"This Harbeth User Group (HUG) is the Manufacturer's own managed forum dedicated to natural sound from microphone to ear, achievable by recognising and controlling the numerous confounding variables that exist along the audio chain. The Harbeth designer's objective is to make loudspeakers that contribute little of themselves to the music passing through them.

Identifying system components for their sonic neutrality should logically proceed from the interpretation and analysis of their technical, objective performance. Deviations from a flat frequency response at any point along the signal chain from microphone to ear is likely to give an audible sonic personality to the system at your ear; this includes the significant contribution of the listening room itself. To accurately reproduce the recorded sound as Harbeth speakers are designed to do, you would be best advised to select system components (sources, electronics, cables and so on) that do not color the sound before it reaches the speakers.

For example, the design of and interaction between the hifi amplifier and its speaker load can and will alter the sound balance of what you hear. This may or may not be what you wish to achieve, but any deviation from a flat response is a step away from a truly neutral system. HUG has extensively discussed amplifiers and the methods for seeking the most objectively neutral among a plethora of product choices.

HUG specialises in making complex technical matters simple to understand, getting at the repeatable facts in a post-truth environment where objectivity is increasingly ridiculed. With our heritage of natural sound and pragmatic design, HUG is not the best place to discuss non-Harbeth audio components selected, knowingly or not, to introduce a significantly personalised system sound. For that you should do your own research and above all, make the effort to visit an Authorised Dealer and listen to your music at your loudness on your loudspeakers through the various offerings there. There is really no on-line substitute for time invested in a dealer's showroom because 'tuning' your system to taste is such a highly personal matter. Our overall objective here is to empower readers to make the factually best procurement decisions in the interests of lifelike music at home.

Please consider carefully how much you should rely upon and be influenced by the subjective opinions of strangers. Their hearing acuity and taste will be different to yours, as will be their motives and budget, their listening distance, loudness and room treatment, not necessarily leading to appropriate equipment selection and listening satisfaction for you. Always keep in mind that without basic test equipment, subjective opinions will reign unchallenged. With test equipment, universal facts and truths are exposed.

If some of the science behind faithfully reproducing the sound intended by the composer, score, conductor and musicians over Harbeth speakers is your thing, this forum has been helping with that since 2006. If you just want to share your opinions and photos with others then the unrelated Harbeth Speakers Facebook page may be for you. Either way, welcome to the world of Harbeth!"

Feb. 2018
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A note from a scientist and second-generation Harbeth owner

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  • A note from a scientist and second-generation Harbeth owner

    Dear Alan,

    Having just bought a pair of SHL5+ speakers, I wanted to write a note to you, partly in comment on how delightful the speakers are, partly in explanation of why I chose to buy Harbeth speakers, and partly to add some data to the demographics of your customer base.

    To provide some demographic context, you might notice from my HUG profile that I currently live in the USA, but I grew up in the southern England. I studied and have made a career of physics (I work at a national lab in nuclear astrophysics research).

    I also grew up in the presence of a pair of Harbeth speakers (I believe they were Dudley Harwood's HL Mk I - my dad bought them in either the very late 70s or the very early 80s), which made a lasting impression on how I listen, and what I expect from audio equipment. I don't know how many second-generation Harbeth listeners there are, but you may add one more to the list!

    After a decade or so without audio equipment to speak of (due to various aspects of life, bouncing from place to place as a student and postdoc), a few years ago I began investing in audio gear again, and recently decided to upgrade my speakers, feeling that they were the weakest link in my audio chain. I'd always had a pair of Harbeths in mind and, having experience of my dad's original model (and a taste for their sound and appearance), I recently decided to make the SHL5plus purchase without auditioning them (there's no dealer local within several hours' drive of me).

    They arrived a couple of weeks ago, and I could write in praise about aspects of the speakers and their performance - but you of all people know them in more detail than I ever will. Suffice to say that they are a first-class product, and I'm immensely happy with them. Instead, here are a few details of why (in addition to my expectations of a high-quality speaker with a natural timbre and minimally coloured sound) I chose to buy Harbeths.

    Something that added to my confidence in buying a pair of Harbeths (without audition) is your straightforwardness with regard to the relative magnitude of the effects of factors within the audio chain, many of which are grossly over-emphasized in the consumer audio industry. Some of the claims attached to certain products are darkly comical - comical for the ludicrousness of the claims, and dark because I feel that many manufacturers/retailers are taking advantage of well meaning, but perhaps ill-informed, people. I recently saw advertised an a major audio catalogue an AC power cable (simply three Ohmic strands, with a male and female plug on each end, and a ferrite bead worth maybe $1), retailing for $250 (reduced from $500, so it must be a bargain!) which claimed to "greatly reduce your system's noise floor, increase dynamics, and make your system sound more natural". Utterly absurd!

