Amp for Harbeth Compact 7's?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by gov, Nov 4, 2017.

  1. Mrtn77

    Mrtn77 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Paris, France
    OP might want to consider Harbeth designer Alan Shaw's thoughts on the matter (from the Harbeth forum) before breaking the piggy bank :

    "You won't believe me - few take any notice of what I say here - but in the great scheme of things, in a world of great instability and anxiety, you just don't need to fret about this amp or that amp. You cannot - I repeat this - you, the layman, cannot begin to draw any objective, repeatable, valid opinions that are worth passing into folklore (and therefore moulding another person's behaviour) unless you devise a proper controlled comparison using an instantaneous A-B switchover. That is a fact. It cannot be refuted. If you were blindfolded and I walked into your listening room and very slightly adjusted the volume control I could reverse your opinions about amplifier X or Y. You must control the listening level between amps under test - or the comparison is in all honesty, meaningless. And that implies that you need specialist audio measuring equipment.

    As I've said ad nauseam, I work damned hard at the design stage to guarantee - yes guarantee - that my speakers will work well with any hifi amplifier that is operating within and to the original specification. I am not saying that amplifiers 'all sound the same' - quite the opposite. I'm saying that you can expect amplifiers to sound different under loose, uncontrolled 'comparisons' because they all have different gains. And different gains mean different loudness. And different loudness means different subjective characteristics. And they do have. But that is not necessarily to do with the amplifier (although it could be) - it is hugely the consequence of the way humans evaluate by listening and how loudness skews opinion.

    May I urge you to be mindful of how comments posted here, on the official Harbeth forum, have an unintended influence on others who are at this moment enjoying great music and who do not have the money or interest to chase the end of a rainbow. Many users have saved for years to buy a pair of Harbeth speakers. I've met them. They're not middle class professional people with money to burn - they're ordinary working people who chose to invest their hard-won savings in Harbeth speakers. And they're very contented music lovers. But I do find it objectionable that having climbed that financial mountain, another one is placed in front of them on the never-ending audio nervosa path. For crying out loud, let's enjoy whatever amplifier we have to hand and count our blessings that we're safe and healthy. I really don't want to read any more amplifier folklore here. I truly believe it just confuses users and would-be customers. It certainly confuses me. And I design the speakers!

    Relax - fear not. Whatever amp you've got will work just great with Harbeth."
     
    joeriz, Dax_Frost, MartinR and 4 others like this.
  2. Yes. I don’t always agree with Mr. Shaw, but I do agree that you shouldn’t fret over which amplifier works best. Along the lines of what he’s said before, you should use a quality amp of sufficient power from a reputable manufacturer with a good dealer and service network. Most of the brands listed here meet that criteria. Interestingly, when I was auditioning Harbeths I found the smaller ones needed more power than the larger ones to sound as good, but I don’t have any experience with the C7 in particular.

    For what it’s worth I use a McIntosh MC275 with C2600 preamp with my Harbeth 40.2. I also tried a Synthesis A100T integrated at my local dealer and that was also very nice, and sounded very similar for less money. But ultimately I already owned the McIntosh gear and wanted to keep it, because that’s just my personal preference, including for aesthetic reasons. It sounds fantastic to me.
     
    beowulf likes this.
  3. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago metro, USA
    You most likely were hearing the slight metallic brittleness that the Rogue sounds like with stock tubes before it is run in. I heard the exact same thing during a new CMII demo. We swapped in a number of speakers and found the Dali and KEF R series to "enhance" that metallic brittleness. Personally do not care for the treble in any Dali speaker I have heard FWIW.
    Never an issue with the C7ES3s and the amp did sweeten up substantially as it accumulated hours. NOS small signal tubes are another switch to pull to improve sound quality.
    Quality low volume listening is a factor of amplifier power (all else being equal)- higher power amps tend to drive dynamic, quality bass at low volume compared to lesser powered amplifiers.
     
