What Is So Special About Harbeth?

SLike probably all of you, I just received notice from Audiogon of a 20% discount on Harbeth XD. I clicked on the tab and found that the sale price is about $2700. I have read so many glowing comments here about Harbeth — as if just saying the name is the password for entering aural nirvana. I admit, I haven’t listened to Harbeth speakers. But looking at these, they just look like smallish bookshelf speakers. I’m not questioning how good others say these speakers are, but HOW do they do it out of an ordinary-looking box?

Is it the wood? Is it the bracing? Is it the crossover components? Is it the cone material? What is the reason why these Harbeth’s are such gems compared to other bookshelf speakers? What is it about the construction or technology that makes these speakers a deal at $2700 on sale versus the $800, 900 or $1,000 that others normally cost? What is the secret that makes audiophiles thrill to get such a costly bargain?


I guess you haven’t looked at the prices of  Spendor, Graham, ATC  and many other type of that speaker lately?

Watch this. Harbeth feels the design and engineering of the cone is the most important piece. Plus everything is handmade with intense quality control, you end up with something special that absolutely nails natural timbre with beautiful details.

But is it worth that price tag? I think it depends how you intend use them and your room. I have ProAc Tab 10s, which I think play in the same arena with Harbeth. They definitely slay any speaker of comparable size. It's near-field nirvana. But for a living room space they just don't fill out the bottom end as much as I like. It's just physics of small diameter woofers.

I had Harbeth Super HL-5's for about 7 or 8 years; they are wonderful speakers with a great mid-range and treble; if you want bass, a sub-woofer would be recommended. I think they're best for jazz, classical, and more acoustic music. I'm a rocker, and while I enjoyed my time with them, I'm enjoying my KLH Model 5's a  lot more, and my Fritz Carerra BE's before those, as well. 

  Quite a lot of self promotion, and dare I say self aggrandizement in that video ( this one Watch this. ).  At the 14:10 mark I heard that injection molded cones are "a unique thing".  

  Careful, umm, marketing is a significant part of any consumer electronics firm's success.  Now that's not unique.

What is it about the construction or technology that makes these speakers a deal at $2700 on sale versus the $800, 900 or $1,000 that others normally cost? 

That's a straw man, as I don't recall anyone raving about the great value of Harbeths, though they certainly can represent good value on the secondary market.

As to the allure, well, that's well known. A gorgeous midrange, and very accurate tones and timbre, especially with human voices and acoustic instruments.

The smaller models are bass deficient, but for those who don't listen to head-banging material, it is a flaw that can be overlooked, or repaired with a subwoofer.


I have heard a few Harbeths (and Grahams ... same BBC lineage). They are sweet on the right music, as stated here, The competition is tough in that price range, which for me is expensive for a stand mounted speaker with limited bottom end. I have read that they still have to pay a royalty to the BBC for the design, though I don't know that is true. If yes, it adds to the price without direct benefit.

Years ago at RMAF I heard a Bricasti Design DAC and (?amp, not his) power a large three-way pair of Harbeths (ported as I recall) that looked like big monitors.

Classical music is okay and I own some (not enough) and work at it but hearing that setup with classical music made me want to stay for hours. It was stunning sound due in no part to those speakers as well as electronics.  It was one of a very few show moments (over a dozen years) that I never forget....

The Harbeth P3 is one of the best sounding small monitor type speaker that I have owned. IMO, there are many others that don’t come close!!


There are others that compete with Harbeth and are better in some regards but Harbeth has a unique sound.  Very smooth, sparkly, just delicious sounding.  I haven’t heard them at high volumes but low to moderate volumes, they sound really sweet.

I was enchanted by the Harbeth sound after hearing the P3ESR and Super HL5 Plus at a friend's house.  The detail and soundstaging were amazing, and as others have said, the midrange.  It was easy to close your eyes and imagine Jennifer Warnes a few feet away and hearing every breath as she sang.  My friend went on to the 40.2s, which were incredible.

I ended up buying both for my home.  I'm still in love with the P3ESR which are set up in a small system near field with a small sub.  The Super HL5 Plus don't hold up (in my room, with my gear) when pushed to loud volumes.  I usually listen at moderate volumes but like to rock out once in a while, and that's when things get a little bright.  I also have a pair of Stirling LS3/6 which are based on the same design as the Super HL5 Plus.  They are not quite as detailed but are a little easier to listen to at higher volumes and are soundstage champs.  You have to hear them to appreciate them.

