Basic facts about Harbeths at home
The Harbeth User Group exists to get to the essential truth of enjoying fine music at home and we've distilled the 'Golden secrets' of owning and enjoying Harbeth speakers. I think we've just about covered everything but a good hi-fi dealer, who really understands music will support you with his knowledge and advice. What you read here is our opinion - balance that against your own experiences.
The basic Harbeth User Guide supplied with every new pair of Harbeth speakers can be downloaded here.
1. Harbeth speakers will works straight out of the carton once they have reached room temperature. That's important as the parts will be stiffer when cold. Harbeths do not need any running-in or 'burning-in' at all. They will neither improve nor degrade with time if they are treated with respect. They will sound the same today as in 10 years. Sadly, the acuity of human hearing gradually falls, but you can count on your Harbeths remaining true.
PLEASE READ THIS THREAD ABOUT INSPECTING YOUR HARBETH CARTONS ON ARRIVAL.
Do not use any 'burn-in' CD or test equipment as they produce high levels of energy which will most likely damage your speakers. They are completely superfluous. Our view on burning-in is here. Furthermore, we have heard of users who start a burn-in CD as they leave for work and return home to find that the noise has driven their dog frantic.
2. Harbeth speakers will work with any normal grade, audiophile or regular grade amplifier that is performing within its original specification. They will work better with a really good amp, but they will work well with even a modest hi-fi receiver-amplifier. Remember - amplifiers like people age, if it breaks-down it could damage the speakers.
3. Harbeths present an easy electrical load to their driving amplifiers. They are deliberately designed to be so. There are tens of thousands of Harbeth speakers in use around the world and we do not have enough knowledge or staff to handle inevitable questions such as 'will Harbeths work with XYZ amplifier?'. So, we have always made absolutely certain at the design stage that Harbeths will work will any credible amplifier. You do not need to ask this question, because the answer is, if the amp is working properly, that yes, it will work with your Harbeths. More on amplifier selection here.
This question (or as I say, non-question) about speaker-amp matching does arise from time to time. I try to explain our position; here again is a summary.
4. Harbeth speakers do not need big amplifiers. Generally speaking, 25W per channel is a sensible minimum across the range. That will get you going but 25W won't produce the maximum loudness that a Harbeth is capable of: for that you'll need a bigger amp. If you play soft, late at night or you don't want to annoy your neighbours then a few watts will be enough power. What if you have a really powerful amplifier? A bigger amp, like a bigger car engine, will give you a power reserve which you may or may not ever need depending on your music listening habits. Obviously, if your children take control of your hi-fi then a more powerful amplifier could/may/will do more damage just as a powerful car driven too fast can/may/will. In brief: use whatever power you have responsibly.
5. Harbeth speakers will work with any type of amp: solid state (transistor, MOSFET) amps, digital amps or tube (valve) amps.
6. Harbeth speakers do not need fancy cable. Anything available that is reasonably thick will work OK. QED 79 strand (see attached picture) or 5A electrical flex will get you going. Simple, un-cool standard flex is all you need. Avoid exotic cables with strange electrical characteristics. More on cables here.
7. Harbeth speakers do not need exotic stands. You can use wooden stands or metal or plastic stands. We use them all through development and critical listening. Distrust rumours that 'Harbeth's only work with 'xyz stands'. It is entirely your free choice, what takes your fancy, fits in with your furnishings and budget. If all you have available to get you going is something as basic as the IKEA plant pot stands (even used during the design of the Compact 7ES3 - see picture) or house bricks or telephone directories. The key point is to raise the tweeter to about ear level. The Skylan stands are an excellent value-for-money choice that we have used at exhibitions ourselves. Filling stands is your choice.
8. Harbeth speakers work in single-wire or bi-wire mode. The bi-wire terminals are provided on some models for user experimentation only. We cannot detect any sonic difference between using your Harbeths in single-wire of bi-wire mode in our listening room. Single-wiring is much more convenient.
9. The bi-wire links as factory fitted on some models are British made, hand punched from brass and then gold plated by a jeweller. We do not believe that any sonic improvement can be achieved by substituting the factory-fitted bi-wire links for other types.
10. Harbeth speakers should ideally be away from nearby surfaces (side wall, rear wall, floor) as practicable. If you can not get the speakers away from nearby surfaces than try and make those surfaces as soft as possible. This will reduce reflections in the middle and upper frequencies but it will not help at lower frequencies. For that you need deep absorbers as you would find in an anechoic chamber. There is no way around this - it's the physics of sound waves.
11. Harbeth speakers are designed to be used with the grilles fitted (on); thanks to the unique Harbeth SuperGrille, the frequency response is measurably flatter with the grilles fitted. This is the exact opposite with all other types of speakers. The tweeter performance is set to be just right when the grilles are fitted.
12. Harbeth speakers will work perfectly well just sitting on the stands. We do not believe that the contact area between the speakers and the stands is especially important. You do not have to use Blutak, cones, balls, felt or any other material interface for sonic reasons. We don't. If you do use Blutak use the absolute minimum, and be aware that it has been known to tear the veneer from the cabinet, which is not covered by the Warranty. But do take special care that the speakers don't slide off and injure a child or pet - this is your primary requirement of a suitable stand.
