Naim and Harbeth pairings: describe the results

I own a Naim Nova paired with Harbeth SlH5-XD speakers on Tontrager stands located in a 49 sq meter living room (lounge?) with open kitchen along back wall. The room has a large rug and upholstyer furniture. with canvas artworks throughout. This is the only amplifier I have used with the Harbeths which replaced Quad ESL 63’s).

Generally, I listen to Tidal streaming and a ripped 1500 cd collection, with a soon to set up Transrotor turntable. I generally like the Naim Harbeth sound though it errs to the warm side of neutrality. I am an amateur drummer playing jazz combos and big band and that music is more vibrant and not as warm, mellow sounding. I also attend a lot of orchestra and chamber music and some pop/rock concerts with the same observations.

Does your combination also sound on the warm side of neutral? How does it vary from live acoustic music that you hear?

I’ve owned several Harbeth speakers with my NAIM electronics. In terms of “warmth”, my experience was C7>P3>M30. This was quite noticeable and my M30s could be described as “bright”. I’m guessing the SHL5s are closer to the C7s than the other two.

I owned the Harbeth SHL5 and SHL5+ for a decade. To me, the Harbeth is on the warm side of neutral. It sounds excessively warm and laid back with 7 amp combinations and the dynamic presentation of the Naim did it for me. I am not sure about your Nova but I lived with the 202/200 and SHL5 for 7 years before upgrading to the 282/250DR and SHL5+. The 282/250DR supercharged the SHL5+ and brought a livelier and more dynamic presentation. Percussion sounds snappier and more realistic on the Harbeth if forward and dynamic amps are used. There are users who reported a massive improvement with their SHL5+ when the 250DR was replaced with a 300DR. I didn’t manage to get to that level though.

In summary, to get the best from the Harbeth, apart from the source the amp is very important. The SHL5 sounds like mud with most amps including the Nait XS.

I recommend you to go to the search part of the forum. A lot of threads on Harbeth. Apparently all Harbeth don’t sound the same. Some can rock more than other, some need a lot of power……

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Interesting responses and I thank-you for your observations. BTW, frenchrooster, I did review the other Harbeth threads before stating this one.

Part of the reason for my thread, is that I have been streaming Tidal through a Schiit headphone amp into Dan Clark Audio Aeon Noire phones as well and that sound to my ears is more neutral. Individual recordings do make a huge difference as I was reminded yesterday when listening to several Cassandra Wilson recordings, which generally sounded very good.

Anyway, I am going to try repositioning and a bit of cable switching. I do like the speakers and the Nova generally.

You both say you find them on he warm side of neutral but at the same time I read in that you would prefer more warmth than today. Correct?

Slamdam, in my case I would prefer a little less warmth. To me that means, a little less emphasis on the midrange and more upper-mid and highs. I wonder in my larger, squarish room is a factor (7m x 7m approx.). I had the same speakers and Nova in a previous slightly irregular smaller space (6.5 m x 4 m) and the sound was pleasing, slightly warm but closer to live acoustic music sound.

I’ve had SHL5 Plus and I would not call them warm but that depends on preferences and where you have your “neutral”. What they do have IMO is a rather forward leaning midrange which to my ears gave fatigue in combination with Naim. At certain recordings the mids where just lovely but on some it sounded rather bad really so I ended up listening to music the speaker liked and not what I liked… I would not put SHL5 in the “allround” speaker and not the ultimate speaker for jazz due to the rather thin and hard to get go lows which often is needed with jazz at least if you listen to more old recordings and like dynamics/timing of the instruments. If you tend to fight the speakers with the music you like then I would argue to replace them with something else. I put Tannoy Legacy Eaton side by side with them in my Naim system and they added everything I missed on the SHL5 so it was an easy swap I never regretted for one second. More and bigger low end, more body around instruments, more laidback mids, bigger scale, dynamics etc. Or maybe look at adding a sub for the SHL5. I would imagine that balance things out pretty well.

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My Harbeth pairing experience is confined to a number of different amps with a set of Harbeth HL5 ES. Whilst my Harbeths are 90’s vintage I understand sound wise they should still have the basic sound of the newer versions.

I’ve tried the 5i (italic) 5si and XS2 with these speakers with varying degrees of success. All 3 very very musical with a really nice warm tone especially with jazz. Very organic sound especially in the drum, bass and brass instruments. Of the 3 amps the XS2 has that extra weight to the sound underpinning things you’d expect and to me sounds just right. I’ve put a chord dac into the chain and that has also elevated the general quality to a point where upgrading to something better will cost a lot….

Hi,

The SHL5 XD isn’t a warm speaker. In fact having revisited the XD generation of speakers I’m shocked by the sound difference compared to older versions.

The bass bloat has subsided and the driver integration is absolutely spot on. In the past when I removed the grilles of the Harbeth speakers there was a huge difference in bass output. Now it’s very very little- which tells me the speaker is a lot more balanced and the caveat is less bass extension compared to previous versions. The upside is very fast sounding speakers.

