Harbeth Super HL5 plus Break-in

The following is an excerpt from the Harbeth User Guide:

"After exercising your new Harbeths for just a few hours they will be fully ready for a lifetime of enjoyment".

After going to the Harbeth site it pretty much said the same thing as the user guide but added that the supertweeter would take a little longer to break-in.
My new Harbeth's sounded the same after I put on around the first 100 hours so I believed the above until around the 120-150 hour mark I noticed (or so I think) the midrange sounding more realistic to the point of more enjoyment! I don't know if I'm actually hearing an improvement or I'm just getting used to the Harbeth sound since the 5's are my first experience with Harbeth in my listening room.

I would like to hear others that have owned or still own the Super 5's and whether or not you have experienced the same thing as me or something else.

When you say "What's up with the speakers?" do you mean my other posts about the Spendor D9 & Focal Kanta comparisons to the Harbeth 5's or something else? Please clarify.
By the way, I am going thru a "thing" trying to find the right speaker that turns me on while being analytical at the same time. It can be frustrating at times but I am not unhappy.
I didn't notice much if any difference in the sound of my Super HL5 Plus since they came out of their boxes. Getting my custom stands made a difference as well as experimenting with tilt and placement / toe in.
@routeman21 You're posting as far as I can see about expecting further improvement from the Harbeths. Why? What's not satisfying? 
I have about 60 hours on 40.2's right now.  Frankly, they sounded great out of the box, but around the 50 hour mark there was some kind of fairly minor change, a little more relaxed, in the sense that I could turn the amp down a notch or two and still get the same level of presentation/enjoyment.  I'm more than content right now, but only time will tell if anything further develops.
I have never owned a speaker that didn't stop changing through 250 hours or so. 
Mainly the bass is impacted as the driver suspension, motor assembly and surrounds have loosened their grip slightly.  Also the tweeters tend to sound smoother because of their own break in but also a warmer overall sound signature caused by more efficient bass response.  
The most drastic changes happened to a set of PSB towers where the bass became so elevated as to dominate the sound and I had to sell them.  
My Harbeth C7ES3 also increased its bass response and was left with a very nicely smooth tweeter after 250 hrs.  

So far I have ~ 200 hrs on the SHL5+'s and they have definitely changed their sound since out of the box. 

In the mean time the SHL5+'s tonality can be altered with things like placement from wall (24" mimimum), toe in -on axis yields a stronger bass response/ smoother top end, mild toe-in yields a more forward sound - all impressions at a nearfield listening setup.
Stand height brings the air and sparkle with a higher tweeter at or slightly above ear level.  Grilles off also make for more transparency, dynamics and air.  

You responded to my Spendor D7 vs. Harbeth SLH5+ discussion. Thanks for returning. At right around the 100 hour mark of burn-in with my new Harbeth's I was going to give up and put them up for sale because I wasn't hearing any improvement. I didn't like the sound at all. Too soft sounding and thumpy overall with my CJ tube amp. Now at approx. 150 hours I am experiencing what others have spoke & written about them. There is definitely an increase in the musicality of the sound, the bass has tightened up and the overall texture and tone is more to my liking. There definitely is more sparkle. I did try to toe in a little bit but returned them to their original angle which is more toed out like I do with all of my speakers. I get a sharper center stage. I cannot pull them out more than 24" rom the front wall. I am hoping for more improvement but am not sold on them just yet. I am fussy an am always looking for more refinement but don't want to spend too much. Impossible I know. I am considering moving to Magnepan 3.7i with twin woofers. I owned the MG-IIIa Maggies for 18 years before selling. Also, Devore Fidelity looks interesting. For now, I will keep listening to the Harbeth's and hopefully keep hearing improvements. Maybe I'll actually keep them for awhile (Don't bet on it). Thanks for your input, as always!
Sorry to hear you’re not liking them. Keep breaking them in and don’t give up for several hundred hrs
Sounds like you're new to the BBS monitor philosophy - which are the Harbeth's pedigree. Yes, they have a different "sound". Spendors and the old Rogers also. Live with them for a while and I promise you will become a convert. Nothing else will sound the same after your ear gets trained to what "reality" sounds like.
I will agree with your analysis. You did not mention some other brands
like Graham, Monitor, ATC, etc. Was that for the sake of brevity?
Not sure 24" out from the wall is going to cut it. You using the correct stands? Try spiking them to a concrete paver.
Yes, like any other loudspeakers they need time to break-in. Give the speakers 200 to 300 hours before they start loosening up as music will flow more freely from the speakers, sounding more unforced.

