Proud Harbeth p3esr owner - need help tweaking/troubleshooting

Due to the pandemic I catch myself spending more time in my outdoor office space - small 14.5x7.5 feet room with glass windows on two adjacent walls - where the speaker are. It's got wood floors and a 7.5 feet ceiling. The other half has a large desk and a bookshelf. Since it's my private space I have decided to build 'my dream' audio system - different from my main listening room/home theater. I listen to all genres of music from 80's and 90's pop, Folk, Jazz, Electronic, Classic Rock and Latin. No hard Rock or headbangers music.

In my mid-40's and enjoying the audio hobby for decades now, I like my music warm, with non-fatigue listening for hours, where frequency tones are balanced, yet detailed without the grain and glare of vocal peaks or highs, yet presenting instrument separation. I want to enjoy the music. I took the leap, and purchased a pair of Harbeth p3esr. Also, purchased Croft Phone Integrated amplifier to pair with the speakers. Had a Metrum Onyx DAC at home already hooked to my Roon core. Using Morrow Audio MA1 RCA interconnects that were laying around, with Belden speaker wires also on hand. Speakers are on heavy 26 inch stands.

I have around 60 hours on the Croft integrated and Harbeth p3esr so far, but have not found the audio nirvana moment yet. I find the music at times (on certain songs) harsh. It's usually when multiple instruments are played together with sharp pitched vocals. Don't get me wrong - Emma Guzman - Woman the instrument separation and vocals are dreamy, The Game of Love by Daft Punk, the robotic vocals are life like with emotions - but 40 seconds into Wrong Girl by Lindsay Ell and you'll hear her vocals peak and want to run to lower the Croft integrated manual volume knob towards to noon mark (starting point). 

Speaking of which, the Croft Phono Integrated, being a superb hybrid amp, has a lot of gain and is immediate sounding. At 1 o'clock position (noon being the starting point), the sound is comfortable listening at 70db. Turning the volume knob to 2 o'clock it's gets loud to 80db + and 3 o'clock is where you want to turn it down. Never distortion - but enough sweetness and finesse to drive the p3. Loud for the room. 

Metrum DAC has a more or less standard line output level of 2V, and the Croft amp has a relatively sensitive input sensitivity of 250mV. An amp of this sensitivity runs the risk of clipping the voltage waveform before the power stage. Maybe alternative amps have a more relaxed gain structure at the input, sensitive to about a whole Volt. The reason why I am rushing for the volume control as the peas get harsh.

How do I make the famous Harbeth p3esr to sing and show it's true colors of warmth, composure, mature sound, astonishing vocal coming from the diaphragm and the details that it's famous for? How do I listen to hours of different genre music without the need to turn the volume low or move my head up to look at the speakers? Is it the high gain/sensitive Croft Integrated amp or is it the bright Morrow Audio RCA interconnect or maybe the speaker wires? Or maybe the whole set up is a dream and an overkill for the room.

Any feedback by the brilliant minds on this forum with years of experience would be greatly appreciated. With warm regards,

I don’t know your DAC, nor the Croft, but I do have a pair of P3ESR, so I was curious about your dilemma.

I don’t think it’s the wires. Wires are always the LAST place I’d look, and then only for very subtle changes. So please, don’t go spending a bundle on wires!

Have you looked at the Stereophile review of the Croft? The phono stage is quite rolled off, by about 3 dB at 10 kHz. That in itself may not be objectionable, but it will make a sharp contrast with playing CDs, as the line stage alone will be considerably brighter than when used with the phono amp and RIAA circuit. I suspected from your post that it was CD playback bothering you, and if so, that may be one reason.

If I understand correctly that it’s CD playback that is bothering you, you might try a Schiit Loki equalizer to take down the treble of CDs to match the FR of your phono setup.

Some owners like a powerful amp with their P3ESR, but since I haven’t tried a low-powered one, I can’t guess whether that might contribute to what you hear.

