Harbeth P3 ESR - home demo.

plastic penguin

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Thanks to a local Harbeth dealer I've had these at home since last Wednesday

These are my thoughts after a few days of having these little Harbeths under my wing. This is the first time I've had a sealed cabinet speaker in my possession since I owned Wharfedale Linton XP2 back in the early 80s. So I took that into consideration when listening.

The first day I let them play only on Freeview radio all day, mainly as background music just to familiarize myself with the sound. Nor did I mess around with positioning. They were 2 feet from the back wall -- exactly where I normally have the PMCs. First off, Mrs. P immediately liked the way they are voiced (huge compliment as she admittedly hated the Dentons). One of my secret concerns was that perhaps the treble would sound "rolled off", which I experienced with Spendor SA-1 years ago, and wasn't too thrilled by that trait. No such concerns with the P3s: Crisp and precise, and have to say the marriage with the Leema is very effective, although it did blunt the volume slightly -- that's the issue with most infinite baffle speakers. The amp kept control of the speakers at all volumes.

On Thursday I started playing CDs and records: Hendrix Experience album sounded good, bringing the clangy guitars to the fore yet not over egging the presentation. Afterwards I spun Joan Armatrading's first album (vinyl) "Whatever's For Us"; her voice and acoustic guitar sounded impressive, very realistic bringing the nuances out and digging every nook and cranny. The agility of these diminutive monitors is really good: No concern about the overall PRaT. The tonal quality, something I was concerned with beforehand with the Leema being so neutral... wasn't a problem. Probably as even handed a speaker as you'll likely to hear below mortgage money versions.

I think I've dug out, or tried, every genre in my collection. I can see why some owners suggest they are better suited to acoustic and Jazz music, but they are no slouches when it comes to the rockier music: Nirvana's 'Nevermind' album sounded equally as good as Joan Armatrading, Stevie Wonder, Chic... Andy Roachford's voice and upbeat R&B music is a smile-maker.

However, all the time I was just thinking that something was missing -- nothing directly to do with a slight shortfall of the lower frequencies. It was nagging at me most of the day; the LFs were all nicely intact.

After experimenting with different positions it didn't seem to yield any improvement - still that slight void. It was only when I reconnected the PMCs it instantly hit me: I'm pretty sure this isn't the fault of the quality of driver used in the P3s, more I think it's to do with cabinet/room size. On good quality recordings, I hear virtual surround sound; you'll hear a drum click from the bedroom door or a rattle of a tambourine from the garden doors. Even cranked up we still couldn't detect that.

The other slight issue is when I played 'Music On The March', the track Laurence Of Arabia, the PMCs has the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. There seemed to be a slight lack in dynamics and pure emotion; dynamics were too subtle for my taste. Perhaps if I had these speakers in a smaller room the effect would be greater. Or perhaps the larger cabinets of the PMCs was to blame, which is likely.

The real cuckoo in the nest is the relative build quality. On the back screws are visible. I get that as I suppose Harbeth want to maintain that bespoke look -- it doesn't work for me though. Then there's the price. £1800-odd pounds. Ouch! Are they worth that premium price tag? if you were just playing them in isolation, I can see why people would pay that.

In terms of overall presentation, if you don't have the money for Harbeths then PMC 'i' series is as close as you'll ever get, from speakers I've heard.
I suppose if think about art and a lovely painting, these little Harbeths are that painting with some of the shading taken out.
I know @DougK said it took him about 2 weeks before he noticed the difference between the P3s and his old DB1s. Unfortunately I've not got that long. These Harbeths, I guess, gives you about 75% of the TB2is.
You guys like to keep telling us they are based on BBC monitors of the 1960s and 70s. Latterly, guess what speakers the BBC tend to use (not exclusively)? PMC TB2 in either passive and active form. Make of that what you will.
Perhaps later down the line I'd like to hear C7s and/or M30s, as the latter is almost identical in size. The experience was very good and intriguing in equal measure. I've got them until this Wednesday at the latest.

These little Harbeths do certain things the PMCs don't, and vice versa. Overall (IMHO) the PMCs are a better all-rounder.

If the Harbeths were around £1200-1300, they could be a serious contender.

TBH, I was just yearning for the Transmission Line of the PMCs - they're very addictive.

For: Very natural sounding; excellent clarity; impressive detail throughout the range; tonally excellent; good bass definition
Against: The thought of the price tag price still makes me shudder; I would prefer them to have more dynamics when pushed hard; fit and finish not my bag.

Harbeths 7.5/10
PMCs 9/10
 
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DougK

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Nice review PP (y)

Would definitely agree about the pricing of the little Harbeth P3ESR's. They are expensive, moreso now with a price tag of £2.5K. Got my P3's for £1495. I have found that they don't remain composed at stupid loud, fortunately I now listen at much lower levels than I ever have before due to the new amp. They more or less give me everything I require from a stereo system.

My own exploits between P3 and DB1 was a very close run. I guess with your larger TB2 the PMC had the edge.
 

plastic penguin

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Nice review PP (y)

Would definitely agree about the pricing of the little Harbeth P3ESR's. They are expensive, moreso now with a price tag of £2.5K. Got my P3's for £1495. I have found that they don't remain composed at stupid loud, fortunately I now listen at much lower levels than I ever have before due to the new amp. They more or less give me everything I require from a stereo system.

My own exploits between P3 and DB1 was a very close run. I guess with your larger TB2 the PMC had the edge.
Thanks.

Personally speaking, the only problem with the P3s are the TB2is. They do most things the Harbeths do with extra....

Even though I've heard the DB1is many times in shop demos and twice at home, that was 9 years ago, so I can't give a direct comparison.

I haven't used the TB2s much up until the last couple of days and they sound sensational. No more sparkle than the P3s but just better all-round. And given my TB2s cost £800 incl stands, it's hard to justify spending £1300-1500 on a s/hand pair.

On their own terms the P3s are hard to beat...
 

Gray

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....One of my secret concerns was that perhaps the treble would sound "rolled off", which I experienced with Spendor SA-1 years ago, and wasn't too thrilled by that trait.
Interesting. I never heard the SA-1, but that was my precise experience when I had Spendor's little S3/5R at home. Shame, because they otherwise exhibited many of the qualities you attribute to the Harbeths, as might be expected from the design similarities. And at the time they were £750.

Reviews rated the SA-1 and S3/5R as best buys.....hardly.
On such small speakers we expect bass rolloff, no excuse for curtailed treble.
I wondered about the HF performance from the Harbeths. From what you and Doug have said, they're as good as I'd expect.
 

plastic penguin

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£1495 bought me a brand new pair :)
That's a great price. Usually they sell brand new for about £1895.

Had the PMCs back playing for the last 3 days and they sound great. I suppose the point is any good speaker can sound better over a period of time. IMHO it boils down to not how good a speaker is necessarily, but what presentation really does it for your individual taste.
 

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