The amplifier plays a huge role with the Harbeth as you can alter the presentation to your preferences with different amps.
I am listening with the grilles off.

I am using Skylan stands, 18" high. They are spiked to carpet and foam attached to concrete floor. My mistake- They are 28" from wall to back of speaker, 40" from wall to front of speaker.

Note that Harbeth speakers are designed to have the grills on. Most speakers designed to have the grills on are more accurate and smoother with the grills.

Audiophiles are conditioned to search for ever more "transparency and detail" so "why would I want grill covers between my ears and the drivers?"

They take off the grills, now the frequency response changes a bit, usually a bit of a peak in the higher frequencies and then it's "wow, listen to that new air and detail!"

But I find this is almost always at the expense of smoothness, neutrality and coherency.  It's a more "look at me" from the upper frequencies/tweeter" sound.   But...if you like it better you like it better.

With the Harbeth speakers I have owned I can listen with the grilles on when using solid state amplification.  
With tube amplification there is absolutely no way, grilles must go in the box.  
With tube amplification there is absolutely no way, grilles must go in the box.

Ok, looks like our experiences differ.

I auditioned the HL5Plus using solid state amps.   And on my Conrad Johnson Premier 12 tube mono blocks, the Super HL5plus absolutely sang - open, airy, realistic, no problems at all suggesting the grills needed to be off once I used tube amplification.

For the most part, I've left the grills on my Super HL5 Plus, mostly because they are in a somewhat high traffic area in my living room.  I keep the grills off my P3ESR, they are in pretty safe spots.  I love the way both sets of speakers look with the grills off.  I don't notice a significant difference in sound either way.  And I use tube amps with the HL5s.

I’d say my experience with the 5 plus is pretty similar to the OP. I was not that impressed right out of the box. But over time, I’ve become pretty happy with them. I really can’t tell the difference between grilles on or off. And I do think they sound better in a near field set up. Currently grilles are off, using SS amplification and Resonant Woods stands. A recent listen to the Jamaican version of the Wailers “Catch A Fire” album was a transcendent experience. I don’t think they’d ever be my one and only speaker but I do enjoy having them in the rotation. 

In my experience, the Skylan stands made the SHL5s sound dull. I tried putting some hard interfaces on the stands, casino chips as I recall, which improved the sound, but I eventually went to an Epos open-frame metal stand, which was far better. So IMO, the SHL5s are quite stand-sensitive and you have to work with them. I don’t know if the Epos stands are still around. Here you go -


"I don't think they'd ever be my one and only speaker but I do enjoy having them in the rotation"

Profound statement! In this crazy hobby where the listener (me) is analytical and can find fault with anything that statement is a wake up call for me. Why didn't I see it that way before? Ultimately, does there necessarily have to be a one and only? So with that said how many pairs of speakers do you rotate in and out? What speakers are they?
I didn't notice the stands being used. 

Open stands are often recommended for Harbeths (although not in their user guide) because the cabinet contributes to the sound, or at least that seems to be the overwhelming consensus based on what I've read and heard from other owners.

When I first got mine, I was given some loaner stands while my custom stands were being built that were about the same height as yours, which put the tweeter a bit above my ears in my listening position.  My stands are about 12" tall and put the tweeter right at about ear level.  Having them at that height definitely improved my listening experience.

These are the stands I use.


@ routeman21

Lucky for me, I currently have plenty of space to store all my crap 😀

Martin Logan Monti’s

Harbeth Super HL5 Plus

Epos M16i

JBL L200 t3’s

Boston Acoustic T1000 

IMF TLS 50 Mk 2

I’m partial to the electrostat’s. Best sound for the money are the Epos M16i. 

