Speaker shoot out: Harbeth P3ESR vs Proac Tablette Anniversary

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I thought I’d post this mini review about my impressions of these two competing mini monitors, I know some members here will be interested. I own both so I have no axe to grind when making these comparisons and each has its own virtues and pitfalls.

The Proac’s have a more extended treble that is both drier and a more forward, the Tablette’s throw loads of detail at you, whether your ready for or not. Harbeth’s highs are sweeter and much more refined, it sounds that’s very balanced with the rest of the speaker and they tread a perfect line between levels of detail and finesse. Listening to “Delphia” from the Freddie Hubbard album Red Clay, Joe Henderson adds Flute accompaniment during the introduction, with the Tablette’s it was obvious that we were hearing a flute and it was clearly etched in space. The P3ESR felt more like an organic part of the mix but it took a few seconds of careful listening to register what kind of wind instrument I was hearing, this was a surprise. The Harbeth’s trumped this with a close to perfect depiction of the notes leaving Ron Carters electric bass; it was there on the Tablette’s but by comparison sounded a little blurred.

Midrange is what these speakers are all about and in this department it’s the Harbeth’s that sound the most natural to me. Female voices clearly stand out from the rest of the mix and all the nuances and inflection in the voice are delightfully teased out, again it’s a slightly sweeter sound. The Proac’s make female voices actually project slightly forward from the mix, but it’s a slightly more angular and edgy sound, which worked fine with Tory Amos but I’m not sure how well it would sit with someone like Diana Krall for instance (sorry I couldn’t tell you). On classical the P3ESR are without peer, string instruments have both the correct amount of bite and warmth and despite their small size give enough weight and scale to satisfy the illusion of being at a concert hall. This is the one music genre that I didn’t really feel the Tablette’s worked, violins in particular seemed to sound a semitone higher and there was little body or weight to them either. On chamber music they faired better being very lucid and detailed, allowing you to hear all the little creaks from chairs, movement and breathing.

Turning my attention mid-upper bass and on the Tory Amos track Hotel (From the Choirgirl Hotel) the quantity of bass from the tiny Tablette’s is impressive, giving a very real sense of scale and menace and even making the walls vibrate a little. The P3ESR have a little less in terms of quantity but it’s just that bit better defined; looking at the speakers balance they don’t sound bass light. The one problem with the Harbeth bass is I don’t find it very nimble, try getting it to rock and it sounds like it’s lagging behind and just can’t keep up. On a number of occasions I was disappointed with the get up and go from the P3ESR, listening to vinyl version of Bad Mans song by Tears for Fears it had nothing like the impact when through the Tablette’s. Again a track I thought the Harbeth’s would excel, it was making nice noises but it just didn’t move me in the same way.

Sound staging is again an area where mini monitors do well and both are excellent in this department. The Harbeth’s do a much better job of portraying depth, though for the most part they perform just behind the plane of the speakers. The Tablette's project slightly forward of the speaker plane and sometimes into the room, the width is about the same but their portrayal of depth is not so convincing. With the Proac’s you get a seat in the first four rows to the Harbeth’s 8th row seat. In terms of imaging the Proac’s give you a laser-etched outline of both musician’s and instruments, personally I love this but it’s not for everyone. The Harbeth’s counter with a solidity and real presence. With both speakers sound stage width is outstanding, both are rock solid with placement.

In that important area of dynamics and timing the Tablette’s easily show the P3ESR a clean pair of heals. The Proac’s have more sensitivity and more headroom to play with, their drivers also seem to stop and start quicker. The Harbeth’s simply refuse to play any louder regardless of how far you turn the volume dial and when things start to get a little frantic they start to sound lazy.

I’d like to sum up my personal thought with a few consideration’s or recommendations starting with the Harbeth’s. For instance I wouldn't match them with either a warm sounding amp or a Tube amp, for me the sound was start to veer to close to syrupy thickness and it I don’t feel it would have enough power to drive them. Also with a few tracks I played on vinyl such as Kraftwerk, Daft Punk or anything with electronic noises or beats they left me feeling totally underwhelmed, just not right for this kind of music. Finally fresh from the box the Harbeth’s sounded very good, I've noticed little change from when they were brand new. These speakers love acoustic instruments and voices and I doubt you’ll be unhappy if your tastes are classical, jazz blues and even a little pop music. If I were giving marks for finish and construction they’d get a very solid 10/10.

The Proac’s treble sounded a little too sharp when new and I had to replace the grills during the first two weeks of the run in period. This does calm down eventually to a place where it was more palatable; I think they are smoother than previous versions of the Tablette’s. They require less power to drive them, and will go loader, a tube amp may even be adequate but I'd prefer a warm sounding tranny amp such as my Creek. Steer clear of bright sounding amps or ancillaries though. The Tablette’s are less music genre specific the only downside being I wasn’t really convinced by their depiction of large orchestral forces. Fit and finish would be an 8/10

During the listening session one thing clearly emerged. That was it really depended on the track I was listening to as to my speaker preference, even with the same artist on the same album the I found little things I preferred from track to track that would completely reverse my inclination to say this was the better speaker.
 

chebby

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Thanks. Very comprehensive review.

