"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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Why not an active Harbeth speaker?

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  • Why not an active Harbeth speaker?

    What has spurred this question is the frequent "which amp" question here, and the recent conversations on the issues with amp input sensitivities and volume control philosophies. Also, some recent research on modern active speakers and a recent extended listening session to a decent active pair at home.

    By way of background, my living and dining/kitchen areas are a large open plan space. The living area is served by a C7 pair, fed by a Sonos Connect Amp. The dining/kitchen area, by a Sonos Play 1 pair - wireless active speakers. Both are supplied sound from the same source - a HDD with all my CDs ripped on to it, and from internet radio/services - this means that many variables are eliminated in comparing the sound. This is even easier to do when the two zones are grouped playing the same music from the same source and fade in fade out can be done by just swiping the two volume controls on a remote.

    The living room sound is better, with more scale and body. But the dining room sound isn't very far behind. It is a lot closer to the living room sound than what one would expect from a set up that costs a total of USD 400. And what one would expect given the size of the play 1 units - 6 inches tall, and 5x5 inches for the other two dimensions. I suspect that one reason why the sound quality comes within discussing distance of the living room sound is that some of the Harbeth magic is being lost in the noise floor of the living room at up to moderately loud listening levels that prevail in my case. Even late at night, ambient is 40-45dB. Listening distances are never closer than 3.5 metres.

    Reading about active speakers in trying to understand why this difference is much smaller than expected was very interesting. Things like active crossovers feeding dedicated amps of different power for each of the two drivers. And the use of DSP in getting a flat response from the unit - particularly for studio monitor applications.

    Hence the question - how about an active P3? Could that not be a best of both worlds solution? It would certainly address all the amp/speaker cable/input sensitivity mismatches and volume control issues in one fell swoop.

    It ought to be more VFM too for customers without affecting Harbeth profitability. The amplification cost is a very small percentage of the price of a modern amp these days - getting to be like the cost of the actual beverage compared to the selling price of a can of coke. And if the amp was priced low, no one would take it seriously. Using the Harbeth cabinetry to house the electronics would address both issues - eliminate one cabinet and do away the need for high pricing of the amp electronics just to be taken seriously. It would thus make the P3 much more VFM - just throwing out a number, for a GBP 100-150 premium over the price of the P3, a customer would not need to spend on an amp, or on speaker cables. Or on a component rack in many cases. Significant enhancement of the wife acceptance factor too. And better SQ than from the passive P3 + external amp combination?
    It certainly makes more sense than the " Harbeth Amplifier" ?!

  • #2
    I am also wondering the same question.


    • #3
      Not possible to fit an amp into the P3ESR cabinet without affecting performance of the speakers. It would also add a lot more to the cost than 100-150.

      Also, is there any market for active speakers other than cheap desk-top monitors ? I can't recall the last time a customer asked about 'active' speakers - certainly not for a couple of years.


      • #4
        Originally posted by hifi_dave View Post
        Not possible to fit an amp into the P3ESR cabinet without affecting performance of the speakers. It would also add a lot more to the cost than 100-150.

        Also, is there any market for active speakers other than cheap desk-top monitors ? I can't recall the last time a customer asked about 'active' speakers - certainly not for a couple of years.
        There are some new German? active speakers out there that incorporate lots of DSP/active crossovers and seem to be getting attention, using class D or digital amplification?, which is odd as these types of amplification can induce horror in the audiophile yet the speakers are being very well received by those testing them, suggesting that they are good in part because they are active. The pair I have seen appear to be around 9,000 UK pounds. Another brand has lower priced powered (active?) loudspeakers which include very powerful class D (800W plus) power amps, I imagine hifi powered/active speakers would not be using microwatt amps in any case......

        One argument I hear against powered/active hifi speakers if that users are less able to tweak their systems as needed.
        Getting to know my C7ES3


        • #5
          I agree it would be attractive, but it is not be an easy job if it wants to be more than just a powered speaker. If it wants to use an electronic crossover and dsp to smoothen the response (and perhaps even some room eq), it requires an altogether new set of design skills. I do agree, however, that that is how the future will look like.


          • #6
            There is a plethora of active loudspeakers out there in the marketplace. However, the majority of those are targeted at users who wish to use them as powered monitor loudspeakers in recording environments. These speakers come in a wide range of sizes, ranging from small two-driver two-way systems to large multi-way systems. Some make use of DSP processing, while others seem to rely on simpler active crossover filtering. Most seem to use an amplifier for each driver, although some of the cheaper models use one amplifier to power the two drivers in the cabinet. Some have Class AB amplifiers, while others use Class D amplifiers. Most of these powered loudspeakers are based on vented-box enclosures, although a number do exist that utilise sealed enclosures. The sealed enclosures generally get good bass extension because the woofer is equalised/filtered to produce a low-frequency response similar to a vented enclosure, with a 4th-order rather than a 2nd-order low-frequency roll-off rate.

            Some hi-fi loudspeaker brands are represented in the powered monitor market place: Focal, Dynaudio, JBL, ATC, PMC, Yamaha, Pioneer. Then there are many others that seem to stick solely to the "pro audio" market: Neumann, Adam Audio, Eve Audio, Presonus, Mackie, Behringer, KRK, M-Audio, Fluid Audio, Alesis, Swissonic, Genelec.

            Here is a compact 2-way powered equivalent to the P3ESR: Dynaudio Lyd 5.