Harbeth Super HL5+...thoughts


I’m currently awaiting our home to complete construction.  During that time, I sold off my Dynaudio C4’s and BHK monoblocks.  Loved the sound, but I also had a rather large, dedicated, listening space.  In our new home, I’ll have an office, but on the smaller scale.  I picked up a set of Pass Labs xa60.5’s and Harbeth Super HL5’s.  I’ve read numerous glowing reviews, from many that write about audio products for a living.  Was wondering if anyone that owns the HL5+ would share their “pedestrian” experiences.  
toddcowles
I own the SHL5 40th anniversary, they replaced 7es 3's. They will be the last speakers I own. If you've read the TAS and Stereophile reviews you have a pretty good idea what these speakers can do. I can't add anymore superlatives. I listen to classic rock, pop, jazz and classical at moderate volume, rarely over 80 dB. As others have said, these are not speakers for heavy metal. I alternate between a Luxman Integrated and Cayin Integrated.    
@ericsch Thanks for sharing.  Though, I do listen to a fair amount of heavy metal (Anthrax, Metallica, Lamb of God), I would think the Harbeth’s would highlight the overuse of compression and all other forms of trickery used in that genre.
Check out the new JBL L 100 Classics, if you listen to a lot of rock.
i used to own the Super HL5, and they never did it for me in the rock dept. 
Check out the new JBL L 100 Classics, if you listen to a lot of rock.
i used to own the Super HL5, and they never did it for me in the rock dept.

If it is the Super HL5 non-Plus then I would agree that it is not very good with rock. The Super HL5 Plus is a different animal which plays considerably cleaner in the bass than the non-Plus with a more coherent and smoother sound owing much to the improved integration between drivers. The bass of the Plus is significantly tauter and tighter than the excessive bloated bass on the non-Plus.

The Super HL5+ is a great speaker. Very natural sounding speaker. They are driven by Naim amplification (NAC 282, Hicap DR and NAP 250 DR).
I’ve said so elsewhere, but let me add my rave review. Boxy, counterintuitive, little anomalies, they are. Looking at them I expected a Rogers or KLH kind of sound, familiar from many decades ago. But they sound *nothing* like that.

I have the Super HL5+ 40th Anniversary in Tamo Ash,a bit of a rarity. They’ve been in my system for about a month. They are driven by an Adcom 5802 (199x, re-capped, Pass-designed beast of an amp) and a brand new Cambridge Audio Edge NQ streamer/DAC/pre, as well as an iFi iDSD pro once or twice. Also (if you must) - Analysis Plus speaker wire, Mogami balanced interconnects, a plain old Monster Cable Power Supply/voltage stabilizer, QNAP NAS running minimserver with lots of hi-res recordings streaming over CAT 5&6 Ethernet cable.

I’m befuddled in the best possible way. I listen to a lot of live (mostly classical and Jazz) music, sometimes in the same room as my system, and I had always felt mine and other systems didn’t reproduce the warmth and timbre of strings adequately, and, even worse for real life, many speakers just sounded too flat at lower volumes. I tried turntables and tubes (I still own some huge VTL 225s but sold my Conrad-Johnson preamp), and found the artifacts of both to overwhelm any alleged gains in warmth -poor substitutes for the lushness of live music. Tubes seemed to lose detail and timbre accuracy when audibly different, and LPs imparted a pleasant, more live, feeling, yet not an accurate one. LPs have other distracting dynamic range and pitch consistency problems with, for instance, piano. I recently auditioned some very expensive systems that were viscerally impressive and detailed but where they gained timbral accuracy the seemed to lose some of the smoothness, becoming "etched" or, at least in one case, dramatically tipped-up in the treble.

Yet I get the Harbeths into my apartment and symphonic music sounds concert-hall lush. I can hear the woody timbre of individual string instruments. It’s everything the tubes and LPs were promising me, only without the trade offs. There’s more detail along with the warmth. Close your eyes and you’d swear they were huge floorstanders, spreading a large image. I’m less of a voice connoisseur, but voices sound like they are in the room with me. I’m not missing any bass that bothers me ( I don’t listen to Organ music, but I want those string basses, tympanis to be present and authoritative). Far from fatigue, I’m putting off going to bed to listen to one...more...movement.

As a bonus lot of recordings I had written off as poor, are now pretty enjoyable. Not as good as the good ones, but I can get carried away in the music rather than the distractions. This was a problem with my previous Thiels which are, by experience and reputation, accurate in timbre but sometimes lean-sounding. Never fatiguing,though, which I really liked.
How is this possible? It doesn’t comport with what I thought I knew. By measurement, these speakers have as flat a frequency response above 40Hz as most anything else. It seems they aren’t *adding* any undue emphasis. Why do they sound so different, so much better? Why am I rushing home to listen every night? Is this all in my head? Is it really accurate, or just more pleasurable? Is there really extra detail at low volume, as I perceive?

