Harbeth Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition loudspeaker

Everything sounds like what it's made of.

I'm known for saying that, and to me, it's obvious: box speakers with dome tweeters sound like box speakers with dome tweeters. I can hear their tweeters calling to me when I'm in the next room, making a phone call. I can hear their boxes hissing and groaning even after I turn off the stereo. Many a day, I think Edgar Villchur, inventor of the acoustic-suspension loudspeaker and the dome tweeter, ruined audio, and that audiophiles will never stop denying how artificially colored the sounds of domes and cones in boxes really are.

One person I think might agree with this view is Alan Shaw, Managing Director—he took over from founder Dudley Harwood— and chief engineer of Harbeth Loudspeakers, in West Sussex, England. I believe that Shaw will understand, because he singlehandedly fashions speakers that, despite their emphatic old-school, boxy look, sound less like cones and domes in boxes than any others I know.

I have long respected Harbeth speakers for their natural, uncolored sound, but this was my first opportunity to study closely the model I most admire: their biggest two-way speaker, the Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition ($6495/pair).

First days
Listening to Guo Ya-zhi and his small orchestra on their Sorrow of the River (CD, M•A Recordings M074A), I noticed how enormous and powerful the large drum sounded. My mind's eye noted the color of its skin and measured its diameter. I heard the drum's energy emanating in waves that exposed the volume of the recording venue. I perceived the flow and force of air moving through the suona (a Chinese double-reeded horn), and the speech-like utterances of the guzheng (a Chinese zither). I was pleased by how explicitly each instrument was described. Ya-zhi's music made me happy—only his notes were sorrowful.

I noticed a text from my friend Sphere: "Have you removed the grillecloths from the Harbeths?" Then another: "You must! Strong bass makes the 30.2s' logos rattle against the enclosure." I texted back: "You're kidding me—right?"

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Amused, I restarted the first track of Sorrow of the River and watched closely. The sound of the large drum shook the logo on the grille. It didn't rattle, but its wiggling made it shimmer in my bunker's dim light.

When I tried to remove a grille, it wouldn't just pop off: Its metal frame was fitted tightly into deep grooves between the baffle and the front edges of the speaker's side panels. After a futile struggle, I grabbed the fabric with my fingers and pulled. Both grilles came off. I listened again. The music I'd just enjoyed now sounded not only different, but a little discomforting. Nonetheless, I continued listening with the grilles off for a few days. Then, still frustrated with what I was hearing, I wrote to Alan Shaw: "What's up with your grilles?" I told him I thought the M30.2s sounded better sorted and more balanced with the grilles on. "Am I bonkers?"

Shaw's reply was interesting: "We recommend that the grille remain fitted during the life of the speaker and so, obviously, I've taken the grilles' effect into account. If you listen with them off, then you will hear about 0.5dB more 'tweet' and a rather different type of bass, because the bass tuning will have been altered by a couple of dBs or more. You may, of course, like that, but it's not a condition I can comment on as I did not design the speakers that way."

From that day forward, I left the Monitor 30.2s' grilles on. I listened to them in the nearfield as they sat on 24"-high TonTräger stands about 3' from the front wall, 6' apart, and 6' from my listening position, toed-in to directly face me, their tweeters precisely at the level of my ears. In those positions, the dual-mono pink noise from John Atkinson's Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) sat solidly between the Harbeths like Yosemite's El Capitan. Dispersion was good in both the horizontal and vertical planes. Casual listening revealed no cabinet or port noises; however, when I played the warble tones on Editor's Choice and laid my hands on one speaker's side panels, I felt only a moderate pulse in the 200–250Hz range. But strangely, sitting with my head less than 18" from the port in the upper left corner of the speaker's front baffle, I heard a distinct drop in energy between 80 and 100Hz, followed by a rise at 63Hz.

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Description
Harbeth Audio's website explains that the Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition is an electrical and cosmetic refinement of their Monitor 30.1 ($5499/pair and up, depending on finish), which remains in production and is itself an update of the original Monitor 30, described by Harbeth as "a refinement of the classic BBC LS5/9 loudspeaker." The Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition is upgraded with WBT NextGen binding posts, British-made polypropylene crossover capacitors, and what Harbeth describes as "40th Anniversary ultra-pure OFC internal cable." Visible differences include a restyled tweeter grille, front and rear badges proclaiming limited-edition status, and its exclusive Silver Eucalyptus veneer.

The Monitor 30.2 is a well-crafted, elegantly proportioned speaker with a ported cabinet. Hidden behind the speaker's fabric grille is a 7.9" bass-midrange drive-unit with a cone made of Harbeth's proprietary Radial2 polymer, and, under a layer of Harbeth's new protective gauze, a 1" soft-dome, ferro-cooled tweeter from SEAS. The braced and damped cabinet is made of thin layers of MDF. The Monitor 30.2 measures 18.1" tall by 10.9" wide by 10.8" deep and weighs 25.6 lbs. The speaker's specifications include a frequency response of 50Hz–20kHz, ±3dB, a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, and a sensitivity of 85dB/W/m.