13. Harbeth speakers are a once in lifetime purchase. Buy and forget. If you take care of them they will reward you with a lifetime of pleasure. Keep your teenagers away from them because the sweet smooth exciting sound encourages them to 'turn up the wick' when you are not at home! See also 4. above.
14. The baffle, drive unit and back panel screws do not need to be routinely tightened. Feel free to give their retaining screws a very slight twist every few years if you wish. No special torque setting is needed, just hand tight.
15. The more damping you have throughout your listening room generally the better the overall sound. Even a temporary arrangement of rugs, cushions or closed curtains help reduce reflections. Taming the reflections always improves the stereo experience because your brain can concentrate only on the direct sound from the stereo speakers. All reflections are distractions and force your brain to work harder than needed to eliminate those unwanted signals. I have written about this here - the less room reflection, the more the speakers are able to do their job of reproducing the original recording venue without having your room sound imposed on top. I've written more about this here.
16. You do not need to polish your Harbeths. Just wipe them with a slightly damped cloth every month or two.
17. Harbeth speakers should not be modified. You can not improve on the factory-supplied design which has taken hundreds of hours of careful tuning. If you open or modify them, then the Warranty expires.
18. Harbeths will reproduce CD, SACD, LP, DVD Audio, surround sound and even 78s! Regardless of the source, digital or analogue, Harbeth speakers will reveal all.
19. Harbeth speakers should obviously be kept away from heaters and out of direct sunlight especially in hot countries. This will avoid any problems with the veneer such as discolouration, swelling, cracking, drying-out, warping and lifting. (See also No. 28 below). The room temperature should be constant and comfortable throughout the year.
20. Don't touch the cones. Don't polish the cones! Keep children's fingers away from the cones. Do not press against the cones. When you pick-up the speaker take special care that the bass unit or tweeter does not press against your body or against your limbs even when the grille is on.
21. Harbeth speaker will play all types of music. They excel at playing music that is well recorded and well performed. But if the music or recording is of poor quality - that is what you will hear.
22. Harbeth speakers sound great even when played at a moderate, socially considerate levels. This is a direct consequence of our design heritage and BBC roots (see attached photo). This means that you do not have to play loud to enjoy clear, natural, warm sound at home. Harbeth's are ideal for listeners living in apartments or who enjoy late night music in the family home.
23. You do not need a big room to listen to Harbeths! Even in a small spare-bedroom they sound magical. Read here how they are designed for use in a small space if that is all you have available. Also, compare with a studio control room here.
24. You can listen really close to your Harbeths. Remarkably, they sound sweet and clear both in the near-field and far-field some way away. This is very unusual (see 23. above). But of course, sitting further away (say, a minimum of 6 feet /2 m or more) is best. The subject of toe-in was covered in my visit to Malaysia in 2010 - short video here.
25. The front panels (baffle) of all Harbeths is removable as are the back panels. This is for two reasons: first, it ameliorates box resonance that is inevitable in a rigid cabinet and second, it provides easy access to the drive units and crossover at any time in the future using only a standard screwdriver. Should you need to, you can service your Harbeths yourself - even 20 years from now. We never remove the backs during production: we work from the removed front baffle.
26. All Harbeth cabinets are based on the pioneering BBC thin-wall concept using lightweight, damped panels loaded with bitumen or similar on the inside. Such panels absorb resonance in the all-critical middle frequencies where the ear is most sensitive.
27. Harbeth cabinets use carefully selected veneers designed to last a lifetime with care, and especially out of direct sunlight. Please remember that whist the veneer of the left speaker is matched to its right speaker, the veneer of the next pair may be a little or a lot different according to the nature of the tree.
28. Harbeth cabinets look simple - but they are expensive and extremely difficult to make. Modern cabinets are 'thick-walled' and the front and back are glued into place with a tongue and groove arrangement which self-squares the cabinet. They are quick and foolproof to assemble with only simple woodworking skills. In contrast, the Harbeth cabinets are crafted one by one according to the traditional BBC thin-walled technique. The fronts and backs are held in place by perimeter screws. During manufacture, the front and back are made separately and are offered up to the case (side, top, side, bottom) when the case corner glue-joints are completely dry. Harbeth cabinets can only be made by skilled woodworking craftsmen because the case must be perfectly square to accept the front/back and must not warp during cutting, assembly or its long working life. The skill and time involved produces a wonderful sound but at a high cost.
29. Harbeth is an accredited ISO9001 company. We take design through to production QC very seriously with appropriate record keeping. The build details of every speaker - it's veneer, drive unit and crossover details along with who made, tested and packed it are recorded and have been recorded since 1988. This is your assurance of a product that is built to last. Should you ever need spares, we can provide a very close match to the originally fitted part.
30. What happens if something breaks or performs strangely? Your first point of contact is your local supplier. Read here.
31. The really big question! What is the meaning of the audio word 'coloration' and why are Harbeth's so uniquely pure in tone and low in coloration? Low coloration is what Harbeth are all about. A very short summary in this posting here.
If you have the time and money and you fancy a flutter then by all means experiment with amps, cables, stands and all the other components in your system. There is pride to be had in enhancing your Harbeths with well designed, beautifully made and good sounding electronics and accessories but they're not essential to good listening. There is no need at all to spend out replacing what is working well.
Remember - what really matters is the music not the gear!
Still confused with advice and unsure what to believe? An alternative view of the specialist audio industry may be of interest. Read here.
Alan A. Shaw
Harbeth Audio UK