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?



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!