Moving up the Harbeth line


I was fortunate to move my home office to another room which is a bit bigger than the previous one. Dimensions are 12x13 with almost 20-foot ceilings. As much as I love my Harbeth P3esr's, I can't help but notice that they've been outclassed by the bigger room, especially the high ceiling. This pair of speakers has been a mainstay in my home office/study for a number of years, and I find it to be a perfect fit for my listening habits and music preferences. But in the new setting, it's not able to fill the room as well as it used to. For examples, horns and piano now sound much smaller and distant. So that got me thinking of an upgrade. I have been using a Raven Audio Blackhawk MK3 for a few months and would want to stick with it if possible. There are very few speakers that have allowed me to make an emotional connection with the music, and Harbeth is certainly one of them. So my preference is to stay with the brand.

Now, before the 'search bar is your best friend' folks come swinging at me, I have read a few threads on similar topics but they all seem to be inconclusive, or at least I'm not able to decipher a reasonable consensus. Having spent way too much money on this addiction, err, hobby, in the last 12 months, I have to resort to buying used equipment only, and that too has to wait for at least 2-3 months. So, doing an in-house demo is going to be difficult if not impossible. And, AFAIK, there are no dealers nearby (Dallas area) either.

I would love to hear from people who have moved up the Harbeth food chain. The M30.x seems to be a logical next step, but I see an equal number of negative opinions (too polite, too boxy, pipe and slippers) as positive ones. Is there anyone who thinks that the M30 retains the same magic as the P3esr's but serves it in relatively bigger portions? Because that's what I'm mainly looking for to be honest -- a bigger version of P3esr. Or do you think the cons negate the pros offered by the bigger cabinet size?

Next up is SHL5+. Again, the opinions vary widely. Some are saying that this particular model deviates the most from the classic Harbeth sound. Another concern is that my room might be too small for them (?). Also, I cannot pull them more than one and a half feet from the front wall. Is that going to result in ugly bass problems?

I'm not against trying another brand, but would prefer an opinion that is based on an actual comparison with Harbeth speakers.
arafiq
BTW, I purposely left out the C7ES3 model. Heard them at a friend's house a few years ago, and found them to be a bit too high energy for my taste.

Also, I sit about 7 feet away from the speakers.
I am a dealer and am local to you. Feel free to reach out - that emotional connection is what I build my systems around. If you don’t get that, it doesn’t matter how much detail retrieval you can achieve. I also prefer close field settings so it sounds like we might be a match lol. 
I would be happy to discuss your journey, share my thoughts, and have you over to listen to some tunes with beverage. Feel free to bring the Raven over - I’ve known Dave for seven or eight years now and would have no problem ‘playing’ with his gear. 
I moved up from toe P3s to the 30.1, and am happy. It is the natural sonic progression, with the same signature, coupled with the advantage of more bass and a larger soundstage.

To be fair, though, I haven't auditioned the HL5+, and there are differing opinions of them. Many absolutely love them, while a small percentage find them to be a touch bright. No doubt that they would be a further step up from the 30.1/30.2 in terms of bass and soundstage, but the sound apparently isn't identical to the smaller monitors.

The additional complication is the associated equipment. With all due respect to Alan Shaw, who is famously agnostic about amps (well, largely), they do make a difference, in my experience.
In a 12x13 room and listening 7 ft away, the P3ESR should work well. I think that your Blackhawk amplifier at 20w/ch may not be providing enough dynamic headroom. However, I see that it has a built-in high pass crossover that you can engage for the main speakers while combining with a subwoofer. This would allow the P3ESR to play more dynamically, and you would benefit from a subwoofer adding bass extension. My suggestion is to start by adding a subwoofer to your system.

See Raven Audio's description of the crossover feature:
https://www.ravenaudio.com/product/blackhawk-mk3/
+1 @mspot
As a long time Harbeth user I have owned the M30.1, C7 and many P3s. I think the M30 is too big for that size room. There is something about the P3 that after trying the others just keep me coming back to them!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqFIaiPT_kY
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+1 mspot
Add 2 x REL T5i.
If you're sitting that close to the speakers, they should be great. As others have mentioned, consider more power, subs, and/or room treatments. I have both SHL5 and P3ESR. The SHL5 are not too big for that room. My friend has 40.2s in a smaller space and has also had P3ESR in the same space. Both sounded fantastic with all those things I mentioned, more power, subs, and room treatment. 
Appreciate the responses. So I measured the distance again, and I was a bit off. I sit almost 9 feet away from the speakers, not that it makes that big of a difference. So the previous room was not that much smaller at 10x13 but had 10 foot ceilings. I suspect the high ceilings in the study are contributing to some of the problems I mentioned.

