BBC! British Sound! PRAT! TonTräger!
The lovely Harbeth loudspeakers have arrived at Pearl Audio!
On demonstration we have:
- Harbeth P3ESR XD (the tiny one)
- Harbeth C7ES-3 XD (the middle one)
- Harbeth SHL5plus XD (the big one)
- Harbeth M40.3 XD (the huge one)
Overview of the Harbeth Models
We've had our four Harbeth models running-in for a few weeks now, during which time we've auditioned different electronics and cables to get a feel for their strengths and qualities. Below is a brief overview of each.
Harbeth P3ESR XD
Tiny High End - Lady Gaga meets Carrie
The P3 represents the highest performing pint-sized speaker we've ever heard. They're the most astonishing Harbeths because you cannot believe the sound from such a small speaker - I find myself comically searching the empty walls, looking for something other than these tiny little speakers that could produce the sound I'm hearing.
If you want a high-end speaker that fits a shoebox-sized space, these are the best we've found - by a mile.
Harbeth C7ES-3 XD
Voices Sound Real - Billie meets Lana
Want a Quad ESL but only have room for a normal-sized speaker? Consider these. The Compact 7's most striking quality is the realism of voices during playback. Harbeth's designer Alan Shaw uses the human voices, often his own daughter's, in developing the drivers. I do the same thing when I set up turntables = a slow-spoken word song quickly demonstrates the hit or miss of a cartridge setup.
Construction-wise, the Compact 7 features Harbeth's in-house made signature RADIAL2™ material woofer and a tweeter. The Compact 7 has a narrow-width profile which allows easier placement in home environments. What do you give up? You cede some bass and percussiveness compared to the Super 5, but gain in the midrange.
Harbeth SHL5plus XD
Lows and Highs - Mick meets Mahler
The SHL5plus XD, aka Super 5's sport a wider and taller cabinet for bass and dual tweeters for more sparkle on top. The Super 5 is dynamic and high energy while the the Compact 7 is perfection in midrange. Super 5 vs Compact 7 is rock-and-roll vs jazz while both sounding like British BBC Speakers. The Super 5 fills a larger room than the Compact 7.
Harbeth M40.3 XD
Midrange and Power - Bill Evans meets Beethoven
The reference Harbeth M40.3 XD has one tweeter, RADIAL2™ midrange, and 12" RADIAL2™ woofer. Sonically, they combine the Compact 7's midrange perfection with greater fullness, bass, and scale. Sonically they are chameleons - from whisper-quiet solo jazz performances to super-samba latin percussion to extra-horns-please Beethoven Symphonies.
The 40.3 are also room chameleons - they play well in our small 12x14 room as a nearfield jazz-loving full-range monitor, but can also open up and play loud full-scale orchestras or arena rock in our large 16x26 reference room. In each room, they adapt to their environment by simply adding more or less power and volume level. They become boisterous rock monsters with our big McIntosh 1200 watt 1.25K mono-blocks in our big room, then transform to serene purring Jazz messengers in our little room with our lush-and-lovey Audio Research VT80SE tube amplifier.
Harbeth Matching Electronics
We've been auditioning some of our in-store electronics to find some good matching combinations for Harbeth speakers. The trouble is, we cannot find anything that isn't a good match - it seems to be darn-near impossible to make these speakers sound bad. Below are some quick observations.
Harbeth P3 Matching Electronics
The Harbeth P3 speakers can build a small-space high end system with the mini tube-amp Luxman SQ-N150, or Linn Majik DSM / Selekt Katalyst. Basically a smaller, sweeter sounding amplifier is the ticket with these. For BBC sound lovers, a small British sound amplifier is an excellent match as well - the P3 similar to a Rogers LS3A.
Harbeth Compact 7 Matching Electronics
The Compact 7's are most perfect midrange speaker of the Harbeth line so midrange loving amplifiers form an extraordinary system with them. Two gorgeous pairings are Luxman L-590AXII Class A integrated or Luxman LX-380 tube integrated. A great separates tube system is the lush and romantically voiced Audio Research LS-28SE/VT80SE from their Foundation range. You can pair ridiculously expensive high-end electronics on these because of how revealing their midrange is.
Harbeth Super 5 Matching Electronics
What is a Harbeth Super 5?
The dynamic and high-energy Super 5 pairs well with muscular integrated amplifiers and can fill a medium to large room nicely. The Super 5's rock out with our high-powered 120 watt Luxman LX-509x, 200 watt Mark Levinson 5805, or 350 watt McIntosh MA12000 tube-hybrid integrated.
Harbeth M40.3 XD Matching Electronics
See our separate blog post on the arrival. This speaker, paradoxically enough, has the widest range of compatible electronics. They are efficient speakers, so even though they have a large 12" woofer, you can play them authoritatively with an 80 watt Audio Research VT80SE. Want more dynamics and resolution but keeping the tube harmonics: use an Audio Research REF160. The speakers have the resolution to bring out the best from even the highest performing electronics. Want more dynamics and studio-like resolution? Put a Boulder 866 or Boulder Boulder 1110 preamp and 1160 amp on them. They also sound terrific with the big Luxman L-590AXII 30 watt Class A integrated, which sounds more powerful than most 100 watt amplifiers.
Conclusions on Electronics to go with Harbeth Speakers
Harbeth's have a gentle nature, so even our more studio-sound or big bruiser amplifiers electronics sound warm and natural with them. They are remarkably efficient, so they go well with low powered amplifiers, and exceptionally well with some of our small tube amplifiers. One of many reasons we said YES when Harbeth called to see if we were interested in carrying them was our need for an efficient speaker that could get down and boogie with our tube and Class A amplifiers. They do! Even the big M40.3 XD Harbeths play well with a 75 watt tube amplifier. That said, the M40.3 is gobsmaking great with our Audio Research REF6SE/Phono3SE and REF160M Monoblocks - huge soundstage and alive sounding! This is one of the best systems in our store.
We've also found that our Scottish-made Linn electronics combine very well with Harbeth to emphasize classic British Hifi sound. Our digital Linn Streamers, Preamp-Streams, and Streaming Integrateds have an natural analog quality that seems to build good-upon-good with the Harbeths. Linn's standalone amplifiers are also remarkable companions, emphasizing British PRAT and punchy bass.
Another great match are Luxman Class A amplifiers. We've been fans of the big Luxman Class A L-590AXII and L-550AXII and found their signature Class A sound - very pure midrange and full textured bass combine to produce absolute magic with Harbeths.
Above said, I emphasize that many different electronics will work well with Harbeths, and at the end of the day it comes down to a given person likes for their own system and what makes sense for a given room size or budget. A great hifi is like a great plate of food - you need quality ingredients, assembled just so, but it also must be what a given person enjoys. We are always happy to set up systems and change them to help our beloved customers find their sound, a sound they will take home to enjoy music.
John, Russ, Connor & Tara