Which Harbeths?

Trying to decide between the the M30.1/2 and the C7es3/XD. I’ve researched it a fair amount and I’m coming up a bid confused. Like most things it seems people have conflicting opinions. I’m coming from using various Totems for the last decade. I also just had a pair of Dynaudio special 40s for a short time before selling. I found the 40s were better at playing louder and had a bit softer top end, but overall just lacked that something special, ironically. What I’m really after is that just rightness I get with Totems. While I find there top end a bit much I’ve been willing to work with it because of the just rightness I personally get from them. My wife likes to say they sing which I think gets the just of it as well. Harbeth has sounded very attractive to me for a while and hope to find another version of a special speaker in them.  One that hopefully is a bit smoother in the presence and treble areas while also being very engaging and musical. I use a McIntosh mc302 and C46, so plenty of power for any of the Harbeths I’d think.  Anyways, I’d appreciate any feedback in these two models I can get. Anybody who has experience with both Harbeth and Toen I would have particular interest in your take. I live about 4 hours from any dealer and I don’t like to waste their time since I will inevitably buy used anyways.  
From what I’ve heard of either I’d say they’re quite different. The Totems were quite agile and dynamic, but the Harbeths seemed better balanced.

I also found the Totems a bit sharp up top too, but this was about 10 years ago, the Forests I think, tall and quite slim.

As for the Harbeths, the M30s were said to have the best treble as they shared the same tweeter as the M40s. You should check to see if this still remains the case.
If you’re sensitive to treble issues, you’re quite right to be careful. For some of us, they’re a real deal breaker.
While I have no experience with Totems, I have owned both of the Harbeth models that interest you. I replaced a set of C7ES3’s with Monitor 30.2 XD’s when I found a great deal on the latter pair in late 2020. For the money, the C7’s are a superb value and don’t require subwoofers unless you listen to bass-heavy tunes as a habit. Those speakers are very engaging to listen to. The 30.2’s offer a more refined sound and better treble, although the bass is rather limited, as they are by design monitors. I use a pair of Rythmik F8 subs with my 30.2’s and am quite happy with them, powered by a Modwright KWA 100SE amp and Parasounf P7 preamp. I listen to classic rock, jazz, and movie soundtracks, all on CD. If you decide to try the 30.2’s, follow your instincts and buy used or well discounted demos or an open box pair. I would not pay list price for a new pair of these speakers. 
Conlad thank, and can you elaborate a bit. Specifically on the musical engagement and midrange between the two. 
I owned the C7ES3 and absolutely loved them- amazing midrange and a smooth rich overall tone with a perfect tweeter that added just the right amount of cymbal sparkle.
The 30.2 are very good but can be overly smooth.
The choice could come down to amplifier and room size.
The C7’s sound best with a more neutral transparent amplifier in a slightly larger room.
The 30’s sound good with midrange forward amplifiers in a slightly smaller room.  

30.2s for me. Yes heard both.
Kinda easy though as one is x2 the other
in price.
I posed a similar question a while back
only it was between the 30.2 and the HL5+
I’ve owned TOTEM ARROs and TOTEM FORESTs in prior systems so I know their strengths AND their warts very well. I now own the HARBETH 30.2XD’s .

in brief:

(1) The HARBETHs are a VERY sonic signature difference than the TOTEMS, with a superior treble, much superior midrange and matched overall silkiness that will be a big step- up in audio performance. BUT ,,,, If you are a bass freak , look elsewhere. HARBETH bass is tight, punchy and crisp, but they won’t necessarily go as low. Personally it’s a better audio presentation without the bass overhang but likely won’t satisfy bass-heads with rock or organ as their fave music genres. If you are married to the bespoke TOTEM sonic signature, look elsewhere .too. FWIW, HARBETHs will easily best the TOTEMs in low volume listening performance and audio,satisfaction.

(2) your room size and your listening position from source will dictate which model of HARBETH you will likely consider ….mine are in 17.5 L X 12.5W. The 30.2XD’s are ideal as a comparison point.

(3) The new / current HARBETH model XD’s are a worthy upgrade from HARBETH’s prior models with numerous build upgrades first introduced in the “special” ANNIVERSARY models, but are now standard in XD models. This has been well discussed in my (and other) prior posts below.


(4) The better your upstream equipment, the exponentially better the HARBETHs sing. I’ve never looked back at selling the TOTEMs with any wist or regret.
I am glad to hear some feedback but I think I’m more confused. Would be great to go demo both but I’m not buying new and it just seems rude. Plus it’s a four hour drive. Plus it will be in a whole different room, different everything. 30.2s are better looking and smaller visually both perks which might win out I guess. Really I just want the the one that sounds more realistic, natural, magical, special, and I think I can live with whatever other pros and cons come with it. The question is which speaker is that???
I purchased Harbeth 30.1's and agree that the highs and mid-range are very clean and natural.  That being said, the bass is weak!  I purchased REL subs to provide the missing "link".  I should have them hooked up next week.  BTW, the Harbeths are not underpowered...I'm driving them with a GSPre and GS150.  They just...okay, I'll say it...suck at bass.
OP: I agree with akg_ca’s assessment of the 30.2’s. Treble and midrange are wonderful. Vocals sound lifelike to me. I did not intend to suggest that these speakers are in any way less engaging than the C7ES3’s, only that the latter are musical as well. In my estimation, the C7ES3’s are a better value than the 30.2’s and offer enough more bass for that to be noticeable. They are, after all, larger. If your finances allow the extra expense of the 30.2’s, I don’t believe that you will be disappointed at all. My suggestion is to keep an eye out on the sites where used, demo, and open box models are sold, and look for a good deal to appear. I owned the C7ES3’s (demos) for about five years and sold them on for about 75% of what I paid. You would likely lose relatively little if you decided to flip them in favor of something more costly. My 30.2 XD’s are also demos and were discounted about one third off list price. 
My experience is exactly the same as conlad. I don't believe you'll be disappointed with either speaker.

