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Thoughts on Harbeth vs Spendor Classic vs Graham vs...

Discussion in 'audio' started by novak, Dec 22, 2020.

  1. novak

    novak pfm Member

    As a long-ish standing Harbeth fan, I currently have the SHL5 Plus. I think they sound great.

    I have owned P3ESR several times before, they're also one of my favourite speakers. I have owned M30 and 30.1 also, also liked very much, but nearly always ended up feeling that they lacked a bit of sparkle that the P3s, and now the SHL5 Plus, have a little more of. The latter in particular, they sound so open and immersive. In my room of around 5.5 x 4.5m, they fill the space very nicely, the bass feels balanced, and seemingly there are no nasty nodes. My amp is a Jadis.

    In a perfect world, the SHL5 Plus would be a little smaller physically (more from a visual perspective in the room), maybe more like the size of the C7es3, but fear I would lose the extras that the SHL5 Plus bring.

    I have never explored the Spendor Classic range, or indeed any other 'BBC' based designs like Graham and Falcon.

    It would be great to hear your experiences between the different brands and models.

    Have you switched? How do they compare? Did you upsize? Downsize? Did you shift brands?

    How about the new Spendor Classic Range vs Harbeth, perhaps even the XD if you have heard them?

    How about the C7es3 vs SHL5 Plus?

    Would be good to share some of our experiences, and will hopefully be useful for all BBC fans to use as a resource!
  2. hifinutt

    hifinutt hifinutt

    personally i prefer the p3esr to the shl5plus , lovely sweet sound that is so beguiling
  3. ryder

    ryder pfm Member

    C7ES3 is warmer sounding than SHL5 Plus in the midrange and doesn't extend as much in the treble when compared to SHL5+. In other words the SHL5+ is a brighter and leaner sounding speaker than the warmer C7ES3. As expected, bass of the C7ES3 does not extend as low as the SHL5+ therefore sounds a bit inadequate in comparison.

    Before I upgraded the SHL5 to SHL5+ I listened to SHL5+, C7ES3 and M30.1 at the dealers before I decided the SHL5+ is the speaker for me. All Harbeth including P3ESR are good, a matter of preference which one to pick. No experience with Spendor or other BBC speaker.
    bhazen and novak like this.
  4. Dave***t

    Dave***t Revolutionary relativist

    I had a demo a while back that included the P3ESR, SHL5+ and the then-newly introduced Spendor Classic 2/3.

    I found something grating with the SHLs, so they didn't last. I loved the P3s, and may have ended up buying them if a pair of M30.1s hadn't cropped up here on pfm at an opportune moment.

    By comparison the Spendor Classic 2/3 were a bit deeper and darker. At the time I thought a little too much so, though solo piano sounded stunning.

    On reflection I think that long term, perhaps the Spendors might have been best for me, but the M30.1s I ended up with are excellent too. But if for you the M30.1s seem to lack a bit of sparkle, I suspect the Spendors would be a step in the wrong direction for you.
  5. novak

    novak pfm Member

    Thanks, useful comparison here.
    Dave***t likes this.
  6. novak

    novak pfm Member

    Useful video! Never heard any Falcons. Would love to try someday.
    Allaboutmusic, bhazen and hifinutt like this.
  7. bhazen

    bhazen Infinitely Baffled

    My 'main' speakers currently are Graham/Chartwell LS6's. Size-wise, in-between C7ES3 and P3ESR. I had C7's a few years ago, lovely speakers but bass was a bit ... fulsome, in my room.

    To me the LS6's are sort of a nice middle ground between P3 and C7: sweet top end, deep insightful midrange, and better-controlled bass (in my room, anyway.) They do rawk better than P3ESR's -- they pass the Led Zeppelin II test. :D (P3ESR kind of sounds broken confronted with LZ II.) LS6's are a good grand or so(?) cheaper than C7ES3's, too. (I still love P3ESR's, though -- most magical mini-monitors I've heard, I think.)

    In my opinion Graham are the BBC-heritage loudspeakers to beat, at the moment. Derek Hughes, take a bow. Mind you I haven't heard the recent Falcon or Rogers LS3/5A's, they're on my list to audition once the plague has receded.
    JoeJoe likes this.
  8. EPear

    EPear pfm Member

    I’ve had several Harbeths and several Spendors, from the P3s (incl 40th) and SA1/D1 to the larger mid models from both companies, have demoed (but briefly) the Falcons, and now have the Stirling V3. Of all of these, on reflection, the Harbeths as a whole have remained in my mind as just not honest in terms of music reproduction, every model in a different way but after some initial enthusiasm I have never been happy with them, never regretting parting with any Harbeth. The P3 is probably the best of them, however still a strange aftertaste of decorated reality. Totally in love with my Stirlings V3, no comparison, I just can’t get enough of them. Curious to try some of the recently released classic Spendors, the ones I’ve had have always left me with a feeling of nostalgia and attachment.
    bhazen likes this.
  9. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    I watched that yesterday. One of my many concerns with YouTube LS3/5A videos is so many people seem to have the grilles off. I’ve no idea if this is just for the photo in this case, but if not it would certainly explain why the reviewer felt they were a little bright as it is an absolutely essential part of the spec. If the grilles are off it is not an LS3/5A!