Of course, all that is a guess. I haven’t heard your system! My sense of the P3ESR is that they are not plush sounding, but revealing and musical without harshness. I’m using them with a Classe CP-800 DAC-preamp and a Marsh Sound Design A400s amp. I listen at relatively low levels.

it's the line in on the Croft with RCA being fed from Metrum Onyx DAC. Source is a laptop playing Roon connected to the Onyx via shunyata venom usb. 
Oh, one other thing. Have you tried having Roon oversample the digital data? The graphs I've seen of NOS DAC output from 44.1 kHz sources are pretty jagged. They get much better at quad rate (176.4 or 192 kHz).
@mike_in_nc Thanks for the reply. Is that found in the Device Set up under Max Sample Rate (PCM)? Not sure on where the oversampling of data lives on Roon. 
I'm not currently a Roon user, and I don't know where it is. But I've been told it can oversample. I think it would be with other DSP settings, rather than specific to the device, but that's just a guess.
Try Google!
The window glass on both sides of the room are contributing to the brightness, also the reflections between ceiling and floor. Think about room treatments,a rug,window treatments. If you'd like to try a new rca or power cable for your dac take a look at Triode Wire Lab's offerings. Those products are very effective at taming digital glare,best I've ever heard. No I'm not a shill,just trying to help:-)Best of luck as you proceed!
@ghulamr -- first - your room is very bright, you need numerous soft surfaces, heavy rug, fabric window coverings, corner tunes, perhaps standing baffles to catch the 1st reflection

second - the p3’s are the least warm sounding harbeth because of the lack of bass, the croft is a transparent not at all a warm sounding piece -- you should get a set of compact 7’s mount on 20’s, it is the harbeth closest to what you seek

certainly a bright room - that can be sorted later if needed. put some mullards in the croft and let it gel for a couple months. 
@ghulamr - I have the P3 40th and, contrary to everything on the net, I found them to be fussy little bastards and very capable of sounding harsh in some registers. I was going to sell them, but I tried a pair of Purist Posiedon speaker cables and they made an astounding difference. The speakers sounded twice as big, fuller, warmer, but with extreme clarity and not rolled off at all, IMO. I tried them with Belden 10 gauge and I had to leave the room, whereas the Belden sounded just fine with my Fritz. The only caveat is that they are kind of bulky, but they are flexible.
Belden speaker cables did not sound good with my speakers but Canare 4S11 opened up the sound in all positive ways.
I agree with those that say room treatments. Out of curiosity what are the dimensions of the windows in your outdoor office?
I have my P3ESRs in a small room with wood paneling and they are set up somewhat nearfield, about 3 1/2 feet from my listening position.  I can play them as loud as I can stand them (which is much less than it used to be) without any harshness or glare.  In some ways, I prefer this system over my main system, it sounds wonderful.

I agree with others that the room is probably your biggest nemesis.  Consider adding a subwoofer(s).
@big_greg - what amp are you using? I tested again volume at 3 o'clock position (noon being the starting point) on the Croft. Played Take me to the Pilot by Elton John and I had to leave the room when my ears started to bleed. 

@chayro - what amp are you using? Will look into the  Purist Posiedon speaker cables

@jjss49 - any recommendation on a warm sounding integrated? Rega Bria? or maybe Rogue rogue sphinx. I still can return the amp (under 14 day return). 
@ghulamr - I am using a Heed Elixir.  50 wpc.  I like it, but I would not describe it as particularly warm.  It definitely leans towards the warmer side, but it's not like a tube amp. Maybe you're barking up the wrong tree with the P3s.  If you want to turn up the volume with Elton John's music, maybe you need something a little bigger, or add a sub.  But the Purists are really great with the P3s. Frankly a shocking difference. 
@chayro - that's going to set me back $2700 for a 30 foot speaker cable wire. More then I can afford at this time 

my 2 cents

1. most solid state amps, even good ones are going to give you glare and harshness with your room set up as it is, no decent solid state amp will roll the highs enough to remove the bite

2. setting up a subwoofer will make the music sound fuller, but will NOT cure the harshness

3. sitting nearfield is a very very different listening experience than sitting ’in the room’ - nearfield removes the room pretty much

4. do not spend more than a couple hundred bucks on wire - don’t waste money ... look into tuneful cables - very reasonable, sound great, soothes the edge a little bit while providing excellent transparency - the problems you have, NO wire can fix

5. if you are whetted to your p3’s you may want to look into tube amplification (after treating your room - that is first priority, before any equipment change)

6. best solution, i will repeat what i said below is getting a set of compact 7’s - they are natural, warm, imminently listenable, if you want harbeths - otherwise buchardt s300’s or older spendors

no affiliation to any of the brands above... but i own, or have owned, everything i mention

