Harbeth Owners - What do you think?

I just heard from someone who said he finds Harbeths " a little clinical sounding " but admits he only heard them in a store. I'm looking for a 2nd system speaker and was seriously considering one of their finely reviewed products but would not have the opportunity to audition as no one carries them near me. What's your opinion of the various models? How low power tube friendly (in a small room) are they? How do they get the supposedly smooth sound with metal dome tweeters? Do they sound better with or without grilles? Thanks in advance, people.
Hi Tomryan

I have owned the Harbeth Compact 7SE’s two years now, and I find myself liking them more each time I listen to them. There are other speakers, which will play louder, go lower and cost more than the Harbeths, but for overall uncompromising delivery of the musical event these speakers are hard to beat.

They are equally good with all types of music be it jazz, pop, classical or opera. They do not add to or detract from the sound of the original performance, thanks in great part to the 'Radial' midrange/woofer. This speaker really gives a very transparent view into the music with very low coloration. No speaker is completely neutral, but this comes about as close as any speaker I have encountered.

They are equally good on all types of music from a large Mahler symphony to the intricate fingerings of a flamingo guitar to the intimate voice of Patricia Barber to a large scale choral work. They do it all with no preferences or shortcomings.

Before I purchased these speakers I was a little concerned, about the metallic dome tweeter, however, this concern has proven to have no merit as these tweeters have provided a very revealing and extended high end with no traits of shrillness or harshness what-so-ever, just smooth extended highs.

No, it will not do the bottom extremes, but what it does; it does with complete clarity and control, with no mushy or smeary base. As a result of this clarity, the listener gets the impression that the speaker is really going deeper than it probably is.

I have owned numerous speaker systems, over the years. All of them played all of the notes, one or two of them even played all the notes with inner detail, but the Compact 7ES is the only one to play all the notes with detail and emotion. This emotion translates those notes into beautiful music, and beautiful music is what these speakers are all about. Every CD and LP played is like hearing them for the very first time. While you may be familiar with the music, the inner detail and emotion with which it is presented is like a new experience.

Another strong point about these speakers, to me, is that they reveal more about the acoustics of the concert hall, theatre, jazz club etc. in which the recording was made, than any other speaker I have had the pleasure of listening to. The reverberation of the recording site is magnificently captured, adding a tremendous sense of being to the sound.

I am using an Audio Research SP15 pre-amp along with the AR D-130 (solid state) power amp with the Harbeths but I really believe that they would perform well with either SS or tube amps provided your amp has sufficient power. They will sound more authoritative with a little more power from your amps.

Are there better speakers? I’m sure there are, however it would be impossible for me to ever hear all the good ones so I can only relate to the ones I have heard, and summing up my assessment of these speakers
they are a very beautiful, musical speaker, which does its job and does it well. They are definitely a music lovers’ speaker, a speaker which tells it like it is, with very little in the way of coloration or very little in the way of derogation. Just beautiful music through and through.

While I may buy one of the larger Harbeth's eventually, for my main system, I will never sell the Harbeth 7.2's.

They are with me forever.

Good Luck, and I would be interested in your decision. Let me know one way or the other.


A. E. Watkins
I love my 7.2's as well. One of the best things I heard at CES two years ago, for the money, for sure. The midrange is quite realistic. I think they are slightly recessed in the "presence" region, but when you listen for a while, you just get drawn in. I think they like powerful SS amps. The pair well with my Odyssee Stratos dual mono, and I think they sounded great with a Plinius SA102. I haven't tried them without grills.
I own the Super HL5's. I have not heard other Harbeth models, but they all use the Radial drivers and are voiced for flat frequency response, so there is probably a strong family resemblance. As to the sound, they are not bright, forward, hyped, romantic etc- they don't have a strong signature because they really do have a flat frequency response (room permitting). In a demo situation, they could come across as boring or clinical because they don't have major colorations (especialy tipped up treble or hyped midbass) that would make them stand out.

Harbeth's are probably a good bet for those who want a slightly laid back speaker that works well on all kinds of music, and are easy to listen to for long periods of time, and disappear without drawing too much attention to themselves. However, if you want a speaker that pushes all the audiophile buttons- vivid, hyperdetailed, transparent, holographic etc they may not be the best choice. They are more about music than sonic hyper-reality.

