Are Harbeths really "all that?"


I am not actually in the market for new speakers (heck, I just GOT new speakers) but I am intrigued, lately, reading about the Harbeth line on this forum. Are those little Harbeths (their "entry level," can't remember the model number right now) as fabulous as most reviewers seem to suggest? What kinds of music do they excel at? What kind of power do they need?
(way too polite, or for me to be polite, I should say, not for me) :)

I had a startling experience in hearing some very expensive gear recently with huge credentials and reviews, and it was boring as the dickens. And it has received raves from reviewers I seem to like.
LESSON---trust your own ears and heart...
I was wondering about them too.. I mean they are OUTRAGEOUSLY priced for what you get (or so it appears to me) and what, the similiar Spendor configurations are about half priced?
I had a startling experience in hearing some very expensive gear recently with huge credentials and reviews, and it was boring as the dickens. And it has received raves from reviewers I seem to like.
This doesn't necessarily mean this well praised gear sucks,3but rather the setup you heard sucked.

Many will say the Harbeth's can be in the love/hate camp; I heard the 40.1's at a show last year and they sounded great; I heard the HL5 (supers ?) at the same show this year and was disappointed, BUT I also believe a better (or different) setup may have helped.

I tend to agree in it being taste..I had the HL Super 5 in my home for a week and couldn't live with them at all.I found them a touch boring..But many love them so you have to decide by hearing them live only .....
NO!!!I just heard the 40.1 demoed a couple weeks ago...Old technology and extremely overpriced compared to whats out there
When I look at them, driver configuration, cabinet size, etc., I have trouble reconciling the price with what I see. I suspect its a boutique type sound that some will love and not be able to live without. But the fact is I have never heard them. Would like to though.

There is an A'goner who just acquired a pair of nice Harbeths to replace some very nice large Dynaudios. Results reported are mixed so far. HE reports that the Harbeths are more satisfying at lower to moderate listening levels. That is not the greatest strength of Dyns in my experience so I can believe that. Using a good higher power, higher current, more efficient amp can often solve that problem with many speaks though I have found, including Dyns.
Try them and then decide. i did and bought them. To me, worth every penny.
Harbeths do present a relatively high input impedance though I think which would make them natural mates with tube and other SS amps that may not deliver a lot of juice compared to others. That is other end of the spectrum from speaks like Dynaudio and OHM even however.
Yeah, let's knock that 'old technology' as EVERYBODY knows that ceramic or metal drivers with complex crossovers in skinny, dead cabinets are the ONLY way to make speakers that sound like music.
"EVERYBODY knows that ceramic or metal drivers with complex crossovers in skinny, dead cabinets are the ONLY way to make speakers that sound like music"....

No one has, or is saying that. Dont get your skinny need to be sarcastic....The thread is about Harbeths in comparison to other makers,right?.. They fall short compared to the competion & nothing I would consider buying.If you belong to the Harbeth audio society,more power to ya..To the original poster,go take a listen and decide for yourself
As with all competently designed and built audio equipment, we are in the realm of personal taste. There is a thread initiated just above this one that provides a glowing review of Von Schweikert speakers. I've heard three models in three different setups and really don't understand all the fuss. I'm not saying they are bad speakers but simply that they are not for me. I owned a pair of Compact 7ES's and have heard both the Monitor 40 and Super HL5 and find them to be close to perfection. Could they have more realistic dynamics? Yeah. Could they have tighter, deeper bass? Yes. Are they rather large, ugly boxes? Yes. Are they a little expensive given the current exchange rate? Yes they are but you could spend a lot more money and get much worse sound. So, Rebbi--you just have to go and listen for yourself.
Down, boys, down!! ;-)

Seriously, though.... as the OP here, I was just curious, for some of the same reasons that have been mentioned earlier. Many reviewers describe the line as being extraordinarily musical and involving, yet when you look at them (which isn't the point, agreed) they don't seem like much.

I suspect that the greatest part of their expense (at least here in the States) is attributable to their being hand-built in the UK -- and the exchange rate between the US dollar and the UK pound is a killer.

Paulfolbrecht's point about "dead, skinny cabinets" is an interesting one. Actually, I was wondering about that. The Stereo Times reviewer raves about their "pin point imaging," but when you see those drivers recessed in those wide, shallow cabinets, you can't help thinking "edge diffraction effects" all over the place.

