Zu or Harbeth

Hello Gentlemen,

I soon may be in the market for some new speakers. I currently have a pair of Vandersteen 3a's ( my "waterproof" digital camera got soaked, so I haven't updated my system photos for a while) and I really enjoy the sound. That said, I am sure there are better speakers out there.

The Harbeth 40.1 has been on the top of my list since the beginning, but lately I have been looking at the Zu Definitions and/or Presence. At this point in time I am only interested in speakers from these 2 companies for various reasons, esthetics being one of them.

I have read all the reviews for each of the speakers and would love to hear from anyone who owns/has owned these speakers.

My room is about 16'x25' with an a-frame ceiling with a 20'peak.
Also I have a Mcintosh MC 2500 beast of an amplifier, which I love, and have no plans on upgrading, not sure how this would mate with the Zu's.

I also plan on buying used.

Thank you in advance.
While I don't own either, I have heard them both at shows and/or dealerships. They have very different presentations, IMO.

The Harbeths are a little recessed in the mids and highs. More of a mid hall presentation, whereas the Definitions are more forward and detailed in the mids and highs. If you like a very lively sound, then you may prefer the Definitions.

Of course, the Definitions (or the Presence) will go deeper due to their active subwoofers.

Based on the volume of your room, the Definitions may deliver more satisfying decibel levels depending on your listening preferences.

However, with the McIntosh amp, the Harbeth's will also play quite loudly.
I have heard both also (at shows), and the 40.1's are the ones between the two that had me trying to figure a way to get them into my listening room. One of the nicest sounding/presenting speakers I've heard to date. Not neutral/uncolored, however. But the coloration is purposeful within the design, like the resonance in a guitar.
I am a neutral junkie, so I stayed in the Harbeth room long enough to be pretty sure that I wouldn't get fatigued by these speakers. If anything, they evoked that addictive quality we look for.
Better with accoustic music; but a good overall speaker (not just monitor) IMHO.
I think you'd love the 40.1's... I sure do. I can't speak to the sound of the Zu's, as I have never heard them, however, while I like that they are very efficient, I am turned off by the way they look (I know many would say the same about the 1970's retro look of Harbeth). Your room size would be great for the 40.1's... and I think your decor would also blend well with the Harbeth's.
When I heard the Harbeth's, I found the sound to be non-fatguing, but a bit bland. They were driven by a Naim amplifier (I can't recall the model), and they were also driven by a Leben CS600, which I brought along.

A speaker that I find somewhat similar with a British sound, but with more jump and "juiciness" is the Audio Note AN-E.

Many people love the Harbeth sound, but I think it's a speaker you should hear before you buy (as is the Definition). From a resale standpoint, I believe the Harbeth would offer a better return at this particular time.
I haven't heard any of the Zu's, but I love the Harbeth 40 (haven't heard the 40.1) and I would buy them in a second if I had the means. Speakers are always an individual choice, but try to hear them before you make a decision.
For what it's worth, I have heard the M40 driven by MC402(forgotten the preamp but it's a Macintosh as well). Mcintosh goes very well with the M40 and M40.1 as with any other speakers. If you listen to a lot of natural vocals, some orchestra and favor a sound that is free of listening fatigue, the Harbeth is a good choice. I agree with Tvad's assessment that the Harbeth can be slightly bland in comparison to some other speakers which offer higher resolution of detail, punch and drive, so it's best if one can listen to these speakers before making a decision. I have a friend who loves the punchy and uncolored sound of his PMC EB1i driven by Bryston 4B-SST and describes the Harbeth SHL5 similarly as what Tvad has. Voices also sound good on the PMCs but more organic with a slight tinge of warmth with the Harbeth. It may be due to the different sources that we used as he was using a Mac connected to an Ayre DAC while I had an analog rig hooked up to the Harbeth. In the end, two different kind of presentation and sound on two different setups.