I’m as bad as the next guy at separating subjective from objective, and possibly in a honeymoon phase, so don’t take my descriptions too seriously (as if you would). But give them an audition and think about the sound that you will *lean into* in the long term. These boxy, counter-intuitive, little anomalies seem to do it, and the cult following suggests others feel the same way.
The Thiels will go. Rather than put them in my other system, I’ll get another pair of Harbeths. Someday.
ahofer,
Very good insight in to the Harbeth speakers!
Here are my thoughts on the SuperHL5plus.


I like a wide variety of speaker types, so I"m not *just* a Harbeth guy.But Harbeth are in the top ranks of speakers I simply love to listen to.


Few if any speakers recreate the human voice with the organically believable quality of the Harbeths.  Sure you can get startling clarity and presence from voices through many speakers.  But through the Harbeths voices sound particularly *human,* with the type of rich, rounded body and softness of the real thing, and projecting in the way of the real thing.


I remember one day being in a dealer and being stopped dead in my tracks hearing an operatic voice.  Holy cow, that's just about the most natural sounding human voice I've heard reproduced!  It was some Harbeth speakers.  That caught my attention!


I owned the SuperHL5plus for about a month, listening to them constantly.  One of my favorite speakers that ever graced my room, but as it happened I was seeing if I could replace speakers that were even "more" my favorite, some Thiel 3.7s, and I couldn't give up the precision, dynamics and scale of the Thiels.


That said, I find the Harbeth SuperHL5plus, like so many others, just seems to get the timbral quality of acoustic sources "right" to a degree that escapes most other brands.  Voices, instruments made of vibrating wood, metal trumpets, drum snares, whatever, have that "yes, that's what it sounds like" impression - written in warm tones, not steely or gray/silver tones.


Clap your hands gently.  Listen go that particular damped-flesh timbre: that's what you get when you hear hand claps through the Harbeths.


The SuperHL5plus is also a very clear, highly resolved sound.  I disagree with characterizations that they sound warm or rolled off or overly romantic.   I could come home from audition the super-hi-res Vivid Audio speakers, put a track on the Harbeths and still find myself thinking "that is so timbrally right and clear, it could be the real thing."  (With caveats you of course never truly get 'the real thing.')


I also find the Harbeths, especially the HL5plus,  to be particularly well balanced.  Someone in a review said "it sounds like everything in a track is just at the level it's supposed to be" and that's the sense of confidence, of evenness, I got from the Harbeths.   And it's one reason that to me they sounded wonderful with pretty much any type of music. I find they are one of the best "all rounder" speakers I've heard.


Some will insist that the Harbeths aren't for someone who's going to play much rock 'n roll.  Again I totally disagree as I LOVED rock through the Harbeths, including lots of my prog rock collection.  Yes it's true that the Harbeths aren't going to do "slam" like, say, big JBL speakers. If THAT is what someone personally needs in order to enjoy rock music, that's for them to decide personally.  But I found the bass of the Harbeths to be fairly substantial, warm yet very in control.  And the evenness of the sound, how the sound is rich and full from bottom to top, gave rock guitars good thickness and presence.  Vocals, a human character.  Whatever a drummer was doing was communicated wonderfully by the Harbeths.   So whether Harbeths do rock well is down to a personal criteria of what sound satisfies.  For some they don't do rock how they want to hear it, but for many they are fantastic for rock.


(Reminds me of my little Spendor 3/5 speakers.  Are they "rock" speakers?  Surely not in the sense of being so tiny and never giving you slam, dynamics and "feeling the floor vibrate."  But within their limited frequency range, WOW do I ever enjoy listening to, say, Cheap Trick as I did last night.  They seem to communicate what the musicians are doing so well!).


Downsides to the SuperHL5plus?


Although they "disappeared' very well given how their boxy look, they could never reach the depth and scale I get from a number of other speakers I've owned, e.g. Thiel.  Plus, if listened for, I think there is a hint of the vibrating box within the presentation.  It is *very* cannily integrated and may possibly be part of the organic richness of the sound.  But there is a slight thickness in between instruments that you may only notice if you directly compare it to a super clean, heavily braced cabinet speaker (as happened when I compared to my Thiels).


And if you want a denser sense of bass slam, you'll get that from other speakers.


I am usually at peace when letting go of a speaker, and generally that's the case after selling the Harbeths to keep the Thiels.  But whenever I hear Harbeths playing at my local audio store, they make me swoon again, suck me in, and I just have to sit down and listen.




