Harbeth SHL5 vs SHL5 PLUS

Hi Guys,

Seeking feedback on sonic differences between the two. Woofer and crossover changed. Have heard that there are differences in bass quality. My main concern is midrange and high frequencies. What are the differences? If there are...I am seeking the one with a smoother, more relaxed top end (non etched...eg...less leading edge and more body in vocals/string instruments). Thanks so much for your help.
I heard the new models at TAVES in Toronto last fall. I don't think the difference is night and day. The newer speaker sounds more transparent to my ears. A cable change might yield a similar magnitude of difference. Say swapping from Cardas Cross to Nordost Red Dawn.

I did not notice more bass but everything sounded a bit tidier. It is a large speaker. Big, warm and friendly. For less money the M30.1 to my ears sound better. I run C7s myself. I wanted M30.1 but in my small room, the C7s are better choice for the low levels that I listen at.

Reality is I could live with any Harbeth speaker.
@Banerjba...thanks for your help. May I ask how large your room is....mine is only 10 x 14 x 9...its treated though. Bass traps at the front wall and 1st and 2nd reflection points on the sides. My amp is tubed at 25w/ch triode and 38w/ch ultralinear.Listen to vocals, guitar, piano and small ensemble jazz. Low to moderate levels as it's a bedroom. What do you think? I have only heard the SHL5 plus. They sounded like what I am seeking...big sound and large vivid instrument size and soundstage. Haven't heard the non plus before...thinking of sourcing a used pair. Thanks.

The HL5 would be too much for a small room like yours,I think you would be better off with the smaller sealed P3ESR. You should stay away from a ported speaker ,they need more room at the rear and side than a sealed one. I tell you this from my own mistakes! Bigger is not always better ! The 3's are oustanding with tubes.
I agree with Yogi. I have used the 3 and 7 in my very small 10 x 11 foot dedicated listening room and the 3 killed the 7. The 7 and 5 are both too big for your space.
I'm not sure I agree that the larger models won't work in a small room. Harbeths are designed for control-room conditions and they can be very small. However, it is a crapshoot as to which speaker will work the best in your particular room. I think it's just an unfortunate fact of life that, in a normal domestic environment, you don't know what's going to work until you try it. Also, IMO, the HL5s sound bigger and are more forgiving of lesser electronics than the M30s. They are a great speaker in any incarnation.
I agree with Chayro. My room is only 10x11 with 8 foot height and the C7 works great. I also own a series of mini monitors that all sounded too lean at low volumes in this room but fine in my larger room.

The M30.1 is a derivative of the BBC LS5/9 reference monitor. It is very revealing and accurate but sounds bass light at low volumes in a small room. Give it room to breath, and it comes alive.

The SHL5 might be a bit large for the OP's room but can work fine a with amp and source that are not overly warm and careful placement.

The C7 and SHL5 are very forgiving, but neither can match the pinpoint imaging of the smaller models.

BTW, buy the dedicated stands. It is a must for these speakers.
@everyone....thank you so so much for your help. Large full soundstage and vivid image/instrument size is very important to me...besides having a smooth/relaxed top end (excessive HF hurts my ears and gives me a headache as I am extra sensitive to it). Has anyone compared the SHL5 and P3ser side by side before? I have not auditioned the P3ser before. Image/instrument/voice size almost the same? Thanks.
I listened fairly recently to the Super HL5 Plus hooked up to a mega-buck Naim rig. In the treble the sound was definitely not what I would call forgiving, and I didn't pursue the audition for very long. I have no way of evaluating his opinion, but the salesperson stated that he thought this model to be the least forgiving in the Harbeth line.
The P3 is a scaled down version of the Harbeth sound. I think you will notice it in a small room. I would say the C7 sounds more like the SHL5 than the P3. The P3 is more involving but you will miss the fullness.

I ran the Naim Nait 5i2 and Harbeth combo for a while and there was not a hint of brightness. In fact it sounded a bit rolled off on top. The bigger Naim stuff is more forward though.

If you use Naim, best to use their wire and interconnects.

I auditioned Harbeths using largish Japanese amps from Accuphase, Marantz and Airtight. I use a 100 wpc Yamaha. With these amps and using modest wire from Kimber, Atlas and Oyaide, I have never noticed brightness.

That said, both the M30.1 and SHL5 are highly resolving so if you have brightness or edge elsewhere in the system, they will definitely reproduce it.