I have a REL T/Zero in another room where it's hooked up to a sound bar. I will try it out this weekend. I called Raven Audio and they say that in order to benefit from the subwoofer crossover function, I cannot use REL's preferred method of using the Speakon connector/speaker binding posts. I have to use the specific sub out connections on the amp. I will give it a shot first, and then think about moving up to a bigger Rel like T5, but only if needed.

@yogiboy I think you might be right. Even if I were to buy a HL5+ or M30, I would keep the P3esr's until and unless I'm 100% sure that the upgrade is worth it. Otherwise, it's quite easy to resell used Harbeth speakers without incurring much of a loss.
@mspot -- you might be right about the power specs on the Blackhawk. But from now having owned it for a few months, I can tell you that this unit goes just as loud, with appropriate dynamics, as my previous Cronus Magnum II which was rated at 100 watts/channel. But I've also read that Harbeth seems to favor solid state more than valve. So that is a possibility that I might explore eventually.

Having said that, looking for tube friendly, high efficiency speakers is not out of the running. My concerns are twofold though -- I've never warmed up to a few high efficiency speakers I have listened to, namely various Klipsch Heritage models and Devore O/96. Second, I fear that I won't be able to experience the Harbeth sound, which to me is something very special.
Also @whipsaw and @big_greg -- both the M30 and SHL5+ remain very high on my wish list. I need to decide which one will be a better fit for my listening room. I feel that M30 is probably going to be in the sweet spot that I'm looking for, i.e. retain the same characteristics of P3 but offer a bigger scale, and just the right size for the room.

@big_greg -- how far are your SHL5 speakers from the front wall? As I mentioned, I can only place the speakers up to one and a half feet from the front wall.
I ran the SHL5+ for a few years relatively close to the front wall (probably 1.5 feet, as you're considering doing), and I consistently had bass issues I was never quite able to solve.  I'm not keen on over-generalization from a single case study, but I do suspect they in most applications they need a considerable amount of distance from the front wall to perform their best and avoid these kinds of problems.  I had thought this would not be an issue because of the front porting, but in my case I was wrong about that.

In your case, I would definitely be leaning towards the M30 if you don't stick with the P3ESR.

I had my SHL5s about 2 feet from the wall. They definitely sound better when pulled further out into the room, but they sounded great there. 
I have owned both the P3 and the C7, and I was going to suggest the zC7s.  I was wondering what you meant by "too high energy."  I found them to be the most relaxed, warmest sounding speakers I've ever tried.  
I went from LS3/5a which is similar to the P3 to the 30.1 and they are absolutely glorious in a small room. I listen near-field as well with a pair of Rel subs. Highly recommend the 30's!
-Alex
30.x is the way to go.  I heard them in a small hotel room and they were great.  Tube powered, BTW.
Because of the twenty foot ceiling in that room you need a bigger harbeth i do not think the 30 or the shl5 would be enough maaybe but i would try the 40 in that space it would bring out the sound you would want and not be distant or weak at all but that is a major step from the p3esr sound it is a full range speaker no sub needed but you might not like such a large change i would go with the spendor s100 used same designer but an even bigger and better sound for a lot less money.
I love my 30.2s in similar distance as your setup. My ceiling slopes up pretty high behind the speakers. They fIll the room beautifully. Check out my system page for comparison with yours.
Re best Power option. I have read many HB owners prefer SS with 100+ wpc, doubling down as ohms get lower. They may have larger rooms though. I agree that 20wpc of tube may short change you a bit.

Between models my ears enjoy the HL over 30's or 40's.
As 2Left mentioned I too heard the 30's and 40's in two different same size hotel rooms and the 30's sounded better in that smaller room.

If I lived in Dallas-did once many years ago- I would make an appt. with Danny at GR Research. Besides having a great resource so close you also apparently support your local manufacturers.