  4. gov

    gov Active Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    I have a tube head amp and had a tube phono amp but have not jumped into the real big leagues on primary amplification yet. Total newb on it and I’m worried about heat both from heating the apt too much and from my kids being curious. On the kid front it’s both touching hot tubes and a wayward superhero or my little pony causing havoc ;). Also from a practical listening perspective these days I sometimes steal a 30 minute listening session and thinking about the tubes needing to warm up is just one more consideration right now.

    Would love everyone’s thoughts on the above.

    Running out and have more on a few other posts so I’ll add them a bit later.

    Many thanks to all for sharing—very helpful and very appreciated.
     
  5. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago metro, USA
    No offense to the genius of Mr. Shaw but the sound quality and listening experience of Harbeth speakers is quite dependent on the quality of the amplifier in the system.
    They are more tolerant of amplifier quality than many other speakers but still reveal the differences. The listener is rewarded with an upgrade in amplifier (and any other upstream component for that matter).
     
    IanL, Erik Tracy and Seafinch like this.
  6. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago metro, USA
    I started out small with tubes in the system (like yourself). Since owning one for over two years I enjoy the sound too much to ever go back to solid state. Solid state amps (and power amps with tube pre-amps) collapse the sound stage every single time.
    The rogue cmII is built like a tank (50+ lbs) and is not easily moved or damaged and the tube cage is robust.
    Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II w/ Optional Tube Cage (USED)

    The LM and other tube amps appear to have cages as well.

    The sound quality of the CM is acceptable once the amp triggers on after the initial 30 sec or so relay delay but it sounds better after about 10 minutes of power warm up. The heat from the tubes is not enough to increase the temperature in any room, possibly a well insulated closet maybe :)
     
  7. Ulises

    Ulises Active Member

    Location:
    Denver, CO
    I have the 7s and the 3s and have moved a few of my amps beteeen them out of curiosity. With the 7s, I have tried a recently serviced vintage McIntosh MA-5100, a Creek 5350 SE, and a Prinaluna Dialogue Two with NOS tubes. The Primaluna is my favorite. It delivers the most texture, control, depth, and engagement. By comparison, the MA5100 sounds constrained and the Creek a little sterile and flat. Conversely, the 3s sound great with the Creek, where the additional power helps open them up. I haven’t heard Luxman or Line Magnetic but I’m certainly intrigued. At RMAF this year, the Vinnie Rossi LIO with Harbeths blew my mind. Wish the LIO was a bit cheaper.
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2017
    Shivermetimbers likes this.
  8. Mrtn77

    Mrtn77 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Paris, France
    As I have yet to devise a proper controlled comparison using an instantaneous A-B switchover (and, let's be honest, never will), I'll happily trust the findings of people more knowledgeable than I am. And Alan Shaw is, without a doubt, the most knowledgeable person I've read on this particular subject. Besides, demystifying is healthy and I'd much rather put money towards records than gear.
     
    joeriz and basie-fan like this.
  9. I mostly agree. Different amps can still be discerned, but the Harbeths almost always sound good regardless of which amp is being used, as long as it is of at least decent quality and has enough power. These speakers aren’t that efficient, so really low powered amps usually don’t work that well even if they are very high quality.
     
  10. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    I am mostly crazy about the sound of my LM 518ia and Harbeths. But I do agree the Harbeths like some power to fully bloom. And although the LM is easily the best amp I have ever owned/heard (compared to various tube and solid state McIntosh, Fisher, Parasound, Bryston, Ayre, Exposure, Etc.) it gets hot, and if that is a legitimate concern, then I cannot recommend it. But I couldn't recommend Pass Labs either, for the same reason, even though it is the best sounding SS I have ever heard. Heat aversion would definitely result in a substantial compromise in sound quality in my world. The best sounding stuff in my experience creates lots of heat!
     
    Snoflo1998 and JMAC like this.
  11. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago metro, USA
    you and me both! although truth be told the tube preamp section / solid state amp does not have the soundstage an all tube amp is capable of.
     