Best to go find a place to listen for yourself. BTW in Canada Harbeth speakers are sold at full MSRP - no discounts - although I did get a good break on the stands.
I have owned the C7 and the P3 and had them side by side in my 20 x 15 size room hooked up to 70 watt Quicksilver tube amps. All I can say is I thought the smaller P3's blew the larger 7's away. The P3's just seem to disappear when used in a smaller room. I also found the bass on the sealed woofer was better and I never thought a sub was needed. You should give the 3's a listen and they just might surprise you!
Thanks everyone for your input. One more question...I heard that there is a difference in sound between finishes for the SHL5+...for example...between cherry and rosewood.

That's funny. Canopus drum company claims there is a difference in the sound of the drum when wrapped with different color plastic sparkle finishes. Let me say this - I've learned not to assume someone cannot hear something just because I can't. But there are limits to everything.
I have learned that everything makes a difference but I have not heard the veneer thing myself.

That would be very hard to test unless you could be sure the speakers are in the exact same sport each time. A couple of degrees of difference in toe in are more likely to make a difference.

BTW Sterephile has an excellent review of this speaker in thie latest issue (June 2015). The comment largely reflect what I have heard from these speakers.

I firmly belive if you love the classic Brit monitor sound, these will be your forever speakers. Interestingly they compare it with the large Stirling which is cheaper. I owned the excellent Stirling LS3/5a and can vouch for that company's excellent products and commitment to the BBC sound.
Thanks so much for your input again everyone.

@Banerjba or anyone who has experience with the SHL5+....regarding volume levels...do they sing between low and moderate levels? Or are they one of those who shine and come alive only when played loudish?

Good question. I find all Harbeth speakers (actually most classic BBC designs) play well at lower volumes, especially the larger ones. The slight exception is the M30.1 which sounds a bit bass light at low volumes, although still quite good.

I used to run B&W 700 and 800 series and still own 600 series. The higher B&Ws definitely prefer a higher volume to sound their best. Or a very high current amp if you want to play well at low volumes.I used McIntosh.

Other modern speakers with super stiff cabinets and driver materials also tend to prefer a bit of volume (Wilson, Focal etc) so sound good.

One thing to keep in mind though the SHL is a big speaker so it will not sound as fast as the M30.1 not offer the pinpoint imaging of the P3. But I think it offers a nice full presentation where instruments sound natural and reasonably full bodied in real space.

BTW, not sure if I mentioned, mine took a while ot break in, like over 200 hours. Before that they sound fine but a bit sluggish and slightly uneven.Nothing nasty, just not as musical as after they break in.
I have had both plus and original SHL5.All things being equal the difference I hear are as follows:
1) top end a bit more extended and clearer. Enough so that older model is more forgiving.
2) midrange a bit less fuzzy and a bit more snap.
3) bass is where the Plus benefits MOST.Tighter which address a bit of bloat that would a times be present on original SHL5.
4) drivers are more coherent as a result of improvement's.
I will not comment on imaging or staging because those aspects are too subjective.
Next stop 40.2. BIG FAN
@HIfipf... Thanks for your input. How about scale as in size of image I.e. Instrument and voice size? Pretty close?
Image size is tough for me to comment on because of my set up.The plus is a bit better focused as a result of its improved extension and overall improved clarity.The height is improved, as a result the cymbals hang higher and pin point a tad better. Voice is same size but more focused. Scale is tough but I would say about the same
The in your face improvement is the bass.Tighter and better integrated, so coherence is improved.
Both models are great but Plus is just a more coherent and clearer sound.

hifipf9 posts07-22-2015 6:10am
I have had both plus and original SHL5.All things being equal the difference I hear are as follows:
1) top end a bit more extended and clearer. Enough so that older model is more forgiving.
2) midrange a bit less fuzzy and a bit more snap.
3) bass is where the Plus benefits MOST.Tighter which address a bit of bloat that would a times be present on original SHL5.
4) drivers are more coherent as a result of improvement’s.
I will not comment on imaging or staging because those aspects are too subjective.
Next stop 40.2. BIG FAN

May I ask the amplifier that was used on both Harbeth SHL5 and SHL5 Plus when you had them?

I have lived with the SHL5 for more than 5 years now. A recent upgrade from the Naim NAC 202 and NAP 200 to the NAC 282 and NAP 250 had caused the sound to be a tad warm. I could actually live with the bass of the speakers but I want a more extended top end and an overall leaner sound. Reading your comments above it looks like the new Plus may be the ticket? A less fuzzy midrange with more snap would suggest that the midrange is more in focus and sounds leaner. A treble that is clearer and more extended may render the predecessor to have rolled off highs in comparison. In short, all the traits you have mentioned above are things I am looking for.
I have heard the 40.1, 40.2, SHL5 Plus and Compact 7ES-3.