I love my Harbeth’s, but would not recommend them for hard rock, they are in my opinion, not ‘fast’, they do not “rock”, by which I mean AC/DC sounds polite. Amazing for vocal, acoustic, classical, blues, jazz, but if Pantera or Ghost is your cup of tea, I’d suggest other speakers. They don’t sound bad with hard rock, but I have heard much better with other speakers for that type of music. 

During the lock down I saw a special offer from the local dealer for the 40.2. Because of the Harbeth hype, I spent 12K without auditioning them as they were sealed / new pair. At home, I discovered it was very limited in its abilities no matter the electronics or the set up. For some types of music they excel and for some others, is difficult to endure. Make sure you audition with all types of music and various volume levels. No experience with other Harbeth models.

Harbeths are very precise, a little bit too relaxed at some points, but when you have them well placed, away from the wall and not toed in too much, they can be quite fantastic. However, I have had as much fun or more with Klipsch Cornwalls, sometimes a bit of colouration is a good thing.

It's dreadfully difficult to design dynamic speakers. Specifically the cross overs. I pretty much listen to classical exclusively, so for me Quad electrostatics are best. I think it's safe to say, that designing electrostatic speakers is much less of an accomplishment to designing a great sounding pair of dynamic speakers.


plenty has been written harbeth on this forum

the search bar above is your friend

like any successful, enduring make of hifi gear, it appeals to a certain audience that values certain attributes

good stuff is rarely cheap, harbeth is no exception, especially bought new

It does appear that Harbeth may be in need of cash. They are discounting models

on the TMR website and now this.

The 30.2 XDs at $7k can be made to sound very good. 

What is special about them? The cabinet is tuned to be part

of the listening experience. The British way. Works nicely for 

some music.

People seem to enjoy the special status awarded a Harbeth owner.

My MSRP of Harbeth would be about 50% of their mark.


Recently the Crossovers were examined at GR Research and

found to be composed of lower grade components as well as hopelessly


I do hope the next time Harbeth orders more of the metal screws they love to use

on the faceplate they will consider splurging on some that match the wood finish.


they are amazingly underwhelming aesthetically. (ugly in my opinion)

I am pretty sure they sound incredible from what I read, I have yet to hear them in person.

Post removed 

"What is it about the construction or technology that makes these speakers a deal at $2700 on sale versus the $800, 900 or $1,000 that others normally cost?"

What others are you talkin’ about? Name a few!

Harbeth to me Are in the same category like Teckton they look plain ugly I will never own them sorry 

I think both speakers sounds amazing 🤩 but I’m not big fan of the looks 

Interesting question.  I am admittedly a Harbeth fan, although right now I am listening to the Chartwell LS6s.  Harbeth certainly has a big fan base and I agree with those above that say they are best suited for acoustic music and vocals, although I have listened to a much wider range of music on them. Yes, the prices are high.  When I bought my HL5s, they were 4k and now they're 8k.  Things made in England are more expensive than many other places due to labor costs. Should you buy them?  Sometimes you need to get something out of your system.  Years ago, I bought a Linn turntable just to see what it was about.  I wanted the baseline of listening to a Linn as a yardstick with which to measure other turntables.  So my opinion is this - if you can afford it, buy a pair of Harbeths and see what they're about.  Then you'll know.  BTW, I think the ones on sale have slight finish imperfections, not that it matters - unless it matters to you.  

I don’t know about the XD versions. If going with the older SHL5, pick the SHL5 Plus instead of the older SHL5. The Plus is an overall better sounding speaker - cleaner, more precise and better clarity in the bass and midrange. The SHL5 non-Plus sounds smeared and has a bloated uneven bass.

xd versions are very very incrementally altered over just prior gen harbeths

bigger change can be heard in 40.2 or shl+ or 7es3 versions from those prior... 40.1, shl non/plus, c7es2 - as others have said, mid-bass/bass was tightened up and transparency increased a noticeable notch

xd versions are very very incrementally altered over just prior gen harbeths


That’s useful. From my observation, the popular XD models that get the most attention are the C7ES3 and M30. The other models don’t get much interest, and the P3ESR XD is a mixed bag. It appears that several P3ESR owners who switched to the P3ESR XD are having difficulty adapting to the bright treble in the new model.

