The Naim and Harbeth thread

To balance the five adverse replies, truly late I’m sorry, I must say that I have tried to like Harbeth speakers many many times, on the ground of their concept, their goals, their heritage. But never reached the point where I was ready to buy some.

Similarly, I have often tried to dislike Naim speakers, on the grounds of their idiosyncrasies, limits and sometimes complex setup. Yet, I have had twice SBLs, twice S-400s, once Arivas, seven times n-Sats and now a beautiful pair of rosewood IBLs.

And I still can’t imagine consigning my music to different speakers (with the only possible exception of Klipsch Heresy IIIs).

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I have an idea that Harbeth is aiming at entering the Genelec area with these. Even the tweeter’s load has similar looks.
If there wasn’t Harbeth in full sight someone might think they are in fact some more anonymous, personal studio active monitors.

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I find your take very interesting. Having briefly owned SL2s I’m curious to learn what you would describe the differences to be between the SBL and the s400s.

I may be in the market for s400s for my third system.

Also I still haven’t come across a speaker that I enjoy more than the monitor 30s which are in my main system. The 30s perfectly fit my taste and what I want from hifi.

I was also in Munich.
I didn’t like the Harbeth performance either.
I also thought it was screaming.

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You can post on the Munich thread, if you want. Would be interesting if you can share on some rooms you liked or disliked.


It wasn’t until I got my Nait 50 that I realised how good the Harbeths P3ESR were

Yet this is at 25 watts per channel on speakers that are reputed to be difficult to drive


hello, the type of the cd player is cd5si?

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Yes, you can see I have put extra isolation feet -it does alter the sound (and took some getting used to) , a Chord Shawline Powerline and a Chord Shawline Din to Din .

I wanted to keep my system as simple as possible ( I have a cataract and other issues ) with a minimum of boxes but a good quality sound.

I now that I will get better sound with more boxes , and also wanted to stay with an all Naim system

Upstairs, taking a sabbatical is a CDX2.2 , I would have needed an extra box to decode the digital input , and that is what I wanted to avoid

I’ll prefer a second hand CDS3, I’ve used cdx2 for a long time and it is really very naim and good but not at the same level as compared to S3

I’ve heard a pair of Harbeth speakers sound up to their reputation just once I fear. It was a pair of M30.1s, in a shop. The room was between 25 and 30 sq. mt., the speakers were placed about 2 mt. from side walls and from the end wall. Amp was I think a series 5 something, perhaps 122/150x, with NAC A5. In that occasion they were just about perfect, preferable to one pair of Magico S1s in the same setup. Balanced, clear, detailed without being harsh.

But how many can place speakers like that? Alan Shaw specifies that his designs are to be kept away from walls: so much for domesticity. BBC designs were almost universally used in smaller rooms, close to boundaries; in such positions, Harbeth to my ears are congested, the sound doesn’t leave the boxes neither laterally nor front-to-rear. So, if you have a 30 sq. mt. living room with speakers placed well away from all walls, and you mainly replay a recording of A.S.'s daughter’s voice - the sound he has repeatedly stated he uses to fine-voice his speakers - then Harbeth are excellent.


My room is T-shaped, in that one of the log walls - 6.5 mt. - has a square, 10 m2 opening used as a dining ‘alcove’, with a French window. The other long wall has two French windows. I have to keep the speakers along one of the short walls - 3.85 mt. - firing across the length of the room. Such a placement is not the best possible, I’ve always found speakers to perform best along long walls firing across shorter sizes; and I have to keep them somehow close to the brick wall. Speakers need to have very controlled bass and mid-bass with a luminous treble to sound good here; SBLs were just like that, Sats and IBLs are. Even Klipsch Heresy IIIs were good here. S-400s were not: they are full sounding with occasional deep bass and a not too refined, extended treble; they are fast and detailed, dynamic; but here the sound remained ‘inside’ the speakers.

Naim speaker systems up to Ovators were to be placed against a solid wall, creating a wide but somehow flat soundstage if compared to the classic 3D effect many obtain with speakers in the middle of the room; S-400s benefit from being at least 40/50 cm from a wall and 60 to 80 from the sides. They manage to retain Naim’s signature exactness while allowing for a more full-bodied presentation. I find their upper range less articulated and spread than with classic tweeters, though.
Last, they are beautiful, and blend with almost any type of furniture. Hope this helps.


