Dedicated Harbeth P3 Thread


There aren’t many threads here dedicated to specific products and I thought the Harbeth P3s might be a good one to share our experiences, likes and dislikes. It is a far from perfect speaker and, IMO, is best suited toward the seasoned compromiser who appreciates what it does and accepts what it can’t do. I have owned a pair of P3 40th Anniversary since May 2020 and I have never heard the other versions. Just by way of background, I have owned the SHL5s and Monitor 30s, so I feel competent to render an opinion on the P3 within the context of the Harbeth brand.

First - contrary to Alan Shaw’s opinion, ie, any amp, any wire, plop them down anywhere, no blu-tak, etc, I have found them to be fussy little bastards that demand good setup and associated equipment. BTW, I am using them as stand mounts on 24:" Target 4-post stands in a smallish living room, approximately 8 feet from my listening position, with my couch against the back wall. The speakers are set on the sides of my rack with the back of the speakers 16" from the front wall. I have never heard them in a desktop setting, so I can’t speak to that.

I was using a pair of Fritz Mini-Monitors prior to the Harbeths. They are a tribute to the Totem Model One, with a Dynaudio-type woofer and a Morel tweeter. They sounded great with Blue Jeans 10 gauge cable and I began to fall into the "cables are bullshit" camp a little bit. Well, I put the Harbeths in the same system and they sounded horrible. Strings were steely, alto saxophones were screaming and bass was very light, which is something I expected, as the Fritz have fantastic bass. In short, I hated the P3 and figured I would hold onto them until the pandemic dies down and sell them. Chalk one up to buying without audition.

But before I carted them up, I thought I might try them with another pair of speaker cables I had around from my Viva amp. They were some plain cables that the Viva designer used for himself and there was quite a difference.They were still harsh and bass light, but better. Hmmm. I was never one to try to "fix" a speaker with cables, but every rule can be broken, so I thought to give it a try. After shopping around, I decided to go with Purist Poseidon speaker cables because of their "warm" reputation. BTW - the speakers were very lightly-used demos, so they were at least somewhat broken in.

I hooked them up and put on the Stereophile Test CD just to make sure I had the wiring correct. It tests left and right with a Fender bass guitar and from the moment it started, I was in absolute shock. I hate to spout cliches, but the whole speaker sounded twice the size. Bigger, fuller, deeper bass, but with a clear midrange and high end which sounded like a window to the source. Absolutely natural and not dark or veiled in any way. It was a total transformation. Say what you want, that’s what I heard. Combined with the Poseidons, the P3 developed into a speaker that did certain things amazingly well within it’s limitations. Of course, it took a month for the cables to break in, but the big, clear, natural sound only improved.

What I like about the speaker reminds me of what I like about single-driver speakers. It’s not what you get, it’s what you don’t get. With single drivers you don’t get phase anomalies and crossover distortion and once your ear gets attuned to this, it’s very hard to accept it in other speakers. The P3’s have amazing coherence and naturalness, especially with the voice. Like many single-driver speakers, it does favor simpler music, string quartets, solo piano and guitar, guitar/bass, piano/bass. But it sounds great on James Taylor, Shelby Lynne and other pop records with simpler instrumentation. For me, living in an apartment, I have always favored smaller-scale music anyway and most of my music collection consists of stuff I can play at night without disturbing the neighbors.

Like Steve Guttenberg suggested, I tried moving them closer to me (I installed some casters) and they sounded good in the middle of the room, but I still found placing them with the back of the speaker 16" from the wall gave me the best balance of bass response and vocal clarity, although there is a bit of thickness in the vocals that comes with the bass reinforcement of the speaker that close to the wall. I never thought a non-ported speaker could have such a full bass response, but this one does. Plus, the bass is pitch defined, so you can hear the actual notes, not just a billowy boom going on at the bottom. Really something,

Again, IMO, I think this is not a speaker for everyone, but I would recommend it for who I referred to above as a "seasoned compromiser" who knows what they like and are willing to experiment with associated equipment to tune the speakers to their system, room and taste. 

Sorry this was a little long, but it is the first post, so I thought I would get it started. Please feel free to chime in with your experiences with the various iterations of the speaker and your suggestions for getting it dialed in.
Be healthy.
chayro
@chayro
I’ve owned many stand mount and floor standing speakers and I always go back to the P3. I prefer it to some of the larger Harbeths that I have owned. This guy really likes the P3. BTW, you can check out the Harbeth users group (HUG) if you want to discuss that speaker with other owners!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqFIaiPT_kY
This guy too!
 https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=harbeth+p3esr+review&docid=608045663042407607&mid=5D7EB...
I have Super HL5 Plus 40th Anniversary and the P3ESR Special Edition.  I'm using the P3ESR in a small room nearfield (about 4' from my listening position) with a SVS SB-12 NSD subwoofer and I find them nearly as enjoyable as the KEF Reference 1 speakers I have in my main system. 