As to associated gear, although not high-efficiency they are very easy to drive. I would avoid too laid back of an amplifier (for example I found them too mellow with a Plinius 9200), and the Odyssey mentioned above seems a good bet- also Naim and Bryston seem to common partners. Choosing a source and an amp with a good PRAT factor is probably a smart idea. I myself, have mostly used tubes. 30 triode watts is more than sufficient (either an ASL integrated or Granite Audio monoblocks).
Hi - I have a pair of original HL-P3 monitors that I've listened to in a second system for about 5 years. Very small, compact speaker - even smaller than an LS3/5A! They don't go way deep (only a 4 inch woofer), and they don't go supersonic, but they make music as wll as any small speaker I've heard. Female vocals especially sound natural - not nasal. Instrumentals are in pitch, good rythym & dynamics for their size. Quite amplifier friendly. I've used both tube & solid state amps with them. Not very efficient, like lots of power. To sum up, a very nice small speaker. Not cheap, but if something happened to these I would definitely seek out another pair.

Good listening,
Thanks for the input, guys. I like a musical presentation as opposed to an "accurate" or "audiophile" one. Accurate often means a lifeless rendering of bits and pcs as picked up by the mikes and, while working well in a studio, it doesn't usually work well at home. We (I mean "I") like to be transported into the musical event and not counting lip formations, chest cavitiy sizes, chair squeaks, and other hyper-detailed "highly resolved" correct frequency reporductions. Again, that's for the engineer in the studio, not me at home. I currently use Merlin TSM-MXs which do a pretty good job of this with the right equipment but would like something for another system and something with a wood finish - you wood lovers know what I mean!

By the way, how is the fit and finish of Harbeth speakers? And I've read they're designed for use with the grilles on - is this so? Do they sound best that way or can they be played "naked" so to speak (which is how I like my wood speakers to be)?

Anyone have a favorite Harbeth dealer?

I'm going to take the quick way out and second what was said above--particularly Arnold's spot on assessment. I've owned C7ES for over 6 years now and love them to bits. Clinical? Absolutely, positively, no friggin way. Quite the opposite. The Harbeth's are, IMHO, the most musical speaker out there AND the best value for money in audio. Obviously one man's view here but with a twist--I have been trying to find something to replace my C7's for over 2 years now. Why? Got married, redecorated the house and the somewhat big boxes on stands just don't cut it with the new decor. I've listened to nearly every attractive floorstander out there (some even costing 10K!) and for me the Harbeth's simply cannot be beat. I end up returning to my system and realizing that much of what is out there is really not good value for money. Are the Harbeth's better in every respect to what I heard--no. They don't do really deep bass or present a huge panoramic sound stage. But, more than most (at a lot more money) they get the music right. Ditto and then some for the Super HL5. If you have the space and can stand to look at these rather large boxes the HL5, after direct comparison, betters the C7 in a significant way. The HL5 may be one of the best speakers currently made--and for under 4K. I am also using Audio Research (100.2 SS Amp and SP16 tube pre). A very nice, synergistic mix. I had used Naim and the Audio Research is better by a mile. The Harbeths like power so don't short change on the amp--though I've heard them blow the doors off most speakers powered with a cheap Japanese receiver! Harbeths are made to run with the grills on--look at the wood on the sides--there is a lot of it. Tomryan, so many opinions out there in audio land, who to trust? Forget the reviews, internet chat etc. Grab a few CD's and go listen. You will be instantly hooked--I guarantee it. As for dealers. Try John Rutan at Audio Connection in Verona, NJ. He is a great guy and lover of two channel sound. If you are not local he may send you a pair with the option to buy certain you will not send them back. One final thought--if you have the room, go for the HL5's, they are that good.
Wow! I have a pair of HL5s coming shortly (should be very different from my Thiels). Y'all can come over and listen.
Fit and finish is very good. The Audio Research 100.2 is a great amp, though I haven't heard it with the Harbeth's, I'd be very willing to give it a try. As for Harbeth dealers, contact the main man - Walter at Fidelus Audio (I think that's spelled right) in New Hampshire. I imagine if you don't have a local dealer, he could ship directly to you, and he is very nice to work with.
Thanks again, guys. My room is 11 x 13.5 x 8 with plaster walls/ceiling and thick carpet on hardwood over cement so it contains everything and does not flex with the music. I use a REL subwoofer so bass extention is not a concern.