I had exactly same experience. Harbeth m30 and Graham 5/9 were unable to recreate distances in my home, same experiences with old ensemble pa1. The sound was really flat. On the contrary I have Devore gibbon 3xl and atc scm19 and they are able to shine in almost every location. I auditioned harbeth in a properly setup environment and they were good but without floating the boat. Apertura tanagra were better in every aspects, really no competition….finally I love Devore orangutan but they need a long audition because of the peculiar, old fashioned timbre

Luckily even though my room isn’t ideal (I don’t have enough space from side walls especially if you include the chimney) m30.2xds work in my room. I also had a good experience with the p3’s, i’d love to hear a demo of the p3’s with the nait 50. So the room measurements don’t have to be perfect but there were other speakers from great brands that sounded unexpectedly terrible in my room. It definitely makes choosing the right speakers more challenging.

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Thanks for sharing your experience of Harbeths. I have had the complete opposite experience. If I had to describe Harbeths in one word it would be “open”.

In fact the speciality of thin wall cabinets of any brand is the fact that it’s the only box design speaker that correctly setup isn’t meant to sound boxy AT ALL.

I cannot comment on why you’ve had this experience but I can list the many popular speakers that I tried in my many systems that sounded congested and boxy.

Where I feel other speakers better the Harbeths are with dynamics. Generally Harbs are not room shaking boxes. They emphasise on an articulate and open mid band with excellent treble that again correctly set up and matched is not bright or harsh.


Unfortunately, I am very much not the only one who had it.

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I find this discussion interesting. Speakers engender opposing opinions more often than other components. In this case, I went from the very open Quad ESL-63 to the Harbeth SHL5-XD following auditions of a number of other speakers (Spendor, Pro-Ac, B&W, PMC, Totem and Paradigm). Harbeth was one of the few speakers I heard that had sufficient openness after living wth the Quads. Timbre, the quality of reproduction that allows an instrument to sound distinctly like than instrument, is very good. An alto sax sounds like it should and a Paiste drum cymbals sound different than Zildjian K cymbals.

Set-up is important. The Harbeths like space and sufficient power.


I agree with your comments and that’s always been my take away.

Harbeths are the only box speakers that sound almost as open as open baffle or e-stats. I love large driver open baffle speakers but they don’t exhibit the reinforcement punch of box speakers. In terms of openness of sound though they are very very good.

Harbs in my experience are the only speakers I’ve heard so far that with good power can deliver the punchy sound while retaining and open and clear midrange. Other speakers that have more punch and dynamic sound lose out on the midrange. It sounds very closed in.

The P3ESR is a decent enough speaker but in my experience the mids and mid bass “effort” are over the top. I still like them but overall to me they sound less natural and balanced than good ls3/5a type speakers (Falcon, Graham, my own Spendor D1) and are no more “open” to say the least.

M30xx - “open” is one of the very last descriptors that come to mind (I had the 40th). They are an exaggerated P3 with even further overblown mids, wrong bass and limited/duller highs. They do the trick with news, broadcast, vocal and some jazz, but really sound wrong to me with pretty much anything else I’ve had the pleasure to try with them.

SHL5xx are different, better balanced (apart from the super-tweeter in my 40th at least) and could be ok if you have lots of space, lots of power and sit in the few inches of their sweet listening spot.

There is nothing special I’ve experienced about Harbeths’ lack of boxiness … or their boxes for that matter - and in fact I believe their cabinets are made by Spendor.

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Thank you for the post. These are speaker alternatives that I am also considering. It’s exciting that Harbeth gave you the best result. But what does “sufficient power” mean? I thought Harbeth were easy to drive and go very well with tube amps or small transistor amps (like Nait50).

You pose a good question. I originally ran the Harbeths with the original Naim Nova which was 90 watts per channel. The room was 22.3 square meters and I was very pleased with the sound.

Two years later we moved to our present home which has an open space living area of 39 square meters. The resulting sound was fine for simpler music , but complex symphonic pieces and jazz Big Band songs with lots of dynamics sounded thin. I borrowed a Hegel 390 (250v watts a channel) from my dealer and all was great again. I purchased the Hegel. If thevNaim Nova PE had been available, I may gone with it.

So, much depends on room size and the types of music that of music you listen to. In my case a much bigger room with complex music required a more powerful amp. I certainly would not use the minimum recommended power for Harbeths in most situations.