My thoughts on Harbeth C7ES3 vs SH5+.

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Strat-Mangler, Aug 26, 2018.

  1. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Personal Survival Daily Record-Breaker Thread Starter

    Managed to find a local dealer . There were a couple of handicaps in the session, though. No dedicated treated listening rooms. Only one huge open room, which of course doesn't help. The gear I was listening through wasn't nearly as good as what I have at home. Taking that into consideration, I nevertheless was able to come out of the experience with some solid conclusions.

    It was my first time listening to Harbeth speakers. Lots of stuff is hyped but I was pleasantly surprised with what I heard. I can confirm the comments about the midrange and image capabilities of these speakers were not exaggerated. Very inviting and organic sound which I quite enjoyed. I've found what I'm looking for!

    C7ES3 - Very 3D imaging, very sweet mids, natural-sounding highs, dynamic, and an overall extremely musical presentation. They definitely have an amazingly inviting sound that made everything in the mids sound mesmerizing. In one instance, the organ on one track completely surrounded me! Every guitar or voice sounded remarkable. The imaging really impressed me and was the first thing I noticed. Recordings that are less than greatly produced sound nice on these.

    SH5+ - Good imaging with bigger scale but not as enveloping. Mids are nice but not sweet like the C7ES3s, quite dynamic, more detailed bass, extended top though not fatiguing. are technically the better speaker but the magic of the C7ES3's mids were lost along the way. Effortless performance and infuse drama into the music. Less than stellar recordings are revealed for what they are, though.

    Now, the dealer got some water damage from a recent flood where boxes were affected so because they had to throw away the boxes but everything else is in perfect shape, they're ready to offer 15% off the price of the C7ES3 but they'll need to check if they have affected SH5+s. The C7ES3s are offered used at roughly 3200$ around here when they show up which is rare and with the rebate and taxes, they're 3745$ ($2977 US), so a great price for a new pair.

    For the SH5+, there's a pair made in 2015 offered on the used market *with* Skylan stands for 4400$. A great deal! There are a couple of nicks and no warranty, though. With the rebate and taxes, the dealer's price would come to 6050$. And no stands, which range between 600-1000$.

    They do offer in-home trials and are closed on Monday and Tuesday so I'm thinking of heading over there tomorrow evening to get the C7ES3 for a 2-day run. If I don't miss the good points of the SH5+, I just might end up buying a brand new pair through them. Otherwise, I might spring for the used SH5+.

    ** Also wondering what the chances are the used SH5+ would sound different due to their use than what I heard at the dealer. Anybody got thoughts on that? **

    Lastly, I heard the 40.2 as well which sounded utterly amazing in every way. I didn't even know their price and what I heard made my jaw hit the floor. Not an aggressive speaker ; just insanely natural and musical. Those with money and room to allow them to stretch their legs get them! Honestly the most impressive speaker I've heard in the last couple of decades, by far.

    Ideas? Advice? Thoughts? Death threats? :D
    Timbo21, eddiel, basie-fan and 9 others like this.
  2. Helom

    Helom I'll take the monkey coffins

    I'd only advise that you listen to some of their competition if able.
  3. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident

    Hong Kong
    Harbeth are pretty easy on the ears - as in highly musical sounding products so if you like something and you find it to be a good deal and you have turned over other rocks as Helom has suggested - then why not? Harbeth has been selling for decades - reputable brand etc so I am not sure what you are asking. Folks who like Harbeth will tell you to get them while others will tell you to get something else. Not much help either way really.
    SandAndGlass and Seafinch like this.
  4. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Personal Survival Daily Record-Breaker Thread Starter

    I thought I'd share my impressions on the comparison, throw in my thoughts on the 40.2 while I was it and ask about what others would do in my place since there are some things to consider.

    To be more direct...

    1. Would a 3-year old pair of SH5+ sound (very) different than a new pair, after break-in?
    2. Would the SH5+ be too big for a room with only 8ft of width to play with (after treatment)?
    3. Would people agree/disagree with me regarding my impressions?
    4. Were others in my shoes, would getting the 2-day in-home trial with the C7ES3 and possibly going for the used SH5+ after he considered a good gameplan?
  5. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident

    Hong Kong
    Well for me the Super HL5+ is the best one and Harbeth generally follows the BBC monitor approach so in theory they SHOULD work in a small space even though they are a bit bigger. But for the best answer to that I would ask Alan Shaw on the Harbeth forum at his website. Unlike my speakers which go in the corners near wall the Harbeths need to be away from the walls some but it's not like they need 5 feet - if there is an online manual it may also recommend room volume or positioning. I believe in getting the most speaker you can afford and will work in the space.

