Is there a point of diminished returns with amps and Harbeth 30.1s?


I’m currently using Herron M1As with my 30.1s and I’ve upgraded the rest of my system (Aries/Fatboy/SUT/DL103r and Lamm pre and phono) and each upgrade has been VERY satisfying. So is it going to be worth spending $5000 or so on the used market to upgrade the Herrons? Any thoughts as to whether I’ve reached the apex of amp/speaker performace for the M30.1s?
dhcod
An easier upgrade route might be to sell the M30s and buy the M40s.

Few would argue it's not a clear upgrade.
Thanks and sorry, I should have mentioned that I’m stuck with the 30.1s due to space limitations that require me to move the speakers in and out each time I listen. I will buy the 40s in a heartbeat if we ever move!
Maybe a new cartridge...
Put the turntable on Townshend Pods (or Platform) it will be a huge upgrade. Put the speakers on Podiums, if you can. Might not be convenient if they are moved around a lot. Synergistic PHT and ECT on the turntable, HFT on the speakers (and walls, if possible) and ECT on the amp and other electronics.  

Do all these the improvement in detail, dynamics, truth of timbre and imaging will have your jaw dropping in amazement. You will forget any thoughts of "diminished returns" and be trying to figure out what else you can do. When that time comes PM and I will hook you up.
For my musical taste (acoustic jazz, guitar, classical and jazz piano, cello, guitar based acoustic blues, that sort of stuff) in my space limited co-op on Long Island I'm not sure what's next.  I'm 90% digital/streaming with Qobuz and don't want to upgrade the turntable for now.  I've been thinking speakers but based on what I know after 30 years in this hobby (and with a budget of $5 or $6k) I don't think there is "better" than the M30.1's.  

My system
  • Pass INT-25 integrated amp (recent)
  • Harbeth M30.1 
  • Innuos Zen Mk3 streamer/server (recent)
  • MHDT Orchid DAC
  • VPI Scout / Dynavector 20x2L cartridge
  • Sutherland 20/20 phono stage (recent)
  • Mid range interconnects
  • Triode Wire speaker cable (recent)
I'm not really itching to upgrade anything. An audiophile conundrum.  









Your fatboy arm deserves better cartridge,
Me too have denon from Zu Audio & both upgrade stylus and still in my system as back up!
but once you move up the chain to 2k cart you hear more and more from record that you never hear before ,everything just more open and clear. So upgrade your cartridge first .
im also use harbeth M30.1 and stuck too because room size .
@honeyooi been down the cartridge route. Spent thousands and always prefer the tone of the 103R, although now I use an Anamighty-built one that costs quite a bit. I have never found a cartridge that duplicates that tone…. with the right SUT of course.
You're not going to get noticeably "better" by changing the amp; you might achieve something "different" (or it might sound remarkably similar).
If you have the urge to tinker, has the room had acoustic treatment?
agree with @twoleftears

to me the mon 30’s have a particular sound and tonal palette, those who love it will generally not prefer more tonally balanced and extended-range speakers that don't accentuate and emphasize the midband as much

good solid state amplification with some tubes earlier in the chain is the best way to get them to sound great
My suggestion save more money and get that LAMM ML1.1 .
with same manufacturer you got better synergy and full tube amp Lush .
but is hot though, But worth it .

I worship the ML1.1s but our 700 sq ft loft is just too small!
You can get meaningful improvement by getting a better amp regardless of the speakers you are using.  The question is whether the improvement is worth the price.  With speakers as good as the 30.1, I think that it would be worthwhile to spend a significant amount on an amp of your liking.  I know many Harbeth fans like high power, but, I’ve heard, and liked these speakers with 50 or so watts of tube power.  I think they sound good with less power than that, so I would look for quality, not necessarily quantity (I.e., watts).