Having heard harbeth 30.2 40th anniversary and Graham Audio ls 5/9 side by side for a few months, I can say that I love the BBC sound and I really love the Graham Audio execution better. If you like the treble of the 30.2, you don't know what your missing with the similar grahams. Way more open up top but not harsh, even better balanced. Beware, to get the most of these speakers bass wise, a powerful amp is required. 
I owned Harbeth P3ESR about a year ago, and currently own 30.1 (home office) and SHL5+ (media room). I auditioned C7ES3 last year, and 30.2 a few weeks ago. Based on my preferences (and mine only) ...

SHL5+ > 30.2 > 30.1 > P3ESR > C7ES3

If you are comparing 30.2 with C7ES3, I can tell you that they are very different from each other. Both have their fans and detractors. I know you don’t want to hear this, but there’s no way to know which one you’d like without auditioning. But if you have to roll the dice, I would say 30.2 is a safer bet ... it is more balanced and refined, but at the cost of deeper bass, and is not as romantic and lush sounding as the C7s.

For a small’ish room, say around 10x12 or smaller, very few speakers can beat the beautiful sound of P3esr’s. IMO, when it comes to vocals, P3esr’s are still the king of the hill in the Harbeth lineup.

Just my 2 cents.

In as much as I haven't noticed or perhaps overlooked any  comments pertaining to my question, - - - - are you planning on buying one or the other HARBETH speakers without an audition? If you have, or plan to set up an audition, then without question, the final judge are "your ears". You certainly shouldn't be buying speakers based on specs or reports or recommendations. There are so many variables associated in choosing the right speaker that fits your system, room acoustics; - -  well, you get the idea. But most of all your specific taste in music, has to play a very important role. 
HARBETH is one of my top two speaker designs. However the different models can sound quite different, when you take into consideration the factors I mentioned. Unfortunately many people think a person can buy speakers based upon specs, reviews, or recommendations. It seems to me that what your trying to accomplish, falls into this category. Room size (a very important part of the acoustic equation) is especially important. Realistically speaking, you may find yourself needing additional support in the lower octave frequency range, with either speaker mentioned. Again, depending upon taste and the type of music you enjoy, and let's not forget the decibel level that you are accustomed to play the system at; - - -  all these are important considerations in your decision making. Naturally, budget is obviously a consideration as well
Both speakers you mention have received glowing reviews by virtually every audio periodical in the world. Actually, that doesn't help.
If cost was no object, I would actually recommend  the "world class" 
40.2. Truly a loudspeaker that can handle any room size while retaining  all of the nuance and audible characteristics of the rest of the wonderful HARBETH line. And I would go further to add that the 40.2 is at home with virtually and genre of reproduced music. 

I’ve had both and the C7 sound is a bit warmer, more bass extension and lovely treble, a perfectly balanced speaker for detail mixed with easy on the ear, a speaker you can very happily live with and not feel you’re missing anything. For me, and these things are personal, I didn’t get on with the M30.2 XD. I found them bass light, a bit ‘hard’ sounding, not so musically involving.
C7’s all day long for me.
HI, I latched onto a pair of Harbeth SHL5+ about a year ago and I'm quite happy with them.
I compared them with the 40.3 but they were way too big for my room and quite more expensive. Basically the differences are that the cabinets are 2Cu3 and 3Cu3 respectively and the 40.3 sports a bass driver whereas the SHL5+ utilizes a super tweeter. The bass driver does lower the frequency response slightly but not enough in my view to eliminate the need for a SubWoofer. I think any smaller than the SHL5+ your looking at a bookshelf speaker as opposed to a monitor. It really comes down to the area you need to cover. A well balanced pair of speakers especially in the mid-range frequency range. Highly recommended.
All great responses. I’m with Arafiq on this one. I’ll make this short.

Obviously the choice will be dependent on listening taste and preferences. In my view and experience (which may not apply to everyone). M40.1/2 and P3ESR excluded.

Most balanced all rounder which plays all music genres well. From jazz to pop, rock and dynamic music. Leanest and brightest sounding in comparison to all other Harbeth models. Bass sounds fuller and deeper than the other smaller Harbeth, going down to 40Hz. The bass has better punch, slam and dynamics than C7ES3 and 30.1/30.2.

Sounds slightly warmer and fuller in the midrange than SHL5+. Bass is adequately balanced although it doesn’t go as deep as the SHL5+.

More refined in the treble with better macrodynamics than both SHL5+ and C7ES3, notes leap out more from a silent background, contributing to a more forward presentation. Treble is smoother and rounded. Excellent in jazz, small ensemble music and capable of reproducing human voice to sound as lifelike as possible, in this regard better than SHL5+ and C7ES3. Doesn’t play rock and dynamic music as well due to the added smoothness. Bass is lighter and doesn’t have the slam in comparison.

M30.2 sounds more open with more extended treble than 30.1. M30.1 sounds significantly more open with extended treble than M30. Avoid the M30 at all cost as I find the treble rolled off and clarity lacking.

