These speakers excel with vocals and mid range, where 90% of all recorded music typically lies. They have a relaxed feel and allow for extended listening--they are very musical in nature. They share a legacy with the original BBC Monitors that were used extensively over a three decade period. Proac, Spendor and Tannoy share similar profiles.
These are wonderful speakers and provide a richness that many other expensive speakers lack.
They have an incredible delicacy in the midrange that provides
a real intimacy to recordings.
They don't however, have as much clarity up top as some others, and may lack a little in dynamics if you like your rock music punchy.
That said, they are very forgiving of the front end and are incredible value.
I love them.
Very good speakers. very musical, highly articulate, mids are very very clear with weight on them.
the reference3a decapa is a different listen thasn the harbeth, but just as valid.
Finally got to hear these speakers yesterday.
What I heard was excellent driver integration - you don't have the sensation of where/when the tweeter takes over (which is such a common problem in two way speakers).
A warm wooden or boxy resonant sound in the bass. (Nice for acoustic music at low levels - great ambience but can get overwhelming at loud levels) The highs are nice and polite with a delicate touch - really good. And the mid range is the best part of this speaker - it is better than other Harbeth's but just a tad polite or recessed. Apart form the bass response overall it is very accurate/neutral. I suspect the driver has great internal damping which makes it so pleasant and natural to listen to compared to the horrible sound of metal drivers (all those resonances). Great that Harbeth is still making their drivers when many manufacturers just buy off the shelf mass produced stuff.
This is a very relaxing speaker. I would not use it for rock or orchestral or big band as I don't think the drivers/cabinet are robust enough to even play moderately loud. This is the kind of speaker I would enjoy in my study whilst quietly reading and listeing to beautiful vocalists...
I listen almost exclusively to rock and I absolutely love my Compact 7ES-3's! I occasionally listen to jazz and mellow acoustic stuff, too, and I have to say that the Harbeths handle it ALL very well. The only thing I am tempted to try is a sub to reach a little deeper on the low end. But, what is there is very accurate and suprisingly deep. I'm afraid adding a sub will be an endless game of tweaking for proper integration and I am enjoying the simplicity and fine sound of having the speakers alone. Granted, I do have a small room and don't listen at crushing volumes. The Harbeths are plenty punchy, even for Metallica (believe it or not). Electric guitars sound phenomenal. Imaging is great and as someone else said, driver integration is superb. These are very, very well designed speakers and the unique cabinet construction certainly contributes to the whole sonic picture. It is obvious that every minute detail of these speakers has been well thought out for functionality. They may not be the best looking, but they do look nice in a "retro" sort of way. They don't do all (or any, really) of the audiophile tricks, but present music in a fully enjoyable manner. Of course, speaker preference is one of the most personal issues in hifi. YMMV...
Well in a word they disappear. The musicality, transients, clarity, faithfulness to the recorded medium ( IE, the recording engineers interpertation of the sound) are all there in spades. I do use it for all geners of music and all are presented by the speakers in a extreamily pleasent and nonfatiguing fasihon.
For me these are stop here speakers ... no need to look farther. Audition them if you can, If you can't just buy them ... you will lose very little as they are in great demand on the used market and do not come up with any frequency for sale used. Those of us who have them just keep them.
a review here
I have to say that the Harbeths handle it ALL very well.
I agree. It is indeed an outstanding speaker.
My point that they don't go very loud and that the warm bass (which is so nice at lower levels) can be overwhelming at higher levels is in the category of "nit picking".
These speakers have the characterstic Harbeth warm "audiophile" British sound and, in particular, I think the midrange excels in this one - compared to other speakers and other Harbeths (driver integration perhaps - who knows?).
I just listened to 3 models in the Harbeth line of speakers at a local dealer today. They were the SHL-5, Compact 7ES-3 and the M30. Out of the three speakers, the M30 was shut-in and laidback compared to the other two, and that didn't appeal to me. The SHL-5 and the Compact 7ES-3 on the other hand, were spectacular speakers. The sound they produced was unbelievably natural with great scale and dynamics. It is uncanny that the sound coming out from these speakers can be so real and unforced it's just like listening to the real thing.
Surprisingly the Compact 7ES-3 only goes down to 46Hz on paper but the overall sound of it is much more musical and coherent from top to bottom than my PMC speakers that go down to 35Hz. I was told that the midrange magic of Harbeth speakers is due to the design philosophy of all Harbeth speakers as more attention has been put towards this area. Now I realize why my PMC speakers, although rated to go down to 35Hz with a puny 4" woofer can sometimes sound a little forced when pumping out huge chunks of bass.
I didn't listen to the M40.1 since the gigantic speakers were way out of my budget but was told they share a resemblance to the M30 being in the Monitor family, so I guess the sound won't appeal to me either.