    Ulises likes this.
  12. DangerousKitchen

    DangerousKitchen Forum Resident

    I'm inclined to agree with Mr. Shaw to some extent. I've posted this elsewhere and I'll say it here as it seems to be relevant to the OP's question. I recently moved my C7 ES3 from my dedicated listening room:
    10 x 15
    Sound treatments
    Accuphase integrated amp

    and put them in my living room in less than ideal conditions:
    15 x 30 and placed essentially a little too far apart
    Luxman 35 wpc Receiver from the 90's

    Without any reservation, the speakers pretty much did everything better. There was a slight loss of low end grip at moderate to high levels but for the most part, I heard angels singing like I had never heard before. I will live with them this way for another month and then pull up the Accuphase as well as waiting to borrow a Bryston 4BSST2 in the new year.

    My takeaway here (YMMV) is that it would seem to me to be far more important to "play to the room" to yield bigger dividends than stressing over the subtleties of competent amplifier designs.
     
    joeriz and pdxway like this.
  13. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    I think this makes a lot of sense. Experimentation within my own room has shown how much these particular speakers change character when given more space around them, so I am not surprised at all to hear that the room size (i.e., giving them more room to breathe) can have such a positive impact.
     
  14. Robert C

    Robert C Forum Resident

    Location:
    London, UK
    I've heard them demoed with Hegel amplification. The guys on HUG seem to like the Yamaha AS series. If I were in your position, I'd get the most powerful Yamaha AS I could afford (at least 100 wpc as per Harbeth recommendations) but reserve money for the speakers if necessary.
     
  15. Aura

    Aura Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Austin, Texas
    I'll try to keep this as brief as I can... Many excellent responses and recommendations so far. I can comment specifically on the Luxman, Leben and Rogue since I have spent enough quality time with those three. I currently own a Luxman L-505ux and a Leben CS300XS. I don't own the Rogue CM but spent some time listening. I also visit my local Harbeth dealer regularly - he's a great guy and it's a fun place to hang out on a Saturday. I also have heard many other amps with the C7ES3 there over the last couple years. Rega, Heed, Leben, Line Magnetic, Sugden, Thoress, Naim to 'name' a few (see what I did there?).

    IMO, the Luxman 505 (any variant) is the best amp I have heard with the C7ES3. It is a combination of elements (detail, soundstage, power) and a synergy with Harbeth that lead me to my conclusion. The Luxman is the most tube-like of the solid state amps I have heard in this combo. The Luxman gives up little or nothing in terms of soundstage to the two tube amps. In fact, I thought it closely resembles my Leben in that regard. The Leben and the Rogue I felt might be a little wider in soundstage (not by much), but the Leben was also more refined than the Rogue.

    The Rogue has more power and that really makes it a better match for the Harbeths, if you were to go tube. If you do go tube, don't go low-powered tube. Even the Leben CS600 does not have enough power IMO for certain types of music at certain listening levels with the Harbeths, and I don't mean ear-bleeding volume either. When you push a lower-powered tube amp past its reserve for dynamic headroom, the soundstage collapses a bit, the bass just becomes uncontrolled/recessed/sloppy and it also has an overall shrill tone. This is where the Luxman shines. It sounds fantastic at any level. Keep turning it up and it doesn't break a sweat.

    The Luxman also has a lot of useful features for an integrated. It has a full-featured aluminum remote, a balanced input and an excellent phono stage which compares quite favorably to my Rega Aria. I have been using the MC setting for my LOMC. The phono stage is dead quiet too. There is a direct mode that relay bypasses the tone controls for purity. The loudness feature is one of the best I have ever heard on an integrated too. I think you would be wise to consider this amp in your search. I scored mine used for less that half the cost of a new unit. It is a mint-condition US model and maybe 3-4 years old. The previous owner took very good care of it. These amps are built like tanks and the quality of parts and engineering are marvelous.

    Good luck in your search! I can give you a general idea of what I liked and didn't like about some of the other brands I mentioned above. In summary, The Harbeths just sound better with ample power reserve and the Luxman matches it tonally in a very synergistic way - you avoid the 'too much of a good thing' pitfall like some pure class A amps, and is not underpowered like many of the available tube choices.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2017
    IanL and JMAC like this.
  16. Aura

    Aura Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Austin, Texas
    Pinging @theron d, who went in the opposite direction, from a Luxman 505u to a Rogue CMII. It's good to get a variety of opinions on these amps. If possible, try to demo as many amps as you can. That may help you nail down an amplifier topology and then you can narrow in from there.
     
