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.
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!
Oh, BTW, those who claim that the P3esr's are only suitable for non-complex or jazz music have not used them in conjunction with a musical subwoofer.
I just watched a video showing Alan Shaw explain what is difference between anniversary editions he said mainly using a up to date software system to tweak the crossover just right which he was unable to do when he first started out designing Harbeths with ancient software. So in theory shouldn't the Harbeth XD versions with upgraded parts sound alot to better than the standard versions? Many say XD are a little tipped up in the treble. I wonder if Mr. Shaw is losing some of his high frequency hearing and the new versions compensate for that!
I don't know if he's right, but Sean at Zero Fidelity said Alan Shaw hired a marketing company prior to release of the 40th Anniversary speakers.  The one and only reason you hire a marketing company is to sell more speakers, which I have no problem with. One way to sell more speakers is to put out "improved" versions of what you have.  Wilson does it all the time.  That said, not that I have scoured the web about this - I don't hear stories of people dumping their standard models for the Anniversaries or dumping the Anniversaries for the XDs.  I think that in general, the person who buys the P3s in the first place doesn't have that upgrade/tweak mentality that many audiophiles possess.  They just want their stuff to sound very good and are not particularly obsessed with the latest and greatest. As for myself, I wanted a pair of the standard P3s, but the dealer I was working with said they would not be available for a couple of months, so I took his pristine demo Anniversaries at a good price.  Personally, I have no desire to upgrade to the XDs or spend any time wondering if I should have gotten the regular P3s.  You can second guess yourself with any purchase you make in life and at this stage in my life, I'm way past that.  Especially with a pair of 3k speakers.  Be well.