I have not heard the Zu's so no comment there. Nevertheless, if you want a speaker that you can sit down and listen to for hours until you fall asleep on the couch this is it. The Harbeths are very smooth and revealing and yet enjoyable. Not to be confused with "laidback" as with some comments about blandness and lack of excitement. There are always other speakers that can offer a higher degree of resolution and excitement with more punch, dynamics and attack, as with some other speakers that are more colored in comparison(such as the lower range of Sonus Faber Grand Piano and Cremona) which can sound more bland and lacklustre. Bottomline most speakers sound different and comparisons are relative, and it's a matter of picking one(or a few) that suits one's listening taste and preferences.
Both the Harbeths and either Zu model are excellent speakers. You have more than enough power to drive any of the three speakers well, so you're not practically limited. I've heard the Harbeths, know the importer and own Zu, as a matter of background.

Harbeths are the kind of speaker I spent decades owning; tonally neutral, smooth, conservative in their presentation. All of this is to the good and by any measure the Harbeth 40.1 is a musically sincere speaker. Zu Definitions (or Presence, in lesser doses) deliver the tonal neutrality needed for credibility to a "neutral junkie" but deliver speed and tone density the Harbeth can't match. Similarly, the Zu speakers will be dynamically effervescent compared to the Harbeth's more reserved nature, and Definitions in particular will scale up to the sonic space of your large room.

Some people might hear the Harbeth as the slightly more frequency-accurate speaker, but this comes at penalty of crossover characteristics. Where Zu leaps ahead is in dynamic fidelity and the ability to recreate a better representation of the transient aliveness of real instruments. The powered sub-bass arrays in Def 2 and Presence are a bonus underpinning the music with a convincing foundation.

While Zu Defs and Presence have 101db/w/m efficiency ratings, unlike most full range driver speakers in that efficiency league, power handling is robust. You can use Definition with dreadnought amps without fear.

Phil, does your Zu assessment pertain to the Essences as well? Maybe when the Zu boys make their new statement speaker then it'll really be something.
I think this a really hard recommendation to make beucase they sound so completely different that it should be easy for you to detemrine which approach you like. The differences are not hair splitting, and it really is a personal preference. I would undoubtedly choose the Harbeth over the Zu, which doesn't mean it is better. I suspect Mac and Harbeth would make a very good combination.
Based on what I heard at RMAF this year, I would say that the comments above are pretty much on-mark. Their presentation (good term) IS quite different. The Harbeths would most likely be more forgiving of upstream problems; the Zus definitely have more jump and as Ryder said, the PMCs that I heard at RMAF fall somewhere in the middle.
Thanks for all the replies. I will try to address all the posts. In regards to the forward/recessed presentation, I like the images to be in realistic positions as they were recorded, not hovering ghosts 4ft infront of my face, but not so far back that I want to move closer to the stage. It has been my experience that this can be somewhat addressed by placement.
Much of the music I listen to is intimately recorded acoustic and electric folk rock, beard rock stuff. I try to place myself at the small bar room, or studio as opposed to recreating the stadium sound.
I do not listen overly loud, but as a player of music myself, if it's not loud enough, the illusion is shot. I like /need realistic sound levels.
I really enjoy the bass the Vandersteen's produce. Their specs are 26-30 hz. The Harbeths are only 38hz. Zu's 16hz, I don't listen to boom boom music, but that bottom end really helps create a space, and I'd miss it if it were gone. That said, my old Spendor sp1/2e's sounded much lower then their specs when paired with good amplification, and the 40.1's have a 12" woofer???

I do agreee that the Harbeths would blend quite well esthetically as the Spendors did. I prefer the wood box look to most speakers out there, but the Zu presence in red with black trim, not the silver, would fit nicely as well. The Vandersteens are the ugliest speakers ever, but were a local steal, and sounded better then the Spendors in my room, but I won't miss looking at them when they're gone.
I am not a detail junkie, I am a trick my brain into thinking it's real junkie, and too much detail does not achieve this. I need enough detail, but most importantly weight and tonal accuracy. If there is a guitar at the back of the room, I don't want to hear the frets buzzing from my chair, I want to hear the wood. I want a real natural sound, and I have heard both of these speakers described as having such a sound.