I don’t know what $5,000 buys on the used market.  I particularly liked these speakers with the Synthesis A100 amp and their A40 amp (both tube amps).
There is always a point of diminishing return on spending more for pretty much anything. For those speakers.you probably hit it for most once you get past $5k for an amp I would estimate.
There is always a point of diminishing return on spending more for pretty much anything. For those speakers.you probably hit it for most once you get past $5k for an amp I would estimate.


i would agree with @mapman on his comment above, in particular for normal sized listening rooms
@dhcod  I have owned the M30.1s for a few months now, and I can certainly relate to why people fall in love with them. I have them set up in my home office driven by Raven Audio Blackhawk. A few weeks ago, I temporarily moved them to my media room (20x15) and hooked them up to the Luxman 590AXII to see how they perform. Let me tell you, it was a revelation! They actually sounded better than Sonus Faber Olympica 2 (now sold) driven by the same Luxman. They had a blacker background, even better midrange, and that 'singer in your room' feeling was more enhanced. The SF sounded thin by comparison, although it had more bass slam to be fair.

So based on my experience, the 30.1s will most definitely scale with amplification up to $10k. Anything north of 10k, I'm not sure ... yet :)
Suncoast audio has a new YouTube video up of the M30s being driven by Luxman’s new limited edition Integrated, and it sounds fabulous.  I understand the new integrated amp is similar to the 590.  Luxman and Harbeth are a great match.  I have the M40s with Luxman separates and love the combo.  But I’ve never heard Herron, so I couldn’t say if it would be an upgrade.
+1 for a new cartidge.  An Audio Technica AT ART9 XI for example.  
Had one. Hated it. Exactly the opposite of the sound I enjoy but that’s just my ears.
I know you are asking about amps, but IMO, contrary to Alan Shaw's opinion, speaker cables make a big difference.  I've owned the M30s, SHL5s and P3s and I've found the right speaker cables to improve the sonics significantly.  I don't know what you're using now, but if you have to move the speakers often, I would see if the Cable Company has any more Audience AU24 show demos at 1/2 price.  Excellent sound and very easy to work with.  I also love Purist, but they are not the cables to be moving around on a regular basis.  Not that you can't, but they are kind of bulky compared to Audience. 
I would see if the Cable Company has any more Audience AU24 show demos at 1/2 price. Excellent sound and very easy to work with.
FWIW I have used AU24E with my 30.1 all along, and have been quite happy.
Thanks for the suggestion re: AU24s. I use the Audience Ohno already. While there may be a big difference, it would cost an arm and a leg because I need 5M runs. Seems like the best money is still to be spent on an amp.
@dhcod - I absolutely hear what your are saying, but after trying some better cables with several Harbeth speakers and hearing the dramatic results, I think you are closing yourself off from a possible big upgrade. Your system is very nice and I’m sure well-tuned to your tastes. IMO, you should at least borrow a set of cables from the Cable Company and try them. This way you will know if the Ohno is the bottleneck. No other way. I think you might try the Purist Poseidons or the AU24s, as I have heard them both and they sound amazing with Harbeths. I have had systems where 10 gauge Beldens worked fine,, but others in which they left a lot to be desired. So that’s my opinion and the rest is up to you. Who knows, you may luck out and say the Ohnos are just as good and move on. Or you may find that the new cables brought sonic upgrades beyond what you thought.  
Very interesting perspective! Thanks. I will check out cable co and see what they have to loan. Certainly worth a try!
Very logical and wise suggestion from @chayro . Little  (If any) risk involved. The Cable Company is an excellent resource for allowing the opportunity to hear and compare cables in one’s audio system. In some systems and with certain audio components, cables can provide very notable sonic improvement. If not, return them.
Charles
Post removed 
All good responses here. My 2 cents worth. If you are happy with the sound quality of the system, just stick with what you have. There will always be something out there which will sound different and/or better than the current gear that you have in your system, whether it’s the amp, DAC or any other component.

Attempt to upgrade or change the amp only if there’s something bothering you ie. some aspects of the sound that you wish to address. If you have unlimited funds and/or are bored and want to have some fun, you can always choose to tinker with the system by swapping amps on the 30.1.

