Listening (and designing) in a very small bedroom ....
I was tidying up my computer archives today and I found this image from May 2006. You may be interested in it. Theoretically and in practice, Harbeth speakers work best when away from the walls, but what if you just can't get them away from the wall? How will they behave in a small room? The answer to this question is fundamental to understanding the Harbeth approach to speaker design, why we do things the way we do.
In the real world we often have to listen in rooms smaller than we would like. At the time I was developing the Compact 7ES3 (in 2005-2006) I didn't have a dedicated listening place as I now do, so all the listening, tuning and adjustment of the C7ES3 (and before that, in an adjacent room, same size) all generation of P3s, M30, SHL5 were designed in a space of about 3m x 3m. The smaller/medium size Harbeths work remarkably well even close to the wall because the clean midband really catches the imagination. Yes, there is extra bass because of the close proximity to the walls but it's even and not overbearing. One remarkable characteristic of all Harbeths is that you can listen to them really close - almost like wearing them as headphones - and they are so superbly smooth and clean that it is very exciting. Most other speakers sound so horrendously colored in their near-field that you have to get as far from them as possible to tame their aggression. In fact, from a design perspective it is much more difficult to design speakers that will be listened to in the near-field, because the close proximity heightens your sense of what sounds right.
Here you can see me on the floor, soldering an adjustment to the crossover following a listening test. You can also see the A-B relay switch-over box which allows me to make instantaneous comparisons between speakers, or different crossover designs.
So - proof positive that Harbeths not only work in 'tight' living spaces but are designed to sound great in them. Obviously, if you have more space they will sound even more enthralling away from the wall, and you sitting a more comfortable distance from them but that's not essential for great sound. You will also recognise from the historic 1960s picture our BBC monitor heritage at the heart of all Harbeth design; listening relatively close, the speaker must sound natural, warm and full with pinpoint stereo and with a seamless transition between drive units. Of course, the M40/M40.1 has more bass power from its 12" woofer, and that ideally does need a bigger room and some air around it.
Our BBC monitor heritage brings you Harbeth speakers that approach speaker design in the traditional way: Harbeths are intentionally optimised during their design process by me to be listened to at sensible, moderate listening levels in small-medium sized real-world rooms with affordable equipment, modest power and to give extreme clarity and a full sound. I don't like loud sounds and I work hard to get the real-life experience, at a normal domestically acceptable level and to protect our hearing. Conversely, contemporary speaker design produces beautiful furniture designed to be listened to only in the far-field (say, 3m+ away) and by implication played loud, demanding a big amplifier and tolerant family and neighbours. Such speaker just do not sound 'right' in the near field: listen to speech for yourself and compare against a natural-sounding Harbeth.
Alan A. Shaw
Harbeth Audio UK