Lastly, obviously it would be better to listen to them myself, but I live on a tiny rock in the middle of the blue pacific, and while it has it's perks, Hi-Fi ain't one of them. I know of only 2 other systems on the whole island. Neither have Harbeths or Zu's. I appreciate all the posts and you may have talked me into a weekend trip to San Francisco to hear some speakers, and live music. Many good points with much to consider.

Thanks again,
I hate to sound like I'm on repeat, but what you describe rings true to what I heard from the Audio Note speakers at RAMF, and at CES a couple of years ago.

From what I have heard of Harbeth, they do not convey what I interpret you to be describing. To my ears, they do not sound "live" as do the Definitions.

The Definitions get closer to what you describe, but they aren't as natural sounding as the Audio Note, IMO.
I wonder if Zu's return policy applies to "a tiny rock in the middle of the blue pacific."
either way, you'll get 'different', but unless you spend on the Harbeth 40(maybe), I don't think you can do more than arguably top your vandy's.
Just my 2cents, but I think the SHL5 tops the Quatros & Quatro woods in every area but bass depth. With the addition of a good subwoofer they gain that area too. IMO the 40.1 would be a very big upgrade over the Vandies you use now. The two Quatros and the Harbeths were in my top 4-5 speakers before deciding on the Harbeths. I will be hearing the ZUs with various amps in a couple weeks, looking forward to that demo.
I tend to agree with Jaybo that the neither the 40.1 nor Definitions will be a substantial upgrade over the 3A Reference, but I also understand the desire to change for the sake of having something new.
Mike 101db speakers with 500 wpc ss amp doesn't seem like an ideal match!!! I like my amps to work harder than that, the MC-2500 won't even have to get out of bed. I would give some weight to Swampwalkers "upstream ..." comment, if it proves true it might = new amp, new preamp, new cable, new cart etc..etc.
Also Pdreher I'm sure can give you some very good observations/advice as he has gone from Dyn C-4's to the Harbeth 40.1's with the same system, plus he's using a SS amp.
Sorry to butt in, but Tvad, I remember reading you were speaker shopping, did you buy the audio notes? I think Bob Neil of Positive Feedback has done excellent writing on the Spendor>Harbeth>Audio Notes, and he says that's where I'll end up. Hmmmm
Any thoughts?
10-27-09: Chashas1
Sorry to butt in, but Tvad, I remember reading you were speaker shopping, did you buy the audio notes?
No, I haven't, but the checkbook is calling.

10-27-09: Chashas1
I think Bob Neil of Positive Feedback has done excellent writing on the Spendor>Harbeth>Audio Notes, and he says that's where I'll end up.

That's Bob Neil of Amherst Audio, who is an Audio Note dealer, correct?

There are some nice opportunities presenting themselves on the the used front for various makes and models that are delaying the decision.
Sam, I think the power handling specs for Zu are greater then the Vandersteens. I'd have a bit of headroom.

"I tend to agree with Jaybo that the neither the 40.1 nor Definitions will be a substantial upgrade over the 3A Reference, but I also understand the desire to change for the sake of having something new."

Really? considering the price difference, I would think either would be a huge upgrade. That's encouraging to hear though. I really do like the Vandersteens, I just assume spending 3-5 times as much on speakers would give me a better, more truthful, refined and real sound?

Tvad, I have always liked the look of the Audio note an-e's I just read the stereophile review and was surprised that they go that low. They don't look it.
When you heard them, were they in the corners? If so, how was the depth and staging from that position? What about stands. I'll look into them, thanks for the recommendation.

When you heard them, were they in the corners?
Hanaleimike (System | Answers)

If so, how was the depth and staging from that position?

What about stands.
They were on 10" tall Audio Note stands.
10-27-09: Hanaleimike
Really? considering the price difference, I would think either would be a huge upgrade.

I have heard all three speakers. I heard the 3A Reference in Steve McCormack's system, where he voices all of his products.

