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Thread: Harbeth v. (Snell or others) and what to listen for

  1. #1
    valve Guest

    Default Harbeth v. (Snell or others) and what to listen for

    I own a pair of old Snell Type E/II which I bought in 1989 while a student in UK.
    Now I am thinking of upgrading my speakers and Glenn Croft (whose amplifiers I am a happy owner of) recommended to listen to Harbeths, especially the SHL5.
    Has anybody had the chance to listen to Snells and Harbeth, in order to provide an opinion about how they sound in comparison?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Snell vs. Harbeth

    Quote Originally Posted by valve View Post
    I own a pair of old Snell Type E/II which I bought in 1989 while a student in UK.
    Now I am thinking of upgrading my speakers and Glenn Croft (whose amplifiers I am a happy owner of) recommended to listen to Harbeths, especially the SHL5.
    Has anybody had the chance to listen to Snells and Harbeth, in order to provide an opinion about how they sound in comparison?

    The difference between Snell & Harbeth can be quite drastic. Depending on the driving amplifier but Snells are generally very transparent & fast but can also verge on the thin & edgy side. Harbeths on the other hand are fuller, smoother, richer & more correct as far as tonality & timbre is concerned. On initial listen, you may not like Harbeth & you may take quite a while to adjust your ears to the Harbeth sound.

  3. #3
    valve Guest

    Default Re: Snell vs. Harbeth

    Quote Originally Posted by Gan CK View Post
    The difference between Snell & Harbeth can be quite drastic. Depending on the driving amplifier but Snells are generally very transparent & fast but can also verge on the thin & edgy side. Harbeths on the other hand are fuller, smoother, richer & more correct as far as tonality & timbre is concerned. On initial listen, you may not like Harbeth & you may take quite a while to adjust your ears to the Harbeth sound.
    Yes, I remember, it was the transparency of the Snells that attracted me, when I first listened to them. (1989). At that time, the competition that I listened to (Tannoy, etc. I do not remember all of the speakers; it's been quite some time since then) sounded rather "boxed-in" in comparison. However, I remember that another pair of speakers that impressed me at that time was ATC (I forgot the exact model).

    Equally, or even more impressive was the valve preamp that I finally purchased at that time (Croft Supermicro II). I think it was the combination of the Croft valve sound + the transparency of the Snells that created a quite interesting combination...

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    Default Re: Snell vs. Harbeth

    Quote Originally Posted by valve View Post
    Yes, I remember, it was the transparency of the Snells that attracted me, when I first listened to them. (1989). At that time, the competition that I listened to (Tannoy, etc. I do not remember all of the speakers; it's been quite some time since then) sounded rather "boxed-in" in comparison. However, I remember that another pair of speakers that impressed me at that time was ATC (I forgot the exact model).

    Equally, or even more impressive was the valve preamp that I finally purchased at that time (Croft Supermicro II). I think it was the combination of the Croft valve sound + the transparency of the Snells that created a quite interesting combination...
    Going by your experience, my suspicion may be correct & that is you may not like the Harbeth sound after all. You see, i consider the Snells to be forward, bright & edgy though to some they are very open & out of the box. I do see why some people like the Snells & more recently, Audio Note speakers. However, its tonality & timbre is something i can't quite accept despite the fact that its very transparent & fast. Listen to piano, cello or any other acoustic instrument on the Snells vs Harbeth & you'll know what i mean. But of course if you mostly listen to pop or rock music, then perhaps accuracy of tone & pitch is not so crucial.

  5. #5
    valve Guest

    Default Re: Snell vs. Harbeth

    I like to listen to various types of music, but in general I prefer vocals (Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, etc.) and acoustic instruments (guitar, violin, etc.). Maybe it will take some time until I get used to the Harbeth sound, as you say...
    But then again, I have to choose a Harbeth model first (SHL5 or C7ES3?).

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    Default Re: Snell vs. Harbeth

    I second Gan CK input..

    I suggest you demo or best, borrow either one listen for a while...If you used to how Ella sing for you from Snell, I bet you dislike Harbeth. Too far off.

  7. #7
    valve Guest

    Default Re: Snell vs. Harbeth

    Quote Originally Posted by keithwwk View Post
    I second Gan CK input..