Broaden your horizon and also look at Spendor and Tannoy....jmo
Tannoy makes a fantastic speaker....
I listened to both. I bought the C7 and have never regretted it. A lot of people assume incorrectly that the C7 is an odd duck in the Harbeth line-up, but Alan Shaw has explained that "the C7ES3 is actually the oldest Harbeth design in the current line-up." (Interview with the Part Time Audiophile, Feb 25, 2018.)
I am going to come at this from a sound perspective than picking which is right for you. I believe a speaker not having enough bass as a good thing as long as you don’t mind subwoofers and having to add one or even better two of them like the Rel T7? Through the T9? Series. I have two T9 RELs and truly love the sound that they add. Used these will run though about $700 each. The point is without a good crossover you cannot remove the right amount of bass from a speaker. You won’t have this issue. These speaker models will lack that harsh sound on the vocals. Thats that little bit of rasp that lets you know it does not sound real or live. It sounds like a recording. That’s a plus for you. So bottom line pick the speaker model with the best treble and mids. It sounds like this SHL5 speaker is the right choice because it sounds like it has the sparkle and sound you are looking for. If that is not in the running then the 30.2. Again because it sounds like it is not as laid back. The rest can be customized by the cables. I would look into power cords if you have not done so. They make a big difference. Typically when someone says this speaker cable sounded a little bright or even harsh it’s usually because they didn’t upgrade their power cord to the amp or preamp. This is a different perspective. I hope this helped. 
I owned the C-7s for many years and have heard the rest of the lineup in different iterations, rooms, and systems over the years. My advice is to not over think this one—Harbeth makes wonderful, musically engaging speakers that sound very good with even modest electronics of sufficient power (at least 50 quality watts but more is better). I believe the C-7 is underrated in the lineup and superior to the M-30 in terms of sheer musicality and forgiveness of less than perfect recordings. It also plays well in all room sizes—I know, had mine in four very different rooms over the years. IMHO the C-7 is clearly the safer bet of the two. However, I agree with those who suggest a side by side demo is best. If you can swing it, resale on the brand is strong and they come up used all the time—purchase both and play them against each other in your system/room. Pick the one you like best and sell the other pair. You may lose a few hundred dollars in the exchange but will have piece of mind and saved the hassle of a long drive.
Before you lay down the big ones I would arrange a reasonably long home trial with whatever Harbeths tickle your fancy. Reason being, although Harbeths are, as a rule, absolutely top notch, really good Totems possess alternative strengths in areas that Harbeths probably don’t even aspire to excel.

This may be of little importance to you; however after years of listening and acclimatising to Totems you may find yourself reluctant to relinquish some of their positive attributes. And this may only become apparent after a honeymoon period with other speakers.

The two manufacturers have very different personalities and philosophies on just about everything, and this is reflected in the balance and compromises they build into every speaker. Harbeth fanboys would have you believe it’s a walkover in all departments. Having owned and listened to several specimens of each at length I can assure you it ain’t so. Take your time and don’t be seduced by first impressions or reputations.

Thanks everyone for all the input. I decided to order a pair of demo C7es3 xd in cherry. They are scheduled to arrive Monday. I’m pretty excited to finally hear what all the fuss is about. Wish I could have auditioned both but I think I made the right decision. It seems about 20-25% of people who have listened to both prefer the C7. I have a feeling I fall into this category. The thing that turns me off about the M30s is I keep reading words like refined. While this seems like it would be a good thing I find I generally don’t enjoy equipment described this way. I recently tried replacing a solid state McIntosh preamp with a tube  McIntosh C2500 preamp.  I came across much of the same when reading reviews on the tube preamp. Lots of descriptors such as refined.  I ended up really just not enjoying it very much. While in many ways the improvements were very noticeable overall I just felt it lacked excitement and engagement.  I’ve got the impression the M30s might be similar. The C7s on the other hand I continually read comments that fall in line with my preferences.

Anyways thanks again everyone and I will report back after I get them set up a chance to listen. 
congrats!  the C7s are incredible speakers.  
they are also very rich and refined, which really is not a bad thing.  
refined is not the absence of excitement and dynamics.  refined is walking the thin line between detail and forgiving so that even bad recordings sound good and there are no frequent irritants in the sound.  Harbeth walk that line like no other.  
You can greatly offset any overly polite sound qualities with your amplification which is unfortunately very polite to begin with. 
definitely listen with the grilles off to add dynamics and transparency. 


compact 7’s are a lovely choice, enjoy!  (i also personally prefer them over the mon 30s)

you will need to play with placement and bass reinforcement to see if they please you full range, or, as many do, integrate in a pair of nice subs
OP: Congrats on your purchase! I'm guessing that you'll be happy with the C7's, and I hope that the price was right.
I arrive too late, as you have already made a decision (for C5es XD). For others, just wanted to share this...

##### M30.1 vs M30.2 comparison (What Hifi Australia)

##### my personal M30.1 vs M30.2 comparison:
(terrible Google Translation of *my* post, on a French forum). Please first note that:
  • - I have never heard the C5xx
  • - I now only the following models:M30.1, M30.2 Anniversary, M40.2 (regular), SHL5 Plus.

( < Google Translate from *my* post on a French forum, slightly corrected)
I recently own Harbeth M30.2 (40th Anniversary), an opportunity that unexpectedly occured, and decided me sell my M30.1.
I am satisfied with the change. Comparatively with the M30.1, here are the main differences in my view:
  •  the M30.2 are more "straight", more neatly defined,
  •  M30.2 have better stereo image, more "built" and more precise. Very good 3D effect..
  • the ’plom-plom’ effect sometimes a little systematic (it seemed to me) in the low-mid of the M30.1 has disappeared,
  • The treble is simply sublime, and wonderfully blends with the midrange.
  • Maybe the M30.2 lose a little the (excessive?) sweetness of the M30.1 (which was a little systematic, even denoted a slight pinkish coloration?), the M30.2 verging a little more towards a ’monitoring’ listening ( well, everything is relative), always with British signature (but the M30.2 do NOT recess the midrange, unlike many British speakers/monitors).
In short, I would say that M30.1 and .2 are more different than incontestably in a hierarchy. The M30.2 is a better speaker for my context, and in my opinion.