Given my musical tastes (and a preference for a playing volume that still allows for conversation without raised voices), it seems - from your description - that I'd favour the Harbeths.

Did you try any 'spoken word' material like a BBC radio play or similar? It's a suprisingly demanding test to play people's (spoken) voices at a similar level to that you'd get if they were a few feet away. (Not to mention how convincingly - or not - the different spaces they are speaking in are conveyed.)
 

westerniser

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Agreed, thanks for the great review.

I have also tried both, and came to a very similar conclusion. I also tried the Proac D1 at the same time. I found the D1 somewhere in between the Tablette and Harbeth, which was a good place to be. But going back to the P3esr, I fell for the warmer sound and open mids. I really like all three speakers though, wish I could own all of them!
 

paradiziac

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Thanks for the good read.

I had the 7ES 3 for a few weeks and as great as they were with voices, I couldn't stand the slow bass. Sounded like a bunch of drunk musicians on anything with rhythm i.e. most music!

Most of the time I owned them I left my Lektor 1s in the main system as I found the Dalis just more musical!

Just goes to show the importance of personal taste! Some folks love Harbeths and I can see why, but no thanks!
 

batonwielder

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Thanks for the wonderful write-up! I completely agree with you on the Harbeth.

Just like you said, it takes a second or two to figure out what instrument is playing. That's what makes me tired of listening to these speakers, and the 7es3's were the worst at that, forcing me to look for music.

Very helpful!
 
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Anonymous

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chebby said:
Thanks. Very comprehensive review.

Given my musical tastes (and a preference for a playing volume that still allows for conversation without raised voices), it seems - from your description - that I'd favour the Harbeths.

Did you try any 'spoken word' material like a BBC radio play or similar? It's a suprisingly demanding test to play people's (spoken) voices at a similar level to that you'd get if they were a few feet away. (Not to mention how convincingly - or not - the different spaces they are speaking in are conveyed.)

No I didn't try this but seeing as I only listen to Radio 3 you'd probably get a very skewed comparison in favour of the P3ESR's, having worked at a BBC local radio station (my first exposure to the LS3/5a) many years ago I have no doubt about their ability to pass this test. It was actually during this period I became a fan of these little speakers but they really had some shortcomings that were hard to overlook, when the HL-P3's came out in the early 90's I was one of the first on the Harbeth order books. Compared to the original P3 the latest incarnation sounds a lot sharper, more focused and refined. They've definitely gotten better with age without taking the design in the direction of sounding Hi Fi. The one thing that really irritated me with the original was the dynamic compression, its still there to a lesser extent but at least the soundstage doesn't shrink in size like it used to, perspective remains consistant.
 

audiokid

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I'm late to see this thread, but very interested in it. I'm thinking about adding some proac tablette anniversary to my supernait. I also own the p3esr and really like them, and really like capable standmounts in general. Was also looking to proac d1. I like to swap speakers round every so often and appreciate the different sonic signatures they have.

Just wondered if you, or anyone reading the thread has any further opinions on the proac vs the Harbeth - and indeed the comparison between the tablette anniversary and the d1?
 
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Anonymous

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Thought I'd add my two bits. I purchased the Harbeth P3ESR a few months ago to replace my old ProAc Tabelette 50's and Spendor S3/5's. You know what? I kept them. They all sound wonderful in their own way! Harbeths for voice and jazz, the ProAcs for rock and electronica and the Spendors for just about anything. I'm glad I still have them and either of these I could live with. The 50's have the same configuration as the Anniversaries with a refined sounding tweeter compared to the Reference 8. Sort of like an economical 1SC. Variety is the spice of life.:dance:
 

pauln

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Nice review Spectre.

I've wanted to listen to some Harbeths for a while now but not had a chance yet, too much work this year. From what I've read they would suit me perfectly - I listen to a lot of jazz and male/female vocals (mezzo-soprano and contralto - higher than that hurts my ears) but also equally as much Steely Dan, Dire Straits, Santana etc. How do you think the Harbeths would cope given what you have said about the dynamics and timing?

I'd also be interested to know what amp you were using, because despite what Alan Shaw might say on the Harbeth users forum, many people have said that a more powerful amp really brings out the best in them. Naim, Quad, Sugden all seem popular on the forum.

I auditioned Rega RS5, Proac Studio 115 and Epos Epic 5 a few months ago, all with a Rega Brio R amp; I liked the Proac least of the three, too bright and detailed for my tastes.

I also imagine that the Harbeths would be very good for use with the TV - they might bring out the dialogue from the background noise that seems to be so all pervading these days.
 

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