    I suggest you demo or best, borrow either one listen for a while...If you used to how Ella sing for you from Snell, I bet you dislike Harbeth. Too far off.
    I am surprised about how (almost) everybody is enthusiastic about the way Harbeths reproduce vocals. Although I may be accustomed to the Snells (and even more so, to the magnificent sound of the Croft valve amplifiers), I am sure that so many Harbeth-lovers cannot be wrong.
    So maybe it's a matter of getting accustomed to the Harbeth sound.

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    Default Re: Snell vs. Harbeth

    Quote Originally Posted by valve View Post
    I am surprised about how (almost) everybody is enthusiastic about the way Harbeths reproduce vocals. Although I may be accustomed to the Snells (and even more so, to the magnificent sound of the Croft valve amplifiers), I am sure that so many Harbeth-lovers cannot be wrong.
    So maybe it's a matter of getting accustomed to the Harbeth sound.
    Harbeth loudspeakers are deeply rooted in the BBC tradition where accurate reproduction of music & the human voice is highly prized. And that's why if you take any loudspeaker designed in the BBC tradition like Harbeth, Spendors or even the dyfunct Rogers, you'll find that these loudspeakers reproduce the human voice in the most natural manner that makes even the world's largest & most expensive loudspeakers sound artificial & unreal. Human voice is actually the easiest to judge if a loudspeaker sounds right or not. We are all surrounded by the human voice day in day out whether it be in the office or at home. You see, alot of audiophiles & even loudspeaker manufacturers think that real sound is to be aurally present, to have the sound laid bare right in front of the listener. The sound must be unnatually fast, have the biggest soundstage where one can almost "see" the musicians, in other words must have a very high 'wow' factor. Shrillness, edginess & sibilance are often misinterpreted as supreme transparency. But the most important thing is left out, and that is accurate tonality, timbre, pitch & natural essence of the music. Harbeth loudspeakers sound real in a way where they sound like real instruments with all the natural bite, tone, timbre & harmonics of real instruments. They don't sound larger than life or make the music more exciting or hurried than what it is.

    Sorry for being so long winded here but whichever Harbeth u choose is not important. The most important thing is that you must have the right concept of what is correct sound. And this can only be accumulated by exposing yourself to more live acoustic music. Don't buy Harbeth just because your friends or we people here tell you its good. You need to know & appreciate why Harbeth users like their speakers so much. Happy listening.

  9. #9
    valve Guest

    Default Re: Snell vs. Harbeth

    Quote Originally Posted by Gan CK View Post
    Harbeth loudspeakers are deeply rooted in the BBC tradition where accurate reproduction of music & the human voice is highly prized. And that's why if you take any loudspeaker designed in the BBC tradition like Harbeth, Spendors or even the dyfunct Rogers, you'll find that these loudspeakers reproduce the human voice in the most natural manner that makes even the world's largest & most expensive loudspeakers sound artificial & unreal. Human voice is actually the easiest to judge if a loudspeaker sounds right or not. We are all surrounded by the human voice day in day out whether it be in the office or at home. You see, alot of audiophiles & even loudspeaker manufacturers think that real sound is to be aurally present, to have the sound laid bare right in front of the listener. The sound must be unnatually fast, have the biggest soundstage where one can almost "see" the musicians, in other words must have a very high 'wow' factor. Shrillness, edginess & sibilance are often misinterpreted as supreme transparency. But the most important thing is left out, and that is accurate tonality, timbre, pitch & natural flow of the music. Harbeth loudspeakers sound real in a way where they sound like real instruments with all the natural bite, tone, timbre & harmonics of real instruments. They don't sound larger than life or make the music more exciting or hurried than what it is.

    Sorry for being so long winded here but whichever Harbeth u choose is not important. The most important is that you must have the right concept of what is correct sound. And this can only be accumulated by exposing yourself to more live acoustic music. Don't buy Harbeth just because your friends or we people here tell you its good. You need to know & appreciate why Harbeth users like their speakers so much. Happy listening.
    I see what you mean. I would be very much interested in listening to a Harbeth pair, before going and buying "blindly" (without an audition). On the other hand, I am not sure whether it would do any good if I could listen to a Harbeth pair in a different hi-fi system than my own.

    By the way, is anybody using Harbeth with Croft valve amplifiers? If yes, I would be interested in an opinion...