I am anxious to visit Danny and get a listen to his speakers. 


Good luck to you!!
30.2 perfect.  the voicing is more forgiving than the 30.1.  
5's too big for sure, they need room.  
you had a bad experience with the C7ES3 but there was something wrong with the system you heard them in, they are by far the richest, sweetest sounding Harbeth and are magical but might be too much with your Raven amp.  
P3s are nice but require more power than is obvious to really open up.  
M30.x is good for that room ,mine even smaller 10x11 and with 7 ft triangle listening set.
Near field is best Option.
Harbeth is need power more than 50w in my personal experience for sound best !

To those who commented on the C7s, I agree that the room, associated equipment, and setup make a huge difference. I only heard them once for a short duration, and it is quite possible that it was a one-off. I would love to audition it again, but unfortunately there's no way to do that right now.

Moving on to the HL5s, I think they might be too much given the room size and listening distance. They might work, but given that my ability to position them properly in the home office is rather limited, it's a risky proposition. 40.x is pretty much out of question -- I just don't see how they will fit my room, aesthetics, and most importantly my budget.

At this point, I'm leaning heavily in the direction of 30.1s. Would love to get 30.2 but I don't think I can find a used pair around $3k. From what I have gathered thus far, they retain the sonic qualities of P3esr but serve them in a bigger, fuller platter. Just what the good doctor ordered. These seem to be the goldilocks of the Harbeth lineup, at least for my specific requirements.

For now, this is what I plan to do. Try the P3esr's with my REL T/Zero in conjunction with Blackhawk's dedicated sub out. But eventually, and knowing myself, I would most likely give the 30.x a try.

Having said that, I wonder if there is another speaker that retains the sonic qualities of Harbeth but is tube-friendly. I rather like my Blackhawk and would like to keep it if at all possible. The problem is that I have never met an efficient speaker that I really liked. I have auditioned the Klipsch Heritage line (except LaScalas), Devore O/96, and a few standmount models from Proacs, but none has appealed to me like the Harbeths. I understand that these are amazing speaker, and I don't intend to offend the owners, but just not my cup of tea. If someone can suggest non-horn speakers that are efficient and have a similar sound signature to Harbeth, I'm all ears.

@redwoodaudio -- what a beautiful room you have there! I could sense the calm and serenity just by looking at the pictures. 

@chorus -- I had never heard of Danny or GR Research for that matter. But will definitely check him out. Thanks for the suggestion.
@speakermaster -- sorry I just realized that you recommended Spendor S100 as another option. Thanks, I will research this brand.
I think Tannoy Kensington could fit your room, and it is amp friendly, so you could keep your amp.
@senza — this is for my second system in the home office. I appreciate the suggestion, but unfortunately Kensington’s are not even in the ballpark given the price.  I’m actually looking at Sterlings but not too many available in the used market. 
So I added a REL T/Zero and spread out the speakers by 6 inches on each side. Made a really big difference. The imaging, soundstage depth and width definitely improved noticeably. However, I still feel that the scale, especially when reproducing piano, bass guitar, and horns is not as large - not to be confused with loud -- as I would like. Other than that, it is unbelievable how amazing the P3ESRs sound, and how well they fill the room.

After making these changes, I thought I was done. But no!!! A nice pair of used M30.1 in rosewood showed up, and I just couldn't resist. Hope to get it in 3-5 days. I was planning to keep both, but got a very good offer for my P3ESRs, so they're leaving tomorrow. I seriously hope that I don't come to regret my decision. 
Those Rosewood M30.1s look great -- and the price was terrific (I viewed the ad and saw that they sold).  Enjoy them! 
@arafiq The 30’s will scale larger and easier to blend the Rel at a lower crossover.
-Alex
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A lot of good responses here which clearly show the members who posted have experience with Harbeth speakers.

I’ll keep it short and cut to the chase. I’m referring to the previous generation Harbeth line since I don’t have experience with the current new XD version. Firstly, if you find C7ES3 to have too much energy in the treble, I presume they sound bright to your ears. I would not dispute with that as everyone hears differently. If you find the C7ES3 to sound bright at the top, the SHL5+ will be even worse as it is leaner sounding and brighter in comparison to the warmer C7ES3. The M30.1 or M30.2 may be a better option for your listening preferences.