    FWIW I’m listening to a pair of Falcon LS3/5As right now and I really like them. Mine are the standard crossover version, so like the MoFi, but in a lovely walnut veneer. As far as I’m concerned they are just an LS3/5A. Nothing more, nothing less. As such they kind of exist outside of all these comparisons, they just are what they are. They don’t try to improve on the BBC spec, nor do they fail to deliver it. If you want an LS3/5A they are one. Aside from having an exceptionally good crossover region and natural balance the key advantage of the LS3/5A is it is very, very valve amp friendly, and that enables systems that are greater than the sum of their parts. I am certain this is the key to the cult following. There are few little speakers that are truly happy on beautiful sounding vintage valve amps, so they definitely have their own corner of the market.

    As for all the BBC speakers that actually aren’t BBC speakers, e.g. Graham, Spendor, Stirling and Harbeth, I think I rate them in that order. I very much like the Graham LS5/9 from what I have heard and they would be right at the top of my shortlist if I ever went back to a single system (i.e. sought that awkward middle-ground between giant Tannoys and a nearfield mini-monitor). I’ve tried very, very hard to like Harbeth, but there was something in the crossover region of the two I’ve owned (Compact 7ES and SHL5) that I just can’t deal with long term.

    I’d also be very tempted by a really good (i.e. mint) vintage pair of Spendor BC1s, Rogers 3/6 or Studio 1s. The modern speakers are all likely a bit tighter in the bass, but these real BBC designs all nailed that midband perfectly to my ears. I’d also look very closely at LS5/8s with their active Quad 405 variants. A friend has a slightly beat-up and not perfectly aesthetically matched pair (fair distance in serial, as is often the case) and they sound lovely. Not the tightest bass on the planet but the mid and top are superb. Whatever it is in there is a really superb tweeter and the crossover is as good as one would expect from cost no object BBC research.
    The Bish likes this.
  10. Yank

    Yank Bulbous Also Tapered

    Tweeter is the Audax HD13D34H 1 1/4" soft dome. Also found on the LS5/9 and Spendor SA-3.

    SA-3 could be an interesting domestic substitute for the LS5/8.
  11. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Interesting looking things. I’ve never understood the squared off woofer hole thing, IIRC very early LS5/8s or prototypes had that too. There will be some science and logic to it though, there always is with BBC speaker design. Very, very expensive science and logic!
    bhazen likes this.
  12. bhazen

    bhazen Infinitely Baffled

    Not to stray too far from topic but, how do the KEF Reference 101 and Rogers LS1 compare to LS3/5A's?
  13. Yank

    Yank Bulbous Also Tapered

    The slot-load is intended to improve dispersion at the top end of the woofer's range, a particularly desirable design goal in a 12" 2-way.
    Tony L likes this.
  14. Robert

    Robert Tapehead

    What I find fascinating about the larger BBC designs is that they shouldn't nail the mids at all.
    A large bass-mid driver crossing to a 1'' dome at a fairly high frequency shouldn't work well at all, yet they pull it off.
  15. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Any two-way moving coil speaker is going to be a compromise and to my mind it isn’t clear cut as to whether a small bass-mid that is moving a very large distance trying to do bass is in anyway advantageous to a much larger driver barely moving at all. Big Tannoys taught me a lot, as from one way of looking at things they shouldn’t work at all (15” driver crossing to a compression horn at 1kHz), let alone well. Their driver may be huge, but it is all but stationary at sensible listening levels, barely any visible movement. A little speaker like an LS50, LS3/5A etc is showing about a +/- of half a cm or more at even very moderate level, which isn’t going to help anything at the 2-4kHz crossover region. In some respects the typical BBC box 8” may actually be the ‘Goldilocks zone’ for midrange in a two-way speaker, though it does bring other mid-band issues in moving the tweeter further away from the bass-mid centre (obviously the Tannoy is a point source so a non-issue here). I am convinced this is significant.

    The bottom line is there is no such thing as a moving coil speaker that doesn’t have obvious compromise somewhere. None get even remotely close to beingba high-efficiency perfectly phase-accurate controlled directivity point source flat from 20Hz to 20kHz. That is the logical goal, yet we aren’t even in the same ballpark. I’d happily argue Wilson Maxx or whatever are in their way at least as flawed as Kef LS50s. That many drivers that far apart is never a good thing no matter how much cash you throw at it IMHO.
    Subito likes this.
  16. Robert

    Robert Tapehead

    My point was around directivity at the crossover region where the two drivers will behave very differently, rather than bass cone displacement.
    You can get them flat either on or off axis, but not both and the discontinuity is audible.
    The BBC designs cover their tracks far better than most in this area.
  17. Yank

    Yank Bulbous Also Tapered

    Also, since the HF is a horn, they can match the directivity with the top end of the woofer.
  18. The Bish

    The Bish pfm Member

    Thanks for sharing that vid, pretty balanced and sensible commentary. He’s got a point about the cost, I think if you can get a good pair of LS3s now at a decent s/h price they are probably worth buying for the investment alone.
  19. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Agreed. As I’ve stated many times I am very far from convinced wide dispersion is in any way beneficial for serious hot-seat listening. Sure, an advantage for a family, party or whatever, but if you listen to a system the way I do I view it as a disadvantage as it just sprays stuff all over the room for no good reason leading to a less focused sound. I’m pretty sure this is a reason speakers like ESLs and horns can sound so like headphones in many respects, they just cut down on the room splash which is present in even good well thought-out listening rooms.
  20. Robert

    Robert Tapehead

    That's why I'm surprised that larger BBC designs work so well in the mids. No horns, no directivity control, just a transition from an 8" mid to a 1" dome.

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