The Harbeth phenomenon

In my search for a new pair of speakers, I've gone through many threads here and noticed that many owners or fans of Harbeth have almost a love-like connection with Harbeth speakers. It is almost as if the speakers cast a spell upon them. I know many audiophiles love their speakers but Harbeth owners seem especially enamored with theirs. I am extremely puzzled by this phenomenon because on paper Harbeth speakers look average at best and lack many of the attributes that generally make a great speaker.

Their sensitivity of generally around the 86dB mark makes them rather inefficient and therefore, at least in theory, not a good match for many lower powered tube amps, or any amps below 100wpc. Their frequency range is simply inferior to most high-end speakers since they don't go below 40 Hz. This alone should, again at least in theory, disqualify Harbeth speakers from consideration as top high end speakers. And yet I've never heard anyone complain about their bass, while people complain about lack of bass in the Gibbon Nines from DeVore, which is a fantastic speaker. Their cabinets look like a cheap DIY enclosure (disclaimer: I've never seen a Harbeth up close, only pictures). The 7ES-3 is rated B-Restricted, while the smaller and cheaper Usher Be-718 A-Restricted in Stereophile but garners nowhere near the same amount of admiration, praise and following among audiophiles.

So what's going on here? Is this a big conspiracy plot by the company that paid off a few hundred of people to infiltrate audiophile internet forums and a few reviewers? I am of course joking here, but the question is serious. How can speakers so average on paper be so good in real life? I know the opposite is often true, but you rarely see this phenomenon.

Please speak up.
What an interesting post! I just replaced my long term reference Thiels 3.6 which I had for the last ten years with the HL-5! I tried many other speakers but still could not part with my thiels. I also spent a lot of money on equipments to best match my Thiels too. But now, I have made up my mind to sell it! Not to say which speaker is better than which as they all have their merits. As I have been in this hobby for more than fifteen years, doing the merry go round thing as a lot of audiophiles have done. This is the first time I found I am put my audiophile thoughts away and start listening to the music itself! I can’t explain it but it is like learning to listen with a whole new perspective. Let say the other speakers let me believe I am hearing the realism of the individual instruments more while the Harbeths brings me closer to the whole musical event. I am now enjoying most Lps or CDs without skipping tracks unless the music itself is poor while in the past, I had more concerns with the recordings than the musical performance. Interestingly, listening to some highly regarded audiophile disks become far less rewarding as the speaker does not emphasise on those factors and that is why some people will not find these speakers love at first hearing.
Great thread. Another line that people rave about are Devore speakers. Those who have heard both Devore and Harbeth, how would you compare the two sounds? I've been lead to believe that Harbeths are for music lovers but with a warmer colored sound, while Devores are considered more "truthful" but perhaps more "audiophile." Any truth to this? (Unfortunately there aren't many dealers that carry both.)
I currently own Spendor, have heard Harbeth and Dynaudio(too expensive for me), i like them all, but then i like the string sound best on Spendor, piano sounds so realistic with Harbeth, Dynaudio has its signature sound that's difficult to describe, somehow they got the receipes to a very unique musicality, very musically involved.
i guess one thing these 3 brands share is, they might not give you the best measurement(probably with the exception of Dynaudio) from hi-fi aspect, but they reproduce and reflect your system so well, in a long run, you end up with exploring more music, and it's a realisation with changing and participating in the upgrade game with this hi-fi hobby, that if we set our goal on those measurement, focusing on bass, midrange etc, we usually end up in a circle chasing the same thing only with price and brand differences, as i like these speakers they remind me of how nice that cup of coffee was when the music was playing in the background, or a nice conversation with my fellow musician about the performers on the recording. Life becomes simpler that way.
I have a friend that had HL5's with a good front end. I was not impressed. especially for the price. They sounded lifeless to me in his room. For the sake of friendship I sd nothing. I have owned Spendor SP1/2e and found them to be an excellent speaker that worked well with my equipment and room. My only reason for giving them up is they would bottom out with sub 40hz. Rather than go with a sub I went to a true full range speaker the Revel F52. They dont have the midrange magic, but they do everything else better and the midrange is ok.
I am enjoying the little PsEsr very much during some in-home testing. Not the Quatro Woods I am replacing, but very, very nice for my purposes.