomy' while others said 'bass shy'). As always things may change in your room with your system. But overall, as you can see, all you have 'chiming in' are big fans. There is something about these speakers - try them...I loved them.
I have them, adore them. I love rock 'n' roll and soul too, for which the Harbeth's are great. I'm into the dynamics and detail of the recorded music, as close to sitting in a studio control room as possible ... for me. BUT, it took me a long time to get them to sound great in my room ... lots of experimenting with stands and tweaks. I thought (it was panic, really) at first that they wouldn't work with soul and rock. I was wrong, but it took work to get them to sound good. For what it's worth, I settled on an integrated -- a Luxman 550a II, which, after trying out many variations, sounds best with my S HL5s, particularly with rock 'n' roll (the gamut of Chuck Berry and Roy Orbison to Alice Cooper and Television and Ramones). And that Luxman is but 20 watts of pure class A. Go figure.
I think our colleague, RGS92, nailed it:

I think what he wrote about the SHL5s is accurate and can be extended to Harbeth speakers generally.
personally they are one of the best speakers i own and will ever own. No desires to upgrade !
I am a pro studio guy and have spent half a lifetime listening to nearfield studio monitors. I have a preference for ATC (like a good bone dry white wine) but if I had to choose my second favorite, for at home/consumer speakers, it would be these (like a rich red wine). They do everything right!!!

I really like these with low powered tube amps. You can effortless match these to the best Italian (Unico, Nightingale) and Japanese (Leben, Shindo)tubes. Very musical.

Worth all the hype and more!!!
Jimcrane--thanks for the kind words.

Now that I have lived with the SHL5s for a while, they
definitely have a distinctively relaxing personality, one that makes
me feel very drawn to the Harbeth sound. You can almost hear them trying not to be offensive at any frequency or on any recording. So far, nothing has made me cringe or wince.
There is a kind of softness that is addictive, but it is still not what I would call muffled.

The only other speaker which has made me feel affectionate towards it's unique sound were my Apogee Stages, but this was an entirely different sound, very open and present, with some lumpy bass boom on a few unnaturally equalized bass-heavy recordings. But, like the Harbeth, there was no
ruthlessly revealing character, meaning no grain, screech, edginess or metallic aspects. The Harbeths have a deeper,
fuller, warmer bass than the Stages. I would call both of them bargains.
I have a friend who has owned many monitor speakers in his life that finally settled for a pair of Harbeth Monitor 40. When I spoke to him, he said the Harbeth would be his "final" pair of speakers, a line which we seldom hear from audiophiles or rarely materialize even if mentioned. He has nothing but good words to describe the Harbeth and has urged me to consider the HL5 which is a model lower than the Monitor 40(now replaced by the 40.1). Maybe someday when I have the opportunity to listen to them I will consider getting a pair myself, someday.
I owned the 40's for a few years. Good, but there is a pervasive warmth with these speakers that borders on "muffled" sounding. Most of the British speakers share this characteristic, including some Spendor's I owned years ago. Vandersteens also sound this way to me. For me, the Harbeth's were not satisfying for the long term. Everything gets warmed up a little which robs the music of immediacy, accuracy and ultimate tonal clarity. Some people love this warmish flavor, especially acoustic instrument lovers. Not for me.
Hi Joc301,

Have you heard of the M40.1?
What's your views on the M40.1?

Jeffmohd: Other than brief exposure at the last RMAF show, I have not heard the 40.1's.
I'm not trying to badmouth Harbeth. I think they are well engineered speakers and it looks like they're pretty successful. Many will find sonic nirvana with their approach. When I had the 40's, they were in the 7k price range. I think the price has almost doubled for the new ones. To my ears and for my taste there are better alternatives.
I recently purchased a pair of HL-5's. They substituted a pair of ESL-57 (Piquet modified). I am not sure I have found the best position in the room yet, but I am quite happy so far. The only area where they do not excel, in my room at least, is imaging. Compared to the Quad's they seem to process less well spatial information. In contrast to what some people said, I do not find them too warm. I think they are extremely neutral. And yes, I completely agree that they are not fatiguing at all.
I've owned a pr of the HL-5s now for about four months. They have replaced Thiel CS7.2s. At first the difference was hard to get used to. But i dont think i could go back to the Thiels, or most other speakers. I dont find them to warm either. very neutral, sound very musical, big soundstage, I use a REL R505 subwoofer with them and theyhave me considering moving to the 40.1s. I listen to alot of techno, trance, rock, jazz, and dont find them boring at all. They dont have the leading edge or imaging the Thiels had, but as a hole offer a nicer presntation. They have me digging out alot of LPs i had given up on and enjoying them again.
Prior to listening to Harbeth speakers, I have also read that they are warm and laidback. After listening to the the SHL-5, I have to say these are extremely musical speakers that sound very neutral and coherent. There is something really special about the proprietary Radial driver built in-house in the Harbeth factory that largely contributes to the fresh and natural sound of the Harbeth apart from the low-coloration "lossy" cabinet with removable front and back panels. I have owned warmer speakers which include lower range of Sonus Faber speakers, B&W Nautilus 805 and PMC LB1 Sigs(which I still own). I have also listened to the Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 and M30. The C7ES-3 sounded quite similar with the SHL-5 but with less scale and weight, and the M30 was slightly shut-in and warmer but with better refinement.