@routeman21  My SHL5+ 40ths arrived last week. So I have about 25 hours of break in on them.
As I posted on the Harbeth user group forum: 

Hi, I am a newly accepted member to this forum.

This particular thread has held my interest as I have just ordered the SHL5+ 40th.

These will be my first Harbeth speakers.

I am now aware of the reasons why Alan Shaw focuses on the human voice in achieving the outstanding results evident in all Harbeth speakers.

Prior to knowing this, my decision to purchase Harbeth speakers was primarily based on listening to piano music (classical, jazz and some rock music).

I have been a classical piano student for most of my life and have had the opportunity to grow up with multiple pianos (all 5 of my family also study piano).

I am not a professional pianist (far from it!) but feel intimately familiar with "coloration" characteristic of different piano configurations (Spinet, upright, grand) and also among certain different brands.

With the exception of Magnepans, every speaker I listened to added to/masked/altered the natural coloration of the piano. This was more evident with basic chords, and notes on the upper and lower registers (2 + octaves north or south of middle C).

Listening first to the P3ESR, then to an older pair of SHL5s convinced me I did not need to give up any dynamics by limiting myself to planar speakers.

I have not listened to the Harbeths and Magnepans in any A/B testing. Didn't need to.
Like a botanist scrutinizing a new variant of flora, I listened for the familiar (to me) box speaker induced piano coloration.
Instead, I actually heard the piano like I did with Magnepans.
Additionally, I actually felt the piano unlike I did with Magnepans.

I guess one doesn't really know what one is missing until it is experienced elsewhere.

After about 30 minutes listening to each of the Harbeths, I knew that in another 30 minutes, hours or even days I would still find no trace of said coloration.

So I ask my first question on this forum.

Mr. Shaw, given the extreme frequency range of the piano, along with its ability for simple and complex chord combinations, sustain and sostenuto capabilities, and the fact that a piano relies on it's own "box" for acoustical properties (subject to similar room treatment considerations as speakers), I am curious if you have done so, or have perhaps considered sampling piano sound (along with human voice) characteristics in your acoustical design and testing process?

It's what sold me on your Harbeth brand. The fact that vocal reproduction of your speakers ranks among the best out there is more than icing on the cake for me!


Sorry for the lengthy post!
Hope this is helpful to you.
I just thought I'd share with you and other potential Harbeth  owners my personal experience that led me to purchase the SHL5+ 40ths.
stands are important for best sound.  i use open frame high mass rigid 4 post sound anchors.  
on another forum there is a survey about which instrument your speakers reproduce best.  i said piano, the shl5+ and my previous harbeth reproduce piano extremely well, best i have heard.  i agree with you @hleeid
If you want BEST sound for Harbeth's use TON TRAGER and not Sound Anchors.  You get what you pay for.
When the designer of the speakers insists that there is no such thing as break-in (after the initial first few minutes) and that they were designed to be used with their grilles left on, don't you think it's worth paying attention to his words?

Disatisfaction is the mother of tweaking, and using Harbeths without grilles is definitely tweaking. Why do you think the grilles are deliberately made difficult to remove?

My guess is that you're not yet accustomed to the sound. I'd strongly advise to persevere until you've given your mind enough time to recalibrate or 'break in'.

If you were to record their sound now and compare with much later you might find both versions have somehow dramatically improved much later. Or you might not.

Remember that Harbeths were not designed to impress. More to settle into and appreciate. Some can settle and remain there forever whilst others can't and move on.

The tweaking camp are usually on a hiding to nothing with a speaker of this kind of heritage and pedigree.

Good luck with the settling in. If I had a pair I'd give them at least a year.
When the designer of the speakers insists that there is no such thing as break-in (after the initial first few minutes) and that they were designed to be used with their grilles left on, don’t you think it’s worth paying attention to his words?

>>>>Designers are oft the last to get the word. It’s called having blinders on. 😎 Or perhaps Resting on one’s laurels. 🌿 Hyper focused 👀 on circuits. Happens all the time. Witness Electronics Designers and wire directionality, fuse directionality, aftermarket fuses, power cords. Are they living in caves somewhere?

