These are small monitors;--not very expensive. Just pretty good for the money, equipment.--Any speaker with a following,has some good things going for it.
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I own a pair of the Harbeth C7 ES monitors. Cost about $2200, or so, depending on finish. They are large monitors with an 8" proprietary driver, a cabinet that "breathes," the SEAS tweeter, and a grille that is designed to stay on. Can you say "natural voicing?" I wish you could hear them! My opinion is just that, but the BBC recording engineers, who use Harbeth and Spendor monitors in their mixing studios require absolute accuracy to do their job. They stake their reputations on the performance of these speakers. I hope you can hear this sound someday.
You can check out harbeth.com if you are interested.
Best to you.
As Charlie implies, they are not "small monitors pretty good for the money." Both Harbeth and Spendor make a range of speakers. Both make LS3/5a size (shoebox) nearfield monitors that are very very good, but those aren't what the buzz is all about. The Harbeth Compact 7 (Charlie and I have these) a large 2 way stand mounter, and the Spendor 1/2 (3 way) and 2/3 (2 way) have the most natural sounding midranges among box speakers. They do the human voice as accurately as can be and are generally as tonally accurate as speakers come. The Harbeths are better, I think, in terms of musicality, ie, faithfulness to real life dynamics, micro and macro, but may have a little dryer bass compared to the Spendors. A matter of taste, I suppose. Nothing under $5,000 retail can be said to be better than the $2500 Harbeth Compact 7 or Spendor 1/2.
Now, Harbeth also makes one of the best speakers built period, the Monitor 40, a very large 3 way, sort of a Compact 7 with a 12 inch woofer added on and a soft dome more extended tweeter substituted for the metal dome. I think they are around $7,000 list. Harbeth's 8 inch mid-woofers and 12 inch woofers are made from a proprietary material called "RADIAL" developed under a BBC grant. They are simply the least colored lowest distortion mid and low range drivers made.
Lots of reviews downloadable from the Harbeth website.
I am hoping that Harbeth Monitor 40 will be on display at the Hi-Fi show next month. I have wanted to hear them ever since Robert Greene's review in TAS. I should add, however, that I bought a pair or Spendor SP-1/2's after reading his review and have recently sold them. In my room and system, I felt they were highly overrated. -Dan
I am not surprised at some of your negative experiences. The "natural" voicing I commented on is not for everyone. With so many speakers that have a "forward" flavoring in use today, the initial impression can be that this sound is a bit dead, flat, or leaving detail behind. (I never found my C7ES that way, even right out of the box.) It may take several days of listening to really appreciate what is happening with the BBC monitors. This sound is not for everyone...say if, during a concerto, it is really fun for you to hear someone in the third row break wind, there are better choices. With the Harbeth C7ES, I giggle because I can smell it, it becomes that real. [:)]
I'm sure plenty of people who don't like this style speaker have built some wonderful sytems that I would enjoy. To each his own.
I've heard the smaller Spendors and they definitely weren't my cuppa. Whatever the technical terms, to me they just sounded "small" and generally, disappointing. We swapped them out for the comparable ProAcs and that pretty much put an end to it, for me. Regrettably, I've not seen nor heard the Harbeths, but the comments above seem to be pretty much the universal opinion on them - I don't think I've ever seen anyone say a bad thing about them.
Spendor SP 1/2’s don’t do anything for you and are highly over rated???
If those of this opinion would reveal what system the Spendors were used in along with their choice of music their conclusion would probably be understandable. I suspect these are people enamored of HI-FI who haven’t heard much live acoustic music.
Let me set the record straight for the sake of music lovers who may be reading this and looking for speakers to audition.
The Spendor SP 1/2’s are absolutely thrilling speakers. Thrilling in their NATURALNESS and faithfulness to music. If you listen to classical, jazz, opera, and the great popular vocalists you will be overjoyed with these. No listener fatigue, no upgradeitis, just satisfaction.