NB: the laid-back character of the M30.1 could be slightly compensated by
1) removing the grilles (it was easy with M30.1 >< do NOT try with the M30.2) and
2) listening a bit closer, in order to get more energy in the treble.If one can do this, and have a rather fast and transparent amplifier, the M30.1 can be a good choice 2nd hand (especially for classical and jazz; not for rock tough, I’m afraid).

Both require appropriate stands, preferably open: dedicated TonTräeger stands highly advised (better than my home-made closed stands I had previously).
As for the initial question -Which Harbeths?- in general, my favorite model is, by far, the TERRIFIC M40.2 (and later models, I assume). Because:
  •  the midrange cone is relieve from the task of reproducing any low frequancy signal => the midrange reaches a breathtaking clarity, while remaining perfectly full-bodied. In short, incredibly lifelike.
  •  you get more bass, of course (3 way) than with the smaller Monitor model (M30.2).

Please have a look at my pic of the M40.2 and the comment written on it, which says a lot (though not yet corrected by Google, please excuse the grammar mistakes!). I think that comment is fully readable on the smartphone version of the webpage only (not sure).
=> Please Like the pic, if you do !
So I’ve had the C7es3 xd in my system for a week now. I must say so far I am both very impressed and a bit underwhelmed.  I’ve swapped back and forth with them and my Totem Rainmakers many times trying to determine which I like more. They turn out to be more similar than different to me. The Totems have an airier presentation, and the Harbeths a heftier bottom end. Through the midrange I find them extremely similar. I found this a bit disappointing from Harbeth do to the crazy amount of praise they get for their midrange. While it is very good, I don’t find it better than the Totems despite the huge difference in price. I will be keeping the Harbeths at least for now mostly because they play considerably louder without strain. I’m also trying to give my ears time to adjust to the sound.  If I still feel the same after a couple months I’ll probably sell the Harbeths. I honestly can’t say one is really better than the other.  But the Totems are much cheaper, and cosmetically much smaller and living room friendly.  I do highly recommend people who aren’t familiar with the Totems should give them a serious listen. Just recently I tried the Dynaudio special 40s as well, and I slightly preferred the Torems. I don’t know if it is there cosmetics or just brand image but Totem is ridiculously underrated these days.   Also I have to say that anyone who listen to Harbeth with the grills on is missing out. The only thing I could do when listening at first with the grills on was laugh at how miserable and muffled they sounded. Truly very underwhelming with the grills on. Maybe good for falling asleep due to boredom. Anyways just thought I would share my initial impressions. 
I would recommend not swapping the speakers back and forth and just live with the Harbeth for awhile. Give them a chance to settle in to your system. You might be surprised after a month , or two living with the Harbeths. If they are still not to your liking, you can sell them. 

Also synergy is a big factor. Maybe the Harbeths will not shine with the Mcintosh gear. Never hurts to explore and experiment with different brand amps and preamps. That is if you have any other audio gear to try. If you have any friends who are into audio , maybe they could bring over something different gear to try. 


i have not heard the mac mc302 but it may be voiced too warm to mate well with the c7, if the user desires more ’presence’... perhaps try a hegel or ayre amp - they are known to be very successful mates to harbeths, bring a little more life to the presence region without overdoing it

also, you have not disclosed your source

by and large, harbeths present music as an integral whole, many would say other more ’hifi’ speakers let you hear ’into’ the music more -- harbeths, from a bbc design heritage (like classic spendors, grahams, stirlings, etc etc) are trying to present music as one hears from a mid hall position in an acoustic concert hall, playing acoustic instruments in an orchestral or chamber group type of setting ... if you have been to a music event like that, you feel the music comes as you as a fairly unified wave of energy, with cymbals, string leading edges, vocals revealing details in a gentle way, there is less sparkle and ’etch’ - similarly bass is smooth energy and has a reverb component, there is not too much ’slam’

harbeths more recent iterations like anno and xd versions are trying to give the user more ’hifi-ness’ but overall, compared to other makes, the balance is still as i stated above - it has been many years since i had my totem 1's, and if totem's overall voicing has stayed roughly the same, i would say totems provide a much more etched, energetic treble 'presence' region...

thus it is important to do as a poster below states -- give the speakers time, let you ears adjust, and then see if you enjoy them more... this is somewhat of a less-is-more experience, the beauty is in the subtlety and depth
OP, don’t discount Graham Chartwell’s versions of the BBC monitors; I really like their design principles (e.g. look at their driver selection and philosophy in the VOTU model; great engineering); seeming more modern (less flat earth) to me than Harbeth’s thing, plus still doing a faithful take on the originals.
I’ll definitely give them a couple months at least and see what I think after adjusting to there sound.  I’m open to keeping them but I’m also open to selling them and putting my totems back. I’m not really after something that is maybe slightly better. I decided to try some new speakers thinking my 500$ used rainmakers could be the weak link in the system. I’ve found that’s simply not the case at all.  If I keep the Harbeths it will probably be for the ability to play louder. If I keep the totems it will be for their purity. And just to be clear I do find the Harbeths sound to be beautiful, just not to the extent that the reviews and there reputation led me to expect.  Also any notion that they offer good price to performance is a bit crazy. I honestly feel if any other company tried selling the same speakers at the same prices they would be out of business.  

give em a little time, but if they don’t do much for you, sell em off

if you bought at a halfway smart price, there should be takers without you losing much $

new harbeths are indeed expensive, but even so, there are plenty of buyers all over the world

but like any other product in the world, one thing may be loved by many, but still may not be right for some - there are indeed many speakers much more expensive than new harbeths with very happy customers, harbeth owners would say those speakers make their ears bleed

[please excuse my bad English]
- Give your Harbeth C7es XD plenty of time for the running/breaking in. I suggest to avoid any decision before you spent the whole winter listening to them. Fast A/B comparisons can mislead. Yes, time would downgrade the resell value of the 7’s, but the experience is worth it, imho.

