Harbeth P3ESR Review

Harbeth

Harbeth P3ESR on Stands

I can honestly say that I have lost count of the number of speakers that I have owned over the last 20 years. Of all the elements of my hifi system they seem to be the part that has changed the most.

What I do know is that I have owned, including the P3ESR’s, four different pairs of Harbeth Speakers: P3ES, Compact 7ES and Super HL5. I loved the each of them but, for various reasons which have nothing to do with sound quality I had to move them on.

In the meantime I have owned several mini-monitor speakers from Proac, Totem, Sonus Faber, Gamut and Reference 3A to name but a few. A few months ago an opportunity to acquire a pair of the P3ESR’s came up and despite me loving the musical capabilities of the Reference 3A Dulcet I just knew that I had to get my hands on the Harbeths and so the Dulcets were quickly moved on.

The change in speakers also coincided with a system overhaul. I decided that it was time to downgrade my system to something much more simple and affordable and out went the Consonance CD Player and Amplifier for a Rega CD and Ampliffier pairing of the Apollo R and Brio R.

Rega

Rega Brio R and Apollo R

Both are unassuming half width components and despite their budget price tag of £500 per unit they certainly punch above their weight and would offer an excellent foundation for the Harbeth’s to show what they could do. Their build quality is excellent and have operated flawlessly since the day I bought them.

So, how do the Harbeth’s sound?

Well putting to one side the limitations of their size and the fact that they are never going to defy the laws of physics and produce lower registers they are captivating, drawing you into the music like few other speakers I have heard. They are warm but with enough bite to strings for example to retain a realism that makes you want to keep listening long into the night. They can project large scale music better than they have a right to but really score well on smaller scale acoustic music where they just carry you away communicating the emotion of the music.

Listening becomes a more interactive experience with little subtleties and details drawing you further into the music.From classical to rock and folk to blues they seem to be equally at home in any genre.

Alan Shaw will not thank me for saying this but I always felt with the bigger speakers – and this was very subtle and possibly a psychological effect of the size of these speakers – that there was a slight hollow sound to the reproduction. It was if you could “sense” those large, thin walled boxes adding something to the sound.

DSC01035

The Beautiful Grain of the Eucalyptus Veneer

Maybe it was also the fact that the other larger Harbeth speakers are ported unlike the P3ESR’s. I don’t know. Magical as the C7’s and Super HL5’s sounded their smaller cousin just has the edge for me. And that is, I guess all that matters.

The bottom line with the P3ESR’s is that they seem to take the best bits of all of my favourite small speakers – the Reference 3A Dulcets and Totem Model One – and roll them into a perfectly sized box that would fit into any environment bar an aircraft hanger sized lounge. Much as I loved the bigger Harbeth speakers I feel that the P3ESR’s are perfectly balanced soundwise.

I don’t know enough about the company to really comment but from reading posts written on the Harbeth website Alan Shaw is clearly a dedicated and passionate designer of loudspeakers. He should be congratulated on designing a mini masterpiece. A number of people have suggested that the P3ESR’s will be their last speaker upgrade – I can honestly say that they will be for me.

Specifications:

Transducer system 2-way: Harbeth 110mm RADIAL2� mid/bass; 19mm Ferro-cooled tweeter with HexGrille.
Freq. response 75Hz – 20kHz +/-3dB free space, 1m with grille on with smooth off-axis response.
Impedance 6 ohms – easy to drive.
Sensitivity 83.5dB/1W/1m
Amp. suggestion Works with a wide range of amplifiers, ideally from 15W/channel.
Power handling 50W programme
Connector Two 4mm gold-plated binding posts for wires or plugs
Dimensions (hxwxd) 306 x 189 x 202 mm (inl. grille and terminals)
Finish Cherry, black ash, maple, rosewood, eucalyptus, gun grey, arctic white, jet black.
Space needs Ideally > 0.30m from rear wall
Stands Typically 24+ inches
Weight 6.3kg each (without packing)
Packing One matched pair per protective carton
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7 responses to “Harbeth P3ESR Review