I heard from the dealer that a few folks who owned speakers that cost 2 to 3 times more than the SHL-5 had dumped them for the Harbeth after listening to the speakers. There are a lot of nice beautiful speakers out there that have razor-sharp detail, better refinement and imaging but few would match the sheer musicality and coherence the SHL-5 possesses in its price range. I believe the SHL-5 would be my final pair of speakers after searching for more than a decade.
I bought my SHL-5 in Nov '08. Similiar to Tom Hankins, I changed from Thiel CS6s to the lower priced Harbeths. I also use a REL Strata III subwoofer with excellent coherency and transperency. Their natural sound is very addicting. I listen to all types of music and they never fail to captivate me. Long listening sessions produce absolutely no listening fatigue. I've owned quite a few excellent speakers including Apogee Centaur Majors, Vandersteen 2Ce, PSB Stratus Gold i and the Thiels. All of them were very good, but none of them sound as natural as the Harbeths. FWIW, system consists of the McIntosh MC275 v5 tube amp, CAT SL1 Ultimate preamp, Benchmark DAC1 PRE, Rega Saturn (used as a transport), Linn LP12, and a Magnum Dynalab MD106T triode tuner. I'm listening to music a whole lot more these days. I guess that alone tells you something.
I completely second the idea that these speakers invite you to listen to a lot of music. Some hard-core audiophiles seem to be looking for the ultimate level of detail, for example whether a guitar player has large or small fingers, and perhaps some pleasure can be derived from that. But this approach forgets that when you sit in a real auditorium you do not reach those levels of details. Some speakers seem to me the equivalent of microscopes. Can you watch reality with a microscope all the time? I guess you get tired pretty quickly. In the case of audio, if you have a cd or a record that is not very accurate, if you hear it with an audio microscope all of these imperfections get amplified...and make the experience very fatiguing. I think Harbeth are natural. They reproduce music in a way that is similar to what you experience in an auditorium. As I said in my prior post, I think they could be a tad better in processing spatial information...but overall great speaker.
I've been using harbeths for 3-4 years now & really like them a lot.
No urge to upgrade to other speakers.
My current harbeths are the SHL5s. Had the P3s, C7s, M30s before and they are all great.
If you hear em and like em, then they're as good as the reviewers say they are. If they're not your cup of tea, then it doesn't really matter what the reviewers say, does it? or the people that have them....
Maybe, maybe not Chashas1. Not everyone has easy access to hear gear that may interest them and are willing to purchase them unheard, hence garning opinions of others.
But that's just it, it's an opinion. In my own lil listening group, we all hear things sometimes the same, sometimes not. It depends on what a person is listening for or preference. One thing I've discovered, someone can go on about a particular piece of gear, and then you go over, and the system is so poorly set up or things mismatched. Who would trust such an opinion then? I bet if you could hear even half of the systems of people who post their opinions on here you'd bust a gut laughing in disbelief!
That's why I made my comment. Opinions are fine, but know their source. and trust your own ears.
I suspect most on here realize people are posting their opinions, and that is what they want. I understand where you are coming from and no doubt people can be and are misled, but if we all adhered strictly to the rule of not asking opionions, there would be a lot less talk on these forums.
Chashas1, I totally agree that we should not pay too much attention to what others or reviewers say.

On the other hand, as I read this thread, I realize that lots of people seem to have had similar experiences with Harbeths -- they talk about musicality and there is this notion of listening to more music.