- if you feel more treble energy with the Totem, it is very likely that the cause is that they emphasize energy on the treble (often in order to grab the listener’s attention). Conversely, Harbeth not not emphasize treble, and it is a relief when nearly all the speaker industry do that (here are the measurements of the M30.2 Anniversary, made by John Atkinson: no treble emphasis). My reference is live performance with acoustic, unamplified instruments: I barely can listen to any current hifi speaker at all, as the huge majority of them just sound wrong. Due to the pervasiveness of digital, people have lost the reference with live concerts.

- I totally agree with @jjss49, especially on *that point*
by and large, harbeths present music as an integral whole, many would say other more ’hifi’ speakers let you hear ’into’ the music more -- harbeths, from a bbc design heritage (like classic spendors, grahams, stirlings, etc etc) are trying to *present music as one hears from a mid hall position in an acoustic concert hall*, playing acoustic instruments in an orchestral or chamber group type of setting ... if you have been to a music event like that, you feel the music comes as you as a fairly unified wave of energy, with cymbals, string leading edges, vocals revealing details in a gentle way, there is less sparkle and ’etch’ - similarly bass is smooth energy and has a reverb component, there is not too much ’slam’
I came exactly to the same conclusion, and shared it on the HUG (membership required, so I will copy it, see hereafter):
As a recent Harbeth owner, I realize that all the grievance classically found on other forums (from some members though) against Harbeth speakers (they’re pipe-and-slippers) are just an irrelevant complain over the fact that those speakers just place them in the best seat for the concert, but they are not aware of it."

"I think it all is a matter of: listening distance, size of the triangle (listener - leftSpeaker - rightSpeaker), position of that triangle in the room, room acoustics (absorbant, reverb), preferred sonic level, kind of music, and most of all: attendance (or not) at live acoustic instruments, and where do you usually sit in the concert hall: are you a forefront listener? (not always a good choice). Or do you sit (too) far in the back ? (you are unlucky, the best seats were sold out...).

On this latter point (the best seat for a particular concert and hall),
I once had quite a revealing experience:
I attended to a classical music concert (piano & violin) in the concert hall of the Brussels Conservatory with my cousin and her husband. Both are violinists. They studied violin in Brussels, in that Conservatory, and heard lots of colleagues playing in that concert hall, where they played themselves many time in front of the jury. So they know its acoustics by heart, as musicians as well as listeners. We entered the concert hall. There were free places left, and we were free to sit where we wished to. I said them: "please have a seat wherever you wish, I will sit besides with you". I expected them to sit around the first third of the stalls. They both chosed (without the faintest hesitation) a place much further, around the second third of the stall. To me, we sat surprisingly far from the musicians (sure, one of them played piano, and a half-size piano already peaks at 115dB...). I was surprised, as I personally would have sat -as an audiophile/music lover- much closer to the scene (!). I have to admit that I had even some doubt about the pertinence of their choice: will we be able to hear all the nuances of the violin? (please note that I did not write: "will we be able to hear all the noises of the turn of the pages, as with audiophile test discs"...).​
The concert began. It was sheer magic. You could not have dreamed a more perfect balance for our ears (>< the microphones were placed on the scene). Everything was there: all nuances and details (they had used some reflectors in the back of the scene), a perfect subjective balance between details and fusion of the work as a whole. But, no, we could not hear pages being turned...

This leads me to a point: do we expect from our hifi systems to place us at the 5th row of a concert hall, where such noises (which are not part of the music) can be heard? And where there is no music/fusion of instruments yet as we sit ways too close? The 5th row offers just a tsunami of high pressure level sound, and we quickly feel that we sit too near of that "big bang", that sonic explosion, which is not quite music yet (though the conductor has to cope with it) as the "sound fusion" is not complete, and is realized later and further. Some lower circle (balcony) seats also can be great for orchestral music.​​

As a recent Harbeth owner, I realize that all the grievance classically found on other forums (from some members though) against Harbeth speakers (they’re pipe-and-slippers) are just an irrelevant complain over the fact that those speakers just place them in the best seat for the concert, but they are not aware of it. Not at the 5th row for sure (no, you won’t hear the pages being turned, nor the fly ’farting’ at 12’34’’ of track 6 on your preferred audiophile disc of high technical performance, but of -sometimes- poor musicality). Instead, you are seated at the best place, where my cousin Caroline and her husband naturally sat. Caroline is now violin teacher. Fabian, her husband, is 1st violin at the Luxembourg Philharmonic. My speakers let me hear all the music, and all necessary details, not more. It is amazing how, while other, more ’resolving’ speakers can be found (usually more expensive), Harbeths are absolute no-brainers from a music-lover point of view. I love them. They may sound different from my highly musical, resolving-and-unfatiguing system in town (budget is not the same, based on panels, etc), but they’re absolutely lovely.​"

- if you feel more treble energy with the Totem, it is very likely that the cause is that they emphasize energy on the treble (often in order to grab the listener’s attention). Conversely, Harbeth not not emphasize treble, and it is a relief when nearly all the speaker industry do that (here are the measurements of the M30.2 Anniversary, made by John Atkinson: no treble emphasis). My reference is live performance with acoustic, unamplified instruments: I barely can listen to any current hifi speaker at all, as the huge majority of them just sound wrong. Due to the pervasiveness of digital, people have lost the reference with live concerts.

What if your reference to live music isn't unamplified acoustic music; is Harbeth still the best in this case?  i.e. the many other modern HiFi speaker manufacturers are just plain wrong?

