30-year itch, downsizing from Vandersteen 2Cs

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by William Bryant, Dec 2, 2019.

  1. William Bryant

    William Bryant Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Meridian, ID
    I'm recently retired and downsizing a system built around a pair of Vandersteen 2Cs I bought in 1989 (rubber woofer surround, still going strong). I listen mostly to acoustic music--chamber orchestra, 50s jazz, HIP ensembles specializing in Dufay and Palestrina, solo piano, Bach cantatas, Haydn string quartets, and so on. My room is around 14 x 15 and I'm thinking about making the move to something like a Harbeth P3ESR or other small, stand-mounted speaker that can go on stands when I want the full 3D effect or back on a bench or low table when I need more room for entertaining guests.

    After 30 years with only one set of speakers I expect anything new to be a shock, but I'm hoping to downsize without needing meds for depression.

    Would the little Harbeths do the trick, or should I add other small speakers to a short list?
     
    bhazen likes this.
  2. bhazen

    bhazen Infinitely Baffled

    Location:
    Newcastle, WA
    !!! If you're happy with your Vandersteens, consider a pair of VLRs ... keeps you 'in the family', so to speak. I imagine being 'point sources', the imaging should be stellar ... and a fair amount less $ than the (admittedly excellent) P3ESR.
     
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  3. Matt Richardson

    Matt Richardson Forum Resident

    Location:
    60302
    Just wondering if you’ve ever heard Harbeth and what’s your budget?
     
  4. William Bryant

    William Bryant Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Meridian, ID
    My budget is $2500-ish. I haven't been in a hi-fi store in a long time. Too busy buying 50 cent CDs in thrift stores. I mentioned the Harbeth because I've read several enthusiastic reviews and seen it on some recommended lists. I'm open for suggestions. Anything small that gets out of the way and invites me into the kind of music I enjoy.

    Edit: I should mention that I'm a retired orchestra teacher. I've spent more hours (years!) around real acoustic instruments in every possible acoustic space than I care to admit! So if a speaker has a fake timbre reproducing violin or cello or guitar or clarinet I have no interest in it.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019
  5. Glmoneydawg

    Glmoneydawg Forum Resident

    Location:
    Ontario Canada
    Just went from vandy quatros to harbeth shl5+....for the same reason as you...quite painless and i would highly recommend the sideways move
     
    William Bryant likes this.
  6. Going from the Vandies to something like the Harbeth P3ESR will leave you wanting as you're used to a full range speaker.
     
  7. bhazen

    bhazen Infinitely Baffled

    Location:
    Newcastle, WA
    No worries with Harbeth. :) They're firmly in the BBC-monitor tradition; accurate reproduction of voices (and thus instruments) via the midrange. You might miss that lowest octave of bass, though; thus may be happier with a slightly larger speaker (my Chartwell LS6's replaced my P3ESR's, because I wanted a 'bigger' sound. Still small speakers compared to your big Vandersteens, and with a midrange to die for.)
     
  8. William Bryant

    William Bryant Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Meridian, ID
    Before I became a teacher I spent a few years in high end audio retail and was able to borrow or purchase at store cost some nice toys. The two speakers that preceded the Vandersteens were the Celestion SL600s (borrowed) and the Quad ESL-63s (purchased). When I sold the Quads and bought the Vandersteens (starving grad school student syndrome) I remember how the bass improved (pipe organ, Tchaikovsky ballet music) but at the expense of the midrange. Somehow (if memory serves) both the Celestions and the Quads were just a tad more lifelike except for the missing bass. In school I was studying the big symphonic repertoire and felt it was a win/win selling the Quads and getting the Vandersteens--groceries AND deep bass!--but I also felt a loss. Ella and Frank never sounded quite as real on the Vandersteens as they had on the Quads and Celestions.

    So many years have gone by! All of that was in the 80s. Do y'all think a Harbeth P3ESR (or other modern small speaker) will take me back to the tonal realism of the Quads and Celestions (at the expense of bass of course) or do today's crop of small monitors get the midrange realism even better than did those top tier speakers from 35 years ago? Toe to toe, is a P3ESR better than a Celestion SL600? Toe to toe, is its often reviewed midrange magic better than that of the ESL-63? Just trying to get a perspective.

    Oh, and apologies in advance to anyone who wants to say, "Why don't you just go listen?" It's a seven hour drive to a Harbeth dealer and though I feel an inevitable trip coming on, I want to get as much input as possible before driving over to Portland.
     
