Report on Harbeths vs. Vandersteens

I've used Vandersteens with various electronics for 6-7 years, first 2ce sigs, then 3a sigs. They have many positive attributes. Among other things, they reveal all kinds of detail in the source material on the top end. On certain source material, that's fine. Over time, however, for my ears, I was hearing, in an unflattering light, too much negative information about source material that I really wanted to listen to. In that respect, I described that Vandersteens, in another thread, as being somewhat "unforgiving". That didn't sit well with some folks, but I stand by it, and point to Mike Fremer's review of the Quattros in Stereophile for a similar impression.

I tried dealing with the issue with cable and electronic changes (and eventually did like fairly well the Cary SLP 2002 with the ARC VT100 MkIII, pulled together with Cardas Cross cable throughout, with a Linn CD12 front end), but I finally decided to try a speaker change anyway. After much research, I took advantage of an opportunity to make a rather convoluted trade that netted me some Harbeth M30s on Sound Anchor stands instead of the Vandersteens. Based upon all the reading I'd done (and opinions from a few trusted folks), I figured I needed to spend some time with the BBC monitor sound, be it Harbeths or Spendors or possibly something else.

I'm very glad to have made the change. For my ears, this is a very interesting and satisfying direction, and I recommend it as an avenue to explore for anyone who can relate to my kind of concerns.

The Harbeths have plenty of energy in the highs, but their focus is on the mid-range and upper bass. They have less detail in the high frequency range, but lots of detail in the mids. They do a particularly lovely job with strings, massed or otherwise (which was a weak spot as between my ears and the Vandersteens). On some material, they sound rolled off compared to the Vandersteens, but on other material, they don't...and, yes, if it's the "right" recording, they can even be too bright. But I hear the latter far less frequently than I did on the Vandersteens.

I'm by no means the first one to recommend the "BBC sound" direction for a solidly pleasurable, warm and satisfying musical experience with a variety of source material, but I'm happy to join in that chorus at this point in my listening life...and look forward to sampling some Spendors and different Harbeths over the next few years.
You might want to check out celestion speakers as well, had some in the early 70's when they were also used as monitors by the BBC
Thanks for sharing your impressions--I think you have made a move that many others might (and should) consider. I agree with most of what you say here but would add that the Harbeth's are far superior to the Vandy's in the QUALITY of the bass response, where the Vandersteen's sound bloated and slow to my ears. I'm not saying the Harbeth's are the be all and end all in this area but it is a step up for sure. Also, since your hearing seems a bit sensitive to high frequencies, you may want to consider the Compact 7's or Super HL5's over the Monitor series since they are known to more forgiving overall. Just a thought.
ditto on the celestions....or the rogers ls or studio series...for the bbc magic, it doesn't get any better.
Dodgealum, thanks...I do intend to audition the Super HL5's against the M30s...and various of the Spendors. But for now, I'm going to relax for a while and listen to some music.

Many of us complain about the "brightness" of the recordings, and talk about this or that system being more "accurate" if we are quite sure we can tell with real certainty what is, indeed, "accurate." But, for heaven's sakes, it's ALL illusion. We're just listening to RECORDINGS, not the real thing. Artificiality starts at the microphone. The point, I think, is to play back the recording and have it do its magic. Good aural magic can even happen with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and an Ipod in an airplane over the Atlantic.