Secondly, SHL5+ will not sound good if placed close to the front wall in my experience. They have about 3’ clear space from the front wall in my room. 2.5’ is still acceptable but closer to 2’ the airiness is compromised and the sound is slightly congested in the middle. Side wall placement is not as critical as they can go nearer to the side walls with toe-in. They still need about 1.5’ to 2’ from the side wall though.

In summary, the SHL5+ can still work in the room but the real question is whether the sound is to your preference. The M30.1 might be a better fit for the room, size - wise. Personally I prefer the SHL5+ over M30.1 as I find it more balanced across various music genres. The M30 series sound too smooth and laid back for my tastes. In the end it depends on what you are seeking and the best is to hear all options and decide for yourself.
I just noticed the OP has settled with the M30.1. Great move! Placement in the room would be less trickier than the SHL5+.
@ryder  Thanks for sharing your opinion. Last year when I was in the process of building my main system, I was almost set on getting the SHL5+ from a local seller. I went to his house to audition, and absolutely loved the way they sounded. I made the mistake of not walking out with the speakers that day. I sent my offer a couple of days later but the seller changed his mind and decided to keep them after all. I found a used pair of SF Olympica II and ended up buying those. These are really good speakers, actually more similar to Harbeth than I imagined, but I still wonder about the SHL5+. Maybe in a year or two, I might sell my Olympicas for the 40.x.

As you noted, the only reason I didn't consider SHL5+ for my home office/study was the lack of proper positioning options. The 30.1s were supposed to be delivered today, but as usual Fedex dropped the ball ... again! I just hope I don't regret selling my P3ESRs. The night before I sent them to the new buyer I was listening to them for the last time. And I kept saying to myself,  'why are you selling them?!' They sounded so good in my room (bolstered by a small REL T/Zero) that I honestly thought about returning the buyer's money. Of course I would never do that to anyone, but I was certainly tempted, lol!
There you go arafiq, sounds like audiothesis wants to play with your gear!, his words not mine!!
Has anyone else experienced problems with Fedex? In the last 12 months, I've sent and received around 15 shipments using various carriers including UPS, USPS, and Fedex. Without exception, UPS and USPS have delivered on time. And without exception, Fedex has f'ed up the shipment each time -- 5 to be exact!

If you are planning to use Fedex for sending or receiving audio equipment, avoid Fedex like a plague!
UPS bashed a pair of speakers. Fedex left a subwoofer out on my lawn in the rain. I think they are all really feeling the extra workload from this year. Second set of speakers came through Fedex flawless.
Fedex finally decided to deliver the second box today after a 4-day delay. I hooked it up to the Blackhawk and have been listening for about an hour or so. Within the first 5 minutes, any trepidation I had about the switch from P3esr's ceased to exist. It's basically the same sound signature as the smaller P3esr, but everything is served on a bigger, richer, and fuller platter -- wider soundstage, much better depth, and the sound is all around me. I was worried whether the vocals would match the quality of P3esr's ... well, it's better in every way. That feeling of 'the singer in your room' is enhanced and more realistic than before. I'm hearing more details than before.

So is there anything I'm missing about the P3esr? Well, I would say that I do miss the laid back, easy going nature of the little ones. The 30.1's are more immediate, everything seems to pop out more. While I'm enjoying this particular aspect, I do wonder if it might lead to the dreaded listening fatigue in longer sessions. But it's too early to form an opinion. On some songs I do miss the buttery smooth presentation of the P3esr's. Other than this, the 30.1 is a definite step up in every way imaginable. No regrets so far. A big thank you to all who nudged me in this direction.
Glad to hear the M30.1s are a clear improvement over the P3ESR. All the differences that had been described mirrored my experience as well. The M30.1 has a monitor sound which is more controlled than the domestic models (P3ESR, C7ES3 and SHL5). It has a forward and dynamic presentation where the sound leaps out more from a silent background. The same experience when you hear everything pops out more. The other Harbeth play it safer with a smoother or flatter presentation.