I've tried a number of speakers in this room and they've been too bright, too much bass, too big, etc., but the P3ESRs are the Goldilocks speakers.  They work great in the nearfield setup and present a lot of detail and dynamics without being bright or fatiguing and are very musical.  Because of the nearfield placement, they are more like headphones in terms of imaging and soundstage, but it's the best option I've found for the space I have available.

I have heard them at a friend's house in a larger room in a more typical and configuration and they sound wonderful that way as well.
I no longer own the P3's, and now own the C7's. I have a fair sized (12 X 23') room, and use a Croft phono integrated, I have a Luxman 550 AXii on the way, so in transition. No question the 7's fill my space better where the 3's got lost in the room. The Croft also has an easier time with the 2.5 db increase in efficiency the 7's have over 3's. The 7's also have the Ton Trager stands, while my 3's had Sound Anchors. I'm expecting a big jump in performance, and even though I'm a tube guy, I believe the all class A SS Lux with the warm blooded 7's will be a pretty sweet match. Many have agreed. What is the retail on the Purist Poseidon SC's. (-: Less than the P3's I hope (-: 
The P3s might not do everything right, but what they do well, they do it extremely well -- intoxicating midrange and vocals. I have them setup in my home office (12x13) with a Cronus Magnum II and REL subwoofer. I can tell you they're not going anywhere anytime soon. The only upgrade I will ever consider in the future is SHL5+. 

Lately, I have been busy auditioning a system for my media room. I have visited a few dealers and private sellers and listened to all kinds of speakers ranging from Sonus Faber (which i ended up buying), Devore, Proac, Raven Audio Celest, etc. driven by high end amplification. Every time I came home and listened to my P3s, I felt a sense of pride on how well these little buggers compete with much more expensive gear. I mostly listen to jazz, blues, vocals, class/soft rock, and these speakers make it a pleasure to listen to. IMO, the speakers need at least 150 hours to burn in (especially bass), at least 2 feet from the front wall, and a musical sub. Did I mention the vocals?


Nice. I am a long time Harbeth user too for 12 years starting from the SHL5 to now SHL5+. I once lusted for the P3ESR although I already own the larger Harbeth as it looks so classy in its rosewood form, and it sounds very good too. I listened to a pair many years ago and music sounded so real, lifelike and vivid through those speakers.

It's true the Harbeth will sound dreadful if incorrectly matched with amps and cables. When I first bought the SHL5 about 12 years ago, I tried not less than 6 amp combinations during the 1st year of ownership in an attempt to salvage the speakers since they didn't sound good with my existing amps back then. If I didn't try other amplifiers, I wouldn't be using Harbeth now.

The mini-monitor market is competitive with many choices to choose from. The P3ESR remains special and one of the best, if not the best. There are attempts by few P3ESR owners to deviate from the Harbeth but most always come back. Few people tried the Proac Tablette 10 Signature which is another highly regarded speaker but went back to the P3ESR for its more natural and musical sound.
Thanks for sharing your experiences.
I owned a pair of P3ESR’s a few years ago and used them in my second system, which is situated in our family room. I never put much into the set-up and used them with an amp that probably wasn’t a good fit for them, so I know I didn’t do them proper justice. I ended up selling them as they did not get much use and I figured I could use the money to buy other gear for my main system.
Recently, I decided to give it another go (setting up a second system for family use), and I thought I would buy another pair of them. Unfortunately, the demand for Harbeth combined with the production cycle timing meant that I would have to wait a while to find a pair. My impatience pushed me in a different direction in the end. I bought a pair of Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 1 stand mount speakers. They are similar in size to the P3’s, and they sound really nice. Granted their price is double the price of the P3XD’s, but I found a gently used pair on A’gon for a very good price. They have a similar tonality to the P3’s but much better bass, and boy are they stunning to look at. My wife thinks so too. WAF is real!
I’d like to do a comparison between these two speakers at some point. My feeling is that the Sonus Fabers would likely win, but I wouldn’t know for sure without a proper comparison. BTW, I am a die hard Harbeth fan. My main system uses 40.2 Anniversary speakers and I can’t ever see me changing them out.
I can say that when I owned a pair of Spendor S3/5’s many years ago, they GREATLY benefited from pairing them with a good subwoofer. Adding a sub really allowed them to shine. I can only imagine how this would also be true with the P3’s. I only used a cheap REL sub with them (about $400) but boy what a difference it made.
I've had a pair of P3-ESR SE's for 10 years now - probably the longest I've ever owned anything audio-wise.  I've had a few different amps with them - Cyrus 8VS-2, SimAudio Moon i3 and now a Parasound 200 Pre/275 v2 amp.  I always used Kimber 4TC and PBJ's...

The Parasound combo is actually really good - 90 WPC - which is the minimum I would use with these speakers.  
I am looking to get the P3ESR for my bedroom I going to call dealer today to see if still available! Wish me luck! 😃
@snackeyp Were you able to do the comparison between SF and Harbeth? Incidentally, I recently purchased (used) Sonus Faber Olympica II being driven by Audio Research GSi75. I still have the P3esr driven by Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II and Audio Mirror Tubadour III DAC in the home office. It should not come as a surprise that the SF and ARC combo is much better, as it should be given the price difference. But the midrange and vocals on the little P3esr's are competitive. Once you get used to the nuanced and realistic vocal representation on the Harbeths, it's difficult for any other speaker to surpass that experience. I think the Harbeths are peerless when it comes to the 'singer in your room' feeling. 