That makes me think (also because this is precisely what I experienced with my system) there there is some truth in this.
Perhaps, it's certainly not worth arguing the point. If he hears them and likes them, case closed. But, one strong rule of thumb to go by is, if they're getting good word of mouth, almost envariably they'll stink in the end or certainly won't be to someone's liking. Case in point, spendors are great speakers for what they do, and if you still like that sound, then they're great for you. I find them to be way too polite and have moved on. Hence the harbeths, same scenario. I have one reviewer I like, jeff day--still loves the HL5's. Another reviewer, bob neil, loved the spendors, then harbeths, now he's onto something else, audio notes, i think. You could line all these guys up with their harbeths on here and hear praise from them. If I listened and started nodding off, like with spendors, then they're definitely not for me. It's fun to talk about all this gear and our experiences, and yes, the opinions, but that can only go so far as to making a purchase.
how's the bass performance of the SHL5 compared to typical floorstander?

Just got a pairs of HL5s. I am a Thiels owner for 20 years. I brought the Harbeths because I had got a good bargain and was thinking of reselling for a profit. My first impression was that something missing up top and the mids was slightly coloured. Definitely, I felt there was not enough definition from individual instruments and vocals. After half an hour, I thought I was hearing more into the music itself! As a whole, it is giving me lot more musical information then the Thiels can do! Wow, I have never listened to so many old disks without flipping though the remotes before. These Harbeths do know how to recreate music as it should be. Will I miss my Thiels? Not really, only when I listen to the handful of super audiophile disks. Will I sell the Harbeths? Not until I can find one speaker which can do both! I think they are as good as they claim as an instrument in recreating musical truth but they are not precise instruments for creating the ultimate HIFI experience.
I get the feeling the designer knows the kind of sound he likes and that his speakers are very well desinged towards that goal - he knows what he is doing, and he speakers are well sorted out. You cup of tea? Who knows, but obviously many folks are happy with their sound. They also have a reputation for being fairly forgiving of the electronic they are used with, and that can be a good thing, especially if you are on a budget.
After buying the Harbeth SHL-5 30th Anniversary speakers I put my system into the Done for Now catagory. Except for an upgrade for my SACD/CD/DAC and some wire changes I could put my system in the Done for Ever catagory. The Harbeths are that good.
Cio52, what are you comparing them to that you like so much about them? What is the context of your evalaution of the HL5? That is, how good are they and compared to what? I do think they are very, very good,
This answer is not to evade or act smart it's just true. I've been listening to natural sound since birth. I am very familiar with the sound of real acoustic instruments in my own listening room. I've purchased box and panel speakers. I've gotten to listen to speakers from manufacturers I could never hope to afford (while considering their little brothers) in acousticly treated rooms with first rate electronics. So, finally, the context I am basing the end of my quest on is the TRUTH of Sound I hear in my room with my electronics with the Harbeth SHL-5. I have not said they are the best. I can say they are the best for me and I recommend them wholeheartedly to anyone who askes. Sometimes you just get lucky.
There is no doubt there are many owners of the HL5s that love them. I glad you found you cup of tea.
You know, there is a lot of people worldwide that can claim the shl5s as one of their final speakers & I couldn't blame them.
Are they perfect, no. But for some, it is as good as it gets especially at this price point.
I myself have not upgraded to other speakers in the last 3-4 years.
Each day of playing time it gets better and better.
Would I welcome other speakers in the future ? probably ? but for now, the shl5s will stay in my room.
Are the Harbeth's tube friendly, or is SS preferable with them?
I appreciate that there are many that love the Harbeth sound? I myself have never been blessed with the opportunity to hear them. I'm wondering if any of you have compared the Harbeth sound with that of say Tannoy dual concentric speakers, especially that of the vintage 12" gold variety?

