REVIEW: Harbeth P3ESR Loudspeakers
Harbeth P3ESR vital, and not so vital specs
At a glance, undeniable superb finish aside, there isn’t much that would make the wee Harbeth stand out in a dealer’s crowded showroom.
It’s just 306mm high, 190mm wide and including a single pair of binding posts is a mere 184mm deep. Dimensions hardly the harbingers of the giant slaying sonic prowess this mini-monitor has in spades.
For those that care about these things, Harbeth says the frequency response is 75Hz-20kHz plus or minus 3dB measured in free space, plus grilles. Impedance is a nominal 6 ohms and sensitivity 83.5dB measured at one-watt at one metre. Power handling is said to be 50-watts. Drivers comprise Harbeth’s own 110mm RADIAL2 bass-mid-range crossing over to a SEAS 19mm ferro-cooled aluminium-dome tweeter.
The crucial difference between the HL-P3 and the P3ESR is the woofer cone material. Shaw clearly remembers cone material was the Achilles’ heel of the earlier British classic speakers so he developed a patented, proprietary plastic-cone material used in the more expensive Harbeths, called RADIAL2. Shaw intended RADIAL2 to be a thermally stable, composite polymer that stores little energy and thanks to its very low mass, is very dynamically responsive.
Internally, Shaw has designed a sophisticated crossover built using ten caps, three resistors and no less than five inductors. Speaker terminals comprise a single set of high quality connectors.
Rogers 65th Anniversary LS35/A vital and not so vital specs
The Rogers comes in Red Oak, Black and Rosewood finish and measure 31x19x16cm. The cabinet is built of Birch ply and like most original LS3 5/A, has a screwed-in front baffle and glued-on back. The rear is finished with two sets of decent bi-wirable terminals. Designer, John Bell confirmed that the rear terminals, grill material and fabric around the tweeter are identical and from the same supplier as the original mid/late 1990’s Mitchum production Rogers.
The drivers that I’m told are manufactured by Roger’s new owners comprise a fine 19mm dome tweeter crossing over to a pressed steel chassis 110mm mid/woofer propelled by a hefty double-wound voice coil and large ferrite magnet.
The crossover according to the importer, remains essentially unchanged save for accommodating a tweeter that’s more sensitive than the famous KEF T27. Martin Colom’s measurements put the sensitivity at 83dB/W/m that he found was 1.5dB higher than the 15-ohm original. Average impedance is about 7 ohms.
Into The Music: A Chance Discovery Of the Vivacious Goldring Eroica Moving Coil Cartridge
The Harbeth importer delivered the Harbeths with a very swish pair of 24-inch T5 speaker stands built by Hi-Fi Racks in the UK.
They worked beautifully but I instead to use instead my own Soundstyle 24-inch metal stands filled with coarse grain sand and lead shot, simply because I did not want to introduce another variable into my audio system.
Both speakers, a pair at a time and with the Sasha’s terminals shorted, were positioned about a metre from the rear and sidewalls with the listening chair about two to three metres away. A placement affording a near field listening environment.
Electronics used were the Gyrodec/Rega RB300/Goldring Eroica or Audio Research’s Reference CD7 sending a signal to the Elektra Pynx valve preamplifier and Elektra High Definition solid-state stereo power amplifier. The Elektra combination was purchased because of its sonic superiority over components priced thrice times more, and its ability to drive, really drive, my Wilson Sasha and Sophia speakers.
Both Elektra components combined sell for less than $9000 locally. Overkill on a pair of Harbeth P3ESR or Roger’s LS35/A? Hardly. Either speaker will rise to the occasion. But to get an idea of how they would sound with less elevated electronics, an original Musical Fidelity A3 was also used.
To complete the picture vis-à-vis the merits of solid state versus valves, both speakers were driven by the $18,000 Audio Research Reference 75, still my favourite AR amplifier of all time including my previous D70MK11.
With the A3 driving Harbeth or Rogers, a budget buyer can expect a velvet coated midrange and oodles of drive. What they won’t get is the treble detail, lower frequency tautness and overall transparency offered by the Elektra gear or the Reference 75.
The Reference 75 delivers what no solid-state amplifier arguably does; a glowing liquidity from top to bottom frequencies and a level of sheer listenability that’s hard to forgo.