Enjoy the M30.1. I do think it is an overall better speaker than the P3ESR although all Harbeth are great. You may need some time to acclimatize to the presentation of the 30.1 since it sounds quite different from the P3ESR as you currently experience. Listening fatigue may be slightly higher with the added dynamics of the 30.1 but it’s still very smooth at the top. In other words the treble doesn’t sound bright or shrill and the overall sound is still smooth, full and warm, not harsh.
@ryder -- Now that I have had some more time with 30.1s, I can say without a doubt that they have far exceeded my expectations. They sound glorious in my home office, and a substantial step up from the P3ESRs. Right now, they are a little too close to the front wall due to the way the rest of the furniture is laid out, and this is causing a little bit of boominess on some bass heavy tracks. I pulled the speakers out by about 6 inches and that took care of the problem. I’m going to rearrange the furniture this weekend so I can position the speakers optimally.

Now, here’s something else I did that took me by surprise. So my main system in the media room consists of Sonus Faber Olympica II driven by Luxman 590AXII. On a whim, I hauled the 30.1s to the media room last night and connected them to the Luxman. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.Yes, it was one of those cliche’d jaw dropping moments. The Harbeths sound so much more musical than the Olympicas that I’m now questioning if I need to just sell the SF and buy a pair of 30.2s instead.

As good as the Luxman/SF pairing is, there are a few issues with the way they present the music. Mind you, the issues are relatively minor and some of them I didn’t even realize existed until I swapped the SFs with 30.1s. The first problem is that on some songs I could feel just a tiny bit of harshness (brightness), and I always felt that the midrange could have been richer. I chalked it up to the neutral nature of Luxman. The second problem was that the vocals were a bit recessed for my liking, plus I could hear some sibilance, although very recording dependent. The way the Olympicas portray the position of the singer is as if he or she is standing alongside, or maybe even a couple of steps behind other musicians. With some songs I felt that the drummer was either in front of the singer or on the same horizontal plane, which always came across as a bit unnatural to me. In a few concerts and live jazz events that I have attended, the drummer is always behind the vocalist by a good 5-10 feet.

Once I paired the 30.1s with Luxman, it was definitely one of those educational moments where you learn more about your preferences -- something you did not even know existed until you experience it. So here’s a quick summary of the Luxman/Harbeth 30.1 combo ...

- Much more musical -- which for me means more warmth without sacrificing detail retrieval.
- No harshness/brightness -- I played some songs that I knew didn’t sound amazing on the SFs, but the 30.1 just took the edge off without losing anything else in the process. Even some old 80’s recordings sound more bearable.
- Improved vocal representation -- I understand that this might be a personal preference, but I like the way the singer is the most prominent element in a song -- a couple of steps ahead of the rest of the musicians. The drummers are in the background, the way I like it. The famed Harbeth vocal prowess is at full display here.
- The disappearing act -- this should come as no surprise though. The 30.1s disappear far better than the Olympicas. The music starts from the center and flows in all directions from thereon.

I will do more comparisons in the next few days to make sure it’s not just a case of the ’new toy’ enthusiasm. But at this point, I’m seriously considering another Harbeth. The question is which one -- 30.2 or SHL5+.


Arafiq, the comprehensive and detailed account is surely useful. I’m glad the 30.1s have worked out well in your system, particularly with the Luxman L-590AXII. There’s nothing more for me to add here since you will be more familiar with the speakers when you spend more time with it.

My very brief experience with 30.1 vs 30.2 is the latter sounds more open and forward than the 30.1. However, there was an owner of the 30.1 who upgraded to the 30.2 and felt that listening fatigue was a bit too high with the 30.2.
SHL5+ is a much larger speaker than the 30.1 and will have a larger sound and fuller deeper bass. The sound will be slightly tame in the sense instruments and vocals do not pop out from the background as much as the 30.1. However, the SHL5+ is an airier, leaner or lighter sounding speaker(as opposed to warmer and fuller/thicker sound of 30.1) and will need more space from wall boundaries to sound good.

Lastly, the 30.1/30.2 that you have now is one of the best if not the best when it comes to reproducing human voice to sound as life-like or natural as possible. Even the SHL5+ can’t match the 30.1 in this respect. There are many high end speakers costing much more than the Harbeth that do vocals well but the Harbeth just have that extra edge or magic.