    I now live in Hong Kong and I was going to buy the small AN K because the rooms here are small - but I am very glad I went with the AN E because it works great in a small room after all - I would definitely at all costs try the Super HL5+ first. Upper model speakers almost always sound better and use better drivers, materials etc. They breathe bigger and dig deeper if you get my meaning.
    SandAndGlass and johnnypaddock like this.
  6. Helom

    Helom I'll take the monkey coffins

    It sort of sounds like you already have your heart set on Harbeth, but I'm gonna throw out a suggestion anyway: the Stirling Broadcast LS3/6. This speaker is of similar size and design to the SHL5 - with cabinets made in the Spendor factory - as are those of the SHL5s. It has soft material tweeters, which may be more to your liking. As for midrange accuracy and articulation, I've yet to encounter anything better. They cost $1800 less than the SHL5s in the States.

    They do sound best with considerable breathing room IME, as do Harbeths.

    Here's an informal review from someone who also owns M40.1s:
    Stirling LS3/6 Speakers

    I also like the Stirling SB-88s. About the same price and size as the C7s. The local Harbeth dealer and I prefer them to the C7s by a fair margin.

    Anyway, there's numerous takes on the BBC sound and all are deserving of consideration IMO. There's a dealer not far from you (Audio Eden) who sells Spendor, ATC, ProAc and Tannoy - all worth a listen IMO.
    SandAndGlass, 5-String and Simon A like this.
  7. BIGGER Dave

    BIGGER Dave Forum Resident

    As an M30.1 owner, I am curious why you are not considering the M30.1 or M30.2. In regards to price, the M30.1 ($5,500 USD) falls squarely between the SH5+ ($7K USD) and the C7ES3 ($4K USD). I've had my M30.1 for about a year (upgraded from P3ESR), and love both models. Before making a final decision, I would at least give the M30.1 or M30.2 a listen.
    bhazen, snorker and Simon A like this.
  8. 5-String

    5-String Forum Resident

    Sunshine State
    I can attest to Stirling LS3/6 being tremendous speakers and among the best that I have ever heard in my life.
    They are designed by Derek Hughes, who is Spencer Hughes's son (of Spendor) and he now designs speakers for Graham Audio.

    The Stirling LS3/6 have the ability to fully recreate the sound of acoustic instruments with full body and realism. They can play all kinds of music with amazing truthfulness to the source, classical, jazz, classic rock modern rock, you name it.

    It is unfortunate that due to their limited distribution in America, very few have heard them.
    SandAndGlass and Helom like this.
  9. chrism1971

    chrism1971 Forum Resident

    Glos, UK
    It would be interesting to compare the Harbeths with the latest B&W 703s and 702s. I was very struck by the 703s in a recent demo.
  10. Agitater

    Agitater Forum Resident

    The Harbeth 30.1 and the Compact 7 are more than enough speaker for your small room. The SHL5+ are meant for much larger rooms.

    Planet of Sound’s demo space is notably barn-like. Gunter has been threatening to sub-divide the huge main space to create a proper listening room, but it obviously hasn’t happened yet.

    The comment @Helom made about trekking up to Audio Eden is interesting, and it’s coincidental that at least one of Audio Eden’s small listening rooms on the second floor might be nearly identical in size to your own. Call Mike.

    Same goes for Executive Stereo on Avenue Road. Call Ed Stone about auditioning Joseph Audio and Audio Physic speakers.

    Don’t forget to talk to John Costanzo at My Kind of Music about a Wilson Benesch speaker audition. They are superb speakers.

    Star Electronics in Etobicoke on the Queensway has some very nice setups. If he has a pair of Canton Reference 9K on the floor, they’re very well worth an audition.

    Don’t forget about Ovation Audio in Markham. Rickey has taken on Dynaudio and the Special 40 is really quite something.

    And then there’s Francis up at Toronto Home of Audiophile for a Audio Note and Gershman Acoustics audition. The Gershman Avant Garde are wonderful too.

    It’s always worth a visit to Altronics to see Ron and Rob. They are PMC and Dynaudio and JBL experts, and the tightly packed shop is a riot.