Comparisons – if we’re talking BOX speakers ( yes, I love Quads too, but don’t want to be confined to the sweet spot ) the SP 1/2’s dominate their price range like Godzilla on steroids. I agree with Paulwp, if you want to significantly out perform them you will need to go North of $5,000.
Finally, about the Harbeth C7 es – I have heard the SP 1/2’s and the C7 es side by side and although the Harbeth is an excellent speaker it is only competitive with the SP 1/2’s in a small room. In larger rooms the added scale, bass weight, and air moving capabilities of the SP 1/2’s are superior to the C7 es. Notice the difference between their retail British prices – that gap is there for a reason.
I auditioned Spendors using both Krell and ARC gear. I can't recall precisely which models, as I was auditioning the speakers and not the gear. I do remember the ARC gear retailed somewhere around 15k, not including the CJ transport and DAC used as sources or other wires, etc. And the audition was at a dealer who really wanted to sell me the Spendors (hence, when I disliked them on the Krell, he set them up on the ARC stuff). Unless you think ARC is insufficient to the task of driving Spendors, I think this was a pretty reasonable test drive. Musically, we listened to Pachelbel's Canon, Liz Story (solo piano), Joan Armatrading, B.B. King, Dwight Yoakum, and some bluegrass from a sampler disc. All cds I know real well, and a fairly broad range of sound. But since this is what I listen to, a speaker that does one thing well isn't for me. The Spendors were anything but "thrilling".
Now you fess up - do you own Spendors? What gear do you recommend we use to get the thrill? Your post makes me suspect you of being enamored of your own choices and therefore unable to conceive that others might hear things somewhat differently. And while I by and large believe "you get what you pay for", I also firmly believe there are bargains out there where you can get more than what you bargained for. Point being, price ain't what makes the sound, and more expensive doesn't necessarily denote more better (Can you say "Bose"?)
I would like to add a final comment to this thread. I don't sell Harbeth speakers, nor do I have buddies who do. (Official disclaimer [:)]) It takes weeks to get them as each pair is meticulously crafted, and patience is not often a virtue of audiophiles. I don't care if you love them or hate them. (Liar!) Different strides: different rides.
I, and other Harbeth users, have really found something we love with what these speakers do, (and don't do.) We can concentrate on other parts of our systems, or we can relax and enjoy the music. We also know that there are plenty of other people who would be finding their pot o' gold at the end of the rainbow with what is offered in the Harbeth stable. (And for some others, Spendors rule.) So please excuse me (us) if we are obnoxious, we are a bit drunk with enthusiasm.
If anyone has become curious, you should explore the "Harbeth user's site" which is linked at harbeth.com. You can read input from a few BBC sound engineers, Robert Green (of TAS,) and other audiophiles about a wide range of topics, (including, occasionally, Harbeth speakers!)
Enjoy the music,
Hello Paulwp, I enjoyed your post to the fellow who thinks Harbeths and Spendors are “small monitors – just pretty good for the money”. Well said.
The last time I checked HIFI Choice magazine the price of the Spendor SP 1/2 was about 1650 pounds – I couldn’t find the current price on the web. The current price of the Harbeth HL 7es is 1299 pounds, it competes with the Spendor SP 2/3 with a price of 1295 pounds (these are current prices off the web per pair).
My point here is that these speakers are very well known in the critical European marketplace and their prices really do correspond rather closely to their performance level.
You’ve made an excellent choice – the HL 7es is an outstanding speaker. I could certainly be very satisfied with it if I had a smaller room, but in my fairly large room I prefer my SP 1/2’s.
Costrosk, you’re not paying attention to this thread – read Paulwp’s and my post again.
You said that you auditioned small Spendor monitors – I assume S3/5’s or S1’s.
I own Spendor SP 1/2’s. The truly great speakers (and yes THRILLING) in the Harbeth and Spendor lines are the Harbeth HL 7es and Monitor 40 and the Spendor SP 1/2, SP 100, SP 9/1, and perhaps the new Spendor FL 9 and FL 10, but I’ll reserve judgement on these last two because I haven’t heard them yet.