All, thank you very much for your inputs.  I enjoyed reading them and added color to what I’ve already read.  They’re arriving tomorrow, but I likely won’t get everything setup until mid-week.  Very much looking forward to it.
Anyone compared them with the current Spendor Classic series, their natural competitor? Very interested in the Classic 1/2, asked about them in another thread but no luck so far...
Finally got everything setup.  I’m driving the Harbeth’s with a pair of Pass Labs 60.5’s and using a Pass Labs XP-20.  Well, it sounds epic.  I’m a huge Lamb of God fan, just as much as I enjoy Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.  I’ll put the flag in the ground, these speakers rip.  Metal never sounded so good.  Plenty of bass and the highs are not fatiguing, at all; which I’ve encountered when listening to heavily compressed music/guitars.  Either way, thanks all for the input.

That's great to hear Todd.
I found the Harbeths actually did some metal and classic rock in a more satisfyingly rich manner than many other popular speakers.
I listen to about all types of music and I’m very happy with my SHL5+. I’ve been tempted by SS amps by Pass and Luxman. I too have the 40th Anniversary in Tamo Ash. I would have preferred the Walnut but they were out at the time. My pair were the demos for the Florida audio show a few months ago and were run by a Luxman 509X. I came from Sonus Fabers and I’m so happy I have the same warmish liquid midrange but a much fuller, wider, and deeper soundstage. The boxes are quite big. I’m in a 12x15x12 room treated by GIK Acoustics. When I put the speakers in the old position of the SFs I couldn’t get the sound right. I turned the room 90 degrees and put the speakers along the long wall and that was the ticket. Best of luck with yours. 
@jwcinsd I do not have that big of a room, but do have GIK room treatment.  I’m coming from a set of Dynaudio C4’s, which I really, really liked.  But, you really had to drive them to get the most out of them.  At low to sub-moderate levels, they didn’t sound their best.  These Harbeth’s, I’m really enjoying the Pass/Harbeth combo.  Any volume I’ve listened to, they’ve been more than apt to handle.
If I had it to do over again, I'd build a system around a pair of Harbeth 40.2s. Harbeth's are so tonally correct, its uncanny.

Frank
The SHL5+ is the speaker I should have bought a long time ago.....
currently about 30+ hours into a new set and could not be happier.  
Bass extension, impact and balance in the sound is perfect.   Midrange is legendary and the high frequencies have the perfect amount of "air" without being unnatural.  
I have heard many speakers but these are perfect for me.  
The only downside is one that is manageable as long as you realize it.  The sound is very sensitive to the amount of toe-in.  Close (but not quite) to on axis with your ears is the best I have come up with.   F few degrees wider and the sound thins out and the speakers become quite "visible".  A few degrees inboard and the sound becomes overly rich and loses detail.  
This is very different than other Harbeth models for some reason.  Get it dialed in and what a glorious sound!  
@oregonpapa have you had a chance to compare the SHL5+ to the 40.2?  I haven’t. I’d be curious to know what people think. I don’t lack bass with the 5s, so I wonder what other differences might be in evidence. 
ahofer ...

I've only heard the Harbeth speakers at shows. The past few shows they've only demonstrated the 40.2s. I've heard most of the Harbeth line over the years and each speaker is tonally correct, which in my opinion, is their great selling point. The bigger the speaker, the bigger the sound space and the lower the bass. 

Frank
Sorry but a speaker cant sound good on one of type of music and bad on another. So I cringe when I hear people say a speaker can do other genres of music but not rock or metal. Think about it! Now if you want a speaker that has higher SPLs or adds certain colorations that may favor rock or metal this is another thing altogether. Each given speaker responds exactly the same to whatever it is fed. This is not to say that certain speakers with less detail may be more forgiving of bad recordings but this is not the same thing.  
The 40.2s require lots of space (five feet plus) from back and side walls and a very robust amplifier to avoid sounding bloated.  
I heard the 40.2's at CAF 2018 in a regular sized hotel room, and they didn't sound bloated, at least on the musical fare that they played (I went back a couple of times).  Vu (of Deja Vu) stated they need at least a couple of feet from side walls. Five sounds kind of excessive to me.
@avanti1960  Yeah, I have some tape down on the floor where I found the spot.  They still sound pretty good when they get moved around a bit, but it comes together really nicely when I get it back on the tape.

I spend more time listening since I got these.  My other (TV) system has KEF LS50Ws.  I thought they were pretty good when I got them, but I find myself itching to get back in front of the SHL5+ when I sit down in front of the KEFs for a while.