The XD series has underdone certainly one round of price increases, perhaps two, and currently in the USA I just don't think they're price-competitive, whatever their many virtues.

The upside here is that the sweet spot in the Harbeth range was represented by the previous two generations/iterations: the Anniversary series and the non-anniversary series before that (e.g. 40.2 Anniversary, 40.2).  Pick up a gently used pair of these in whatever model you're interested in, and you get all the Harbeth magic at a much more reasonable price.  That's exactly what I did.


Every loudspeaker, no matter the price, is voiced by the builder to best accomplish their design goals.  That's why there's no unanimity of opinion of the best speaker at any given price range, including unlimited.  Harbeth, like many brands, has been around for a long time.  You can trust them to build a quality product at a just price.

That doesn't mean they're for you.  Every buyer is seeking the speaker in their price range that best meets their own personal "voicing" standards.

Don't look at this as being something special that Agon is offering you.  It's just a sales ad.  If Harbeth wasn't on your radar before, you don't need to add them now.

BBC must be part of the image, and the rainy UK weather, when engineers just tweak it until their ears fall off

@chorus I thought TMR was selling B-stock that's why the prices were lower. I'm a huge fan of Harbeth as well, but I feel they are not very competitive at their current prices. I really like the P3esr, but something like a Fritz Carrera BE is much better for the same price.

Thank you all for your responses and suggestions.  I don’t think I will be purchasing any Harbeth until after I have had a chance to hear them.  I was just wondering what all the fuss is about — won’t know until I listen!

I was just wondering what all the fuss is about — won’t know until I listen!

a universal truth for any high well-reputed end loudspeaker... and even some not so well reputed ones  😂

I might be mistaken but I thought Harbeth had moved its manufacturing to China, sharing the same manufacturing facility as Quad. This would actually be a good thing if it were true. The current Quad ESL's are better built than any of there UK manufactured predecessors. Also in theory, the cost of Chinese labor should  lower the prices that get passed on to the consumer (in theory).

I might be mistaken but I thought Harbeth had moved its manufacturing to China, sharing the same manufacturing facility as Quad.

I don't think that is correct. But it would depend what you mean by "manufactured", as some individual parts may well be made in China. I believe that the speakers are "assembled" in the U.K.

Yep, apologize. Harbeth is not an IAG China product. However, Mission, Audiolab, Wharfedale, Quad and some others are. So the fact that Harbeth is paying their workers a reasonable wage in the UK could explain the price point for their speakers. Anyway, again sorry, I should have looked it up first.

I do hear that British speakers, Sterling, Rogers, Quad, Harbeth, etc... all share  a common characteristic in that they are forward sounding. That itself could be a make or break attribute. 

@goofyfoot That is a good point — the cost of manufacture in England versus a low-wage country, and the impact that has on price.  

As for listening to Harbeth, the only local high-end audio retailer specializes in big projects, like wiring houses for complete audio-video systems, though they probably carry some individual speakers.  I feel a bit uncomfortable going there just to hear the equipment with no plans to purchase.  Might just bite my lip and go in. 

Harbeth speakers definitely have a slight emphasis on midrange but I don't think we can characterize them as forward sounding. Other than the midrange emphasis, I find them to be very balanced.

Also, as @jjss49 mentioned, there is a substantial difference between SHL5 (non-plus) and SHL5+. I often hear folks making comments on the basis of owning the non-plus model. There is no comparison. I heard the non-plus version and own the plus version. The super tweeter in SHL5+ makes a huge difference. You simply cannot extrapolate based on your impressions of the non-plus model alone.

@bob540 If you do go audition a Harbeth, please keep in mind that these speakers are very balanced, and can sound rather non-descript or bland during a short demo. But that is because nothing stands out and they don't call out for your attention. About 3 years ago, I went to audition Bowers and Wilkins speakers at a dealer who also happened to have Harbeth SHL5+ (I think a trade-in since he didn't carry the Harbeth line). I asked him to play the Harbeths, and after listening to them for a few minutes, I thought why would anyone pay so much to buy such a boring speaker. I bought the B&W but soon got tired of the sound signature (don't mean to offend any B&W owners but they're just not my cup of tea). A few years later I ended up buying SHL5+ and realized that what I initially thought was boring was actually an asset since it allows longer, fatigue-free sessions.


