Are Harbeth Super HL5 XD right for me?

I am feeling like despite being very happy with my current speakers, I am missing something because they are by far the least expensive part of my system. I recently replaced my Large Advents with a pair of the new KLH Model 5s and I love them, despite being about 5% of my systems cost.

I am thinking about the Harbeth Super HL5 XD as a final upgrade. It’s a big chunk of change though and my biggest concern is that they can only be 12” away from the rear wall. They’ll be essentially open on both sides and I’ll be sitting about 8’ from them. This is fixed in stone. I’ll be driving them with a pair of Luxman MB-3045 tube amps and an ARC SP-14 playing 98% (or more) vinyl. Mostly jazz, classic rock and classical. I live in an apartment and never play very loud, and have reached the point where I really don’t have much desire to anyway.

So… Is it worth taking the chance given my situation or am I just setting myself up for disappointment and better off sticking with what I am really very happy with?



What so you can listen to speakers in an acoustically challenged hotel room? 

Once your system is such that you love it (or part of it) -- as you said you do -- it’s pointless to buy any new component without an extended trial (several days or weeks) in your own listening space. The key to doing that, of course, is finding a good dealer to work with. A new component will cost more than a used one, but a home trial is the only way to know if a component will be an improvement to an already good system. Avoiding a costly and troublesome mistake is, in my opinion, worth the premium. That way, your money goes to making your system better and better, not to churning through components that are good (maybe great) but not right for you.

I would look at the AudioNote Hemp speakers.

They cost around $5-7k new and can go close to

the back wall.

Way better than the 5's but double the price.

I have those speakers. I took a chance and bought them used about 4 months ago. They have a front port so I doubt you will have a placement problem. I’ve owned many speakers including other Harbeth models and these are outstanding.

If you take a look at my system you will see that they are placed about a foot from the rear wall with windows behind them. You should look for a used pair just in case they don’t work out.

BTW, make sure you get the correct size stands to match them. You should check all listings for a used pair before you spend over 8 grand new!

TMR has a pair listed here for $4000. Grab them!

I'm a Harbeth dealer......  I don't think you'll have issues with them being a foot of the back wall.  They should sound really nice with your amps!

Are you in the states? 
I always felt Harbeth were a poor value on this side of the pond. A nice, well designed/built product, and respected history…but still.

In the similar “new but vintage look and feel” category, I’d suggest looking into the Tannoy Cheviot, which is more efficient, has a wider frequency response, (slightly) less expensive and more tuneable via the front panel. Their controlled directivity also helps with rooms that may otherwise be difficult. I listen to a lot of jazz at lower volumes (when my wife is asleep), and own the larger Tannoy Arden. They work great in this situation.

Jeff’s recommendation of AudioNote seems a solid choice too, although I thought they liked being placed in corners, which doesn’t sound like you have in this room.


You would have to listen to the Harbeth Super HL5 XD to learn if they are right for you. It is not mentioned in your post if you have ever heard these speakers before.

You need to locate a local Harbeth dealer , if you have one near you and listen for yourself. You can have the speakers placed near the wall behind them to experiment. The dealer might even be able to set up a home demonstration for you. The link below will show you local Harbeth dealers in the USA. 

If you do not have a local Harbeth Dealer ,your next best option would to be buy a pair of Harbeth Super HL5 XD on the used market and try for yourself. If you do not like them ,you should be able to resell them for little , or no loss for what you paid for them.

Are Harbeth Super HL5 XD right for me?

op - no one can tell you this...

but most who are knowledgeable about speakers will say that the harbeth is a superior speaker to you klh5's in most performance attributes, with the possible exception of bass response

My advice would be to take your time and listen before making a big investment. There is something to be said for being pleased with what you have. Your system, your room and your personal preferences all come into play. Take your time! This comes from a very pleased Harbeth owner (30.1). They do like a fair amount of power. I use a Luxman integrated with good results with 100+ watts. I also drove them with 60 watts of McIntosh tube power with equally good results.  Good luck, and enjoy the hunt.

what you have now is synergy between your components and synergy between your speakers and your ears. Once you change it the synergy may be gone. With new speakers you may need to change another component... maybe not. For one the KHLs have a higher sensitivity.

For the price of the Harbeths you could try a lot of different speakers. It's not clear to me if you are just curious about the Harbeths or anything that would provide you with something more and different than the KHLs. There are better values for the money, British speakers in the US are usually pricey

Never ask for advice on a given speaker. You will always get advice on speakers that are very different from the ones you are asking about but that will, of course, be the ones the advisor loves for his system.

There are better values for the money, British speakers in the US are usually pricey

I have gone through multiple speakers in the last 5-7 years ranging from $3K to 18K. Harbeth SHL5+ is a great value for anything under $10K. There's a reason people are willing to pay more for the Harbeth sound. I agree it's not for everyone but for those who like 'em, there's not much else that can match these amazing speakers. No other speaker does vocals as well as Harbeth (probably true for other BBC-inspired designs as well). That super tweeter is just amazing and it's so well integrated with the other drivers.

