A new amp for my Harbeth SLH5 speakers

I had to re-arrange my set-up recently and I thought it might be a good time to look at changing up my integrated amp.  Currently I use a Cayin A-88T to drive Harbeth SLH5 speakers.

Most important to me is a warm sound with no stridency in voices or harshness.  Bright is OK when the music calls for it. I love a large holographic sound with wide soundstage. (I actually find Audio Note speakers best for that, from what I've listened to.) Most of my music is classical symphonic and choral.  I prefer the big stuff.  No chamber music here, but also not all Mahler.  Quite a bit of organ too.

As a test, I did try a solid state amp.  The dudes across the pond swear by them paired with Harbeth.  It was a Hegel H100.  Very nice, but not bowled over.  Pretty sure I want to stay with tubes.

From the research I've done, the 805 tubes driven by 300b seem like they'd have the warmth I love and the power I need.  Options include Cayin, Line Magnetic, and Willsenton.  Cayin also makes a KT170-based integrated which seems to do it all.  

I'm interested in hearing what people think of pairing any of the with the SLH5s.  Also the relative sound and build quality between the three manufacturers.  From what I've seen, in terms of the 805/300b amps, Cayin and LM have the best build quality and are point-to-point wired, Willsenton has the advantage of providing XLR inputs and IMO looks the best.

Looking forward to your feedback!

128x128Ag insider logo xs@2xmikedc

I have the HARBETH 30.2 XD’s .

For me, the REGA OSIRIS integrated amp beat out the contenders and pretenders.

Highly recommended .


hegel h100 is a very old hegel - i have found modern hegels very good with the harbeths, especially the h390, with a richer but still very pure tone and very silky treble... but a listener used to a tube amp at work may still find the sound too clinical and lean

that said, for a richer sound profile, perhaps a pass labs or ayre amplifier?

another option is a hybrid amp, such as a ps audio bhk250 or a van alstine hybrid amp 400r for instance

what i find the super5’s need is a strong damping factor to control the bass driver and deliver a clean midbass, lower vocals region... otherwise the sound gets a little too mushy and ill defined

I will go against popular opinion and suggest that, unlike other Harbeth models, the SHL5+ loves tubes. I also owned M30.1 and P3esr, and I agree that they preferred solid state, but not SHL5+. Not that they don’t do well with SS, but I feel there’s some synergy with tubes that makes the speakers sound so beautiful. IMO, the super tweeter can sound a little hot up top and having some tubes in the chain helps to tame that brightness in the upper registers.

I still own the SHL5+ (rotated regularly) and have tried them with the following amps

SS Integrateds: Luxman 590AXII, Hegel H390, Naim SuperNait 3, Aavik U-280

Tube Integrateds: Cronus Magnum II, VTL IT-85, Rogers 65v2, Audio Research GSi75, Willsenton R8, and Audio Hungary Qualiton a50i

Out of all the amps, the one that created the most magic with SHL5+ is the Audio Hungary Qualiton a50i. It produces 50 watts of pure class A (does not switch to AB). It really made the speakers sing in a way that no other amp could. The 50 watts for some reason sound very powerful. It had just the right balance of that tubey goodness with a more modern, crisp sound that never sounded syrupy. However, if you need to produce big bass, you’re going to need subs. Personally, I never felt that I needed them so I ended up selling my pair of REL S/510s.

A new one might be outside your range but I see two Qualiton a50is listed recently -- one on this site and the other one on the other popular marketplace that might fit the bill.

As for Cayin and Wilsenton, etc. are concerned, they are not bad per se, but I feel a speaker of the caliber of SHL5+ deserves something special. Good luck!

Arafiq, I love your sentiment that the Harbeth's deserve better.

I have now, fairly equal deals available to me for both an Audio Hungary Qualiton A50i and an Ayon Spirit III.  Anyone care to comment on the relative virtues of these two amps especially in conjunction with the Harbeths?  I'll be researching previous comments on them on Audiogon while I await your responses.


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