I might be mistaken but I thought Harbeth had moved its manufacturing to China, sharing the same manufacturing facility as Quad.

I do hear that British speakers, Sterling, Rogers, Quad, Harbeth, etc... all share a common characteristic in that they are forward sounding.

you are mistaken, harbeths are made in britain still

you should perhaps also define ’forward’ for us in your use of the word, but using the definition of ’forward’ commonly understood in these circles, you are mistaken again

there is a saying that is bandied about pretty often by well worn, long time music lovers and audiophiles - ’after you have tried em all, you come back and find a home with harbeths’... obviously no speaker appeals to all, even all well worn audiophiles, but there is some truth in that claim

harbeths are natural sounding, do voice and real (non electrified) instruments very well, do not overwhelm with a false sense of detail and ’hi-fi-ness’... as @arafiq  states, their appeal is in their ability to please and allow for lengthy listening sessions without fatigue, and allow much harshly, poorly recorded material to sound passable, if not downright good



'you are mistaken, harbeths are made in britain still'

Yes, I already apologized.

It's difficult to describe in words, what we hear in audio. British speakers to my ears are more forward sounding than American speakers. My Quads sound balanced while being slightly forward at the same time. I happen to like that with the majority of the recordings that I own .If to you I am wrong, that's fine, to others I am right.

They are very good for acoustic guitar and vocals and that is all they can provide.

The XD series has underdone certainly one round of price increases, perhaps two, and currently in the USA I just don’t think they’re price-competitive, whatever their many virtues.


I’m a huge fan of Harbeth as well, but I feel they are not very competitive at their current prices. I really like the P3esr, but something like a Fritz Carrera BE is much better for the same price.


I share the same sentiments. Folks in Britain also felt the same. At the current prices for the XD, the Harbeth are not considered to be good value anymore. Pick the predecessor(s) for best value or sound for your dollars. Avoid the older models and start from SHL5+ or SHL5+ 40th Anniversary, M30.2 Anniversary, 40.1 or 40.2 Anniversary etc.

The Harbeth may sound great but there are other options which sound great too, and some may offer a bit more.. There are many choices for you to pick from at the equivalent price range. It's good to have some variety in life.


They sound good

I auditioned vs two other similarly priced standmounts ($6 - $10), and Super HL5+ was easy choice for me. Same story as always - it’s a matter of personal taste & no intrinsic relationship between cost & enjoyment

(personal impressions at the time - other speakers mostly sounded like listening to a box, even if a very good box; H’s had beautiful detail - there is always “more” if you listen deeper; H’s felt equal to, or more alive, on very dynamic music; H’s beautiful on singer/songwriter & other smaller-scale acoustic music)

Ex: Beggars Banquet (mostly acoustic album) with all that beautiful slide guitar by Brian Jones, is just so, so good on the H’s - was different experience than the others I listened to. “Song Remains the Same” by Zep (the song) maybe has more “snap” on cabinet-sized Klipsch, or something. Btw, I like H’s bass very much - on SRtS, John Paul Jones bass is so there and musical and you understand how much it adds to the song. Same on Immigrant Song - H’s give up nothing vs others down low, unless one thinks toneless “thump” = bass. Superunknown is so, so crunchy and one can just crank it when in the mood

”Mining for Gold” by Cowboy Junkies one of my favorite audition songs, and for me is transporting on the H’s

If you listen to different genres than above, lmk and I will think about other comparisons

Good luck with the decision and let us know what you get!

Have a great day

@jjss49 +1 @deadhead1000 + 1


+ Nice thread; appreciate the thoughtful responses and comparisons 

In a similar thread I mentioned that I feel Harbeths are overpriced (very overpriced) and overrated.


Alan Shaw clearly states that in the design of his speakers' crossovers:  'cost is no constraint'  and also that:  "we will add components and complexity to achieve, in combination with the shape of the cabinet and the characteristics of the drive units, the smoothest measurable frequency response"

A recent look at a Harbeth XO by GR Research found about 30 components in the XO!  Unfortunately, although this can produce a nice flat frequency response, which will satisfy potential buyers but more importantly be favourably mentioned by the reviewers, will reduce dynamics and micro-detail. Low level nuance also suffers. If cost is no constraint, then are those cheap white sand-cast resistors the best he can do? Really?