    IanL likes this.
  17. theron d

    theron d Forum Resident

    Location:
    Baltimore MD
    These amps both match beautifully with the Harbeth 7eS3! Cant stress enough that imo the Harbeths need 100W to reach full potential and really take hold and command the speakers. In addition I use a REL Q201E sub below 40 Hz. For the rock, classical and even some jazz it helps fill in the bottom.

    It’s a tough choice as these two particular amp have a litle bit of each others’ characteristics. The lux has a commanding SS bottom end punch and maybe just a touch of warmth in the mids. They are crystal clear and focused, never bright (unless the souce is troublesome).

    The CMII also features deep SS bottom end (if lux is a 10 id give the CMII and 9) but a touch more holographic in the mids (with a mullard CV4003 in the middle slot-very important imo). I think the CMII sees “deeper” into the music. With proper positioning and room acoustics, they are just great with hours of listening with no fatique.

    These two amps run neck to neck with features and sound. Its so close, but if push came to shove and you dont mind working with vacuum tubes then go CMII :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2017
  18. gov

    gov Active Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    Well back with some observations of my own...I got my pair Compact 7's and have spent about 10 days doing some heavy listening. Started off with just dropping in the C7's where my B&W then Spendors were--atop an Ikea Kallax where both tweeters were very close to ear level (about 1 inch above).

    I then spent time driving the C7's with the two amps I was using previously (Marantz AVR and Marantz 2238b). Using the 38W vintage marantz, less complicated music sounded quite nice and bass was there--have noticed this before when using this amp--however more complicated or dynamic music just wasn't holding up. The rocking and driving on Rosalita sounded a bit homogenous for me as an example. On to the AVR, and it was a bit different--low end was much less there (noted previously) but it did do better with the more dynamic/complicated stuff. Either way, I knew the two existing amps were not doing the Harbeth's justice so on to some listening with other amps.

    I decided to expand my horizons and include new amps so I could listen before buying (was philosophically opposed to taking a dealers time and then buying used). So I brought my speakers around a bit and listened to a few integrated amps and here are my thoughts:
    • Line Mag 518--very nice sounding amp--good holographic imaging and wonderful on vocals. A bit edgy on some sax stuff but I'm predisposed to being turned off to that anyway. Did find it lacking at lower volumes which is important to me. Bass control was quite nice too.
    • Hegel H80--seeing that massive transformer peeking through the case had me encouraged--plus it had a dac. My god what a letdown...bass was there but sound so mushy comparatively--vocals sounded OK at first but eventually on comparison sounded a bit mushy. Top end was nice and non fatiguing to me but man was the sound just not balanced at all. I was surprised
    • Rogue Cronus Magnum ii--as others have noted surprising bass--best tube bass I heard. All the tube magic--sounded great across many genres. A SLIGHT harshness on the top end occasionally but it never got to where I was wanting to turn it off/down. Reminded me of my beloved Soundsmith MIMC--a wonderful blend of lushness and detail which responded VERY well to what was in the recording. It excelled at the audiophile stuff I have but also showed some of the warts of the lower quality stuff I listen to. However--and I"m not really sure if this is the Harbeth, the CM2 or both--it made some really poor stuff sound a touch more listenable. Most intriguingly, it was VERY nice at lower volumes--really had good dynamics and hold of the Harbeth's at lower volumes with plenty (and I mean plenty) of room to get loud. It handled complex stuff with ease and was sweet as hell on my mono Jobim/Sinatra.
    • Belles Aria and Laria--a real surprise to me. These things are really sweet! VERY similar to the Rogue in a lot of ways but I would say a bit (slight but noticeable) SS edge not present on the LM or CM2. It really handled everything I threw at it and had a good deal of functionality for not a lot of scratch. Not a ton out there on these but it was the best SS amp I heard during my tour (a few others in addition to what I'm noting here). I made the decision to skip the LFD for now because I use my remote a ton and getting up was not appealing to me but listening to this and hearing all of the wonderful (almost unanimous) praise for the LFD's and Harbeth pairing had me really question whether I should bring in an LFD. Back to the Belles, surprisingly the Laria sounded nicer at lower volumes but did fall apart a bit at louder volume--to be fair, I would listen at these volume levels less than 10% of the time but it was there.
    • Quicksilver Integrated Tube amp--another interesting amp. Sounded SUBLIME on guitar rock--I mean sublime. Was incredible really--best I heard and if I were a classic rock guy the way I'm a Jazz guy, this might be the one for me. On the downside, it's 20W definitely started to distort at loud volumes--again louder than I would listen to but if you are that classic rock guy and want to shake the room, I'd look further up the Quicksilver line. Ultimately I felt this was less consistent across the wide range of genres I listen to but can't overstate how good I thought it sounded on guitar heavy rock.
    Naim dealer had to reschedule so I wasn't able to listen to these yet and not sure I will given I liked what what I heard from the CM2 so much. Only one I could not find to listen to that I really wanted was the Luxman but again, ultimately I was smitten enough with the Rogue that I decided to take her home for a demo (and save $1500). I'm in the process of that right now and must say I'm massively intrigued. Some VERY interesting findings once I started tweaking with moving the Harbeth's off the Kallax and swapping in Sound Anchors but I'll likely add that to the "Appreciation" thread since I think it could potentially be valuable for others considering them. Suffice to say that with all due respect to what Mr Shaw says around amplification and stands and positioning was very much in conflict with my own personal experiences. And I say that as someone who was attracted to Harbeth for their ease of implementation.

