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.
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.