Dedicated Harbeth P3 Thread

There aren’t many threads here dedicated to specific products and I thought the Harbeth P3s might be a good one to share our experiences, likes and dislikes. It is a far from perfect speaker and, IMO, is best suited toward the seasoned compromiser who appreciates what it does and accepts what it can’t do. I have owned a pair of P3 40th Anniversary since May 2020 and I have never heard the other versions. Just by way of background, I have owned the SHL5s and Monitor 30s, so I feel competent to render an opinion on the P3 within the context of the Harbeth brand.

First - contrary to Alan Shaw’s opinion, ie, any amp, any wire, plop them down anywhere, no blu-tak, etc, I have found them to be fussy little bastards that demand good setup and associated equipment. BTW, I am using them as stand mounts on 24:" Target 4-post stands in a smallish living room, approximately 8 feet from my listening position, with my couch against the back wall. The speakers are set on the sides of my rack with the back of the speakers 16" from the front wall. I have never heard them in a desktop setting, so I can’t speak to that.

I was using a pair of Fritz Mini-Monitors prior to the Harbeths. They are a tribute to the Totem Model One, with a Dynaudio-type woofer and a Morel tweeter. They sounded great with Blue Jeans 10 gauge cable and I began to fall into the "cables are bullshit" camp a little bit. Well, I put the Harbeths in the same system and they sounded horrible. Strings were steely, alto saxophones were screaming and bass was very light, which is something I expected, as the Fritz have fantastic bass. In short, I hated the P3 and figured I would hold onto them until the pandemic dies down and sell them. Chalk one up to buying without audition.

But before I carted them up, I thought I might try them with another pair of speaker cables I had around from my Viva amp. They were some plain cables that the Viva designer used for himself and there was quite a difference.They were still harsh and bass light, but better. Hmmm. I was never one to try to "fix" a speaker with cables, but every rule can be broken, so I thought to give it a try. After shopping around, I decided to go with Purist Poseidon speaker cables because of their "warm" reputation. BTW - the speakers were very lightly-used demos, so they were at least somewhat broken in.

I hooked them up and put on the Stereophile Test CD just to make sure I had the wiring correct. It tests left and right with a Fender bass guitar and from the moment it started, I was in absolute shock. I hate to spout cliches, but the whole speaker sounded twice the size. Bigger, fuller, deeper bass, but with a clear midrange and high end which sounded like a window to the source. Absolutely natural and not dark or veiled in any way. It was a total transformation. Say what you want, that’s what I heard. Combined with the Poseidons, the P3 developed into a speaker that did certain things amazingly well within it’s limitations. Of course, it took a month for the cables to break in, but the big, clear, natural sound only improved.

What I like about the speaker reminds me of what I like about single-driver speakers. It’s not what you get, it’s what you don’t get. With single drivers you don’t get phase anomalies and crossover distortion and once your ear gets attuned to this, it’s very hard to accept it in other speakers. The P3’s have amazing coherence and naturalness, especially with the voice. Like many single-driver speakers, it does favor simpler music, string quartets, solo piano and guitar, guitar/bass, piano/bass. But it sounds great on James Taylor, Shelby Lynne and other pop records with simpler instrumentation. For me, living in an apartment, I have always favored smaller-scale music anyway and most of my music collection consists of stuff I can play at night without disturbing the neighbors.

Like Steve Guttenberg suggested, I tried moving them closer to me (I installed some casters) and they sounded good in the middle of the room, but I still found placing them with the back of the speaker 16" from the wall gave me the best balance of bass response and vocal clarity, although there is a bit of thickness in the vocals that comes with the bass reinforcement of the speaker that close to the wall. I never thought a non-ported speaker could have such a full bass response, but this one does. Plus, the bass is pitch defined, so you can hear the actual notes, not just a billowy boom going on at the bottom. Really something,

Again, IMO, I think this is not a speaker for everyone, but I would recommend it for who I referred to above as a "seasoned compromiser" who knows what they like and are willing to experiment with associated equipment to tune the speakers to their system, room and taste. 