    Audio Excellence is a great shop too. Kevin Lo has some great lines for small listening rooms and like Mike, Ed, John, Francis and the rest of the high-end Gang of Nine in greater TO, can sort out your needs in a hurry.

    If you’re tuned into the Harbeth’s, most of the other auditions may feel like a sideways move or somewhat anti-climactic. I settled on Harbeth (Monitor 30.1) for my main system and haven’t looked back.
  11. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Chicago metro, USA
    Living with the C7ES3 for almost two years now and can honestly say that after many audio shows and dealer visits nothing leaves me wishing I had more. In fact many highly regarded speakers sound bad by comparison, I am Harbeth spoiled. I loved the SHL5+ initially but now find it a little too bright and artificial (although the bass is exceptional). If they made an SHL5+ version without the supertweeter e.g. a larger cabinet 30.2 or C7ES3 I would be all over it.
    Nothing wrong with covering all the bases though. You may want to make sure you get some boxes or get more $ off because not having boxes will affect resale / trade value.
    GyroT, SandAndGlass and Ulises like this.
  12. Subvet

    Subvet Forum Resident

    Southern Maine
    I love my C7ES3 speakers in my small 9x14 room. From the @Agitater post it sure sounds like you have a lot of options worth checking out. You should do that. Myself, I would have to hear the Harbeth Monitor 30.1/30.2 speakers before settling on anything around this price.
  13. carbonti

    carbonti Forum Resident

    Yeah, the original boxes thing matters but it is rarely practical for an apartment dweller. In the suburbs I stored all my original boxes out of sight near the boiler room, here now in a city apartment I am still wait-listed for the opportunity to rent additional storage locker space in the basement of my building. So those boxes had to go.

    I too have Harbeth C7s and have no desire to change them which make my fidelity to them not difficult to do because I no can longer easily ship ‘em off to another buyer in their original boxes.

    At a certain point, I decided to get off the audiophile upgrade merry go round and be OK with what I got. But all that means too is that I seek to upgrade a little rather than to upgrade a lot :righton:.
    ZenMango and Ulises like this.
  14. Dream On

    Dream On Forum Resident

    Don't over-complicate it. It appears that you loved the sound of the C7ES3 at the store and you can try them at home. If you get the same results there then it's a no-brainer.

    Lots of awesome dealers in the GTA. Audio Eden is my favorite. I think I heard the Harbeth SH5+ once at Soundstage in Waterloo. Bit outside the city though.
    octaneTom likes this.
  15. layman

    layman Forum Resident

    New York, NY
    It seems you like the sound of BBC School loudspeakers. I would characterize that sound as focused on maximizing the realism and fidelity of the speaking voice (and unamplified instruments). It's a sound which seems at first mid-range dominant but only because the treble and bass don't stick out as separate from the mid-range. The speakers have been voiced so that the drive units blend perfectly, so that they all sing from the same cloth.

    I think the BBC-School Loudspeakers (Harbeth, Spendor, Stirling, Graham, Rogers....) sound much more alike to each other than they do to other types of speakers (with perhaps the exception of the Quad ESL57/63). The differences (between the various BBC School models) are (to my ears) quite small. I am confident you can find the model that best fits your needs by taking the time to listen to a few of them (preferably in your room). Best of luck.
  16. Agitater

    Agitater Forum Resident

    Soundstage in K-W is another wonderful shop. He's a big Vandersteen dealer, he's got a complete Jadis line, and a couple of other things that the Toronto dealers don't normally carry.

    The C7 speakers are a great choice for the OP.
    patrickd and johnnypaddock like this.

    LARGERTHAN Forum Resident

    I've just graduated from the SHL5 to the Plus version - it's been opined many times before, but it's a wholly different animal. Noteworthy is just how room-friendly it is relative to its predecessor - this iteration is leaner, quicker, flatter. There's also a notable beautiful cohesiveness amongst the drivers that, for me, was problematic on the older model.

    Alan has said on the HUG that the Plus was designed with less than optimal rooms in mind, and mine is certainly that. I'm approximately 7.5 feet away in a room with poor damping and these still manage t0 sound fantastic.

    It's true the smaller models may be more optimised or suited to your room. I think if you can physically accommodate the plus, they're worth a shot. As ever, home demo is king.

    LARGERTHAN Forum Resident

    Also, I stand to be corrected, but I think where the mids chiefly differ on the two respective models is the 3-4k dip. The dip is more pronounced on the C7's, somewhat flatter on the Plus.