When I want to listen to vocals and small jazz ensembles, the Harbeth setup is my preference. For everything else, the SF and ARC is the way to go!
Oh, BTW, those who claim that the P3esr's are only suitable for non-complex or jazz music have not used them in conjunction with a musical subwoofer.
I just watched a video showing Alan Shaw explain what is difference between anniversary editions he said mainly using a up to date software system to tweak the crossover just right which he was unable to do when he first started out designing Harbeths with ancient software. So in theory shouldn't the Harbeth XD versions with upgraded parts sound alot to better than the standard versions? Many say XD are a little tipped up in the treble. I wonder if Mr. Shaw is losing some of his high frequency hearing and the new versions compensate for that!
I don't know if he's right, but Sean at Zero Fidelity said Alan Shaw hired a marketing company prior to release of the 40th Anniversary speakers.  The one and only reason you hire a marketing company is to sell more speakers, which I have no problem with. One way to sell more speakers is to put out "improved" versions of what you have.  Wilson does it all the time.  That said, not that I have scoured the web about this - I don't hear stories of people dumping their standard models for the Anniversaries or dumping the Anniversaries for the XDs.  I think that in general, the person who buys the P3s in the first place doesn't have that upgrade/tweak mentality that many audiophiles possess.  They just want their stuff to sound very good and are not particularly obsessed with the latest and greatest. As for myself, I wanted a pair of the standard P3s, but the dealer I was working with said they would not be available for a couple of months, so I took his pristine demo Anniversaries at a good price.  Personally, I have no desire to upgrade to the XDs or spend any time wondering if I should have gotten the regular P3s.  You can second guess yourself with any purchase you make in life and at this stage in my life, I'm way past that.  Especially with a pair of 3k speakers.  Be well.
Thanks for sharing Chayro😊
The Anniversaries have a badge and different binding posts.  The XD's have a much "improved" price.  By far the best price-to-sound ratio is to be found going back to whichever Harbeth model is immediately before the Anniversary edition.
+1 on what twoleftears said😄
I just hooked up my new P3ESR and smooth & airy right out of the box. Who needs 200 hr break in. BTW also heard Magicos powered by Hegel thinking they were lean & bright which they are not but Harbeth have same mid band if not better😆
I recently played the "old" P3ESR next to the new XD version. I liked them both, de XD sounding a bit more defined in the highs, while the classic had a bit wider soundstage. Very small difference, however, certainly considering the price hike for the XD's. I went for the classic model, running them off an analog-only Linn Klimax set. Very happy with the set! Haven't decided on final cabling yet, will look at the Poseidons as suggested by Chayron.
Looking for a small pr of speakers for an 11 x 13 office study and these P3's may fit the bill.  How do they sound for classical music?

I have an Adcom GFA-545 amp  Would that be a good match for these speakers?  

What other amps (or integrated amps) would users recommend for these speakers?

I would plan on getting a separate SW to extend the bass.
I think Harbeths are probably most touted for their abilities with vocals and acoustic music.  As with any small speaker, playing large-scale classical works are not really their forte, unless you're listening at background levels.  But for piano, string quartets, even chamber orchestras, I think they sound wonderful.  I'm not familiar with your Adcom, but I recall they were well-designed products with a smooth non-offensive sound, so it will probably be fine, at least for starters.  
Thank you for your response.  Piano is my favorite to listen to. I enjoy chamber music and for example, Diana Krall.  Sounds like these would be excellent for those sources.      I do enjoy listening to other orchestral works as well as rock at times also.  I know these wouldn't give the bass I'm looking for alone.  For that matter, however, I am not sure that any small speaker would give me the full sound for orchestral music for example.  I think that would be best appreciated on my larger system in our family room.

As for the amp, I wouldn't mind upgrading to an amp that would give me the full benefit of the Harbeths.  I've had an Adcom for a "starter amp" in my main system for 30 years, which will be upgraded but I'd rather get a new amp for the Harbeths if that will allow them to present all their glory.  Any thoughts for an ideal amp for these speakers?
I think the bass on the P3s is surprisingly better than you might think, especially when paired with the Purist Poseidon speaker cables. Very full and balanced, even with pop music. I listen to James Taylor, Eryica Badu, Shelby Lynn, Ricki Lee Jones and I find the bass response very satisfactory. I am using a 50wpc amp and it’s good, but I think the little P3s are a bit on the power-hungry side, so perhaps something with 50-100 watts solid state or 50 watts tubes might be optimum, depending on your listening tastes. But I think you should take it in order. Get the speakers, set them up, listen for a month and then start thlnking about where to go. But don’t overlook speaker cables. The difference in my system was very significant and I’ve never really fooled around with cables in the past. Not saying you must have Purist, but I urge you to experiment with what you have. It’s possible there will be no difference in your system. You can never tell.