I’m rather familiar with Harbeth speakers and have listened to the M30.1 but do not own it. They respond well to amp, source and cable change. The 30.1s are rather inefficient and require a powerful amp to provide the current and drive.


agree 100% w @chayro

can’t pay attention to alan shaw and his blanket ’truisms’ on amps cabling stands etc for his harbeth speakers, as good speakers as they are...

he just wants you to spend as much as you can on the speakers, don’t pay much attention and just make do with the rest...

cabling and amps, stands too, to a somewhat lesser extent, matter...
can’t pay attention to alan shaw and his blanket ’truisms’ on amps cabling stands etc for his harbeth speakers, as good speakers as they are...

Yes, that’s true. The leader has the support of his cohorts.. It’s a tight-knit clan on the Harbeth forum as anyone who doesn’t share the same ideas or philosophies will usually be cast aside like an unwanted child. Many have left the forum after they find the iron-fist style approach of moderation to be a bit intimidating.

I’m not sure if things have changed now as AS has been recommending Hegel amps for his speakers several years ago. I have not been to the HUG for 10 years now and have no desire to do so in the future.

I would not recommend extremely unbalanced allocation of funds for any given type of component because the results will not be optimal.  But, that is not to say that there is a limitation on the ability to hear an  improvement in a source component or amplifiers because of limitations is a speaker as good as the 30.1s; they are plenty good for hearing the qualities of any amplifier.  I've heard impressive demonstrations of $50,000 amplifiers playing very modest speakers; differences between the amps being compared were very easy to hear even if the speakers were "modest."  Sometimes one does not know how good a particular speaker is until it is played with an amp that it is not commonly paired with because they components are supposedly not in the same class.
Alan Shaw has long welcomed any debate on his opinions regarding cables and amps. 

In fact he once even offered a pair of his top of the range M40s to anyone that would be willing to undergo an unsighted amplifier comparison test.

Level matched of course. 

Unsurprisingly, despite the endless online amplifier hullabaloo / advertising / promotions etc there were no takers.

There were no takers.

I would suggest the dear reader should let that sink in to their long term memory for easy recall the next time they come across some casually penned blowhard review extolling the unique quasi mystical properties of another routine amplifier.
Completely agree yet this discussion is not about ‘routine’ amplifiers. 
I heard a comparison of two EL34 tube amps that happen to use the 30.2 speakers in the comparison.  It was fairly easy to hear the differences between the two amps that were similar in design.  That is what one would expect with any decent pair of speakers--differences in other components would be revealed by the speaker.  I don't see why anyone would want to claim that their speakers are so crude as to obscure any differences in upstream components.  
Alan Shaw has long welcomed any debate on his opinions regarding cables and amps.

This is nonsense. He largely discourages such debate, and considers his views to be facts, not opinions. And the condescension towards those who think otherwise is often palpable.

In fact he once even offered a pair of his top of the range M40s to anyone that would be willing to undergo an unsighted amplifier comparison test. 

Level matched of course.

Unsurprisingly, despite the endless online amplifier hullabaloo / advertising / promotions etc there were no takers.

I'd need to see the actual challenge, but the way that you present it is likely to be disingenuous at best. Shaw, and those who share his views, have been forced to admit that amplifiers can indeed sound different, but argue that it would only be true of those which produced a certain (unspecified) amount of distortion.

They scoff at the likes of Nelson Pass, who is fully transparent about his choice to "voice" at least some of his amps with a certain amount of Second order harmonics, because they are not as neutral as possible. 

Anyone who claims that all amplifiers sound the same is, to put it kindly, on very shaky ground.

One final point: level-matched AB-X testing is undoubtedly a very valuable tool, but in practical terms, very difficult to achieve. Two (or more) amps, using exactly the same speakers, interconnects, etc.?

Good luck with that.

Alan Shaw has long welcomed any debate on his opinions regarding cables and amps.

