Harbeth SuperHL5

Along with remodeling my house, I’m thinking about new speakers. Right now I have very large speakers that I’ve enjoyed immensely but it’s time to shrink my footprint in the home.

I love the Harbeth SuperHL5 but I have a big room. It’s about 21’ x 14’ with a cathedral ceiling that peaks at 10’ in the center. One end of the room it’s open to the kitchen. The stereo sits on the long 21’ wall. My home is typical American suburban construction.

If I go this route, I’d consider stereo subs at some point but not at first. Stereo subs won’t be easy to fit into our set-up.

I know everyone here needs a lot more info to pass judgement but I’d like some opinions.

Edit: they will be mounted too close to the back wall…maybe the speaker face a little more than 2’ out from the wall.

Without listening, and I will, what would you pick?:

  • Harbeth Super HL5 Plus
  • KEF Reference 1
  • B&W 805 D3
  • Focal Sopra No1

I’d really like opinions! I’d add at least one subwoofer later. After I get used to things. I’d like to add that looks matter (shouldn’t but does). Family room is going modern in design but the Harbeth might look okay…biggest of the 4.

Focal Sopra No 1’s and I would add a pair of Rel S3/SHO subwoofers. Looks matter to me.

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I have a Sopra No. 1 with a REL S5 ( another one to come eventually) in room 24’ x12’ (with 8.5’ ceilings). Sounds fantastic. Can’t say how it compares. But it’s worth your consideration.

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You need to listen to them all and then decide but that aside the sound signature and efficiency spread on that group is pretty wide. Unless your current amp if pretty hefty it’s not one size fits all on that group especially the KEF which was tested at 82 db.

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I have a nearly identical listening space size with Monitor Audio Silver 300’s, and they fill the entire listening room beautifully. Not that you’re considering these, but just to offer some perspective.

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I’ve been using Harbeth SHL5 speakers in a similar size room to yours since 2007. First the SHL5 model, then the SHL5 Plus model and currently the SHL5 Plus 40th Anniversary edition. Choice of loudspeakers is very much a personal one but I have found nothing to criticise in the sound quality of the SHL5 speakers. Their imaging and ‘natural’ tonal balance allow them to ‘disappear’ when listening. Each successive model I’ve owned brought improvements in transparency and tonal accuracy. If you can find a pair I’d very strongly recommend the latest model, the Anniversary edition (the’ve sold like hot cakes I understand).
Perhaps ‘looks’ may deter you relative to the others on your list - a comparatively wide box - but auditioning each must be paramount. In the UK many of us are fortunate in having dealers sufficiently local that we can audition equipment, including speakers, at home - if you can, do this. I’ve not done any direct comparisons with the other speakers you list (I arrived at Harbeth via Spendor and Audio Physic) but the Kef concentric driver is very good (our son has the LS50). A word of warning (sorry if I’m teaching grandma to suck eggs) the SHL5 Plus may not sound as exciting as the others on your list (its in-room frequency response slopes gently down at high frequencies) but all the musical information is there in a natural balance. With the SHL5 Plus Anniversary edition I’ve found the bass superb in terms of definition and adequate for the type of music I mostly listen to (classical & jazz) - you may find you do not need sub woofers.
To put the sound quality in context I found the improvement in moving to the Anniversary model of the same order as upgrading to Snowmass on the PS Audio DS DAC. Here’s an endorsement from Darren Myers, who uses them as a reference at PS Audio:

Happy listening!

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I have had SHL5+ and SHL5+ 40th AE now. They can go close to the wall, just allow for at least 10 degrees of toe-in. I have a single 400w BK subwoofer, sitting in a corner. I wouldn’t think of using another speaker. My dealer sells lots of Harbeth and Focal. Has been a Harbeth dealer since their launch in 1977. His preference is for SHL5+ over Sopra 1 and Sopra 3 over Harbeth M40.2, but it is marginal and a matter of personal taste, also the Focal in the UK are about 40% more expensive once you have stands and the styling is completely different, in the USA the Focal appear to be cheaper.

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One of the technical, “on paper” items I like about the KEF Reference 1’s is they seem to pair well with high powered amps. I have the BHK 300s, and it seems like a good match.

Thanks everyone for your input.

Harbeth work OK with minimum rated power (about 35w, but the bass will be flabby), but the more juice the better they get. Unless you have electrostatics, you can’t really have too much power. Haberth and BHK 300 should be wonderful.

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Ignoring looks, Harbeth would be my go to. Personally I don’t find their bigger speakers very appealing aesthetically, but I love how they sound.

If I factor in looks, the white Ref 1s look brilliant IMO.

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Agree entirely. I use 250w, a Primare A.60, which works well with the Harbeth.

I couldn’t really tell the difference between 140w Quad 909 and 280w Quad QMP, so I eventually went for Devialet 190w (205w into 6 ohms), which is a much faster amp than the Quad (and it should be given the cost), although they are both Class A hybrids (same idea 40 years apart - don’t tell me there is anything really new in consumer audio).

I really do appreciate all the input. I considered ever post. I ended up buying the piano black KEF Reference 1s.

I did listen to several of the choices but picked the KEFs. Won’t be listening for a while yet. House will be torn up for 6 weeks or more. Can’t wait. I will admit the look of the KEF Reference 1s played a roll.

I am convinced, based upon the reviews and listening, I will get the magic out of them. I bought the stands also, which they sell for way too much. Gonna order iso-acoustic Gaia II Feet. I’ll also fill the stands with sand. The whole thing will be around 75lbs of solid to the floor. I also plan on a stereo set of REL subs in a few months. Love this stupid hobby! Thanks again!

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Congrats on the new speakers. On the sub front you might want to take a look at the Rythmik F12SE as an alternative to REL.

If you can, try SVS subs I went with SVS SB2000’s and I was able get a pair for the same as one of the JL’s.

Were you able to audition them?

The KEFs? Sure did. I have a KEF dealer very close.

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That’s good to know. We don’t have any decent audio dealers here in Madison, WI. At some point in the future (a few years away) I may go the same route i.e. monitors with subs. I already have 2 REL S3/SHO on the way to augment my floor standers.

My previous speakers were giant 220lb each Tyler Acoustic H2s. I just sold them to a guy about 2 miles from my house on Audiogon. I sure didn’t want to ship them. Worked out amazingly. They were really nice speakers. Huge soundstage.

Won’t really know how the KEF Reference 1s work till I get them set up in my house with my electronics… That’s gonna be a while yet. Sure miss my system!