He said any competently designed amplifier played back at the SAME volume would be indistinguishable from any other.

I believe he is right.

Give or take the odd tube design, but even they are now sounding like SS amplifiers!
Give or take the odd tube design, but even they are now sounding like SS amplifiers!

>>>>Gawd, I hope not. 😩

Deja Vu (Harbeth dealer) certainly recommends open-topped stands (no "plate"), but also asserts that wood stands vs. metal stands will result in a mild difference in tonality, along the lines of the standard associations of wood vs. metal.  Anyone have any experience?

@routeman21  @hleeid  I'm curious what you are using at the interface of the bottom of the speaker and the top of the stand.  There seems to be a wide range of practice here, with no one solution emerging as a clear favorite.

re. grilles on or off, i tried very diligently to enjoy the sound with grilles on for each model of harbeth i have owned.  the sound was overtly soft compared to other speakers i like.  grilles off sounds excellent with no negatives really.  
the idea that amplifiers sound the same if at the same volume is also something i simply have not witnessed.  

I use the Harbeths with the grilles off as I do with all my speakers. I know what you mean when you speak of the warmth of the cabinet. It is something I'm not familiar with because of the bamboo cabinets of my Ascend Sierra towers. As mentioned before more hours of break-in are piling up and as that is happening they are tightening up. One thing I did notice is that I have to turn up the volume because of the lower sensitivity. I can rock out and the speaker does not lose its composure. This is one thing that pleases me and will give me the patience to stick with them in the near future. I will always want a little tighter overall sound but the Ascends are leaner in the midrange and the Harbeths more than cover that aspect with a more pleasing fuller sound with vocals, etc.

He said any competently designed amplifier played back at the SAME volume would be indistinguishable from any other.

I believe he is right.

Give or take the odd tube design, but even they are now sounding like SS amplifiers!
I'd invite you to come listen while I switch my amps from the 4 ohm to 8 ohm taps or between triode and ultralinear.
I have owned and enjoyed Harbeth's 5's.  There are numerous posts here that I think are just way off.  You either like the sound of Harbeths or you don't.   In my experience there was no getting use to the sound before I liked it. It either sounds like music or it doesn't.  
Alan Shaw may be a great designer and his crossovers are seamless but his speakers sound better with the grills off and sound best with a good tube amp. 
I will tell you that your stands will make all the difference in the world with the Super HL5's. I'm not sure what you have those speakers sitting on but the bottom of the speakers needs to be sitting on something that has an open bottom. If you're in the U.S., check out resonantwoods.com. I have the Linear II stands and it made all the difference in the world. Don't listen to anyone on the Harbeth forum. They're very nice people but they've succumbed to brain washing. I used to own the C7 and went with their recommendation on stands and it was wrong. Once those speakers went onto a stand that wasn't a completely solid surface, they opened up to the point they sounded like a completely different speaker.
Placement, placement... please. It takes a while because a small adjustment is noticeable. Right speaker pointing somewhere between nose and left shoulder, and Of course  the same but oposite side. Yes it is a lot of toe in. It took me several months of trial and error. But when you find it you’ll know. I’m 3’ feet from front wall and 41/2 from side walls. Speakers are around 8pm’ apart. This will be different for every room. I would really like for you to experience them when properly placed, give it try, they do sound amazing, have fun with it. Good luck
@routeman21 - I now have about 150 hours on my SHL5+40s.Bass seems fuller. Imaging got a bit crisper.  Soundstage seemed to reach a bit further behind the speaker plane.
I have my Maggies (well broken in) set up in the same room and swap with the Harbeths regularly.Since the Maggies theoretically should not change sonically, it was the difference between the speakers that I noticed.The Harbeths didn't have the airiness or soundstage size compared to the Maggies at first.Still doesn't but has come a lot closer.  Very close.
Along with the above mentioned improved bass, imaging and soundstage, I am very happy with the Harbeths!Hope you come to enjoy yours as well!
Also, @rcalderon  +1 on placement!!