Many folks and myself included go to live amplified music events.   I live in the Boston area and go to many concerts in venues like the Orpheum Theatre, Wang Theatre, Berklee Performance Center (amazing place to see a concert by the way...), Paradise Rock club, etc...

For me, part of the experience of a live event like that is the not only the clarity and detail I hear at the live event, but very much the speed, attack, and plain visceral excitement of the show.  No, I don't like to be in the first row, but mid row in the venues I go to with the artists I see still allow me to hear the speed/snap of the snare drum and quick thump of the electric bass.  I'm not talking heavy metal and make your ears bleed shows either, artists as diverse as Nick Cave, Cowboy Junkies, Valerie June, to Cheap Trick, Smashing Pumpkins, etc...   All of these artists seen live still present shows with great impact and detail.

Over the years I've owned a decently diverse set of speakers: big powerful but warmish speakers like the Energy Veritas 2.8, B&W Matrix, two models of the Klipsch Heritage line, a well balanced to maybe a little forward Revel,  a super fast and detailed Magico with beryllium tweeter, and recently demoed both the Harbeth SLH5s and 40.2s (not XD) before choosing Spendors.

I get why folks love the Harbeth sound and the midrange and the many other things they do very well; it is talked about over and over again on these threads.   But, being a person who attends a lot of live amplified shows, I also feel they come up short in others areas compared to other speakers.

One or the other isn't right or wrong, this is all about personal taste and preference.
I just find it sometimes a little frustrating that these threads often seem to imply the non Harbeth way is just plain wrong; either the rest of us can't hear, or we have chosen sub-par speakers because we didn't end up with Harbeth...  


[please excuse my bad English]
Thanks for your reply, it is a nice opportunity for me to clarify: I was indeed talking about UNamplified acoustic instruments only (i.e. mainly classical, and unamplified jazz&folk if this still exists).And given that the way @jjss49 reported his own experience was so close to mine, especially in the way he puts it in his post, I could not helped copy-paste what I wrote elsewhere on the very same topic; therefore it may have not been totally clear that the scope of what I was saying was not "universal", but roughly limited to classical ;-)
What if your reference to live music isn’t unamplified acoustic music; is Harbeth still the best in this case?
Maybe not, indeed. Especially if my preferred music were amplified rock, pop and electronic music, I probably would have bought other speakers.
On rock, I like bigger speakers (than my Harbeth M30.2 Anniversary), with higher efficiency and deeper bass (big JBL’s, etc).
(my M30.2 anniversary play fairly good on rock; but one could wish better - and I don’t know their XD serie which is said to be better on rock than previous iterations; I have no opinion).
And as you wrote
part of the experience of a live event like that is the not only the clarity and detail I hear at the live event, but very much *the speed, attack, and plain visceral excitement of the show*
I cannot agree with more on speed and attack, especially with live amplified non-classical music (though I attended very few of them)

i.e. the many other modern HiFi speaker manufacturers are just plain wrong?
I was just saying that on *acoustic music* (UNamplified instruments), Harbeths speakers sound right (so said a sound engineer at Herb Reichert’s place while reviewing the M30.2 Anniversary: "they just sound right!"). They are not the only ones, but they are amongst the last Mohicans: yes, on *acoustic music*, many speakers play wrong. My compatriot Bruno Putzeys (Hypex, purifi, etc) says that too.

- On acoustic unamplified instruments, even if there are different violinS, pianoS, clarinetS, concert hallS (thus acousticS), musicianS, etc, there is still a direct reference/connection with the instrument played (modulated by the room’s acoustics): nothing sits between the instruments and the listener. Moreover, there is a hugely wide range of instrument timbres (woods, brass, strings, percussion, stringed&percussion (=piano), etc). So on one hand, it may be very, very difficult for a speaker to reproduce all various instruments. But at least, a direct reference is accessible.

Roughly, it’s pretty direct. You have:
If one attends live acoustic concert, one has his ear-brain shaped, or trained, by that repeated direct experience.
With some experience, one can identify more easily a speaker that "plays just right" (on acoustic instruments), as real-world direct "references" can be used to evaluate. So, one can feel a bit less lost on a hifi show when facing a profligacy of speakers. This reference serves as a compass.
(and if one does not attends concerts, then one feels lost anyway, and then just chooses the speaker preferred by feeling/sensation).
Attending classical concert (in Belgium) cost approx. €12, and you can change your seat after the interruption, and chose a better one (in this concert hall, for instance).

- On amplified instruments, even more with electronic and synthesized music, the sound system (amplifiers&speakers used by the band in the concert hall) sits now between the instruments and the listener, and becomes a part of the live experience: for instance, the wave guide Electrovoice used here or there sound plays an active role in the perceived "speed, attack, and plain visceral excitement of the show" on the listener’s side. So does its fine-tuning by the sound engineer.

Roughly, now you have:
[instruments + soundSystem]---(acoustics)--->listener.
Does it still make sense to talk here about timbral accuracy? I don’t think so. Speed, attack and sheer energy are probably more important here.Since the sound system used in concert hall is part of the whole, it is more difficult to speak of a direct reference to the instruments: the sound system is a prism which hugely biases the listener’s sensation.
So as "reference" does not really matter here, I think we can chose more "freely" the speakers we prefer, without the hassle of conforming to a "reference", wondering if they are playing right or not. Basically, it’s almost easier in this case, I think. The listener may just choose the one he prefers.
Sure, a few outstanding speakers can reconcile both exquisite naturalness and accuracy on timbres, with speed, attack and excitement, but they are very expensive.