Even with the above points the Harbeths I've heard, and no I do not remember the models, sound pleasant and smooth. Too smooth. To me they sound dynamically constipated.

I usually try to listen to 10CC's ... I'm not in love. Great music but not that well recorded. On the Harbeths this was not enjoyable at all. They suit well girl and guitar music.

I have nothing against the brand. I design speakers as a hobby, do lots of XO mods or complete rebuilds and know what a simple but carefully designed XO can do.

My last design had a total of 6 components in a 2-way speaker. A coil, cap and resistor in each section. I looked long and hard for a tweeter that was 3dB less sensitive so that I could eliminate 1 more resistor but could not find one with an extended smooth roll off below the XO knee.

Guys and girls, please try listening to a good full-range speaker to get an idea of the damage excessively complex XOs do. Sure, you won't get full deep bass and treble extension and dispersion suffers, but a good full-ranger can boogie. I'm not saying that full-range designs are the answer. Only that bragging about the number of components used in an XO is misleading.

There is much more to designing an XO than 'flat response' The Cumulative Spectral Decay (or waterfall plot) will reveal things like stored excess energy and other nasties which will tell you a whole lot more than a flat frequency response will.

After that rant: best is to just listen 🙂



"That’s a straw man, as I don’t recall anyone raving about the great value of Harbeths, though they certainly can represent good value on the secondary market."

Agree wholeheartedly with this comment. Their real value is represented by the price a used or demo pair brings. One thing I have learned over the years, and especially now, with so many good new products that perform above their respective price points, it's that price does not necessarily define a product’s capability nor its quality. Companies like SVS, Emotiva and Buchardt are showing us that sound engineering coupled with innovative business models matter, and can yield great sounding value-priced gear. I own both boutique brands including Graham Audio, purchased on the secondary market, as well as some from those companies I just mentioned, purchased brand new, and in both cases they represent good value. Graham has to pay a hefty fee to the BBC for the models they are licensed to manufacture, which adds to the cost. I am sure there are other reasons as well, including economies of scale. No matter what you own or why, the goal is to get closer to and enjoy the music.

For my last round of speaker purchase (maybe 5 years ago at this point) I had Harbeth SHL5+ and 40.2 on my demo list along with Spendor, B&W, and KEF.

I was most excited to hear Harbeths as I had never heard them before. I demoed both Harbeths in a smaller room to match what I use at home (12x17) and I liked the sound of both and get why so many folks like their house sound, but for me what they don’t excel at out weighed their strengths (yes, I really liked their midrange...).

Anyhow, at that time the SHL5+ was US ~$6700+stands and the 40.2 was $14,999+stands and I thought the SHL5+ was decent value, and 40.2 relatively not so much at least in the room that size, but imagine its strengths show up more in a larger room. I ended up with Spendor D9s which had an MSRP of $10K back then and I remember at the time thinking compared to the 40.2 were pretty amazing value for a big top of the line UK built speaker, that I really liked the sound of.

Fast forward to 2021 and the Spendor D9.2 is $12K and the 40.3XD is $22.5K+stands. That is now a very big difference! I believe Spendor is made in Sussex (right?) and the D9 also has a decent surface area with fine quality wood veneer, custom drivers, etc.; and the big box Spendor Classic 100 is ~ $13K.



I heard Harbeth speakers for the first time at Axpona in 2019. They were set up in one of the standard hotel rooms, and they flat out COMMANDED the room. I would say they were in the top five rooms I heard all day. It wasn't a particular characteristic, they just sounded incredible. They sounded so big in the room, and they just disappeared. Some rooms with much more expensive gear didn't even come close.

Go listen!


I spent a lot of time, with a lot of input here for a small office system.

Need speakers to go an actual bookshelf.  Wanted warm and not fatiguing.

Like others, thought the Harbeths were kind of ugly.  Especially the HL.

Went with the P3 ESR.  No regrets.

Seeing them in real life, they are beautiful and so well made.  I walk in most morning and run my hands over them.

They are musical, no fatiguing and warm with nice bass at low levels in a size appropriate way.

I am looking for another set of bookshelves for a secondary home room.  

I really wanted something not Harbeth....but I have hit the TMR b stock site about 50 times....

Nothing magic about them.  But I have a hard time thinking someone would not enjoy then.

Biggest problem with Harbeths is that they are bulky for the bass you get. The other minus is soundstage. Otherwise so sweet.