    If you've digital EQ, you can get something of a poor approximation of what playing with the frequency band here does - flatter is more monitor-like and presents more details, with the dip there is perhaps a more natural and forgiving sound. It's a personal preference thing really.
    Seafinch likes this.
  19. Gordon Johnson

    Gordon Johnson Forum Resident

    Liverpool, South
    You might think differently when / if you get to hear the Super's at home. They reacted totally differently for me between the demo room and my living room.
  20. bhazen

    bhazen Magical Mystery Tourist

    Newcastle, WA
    I'm a Harbeth guy myself; but have a listen to the equivalent Spendors (the Classic line, BBC-type) speakers if you can (there must be a dealer in your area.)
    action pact likes this.
  21. Irisaurus Rex

    Irisaurus Rex Forum Resident

    Hi @Strat-Mangler! I'm a fellow Torontoian here. Just thought I'd throw in my 2c as I've got some experience with this brand.

    I've been to Planetofsound over at Danforth a few times, and was smitten with the Harbeths. I was instantly drawn towards the sound of the M30.1 which I found warm, inviting, and pleasant. I echo your thoughts, I was impressed and struck on how sparkly and realistic the midrange was. It was a surprise, as generally thought such descriptions of speakers were simply exagerations.

    Did you get a chance to listen to the M30.1? May I ask if you have plans to audition them? Personally, I was so enthralled with the 'magic' that the 30.1 speakers exhibited, that I sprang for a pair of M30.2 40th anniversary editions. Been waiting for them to arrive from the UK for over 2 months now.

    Here are my suggestions, based on your room size: forget about trying to make the SHL5+ work in the room, they need more space. I think the C7ES3 makes absolutely the most sense for you. I have a room that is around your size, 10x15, and based on my experience with speakers in my room, you need the speakers away from the wall, but also a decent distance apart. It's a balancing act, and if the speaker itself is large, that gives you that much less space to play with. Go for the C7ES3, that would be my bet, I honestly believe the SHL5+ would be a bit gimped and limited with your space to play with.

    You could also consider the M30.1. The cherry finish looks stunning. And I believe it's around the same price point as the C7.

    Oh and to address your question about the difference in sound of a 3 year old speaker and one not broken in yet: I think the differences would be extremely minor and quite possibly more in your head. Any perceived difference in sound over a few weeks would be your brain getting adjusted to the sound. I know there a lots of people who disagree with that statement, but I don't think all speakers are equal in this regard, and Alan Shaw himself says all of his speakers are goo to go out of the box, as I believe he stress tests his drivers quite extensively before shipping them out.
    gabbleratchet7 and SandAndGlass like this.
  22. murphythecat

    murphythecat Forum Resident

    Personally, Ive auditioned the entire line. The C7es3 is to my ears my least favorite "big" harbeth, the P3esr are not comparable to SHL5/M30/C7.
    bgiliberti likes this.
  23. Gordon Johnson

    Gordon Johnson Forum Resident

    Liverpool, South
    Given the room size an audition at home with the Supers would clearly highlight the issues faced. Much too much of a challenge for those sized speakers in such a room without major room treatment! Even then there are challengers.

    Alan Shaw says he cannot measure any change for / during / over a "burn" in period. that's not to say changes do not occur to a greater or lesser degree. Personally I disagree with Shaw on this point.
  24. Agitater

    Agitater Forum Resident

    I agree completely with Alan Shaw. I’ve also never seen or heard of a set of measurements of a specific pair of loudspeakers before and after some so-called break-in period that illustrates some audible changes (unless a part has failed). If you know of any such bona fide measurements, I for one would love to see them.
  25. octaneTom

    octaneTom Man of Leisure

    Another C7 owner here. I've had them around 4 years now and I've never once thought about getting something different. They're just such a fantastic speaker. That price is solid as well. Regarding break in — I haven't heard any noticeable change in the speakers from day one to now.

    I didn't do a great job of comparison shopping before taking the plunge, to be honest. My wife and I went to the dealer, checked out P3s and C7s, and we were both floored. I took a pair of P3s home for a week to see if I could live with them (liked the smaller form factor in my living room better) but in the end, even though they sounded amazing, they just weren't enough speaker for my space. I packed them up, ordered the C7s without demoing anything else, and haven't looked back.

    Demo those C7s in your place and see how they sound. I have a feeling you'll have a pair on order pretty quickly. :)
    GyroT and Robert C like this.

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