@ghualmr  I had no idea you needed 30' of wire!  It would set you back a lot more than $2700.  Not a good idea.  I agree with JJSS49.  If you like the Harbeth sound, I would move to a larger model if you have the room for it.  
I can't imagine the P3ESR sounding bright even if you use the brightest amp on it. It's inherently a smooth sounding speaker. Something doesn't sound quite right.
I have owned many Harbeths including the M30.1, C7 and the P3. The P3 is my favorite Harbeth. It might be that the Harbeth is not your cup of tea. I have listened to many speakers that people rave about that would drive me out of the room. We all have different tastes and Harbeth might not be to your liking.
This guy gives a good review about the P3ESR and I agree with what he has to say!
This guy too!
congrats on a quality system for your home office rig.
there are many factors at play here but i believe you can work with what you have.
1. speaker position. they need to be positioned away from walls and glass by 2 feet minimum, 3 feet is better. make sure they are toed in to be slightly off axis according to the manual. this will minimize any room reflective interactions.
2. break in, amp and speakers. 60 hrs is nothing for speakers, tubes and amp. each will need a few hundred hours to mature and mellow out. play your system as much as possible and re- evaluate after a month or so.
3. cables. i am not a fan of your interconnects or speaker cable and they are definitely contributors to your issues.
for interconnects try vanden hul the name, chord c line or wireworld luna. i prefer the vdh cables for being smooth yet detailed. the chords are smoother but lose too much detail. the wireworld are in between.
for good inexpensive speaker cable try kimber 8pr.
optimize positioning
burn in / break in
good luck!
If you only have 60 hours on the Croft, it could probably use some more playing time.  From what I've heard, mosfet output stages need some time to burn in and relax.  Also, you might swap out the stock tubes for something warmer, like new production Mullards.  I've had both the Croft and the P3s, thought not at the same time, and I think they would be a good combination.  

Good luck!
@yogiboy Thanks for the videos. Enjoyed them. Primarily the reason for purchasing the p3 is the sound which I love. It's a little unnerving to have a highly sensitive amp paired with it. Right now I am listening to Edith Paif on volume less then half of 1 o'clock position (noon being the starting point) and her voice is piecing. What amp did you pair your p3 with? How about a Sugden A21a or Rega Brio? 

@avanti1960 & @smrex13 - thank you. I think after reading all the opinions I am drawing the conclusion to focus on improving room acoustics and IC and speaker cable. 

I did a little experiment by running a spare 10awg monster cable that I have laying around. What a difference in sound. Stripped off the details and dull sounding. But not harsh though. 

Switched the morrow audio RCA cable with Signal Cable - big difference again. Sound was less detailed and vocals were recessed. 

Moved on to the source (laptop running roon) and switched the USB cable (Shunyata Venom) to a generic brand - that was the biggest dip in sound. 

Lesson leant - this is a very very revealing system. Croft Phono Integrated amp will play what you feed it. And Harbeth is dependent on placement and room acoustics. I am ready to take that challenge and work with his - after all it is my office/den and half the fun is seeing and hearing the improvements as I make these changes. 

I need between 26-28 feet long speaker wire (no way around it) and 1m or less RCA interconnect. I want to bring warmth to the system - yet have the details and vocals that make the Harbeth sing to it's full potential. I am sure that's a tough call specially to stay within budget as most manufacturers like Black Cat, Kimber etc. probably don't make speaker cables this length and if they do - I'll be bankrupt. What are my options on finding speaker cable that length and IC's ($500 - $600) for both?
Why would you like a bad recording to sound good? Would be a very boring speaker. If you run Roon you can just use the parametric filter to reduce the range 1500-3500 Hz with a couple of db’s when playing ’hot’ recordings. Lindsay Ell is far from worst.... Nice recom on Guzman! If you take Rosanne Cash her a little nasal voice is rather unpleasant on a lot of recordings but very nice on others. It’s all about what they do in the studio. Spending lots of money on cables trying to change that is just nonsence. Better change speakers. P3 is ok for mid and highs but has no bass. For small money you can have a used PMC OB1 and be fully satisfied.
Just at a glance the unusual thing with that amps specs is it makes virtually no more power into 4 ohm than into 8.
Looking at stereophile phase/impedance curve for the P3ESR, that is not the first amp I would choose for those speakers on paper. It may not be up to the task of driving them properly.
Have you ever tried any other amps even just as a test? Rogue Sphinx or even Pharoah comes to mind as one I might try as an alternate.
Maybe some P3ESR owners have more to offer regarding whether beefier amps tend to do better with those speakers in practice.
Good luck!
@mapman I am planning on taking the setup in my main listening room this weekend. I will hook the p3 to my Sim Audio W5 amp and also my Earthquake (home theater) amp. I have also been eyeing a Rogue Sphinx  and Rega Brio- funny you mention. 