(a clear expression of those simple ideas is beyond the reach of my poor English, sorry... ;-)


What if your reference to live music isn’t unamplified acoustic music; is Harbeth still the best in this case? i.e. the many other modern HiFi speaker manufacturers are just plain wrong?

good questions, and certainly no right and wrong, just different objectives for sonics in design of various speakers (and thus no 'best' in any objective sense, only 'right for you' and/or 'right for me')

it is indeed an important distinction to understand WHAT kind of live music one listens to as points of reference, obviously an umamplified chamber group or piano recital will sound very different from a rock o blues band in a smaller club, or a live rihanna or springsteen concert at an amphitheater or say the meadowlands

most venues, even small ones, amplify the music with industrial grade solid state amps and use large horn loaded speakers for some or all the artists, depending on seating position, one will hear a mix of direct unamplified sound vs amplified

i think this is why hifi loudspeakers also span such a very wide range of sonic traits... some more alive, emphasizing slam and speed and edgy clarity, others (like spendor vandersteen and harbeth), with a warmer fuller slower less edgy tone and nature to the sound
Amplifier (and source/DAC if it’s not transparent enough).

Investigate the gear if you want to salvage the Harbeth. I’m not sure about the Mcintosh you have. Try other options such as Pass Labs, higher range LFD or Naim etc. Use open frame lightweight stands. Also, good suggestion to give the Harbeth some run in time. It will open up a bit more after few hours.

Totems are brighter and have higher energy in the treble so it will sound more lively and engaging although the amp and source have a warm or dark sound. The Harbeth will sound duller with the same components. I have tried the Totem Model 1 in my system before so I know who a Totem would sound.

Fwiw I ALWAYS change the amp when I get new speakers into the system. It’s a vicious cycle. The amp needs to match the speakers, that’s the first critical step. Further improvements with the source, accessories and cables can come later but the amp must come first. Just to share, when I bought the SHL5 about 15 years ago, I swapped 6 or 7 amp combinations within the first year to make the Harbeth work on the system. The Harbeth sounded like mud with the Plinius amp I owned during that time. The Naim NAC 202 / NAP 200 did it for me and the SHL5 stayed for 7 years before it was replaced with the SHL5+ which I currently own right now.

I don’t think I’m really willing to play around with other amplifiers right now.  I’m really trying to find a pair of speakers that are clearly superior to what I have. Not just a bit better here and a bit worse there sort of thing. I’m realizing pretty fast that probably doesn’t exist, at least in my budget.  The Harbeths are great speakers and I much prefer them to most of what I’ve heard. I’ll keep listening but I don’t think I can justify the 2,000$ over the Totems.  I really think it’s easy to get the idea that if you keep throwing money at your system that it gets better and better. This hasn’t been my findings at all. I think the point of diminishing returns kicks in very hard around 1,000$, or even less when talking used. I am really starting to get fed up with reviewers and others who make it sound like things are much better than they are, or that whatever new product is some sort of revelation. I honestly believe after a good amount of listening that Harbeths midrange is no better that my little Totem Rainmakers.
ATC along with Proac are at the top of my to try next list. Thinking about maybe the ATC scm11 instead of the 19 because I’ve read it’s a bit warmer. Although I don’t necessarily want to give up clarity for warmth. I really want warmth and clarity, and I don’t mean bright when I say clarity. When I say clarity I’m talking about a clean, smooth, and lacking distortion or any sign of crossover between the drivers.

 This is the place I find the Harbeths a little lacking perhaps. It seams almost that the crossover is one that slightly smears things in an attempt for smoothness. Which I would say it succeeds, it is very very smooth, but it doesn’t sound clean to me. I know many will say what I’m hearing is the difference between my bright Totems and the non bright Harbeths.  I feel confident that isn’t the case though. My C46 preamp has a eight band equalizer that allows me to play with frequency response considerably. I have turned down all treble on the Totems and I still get a cleaner clearer sound through them. As well, I try the opposite and turn up the treble on the Harbeths and again the Totems sound cleaner. I truly believe that Harbeth has a bit of veiling sound going on. This may or may not be due to the crossover, I’m simply speculating it may. 

some further points to you

1. what you are hearing is real, but i think perhaps for a different reason than you are surmising... apparent midrange clarity is sometimes reduced when a speaker has a warmer more forward midbass response - your little rainmakers have a much leaner midbass than the c7, thus the impression of a less smeared midrange... it is also no surprise at all that the rainmakers have excellent midrange, equal to the harbeths - they are a good speaker from a good company, carefully voiced, and with its excellent 5 in driver it is ideal for midrange reproduction at reasonable volumes, this is true and the towering strength of many a smaller well made standmount.... now, what you give up you already know, the little guys can’t hold it together as well when playing louder and the music is less rich and complete top to bottom -- so in effect, what you give up when you go from a lesser monitor to a better, more full range speaker is not an equal reduction of quality in all piece-part aspects of the sound, but the overall integrity of the presentation and significant loss of some aspects at the expense of others

2. if you like your totems alot (seems like you do) - couple other ideas are keep em and add a subwoofer (or two, even better)... subs added to an excellent satellite pair can do wonders, and i mean wonders for the overall presentation, ... or...

3. as a corollary to 2, why don’t you just move up the totem line - mani 2s, forests, hawks?  seems like there is a nice synergy in place with the slightly warmly voiced mac amp and the slightly uptilted totems... the harbeths (and c7's in particular) are typically best with an amp that has a little more zing and speed

good luck, hope you’re having fun through the process

The C7s were the first Harbeth speakers I listened to about 4-5 years ago. I didn't care much for them at the time, and a recent audition validated my earlier assessment. I'm not saying they're not good, but definitely not my cup of tea. I found them a bit sluggish, closed off, and too warm for my taste. After this experience, I had written off Harbeth altogether. 