    A HUGE thanks to all who responded here and the number of people who helped over PM's as well. I've got some more listening to do and likely some tweaking here and there with positioning, speaker cables and probably a tube roll or two but I think I'm there. With what I read of the CM2 responding to tube rolling, I think I could eek out that last bit of warmth/lushness that way. I don't want to take away the dynamics of this thing but would love a notch down on the top end and and notch up in the lushness--nothing dramatic (welcome suggestions!)

    I'll keep the thread updated so others have it here as well....more to come.
     
    mpayan, JakeMcD, avanti1960 and 5 others like this.
  19. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    Thanks for sharing your listening notes. Very interesting to read these. For the LM518ia, that edginess in the sax is easy to address with rolling the output tubes. If all the tubes were stock, the quality can be much higher than what you heard. But, the performance with the C7's at low volumes, that is a result of not quite enough power for a perfect match, and I'm not aware of anything you can do about that (other than swapping one or the other for a better match).

    Your comments about Mr. Shaw's advice match mine. He knows a lot more about designing loudspeakers than he does about the nuances of different amps. But you are doing it the right way: buy his excellent speakers, and then use your own experience/tastes when auditioning different options with them. You'll definitely find the right match for you this way. And before I even read your comments about moving the speakers off a lightweight shelf and onto proper Sound Anchor stands, I think I know what your experience was with that. Enjoy!
     
    Erik Tracy likes this.
  20. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    BTW, what is the tube setup in the CM2? I don't have any experience with that amp, but I do have a lot of experience with rolling different NOS tubes through my Line Magnetic (and previous McIntosh/Fisher) gear. So I might have something useful as far as guidance there, if it uses tubes I have experience with.
     
  21. gov

    gov Active Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    I definitely felt the LM could have a place in my system no doubt...for me it came down to cost vs differences I was hearing and there was some stuff each did better than the other. The low volume thing was critical. Was listening to Hot Rats last night right around 65db and it sounded great!

    On the stands, I haven't had a chance to add to that thread yet but the difference was astounding...to be fair I'm not sure how much to attribute to each variable because I did lower them from a platform height of 30 inches to 20 plus add the stands. Today I get the conecoasters I ordered from Sound Anchors so will be interesting to see how the extra few inches of height changes the sound once I put them in. Right now they are right on my floor with those felt sticky pads on the bottoms to protect the floor (no spikes at all).

