"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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My journey, and the trouble with dealers....

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  • My journey, and the trouble with dealers....

    After a lot of auditioning I have a pair of Super HL5 Plus on order. The trouble is it exposed me to the dealer community again, and reminded me why I spent nearly 25 years happily listening to mostly the same gear and not setting foot in a high end audio store.

    Even the dealer who sold me my Harbeths crapped all over the system I'd been happily listening to for a long time (Thiel CS3.6, Adcom 5802 amp, a series of CD and most recently Cambridge Audio streamer sources). A lot of what I was told is objectively wrong. For instance, that the Adcom (a beast of an amp at 300/450 watts, that plays for 30 seconds after being unplugged) has insufficient power to drive most good speakers (including the Harbeth 40.2!). I was also advised that I simply must get a pre-amp for several thousand dollars rather than feeding balanced outputs from my pre-amp/dac directly into my amp. Even suggesting I should put little "harmonizer" blocks on top of each speaker! Tonragers make the Harbeths "20% better". The dealer who didn't get the business suggested that the only reason I preferred the Harbeths over his KEFs was because of the extremely expensive electronics with which they were auditioned (Aurender streamer, Backert pre-amp and Bryston amp). Another dealer referred to Harbeths as "s**t boxes". Another insisted his horribly thin and metallic sounding Paradigm Persona 3F speakers were not tipped up in the treble, even after I dug up test results proving same. They just need the right amp, he says. $7000 amps are pretty blunt tone controls for tinny speakers. High end ethernet cable! $3000 power supplies for your pre-amp! Cables, cables, cables.

    Implicit in every utterance are that there is some orderly and massively positive correlation between price and sound quality, and every tweak is worth having. Thus $11,000 of electronics must always sound better than $7000 of electronics. Well then, If I just shell out as much money as I can afford and I'll have the best system I can afford!

    I suppose it is in their interests to try to make me restless and unhappy with what I own, but is is so tiresome. I want to (and did) reward the dealer who gives me the facilities to audition speakers, but I really want to go to mail order when they behave in this transparently disingenuous and greedy way.

    I didn't try to pick the most accurate equipment. I have one test - listen to music I like and think "will I be happy coming back to this system every night". Yes, some of that is influenced by appearance, build quality, and other things, but that's the goal, isn't it? To sit at home listening to great music and feel like you are having a great and refined experience being drawn into the music. The Harbeths really struck me as having that long-term potential. Perhaps that lack of harshness, also characteristic of my broken Thiels?

    I think second-hand, high build quality amps are a bargain. They work well, and give you that satisfying (placebo?) high level of build quality and machined metal, for a song. In addition to my Adcom, I have a 1987 Bryston 3B in another system that is still going strong.

    Incidentally, here's a playlist of most of the stuff I used to audition.

    Missing are some titles not on Qobuz - Joey Alexander's Freedom Dance and Granville Bantock's Celtic Symphony (Hyperion). Good old British Romantics!

    So that's how I ended up here.

  • #2
    That happens.... a lot... sometimes i think about opening a new kind of HiFi store, with live concerts inside somedays, recommending cheap cables and amps and teaching people how to place the speakers and other important things, but the thing is, not a lot of people is into HiFi this days, they buy a tv and not even a 400 euros Hifi System, so, would a shop like that survive ?


    • #3
      Nice playlist. I'm actually listening to my SHL5+ right now powered by a the same amp you mention above (although it is the newest version of the Bryston 3B). I've noticed a lot of change in the 'bricks and mortar' experience over the past 20 years. Sadly, I've been treated the same way as you have by a number of dealers recently when looking for electronics to pair with my SHL5+. This forum actually helped me understand the objective requirements for getting the most out of my Harbeths


      • #4
        Originally posted by ahofer View Post
        ...I didn't try to pick the most accurate equipment. I have one test - listen to music I like and think "will I be happy coming back to this system every night"...
        I'm with you 100%. It makes to me more sense to seek accuracy in relation to how I hear the sound of live music than how the microphone does. The somewhat (lamentably?) sterile sound of a perfectly linear audio system might be the result of deference such systems show to the 'mechanical ear' that is a microphone when it tries to emulate the real thing.