I think the smaller Spendors are superb, the best at what they do. I think when you cross over into the Harbeth range that use the "radial" midrange/woofer (Compact 7, Monitor 30, Monitor 40), you move onto the next level of BBC technology. My own experience, which began with a love affair with SP 1/2's, has been with the Monitor 40's, where for the first time I've come to realize that a properly designed speaker doesn't need the dollop of sweetness that you get with the Spendor's polypropeline drivers. The Harbeths' output is slightly sloped from bottom to top (which Robert Greene argues persuasively is correct) and that in combination with the absolutley transparent radial driver, results in something that is simultaneously realistic and beautiful. The beauty feels absolutely real and changes from cd to cd, so you know you're not getting a euphonic additive, all of which tend to homogenize.
I have not heard the Compact 7's, which are clearly a better "value" than the Monitor 40's. And now that a new North American distributer is in place, they are beginning to move into the market in this hemisphre. Do not overlook these speakers, or this line.
I will defer to your far more extensive knowledge of the Spendor line - but I was auditioning the Spendor 2/3, which Paul specifically mentioned as having "the most natural sounding midranges among box speakers". Perhaps I was errant in describing them as "small", but ...to me, they seemed small (possibly due to a recent encounter with the likes of the Pipedreams behemoth system, who knows?)
As to "paying attention to the thread", I remind you that the thread was not initially about any specific model of speaker, it was about Spendor and Harbeth in general, not specific models in the lines. I think it unfair to say that because one model or another in a product line performs superbly, anyone who doesn't care for that product line must be "people enamored of HI-FI who haven’t heard much live acoustic music." Especially since that remark was premised on the stellar performers in the line.
It's probably equally unfair of me to smear the whole line with my one audition experience, but I did point out that that was the extent of things - "We swapped them out for the comparable ProAcs and that pretty much put an end to it.." Still, you and Paul are persuasive, and I'll give the 1/2s a listen next chance I get.
The Spendor SP 1/2's driven by something with some character (Blue Circle hybrids, for example) can be a remarkably satisfying speaker if it's not in toooo big a room and if you don't need a firm, deep bottom. (REG reports that his, with REL Storms added, are flat to 25 hz.) I do think REG's review of them in TAS quite a while back was very fair -- and very admiring. Another fan is Art Dudley of the Listener and his reviewer, Reikert. Driven by relatively dull stuff (Plinius, say) they can be a bit dull. Driven by 'the right stuff,' there is a lyrical rightness to them that sold me immediately. People who prefer them to ProAcs tend to prefer their lyricism and upper bass sense of weight to the ProAc's forwardness and seemingly higher resolution. Seemingly because it's, well forward. ProAcs can make Spendors seem prissy; Spendors can make ProAcs seem pushy. Both great speaker lines, which can 'divide and separate' friends.
Some Spendors are "more equal than others." My mixture of experience and informed hearsay says the 3/1's and 1/2's are the pick of the litter, but the SP 100's, which to me ears are on the rich and bassy side, have their (very ardent) champions.
Chas, Jmfb: I am surprised to be cited as a Spendor supporter. I'm not. I responded above to a question about "why" Harbeth and Spendor are being discussed a lot, and a response to that question that was misleading, just to say that both make very very fine full-range speakers, and they both have tonal accuracy as their primary design objective. Chas, I havent heard the 2/3s. So your impression of them is good enough for me. I note Bob doesn't say anything about them and he's a big SP1/2 fan.
To respond to Jmfb's comment about size, I havent tried my Compact 7's in a room larger than my 5400 cu. ft family room (don't have one and don't have any interest in hearing them anywhere else), but if you say so, maybe in a larger room, the Harbeth Super HL5 would be better. And, of course, the Monitor 40 would be better still. The Harbeths are less efficient than the Spendors, accept and require more power to really open up. I think if you drive the C7's with enough power, there is nothing lacking at all.
In terms of pricing, configuration and size, the Spendor SP1/2 "competes" with the Harbeth Super HL5, the SP2/3 with the Compact 7.