There's a Harbeth dealer (more accurately, a guy selling them out of his house) here in Austin. Perhaps over the summer break I'll go have a listen and see if I can tell what all the fuss is about...
They were principally designed with voice in mind - drama and radio for BBC. They have a great midrange and will help make a bad recording enjoyable. I don't think they are exciting or the last word on a full orchestra, big band or rocking out the neighbours with ACDC.

However, they are great at what they do!

Horses for courses - if you want to hear a funky big band or Mahler at 100 db SPL at the listening position with tight punch in the stomach percussion and clear tangible deep bass riffs then I would recommend something else! (But remember you can listen to Harbeth at more modest levels all day long and enjoy the polite and resolving sound)
The Stereo Times reviewer raves about their "pin point imaging," but when you see those drivers recessed in those wide, shallow cabinets, you can't help thinking "edge diffraction effects" all over the place.

Actually the wide cabinets are preferable to narrow cabinets for edge diffraction ;)

In any case, I heard the Compact 7ES3 (not that compact actually) last week in a friend's system on the new Pass Labs INT-150 and they were extraordinarily detailed and natural with some of the most natural drums I heard in a while. In many regards much better than most Dynaudio's (but also completely different sounding). Not for loud unrealistic bass explosions though...
Actually the wide cabinets are preferable to narrow cabinets for edge diffraction

Not really. Narrow cabinets less than about 5 to 10 inches wide can be very good (smallest is best and this is important in the mids and HF which is why you sometimes see a triangular mid and HF with a woofer box below). 1 to 3 feet is less good (generally manufacturers will place the tweeter off center which helps). A flush wall mount is the best of all as there is no diffraction and ALSO no rear (wall behind speakers) quarter wave cancellation in the bass (below about 400 to 600Hz) Recall that bass radiates omniderectionally whereas MF and HF rediate mostly forwards into a "half-space" - so in order to create the realistic illusion of a point source then you should really try to flushmount in a wall.
Some commented they were way too polite. It depends on the amps that were hooked to them. The Harbeths are good for most material except hard rock or metal. Yes, they may not have the absolute transparency, dynamics or subterranean deep bass for some, but one can listen to these speakers all day long as listening fatigue is very low. Their strengths are extremely low level of coloration with a natural sound, especially with voices and excellent coherency from top to bottom. They made other speakers I've listened to sound processed. As usual, horses for courses as they say.

By the way Rebbi, care to share what speakers have you got?
"listening fatigue is very low"

I always liked Maggies largely for exactly this reason.

I owned them for years and they were fantastic for extended listening sessions with no fatigue.

When they were tuned in, they always sounded better the more you listened and once you started, you didn't want to stop.

I have the Compact 7ES and find them completely satisfying. They have excellent imaging and are faithful to the sound source. The HL-PES-2 will be somewhat bass shy but the remainder of the "Harbeth sound" will be there and it's glorious.

Missioncoonery, what I meant by my comment was that you are taking a naive view on audio by insisting Harbeths are inferior due to 'old technology'. People who know music know that natural materials can make wonderful transducers. If you're interested in MUSIC, that is - as in reproducing unamplified acoustic music.

The common modern wisdom on speaker design is mostly nonsense.

I have a pair of Ohm Walsh 100 S3's. About 5 months old and still not totally broken in, but very, very good, indeed. :-)

Right... I’m thinking of very narrow floorstanders like the Totem Arro or Silverline Prelude, where the drivers take up almost the width of the whole speaker and the very rigid cabinet is supposed to help imaging and soundstage... or so the marketing hype suggests.
LOL! Ha Ha!! Audiophiles arguing what's best! Buy and try! We all have our sound. Some like polite laid back and some like in your face. Ever been to a live show and watched the people run to the front while others sit back. It's all listener preference people.
I never understood what that hullalaboo was about, not my cup of tea.
They are modern day Bozaks...colored but sweet to the ear. Not something one listens to for Audiophile hallmarks but for nice sound. Overpriced nice sound of course, but nice nonetheless.
Funny Bozaks are mentioned.

I actually got to hear a pair of BIG, old Bozaks in good operating condition the other day at a local dealer who had taken in a pair in a trade. They were "sweet to the ear" indeed, but the dealer thought they were colored. I didn't get to listen long enough to say, but I suppose they were. Afterwards, we listened to some brand new B&Ws in the next room and I was still liking the Bozaks! They did have a certain warmth and ease about them whereas the B&Ws were way more detailed like most modern speaks yet also way more "in your face".

To answer Rebbi's question, "yes they are".

I owned the M30s for 3 years. They were recently sold as I upgraded to my first full range, the Verity's Parsifals (used).

