Finally I bit the bullet .... touching the divine
Hi! I'm a fortunate gent from Canada who has recently purchased a pair of SHL5s. I've longed after a nice set of speakers for many years but, due to finances, space, too many years in grad school and kids, I was left wanting. I did buffer my loss with excellent headphones, but now that I have the SHL5s I will remark that headphones have a place, but I now "get" what many folks have said over the years: speakers are just better. Why? Because the sound is more realistic. Harbeths do it best, at least from my extensive auditioning.
One month ago yesterday my rosewood SHL5s arrived. One month ago today I stayed up all night listening to album after album. That had not happened since I first bought Grado RS-1s back in 2001.
During my time auditioning and reading and researching (the latter two are what I do best) I was exposed to single ended triodes, the ancient tech, the pure sound and unfortunately the low power outputs. Acknowledging to myself that to my ears SET seemed to perform best for my preferences, I tried to listen to as many systems locally as possible using SETs. Only a few moved me to the point of tearing up. What was odd was that the speakers always sounded pitchy. Off. Shrill. Metallic. Fake and so on. Yet, owning and having heard many SET amps with headphones, I knew that the amps were fine, but that it took a special transducer to mate with the particular tendencies of single ended triode-based circuits.
In my pursuit of audio perfection (as close as any might come) I often frequented a great shop in Ottawa Canada. The sales people are fine folk and their taste in music is spectacularly sympatico with my own. In fact, if I am ever at a loss for something new I will venture in and I will usually leave with 3-10 LPs of great music I've never heard of
This store sells Harbeths. In fact, the owner is also the distributor for Canada. A great guy and an honest one too. Tough to find in any industry. I had never bothered to listen to Harbeths because of the low sensitivity ratings. Over the years I have spent close to a pair of 40.1s in that shop, all on vinyl but never did I just sit and listen. Until one day I stepped in during a demo of some P3ESRs. The sound was clear and the tone and timber was remarkably accurate (I trained in piano and a variety of woodwinds from age 5 to 23 at our conservatory so I hope I know what sounds natural). What was even more astonishing was how "real" voices sounded. By real I mean naturally real, as if someone was in front of me. I stood in the background and I listened. And then I listened some more.
I left confused and a bit depressed. I had my amplification picked out in my mind for my dream system. I have my front-ends. I have my stands. I even have my cables, all mapped out. But all of this was contingent on proper speakers of which I was lacking in my mind's eye. Well now! Not any more! If the lowly P3s could sound this good what about the larger models? Over the next few months I began to frequent the shop more often, always shopping for vinyl but also hoping for an impromptu demo of one of the other models. Finally I bit the bullet and requested an audition of the M30s and C7ES3s. How fortuitous then when I arrived for my planned event and a pair of 5s had arrived days before, fully broken in and all that and set up! I spent the better part of a late afternoon into an evening (past store hours to the credit of the staff) and I fell in love. Each model sounded fantastic but the SHL5s did something for me that the others couldn't quite match. I asked if I could come back again with my own music.
A couple of weeks passed before I returned and again I left shaking my head fearing that I had found my speaker but this would challenge me to rethink the rest of my gear or at least the amplification. I returned again, this time with my son, and then again with my daughter. Each event I used different music in an attempt to disrupt my enamour. Sadly this did not come to pass and I committed to purchasing a set in rosewood. Ten days later they arrived. Now what to do?
I own some Esoteric Audio Research gear and I very much appreciate the design principles, no less the performance. I could consider the 890, maybe go monoblocks if required, throw out the preamp I had in mind and work with an EAR 868? On paper it made sense but EAR gear is rare in Canada. I'm lucky to have what I do.
To hell with the numbers! I wanted to try them with SETs. I wanted to try with the SETs I had in mind and so I did just that. I planned and plotted and called up the owner of Wyetech Labs whom I know very well. I offered to hike the speakers over if he would agree to have them in his system for a time. His gear is legendary, at least in Canada and among SET fans. His preamps are no less heralded. Last Friday I made it over and we listened. The first track he stayed silent. The second he looked at me and claimed he had heard much better for the money. I sat and wondered if his 40 Watt/channel 211-based prototypes weren't enough to drive them. I sat and was completely pleased with the sound but there was something off. Of course, living in Canada, even driving a modest 10 km can chill a well made driver. And so it goes. The drivers needed a bit more time than we had provided for them to get cooking. Within the next hour the sound was to die for but it only got better as the night went on. We invited over another local audiophile who owns a wonderful system. That night he left shaking his head. The Harbeths had redefined what good sound was all about. He had previously held the Audionotes to be the closest approximation to the human voice as he had ever heard. The 5s had embarrassed the AN/Es in his opinion. I can only imagine what the 40s might be capable of.
However, my testing was not finished. I had always considered Wyetech's 18 Watt Sapphires as a rock solid design, made to be bequeathed and made to be listened too until one should part the earth. Yet, 18 watts sure does not seem like enough to drive the 5s! How wrong I was. How wrong so many are, at least when those 18 watts have a solid power supply as the foundation of the amplification. The Sapphires were so remarkable that I know with complete certainty that they will make their way into my house in the very near future. Eighteen watts was more than enough to get full spectrum sound. We didn't turn on the sub and it is a large JL Audio behemoth. A tuneful behemoth but a behemoth nonetheless. It was not required.
Not all amps are made the same. This is even more true when it comes to SET designs as one creeps into the very low wattages. Eighteen is quite powerful considering flea powered designs, but 18 watts is more than enough for me. Anything above 8 watts would have me damaging my ears.
Here are some numbers Roger Hebert was able to get from his Sapphires driving the SHL5s:
"I measured the speaker. We were playing at the 4 to 8 watt peaks today
My LCR meter measured 7.5 Ohms @ 120 Hz and 19 Ohms @ 1000 Hz IMPEDANCE"
Incredible. An easy load even for low powered amps. In my mind, SETs are the purest of purest power providing the best midrange possible, so long as the speakers can provide. Harbeths are, in my experience, the best at recreating a natural realistic sound. Pair them together and one touches the divine.
I'm almost there.
Hello Zanth and welcome . Great story . I've always loved the look of those lilic Wyetech Labs .
Never unfortunately been able to audition them though. Should look wonderful with your Rosewood SHL5s.
Please post a pic when together.
Superb tale and welcome to the SHL5 club... they're unbeatable aren't they!
Not familiar with the brand of amplification you mention, you able to let me have a link please?
A final destination speaker!
Well I recently moved from the M30s to the M40.1s and am very happy with the results. If you look through my recent posts I mention a bit about my room size etc. I've never had the pleasure of listening to the SHL5s but by most comments I've read they are possibly the best all round option taking price into consideration.
However being like me in North America one could argue that the M40.1s are the bargain of the range ! as they are only around twice the price of the SHL5s (and M30.1s) whereas in other world regions , Europe for example they are more like 3 times the price. The M40.1s are definitely a final destination speaker!.