I don't want to criticize anyone's choice of speaker. The Harbeths are my choice. The Compact 7's and above with large drivers made from the proprietary "RADIAL" material are the only speakers I would ever consider again. But, there are other fine speakers out there.
This is more or less a footnote to the discussion, intended mainly for those of who are both curious about but also suspicious of Harbeths. Since Harbeth Monitor 40's are monitors, albeit "not nasty monitors" (REG), I fed one of favorite cd's to the Monitor 40 I'm auditioning these days in trepidation this a.m. - the 1991 reissue of Stravinsky's "Apollo" from The Stravinsky Album. The original recording was done in (gulp) 1964. Wow! - not to have worried. Gorgeous. Is this not one of the ultimate tests? Can the speakers you are beginning to love for their exquisite truthfulness forgive your favorite olde albums? It was truly beautiful. And the cellos and string basses were as crisp and warm as the violins were sweet, reedy ribbons of pure joy.
What I'm suggesting is that even if you don't intend to spend $6-7K on speakers and even you're a Spendorite, you
probably ought to try to find a way to hear these just so you'll know what's possible in a speaker without additives. I have yet to hear either the Compact 7's or Monitor 30's,
which cost considerably less and probably have the same signature. But I may have to just to complete my education.
I think the Spendor/Harbeth thing will continue to be interesting for those who feel they may want a little added cream through the midrange. Before hearing the Harbeths, I certainly thought I was one of those folks. But you'd be amazed at how beguiling the truth perfectly rendered can be, even on a remastered 1964 recording. De-goddamn-licious.
Another footnote, re the mini-monitors slighted above as "pretty good for the money." I am not familiar with the Spendor S3/5, but it has many fans. The Harbeth P3 I do know. It is superb. With good source, electronics and cabling, properly sited near field (to avoid reflections) with the tweeters at ear height, the P3 is just stunning. Accurate tonality, clarity and precise imaging with palpable 3 dimensionality. Incredibly revealing. There's another thread about Stereophile's recommended list in which some of us commented on the difference between Class C and B. The Class C rated Harbeth P3 is easily better than several of the Class B small speakers reviewed over the years. I know many many people who, like me, prefer the P3 to, for example, the much more expensive B-rated ProAc 1s or sc (for the reasons suggested above by Bob) or the somewhat more expensive B-rated Totem Model 1. So, much much more than "pretty good for the money."
My P3's, like my Compact 7's, were assembled by one technician, tested and certified to match within less than 1/2 db, and videotaped in case the cabinets ever need service. They are also Alan Shaw designs, a very hands-on designer and managing director.
Bob, you remind me of my mother who, when she saw me putting sugar in my coffee asked, "why do you drink coffee if you don't like it?"
They are just as naturally clean and transparent as dynamic speakers go. Only my Quad stats are even more transparent. Jazz or rock also deserve such naturally sounding speakers that leave the artists' intention completely intact. However, classical acoustic music is an easy point of reference, of course.
It's a thread bump, but what the heck...
I always greatly enjoyed Spendors and my friend's S100s were one of my introductions to high end audio (along with his Quad ESL 63s, which I later bought).
I've had a pair of the small, classic 3/5s doing duty for my plasma TV set up for many years. Sometimes I still take them out and place them on stands to listen on my major 2 channel rig and every time I'm blown away! So smooth, so coherent, so organic yet lucid and clear. They make music like few other speakers. Every time I listen to them I start thinking "wait, maybe this is all I actually need." But then after a while I start to miss some of the sheer realism and detail my other speakers can supply, and also start missing some bass. Still...I'm so glad I still have these speakers around to re-visit whenever I want.
As for Harbeths: I recently went on a fairly large speaker shopping binge to see if I could find something smaller to replace my Thiel 3.7s. I got good and hyped on the Harbeths from reviews and user reports. It's very common to hear them referred to as a "last speaker I'll own" and "get off the merry-go-round" purchase. And I was quite impressed by the various models I'd heard at shows and dealers. The Super HL5plus fit my bill the best: retaining the Harbeth midrange beauty, while being more open and realistic in the high end, tight in the low end, good extension. And light! I liked that I would be able to move them around easily (which I do a lot in my system for various reasons).