Last year I bought Joseph Audio Perspective2s. They were supposed to be a replacement for the SHL5+ in my main system. I briefly listed the SHL5+ for sale but just couldn't bring myself to part with them. I moved them to my second (home office) system and they are so good that I can't imagine giving them up any time soon. Since my home office is not as big as the main listening room, I could not pull them out more than 13 inches from the front wall. I was worried that they might sound boomy, but I was wrong. Being front ported actually helps in this case. They sound glorious driven by a Willsenton R8. Next year, I will purchase a better amp that is worthy of SHL5+. But even with the R8, they sound big, full, meaty with a decent soundstage. There's just something about the SHL5+ that speaks to my heart in a way very few speakers have.

Are they better than my Joseph Audio Perspective2 speakers? Well, no. But they're by no means embarrassed by the much more expensive Joseph Audio speakers. Of course, the OP needs to audition before buying. But if he can buy used, they can resold with very little loss if they don't fit the bill. Good luck!

Lots great advice here, and one knucklehead. There’s one in every crowd! I am leaning towards pulling the trigger on a used set tomorrow, there is no dealer within a reasonable distance. I’ll hang on to the KLH speakers either way and if I don’t feel they are what I’m looking for I can always fall back on them until I find what I’m looking for. I really want an endgame speaker and feel the Harbeths may be that. Thanks for all the great advice, I knew this was the right place to come with my question.

I am leaning towards pulling the trigger on a used set tomorrow, there is no dealer within a reasonable distance.


good call... i think buying a used set in excellent condition at a fair price is the smart way to learn whether the shl5 is right for you

hearing it in your own system, for an extended period, playing with placement etc etc allows you to really appreciate any high performing speaker, and fully understand whether they will meet your expectations as an end game speaker

my only other add is that you might want to try a nice solid state amp in the 75-100 wpc range... many of us harbeth owners feel that refined solid state works best with the bigger harbeths to tighten down the bass response -- the speaker itself adds a lovely dose of midrange dimensionality and treble refinement -- these traits coupled with tube amps may be somewhat duplicative

Post removed 

it is true that the Harbeth model line-up's pricing is linear - as opposed to other speaker series (B&W, KEF, Tannoy, etc.) that are more exponential -  not that it's an apples to apples comparison.  So possibly, from that lens, the more expensive Harbeth models are more bang for the buck

I think you'll be surprised by the bass response especially in a small room.

I brought in a few records to play when I auditioned my 30.2 XDs. One of them was an older MOFI Dark Side of the Moon. Even the shop owner was somewhat surprised at how good the bass response was on this recording.

And they sound great with tube amps.

They do need proper stands. I use Resonant Woods of New Hampshire.

Good luck with the purchase.


@macg19 That’s good to know, since the bass has been my single biggest concern with them. Thanks for that info, it makes me feel much more confident in my decision.


as you said you’ll be putting the harbeths only 12 in from the wall behind them, you will be getting more than usual degree of boundary reinforcement of the bass -- the question becomes not one of ’enough bass’ but whether you will get some bass ’boom’ in the 50-90 hz range...

I too am  a fixed 8’ -9’ from my speakers. Ceiling is a little on the low side. Amps are Primaluna prologue 2 integrated running el34’s for my vinyl and I stream through a primaluna dialogue premium. My speakers are Harbeth 7e3’s and Harbeth Hlp5( can never remember the exact lettering, numbers) and love both pairs. Would , if I didn’t know my nature, consider them forever speakers. The big Harbeths are a step up from the smaller ones but almost always wish my room were bigger when listening to the big ones. The 7???’s are absolutely enchanting. If I had to give away a pair I’d give away the H’s, the big ones. So what I’m taking way too many words to say is, maybe you’d be happy with the 7’s? Either would be a HUGE upgrade from the klh’s. 

I've had the original Shl5 speakers for years and I was never able to get them to image properly when placed so close to the front wall. They like room to breath and a lot of power (less of an issue for you if you only listen quietly). I will be listing them for sale soon. 

I have tinkered with the placement of my Shl5’s, and yes, the front port makes them less fussy about placement. I am amazed at how well these relatively big boxes disappear into the soundstage. I too, use a refined solid state amp and find the speakers can give really tight, fast bass. In some cases it’s even a little over damped. I think this speaks to the ability to fine tune your sound with different amps.

I will have to be one of the dissenting opinions here.

While they are certainly pleasant to listen to, they are hardly accurate, detailed, nor do they image or create a soundstage with any real proficiency. 

I have heard them out in the room, and very close to the wall. There was an improvement out in the room of course, but sill not great. It's hard to get around the inherent problems with wide baffles. 

And I don't care what they say, 'controlling resonance' of the enclosure, is not as good as trying to eliminate it. 

That being said, they do sound better than just about any other 70's 'heritage' speaker I've heard. And that lush midrange, makes vocals sound pretty impressive. 

They're on their way, or will be shortly, so love 'em or hate 'em, they'll be mine.  The good news is I bought them at a good enough price that I don't think I'll get hurt too bad if I decide they're just not for me.