I compared SHL5 Plus with Compact 7ES-3 in the same room/system. I liked the C7ES-3 better.

I wish I could have a chance to compare the C7ES3 with my SHL5 before my purchase but I couldn't pass up the deal.
I don't know; I may still like the C7ES3 better than my SHL5 by a hair but I know that to my ears SHL5 sounds more like Harbeth than SHL5 Plus. I had a feeling that the Plus had little hi-fi sound. Different flavor. My pick would be SHL5. I love them.

@ryder  I almost thought we had exactly the same taste in sound until I saw that you had purchased the Plus:) I still think we do have very similar taste because somewhere I read your post explaining the sound of the C7ES-3 and that was exactly why I loved them.

I have been trying amps with my SHL5 (I recently purchased them) and all the amps I have; mediocre Class D, Class T and Class A/B sound very similar with them. Would you mind me asking if you still have the Naim and if it is still your best amp for the Harbeths? I may buy a used Nait 5si from this guy at a reasonable price but not too sure about it.

Hi Celo,

The C7ES3 and SHL5s are my favourite speakers in the Harbeth line and I could live with either one. You are right, the SHL5 Plus has a bit of the "hi-fi" sound as it’s currently the most lean sounding Harbeth, followed by the warmer C7ES3 and the SHL5 which is even warmer.

Yes, I still have the Naim with the SHL5s. In my experience, you have to spend a lot to get a considerably good sound from the SHL5s if staying with Naim. For this reason, I cannot recommend the Nait 5si for the SHL5. I have used Nait XS, 202/Dual Teddycap/200 and now 282/HCDR/250DR with full loom Chord cabling throughout. The latter is a massive improvement over the other two Naim systems in areas of transparency and openness. In my experience the amplifier forms a crucial link with the Harbeth. With the wrong amp, the Harbeth will sound overly warm, lacklustre and dull. With the right amp, the speakers will come to life and show superb dynamics and transient attack with great articulation and control. The sound will just pour out freely from the speakers with a lot of poise - reduced smearing of notes and improved articulation and refinement. The energy and tonal colour of instruments will sound different even by fiddling around with the cabling in my Naim system.

In summary, I would advise against the Nait 5SI. I do not have experience with this amp but my experience with the higher level Naim tells me that the SHL5 will not show its full potential with Nait 5SI. One integrated amp you can consider is the Sonneteer Orton. Croft pre/power are also reported to be a good match to the Harbeth. The higher range Naim is good stuff but it gets too costly when one is enticed by all the upgrade options. It may be a better choice to stay away from Naim to avoid getting into the upgraditis syndrome.

Good luck.
@ryder Hi, thanks for the reply. 
Wait a minute, I thought you no longer have the SHL5 and upgraded to the Plus version? 

Anyway, the reason why I was saying not so sure because the Nait 5si might not show the potential like I want to see. I really believe with Harbeths (like Alan Shaw) most amps sound the same with Harbeth unless you really spend a good amount of money. That's where my problem is, I want this amp with little money:) not happening so far. 

I also believe Harbeths especially SHL5 need an amp that will make them sound less warm. I was thinking a tube amp may be really good with them but I am not so sure about it now. Leben, they say is great with SHL5. Maybe instead judging, I should listen to tube amps with it. I may be wrong.  

Thanks again for the reply. 
Celo, it is true that I no longer have the SHL5. I upgraded to the SHL5 Plus last year.

Leben CS600 sounds more open than most solid-state amps. I have only heard it with the 40.1.

