Fritz Carrera BE vs. Harbeth 30.1


I have been auditioning the Fritz Carrera BE speakers in my home office setup for about 2-3 weeks now. They have temporarily replaced my all-time favorite bookshelf speakers – Harbeth M30.1. During this time, I also borrowed a pair of Proac Response D2R speakers from my dealer for a few days for comparison. I tested all three with Audio Hungary a50i and VTL I-85 amps. I mostly listen to jazz, vocals, classic rock, classical, new age guitar/fusion, and an occasional run in with EDM. I thought I’d share some of my impressions with fellow audiophiles.

So let me start by saying that I was not really expecting the Carreras to be anywhere near the performance I get from my 30.1s. For one, there is a pretty significant price difference – the Harbeth 30.1s sell for close to $6k, while the Fritz Carreras have a retail price of $3.5K. Secondly, the 30.1s are noticeably bigger in size. What surprised me though was that despite the size difference, the Carreras are heavier at roughly 30 lbs. per speaker compared to 25 lbs. for the 30.1s. Now, understand that this is by design. Harbeth purposefully uses thin walls to voice their speakers in a certain way. But still, it is remarkable how the diminutive Carreras are heavier.

The other thing you notice about Carrera BE is the quality of materials (drivers, tweeter) and overall cabinet construction. Yes, Harbeth still looks more polished and high-end comparatively speaking, but the difference is not as pronounced as the price would otherwise suggest. In fact, the Carrera has a handmade, artisan quality to the build that I find more charming in some ways. Fritz throws in a 7” paper cone Scanspeak Revelator and Beryllium dome tweeter. When you combine this with the solid cabinetry and overall fit and finish, I don’t understand how Fritz makes any profit on these. Well, I take it back actually. He is able to offer such a terrific product at $3.5K by cutting out the middleman and traditional marketing.

So on to the sound quality ... how do they sound like? And how does the sound compare to Harbeth 30.1s or Proac D2Rs? The first thing you notice is the extended upper frequency range, thanks to the beryllium tweeter. It delivers more details and has an overall clean, crisp, and modern sound. However, Fritz has done a great job in making sure that it doesn’t get into the hyper-detailed territory like some Focal or KEF speakers tend to do. The treble is airy, sweet and extended but never bright or harsh. I would say the treble is somewhere in between Focal/KEF on one end of the spectrum and Harbeth on the other. Fritz has done a remarkable job in achieving the overall tonal balance. If you like Focal or KEF but wish they were just a little less energetic or bright in the treble region but without losing the other desirable attributes of these two brands, you owe it to yourself to give the Carreras a listen. On the other hand, if you love Harbeth 30.x but wish that it was maybe a bit more open up top or slightly less ‘buttoned down’, you owe it to yourself to give the Carreras a listen.

Soundstage is really wide. It’s actually wider than that of the 30.1. Imaging is about the same, which if you think about it is quite an achievement for a speaker which is priced considerably less. For soundstage depth, I would still give a nod to the Harbeths. But again, the difference is not as pronounced as the price difference might suggest.

When it comes to vocals, you really can’t beat Harbeth. The Carreras are good and come much closer to the 30.1s, but still the texture and nuances of human voice is something the 30.1s still excel at. The vocals just sound more human-like compared to any other speaker I’ve owned. However, I must say that the Carreras outperform the Proac D2Rs when it comes to vocals and, at least in my listening experience, their overall sound signature is more balanced top to bottom than either the Harbeth or Proac. FWIW, I really tried to like the Proac but I just found it to be just a tad more bright/forward for my taste. It is also the most lean-sounding of the three. I think if my musical taste leaned towards rock, EDM, or metal, I probably would have preferred the Proacs. But, in this instance, I preferred the Carreras over Proac.

