Initial Thoughts on Harbeth Super HL5 Plus


I haven't posted here in years (as in 10+ years). I'm an active reader on Agon as I'm interested in a lot but got off the audio merry-go-round after a number of members here suggested I focus more on enjoying music and less on the gear - great advice and they were so right. But I always knew that speakers would be my next upgrade when I found something reasonably priced that was significantly better than what I had - namely Totem Hawks, powered by a Meridian G57 amp, Eastern Electric preamp with some great vintage tubes and a Bluesound front end. So in with the Harbeths this week - purchased from a fellow Agoner.

This won't be at all technical but here goes my 10 point review :

1) Wow
2) I woke up early on a Saturday after a tough work week just so I could run downstairs and listen to them. Odd for this 55 year old.
3) My wife, who hasn't listened to my system in 17 years together, has been stuck in front of the speakers for the last 4 hours combing through our library and hearing what sounds and additional music have been buried in her faves. She can't believe it.
4) Not everything sounds great as the Harbeths will lay poor recordings bare. A lot of straight ahead rock and roll I would rather hear in my car or through my iPod/headphones.
5) Here's the stuff that so far sounds just incredible, breathtaking even (I do try to find and buy/stream the highest quality I can find, either HiRes or MQA) - Diana Krall, Fleetwood Mac, Norah Jones, Sade, George Michael, Steely Dan, Van Morrison, James Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Madeleine Peyroux, Housemartins, Miles Davis, Daft Punk, UB40, Alison Krauss, Band of Horses, Ryan Adams, Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd, Lyle Lovett, Camera Obscura, Blue Rodeo, SRV, Cowboy Junkies, Chet Baker, Mark Knopfler, EBTG, kd lang, Marc Cohn, Paul Simon, Philadelphia Orchestra, Pink Floyd ...
6) Which is to say, these speakers can deal with a lot of kinds of music (sometimes they don't get credit for this) and make it beautiful. And they seem to handle my musical tastes very well. Clarity and dynamics in spades but there is also a smoothness that makes you want to keep listening.
7) Sure, I wish they went lower but the quality down to 40 Hz is taut, crisp and powerful. Maybe there is a good subwoofer or two in my future but I doubt it. The bass lines and drums on some the electronic and reggae tracks just punch you hard in the chest.
8) Despite the boxiness of the speakers, on their stands with their dark wood and smartly recessed grilles, they look classy and cool to me. Certainly my wife hasn't complained which was frankly a concern.
9) Are there other speakers that would make me feel the same way - no doubt. This is isn't a comparison review and I don't have time to audition 20 pairs of speakers. I heard these at a dealer, loved them and some months later I bought a pair.
10) Am I in the honeymoon phase at this point and missing some shortcomings? Likely. I suspect a lot of speaker upgrades in particular are often a bit of an epiphany. But you only have one shot at first impressions.

Not telling anyone that Harbeth is the greatest or to go buy these speakers. But if your tastes are in line with what they do well (which seems to be a lot), for $4K slightly used, you might want to have a listen and add to your list is all.

Ag insider logo xs@2xitball
These are awesome speakers for 4k, a set of speakers you will have for a long long time, great purchase! So, now about that Meridian and EE pre amp....(this is how it starts)...lol.


Matt M
Congrats those are wonderful speakers indeed! It pretty much came down to Harbeth or Audio Note for me and I went AN but love the Harbeth sound! Enjoy and yes beware a sudden bout of upgraditits.
Thanks for your write-up. The HL5 Plus are very nice speakers.

Even better is feeling your excitement and enthusiasm, which your wife also seems to be sharing!

So here's a classic example of YMMV.

A couple of years ago, I heard that model driven by an expensive stack of Naim in a very solid (brick walled) listening room.  Thanks to their reputation, I went in predisposed to really like them.  But after several tracks my verdict was that they were too bright for my taste.  I then auditioned the PMC twenty.24's that seemed "just right" and which I eventually purchased.

In another store in a totally different set-up, I heard the P3ESR, which I liked a lot, but which were of course bass-shy.

It's pure conjecture on my part but I wondered about the 5's super-tweeter.

Anyway, my advice is stop second-guessing yourself, enjoy the experience, keep applying the lotion, and perhaps the upgrade itch won't reappear for several years.


I have the same speakers with an Accuphase E-600 integrated and I listen to similar artists. The experience is overwhelming. I love these speakers. They do everything right for me. I'm glad you enjoy yours as well.

Wonderful speakers!  I had them for a while.   A new store opened up nearby my selling Harbeth and when I go in I find myself being "seduced" by the sound all over again.

Some ELP on vinyl played through Harbeth Monitor 30's was glorious.
I'm constantly blown away by my c7es3.  Great speaker for the price! 
I just received my long-awaited Super HL5+ Anniversary in Tamo Ash.  I'm in the middle of a similar 'honeymoon' to the one described by the OP.  

Frankly, I was worried that my expectations had inflated with the wait and I would be disappointed.  Instead I was positively surprised.  They are such a pleasure to listen to.  Highly revealing, big soundstage, lush, warm, and detailed all at the same time.  I knew they would do chamber music well from the audition.  What surprises me is how great they are with orchestra and big band. I can both hear the timbre of the instruments *and* the scale of the ensemble. A big Maggie-like image, just as smooth and coherent as the Thiels. It's really uncanny. 

A dealer suggested that I only liked the Harbeths (over his models) because of the megabucks electronics in front of them at the dealer.  Nope. Memory is unreliable, of course, but I like them even better here at home, with my 30 year-old amp, than I did in the dealer showroom

Could it be because the dealer demos were not the anniversary models?  Anything's possible, there are a few non-cosmetic differences. Or maybe a random quark interacted with the idiotic "quantum harmonizer" blocks he had on top of them, causing them to malfunction and quantum disorganize instead.  We'll never know!

The fact that they are a manageable size, weight, and visual impression is a huge bonus.  The wife is pleased, although she keeps pushing them back against the wall.  At least it doesn't take a forklift to move them back.

system:
Cambridge Audio Edge NQ balanced out to
Adcom GFA5802, Analysis Plus cables.
Streaming from Minimserver and Qobuz over ethernet.

Incidentally, the Edge NQ is a very clean and solid sounding DAC.  It is a bit of mystery what sort of filtering they are using, but they confirmed it is non-oversampling, which is a departure from all of their other models.  It's a good match for the Harbeth in the sense that it is warm entirely without bloat or loss of detail.

Anybody interested in some 1993-4 Thiel CS3.6s?

With a little more time in, I'd say one thing these Harbeths do better than anything else I've heard is remain transparent at low volumes.  A lot of other fine speakers take a decent volume push to open up, but not these.
So many of my recordings sound great.  The one recording that doesn't quite sound as good on the Harbeths is the soundtrack from "The Band's Visit".  I think it was all done in a damped studio with everyone in separate booths. It certainly sounds that way through the Harbeths.