  1. Nice review Rob, thanks!
    I’m running B&W CM1’s through a Brio-R and am considering the P3ESR’s as an upgrade.
    My only concern is the lack of bass response (75hz) compared to the similar-sized CM1’s at 55 hz.
    Can you comment on the Harbeth’s low-end, or lack thereof?
    Cheers,
    –Rafe

    • Thanks for the comment.
      I have to say that the bass from the Harbeths consistently surprise me. Whilst it will never produce the lowest notes – the laws of physics simply cannot be manipulated – I have never felt short changed in this area.
      They truly are a remarkable speaker. As with any HiFi component home audition and a direct comparison with your B&Ws is essential.
      I am sure that you would not be disappointed with the Harbeths. If I can help further please let me know.

  2. Hey Rob,
    My pleasure, like I said, great little review.
    Your comments seem to echo those of a number of others I’ve contacted regarding the P3ESR – I’m glad to hear it.
    I’ve got a demo set up at a dealer to compare the Harbeth’s to a pair of the B&W’s so I’ll go from there.
    The dealer is an old hand in the business, and someone whose opinion I’ve come to trust over the years and he got back to me yesterday saying the P3ESR would be a considerable improvement over the CM1’s, being intimate with the sonic character of both.
    So… it sounds like I’m in for a real treat 🙂
    Thanks again for the reply Rob, much appreciated.
    Cheers,
    –R

  3. Rob,
    Another questions for you… I see you have very similar stands to me, just wondering if you have them partially-filled with sand/shot? I’ve read a few forums online saying the Harbeth’s like light stands. Could you comment?
    All the best,
    –R

    • Rafe,

      According to the Harbeth website – on the user group more specifically where the owner and designer of the speaker Alan Shaw makes regular contributions – the view is that they sound on pretty much anything that you put them on.
      I haven’t filled my stands with sand as they are pretty heavy and inert in any case.
      I have heard too that they sound good on open light stands but have always been more than happy with the sound I am getting so didn’t see a reason to experiment.
      I hope that you enjoy your audition. One thing I would say is give them a little time – some people have said they are a little laid back but spend as long as you can with them and I am sure that you will appreciate how “right” the speakers sound.
      Thanks,
      Rob

  4. I bought a rosewood-finished pair of these babies some months ago, as replacements for my slightly edgy and fatiguing B&W 685’s. Incidentally, like you I also power them with a Rega Brio-R.

    The Harbeths were and are exactly what I needed: very neutral and revealing, and easy on the ear over extended listening periods. Essentially for me, they do not need driving hard to “come to life,” as many speakers are described as needing; they have been tuned to sound full and neutral at a respectable neighbour-friendly volumes.

    I do yearn for the lowest octave, but pairing them with a sub completely solves this problem. I use the modest but able Wharfedale Diamond SW150 just to fill in the missing bottom frequencies – not too loud, just loud enough to add some sense of depth. I know that REL subs are quite popular with Harbeth owners.

    I listen mainly to jazz and classical, but am no stranger to AC/DC and Black Sabbath (for example), and know how good the P3ESR’s sound across multiple genres. I think people who say these are too “slow” or “recessed” for rock are just too used to hearing speakers that artificially push certain frequencies in your face, and haven’t allowed sufficient time to reacclimatise their ears to a more natural and neutral sound. For recordings with a hard beat or colourful distorted guitars, the attack and colour should be coming from the recording, not be added by one’s hi-fi gear; a good accurate speaker is a good accurate speaker, regardless of program material.

    I know I’m going to keep these beautiful little Harbeths for life. It took a lot of research and searching to find the ideal speaker for my budget (somewhat outside my intended budget really, but whadda ya gonna do), and finally I’ve nailed it. For those who favour realism in audio over so-called “excitement” I can’t recommend these speakers enough.

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