I have narrowed it down to Compact 7s or Monitor 30s as I really like the idea of the soft done high end SEAS tweeter in the 30s. The closet dealer is a 10 hour round trip and doesn't have the 30s so I may work through the mail.

I'm lucky as the room is mine alone and my wife doesn't care what the speakers look like but I think they look damn good anyway. I like that classic appearance and (based on some internet photos) presume the woodwork and finish are excellent. I also will be using an Air Tight 300B amp which puts out a whopping 10wts! However, I just read a webzine review of the 30s which said a 2A3 amp drove them pretty well in a moderate sized room and my amp is three times that powerful (I like the big amps, don't you know).

The Air Tight has superbly designed Tamura trannies and the best, in my opinion, designed power supply for an SET that I've heard. In my room it has properly driven ProAc 2.5s and Merlin TSM-MXs.

Think I'll contact a couple of the recommended dealers above and see what they can do for me.
Tomryan. I'd be interested in your views on the Proac 2.5 as I am looking for a floorstander to replace my Compact 7s. I am thinking of the 2.5 or new D25 as a possibility. After you get the Monitor 30's or C7's up and running I'd be interested in your thoughts comparing them with the Proacs. I love the Harbeth sound but need something that will blend better into the room decor. Good luck with your Harbeth's, you will love them I'm sure. (That said, though I have no experience with your amp I really have concerns over the power output. My C7's did not really begin to sing until I put 100 watts or ARC solid state behind them. A 35wpc Naim amp just did not do them justice. FWIW.)
Dodge, I used to have ProAc 2.5's. When I get the Harbeths, I can comment on how they compare.

The ProAcs are one of those speakers with "magic" in the midrange. They are expressive or communicative or whatever you want to call it--you connect with the music. As great a thing as that is, I found myself craving clarity and resolution. I found them too soft on top. I also found the bass too loose and insufficiently tuneful.

My switch to Thiel was in response to these shortcomings of the ProAcs, and the Thiel 2.4 indeed resolves every one of the complaints I had about the ProAcs and I like them very much--I've had them for 18 months and they could be a long-term keeper. (Except that I loved the way the ProAcs looked--and so did my wife--but I don't care for the look of the Thiels.) But that magical musical connection is not as strong with the Thiels. Hence my upcoming experiment with Harbeth and a current experiment with the Ref 3A (which initially strikes me as delivering expressiveness in spades but at a huge price in loss of accuracy and fidelity; jury still out).

Maybe I can have everything I want, but I have not found it yet. The journey is the reward, I suppose.
Drubin. I would be very surprised if the HL5's did not give you everything you are after. I have been listening to a lot of speakers over the past 18 months and I don't think there is currently anything better on the market (sub 10K) than those. Enjoy.
That's good to hear, but I will be surprised if they do give me everything I am after. I can't imagine that they will deliver detail and resolution at the level of Thiel. We shall see.
Remember that your Harbeths are not as bright or "forward" as the Thiels, so initially they will not sound as detailed and you may prefer the Thiels. Give the Harbeths a little time to break in and for you to get used to the sound. Then do a careful comparison. My guess is that the Harbeths have just as much resolution, but aren't as bright.
Drubin. You will be surprised. In my experience, the Harbeth's resolve detail in an extraordinarily natural fashion. The first time I heard the Compact 7 I thought I was listening to an electrostatic speaker--such was the unboxiness and level of detail. The Radial driver is an extraordinary woofer. It adds ZERO coloration and resolves gobs of inner detail. Beware--not the kind of hifi theatrics that some speakers do. I've heard a number supposedly high resolution designs that SEEM to present lots of information. What they do, I suspect, is emphasize parts of the frequency spectrum to present the illusion of detail. This is why, ultimately, they grow fatiguing and send their owners off to find another pair of speakers that are "more satisfying". What the Harbeth's do is present an extremely rich and musical experience but without tipped up highs or forward mids that throw everything in your lap. Some people seem to like speakers that are aggressively forward because they feel like they are not "missing anything". For me, I like to listen "into" the soundfield and follow the interplay between musicians. I know that this all really boils down to what strikes your fancy but something tells me that folks who like "high resolution" "forward" sounding speakers really are about impressing their friends by playing the same audiophile junk over and over while pointing out the creeking floor at the rear of the stage or whatever. Harbeth's won't impress anyone, really, unless they are a musician or a music lover. (I know I'm gonna catch it for this!) I'm dying to know how things turn out so please return to the thread and share your observations after you have the HL5's up and running. BTW:
1. What gear are you using with them?
2. Check out the Harbeth users group at Smartgroups, lots of Harbeth lovers there swapping tips etc.
I am familiar with the HUG and have read it from time to time.