For midrange, my preference is still Harbeth 30.1. It just has that extra bit of midrange magic that has won Harbeth so many loyal fans. But I will say this, the Carreras come much closer in this aspect compared to any other bookshelf speaker I’ve owned or auditioned, including KEF LS50s (owned), KEF Reference 1 (auditioned at home), LSA Signature-10 (owned), Proac D2R (auditioned at home), Focal Aria 906 (owned briefly but returned within 30 days), and Harbeth P3esr (owned and loved). The Carrera midrange, as you might have guessed, is neither pronounced (like Harbeth), nor is it lean/neutral like KEF, Focal, or Proac. It’s somewhere in between. Again, please remember these impressions are based on my listening preferences and either ownership or extensive auditioning. To be fair, I will add that with the exception of Proac D2R, Carrera BEs, and Harbeth 30.1s, which I ran with the same amps, the other speakers I listed were used with different gear. So take it with an appropriate amount of salt if you will.

Bass is ‘different’ between 30.1 and Carreras. Notice I said different, not better or worse. The 30.1s produce bass which is has more heft (sorry if I’m misusing the word here but don’t know how else to describe it), but the Carreras are punchier and actually sound better on classic rock and EDM. I honestly haven’t been able to make up my mind about which one I prefer. They’re two different flavors of ice cream but equally good.

So which one do I prefer? First off, I returned the Proac D2R to my dealer on Monday. I much preferred the 30.1s and Carrera BEs over the Proacs. Now between the Carrera and 30.1, I have been swapping them back and forth for a few days now. And the simple truth is that I’m unable to declare an outright winner here. I love the vocals and midrange on the Harbeth, but prefer the more detailed, airy and extended treble on the Carreras. I also find the Carreras to have a slight edge when it comes to tautness of bass, but it lacks the nuance and texture of Harbeth. Sometimes I prefer the clean and crisp presentation of the Carreras, but other times I miss the midrange ‘presence’ and scale of the 30.1s. Sometimes I prefer the more engaging and lively presentation of the Carreras, but at other times I want the relaxing and sophisticated sound of Harbeth.

In some ways you could argue that if a speaker which retails for $3.5k is going shoulder to shoulder in many, if not all, aspects of music reproduction with a speaker that retails for $6k, that in of itself is a victory for Fritz. I am going to request Fritz to let me keep the Carreras for another week to help me reach a decision.

If you are in the market for bookshelf speakers and your budget is $6000 or less, please put the Fritz Carrera BE’s on your list. He has an excellent return policy, which should tell you something. I’m somewhat of a Harbeth fanboy, so for me to say that the Carreras come so close to my 30.1s that I’m unable to make up my mind about which one to keep should tell you something :)


arafiq
Really informative and detailed comparison. Thanks arafiq.
Now days there are a lot of really, really good speakers in the Sub $6k to $3000k arena to choose from.
Fritz, Studio Electric, Sonus faber, Raven CeLest, QLN, Sonner, Dynaudio.....
Nice review @arafiq

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@arafiq Great write up. I’ve never heard Harbeth. I loved the Carreras but chose my Salks over them mostly because the finish on the Salks were more to my liking and I had already paid for them. It was very, very close, though. I made a video about the Carreras, in case you’re interested.
@arafiq,

Thanks for sharing your impressions. Both 30.1 and BE's are great speakers. If you ever get a chance, audition the TAD's Micro Evolution One speakers. They remain as my top pick for a bookshelf speaker system. 

Cheers!
Keep both!!

I chuckled when I read “I would say the treble is somewhere in between Focal/KEF on one end of the spectrum and Harbeth on the other” because IMO 80-90% of quality speakers probably are in that range between those near extremes but agree with others, great write up. 
@tvad,

"Which speaker connects you emotionally  With the music?"
Excellent question!