Of all three speakers, if I had to select one based solely on sound, and if amplification type was a consideration (tube vs. solid state), then I'd select the 3A Reference. They are very fine speakers.
Sorry, the above should state, "...and if amplification type was *not* a consideration...".
Have also heard all of the above speakers. Harbeths have the mids, Zu the dynamics with Vandersteen somewhere in the middle.
I would definitely throw th Reference 3A Grand Veenas into the arena.
Mike, seems like you're in a good position to be in!

Tvad, yes, that's the same Bob...he used to review for Positive Feedback, hence his speaker threads, and now since he has Amherst he writes music reviews instead.

I'd sure like to hear the AN-E's, in my room. From all the descriptions, they might really sing here, the Harbeth 7's I have now sure do. Oh, they're not the bees knees to the nth degree, but they're oh so much fun to listen to, and emotionally involving. I can definitely see why many who buy keep them and end their journey.
Hanalemkie & Tvad- I'm confused. Are you talking about Vandy 3A Sigs or Reference 3A Grand Vennas? If the Vandys, then I would just point out to Mike that those speakers punch well above their weight unless you are looking for pyrotechnics and.or live volumes. I would venture that the Harbeths are much closer to the presentation of the VAndys than the Zus are.
I actually have my Vandersteen 3a's ( not sigs ) with the pyrotechnics mod. brings the presentation a little more forward, and a lot warmer across the spectrum.
Mike what's the pyrotechnics mod? Thanks!
it helps me blow smoke out of my ass.

Stop it.
10-27-09: Swampwalker
Hanalemkie & Tvad- I'm confused. Are you talking about Vandy 3A Sigs or Reference 3A Grand Vennas?
I was referring to the Vandersteen 3A Signatures, and I mistakenly called them 3A Reference.

Duh #2!!!!
I heard the Harbeth 40.1 and thought they had way more inner detail than my Vandy 3 A sigs did especially in the mid range. Their smooth presentation throughout took me some time to adjust to before I realized how good they were!! The room I heard them in wasn't great so they would probably be even better in a room like yours.
one man's 'midrange with inner detail' is another man's 'forward midrange with rolled off highs'. the harbeth 40's are a great speaker, but don't dismiss the vandy either for doing what it was designed to be..a flat response-over a very wide bandwidth loudspeaker. As a rule (with few exceptions), its only 'well after' you've made a monitary intestment that you 'really' know your speakers... and, if you truly love them. just like wives.
Jaybo I know this isn't the law but....

"With its wide baffle, inset drive-units, and lively cabinet, Harbeth's M40.1 looks distinctly old-fashioned. But its measured performance suggests that Alan Shaw has worked hard to achieve a balance in which no single aspect overshadows any other, something that seems to have been confirmed by AD's auditioning.¬óJohn Atkinson"
Preher would you comment on the inner detail of the 40.1 as your the only one here that has lived with a pair.
Samhar - I'd say the 40.1's excel in being very well balanced speakers, in that they are good at everything... and I would describe their sound as palpable, organic, rich (without sounding syrupy) and full bodied. Micro dynamics and decay are excellent. I find them to be very musical and they just "sound right" to my ears. Definitely a different sound that the Dynaudio Confidence series, of which I owned both the C2's & C4's. Think of the Dyn Confidence series as a high performance Porsche, whereas the Harbeth 40.1's are comparable to a Mercedes luxury touring sedan.

Oh... the inner detail is just right for me, without any listener fatigue.
Hanaleimike/Tvad- That's what I got from the context but wanted to make sure I had missed anything and make sure Mike has the 3As. The 3A sigs are a much better speaker, but I would still expect them to sound much more like the Harbeths and #as, while the Zus would be quite a bit different. FWIW, for a total investment of just over $2K, you could have the speakers upgraded to 3A sigs AND get a pair of used 2WQ subs, if you want more bass. The 2WQ is a GREAT sub and mates seamlessly w the Vandy speakers. I had to turn mine off to make sure they were on.
Pdreher thank you for the response.
I would go with harbeth, though I can easily drive the Zu with my system, I'm just not into cemented audio. When I roll up on the scene with some Quiet Riot pumpin Slick Back Cadillac or Cum on Feel the Noise, the party starts.