  10. #10
    Vlado Guest

    Default Re: Snell vs. Harbeth

    Quote Originally Posted by valve View Post
    ....... but then again, I have to choose a Harbeth model first (SHL5 or C7ES3?).
    Hi Valve,
    let your ears to decide! Both models have a very pleasant and natural sound, the SHL5 has a bigger soundstage, weight and more opened heights, but you must leave them enough space - boundaries. The C7ES-3 are smaller and with only one tweeter, so their by a nose timid, but compensate this very small shortcoming by bigger spatial presentation and can be positioned closer to the walls.

    Good luck!

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    Default Harbeth - a brand with a clear BBC philosophy

    Perfect answer that entirely captures the philosophy behind Harbeth. How may speaker brands can you actually pin a real philosophy onto - one that actually translates into product reality as opposed to marketing clap trap?

    Why speech? Why vocals? Simple: Harbeth 'spun-off' from the British Broadcasting Corporation's research department. Why is that relevant? Because broadcasting is primarily about speech and vocal reproduction. Indeed the BBC's motto is 'let nation speak unto nation'. Incidentally, the BBC designed 4104 noise-cancelling hand-held ribbon microphone held by this commentator is still some fifty years after it's design the ultimate microphone for close speaking in outside broadcasting. It was designed by .... Harbeth's founder, Dudley Harwood and is still in production.

    So there you have it - from microphone to loudspeaker one common design lineage. I don't think any other audio brand can lay claim to such a total involvement of transducers at both ends of the recording chain.

    Also note from the attached BBC report from 1976, a year before Harbeth was founded and which certainly incorporated the acoustic knowledge within the BBC that led to the formation of Harbeth - that the BBC sound engineer is (inevitably) sitting rather close to his monitor speakers. You see, a sound engineer (or BBC speaker designer) only had to get up from his mixing desk and walk a few steps through the double-doors to hear the real, live (vocal) sound - the most cruel comparison of all - and as a non-commercial organisation they could afford the luxury of virtually unlimited R&D resources to get very close indeed to the live sound, over the monitor speakers.

    In my long experience, most quality speakers sound OK when the listener is a long way from them, because the further the listener, the more influence the room has and this tends to level the performance variations between speakers. But listening relatively closely (as BBC engineers and Harbeth users do) really reveals big differences of colouration between speaker brands - and that's why BBC designs really excel.

    >
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  12. #12
    valve Guest

    Default Re: Harbeth - a brand with a clear BBC philosophy

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    Perfect answer that entirely captures the philosophy behind Harbeth. ...How may speaker brands can you actually pin a real philosophy onto - one that actually translates into product reality as opposed to marketing clap trap?>
    Taking as granted that the Harbeth speakers produce the most natural sound, then I have to get used to it, even if other speakers might sound more appealing (at first, at least). Or not? What is the essence? Listening to what is right or to what sounds appealing?

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    Default Distance from speaker to ear - and perception of quality

    We've covered in great detail how a Harbeth presents the sound stage compared with other speakers here.

    As mentioned, the closer you are to the speakers the more obvious the differences between them. If you sit 10m from typical hi-fi loudspeakers most will sound similar, only huge differences will be apparent to the ear. Halve the distance to 5m and you can now clearly identify characteristics; halve it again to 2.5m and the differences in balance and especially coloration are astonishing.

    Rule: when auditioning loudspeakers sit closer to them than you normally would and you will "amplify" in your brain the relative performance of speakers. Harbeths score extremely well in this nearfield listening test because, with their BBC background they were designed to be listened to reasonably close (as monitors). But the alternative design philosophy of design in and for a big room and then expect them to sound natural close-up just doesn't work: it produces speakers which, at home, relatively close sound hard, brittle, forced and aggressive.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  14. #14
    valve Guest

    Default Re: Distance from speaker to ear - and perception of quality

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    We've covered in great detail how a Harbeth presents the sound stage compared with other speakers here.

    As mentioned, the closer you are to the speakers the more obvious the differences between them. If you sit 10m from typical hi-fi loudspeakers most will sound similar, only huge differences will be apparent to the ear. Halve the distance to 5m and you can now clearly identify characteristics; halve it again to 2.5m and the differences in balance and especially coloration are astonishing.

    Rule: when auditioning loudspeakers sit closer to them than you normally would and you will "amplify" in your brain the relative performance of speakers. Harbeths score extremely well in this nearfield listening test because, with their BBC background they were designed to be listened to reasonably close (as monitors). But the alternative design philosophy of design in and for a big room and then expect them to sound natural close-up just doesn't work: it produces speakers which, at home, relatively close sound hard, brittle, forced and aggressive.
    Based on Alan's comment, should I deduce that if the listening position in a given room is far from the speakers, then one should go for speakers that would sound hard, forced and aggressive in close-up listening, in order to compensate for any damping by the room itself?
    Similarly, should one think that Harbeths sound OK only when the listening position is close to the speakers, otherwise they may sound without detail (because that detail is hidden by the room)?