    Your vocal objections to such claims reassures that Harbeth products are likely to have time, money and effort invested solely the areas that matter to a well-functioning and well-built speaker. Also in this vein, it is reassuring to hear someone speaking openly about the role of psychoacoustic ambiguities in assessing sound. The malleability of the human brain with regard to compensating for its sensory input is quite astounding, and anyone who has laid in the sun with their eyes closed and reopened them to blue-tinged vision ought to easily appreciate this. One can observe these kind of "correction factors" in all the senses. The culinary field is based on this, where the matching of flavours is central to how they are perceived, and how the presence of one flavour (and indeed different textures and even colours) can affect how another flavour is perceived.

    A second and more personal factor is that, in current times of large impersonal corporations selling mass-produced products, value resides in buying from smaller businesses, where there is opportunity to interact on a human level. In much the same way as it is vastly preferable to me to buy meat from a local butcher or farmer, or records from an independent record store (or beer from a pub!), I appreciate being able to buy audio equipment from people, rather than from a faceless commercial front.

    Reading through the Harbeth forum, I've been very impressed with your openness and (as far as I can tell) honesty about Harbeth design and philosophy. That level of personal interaction with your customers (potential or current), in my opinion, gives Harbeth an additional edge over most contemporary manufacturers. Furthermore, when discussing a subject, you actually pull out data to explain your argument, which elevates this from being solely a vehicle for interaction with your customer base to being a place of informed discussion and education. As a physicist, I find that to be invaluable and highly commendable.

    Finally, the life cycle of Harbeth speakers is of considerable value. If, as some manufacturers would have you believe, there's a distinct and noticeable improvement to sound quality with the introduction of every new model, and a new model comes out every year or two, it stands to reason that there would be absolutely overwhelming differences in sound quality between models manufactured now and those made 20 years ago.

    Although there are of course advances in materials and design taking place, there is clearly is not the night-and-day difference that this would necessitate; instead it is appears (to a large extent) to be a product cycle driven by people in marketing departments to fuel sales. That's a very successful business model, no doubt (the car industry is built upon that approach) but it is not one I wish to buy into, given the choice. If equipment becomes obsolete because of genuine improvements, or even logical business decisions (such as sourcing parts/materials) that's fine and fair - but for a model to become obsolete because of a marketing committee seems like a very strange system to choose to buy into, as a "consumer" (a loaded word in itself).

    In my field of research (which is not as well-funded as some more "current" fields, such as dark matter hunts) we sometimes run cutting-edge experiments using analogue electronics modules (amplifiers, discriminators etc) that were designed and built in the 1970s and 80s. In some cases, these modules are no longer made, and no current viable alternative is commercially available, so they are sought-after, valued, and maintained by labs and university research groups across the world. In other cases, essentially the same model has been in production for decades - maybe minor tweaks have been made to make use of more modern components, but the changes are minimal, because they do the job, and do it well.

    Fads don't drive our choices in research equipment - they are precision instruments chosen for their performance and longevity - and it is with this attitude that I elected to buy Harbeth loudspeakers.

    In short, I think you are doing something refreshingly right at Harbeth, both in terms of speaker design and as a business, and I genuinely hope it long continues.

    Best wishes,


  • #2

    Bravo Dr Steve!

    Thank you for sharing and I believe your brief and correct summary of the Harbeth community and products sum up everything very well, especially so for those wound-be Harbeth owners reading our forum! I was one of them too!...before I decided to buy the 5+ in late September!

    Best Regards from a fellow SHL5+ owner,


    • #3
      The Harbeth Alternative

      A sensible, logical and encouraging post by Steve. With a scientific background myself, I fully endorse what he has had to say. Steve uses the word 'Consumer' in exactly the right context. We are constantly pressured to acquire the next car, watch, mobile phone, etc.

      I stand back and ponder on that old saying, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' My car will last 20 years, given regular maintenance. My mobile phone is 3 years old and still works perfectly. How many new iPhones have been launched in the last 3 years. ?

      Thank goodness for manufacturers like Harbeth and their ilk. Long may they continue to present an alternative to rampant consumerism...


      • #4
        Low-depreciation strategy

        I am not a natural scientist but an economic historian. So I can appreciate the scientific argument, but I add my economic take: keep depreciation low, and you can have top gear. So I have always had a policy to think hard what I wanted, buy very good quality, and then not look back.

        I have done that with the camera I bought in my student days (a Nikon), with my touring bike (a handbuilt Rohloff bike if that means anything to people here), and with my audio bought in the 1970's (Quad 33/303/fm3 -still used after a recent overhaul) and Quad ESL 57 speakers (only recently replaced).

        As a result I have spent less per annum than most people, and have had better quality products to enjoy. Of course, in the audio field I have added a CD and later a DVD and, later again, a BD player. The original Linn Sondek LP12/SME/V15 3 will be for sale once I have ripped all my lp's.