I'm using a First Sound preamp and Rowland 201 monoblock amplifiers, with Audience AU24 single-wire speaker cable. Might be overkill.

Dodge, sorry if this was mentioned before, but Harbeth introduced some new floorstanders at CES last month. Have you considered those?
Drubin. I am drooling at the thought. However, if you follow the HUG posts Alan Shaw seems to have some serious reservations about building a floorstander that can compete sonically with the monitors. He is all about panel resonances and seems to feel that they cannot be controlled in a long panel floorstanding design. I have to give some serious consideration to this because I have come to believe that the transparancy and lack of boxy colorations found in my C7's (and your HL5) are due to the lossy cabinet construction. It also has driven me toward looking for floorstanders that have employed some unique methods of controlling panel resonances (beyond ever thicker MDF!). Thus, speakers like the Wilson Bensch Curve or the Vandersteen 5's or the Wilson Sophias are all at the top of my list. I have heard all but the Curves and think they are excellent, open and transparant sounding speakers. The only traditionally built speakers I am still considering are the Focus Audio 788/888's and the Proacs. Bottom line, if Harbeth manages to work out the cabinet issues this could be an extraordinary speaker. It has two 8" Radial woofers and a new 6" Radial midrange. The possibilites are really great but this needs to be followed a bit further. Thanks for the suggestion. Can't wait to hear your reaction to the HL5's!
p.s I'm not familiar with your electronics but the Rowland monos I suspect have lots of juice. I've seen them before, I believe. Very tiny right?
Correct, they are "petite". the First Sound is one of the truly great tube linestages.

Have you listened at all to ATC speakers? They make a smallish floorstander.
Drubin. I listened to the SCM 35 as part of my search. Nice speaker. Nothing extraordinary there, IMHO. The Harbeth's are better by a significant margin. I'm trying to find something that will exceed the Harbeth's by a good margin--otherwise, why bother? The ATC has that nice midrange dome but I think it sounds better coupled to their monitor designs, like the SC50 or 100 which I heard while I was in England and like a lot. Again, however, these are big box monitors that don't move me toward the more wife friendly appearance I'm looking for. Thanks so much for your interest and please, keep making suggestions!
Drubin - Your accessment of the ProAcs is like mine. I absolutely loved their musicality and ability to draw me in for hours but ultimately wanted more inner resolution, but this took over 7 years to happen! I think it may be the large cabinet like you said and am very curious about the Harbeths in this regard. I'm trying to find some way to audition the 30s and would be willing to pay shipping both ways (no dealer in area) if need be.
Tomryan. Try John Rutan at Audio Connection in Verona, NJ. He may be willing to help.

If you hang out at HUG, you should know that there are no speakers that are significantly better than Harbeth :-). Seriously, there are different listener priorities and different product strengths and weaknesses - there isn't anything that will "exceed [Harbeth] by a large margin", especially if you like the Super HL5s. As you know, the Harbeths are very natural with great tonal balance, but they aren't the last word in PRAT, don't have spectacular imaging, and the monitor 30 and 40 speakers use the better Seas tweeter. It's all about priorities and having fun trying new things.