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    Default Re: Distance from speaker to ear - and perception of quality

    I feared that my comments were going to invite more comments and possibly more confusion. I'll try again.

    What I'm saying (and said) is that if you really want to judge the quality of speakers, don't listen to them at the other end of a large hall. Similarly, if you really want to hear the micro-tone of a violin don't buy the cheap seat at the back of the concert hall because the micro-tones will be swamped by the characteristics of the room.

    Now, if you like or need or want speakers that shout at you (a few people do) their strong personality will dominate throughout the room regardless of how far away you sit. That's like the speakers in a railway station - they have a very strong projected megaphonic sound to try and punch through he ambient noise. Perhaps you like that sound in that environment - but take those PA speakers home, hook them up and listen at a normal domestic hi-fi distance and you'd be horrified how trumpet-like they sounded. In other words, how colored they sounded; they would superimpose their own character onto everything that they played. That's what we mean by coloration: an extra flavour added to all music from starter to desert course.

    The room cannot correct for colorations in the speaker, it can (at best) just absorb a little energy here and there across the audio spectrum. The room cannot convert a highly coloured PA speaker into a fine hi-fi speaker; so if you want a clean, clear, natural sound then you must select that type of speaker. How to select such a speaker? The first rule is to listen to suitable candidate speakers in the dealer's demo room as close (or closer) than you would at home because, as I said, this really highlights the differences between speakers. The highly trained ear will pick-out a Stradivarius even from the back row; a trained speaker-critic will pick out the colorations of different speakers from the back of the room.

    But remember, it's not the case that speakers necessarily add something - they can equally take something away from the input signal. Again, the room can't replace what the speaker has stripped out any more than it can tame what coloration the speaker has added.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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    Default Re: Harbeth v. (Snell or others) and what to listen for

    May I, as a past owner of said Snell model, offer a comment please?

    The Snells sound fine on "traditionally balanced" valve gear and do work well in large rooms. When I transplanted a pair into my small listening room, the sound was not appealing, with a harshness at the crossover point I didn't like, but which wasn't at all noticeable in the previous owner's room...

    The current Croft amps are a joy apparently and not hugely expensive, bearing in mind they are all hand made and sold through a small handful of dealers. I'll certainly be able to tell you soon how good Compact 7es2's sound with them once the recipient takes delivery of his dem pair...

    With an honest and uncoloured amp and source, the Harbeths will provide all the warmth you need without excess and their products since inception have always done a good job on speech and well recorded contemporary music, as well as acoustic music in general... The only real proviso is to keep them pretty clear of room boundaries, but the Snell E II's are the same....

  17. #17
    valve Guest

    Default Re: Harbeth v. (Snell or others) and what to listen for

    Quote Originally Posted by DSRANCE View Post
    May I, as a past owner of said Snell model, offer a comment please?

    The Snells sound fine on "traditionally balanced" valve gear and do work well in large rooms. When I transplanted a pair into my small listening room, the sound was not appealing, with a harshness at the crossover point I didn't like, but which wasn't at all noticeable in the previous owner's room...

    The current Croft amps are a joy apparently and not hugely expensive, bearing in mind they are all hand made and sold through a small handful of dealers. I'll certainly be able to tell you soon how good Compact 7es2's sound with them once the recipient takes delivery of his dem pair...

    With an honest and uncoloured amp and source, the Harbeths will provide all the warmth you need without excess and their products since inception have always done a good job on speech and well recorded contemporary music, as well as acoustic music in general... The only real proviso is to keep them pretty clear of room boundaries, but the Snell E II's are the same....
    My preamp is a Croft Supermicro II and I am about to replace my current Musical Fidelity MA50s (mono power amps) with a new Croft Series 7 hybrid power amplifier (about to arrive in the next 10 days or so). I will also re-foam the Snells with a kit I am expecting (ordered through the internet).
    It would be very interesting if I could try a pair of Harbeths in my system, but I know this is practically impossible. And I wonder, if I listen to Harbeths in a dealer's room, whether I will be able to extrapolate/ imagine(!?) how they would sound in my system. Mmm. Rather difficult.

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