The Harbeths produce some really good magic in the mid-range, pretty consistently. The Vandersteens produce some very good magic in the highs, with the right source material. Neither is the be all and end all. The tough thing is to find the formula that works for each "audiophile" listener, and find the right people to help point the way to a satisfying aural experience that takes into account what one's ears are looking for (which, as an aside, can be quite different at different times in a listener's listening life). That's one of the reasons the Audiogon Forum has been such a wonderful discovery for this listener, and one of the reasons I think it's worth sharing experiences.
Why didn't you consider the Monitor 40s? Did you ever try them?
The tough thing is to find the formula that works for each "audiophile" listener, and find the right people to help point the way to a satisfying aural experience that takes into account what one's ears are looking for (which, as an aside, can be quite different at different times in a listener's listening life).
This quote should be engraved on the Audiogon the home page.
My ears seem to be similar to yours in terms of what kinds of speakers and sound signature I prefer. I have always loved the "British sound" and after B&W (all kinds of models from the 80's and 90's) and Spendor (BC-3) have found my way to ProAc (currently have the 1SC monitors and the slim D15 floorstanders--all with tube amplification). I have never heard Harbeth, but wonder if you have heard ProAc's and could compare the sound. I would never call the ProAc's bright but I hear lots of high frequency detail and rich full mids and lows. What I hear, and love, sounds very like what you are hearing and loving with the Harbeths. Can anyone compare the two brands?
You might want to look at this thread.

I owned Response 2.5's a few years ago and now have SHL5's. The D series of ProAcs is supposed to be a bit different, so I can't offer a direct comparison. But between the two I do know, I would say that the Harbeth's offer greater clarity, detail, and resolution overall, while the ProAcs have their own special brand of midrange magic, which I always found very appealing even as I longed for greater clarity. The ProAcs may be more dynamic and better-suited to Big music.
Thanks for the link to that very interesting thread. As an owner of both the older more "romantic" ProAc's and the newer possibly more "analytical" ProAc's, I found the comparisons and opinions in that thread informative. Seems there are a lot of British-sound-lovers out there. Funny how well such speakers go with tubes.
Drubin, that's a great thread, and one I studied before committing to the Harbeths. In fact (and this is part of my point about the use of the Forum), I committed to the Harbeths, and gave up the Vandersteens, without having auditioned the Harbeths. May sound dumb, but there were such consistent positive reports on Audiogon and in the reviews that I figured my risk was small, and after 7 years of intermittant "disharmony" with the Vandersteen sound, a change was inevitable, anyway.

Now, here's a question for Harbeth and Spendor people. My impression on the Harbeth M30s and M40s (the latter being too big for my room, by the way) is that part of their magic is in their silk dome tweeters. The Harbeth Compact 7's and Super HL5's do not have the same tweeters. First, who can tell me about the respective high-ends of the M30/M40 series vs, in particular, the Super HL5's? My memory is that there is one report floating around here on Audiogon that the HL5's are bright in comparison to the M30s. Any comments? Second, what about the HL5's versus the new Spendor line (such as the S8e's). Anybody done any comparing?

In the meantime, I'm going to consider other speaker lines mentioned, as and if I can find an audition opportunity. (Buying speakers unheard is something I intend to do only once!)
Eweedhome, you make a very good point about the consistent reports on Harbeths. That was one thing that got me interested and when I finally heard C7s, I found the reports to be correct. I own C7s and they are great, but let me just say that if you can afford M40s you should get them. I heard a pair and they are spectacular.
I have the same curiosity about the HL5 vs. the M30. In fact, I'm thinking of picking up a pair of M30s to explore for myself. You can come over for a listen.
Judging from the number of Harbeths for sale now on this site, I'd have to guess that a lot of people took the plunge after that series of great reviews, only to find that Harbeth is not their cup of tea. Same as it ever was.
Just my observation in response to Drubin on the volume of Harbeths for sale, it seems that Monitor 40s are rarely available used in my experience. One more note about the M40s: Stereophile reviewed them a few years ago (somewhat favorably) but they have never appeared in their Recommended Components list. (TAS did have them in their equivalent list.)
I have a pair of M30's and have always enjoyed the spendor/harbeth sound. My feeling is that they do a great job of getting the vocals right. The M30's also have a decent dynamic range, with a bottom end that is well defined (although perhaps not the deepest out there). If I could ever afford the M40's, they would be on my short-list.

I'm not overly familiar with Vandersteen products. I recently heard their 3A's mated with a AR integrated and Rega planet at a friend's house. I was impressed by what I heard.

anyway, that is my 2c worth - I hope it adds to the discussion.
happy listening