What would be the differences in sound that I could expect, or for that matter, what are the similarities in sound that I could expect?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
I'm a big fan of the Tannoys. have heard three different tannoy systems recently, and could live with them. But i would not sell my SHL5s to make the move to them. (as i am sure the Tannoy owners would rather keep what they have)
The SHL5 are very much tube friendly.
Mine are now just over a year old. I have compared them to many speakers and it came down to the SHL5/REL system, and the vandersteen Quatro Wood when i bought these. i prefer the SHL5.
If I can ever afford (and feel the need) i would make the move to the 40.1s.
The only speakers I have heard in recent years that I thought were better were the Wilson Sashas and Vandersteen 5As. And even these were not better throughout the freq. range.
Depending on room size, IMO the only speaker i have heard in the SHL5 price range that I think is equal would be the maggie 3.6. However they will need much more $$$$ to get them to there best.
Anyway, that my take on the SHL5 and Harbeths in general.
the beauty about the shl5s is that they can sound very good be it tubes, solid state, and hybrid amps. They are easy to get along and they sound great.
As you go higher the ancillary chain, they can reveal the strengths but not so much the weaknesses. They are forgiving. Over the last few months i wanted to upgrade them. But each time i hear what was offered, i still prefer the alluring and charming nature of the shl5s. best of luck guys.
Is anybody out there willing to criticize these things? I have enjoyed them in many ways. But the M30 is better, without the bass. I own them, too, and the 7(2). Ok. What is wrong with trying to get the most out of every piece of equipment we own? I don't know about all of you, but these are real dollars spent on real stuff for me. I am a classical pro of some actual small repute and I have been trying to solve the Harbeth 5 puzzle for 5 years.
Anybody out there? I Have used really pretty good solid state, interesting tubes, quite good analog, very decent and different digital sources, don't ever play anything but classical music and acoustic jazz, medium/ smallish rooms, never "audiophle ear splitting" levels, but real, as I have been "right there" with excellent orchestras and chamber music. No Names. Leave it at that. But I KNOW what it is and what it sounds like from every vantage point. Enough credentials. I wish I didn't feel the need to say anything.
But, anybody out there have a problem the the Harbeth 5 (05)
treble, air, space, ETC. Come on, Mr Shawn, get into it.
A little help?
Cellosven, I am a bit confused as why you own so many Harbeth speakers if they lack treble, air, space, etc - or are you saying that is only a problem with the 5?
Jerry Seigel at published a quite critical review of the Harbeth Monitor 30 a couple of years ago. I've owned several pairs of Harbeths (no longer) and I think that, for all the positive press they get, many audiophiles would react to them very much as Jerry did. IMO, it's a very fair review.
I herd them at a friends house hooked up to Oddysey Statos Extreem amps and a Wadia CD player. I was not impressed. They did sound muddy and lack of air

I owned Spendor SP1/2e and thought they were much better
Pretty extreme spectrum of reactions, I wonder how much is personal taste, and accompanying amp. Seems like one of those speakers (perhaps true of most)is one you must hear to know if it is for you - seems like it could easily go either way.
My answer will be:YES, they are good as reviewers claim.They put many well known speakers manufactures to shame.The highs of ShL5 is the best ,comparing in this price range .They sound very very very realistic,not soft, not harsh,not exaggerated.The problems lay in other speakers,which exaggerates bass,or highs.We are so used to sound with rubber effect.The question will be,have you ever heard in reality guitar,bass,violin or other instruments sound like rubber?These speakers for me is perfect,they do everything right,they perfect balance between monitors and floorstanders.They produce all sound spectrum and don't mess intruments like other speakers.And most important ,i don't have to crank volume up to sound good.What I noticed is:having these speakers i started repeat many songs again and again,sometimes one song for hour or more >I am very glad,having these i fell in love with music :)
It's all personal taste and the ROOM that they're in.
Extravaganza, your view is very consistent with what those that love them say (and there seem to be many that agree with you), and yet there are those who react like Jerry Siegel....
Like all things, components, speakers, room need to be tweaked so that optimimum performance can be acheived.
I have no problems at all with my SHL5 producing air, detail, soundstage, etc... if ever to nitpik the shl5, i wish it was more dynamic without giving up the fullness, i wish it can go lower in bass and slightly tighter. And a little (just little) refinement in the highs. But other than that, I can just live with them as is.
Wow, the 10 review could not be any worst. First, when people talk about high frequency depends on you as a person can you hear it or not, equipment, and room accoustics. My neighbor can't hear the high frequency like I do he has to boost it and I have to cut it. His hearing is fine mine is better. How is your room accoustics, what type of stands, what cables, what gear etc, all has to work in harmony and I bet there is no better speakers. I use Mcintosh tube and solid gear, Accuphase Digital, Harbeth 7ES 2 on Sound Anchor, Isoclean power with Super in/out, Kubala power cables, au24 speaker cables, Nirvana interconnect, Acrilic Stand. And I hear all the air in the world, the mid is perfect and the bass I don't need a sub bass goes low to the mid 30's easy. So when I hear that Harbeth doesn't sound good tell me what kind of accoustics and equipment you have and I will tell you if you can hear what I hear. Also keep in mind some people like bright sound and therefore a Harbeth is not for you, Harbeth is about natural sound.