Luckily, I had an opportunity to buy a used pair of P3esr's (but only with 50 hours or less) about 3 years ago. At the time I had KEF LS50s in my home office system. At first, I didn't really understand what the fuss was about. I missed the treble energy and the 'detailed' presentation (relatively speaking of course) of the KEFs. But I persisted, and spent 2-3 weeks listening to the P3ESRs. And then a funny thing happened when I put the KEFs back in rotation. I was missing the balanced, tonally correct sound of the P3s. The detailed and high energy presentation of KEFs was suddenly not my preference. The vocals did not have the emotion and realism provided in spades by the P3s. The Harbeths crept up on me in a very sneaky way. The KEFs were sold the following week.

I since moved up to M30.1s which was another step up in every way. When it comes to Harbeth, my opinion is that it is definitely an acquired taste. It's like that old album that you didn't like at all when you first listened to it. But it gradually grew on you upon repeated listenings, until it became your favorite album of all time. If I were the OP, I wouldn't let C7's be the sole data point in evaluating the Harbeth line up. It's very different than the P3s or 30.1s, at least based on my experience. I would at least give 30.x a try before I give up.

Just my 2 cents.
Just to add on to the above excellent post by Arafiq. I understand the OP is disappointed with the hype surrounding the Harbeth and is not willing to try other amps. To reiterate, the Harbeth really come to their own with select amps as they sound horrible with the wrong amps. The SHL5 sounded like mud with the Audio Research LS-16mk2 / Plinius SA100 mk3 amp which I owned. Better results with Rega Elicit, Nait XS and couple more amps but still underwhelming and far from great. The LFD Zero LEIII transformed the speakers as the Harbeth sprung to life when driven by this little marvel. I eventually got something else as the LFD didn’t come with a remote and the build quality did not meet my expectations.

I owned the Mcintosh MC275 mk4 before and it sounded a little like mud to me with the overly warm syrupy sound. Although it may not be the model that the OP currently owns, I suspect it may be the bottleneck and culprit to the poor or dismal result. It is unfortunate that a different amp (or other Harbeth models) is not in consideration. For this reason it may not be appropriate to brush aside the Harbeth and regard it as an underwhelming or underperforming speaker if it’s not properly set up since it is not showing its true colors.

A point to note is the Harbeth does not provide the short term thrills in comparison to other more forward and brighter sounding speakers. The midrange and treble of the Harbeth are very natural and to me is superior to the Totem model 1 which I tried. I’m not sure how different is the Rainmaker though. When moving from the Harbeth, see if you would miss the more natural/neutral sound presentation of the Harbeth.
I’ve owned a few Harbeths including the C7,M30.1, P3ESR and the new P3ESR XD. The C7 was not my cup of tea. The P3ESR original model is the one that I always go back to ( I’ve owned 5 pairs). The shoe box size Harbeth disappear in my listening room like no other speaker that I have owned.
This guy likes them as much as I do!!
So feeling a bit stupid. I had only tried the Harbeths with them connected to the 4ohm taps on my McIntosh mc302. Swapped them to the 8ohm taps yesterday evening and a whole different speaker came to life. It’s different enough that I’m still taking it in, but almost a total 180. They went from borderline overly relaxed to almost a bit to energetic. The boogie factor is on a whole other level. The lack of clarity is more than gone. The bass is stronger and faster. They do seem almost a little aggressive even compared to the Totems.  Not per say bright but a little forward.  Part of this will be remedied when I swap out my dac. I’ve used a Musical Fidelity v90 dac for a while due to its smooth glare free sound. It recently went kaput, and I swapped in a Cambridge stream magic 6 to pull dac duties. The Cambridge is considerably bright and matter of fact. When I get the chance to replace it I think I’ll easily be able to tame the aggressiveness.  Overall they are very, very good now. I haven’t swapped back to the Totems yet to compare, but I have yet to be compelled to which was not the case before. I expect that the Totems will actually sound a little laid back in comparison now.  

I apologize for my criticisms, like I said feel a bit silly now. While they still might not be the best bang for your buck there price is very justified. My only supprise now is just how exciting and energetic they are now. Not sure how much of this is due to the XD update, but it’s overall very satisfying. My feet are moving and I’m singing along like a fool.  Which is what I’m in this hobby for. Again sorry for my inaccurate opinions. Still trying to understand how going from the 4ohm taps to the 8ohm taps did what it did to the extent that it did. I think I’m understanding that it increases the power to a 6ohm speaker compared to the 4ohm taps. This still doesn’t explain everything I’m hearing but some. Either way phew, what a difference. 
@yogiboy and @arafiq are good heads, well known participants, credible contributors here

i would just say here, that my experience is opposite from theirs, i prefer the compact 7 to the mon 30... it’s possible i hadn’t set up the mon 30s in their ideal setup (room and ancillaries) when i had a set, and likewise it might be that they did not either with their experience with the c7 - i have no doubt set up well, matched well in system and room, both can produce exemplary enthralling music

it just shows what one should expect in this hobby/pursuit, people have different tastes, experiences -- all worth sharing, no right or wrong

btw - both models are longstanding stalwarts in the harbeth line, both descendants of original bbc designs, both very good sellers, used and loved by many many all around the world


glad you found the right connection to your mac amp... and more glad that your enjoyment of the speakers has been taken up a notch
[please excuse my bad English]

I am, too, glad that you found the right connection to your Mc Intosh amp.

You mentioned the C7's are a bit forward now on the 8 Ohms output of the amplifier. A few points to try
  1. you had removed the grilles => try to put them back. The grilles are part of the design loop, and John Atkinson did not removed them to measure the M30.2 Anniversary (which does not emphasize treble). The grilles off -> +1.5dB above 6KHz, IIRC.
  2. Let them running in. A few weeks minimum is necessary. If the speakers are brand new, you can let them play at relatively low level when you are outside.