@jdougs At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, please make sure you give yourself ample time to get to know the sound signature. These speakers are very balanced and don't favor any specific frequency range. They might sound less detailed than some other speakers but they get the tonality and timbre so right that it is tough to give it up once you get used to it. I also find that they are very sensitive to toe in. Good luck and I hope you love them as much as I do.


So possibly, from that lens, the more expensive Harbeth models are more bang for the buck

I agree with you regarding the lower end models from Harbeth. With the current pricing for their smallest bookshelf speakers, P3esr, I think they are no longer competitive. At that price, I would much rather get a Fritz speaker than the P3esr model. But the SHL5+ is a unique speaker even in the Harbeth lineup. 

@arafiq exactly, the 1.5-3K price range may be the most competitive. Lots of choices and trickle-down tech to benefit from.

12 inches from the wall and 8 feet away is much too close for the second largest lossy cabinet Harbeths. 

Even 24 inches from the wall is too close- you will get bass peaks.  

Try the P3ESR and (2) REL T7X subwoofers.  

@avanti1960 That's what I was thinking too. When I replaced the SHL5+ with Joseph Audio speakers, I wasn't sure if they would be suitable in my home office where I couldn't have pulled them out more than a foot due to the layout of the room. I almost sold them thinking they would not work. But guess what, they work wonderfully. I don't really hear any bass boom so to speak. But I usually listen to jazz, vocals, classical at moderate volume. So I don't know how they might behave with hard rock or EDM type of music. I'm glad I didn't sell them though.

I also find that they are very sensitive to toe in.

@arafiq Me too.

Jdougs - while mine sound best at higher volumes 10-12ft away, at lower listing levels they also sound great at 6-8ft.

A good place to start is point them 2-3 ft behind your head in your ideal listening position and adjust from there.

Stick with the Model 5s until you can listen to other options in person. Harbeths have become ridiculously priced for what they offer sonically, and they capitalize on guys who buy them based solely on reviewer and forum momentum. That the dollar is now so strong against the Pound makes their prices all the more irrational. If you insist on trying a BBC lineage design, you’ll get better performance and value from the Graham models like the LS8/1 or, if budget is a constraint, a pre-owned pair of Stirling LS3/6s. 

If you have access to a Harbeth dealer bring your amplifier/pre along when you go to listen to them. Tell the dealer ahead of time about your room and how the speakers will be set up in your room, the dimensions from side walls and the front wall along with your listening distance. They can try their best to replicate your listening room. Then go and listen for an hour with music that your brought and are very familiar with. Best way to do this if the dealer will not allow you to demo at home.


The last time I looked that Graham LS/8 is about 10 grand! You think that’s a value? Have you listened to them?

when i heard grahams on a few occasions i felt their treble is voiced more forward than the equivalent harbeth or classic spendor

a little more of a 'modern interpretation', and yes i agree with @yogiboy - hardly a value...

So I’ve had the Harbeths for a week now and have 15-20 hours on them.  No regrets!  They are about a foot from the back wall, so could I get a larger sound stage if they were farther out?  Probably (certainly?).  But they have nothing to apologize for.  They are definitely keepers!  They are on Skylan stands, powered by Lux MB3045 tube amps and an ARC SP-14 pre.

I also want to give a shout-out to the KLH Model 5s they replaced.  The Harbeth may be better, but the Models 5s hold their own and have nothing apologize for, especially at less than 1/3 the price. Both are great speakers, IMHO!  All in all, I am very happy I decided to pull the trigger on them.  Thanks to everyone who weighed in with useful suggestions whether I followed it or not.

Congrats and enjoy!  They are most definitely a pair of speakers I’d love to have a home demo with sometime in the near future.  

The amount of toe in was very critical for a perfect sound stage on my HL5s. Do a little amount at a time until the sound stage dials in. BTW, glad you like them!

Toe-in is pointing a loudspeaker inward toward the listener rather than aiming it straight ahead. Toe-in is a powerful tool for dialing-in the soundstage and treble balance. There are no rules for toe-in; the optimal amount will vary greatly with the speaker and the room. Toe-in increases the amount of treble heard at the listening seat.

@yogiboy I have them toed in probably about 15-20 degrees each now.  It seems to be where though sound best in my room and with their spacing.

@jdougs First of all congratulations on acquiring a world-class speaker! In my home office, the SHL5+ are also placed roughly 13 inches out from the front wall and they sound pretty damn good. But, of course, these speakers will perform even better if pulled out further, with the most noticeable improvement being soundstage depth. When I had them in my main listening room (they're in my home office now), I had them pulled out by almost 5 feet. The soundstage depth and imaging was glorious. I was skeptical when I moved them to the home office but I was pleasantly surprised. They still have the trademark Harbeth sound that I love. And as a bonus, they sound very good even at low volume listening.

If you have the space, try to spread them further along the horizontal plane and increase the toe-in angle by another 5-10 degrees. At least in my room, I'm able to improve the depth and image precision a bit more by doing this.

@arafiq At best I can only spread them another 18”.  I might try that next weekend, but even if there’s no significant change, they are wonderful as is.  It seems like each day there is a slight improvement as they get more playing time.  Zero regrets on my purchase!  And as you pointed out, they sound great at low volume which is great for my late night listening.