        I wonder if I could say, and not be laughed upon, that 'distortion' is already embedded in the signal by the time it reaches the studio console. If that's the case, the designer's decision to deviate from perfect linearity could then be interpreted as his attempt at counteracting the original distortion by introducing a bit of his own. It's just a thought.


        • #5
          It is of paramount importance for the survival of the specialist audio industry that the prospective consumer has a first class experience in the dealer's premises. If, assuming, he has premises.

          Our new Sales executive Ian Chapman has spent a few weeks familiarising himself with the peculiarities of the audio industry, starting with the sales numbers and now the sales experience. From his side of the desk he has to assume, unless told otherwise, that the consumer experience is uniformly good right across our global dealer network.

          We absolutely want to identify the really great dealers and to reward them for helping to nurture the next generation of audiophiles. We also want to identify and bring up to an acceptable standard those outlets who are not delivering satisfaction. Please don't hesitate to tell us, in private, of your experiences.

          Sadly, in the 32 years I have been at Harbeth, I can recall only a handful of dealer visits to our factory. That must inevitably mean that there is a huge gap in first hand knowledge of how our (or indeed, any) speaker is designed, measured, assembled, tested and packed and after-care supported. One recent retail-store owner said that he had no idea that we designed and made our own drive units (!) and that his lasting impression post-visit was of innovation. None of that he had appreciated beforehand.

          So let's hear it. Good, average and unacceptable.

          Roll the clock forward say, ten years. What then? If the retail environment is not adding value, then why should manufacturers not sell direct (the Amazon model)?
          Alan A. Shaw
          Designer, owner
          Harbeth Audio UK


          • #6
            There is something very good about having dealers, that's the possibility to try and compare speakers before buying them. Some brands like Shiit when to the model " sell straight to the client and giving an option to send it back to the factory if you dont like it".
            Of course the reality is not that good, we are trying speakers in a different and almost perfect room where every speaker sounds a lot better than the one we have at home sounds in our room, so if the dealer does not have the speaker that we have and the Harbeth model, we can not compare them.
            Also we are trying them with a different amp than the one we have, but that's not a big problem if our amp and the amp in the shop are not " very special" (in a bad way) amps.

            From my experience in dealers/shops they can show you some systems/speakers, but i think they don't like very much doing a lot of comparisons in the sense of telling them " can i try the system with this cd player, and later with that one, and later with that other one...". Probably that's because they sell very expensive exotic gear that they prefer to sell based in " reviews " and looking more than based in an objective comparison , dont talk about using testing equipment.
            I have mixed feelings about asking the dealers to teach a lot and use testing equipment, for one side it is great that they have knowledge (and they should) and measure equipment, but asking them to teach customer may be is asking too much, i mean, when we go to a restaurant it is normal that the restaurant worker at the door tell us that it is a very good one, and with a very good price, we dont ask him to be totally sincere asking him which is the best restaurant in the street, his rol is to "sell" the restaurant, the recommendations are in webs and magazines, and that the point, for me the big problem is not what they tell you in a shop, but the Hifi world in the sense of webs, magazines, internet reviews, forums etc.. they should teach us, be objective, use test equipment etc.. and don't write good things about brand cause that brand pays them (may be in the form of ads to make things look better), in fact the best would be a magazine that we, the clients pay and has no business ads.

            I don't completely trust a seller for recommendations or teaching me about any kind of products, i would say there is a conflict there between teaching us and having a shop, lets be real, is ever a FORD dealer tell you that is better to buy another car brand for your needs even if it happens to be like that and he knows it ?


            • #7
              Originally posted by A.S. View Post
              One recent retail-store owner said that he had no idea that we designed and made our own drive units (!) and that his lasting impression post-visit was of innovation. None of that he had appreciated beforehand.?
              I have to hope and pray that this retailer isn't one your existing Harbeth dealers Alan because, even as a mere consumer, I had been fully aware for a very long time before purchase of Harbeth's manufacturing reputation and ANY re-seller of your products should know this basic fact. Heck, I've just read that last sentence back - am I just becoming tetchy about what I see as a lack of competence?