He discourages it to the extent the forum was split into two sections, one for technical discussion based on facts and science while the other section was for subjective discussion on amplifiers or all things audio not endorsed by Harbeth. Your contribution may be welcomed at first, but after a while they will be shot down by the moderator and the cohorts if they don’t coincide with the values that the clan preaches. As Whipsaw had suggested above, your opinion or post will mostly be disparaged.

If you go a step further, the post which you made will be modified by the moderators or completely removed. I have forgotten if some users have been banned for posting few issues they experience with their new speakers. Issues such as glue marks on the main driver and defects on cabinet etc.

The forum used to be a free view as a non-member can read the content of the forum. It now requires a member to log on to the forum just to enter the forum. You wouldn’t be able to gain access to the content on the Harbeth site before you become a member.



I have forgotten if some users have been banned for posting some issues they experience with their new speakers. Issues such as glue marks on the main driver and defects on cabinet etc. 
This is an interesting issue when you think about it. It’s tough to conceptualize a business creating a public forum that includes people complaining about their products. I would think somewhere in the forum rules it probably states that matters such as those should be handled directly between the customer and the company. Or at least I’d understand if those were the defacto rules.
This is an interesting issue when you think about it. It’s tough to conceptualize a business creating a public forum that includes people complaining about their products. I would think somewhere in the forum rules it probably states that matters such as those should be handled directly between the customer and the company. Or at least I’d understand if those were the defacto rules.

Yes that’s rather true as most companies would want to protect their image and reputation. However, there’s less transparency with such practices especially when the complaints are genuine. The member who once posted issues with his new C7ES3 was a friend. That post he made on the forum was removed by the moderator and I am not sure if he was banned from posting on the forum for couple of days or weeks. There were others who experienced the same, and just lately another case resurfaced as the owner highlighted his plight on a British forum.
@dhcod - Just remember that it doesn’t matter what anyone else hears, claims to hear or claims to tell you what you should hear. All that matters is what you hear in your home, in your system. Then you can relax and listen to beautiful music while others are too fired up trying to push their views onto you. I was a conservatory-trained musician in my youth and one thing I learned is not to assume someone else cannot hear something that you can’t.
Thanks @chayro! I’m plenty old and have been doing this for so long that I do know that. Also work tangential to the music business (feature film editor) and I have conversations with mixers and engineers all the time about how we all hear differently!
first i will say harbeths are excellent speakers, even great speakers

that said, the man behind the company is a first rate capitalist (no shame in that), uses many modern tools of marketing to maximize economics of his venture... including setting up a ’user group’ that effectively sings praises of his products (and quashes negative comments by and large, as well as useful discussions of ancillary gear)... he personally ’moderates’ the group, and posts actively as a participant, so it is heavy hand employed there

as for the ’offer’ of a blind a/b test, it would have been one that he controls, so grains of salt taken there

finally, a few years back, i have personally (with help from my son and a good hifi bud) done a blind a-b-c test, which took some doing, with my son doing the switching and db level match, using two sacd tracks - comparing an audio research vt-50 tube amp, audio research 100.2 solid state unit, and a w4s class d st-500, running into harbeth shl5+’s ... we could pick out which amp 6 out of 6... treble detail and imaging was different, bass tightness was different, midrange articulation was different...

bottom line, excellent speakers, pedantic and self serving owner, the user group is kool aid drinkers only (dealers, inexperienced or lazy fanboys), other discriminating, experienced, intellectually honest/curious folks usually find the b-s factor too high to stomach
I’ve never really understand the usefulness of blind tests. Do people actually know what they prefer in a short listening A-B session? It takes me a week of listening to determine if I like the sound of a component, unless it’s truly horrible or completely mismatched. I’ve fallen in love with many things upon first listen…. only to want to hang myself for a stupid purchase a week later. 
The amplifier thread on HUG (!) is interesting if only for the remarkably *wide* range of amps that owners are using with Harbeths.