Also, positioning the speakers off-axis is helping a little bit. 
Why don’t you swap the amps and see how it sounds in the room that the Harbeths sound in the same room that they are in now? If you do that then you will know if the problem is with the Harbeths or the Croft! BTW, don’t use any subwoofer when you do this. Another option is to put your other speakers in place of the Harbeths and see what the results are!
Another good one that ones up for about $1k used on occasion is Bel Canto c5i. I have one and like it very much. If it did not work out Rogue was going to be my next choice but am happy with the smooth liquid sound of the c5i sans tubes. Never ever harsh.  
Better change speakers. P3 is ok for mid and highs but has no bass. For small money you can have a used PMC OB1 and be fully satisfied.

I upgraded from PMC LB1 Signature to Harbeth SHL5. I would take the Harbeth over any PMC which include the big EB1i or IBi. PMC may have good punchy bass but the sound is sterile.
@ryder  do agree 100% 

@mapman Bel Canto is a class D amp and don't think it has tubes. Besides I am avoiding a one box shop with DAC/digital and analog in one. I am very happy with my stand along Metrum Onyx DAC. 
another tweak this morning which helped lower the sensitivity of the amp - using the variable volume at the DSP level in Roon. Now I can adjust how much my DAC is outputting and at 10% reduction have reached a sweet spot on my Croft without compromising sound. One of the advantages of using Roon to leverage the bit perfect volume control floating 64 bits conversion. 
Yes c5i is Class D ( as is Rogue Sphinx) but also all digital, all in 1.   There is phono and line level analog inputs though so external DAC could be used but frankly it has everything one might need save perhaps a MC phono input and it all sounds really good.  Check the reviews online. 

Well I have more news for someone interested - today I took my office set up in my main listening room. First hooked up the Harbeth to the Croft integrated using the Metrum Onyx DAC and the same IC and speaker cables - so standard set up as in my office, but a different room. Adjusted the listening to 73 db of music listening to the same track - Milord by Edith Piaf. It sounded how it sounded (comments to follow).

Next I switched amps to my Sim Audio W5 power amp (180W/ch) and lost a lot of dynamics. It was definitely less bright but also more on the dull side missing instrument separation. Sound was more rounded with recessed vocals. So here I am thinking - wow the Croft is leaps ahead. Maybe it the tubes that makes it sing.

Next I hooked up my beefy Earthquake Cinenova amp. It's a monster that weighs 120 pounds with 300w/ch and built like a tank with 4kVA transformer. I was in utter shock to what I heard come out of those Harbeth's. That was a wow moment. The sound was dreamy, rich, warm, with instruments all around me. Lots of details, more fuller with vocals coming from inside the throat and not at all bright. Super musical - unearthing layers of music. I can go on and on and words will not do justice.

So there you have it. I wish I could lift the Earthquake amp and bring it in my office - but it's too big. Know for sure that Harbeth wants more power - bigger transformer, higher damping, regular sensitivity of 1.6V. It needs raw prowess. And I am returning my Croft Integrated amp as I know there is something better out there. Maybe go the route of power amp and pre.

For those who said Harbeths need more power - you all are right. Search begins for a power amp now - one that will easily sit on a shelf in my office. 
Glad to hear it! I’m using 200/330 wpc into 8/4 ohms. Great sound!

You might experiment with something like the Benchmark AHB-2 amp. Compact and superb by all accounts.

Earlier, I suggested upsampling in Roon. Here’s the link.

a few comments

you are not discovering the p3’s need more power... you are discovering synergy in tonality between components to a sound your ears like

the croft is a slightly uptilted, ’spot-lit’ piece in signature - crofts and lfd's which gene rubin successfully sells with large harbeths are synergistic as they work this magic on the larger harbeths -- which are tonally warm and need a little more zing up top and to wake them up and ss damping factor down low to tighten the bass a touch, the p3’s do not need either...

....otoh the earthquake ht amps are well known for an extremely rolled off treble, that is their value proposition (ie... earthquake!) and their sound is tuned to that end

your setup is still biased towards bright, with room, location, cabling ... what have you

what we know for sure is the metrum dac is relatively warm and tonally full, but it seems that the rest is not...

when you get a properly linear hifi amp after returning the croft, i suspect you will be back on this merry go round again

the volume knob setting you refer to is a red herring... like the sensitivity of an accelerator pedal tip-in to the movement of a car - a more sensitive pedal for the first 20% of the range of motion doesn’t make the car more powerful...

good luck
Obviously there are 2 camps here, more power/current amps, or flea-powered amps for the Harbeth. If one predominantly listens to mellow stuff or vocals such as Jennifer Warnes, a low powered amp would do fine. However, for music with a lot of dynamic swings and fast punchy bass and transients, an amp which can deliver the current for those instantaneous burst of dynamics would be much better. Not all amps are made the same. A 200W amp may sound a lot less inadequate in comparison to another 200W amp from a different maker. The numbers only tell half the story. Numbers on the tested power output in the lab will be more accurate. Those amps with robust power supply, you can usually tell a little by having a peek at the internals of the amp.