              • #8
                Any retailer that doesn't know Harbeth build their own drivers needs shooting - there is mention of this and pictures on the website, apart from anything else. Making their own drivers is one of the 'selling points' I make when demonstrating Harbeth. The majority of specialist speaker manufacturers buy in drivers and tinker around with them and that isn't the same thing at all and a bit limiting.


                • #9
                  People like music, though. So I think if you can give them a moment of exhilaration with a good system, and leave out the wallet-fishing and condescension, you'd be on your way to converting them. It really needs to move from the "expert" model, where the salesman suggests you are uninitiated and he must be your guide, to an Apple/ Trader Joe's model., where they share your enthusiasm for listening.


                  • #10
                    Nothing better than when a customer enjoys the music as they've never done before. The sale is of secondary importance.


                    • #11
                      So, I was surprised to see what appear to be the same little "harmonizer" blocks on top of the speakers in the Harbeth Room at Axpona 2018 in this video:

                      I love this video, only because that is *exactly* the speaker I have on order. The audio audibly distorts a bit, so not so much that (the volume might be above safe apartment levels). It seems that $9000 amps and some kind of black magic tweak aren't really in keeping with Mr. Shaw's remarks here, but I suppose one has to live in the current hifi ecosystem. Or maybe I'm wrong and those are theft prevention?

                      Btw, I've been reading about some of these harmonizer products (not sure if the same ones). The abuse of quantum mechanics as an excuse for snake oil is just beyond the pale. Reminds me of intelligent design - we don't understand it, it must be divine. My old college mentor (, and I used to trade these types of things for amusement. But that was back in the Tice Clock, green marker days. He passed some years ago, but I can almost hear him falling over in hysterics at this stuff.

                      I mean,


                      • #12
                        There is vastly more profit to be made with accessories. We here at HQ have (currently) no control over co-brands used at exhibitions. But we are rapidly strengthening our business and will shortly have in place the processes to better manage our public image at exhibitions.
                        Alan A. Shaw
                        Designer, owner
                        Harbeth Audio UK


                        • #13
                          Just to follow up on this post - I received my 40th Anniversary Super HL5+ in Tamo Ash on Saturday, and spent much of Sunday listening.

                          After a long wait, I was worried that I might build up unrealistic expectations and be a bit disappointed. Hardly! I had a great weekend of listening. I daresay they sounded better in my living room than the non-anniversaries did at the dealer, despite the allegedly inferior and dominant electronics (eyeroll). The Harbetths did everything great that I remembered with Chamber music - more accurate timbre, good image placement, warm sound without being tubey-warm, which I've never really liked.

                          I was surprised, however, to put on Mahler's Titan Symphony (Royal Concertgebouw - Jansson) and just be blown away by the presence and instrument detail of the orchestra. This was also right after attending a live concert at Juilliard, making it all the more impressive. On goes Brahms 4 (Wiener Symphony-2019) same thing. Wow. Fantastic.

                          The difficulty in selecting speakers, I have found, is that it's easy to find something good in just about any speaker. I tried really hard to find something I would like for as long as I loved my Thiels (since the 1990s!!). To get back to the music. I'm feeling like I might have done it. I'm looking forward to tonight's listening. Many thanks, Alan and everyone. Well done.


                          • #14
                            Late night listening - now possible

                            Seriously, I used to avoid orchestral music at night because I often had to crank it up to get a sense of the ensemble scale. Now I can listen at normal volume. This vastly expands my evening listening choices.

                            Tonight I've listened to Brahms' Nanie, the New World Symphony, and Joe Henderson Big Band tonight. This feels like when I was 11 and discovered the LP listening library at Lincoln Center (yes, 1970s).


                            • #15
                              There is indeed a lot of snake oil/fraud going on in this business, and many dealers are guilty, and that includes quite a few Harbeth dealers and distributors (Google is your friend). The simple question is: does the business need this fraud, or not? Or, to put it another way, assuming a dealer does not peddle all this nonsense, and exotic electronics and bizarre parafernalia in particular, can he survive on a turnover of which some 80% of the value is from speakers? After all, for most systems only 20% of the budget is roughly needed to get appropriate electronics.