    Tubes in the CMii are KT120 x4, 12ax7x2 and 12au7x3. Open to ideas of course Ian and would be appreciative. I spoke with Andy at Vintage Tube and based on what I was looking for he suggested I start by trying RCAs and Amperex in the 12au7 slots. Also might try the Mullard but he felt the Amperex was a better place to start for now. He's a really solid dude btw if anyone is looking to experiment with tubes. Very knowledgeable and is willing to let you try a couple to find your sound. I found his descriptions helpful in understanding differences. Now it's time to see what my own ears tell me ;)
     
  22. IanL

    IanL Forum Resident

    Location:
    Oneonta, NY USA
    I don't have any experience with the KT120 tubes, so I can't help with those. But they are are a relatively new design, right? Which means that there are no NOS options, just current production. That is fine as there are some nice current production tubes.

    For the 12AU7's, IMO NOS Mullards are king. They are wonderful. I do have some CBS 7318's, which are a drop-in replacement for 12AU7's, which are incredible in some different ways, but they are tough to find, and expensive when you do. So I feel very confident in recommending the Mullards for these. Call Brent Jessee (BRENT JESSEE RECORDING HOMEPAGE ), who I can't recommend highly enough, and let him know you are looking for NOS Mullards from the Blackburn factory, and see what options he has. He can usually offer "off-brand" or "ugly" versions of many tubes that are exactly the same performance-wise and manufactured in the same factory at the same time, but for a significant discount over perfectly labeled and coveted versions. A cheaper 12AU7 option that some people like is the RCA clear tops, but as I understand it these do not approach the big 3 (less body, but lots of clarity).

    For 12AX7's, I think you have more (acceptable) options. Each of the big 3 (Telefunken, Mullard, Amperex) offer their own sound and it depends on your tastes and the particular circuit. Right now, I have a pair of Telefunken smooth plates and a pair of Mullard 10M's that I have rolled through my amp. I LOVED the Telefunkens in my old McIntosh MX-110 and MC240. I would say they were most magical in the phono stage of the preamp. Something about those Telefunkens in vintage gear was really magical. However, I don't feel the same way about them in my Line Magnetic amp. They still have a lovely midrange and nice 3D sound, but I find them lacking a bit in lower midrange and bass compared to the Mullards. The Telefunkens put a beautiful spotlight on the vocals or whatever is the prominent instrument in the midrange/upper midrange, and let everything else slightly recede. The Mullards bring other details forward (particularly rhythmic elements) and give a more even-handed presentation. The Mullards are a little warmer overall, the Telefunkens are more expressive in the upper registers (but not 'bright' once they are fully burned in). I have heard great things about the various Amperex 12AX7's, like the Bugle Boys, etc. and from the descriptions they sound like they fall somewhere in the middle of the other two. I doubt you could really go wrong with any of them. Some people like to substitute the 5751 tube for the 12AX7 when possible. From what I understand the 5751 has less gain, but is also a "quieter" tube with a different character. I have never heard any of them, but the Sylvania Gold Brands (both gray and black plates), GE black plates, and Raytheon ("windmills") are highly regarded.

    Hope this is helpful!
     
    gov and Shivermetimbers like this.
  23. gov

    gov Active Member Thread Starter

    Location:
    NYC
    Wow @IanL great post man thanks! Really appreciate you taking the time to write it....

    Your comment on the Amperex echoes what Andy told me and why I chose it. I wanted warmth without sacrificing the air plus I was looking for a touch less edginess in the upper registers. His comment was something like (definitely paraphrasing here--check with him for right story!) Tele's are row 2, Amperex are row 10 and Mullards are row 20.

    I will have a look at Brent's site too...for now, I'll be messing with the RCAs and the Amperex and will report back.
     
    IanL likes this.
  24. octaneTom

    octaneTom Forum Resident

    Location:
    Detroit-ish
    Weird, I love my C7s with my PrimaLuna Prologue One. Spacious, round, full, beautiful midrange, nice bass. I find it an absolutely perfect combo. Different strokes, I suppose!
     
  25. mpayan

    mpayan Forum Resident

    @IanL and @gov Thanks for your thoughts and interaction. Very fun and insightful to read!
     
    gov and IanL like this.

Share This Page