    StimpyWan likes this.
  9. Helom

    Helom I'll take the monkey coffins

    Location:
    U.S.
    There are many great options in addition to the Harbeths which really need to be paired with good subs, even in a 14x15' room.

    Your room is not so small that you couldn't go with the larger 30.1 or a speaker of similar size.

    Within your budget range, I'd snatch up these Spendor A4s in a heartbeat:
    Spendor A4 Floorstanding Speakers; Natural Oak Pair (21449) | Full-Range | Erie, Colorado 80516 | Audiogon

    They are incredibly neutral. Every review I've read for them aligns with my opinion. It's like the marriage of the good traits of an Epos and Spendor Classic. I haven't come across any speaker for $2500 that gets out of the way of the music as well as the A4s. They are "baby" floorstanders but can play into the mid 30Hz range, so subs are optional. I like the Harbeth P3, it's probably my favorite Harbeth aside from the 40.1s but the A4s give up nothing to them, especially in the dynamics and bass departments where the A4s have the clear advantage.

    Murph Kitty will be here to scold me any minute:cop:
     
  10. Mike-48

    Mike-48 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Portland, Oregon
    I have and love a pair of P3ESR, but I would not be happy using them as main speakers without a sub or subs. Once you add subs, things get more complex, and you might well stick with the Vandersteens.

    I don't know the Spendors suggested by @Helom , but by reputation they should have the right voicing for the music you enjoy. Many modern speakers are too bright for string quartets, which often are not well recorded to begin with. If your hearing is anything like mine, you must be careful to avoid models with excess treble, many of them audiophile favorites.

    Good luck with your exploration!
     
    William Bryant and Helom like this.
  11. Coming from a, close to, full range I'll bet you'd be sorely disappointed with any small box stand-mount whereas a narrow tower that goes, in room, to low 30's would give your music a lot more weight. As an aside with some appropriate floor interface gliders they would be much easier to move around, not to a shelf, but maybe close enough to be out of the way. No specifics but used you'd have a lot od choices at your budget. Here's an example of an all purpose glider too. Best of Luck!

    Threaded Stud Glider
     
    bhazen likes this.
  12. William Bryant

    William Bryant Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Meridian, ID
    I know what you mean about poorly recorded string quartets, and about modern speakers that sound awful reproducing small string groups even when recorded well.

    I would go as far as saying that a speaker that sounds bad reproducing a well-recorded string quartet in fact sounds bad on everything even if the bad reproduction is enjoyable to someone who never spends time around live acoustic music.

    Do you have the Naxos complete Haydn quartets/Kodaly Quartet box? This Naxos set sounds very good on my Vandersteens. I hope it will sound as good or better on my next speakers.
     
  13. Mike-48

    Mike-48 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Portland, Oregon
    Yes, I have both the Kodaly set and the Angeles set. I enjoy both and think the latter has more natural string tone. When trying speakers, I like to have some soprano, harpsichord, and string quartet recordings with me. For example, "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen"
     
  14. Glmoneydawg

    Glmoneydawg Forum Resident

    Location:
    Ontario Canada
    Have you considered the Vandersteen 1ci?....smaller footprint....and perhaps a better disappearing act than the 2's.Pretty decent bass also.I suspect you may have to move up the Harbeth line to the c7's to get close to the bass you're used to,on the upside the Harbeth midrange might be an upgrade.
     
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  15. William Bryant

    William Bryant Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Meridian, ID
    Mike, I will have to try the Angeles set.
     
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  16. William Bryant

    William Bryant Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Meridian, ID
    I never liked the 1C even back when I sold them. Can't say exactly why.
     
  17. Glmoneydawg

    Glmoneydawg Forum Resident

    Location:
    Ontario Canada
    Strange....i have owned 1b,2ci,3a,3a signatures and Quatros...i remember the 1b as disappearing better than all but the Quatros...having said that,it was 30 years ago and i am getting on a bit lol
     
  18. BD2665

    BD2665 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Milwaukee
    While the 1ci is a great suggestion I’d recommend the VLR carbon. I think it’s the best best two way speaker out there and that includes the much loved Harbeths. They r meant to be backed up against the wall and faced straight ahead. They image like crazy and have superb depth and incredible tonality. And maybe most surprising is the amount of bass they are able to produce. Richard does not promote these much but once you hear them they are hard to forget.
     
