Harbeth SHL5 compared to Merlin VSM ?

How do these compare for midrange purity on vocals,
even poorly recorded ones that may be too close-miked
without sounding mechanical or distorted?

I also want to avoid shrieking-sounding female vocals (say,
Diana Ross/Supremes) or pumping, loose bass.

Looking for something that can be somewhat forgiving
of older pop/rock recordings without driving me up the wall
(say with Beatles, Motown).
Aerial 10Ts and Apogees used to be very good at this,
along with some classical.

I am no longer looking for a bag of Audiophile tricks that
seem to make the speakers listenable only on very-high-grade
recordings. I just want to use my good old CDs
(on an EMM SE digital front end with an Edge NL12.1 amp).

Other speaker suggestions are welcome too.

Thank you very much for any help.
If you want purity in midrange and tight bass then add ATC to your audition list.
Your choices above seem good - Harbeth's are warm and the bass response leans to the loose side of the spectrum but it may make many of your recordings pleasant sounding.
I have owned both speakers but in two totally different systems. I think for the money the Harbeth's are hard to beat.
OK, thanks for the ideas; someone else mentioned

Hey Underdog, you have a nice system--
I heard those Temptations about 10 years ago at (the late) Soundex in Willow Grove PA, and still remember it as maybe
the best sound ever (on a female vocal). And the Dartzeel
electronics made for another of the best of the best
driving Von Schweikert VR9s an the NY HE show a few years ago.
So you sure have good taste.
Having heard both only at CES/THE Show, my preference for vocals was the Harbeth HL5 as I heard them with Resolution Audio digital and amplfication. The Merlin VSMs with Joule Electra monos were a clear choice in terms of piano music, liquidity, purity of movement through the upper midrange to treble. However, Harbeths sounded better for vocal music. Both excellent speakers, of course. YMMV.
between the 2, harbeth. add atc, spendor, ohm and a few other (now gone)classics such as dunlavy, hales to the short list
What surprises me is that all the comments so far don't mention anything about what gear you will be using it with. This stuff needs to be paired with appropriate electronics, and without knowing what you've got, and if you plan to making other changes to suit your chosen speaker or not, makes a big difference.

FWIW, IME The Merlins can provide a level of transparency in the mids and treble that will let you hear more of what's in your recordings, and prove more satisfying over the long run.
I've always found the Harbeths pleasant but lacking. Yeah that will make some crappy recordings more tolerable, but in general that kind of thinking is not how you want to build your system.

Disclaimer: Merlin owner. That's because I think they are one of the best values in all of audio and can be the centerpiece of your rig up through very high levels of performance. Cheers,
About ATC, my configuration leads me to use passive, not active speakers. (Longish speaker cables, short, Stealth Indra
ICs.) How are ATC passives or in passive mode, if they do that? Which models? Thank you.
IMHO Sbank has it right but I'd re-state it differently.

The Merlin is more revealing, slightly leaner in the mid bass, and more
extended in the deep bass.

The Harbeth is warmer and more forgiving.

I own Merlins and have auditioned the Harbeths extensively. IMHO, both are
excellent in their own way, but their ways are sufficiently different that a
choice should be straightforward on audition. I prefer the Merlin, but from
your list of issues my guess is you might go the other way.

Good Luck


In passive, I'd suggest SCM19 or SCM20 used (try to get the SL version). The bigger models are better active - so I wouldn't go passive with any of them.
what vsm are you talking about?
the mme and mxe sound imho, very different than earlier versions in a sense of fullness/room filling, smoothness, expanse and focus. they also sound more relaxed which would be benefitial on much of your recorded music mentioned above.
with your gear gear i would recommend the vsm mme over the mxe.
best regards,