After buying a gorgeous rosewood pair, they lasted about month or so in my system. They definitely displayed much of the Harbeth magic - the mids were beautiful, and voices had a special organic, round, soft quality that was almost unique. They were also beautifully clear and detailed, with a realistic, precise top end, rich mids, and decently deep, always well in control bottom end.
So what's not to like? Well, very little not to like. One thing I never quite got on with was a fore-shortening of image depth compared to what I'm used to from my Thiels and others speakers I own and have owned. I always achieve amazing soundstaging in my room, but I couldn't get the Harbeths to "disappear" quite as much, and there was the sense the sound sort of stopped several feet behind the speaker, so rather than the sense of looking into the distance at an orchestra, it tended to give me the impression of an orchestra shrunk to fit behind the speakers in my room. Still sounded great...but it's something I missed.
Aside from that, there was little to actually criticize except for the fact that my Thiels just did everything better to my ears: bigger midrange, just as organic or more, and just over all a more believable, less speaker-like presentation. As good as the Harbeths were, I found them easy to let go.
If you've been in this hobby for a long time, especially reading forums like these, one should always be suspicious of claims "these will be the last speaker you own" or "this is a 'last speaker'." Criteria varies too much, and it's too subjective, to infer someone else's satisfaction will equate to your own. There have been a number of "what speaker got you off the high end merry-go round" threads and people are all over the map - some say lowther designs, or horn designs, or electrostatics, or any number of utterly disparate designs, have been where they landed.
I have used a pair of LS3/5as (improved 11 Ohm version) for years as desktop speakers in my study. I recently replaced them with the Harbeth P3ESRs and these are clearly a lot better, with less colouration, better dynamics and a cleaner and more realistic bass. When it comes to big speakers, the Quad electrostats remain my favourites for speakers that disappear.
The new "D" series Spendors are very nice sounding loudspeakers. I have also listened to Harbeths. I think it depends on what amp/preamp/source are used in the system, that makes the system and hence the loudspeakers, enjoyable to listen to. BTW, the Spendoes are not at all harsh as some people make them out to be. I think a wrong combination of amp/preamp is how some folks listened to, and came up with that conclusion.
If I had it to do over again, I’d have a pair of Harbeth 40.2’s. These are the most organic and natural sounding speakers out there. Tonally, they are correct. The last time I heard them they were being driven by top tier Naim electronics. I'd love to hear them with good tube electronics. 15-16k per pair ... a little steep for me at this point in my life.
I have to disagree: nothing in audio, especially speakers, is that simple.
Any end result for a speaker is about execution, and no one simple approach predicts one will be more successful than the other.
I've had several speakers that used the "singing cabinets" or thin walled approach. I've had speakers with the opposite approach. Both can work very well.
I recently owned the Harbeth Super HL5plus, while also owning Thiel 3.7 speakers. The Thiels are built exactly the opposite: damping spurious resonance at every opportunity to remove the speaker signature.
One may predict on your theory that the Harbeths would be the speaker with "life" and the Thiels would be the more "dead" sounding speaker.
Just the opposite: I sold the Harbeths because they could not IMO produce the sense of life - of aliveness and immediacy and dynamics - the Thiels gave me.
I recently also purchased smaller Thiel 2.7s. Those speakers are damped just like the big ones, and have just as complex a crossover, and are in fact significantly less sensitive. One may have presumed they *should* be harder to drive and it would take more to get them to sound lively. Just the opposite: hooked up to the same system the 2.7s sound even more life-like in dynamics than the bigger 3.7s. And certainly far more dynamic, in terms of producing the enthusiasm of recorded musicians, than I ever got from my Harbeths (or any other Harbeths I've heard, including the 40.1s).
Nothing is simple in high end audio. Surprises abound.
i would challenge your setup- speaker positioning and listening position. when positioned properly the SHL5s have amazing stage depth and disappear completely. they need to be 4-5 feet from the wall and you should listen nearfield in an equilateral triangle. they are nearfield monitors after all.