I would say for your room size, the hl5 XD is the right speaker. However I imagine speaker placement needs to be experimented. I would also reccomend granite or marble slabs underneath the Tontrager stands.

And finally having owned the previous version of the Nova Atom in the Unitiqute BT I will say that it was a warm sound signature. I have read that with the Atom and even Nova the sounds signature is a lot more linear and neutral I can’t help but imagine there is still a sprinkle of a warm sound signature at the entry level.

Lastly I will also add that if all else fails, then one absolutely sure way to make the speaker sound more lean and agile is to put them on open frame metal stands sitting on granite slabs. Tontrager stands have more natural tone. The metal frame stands inject a little more energy and zip along with clearly defined bass lines.

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Thanks khan84. Very good advice which I experiment with.

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I would say the SHL5+ sounds slightly unrefined and less smooth when compared to other “superior” speakers, whatever that means. There is a slight glare or roughness somewhere in the upper midrange or treble which contribute to a slight listening fatigue. I did not experience this roughness for the past 12 years as I felt the Harbeth SHL5 and SHL5+ are some of the smoothest sounding speakers in the market all this while. It was when I tried the Marten Duke 2, I realised the Harbeth is not exactly smooth sounding anymore but rather rough and unrefined, relatively speaking. When we compare 2 different things, one will inevitably sound better.

When I mentioned the SHL5+ sounding warm, it is mainly on the high frequency extension. To my ears, the treble of the SHL5+ doesn’t sound too extended or lit when compared to the my current Marten speakers. There is a tube-like character to the treble of the Marten as the highs sound airy, extended, tube-like, smooth and detailed all at the same time which is a hard act to follow. On the other hand, the treble of the Harbeth sounds less airy and extended and a bit rough and unrefined either in the upper midrange or treble, a forwardness as you put it. It’s a combination of a slight unrefined or rough presentation and less airy and extended treble with the Harbeth.

And lastly, bass performance. As I have mentioned earlier, one wouldn’t know if one didn’t compare. All the while I though the bass of the SHL5+ is adequate and goes quite low. Once I got the Marten Duke2 into the system and compared both at length, the bass of the Harbeth sounded inadequate. As I switched from the Marten to Harbeth, a chunk of deep bass went missing. The Marten speakers are much smaller than the Harbeth SHL5+ in size but on paper they go lower down to 38Hz (Harbeth goes down to 40Hz). I believe it’s the same experience when you switched from the SHL5+ to Tannoy Legacy Eaton.

When you mentioned older versions of the Harbeth which were compared to the SHL5 XD, is it the older SHL5 non-Plus or SHL5 Plus, or it’s the other Harbeth models M30.1 / 30.2? Yes, I have read that the XD versions of the Harbeth sound rather bright in comparison to the older versions.

If the SHL5 XD sounds less extended in the bass in comparison to the SHL5+, that doesn’t sound too good.

Fully agree yet compared with a different speaker. I also believe SHL5 character is rather different from the other Harbeths. I listened side by side between 5 and 40.1 and the tonal balance in the mids and highs were very different. Not at all a smaller 40.1 so to say.

Hi Ryder,
I think I was one of those people who previously accused the XD versions of being bright. I retract my statement. I don’t know what was causing the brightness but it wasn’t the speakers because now I hear no brightness. Just a very good extended smooth treble response. And a very very clean midrange. Probably the best I’ve heard.

Ok so my list of Harbeths that I’ve owned and listened to on home demo

Harbeth SHL5+, SHL5 AE, SHL5+ XD, M30.1, M30.2 AE and two different pairs of M30.2XDs.

After auditioning many speakers especially some of the highly regarded alternatives on this forum I tried the Harbeth 30.2XDs again and wow. If you’re after the most bass you’d be left wanting but I can’t fault them anywhere else. Honestly a class above imho.

Also the SHL5+ XD is more balanced than the 5+ and AE. I don’t know how much bass extension you’re after but when I compare the bass output of the hl5+ to Kudos 505, 606, Kudos Super20A, AudioVector R3 to name a few I would say the Harbeth XD is more extended with better nuance while the Kudos 505 and 606 in particular are more tighter. Although having said that the XDs bass sounds more real to me.

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This will be your problem. In a square room you are going to have very severe peaks and nulls in the bass which will unbalance the speaker to a high degree, and almost certainly make them sound bass heavy.

The XD Harbeths are by no means over-warm, as you know from your previous room. The Nova is a slightly warm sound, and I’ve compared the Harbeth with a Nova and other amps and heard this myself.

With a room like that, you will find it very hard to tame the sound. You would be best to take some measurements and invest in some bass traps, but even that won’t really solve it. Headphones might be your only option in that space for truly balanced sound, I’m afraid. You might try a healthy dose of room correction, along with physical treatments, but it’s not magic. Ye canna change the laws o’ physics, as Scotty would doubtless remind you!

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