If I told you the Elektra electronics came so close to the Reference 75’s liquidity and listenability you’d have every right to be skeptical. But park your doubts until you audition the pair. They are revelatory components and both work beautifully with Wilson and Magneplanar speakers. Reason enough to shelve the A3 and Reference 75 and use the Elektra pre/power combo for the bulk of the review.
The Elektra combination offers the reviewer and music lover a blank slate as far as system synergy goes. Moreover, rated at 250 watts per channel into 8-Ohms you’ll never run out of drive. But this huge reserve of power would count for little if the Elektra equipment was (a) unrhythmic and (B) lacked what I earlier called “working dynamic response’’. The Elektra pre and power amplifier have both in spades. Elektra can also install a MM/MC phono board with variable gain and loading into the current model preamplifier. But I couldn’t get this fitted in time for this review.
The opening chatter of crickets and soaring guitar riff leave you in no doubt the Roger Water’s Amused to Death 180gram LP is playing in your listening room.
With the Harbeths and the Rogers, the separation between percussion, electric guitar and the old soldier speaking softly was preserved. There was a tad more transparency through the Rogers, but a little more emotion via the Harbeths.
But here’s the thing: that old soldier’s quiet dignity was effaced by so many loudspeakers I’ve heard in my living room. That dignity isn’t conveyed by detail or transparency. But it is carried by a speaker’s working dynamic response because all the subtle inflections of the speaking voice are preserved and then conveyed.
When the chorus of the album’s opening track opined the stanza “What God Wants”, I became aware of the Goldring’s contribution to the pathos and majesty of these vocals.
Bearing in mind this is a $899 cartridge with a 5.5 gram mass, output of .5mv and tracking at 1.5 to 2 grams, I wasn’t expecting the level of musical enjoyment I was hearing.
As a capsule and a nod to a future review of HANA, Goldring and ZYX cartridges, it’s worth noting the Goldring Eroica is an audio sleeper. It prompts memories of Supex’s celebrated SD900 thanks to its vivacity, addictive tonal balance, sparkle and ability to impart a mesmerizing light on passages of recordings that normally fade under the radar. Clearly the Eroica works a treat with Rega arms. Elucidating a little further, my son installed an FR64FX, Alphason HR100MCS and later an SME V on our Acoustic Signature Challenger to assess the Eroica a little more.
My notes show there was more attack with the FR64FX, greater smoothness with the Alphason and an abundance of detail with the SME V. But synergistically, the Eroica simply sounded more ‘right’ via the Rega arm. Confirming this was as simple as mounting the Eroica on our Audiomods Classic tone arm. The result? Much more detail and smoothness than the Eroica on the RB300. However that sense of musical “rightness’’ was a feature of both tone arms. Go figure.
Both Harbeth and Rogers delivered a believable and satisfying sense of scale from the Water’s album. The Harbeths giving the mass parts of the album more heft and body against the Roger’s thinner but more neutral presentation.
Clearly the Rogers leaned towards the cool side of neutral and the Harbeths showing a little more warmth but not at the expense of neutrality. Even so this tonal difference is worth bearing in mind when choosing partnering components for either speaker. Valves are a no brainer for the Rogers but care will have to be taken if you plan on using a solid-state amplifier. My recommendations for matching solid-state amps for the Rogers would point towards Rega and Musical Fidelity courtesy of their smoothness and slightly rich tonal balance.
If you want to play the Amused To Death LP or CD via the Harbeths and are looking for an amplifier, you’ll have a much easier time and a wider range to chose from. My suggestions for synergistic valve amps to suit the Harbeths would be Audio Research and ideally, a Radford STA25. I don’t think amps running 300Bs would do, but those equipped with EL34s, KT88s or 6550s in my opinion would work superbly. And an afterthought…
I would think a valve hybrid would do just nicely with the Harbeths.
Imagining a listening session ending without hearing a few tracks from Van Morrison’s iconic Astral Weeks album points to an impoverished listening session, for me.
If I had to pick a single track that gave me the most enjoyment or greater insight into audio equipment, my finger would move and then settle on ‘Ballerina’, the album’s second last track.
One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, if there's a speaker he's likely heard it or owned it at some point in his career. Peter was formerly the audio-video editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades.
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