Their strengths lie in the midrange and voicing. All I can say is that my wife really enjoyed listening to Maria Callas or Diana Krall on the M30s (btw, she's not so convinced that the Parsifals are better at voicing). Also, the Harbeths are no slouch in presenting fast and well defined lower notes.

Are they expensive for what they appear? Perhaps. I think in part because of unfavorable exchange rates (saw this with Spendor prices over the last 5-8 years). Despite the "cheapy" appearance of their cabinets, Harbeth uses high end drivers/components and are still hand made in the UK. The drivers used are either internally developed (radial cone technology) or externally sourced (e.g. high end SEAS tweeters or Audax). I bet if Harbeth licensed out it's radial technology or mid-bass driver, you would see this driver taken up by other manufacturers. It's that good.

Anyway, that was my experience with Harbeth. ............

If you have an opportunity to audition them, your ears and mind are the best judge. btw, yes they look "retro", which does not appeal to everyone........

happy listening!
I can only comment on the original Monitor 40. In a properly sized room it is a very neutral and realistic sounding loudspeaker. It has a midrange to die for. It doesn't do anything wrong, but in any single area of performance you can readily find other speakers that will out perform it. The Harbeth has first rate soundstage/imaging, but it's not state of the art. The Harbeth has great bass, but other speakers will go deeper. The Harbeth highs are quite good, but other speakers have more air. The Harbeth plays loud, but other go louder. What makes the Harbeth special is how balanced its performance is. Price wise it's currently not a particularly good value, but in a world seemingly overflowing with $30k plus speakers... The Harbeth appeal to music lovers, pro audio types and experienced audiophiles.
I've had two unsatisfactory experiences owning Harbeths, yet they continue to appeal to me every time I hear them at shows or a dealer's. So I'm about to make a third try. (This would be the definition of insanity, right?)
I would call it trying until you get it right. ;-)
I've had two unsatisfactory experiences owning Harbeths, yet they continue to appeal to me every time I hear them at shows or a dealer's. So I'm about to make a third try. (This would be the definition of insanity, right?)
Sounds like there is some significant difference between the dealer's listening environment and yours. Or there could be a case of component matching.

Before you repeat the exercise it would be worth finding out why they seem to sound more appealing to you at the dealer's place than they do in your home.

I have a pair of Spendors, a "cousin" of the Harbeths. Neither has the modern, trendy, rather bright sound but they are extremely engaging for extended listening if your primary interest is acoustic instruments and voice. Though I think mine sound just fine with rock, r&b and the like, I can see that some people would prefer more "punch."

Finally, when auditioning equipment out, we often tend to play those "special" recordings that we think will display the attributes we want to hear. Yet when we dive into our more ordinary recordings once we get home, we can find a piece of equipment that sounded great in the store with select recordings is not a good match for what we listen to most at home.
I think you need to also look at them in context to the professional environments that they serve.

There are two camps in England: ATC and Harbeth-like speakers.

ATC are very precise sounding speakers that enable recording engineers like myself to hear minute differences between individual tracks and takes. They are essential to mastering and found in studios like Sony.

Harbeth, Sterling, Tannoy and Spendor are all derivatives of the original KEF driver-based BBC monitors commissioned in the 1970s and were designed to enable long listening sessions while editing dramatic and live performances for stage, television and movie production purposes.

They are very different in sound. I liken ATCs and their ilk to be more like white wine--bright, festive, with a brace of acid. I liken Harbeth to red wine, warm and full bodied. Some days you want a precise sound and some days you want a smooth sound.

I think the Harbeth 40.1s are a wonderful organic sounding speaker and will play well in most consumer environments. I think that Spendor is doing incredible things with the new A6s and KEF with their 205s and 207s. All have the refined sound you expect from an English monitor.
I think ATC 150s are a true "reference" product for studio production.
"All have the refined sound you expect from an English monitor."

"Refined" is an accurate and useful description for many high end audio components, in particular speakers, that come out of Britain I have found.

I'd toss DNM Reson ICs into that category as well. I use them to inject a bit of restraint and refinement into my system when called for.

I prefer to tweak my system towards the more subtle and refined sound when called for rather than make it inherent via the speaks.

Of course, as has been pointed out on person's "refined" may be anothers "boring" and vice versa so YMMV on any particular day even just depending on your own personal mood.