I think the company went over the edge in the issuing first of the Anniversary series and then the XD series, both of which entailed very large price increases, one on top of the other.  I'm just glad I snagged my (regular) 40.2's when I did.
I had listened to a couple of Harbeth models some time back, and my impression is that they are definitely in the warm and fuzzy camp. It is such a subjective thing, and different people have widely varying preferences for sure. They do play women singer voices very nicely.  But to me I prefer a bit more clarity and impact in the sound of my system.
I’ve never really understand the usefulness of blind tests. Do people actually know what they prefer in a short listening A-B session? 


I agree that this is potentially problematic, but to be fair, such tests are not about preferences, but differences. In other words, can the listener simply and consistently distinguish between components, irrespective of which they may prefer.

But while the science suggests that humans have very short auditory memory, I'm with you on the value of listening to longer stretches of music in order to make confident judgments about differences in components.
@whipsaw ,

"In other words, can the listener simply and consistently distinguish between components, irrespective of which they may prefer."


This seems to be the main problem the anti blind listening test brigade have.

No one has regularly managed to distinguish sonic differences between amps, cables and digital sources.

Therein lies their problem.
I run my C7s with either a 40 watt tube amp(Aric Audio) or a 100 watt ss(Modright).The ss has a sense of ease when listening loudly but I can't choose a favorite really. The speakers respond very favorably to different footers and speaker cables. They readily show any changes upstream.A recent happy discovery is they seem to love large gauge speaker cables (10+).
Mr. Shaw seems sure that any decent 50 watt amp and 14 gauge lamp cord can't be beat.I joined HUG looking forward to discussing how to squeeze the best performance out of these boxes.Not happening on that forum:-)
And yes, they are warm and fuzzy but they can rock without getting shrill.A couple of subs and all set.
@cd318

This seems to be the main problem the anti blind listening test brigade have.
Whoa there, big fella. You were well off-base in your original post re: the Harbeth User Group, as I noted above, and now you're sounding even more like you have been sipping the HUG Kool-Aid.

The suggestion that those who believe that there are audible differences between amps, and/or cables, etc., are necessarily against blind testing is ludicrous.

As I mentioned in a previous post, this is not something that is easy to set up, at least properly. So, there is a rather meaningful difference between being "anti blind test" and being unable to easily set up, or take part in them.

Here is an interesting thread featuring a highly regarded member of the Audio Science Review forum. Note both how complex it can be to set up, and record all of the relevant measurements, and that he did hear a difference between the two amps.

https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/ab-x-testing-of-power-amplifiers.20464/



You have a great classic vintage british speaker that has been made in one form or another for decades any equipment upgrade will yield a great benefit with them there is no best gear with them and dollars does not mean better with them great components matter the most no matter what the type or vintage.

I agree that this is potentially problematic, but to be fair, such tests are not about preferences, but differences. In other words, can the listener simply and consistently distinguish between components, irrespective of which they may prefer.


@whipsaw is exactly correct

a-b tests, done correctly, first establishes that a difference can be reliably and consistently be heard, then comes an assessment of the nature of differences, and then, perhaps, a judgement about preference might be made ... one step at a time

a-b tests don’t replace longer term listening in fully assessing gear and their sonic attributes -- but is an important tool in the tool kit, so to speak

there are some who profess that all amps, all cables, all connections, sound the same... thus a proper a-b test is needed to dispel (or confirm) these notions
@whipsaw,

As far as I know there has not been a single example of a blind listening test where differences between cables, digital sources or even amplifiers were identified.

Even in the best case scenario, subjectivists et al might want to acknowledge this rather sobering fact.

Not even one case??

Perhaps there are some good reasons why Toole, Olive and co only bothered blind testing loudspeakers at the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario?
As far as I know there has not been a single example of a blind listening test where differences between cables, digital sources or even amplifiers were identified.


@cd318
can evidently type... but he can’t read... amazing how that can be... usually even rudimentary literacy works in both input and output modes

i just cited in a my earlier post that i did a rigorous a-b-c test of power amps on super 5’s, and for myself, dispelled this kool-aid/nonsense

seriously...🙈🙉🙊