Enjoy ~

For your larger room, perhaps the 30.2XD or 40th? That way you keep the general sound profile (including unparalleled midrange/human voice reproduction) but gain, presumably, from the slightly more open and foward dynamics invited by a grander space.  There occasionally are some terrific deals on lightly used 30.2s here and on USAudiomart.   A nice set of subs would then balance everything out.   
@arafiq  As has been pointed out, the larger models above the 30.X are not all cut from exactly the same cloth.  I think you'd find more "family resemblance" between the 30.X and the 40.X rather than the SHL5+.  If you can accommodate them, the 40.X's would be a superb replacement for the Olympicas.  Gently used regular 40.2's are now affordable; the Anniversary model adds little but price, and the 40.3 XD bears a relation to it rather as the 30.2 does to the 30.1, and is now wildly expensive new.
With so many solid offerings from Harbeth, it is so difficult to pick a path. After listening to the 30.1 in the main system, it was hard for me to find faults with its presentation. Before buying this speaker, I had heard comments about the boxy, closed-in nature of the speaker. While it very well might be true, I’ve found that I don’t notice it, or at least it doesn’t bother me at all. That slightly forward sound of instruments and human voices emerging from a quiet background is very appealing to me. It’s by far the best I’ve heard, but then again my repertoire of speakers is fairly limited -- this is ’only’ my ninth pair of speakers that I have owned so far. You can argue that I don’t know what I don’t know, but at least I have a better understanding of where my preferences lie.

I almost had my heart set on 30.2, but my brain is telling to me to add some variety and go with an SHL5+. From the way @ryder describes the SHL5, it sounds more similar to the Olympica 2 that I already own -- airier and slightly leaner sounding with good bass extension. My media room is 20 x 15, so I have the space to work with. I also have a subwoofer and planning to add one more in a few months. Supplanting the bass with 30.x should not be a problem with a little bit of trial and error. If I can find a used pair of SHL5+ at a decent price, maybe I can scratch that itch. It’ll be easy for me to compare it with 30.1 since I already own it. Who knows, I might like it as much as the 30.1. Only one way to find out I guess.

@twoleftears -- actually, I have been thinking about the 40.x, but they rarely if ever show up in the used market, and even then the asking price is too rich for my blood. I bought my Olympica 2 for $5500 and was trying to stay in the same price range. Your comment about the 40.x sharing family resemblance with the 30.x is a very enticing prospect. If it is a bigger, fuller, better M30.1 then it sure has my attention. This can very well be the endgame speaker for me -- by the way, when I say endgame what I really mean is 3-5 years tops :) Buying a 40.x will require more planning, and convincing (you know who). This might be a very strong possibility next year!

My experience with the models is that they are a family, but not a nuclear one.  The P3ESR is like an only child.  The Monitors (30 and 40) are one set of siblings while the C7ES3 and the SHL5+ are another set of siblings.  They are all cousins and you can tell they are family, but the siblings' similarities are much more noticeable.
I found a used pair of Super HL5+ in rosewood at a very reasonable price. Should be getting it in a few days. I'll compare it to 30.1 for a month or so, and decide if I want to keep the SHL5+ or replace with a 30.2.

Right now, I'm really loving the 30.1. It's by far the most engaging speaker I've ever owned. Let's see how the SHL5+ competes with it.
Just to clarify, the M30.1s will stay in my home office for a long time. The SH5+ are for the media room, and will be replacing SF Olympica II.
I'll be interested in hearing your thoughts on the 30.1 compared to the Super HL5 Plus.  I have those and the P3ESR and have had some listening sessions at a friend's house with the 40.2, but haven't heard any of the 30 series.  The fact that you like them better than the P3ESR says a lot.  I go through a lot of gear and nothing is "sacred", but if there's anything I have a hard time imagining leaving my system, it's the P3ESR.  I went through a lot of speakers trying to find the "goldilocks" speakers for my near field computer system and have been super happy with mine.
I've owned the SHL5s, the 30's and the P3s and IMO, it's all about how they interface with your room.  In my room, the 30's did not work at all - sounded like everything below 80hz was missing.  The little P3s do much better for me.  The SHL5s worked much better in my room and I don't know why people keep saying they don't work well in smaller spaces.  I really wanted the 30s to work out, but they just didn't.  
Will be very interested to hear results.  Switching in and out speakers in same position in same room with same system.  Ideal.
Do you have stands to compensate for different heights?  Harbeth recommends ear aligned with tweeter axis.  Not sure about the SHL with its super tweeter.