In most cases, Harbeth usually sound better if you feed it with more current / power. For refinement, clarity and detail, the overall quality of the amp or preamp would take precedence. That is the reason high quality flea powered amps usually show better clarity and fine detail than most common big amps with brute power.

i agree with you

my super 5’s, compact 7’s currently, and even the mon 40s and 30’s i had before all like more power rather than less - the hegels have wonderful synergy

lots of folks use tube amps, but i have found tube pre and really good ss power amp is the best combo, unless you go big buck audio research reference series and the like
@ghulamr-You can purchase Kimber 8PR cable in bulk, should come in at or near your budget.  
Go to "the cable co." 
For interconnects try VanDen Hul "The Name" ~ $79 for a meter at acoustic sounds.  
thank you for all your input. 

I tell you this hobby take a lot of time and $$ - but it's very gratifying. Wrote to Glenn Croft and he recommended ' The absolute phase will need to be corrected by reversing the speaker leads'. 

I did that by switching the speaker terminals red to negative and black to positive and what big difference that made. I need to give this change a couple of days and do A/B tests but right off the bat listening to Abdullah Ibrahim on piano before the change some of the low notes a# on piano sounded too sharp and unbearable and after the switch it became a lot mellower and precise. 

Don't understand the reasoning behind it - but it an improvement. Will listen more....
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Hi all, 

a bit of an update. It's been 13 days since I have owned the Croft Integrated and maybe I have put in around 160+ hour on it. The sound has changed drastically from when I first bought the amp. The sudden change I noticed yesterday, and since then have played around 8 hours to make sure it's not something I am imagining. It's a lot warmer, relaxed, fuller, sweeter with all the details and vocals that really bring out the best in the Harbeth p3. Did I mention relaxed and composed. 

First I thought there is some other setting in Roon or somewhere else that is causing the change in sound. It's night and day difference. To test I played a few tracks that had those tonal peaks that were unbearable before and now they sound completely relaxed and fuller. Low volume setting that I listen on this amp is fantastic. I am also getting adjusted to the high gain setting as I think turning the volume slightly up is less harsh now. Keep in mind this amp would struggle in a large party room setting - I don't think that's what it's designed for. Croft Integrated is a keeper. 

Glad I did not jump on changing the interconnects and speaker cable and let the amp fully burn in. Now I can me more accurate in how I want to further tune the sound and maybe look at cables that provide more air and detail - open up the sound a bit. Need 30 feet of cable run, as the amp and DAC will sit behind my desk with speakers in front. Hopefully I can find a decent speaker cable without breaking the bank. Maybe Kimber Kable 8TC used? 

Thank you all for your patience and holding my hand to audio nirvana.


I have the same issue with the P3ESR speakers.  I’ve had them for over 4 years and tried them with a range of equipment.  Ultimately the same result,  to my ears, and my wife’s, harsh, flat, sharp, fatiguing sound.  Started with kimber 4tc speaker cable, moved on to Chord signature XL, same result.  Can’t listen to my Pink Triangle turntable at all.  Sounds sharp to our ears.  My Aries Auralic Streamer,  and Cyrus new cdt transport connected  to Chord Qutest and to Sugden A21a integrated amp are a lot better with Chord Signature interconnects but are still often harsh.  My listening room is about 4.5x4m, carpeted with curtains and armchair.  The Speakers sounded great in the Hifi shops listening room, which is a large room.  After spending more than the cost of the speakers in upgrades to alleviate the harshness and only partially succeeding I’m going to get new speakers.  I find the Harbeths to my ears are only pleasing for some jazz and acoustic guitar.

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@gerryr1 >> I have the same issue with the P3ESR speakers.   <<

Unfortunate that you're not getting good sound from your Harbeths. IMO, 23 watts -- no matter how good those watts are -- is not enough for the P3ESR. You may be hearing clipping. I use 200 wpc with mine and experience no harshness.

Also, if only the analog side sounds harsh, you might consider an issue with cartridge and/or setup.

I would expect even the best setup to sound harsh sometimes. That’s because some recordings are innately harsh. If they sound smooth, it’s because the system is rolling them off. But all the time -- that's not the P3ESR signature that I know.