@arafig, 
Agree with positive comments above,  well written and an informative/interesting  comparison review. 
Charles 
Interesting comparisons! I've got a pair of Fritz Carrerra BE's and Harbeth Super SL-5; right now the Fritz's are what I'm using in my 2-channel system. I don't know whether I'm going to keep or sell the Harbeths....
One thing about the Fritz speakers - they took a LONG time to break-in, but they finally got there and sound beautiful and they ROCK! I'd say they are more 'rock and roll' speakers than Harbeths are.... I also had to adjust my seating distance so I'd get the bass converging there from both speakers - that's when I could really feel it. 
nice job arafiq!!!

fritz's speakers are wonderful, and a terrific value for the sound quality they provide for their cost
Nice assessment. Rings true. The Fritz are awesome as are Harbeth vocals especially female. No two speakers sound the same. Always differences and no one flavor of sound does everything best.
Great write up. I was selling my Harbeth 30.1s but then decided to keep them as I wanted the 2 distinct sounding systems, one in bedroom, one in main room. The Harbeth's are in the bedroom and Salks, as hilde45 has, in the main room. Keep both!
Wonderful comparo and it relates like a saga of old: the hero needs to make a choice he can live with that involves small tradeoffs that are more in the realm of quality than quantity. A tough choice awaits you.

Do you stay with what you're comfortable with or take the chance that something new will outlast a long, positive first impression. Best of luck.
At least you're not cleaning out the Augean Stables. 

All the best,
Nonoise
Not really familiar with either speaker but this was the kind of reporting that is useful to audiophiles, not just the 'this is great' kind of comment. If I was in the market this was the kind of info that would make me make the effort to audition these speakers. Good work.
Great reviews!

 I have heard the 30.2xd’s and I was surprised at how good they sounded.
Now I’ll have to find a pair of Fritz Carrera BE‘s.

JD
larsman149 posts11-04-2021 1:09amInteresting comparisons! I've got a pair of Fritz Carrerra BE's and Harbeth Super SL-5; right now the Fritz's are what I'm using in my 2-channel system. I don't know whether I'm going to keep or sell the Harbeths....

The Harbeth Super HL5 non-Plus is flawed in comparison to the SHL5 Plus. I have owned the SHL5 for 7 years before switching to the SHL5+ which I currently own.  If I were in your shoes I would sell the SHL5, especially when the Fritz Carrerra BE had taken the spot in the main system.
I love my Fritz Carrera BE Speakers. At the time I was considering buying a pair, I was looking for a walnut veneer to match my decor but Fritz did not have any in stock. Fritz went to his supplier and took photos of raw veneer and let me choose which one I wanted. He is a real stand up guy and was great to do business with. These speakers sound incredible out of the box but after about 200 hours they really improve....better bass, more refined high’s, etc. These speakers top to bottom are the most balanced that I have heard in any stand mount and I have owned quite a few. Fritz Speakers are just incredible for what you get. I can’t imagine ever selling them.
A few years ago at RMAF I kept going back to the Fritz Carrera room and, hands down, it was the most pleasant sound at the show.
From your fine description and my experience, the Fritz are more lively and engaging. For sure, the 30.1s are a great speaker but overall I would stick with the Fritz.
Would you think that a McIntosh MA8900 is a good fit/ or too much for the Carrera BE speakers? I have a set of large towers running off of a separate MC312 and I'm considering a pair of book shelf stand mounts for a smaller room off of the main listening room.
Nice job @arafiq. How many hours are on the Fritz speakers? Maybe they’ll close the gap if they break in further.

Oz
I had a long conversation with "Fritz" on the phone about a year ago. He told me for ROCK do NOT get the CARRERA BE but the Carbon model instead (the 7 I think?). The Harbeth 30 Models are also the last Harbeth you would want to use for Rock n Roll. Great review but If your primarily a Rocker I wouldnt "Bite" on these models.
I have a Qualiton 50 coming in so betting they will perform ROCK better with Nenuphar’s, Fleetwood Deville’s, Cornwall IV, Volti's and a bunch of other speakers in my inventory.
Harbeth 30 Models are also the last Harbeth you would want to use for Rock n Roll. Great review but If your primarily a Rocker I wouldnt "Bite" on these models.

i would agree with this statement... the mon 30's to me are a dedicated, somewhat narrowly focused speaker for monitoring of vocals and acoustic instruments -- for this purpose they are wonderful -- but they don’t try to (and cannot) produce proper wideband frequency response, especially in the bass region -- subwoofers and proper integration is a must if one desires full range response

that said, modern harbeths are pretty good at power handling and playing reasonably loud, much more so that older bbc style monitors

for rockers and the like, the shl5, compact 7 and of course mon 40’s are better suited

Hey guys, I really appreciate the positive feedback. 