I'm now contemplating between the SHL-5 and Compact 7ES-3. The latter comes with the selected tiger ebony finish at a premium which is much pleasant-looking(to me) whereas the SHL-5 only comes with the plain cherry. Either way, I don't think I"ll be disappointed.
Now I realize why my PMC speakers, although rated to
go down to 35Hz with a puny 4" woofer can sometimes sound a little
forced when pumping out huge chunks of bass.
That is always the challenge with bass from small boxes it doesn't matter
whether it is PMC or another small ported design with impressive bass - they
all give up some clarity or quality in order to get big sound from a small box.
If you accept this and you prefer the quality/clarity then you should look for
1) very big box speakers (where the bass is accurate as well as extended)
2) for smaller box speakers without the bass extension (sealed boxes tend to
be more reliably well behaved in small speakers).
(there are exceptions to these rules but they are few and far between)
BTW - Harbeth are midrange magic! It would make a great choice. I would
add, however, a big PMC with a 3 inch dome mid would also be magic and
give you plenty of bass to boot!
I agree with your statement Shadorne. Most(not all) small bookshelves that I have owned seem to sound forced with pumped up bass in order to sound "big". After listening to the Harbeth speakers, I realized what I've been missing all this while. I'm quite smitten with the SHL-5 and Compact 7ES-3 now, more with the latter since it comes with the exotic tiger ebony finish which looks classier than the cherry(although the former has a bigger sound and bass due to the larger cabinet). Yes, the midrange is truly magical.
I would add, however, a big PMC with a 3 inch dome mid would also be magic and give you plenty of bass to boot!
This I agree, but the bigger PMCs(EB1 and IB2) are not only more costly but need to be driven with Bryston amplification to sound "acceptable". Also, I don't think the midrange of the PMCs can match the surreal and lifelike sound of the Harbeth. I'll probably find a Bryston SST amp to drive my LB1 Sigs in my 2nd system later. As for now, it's the Harbeth for me.
Ryder, if you are actively auditioning small speakers, I can also recommend ATC7s and 11s (which pair well with NAD, Chord, Bryston) and Neat Motives (which pair well with Exposure, LFD and NAIM). All are top tier Canadian and English companies. The ATCs are precise and the Neats are dynamic and smooth.
I'm extremely please with my HL-5 speakers that I purchased back in November 08. Over the past 20 years, I've owned B&W, Apogee Centaur Majors, Vandersteens 2Ce, PSB Stratus Gold i, Revel M20, and Thiel CS6. The Harbeths are the first speaker I can listen to all day and not be fatigued. The midrange is so much better than any of the speakers that preceded them. I listen to all types of music including classic rock and I find they are a great all around speaker. Probably not the speaker for headbangers but for everything else its sublime. I use a REL Strata III sub that integrates seamlessly with the HL-5. Horns sound rich and brassy, strings are sweet and delicate, and voices are absolutely captivating. I use a McIntosh MC275 amp, Convergent Audio Technology (CAT) SL1 Ultimate pre, and a Rega Saturn as a transport for the Benchmark DAC1 PRE. Everything except the amp is plugged into a Running Springs Jaco power conditioner. I enjoy this system more than anything I've owned in my 20 years of high end audio by far.
Thanks for the recommendation Bongofury. I am not exactly looking for small speakers but more towards mid-sized speakers. The Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 is not exactly small in size with its 8" woofer and the SHL-5 is larger in cabinet volume. I do know ATC makes good quality speakers but I'm trying to get something that not only sounds good but looks good as well. That is the reason I'm considering the tiger ebony finish on the Harbeth as I felt the standard cherry on the square box is too plain. The coherency and smooth unforced midrange of the Harbeth not experienced elsewhere have won me over.
I think Harbeth will be less fatiguing than ATC. If you want a warmer sound and don't mind giving up a little in "excitement" and effortless dynamics on big band, hard rock or large orchestral and percussion then I think you'll be better served by Harbeth. Definitely a step up from your PMC for sure! Great choice.
Now if you want the speakers to double as mains for HT as well as 2 channel then I would consider more carefully if you want to go Harbeth.
I'm now contemplating between the SHL-5 and Compact 7ES-3
Having had the C7ESII for some years I strongly suggest you to buy the Super HL5 if your budget permits .. the C7 is fantastic but the big brother is even better
Curio, thanks for the response. After numerous feedbacks from owners, it does appear that the SHL-5 seems to be a better speaker. I've decided to go with the SHL-5. Nevertheless, the latest C7ES-3 sounds very good too as there is very little difference between both speakers when I listened to them back to back at the dealer's place. The resemblance in sonic signature is amazingly close.