I have the C7ES and properly integrated with a very easy to integrate JL Audio subwoofer (D110). this combination comes extremely close to the sound of the 40.2s at a fraction of the cost.
Given I really enjoy speakers that disappear and soundstage (though I’m first concerned with tonality), I’m experienced in getting the best soundstaging out of speakers in my room.
I did indeed listen in nearfield, as that is my preferred set-up, because most speakers disappear more that way.. I have a treated room with great acoustics (done with an acoustician) and I’m used to getting world-class soundstaging from all manner of speakers. The Thiel 3.7s are mind-blowing in that regard, bettered only (if at all) by my MBL omnis. (And to head off the idea that I'm used to false spaciousness with the MBLs, again, the Thiels do realistic soundstage depth, as do my Waveform speakers, Hales speakers, even my Spendor 3/5s, and every other speaker I've owned in the past).
I played with all sorts of positions with the Harbeths including further away than usual, and closer, narrow, wide, perfect triangle and everything in between (they were often about 5 feet from the rear wall, and between 5 and 7 feet from my listening position depending on the set up I chose). I’m not saying there were bad and didn’t do a decent disappearing act, especially given their looks wouldn’t imply they would disappear like more modern, slim designs. But as I said, I never really got a convincingly real depth out of them and they never disappeared in terms of "speaker sound" to the degree I’ve experienced with many other brands.
My hunch is that the lively cabinet approach, though chosen mostly to try and make the speaker invisible, may nonetheless have had an effect on the character of the sound. There was of course a nice fullness. But also what I’d describe as a subtle "thickness" - almost as if even the ambience between instruments had it’s own level of texture. It was pleasant in many ways. But when you set up something like the Thiels right after, a design that has reduced cabinet and other speaker colorations to amazingly low levels, it reveals that added cabinet-type bloom heard with the Harbeths - everything just cleans up and to my ears it really adds another level of believably. The speakers disappear more, and there is discernibly less ’speaker sound.’ I wouldn’t give a damn about a speaker that only disappeared and sounded low coloration if it meant the sound as clinical or anti-septic. However, the Thiels in my set up using Conrad Johnson gear sound anything but clinical - it reveals more about the tonal character of instruments.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure not slagging the Harbeths. I enjoyed them enough to buy a pair and maybe would still be listening to them if I didn’t have other speakers to compare. The Harbeths really do a superb job of sounding crystal clear while not too fatiguing. And they have that special way with vocals: on the Harbeths I was often aware of the actual singer singing, a fleshy presence, where I could sense the actual small efforts of a singer. No matter how music was produced, pop, metal, jazz, the Harbeths always managed to find a human being in there singing.
I agree with your analysis of the Harbeth 100%.
I also have the SLH5 plus and love them. But have never been able to get that real disappearing act as with other speakers. While I also had a pair of Thiel 2.7 and they did throw a wonderful soundstage the listener fatigue was something I could not live with. Also had a pair of Dynaudio C1 that really did disappear, but couldn't live with them long term.
The disappearing act would make the Harbeth absolutely perfect, so for now I just live for everything else they do so well. For great soundstage I just rotate my Quad esl57's, now and then.
Life really is a series of compromises!
I'm curious if you ever tried tube amplification with your Thiels. That's my preference. I could see Thiels being a bit more relentless with SS amps, especially if one's room isn't very damped. But for me in a well controlled room, with CJ tube amps, the Thiels have proven about the least fatiguing speaker I've owned in decades (and I have very sensitive ears, including Tinnitus that gets aggravated by the slightest brightness/shoutiness/distortion in the upper registers). My reviewer friend always had the "Thiels are bright and fatiguing" bias until he heard my set up, after which he did a 180 degree about face, feeling they were super smooth to listen to.
Back to the Harbeths, I really admired the great sense of balance and control through the whole frequency range. They were powered by my CJ premier 12 monoblocks and sounded great.