@hilde45 -- thanks for providing the link to your video. I must say the content and production value is better than many regular youtube reviewers. It's good to know that your impressions were so similar to mine.

@ozzy62 -- you make a good point about break in. The speakers have a little over 50 hours at this point. I need to ask Fritz what he recommends for a reasonable number of hours before judging it critically.

I'm going to make two further changes over the weekend. First, I'll add a sub to see if it helps with bass. Second, I will move both the Carreras and the 30.1s to the main listening room to see how they scale with better electronics and room treatments. I'll share my findings here.


@tvad -- you ask a great question. I agree that making an emotional connection is a much better yardstick for measuring long term satisfaction. In the past I've owned speakers that thrilled me during the first few weeks but I got bored after a while. It took me a while to realize that what they were missing was an emotional connection. The Harbeth 30.1 (also P3esrs) are one of the few speakers where I am able to, despite them not being all rounders for a wide range of music. 

I'm going to put the 30.1s back in my system for a final round of comparisons.
@riaa_award_collectors_on_facebook -- congrats on getting the Qualiton a50i. I bought one a few months ago and it is by far the best I've owned. I've never owned the megabuck amps but for anything under $10k, the a50i's are phenomenal. I thought at one point you were considering the x200 also. Do you also have that one, or will you be swapping it with a50i?
I ditched the X200 to somebody in NC...still Brand new in box with KT 170's. Have a RUST Colored 50 coming in.
Wonderful review/impressions.

Of all the speakers out there I want to hear, Fritz speakers are right up at the top.

I am not surprised with your findings, and find it “comforting” when my thought experiments are confirmed:)

Many reasons why his speakers sound the way they do, obviously, but one that is I would argue critical, are his crossovers.

Two inductors and a resistor. Drivers in series. No capacitors. He uses the Acoustic Reality Series Crossover. There is no online calculator for this online that you can plop parameters into and out pops a crossover design. These have to be done by ear.

Everything you have described about the sonic signature is exactly my experience with the same xover in my diy projects. 
Someone had posted here about his speakers and how they showed an easy load to the amp. I went to Fritz site, and he references the xover in his description of each speaker. 
The xover is a patented design that was make open to the public years ago. This with a caveat - you had to credit Acoustic Reality if you used their design in a commercially available speaker.

Again, much appreciated your write up!
@perkri -- I agree with your assessment about the crossover design in the Carrera. I think that’s probably the main ingredient in his secret sauce for building such wonderful speakers. Before reading up on these speakers I had not even heard of this type of design. Fritz has definitely done his homework here.

@jjss49 -- have you had a chance to listen to the 30.2 model? From what I’ve read, it’s moving more in the direction of the so-called ’modern’ sound. Apparently, it is voiced closer to the SHL5+. Of course, this is based on what I’ve read, no personal experience. Wondering if anyone was able to compare the 30.1s with 30.2s and can validate what I've been reading.
I have put on more hours on the Carrera BEs, and they're definitely improving, especially the midrange and bass. The slight thinness that I heard in the midrange area is pretty much gone now.

I also want to mention that the VTL IT-85 driving these speakers is such a perfect match. When I acquired the amp from my friend, I had every intention to sell it. But boy, has this amp won me over. I had posted a for sale ad a few days ago, which I eventually took down. This amp is definitely a keeper. The more I listen, the more it grows on me. This is my first amp based on EL34 and I must admit the 'slow burn' is very addictive.
Scanspeak? Sorry not for me -