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  19. Helom

    Helom I'll take the monkey coffins

    Location:
    U.S.
    This is not a bad idea. Believe it or not I prefer the 1Ci midrange to that of the latest 2CE Sig IIs. The 1Ci is also capable of some of the best instrumental decay I've heard from a speaker (when set up correctly), which I couldn't duplicate with the Sig IIs no matter what I tried. With the exception of bass depth, in my system, the 1Cis are the superior speaker.

    The Spendor A4s are better if you can swing a pair on the pre-owned market, but for under $2K new, the two best speaker bargains I've found are the 1Cis and Magnepan .7s. Both require a lot of care in setup.

    The Rega RX3s are also worth an audition.
     
    paulieb00 likes this.
  20. 4xoddic

    4xoddic Forum Resident

    Per an email Acoustic Sounds sent me today:

    Spendor A4 Stereo Speakers
    Dark Walnut Open Box Demo $3,145.50


    No affiliation (but they are in KS).
     
  21. Paul Chang

    Paul Chang Forum Old Boy, Former Senior Member Has-Been

    Are you downsizing your living/listening space? I would think this is the time to enjoy the music. Wish you a wonderful retirement life!
     
    Dennis Metz and timind like this.
  22. Balthazar

    Balthazar Forum Resident

    In succession, I owned the following:

    Vandersteen 1c -> Vandersteen 2C -> Harbeth P3ESR -> Harbeth M30.1

    With this musical fare:

    I could easily see being happy with the P3ESR as a main speaker, even without a sub. I was quite content with them, until I got the itch. Given your 30 year ownership of the 2c's, you're clearly not a gear-churn guy, so I think you'd be fine, and you could always add a sub if you decided to start listening to more full orchestras. My musical preferences allow me to live without deep bass, but that's a personal decision.

    As ever, YMMV. I consider the Harbeth's expensive but less so if it's a "buy it and forget it" option. People spend far more on discontented purchases that they continually buy and sell at a loss, so cost needs to be remembered in that perspective. Last year I sold a mint pair of rosewood P3ESR's with Skylan stands locally for $1350. That seemed a fair price, as I had paid about $2000 for everything and had owned them for 6 years.

    All of which is to say, used is a good option with Harbeth's aggressive pricing. Regardless of what is happening, they seem to come up with excuses to raise their prices.

    My general advice would be to go audition as many things as possible before deciding. I sold the P3ESR's because I no longer felt any desire to maintain more than one system, but could easily see buying another pair if I were to downsize to an apartment. However, I would not be willing to pay $2500 or higher for them or any mini monitor There's entirely too much "what the market will bear" pricing in the world of LS3/5A variants. Flip side is, as previously mentioned, a lot of them seem to be pretty good "buy it and forget it" options for people.

    Good luck with your decision.
     
    William Bryant and timind like this.
  23. TerpStation

    TerpStation "Music's not for everyone."

    Location:
    washington, dc
    If i were you i would investigate something by "Totem." They make some smaller speakers that image really well. I really dont think a smaller Harbeth will do much for you coming from those Vandersteens......

    I don't own Totem's (check my profile for my speakers), but my neighbor does, he is a piano teacher and loves classical music. His Totem Forest sound great and are pretty small. See Floorstanding – Totem
     
  24. William Bryant

    William Bryant Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Meridian, ID
    Thank you for your very thoughtful post. I am particularly interested in your experiences switching from the 2C to the small Harbeth. I tend to be skeptical about claims of improved audio quality. If every generation of speakers is a dramatic improvement over the previous generation (as claimed by so many reviewers) in 30 years even my cat should notice the difference. In general though I sense that my Vandersteens are holding up pretty well after 30 years and that I would have to spend thousands and thousands to get a noticeably more lifelike sound. In other words, after filtering through all the hype, cone speaker technology is basically a mature science and good speakers from the 80s are still competitive with the latest and greatest today within a price range.

    Or not. Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me the Harbeths are dramatically more lifelike than my Vandersteens. Tell me 30 years of research and development has made today’s good speakers dramatically more realistic than anything made three decades ago.

    I’m not being cynical. I don’t go to stereo shops very often. A year or two ago I needed some RCA cables, found myself in a high-end store, and was dragged into a listening room where a $100,000 system was playing. Well, yes, it was better than what I have at home. Much better. But back to my modest situation. Does 30 years of speaker research and development mean that the Harbeth (or one of its competitors) sounds more realistic playing flute or violin than my Vandersteens?
     
  25. timind

    timind phorum rezident

    Location:
    Westfield, IN USA
    Speaking of Totem, here's a pair not too far from the OP: https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/totem-signature-one-speakers.891928/
     

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