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Listening
It was one of those late fall days when 5pm feels like 9pm. I was visiting an old friend who had a new shiny expensive hi-fi. He drank single-malt. I drank strong coffee as he played three well-known audiophile LPs that, in a blind test, I would have sworn were high-resolution digital files. All three sounded the same: instruments and voices had a pure but surreally glowing ghostliness, like the look of the hologram of Elvis in Blade Runner 2049. The music felt mechanical. Bloodless.

I told my friend the sound was amazing.

Back home, I poured hot cider, turned the lights way down, and put on the title track of Miles Davis's Bitches Brew (2 LPs, Columbia CS 9995). The shiniest components in the room were the Silver Eucalyptus–veneered Harbeth M30.2s. My AMG turntable and Koetsu cartridge were barely visible in the darkness. The PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium amplifier and preamplifier were silhouettes displaying forests of radiant tubes. Miles, too, was a silhouette, 5' tall, his trumpet flashing rays of brass-colored light. Miles and his electric band felt tangibly there—unlike those ashen phantoms from my old friend's shiny new system.

After Bitches Brew I played Clifton Chenier's Black Snake Blues (LP, Arhoolie 1038) and was surprised—it seemed that Chenier and his Cajun band were trying to generate the same type of musical energy field as Miles and his fusion band. More remarkably, I could hear (and see in my mind's eye) Felix James Benoit's kick drum—its skins, its diameter, the footboard's beater striking the rear head. My mind's eye was simultaneously next to the accordion's bellows and the bottom front of the kick drum—maybe even inside it. Concurrently, and big as life, the Cajun master was singing close to his microphone; he and his squeezebox could hardly have sounded more tangibly real or alive.

COMPANY INFO
Harbeth Audio Ltd.
US distributor: Fidelis Music Systems
460 Amherst Street
Nashua, NH 03063
(603) 880-4434
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Staxguy's picture

"I also believe that Harbeth's Monitor 30.2 is the most neutral, accurate, tuneful, fun, and music-loving stand-mounted two-way speaker I've heard."

So you would say, Herb, that it (the 30.2) is more accurate (and neutral) than the:

1) Magico Q1
http://magico.net/product/q1.php
2) Raidho D-1.1
https://raidho.dk/product-detail/d-1-speakers/

?

What in the Harbeth 30.2 prevents the thin wall (I believe it's similar to a Cajon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caj%C3%B3n) in construction from resonating and reacting to the bass frequencies in the cabinet?

It certainly is beautiful looking, shot in the dark light. Even nicer in the light, actually. Could the be the port? :)

Would you say it partners well with NAIM (PRAT) re: the British "Audio" re: tuneful, music-loving and fun!

John

N) How about the Computer Audiophile favourite, the TAD CR-1?

Thanks!

Audiohack's picture

Staxguy, I think the answer to your question, 'What in The Harbeth...from resonating and reacting' is the extensive and painstaking voicing that Alan Shaw undertakes when designing and finishing a speaker for production. Also there are several manufacturers who use specific cabinet colorations to enhance their sound.

rogeronimo's picture

(((What in the Harbeth 30.2 prevents the thin wall (I believe it's similar to a Cajon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caj%C3%B3n) in construction from resonating and reacting to the bass frequencies in the cabinet?)))

Unlike your box drum, which is designed so that its walls will amply resonate, the thin-wall cabinet construction advanced by the BBC type of designs is intended to minimise such resonance, by means of a layer of heavy and lossy bituminous coating on the inner surface of the panels. Just as a car's shock absorber converts spring rebound energy into heat and stops the car from continuing to bounce long after the initial bump has passed, so this damping layer absorbs and dissipates most of the energy transmitted into the cabinet wall, thus reducing the amplitude and duration of unwanted vibration.
Research carried out by the BBC back in 1976 proved that this construction method reliably put any cabinet wall 'noise' at least 30dB below the main sound output level, meaning that this coloration became inaudible. In engineering terms, that is 'job done'.
As always, there is a compromise in that vibration cannot be totally eliminated (any more than a car can have 'perfect' ride comfort!). The effect of heavy damping layers on thin timber panels is to place the remanant vibrational modes in the mid-bass 100-250 Hz range, where the worst they can do, if faintly audible, is add a modicum of 'warmth' to the sound.

es347's picture

..but 25#? And here all along we’ve been told an inert cabinet is the Golden Fleece of cabinetdom..

tonykaz's picture

aaaaaannnnnnddddd he's heading towards 20,000 ( which I think he can achieve without trying ).