I also like wine analogies very much when discussing the various fine points of audio!
Yes, wine analogies are very good. So are photography analogies -- over- and underexposed, lighting, soft focus, Kodak vs. Fuji color (hmmm...not sure I remember what those two look like these days).
So are photography analogies -- over- and underexposed, lighting, soft focus, Kodak vs. Fuji color (hmmm...not sure I remember what those two look like these days).

Not sure of the photo analogies but the bokeh on my Nikon AF-S VR NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G IF-ED is awesome and yet the subject is as tack sharp as you will ever find. I even have a Polar Bear shot on my virtual system for fun (a photo taken up North in Hudson Bay - yep - that Bear is wild and NOT in a Zoo and it was extremely COLD outside)

What would be the equivalent of bokeh in the audio world?
Drubin: Instead of a third trip down Harbeth Lane have you reconsidered the Daedalus's? For me these were the answer since they retain all the natural musicality/tonality and glorious midrange of the Harbeth's but add realistic dynamics, the ability to play loud without strain and deeper, tighter bass. I think you heard the old DA-1's but the new models are way better.
My third trip is with the little sealed box models, so a different approach altogether. And not the forthcoming revision with the Radial drivers. I'm just an audio neurotic.
Drubin, I have the P3s, and while I've put them up for sale as I really have no good 'home' for them, they are really amazing little speakers.
What a great thread, guys! I learn a lot from all of you.
Good thread. I do think Harbeths are great speakers in general, but...

(1) You are paying a markup for the brand name.

(2) Current exchange rate makes European speakers poor values in general.

Therefore if someone can afford and wants to pay for them, I would not say he is making a mistake. However, for myself I'd choose a US-made speaker.

Not sure if I have helped at all. :)

You live close to a dealer, so listen to them and please report back your impression, including comparison with your Ohms.
check out the thread of bob neil of amherst audio on positive feedback, or maybe audio asylum...anyway, he went the early spendor route, then harbeths, then audio note. he does a pretty good job of laying it all out there. he also says what works for you is what works for you, and no other. couldn't agree more.
Yes, Bob has done an excellent job describing the differences between Harbeth and Audio Note.

(AN/Es are much preferable to me than any Harbeth model, FWIW.)
Yes. the AN/Es are on my "someday, hopefully" short list.

And Dodgealum, I have listened to Daedalus speakers several times, as you know. I admire them greatly, but I've never been smitten by them. Which is not to say I wouldn't be if I had them at home, but given their size and cost, I haven't felt moved to take the plunge. Lou is a great, great guy, too.
solid (read classic)british sound. as for being 'all that', they'll have to line up with a lot of others, british..and other.
Drubin: Nuff said--I didn't know if you had heard any of the new models. I'm not trying to evangelize, just felt that having some knowledge of your preferences and how much the new Daedalus models have improved over the earlier designs thought you might be interested. FWIW, I don't get the whole Audionote thing--stick speakers in the corners of the room? I'm all for unconventional thinking but I heard an AN setup at a show in NJ a few years ago and it reminded me of a bad college dorm room setup. Maybe my information is old or inaccurate or incomplete.

Watch out - IMHO AN fans are extremely protective and defensive of some of their classic retro type designs. You may have just entered a mine field - though I hope not as too many threads seem to take a bad turn these days.
Shadorne--thanks for the warning. That's why I hedged. I've only heard them once and that was at a show so who knows? Just didn't get it. BTW, Bob Neill was hosting the demo.
Oh oh, so much for good ol bob....
A friend said that Peter Q of AN would play bad metal really really loud. Well, Artie likes them anyway...I have yet to hear em. The corner thing doesn't bother me, I'm sure they have great centerfill. They do get a little pricey as you keep adding quality goods in the cabinets. My friend suspects I wouldn't stick with them, same as the harbeths, same as the sockoverthespeaker spendors.
boston A100's , a marantz receiver, a systemdek....the blue collar audio note system....sounds good.
AN has not always impressed me, but the couple of times it has, it REALLY has.
i bought a pair of HL-5 a couple of months ago, and my assessment is: they are close to perfection. The most natural speaker I've listened to. My view is that the goal of a speaker is to reproduce music in the most natural way possible, and this is what these guys are about. They don't aim to unnatural levels of detail, which is what lots of audiophiles seek. They aim to reproduce the experience of listening to live music. Also, compared to excessively detailed speakers, they are less fatiguing, and they are more forgiving: if you have a bad record, it will still sound like a bad record, but you can generally listen to it. I also own a pair of ESL-57, which is a wonderful speaker. The HL-5 are in my opinion better. And I find myself listening to more music than with the Quads.