I guess you need to try few amps to find out how the SHL5 will respond to different amps. I don't share the same experience as the designer (Alan Shaw). Some amps such as Rega Elicit Mk2 and Nait XS sound almost the same with the Harbeth SHL5. I know as I tried both in my system. However, some amps can really transform the speakers. I haven't tried a lot of amps on the SHL5 (and SHL5 Plus) but enough to form an opinion.
@ryder That's what I was trying to say. Almost the same sound. I agree. However, I believe spending a good amount of money for an amp will make a difference. My amps almost sound the same. None of them has a huge advantage over another. I know Alan Shaw thinks ALL good amps sound the same. I although didn't hear say a Leben or similar nice amp, I believe the little differences I hear in the amps on SHL5 make me believe a nice amp will make them play at their full potential.
Harbeth have natural synergy with Pass amplifiers...i prefer with silver cabling in between...A class works wonderful...i checked out Gryphon Diablo 300 also on HL compact 7ES-3 and also works very smooth with absolute control but the best amp i mated with Harbeths was/is Kondo Ongaku clone....with also great source that is something to behold...bring me the most expensive Magico and it will run it over like a shallow stream in terms of musicality...it works so well that you just dont care is violin in third or fifth row, does it have less or more details, is it more or less transparent etc...sound is deprived of any mechanical artefacts...Harbeths will definitively take out the midrange best and most natural...their bass and highs are good, nothin spectacular but they are masterfully integrated and it just sings as whole...of course to get the sound i have now it would take a tons of money if you buy it from actual manufacturer but my point is that it is imperative to invest in quality electronics and cables to really hear what Harbeths can...i heard briefly SHL5 Plus with Gryphon Callisto amp, Rega CD player in another room and it is more cleaner and open and bit brighter than HL compact 7ES-3 but i doubt that difference between SHL5 and SHL5 Plus is big...if you allready have Harbeth speaker i suggest you to urgently spend some big bucks on better amp and source...thank me later...
@ryder just curious. No plans to change my SHL5s. If I did, I would probably go with the C7ES3 anyway. However, I would like to know how do you like your Plus vs. non-plus and C7ES3 if you don't mind sharing.

Btw, I am very close getting NAP200+NAC202+HI-CAP2 if the deal goes through. I think Naim is the way to go. It gives the Harbeths even more balanced sound if that's possible:) Thanks!
Celo, sorry for the late response. The SHL5 Plus is basically a more refined version of the non-Plus and an overall cleaner sounding speaker. Sometimes I find the SHL5 Plus to be slightly lean and clean when compared to the lusher and more romantic non-Plus. Having said that, I do not have any doubt that I prefer the sound signature of the Plus over the non-Plus. As for the C7ES3, although I have listened to it many times, it’s not in my own system with my Naim amps. If you ask me to pick two speakers, it would be the SHL5 Plus and C7ES3 for me. However, it’s a matter of preference really as some folks like the non-Plus more than the Plus.

The rhythmic pace and timing of the Naim are a good match to the Harbeth if one prioritize these sound aspects. The NAC 202 and NAP 200 + Hicap are lean sounding amps and match rather well with the warm and fuller sounding SHL5s. In the end the listener has to try and see if the sound suits his taste and listening preference.

A note is the Hicap DR is better than the Hicap 2. However, if one does not compare the Hicap 2 will sound fine on its own.

No problem at all! Thank you for the reply.

See I liked the C7ES3 better than the Plus when I heard them at a dealer in the same setup. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to compare with the SHL5 as it was an older model they didn’t stock it but could not pass up the deal on the used SHL5s from a private party. I also find them lush and romantic like you said. I had been thinking an amp that can play bright/lean or whatever you want to call it but something the opposite thick/lush sound of the SHL5s would be a good match. If SHL5 sounds more open with the Naim even a little, I think that will make me happy.

I never even considered auditioning Naim amp before but after hearing them I knew they had a unique sound. That PRAT thing works for me:)

Btw, I have to get the Hi-Cap2 as it is part of the package. Maybe I sell it and get the DR version later that is if I buy the system. Thanks again.

No problem. Sometimes I wished I can have both SHL5 Plus and C7ES3, ideally with one of the Proacs thrown in. However, I have no space for more speakers. I currently run two systems based on the SHL5 Plus and Dali Mentor Menuet.

Similarly when I auditioned the SHL5 non-plus and C7ES3 nine years ago, I preferred the sound of the C7ES3 but actually took the larger SHL5s as I wanted a larger box. Thinking back I should have chosen the C7ES3 as it sounds really special, just the right amount of warmth ie. not overly warm, lush or plodding in the bass as the SHL5 non-plus. It doesn’t sound as sterile and clean as the SHL5 Plus(although I still like clean than warm). All my opinion of course as people hear things differently and has their own preferences to how they want their speakers to sound like. There are few folks who regard the C7ES3 as the best speaker in the Harbeth line for having a balanced attributes, not too small like the P3ESR or too big like the M40.2.

In summary, I can live with any Harbeth speaker but could only pick one that I like best. Variety is good in life.