Sorry this was a little long, but it is the first post, so I thought I would get it started. Please feel free to chime in with your experiences with the various iterations of the speaker and your suggestions for getting it dialed in.
Be healthy.
Nice. I am a long time Harbeth user too for 12 years starting from the SHL5 to now SHL5+. I once lusted for the P3ESR although I already own the larger Harbeth as it looks so classy in its rosewood form, and it sounds very good too. I listened to a pair many years ago and music sounded so real, lifelike and vivid through those speakers.

It's true the Harbeth will sound dreadful if incorrectly matched with amps and cables. When I first bought the SHL5 about 12 years ago, I tried not less than 6 amp combinations during the 1st year of ownership in an attempt to salvage the speakers since they didn't sound good with my existing amps back then. If I didn't try other amplifiers, I wouldn't be using Harbeth now.

The mini-monitor market is competitive with many choices to choose from. The P3ESR remains special and one of the best, if not the best. There are attempts by few P3ESR owners to deviate from the Harbeth but most always come back. Few people tried the Proac Tablette 10 Signature which is another highly regarded speaker but went back to the P3ESR for its more natural and musical sound.
Thanks for sharing your experiences.
I owned a pair of P3ESR’s a few years ago and used them in my second system, which is situated in our family room. I never put much into the set-up and used them with an amp that probably wasn’t a good fit for them, so I know I didn’t do them proper justice. I ended up selling them as they did not get much use and I figured I could use the money to buy other gear for my main system.
Recently, I decided to give it another go (setting up a second system for family use), and I thought I would buy another pair of them. Unfortunately, the demand for Harbeth combined with the production cycle timing meant that I would have to wait a while to find a pair. My impatience pushed me in a different direction in the end. I bought a pair of Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 1 stand mount speakers. They are similar in size to the P3’s, and they sound really nice. Granted their price is double the price of the P3XD’s, but I found a gently used pair on A’gon for a very good price. They have a similar tonality to the P3’s but much better bass, and boy are they stunning to look at. My wife thinks so too. WAF is real!
I’d like to do a comparison between these two speakers at some point. My feeling is that the Sonus Fabers would likely win, but I wouldn’t know for sure without a proper comparison. BTW, I am a die hard Harbeth fan. My main system uses 40.2 Anniversary speakers and I can’t ever see me changing them out.
I can say that when I owned a pair of Spendor S3/5’s many years ago, they GREATLY benefited from pairing them with a good subwoofer. Adding a sub really allowed them to shine. I can only imagine how this would also be true with the P3’s. I only used a cheap REL sub with them (about $400) but boy what a difference it made.
I've had a pair of P3-ESR SE's for 10 years now - probably the longest I've ever owned anything audio-wise.  I've had a few different amps with them - Cyrus 8VS-2, SimAudio Moon i3 and now a Parasound 200 Pre/275 v2 amp.  I always used Kimber 4TC and PBJ's...

The Parasound combo is actually really good - 90 WPC - which is the minimum I would use with these speakers.  
I am looking to get the P3ESR for my bedroom I going to call dealer today to see if still available! Wish me luck! 😃
@snackeyp Were you able to do the comparison between SF and Harbeth? Incidentally, I recently purchased (used) Sonus Faber Olympica II being driven by Audio Research GSi75. I still have the P3esr driven by Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II and Audio Mirror Tubadour III DAC in the home office. It should not come as a surprise that the SF and ARC combo is much better, as it should be given the price difference. But the midrange and vocals on the little P3esr's are competitive. Once you get used to the nuanced and realistic vocal representation on the Harbeths, it's difficult for any other speaker to surpass that experience. I think the Harbeths are peerless when it comes to the 'singer in your room' feeling. 

When I want to listen to vocals and small jazz ensembles, the Harbeth setup is my preference. For everything else, the SF and ARC is the way to go!