Steve has soooooooo much Content that if he could pick-up a few YouTube technical pointers from ...... hmmmmmm... Casey Neistat or someone like that he could go well past 1 Million.

Steve G. has a Big Story to tell, he just needs to learn how to tell it.

Congratulations Mr.G, I'm your biggest fan!!

Tony in Michigan

fred13's picture

Hello
Any comparison with SHL5+, which is comparable in price ?
Thank you
Frédéric

Doctor Fine's picture

I have the Monitor 30s as part of a modular array.
They are bi-amped with 250 watts going to the tweeter and 250 watts going to the woofer using Parasounds excellent Class A/AB Model A21 amplifiers (two of them!).
To say they are revealing without being fatiguing is an understatement. It is quite obvious when the Parasounds change from class A over to class AB when I crank up the power. Class A is liquid and AB is just authoritative.
It is nice to HEAR the difference as you turn up the volume knob.
I use them in a quite large room (20X30 with vaulted ceiling).
Dirctly below the Monitor 30s I have twin sealed box woofer/subwoofers from SVS which are time aligned like a Wilson WAMM Chronoscopic using rubber aiming brackets.
These Subs deliver mid bass/low bass and have infinitely adjustible phase knobs, a built in parametric EQ, an attack switch with numerous "room size" settings and a variable crossover along with variable gain, speaker AND RCA inputs.
I use the speaker inputs so they "listen" to the main Harbeth signal. Crossover is set around 65 Hz and due to room modes the parametric is notched also at around 65 Hz.
Beneath these are twin 15" front ported Velodyne deep bass subwoofers also time aligned "chronoscopically". The controls are the same setup as the SVS subs with the only difference being they have no parametric notch filter.
As the room has no discernable mode hump below 40 Hz (their operating range) this lack of a parametric is not important.
Around back is a pair of Townshend ribbon super tweeters also time aligned (moving them even a quarter of an inch DECREASES bass and loses clarity of the image. I do not know how supertweeters are capable of helping the sub bass but they DO).
And the Townshends give a pleasing shimmer to cymbals and using my radio shack sound pressure meter I am getting remarkably flat response in room from below 25hZ to over 20KhZ (the Townshends extend to 90Khz!).
IF I had to move to a smaller room I could all ways remove the booster speakers and simply run the Harbeths solo.
But it is nice to have options.
And the sound is not simply "nice."
It is earth shatteringly "alive."
I was a dealer for Sonus Faber, Martin Logan and have used Quads etc. I was even over at Gayle Sanders house listening to his eight foot tall Martin Logan Statements.
NOTHING sounds like these Harbeth "stacks" do.
I bought them because 15 years ago every mention in Stereophile at audio shows had to pause and comment on how pure and musical Harbeths sound even under terrible setup conditions.
You really should hear these when they are set up to perfection.
I was trained by John Hunter's crew on how to use the Sumiko Master Set and once you learn the room the incredible "you are there" imaging is quite astonishing.
Glad to see Harbeth get a rave review.
I have NEVER bought a pair of 5 thousand dollar monitors without even auditioning them but took a shot after Stereophile consistently gave them top marks and guess what? Nirvana.
As usual you may or may not get a pair to knock your sock off as every room and every setup will alter their presentation as that is the nature of speakers.
But IF you buy a pair be assured that the hard work you put in to "learning" how they can load the room and what amps they like---will be WORTH THE EFFORT.
At my age that was my primary consideration as I have no time to waste trying to "almost get there."
Thank you John Atkinson and thank you Stereophile for helping me find my own personal version of HiFi Heaven.
Oh and I'm really liking this Herb Reichert guy.
He makes up for losing Sam Tellig.
Herb seems to have his finger on the pulse of our hobby.
What's next, Herb?
Going to review some phono preamps that offer total control over capacitance and impedance and make a vinyl cartridge sing?
This guy Herb can WRITE.
The magazine is getting BETTER!

charlesfosterkane's picture

A whole lot of words to essentially say nothing. "But strangely, sitting with my head less than 18" from the port in the upper left corner of the speaker's front baffle, I heard a distinct drop in energy between 80 and 100Hz, followed by a rise at 63Hz." Pretty sure your head was somewhere else. If this is your day job, quit immediately.

davip's picture

"...Many a day, I think Edgar Villchur, inventor of the acoustic-suspension loudspeaker and the dome tweeter, ruined audio".

Many a day I doubt that you think (or subsequently write) anything of much note at all. YOU think Ed. Villchur ruined audio? That would be EV the man who revolutionised loudspeaker design through invention of the Acoustic Suspension system that provided 100s-of-1000s of music lovers with the first affordable taste of truly high-fidelity and a speaker system (e.g., the AR18) that still runs rings around any sub-$1K ported-darling today. This is the same EV who developed the industry standard for hearing aids, who made usable audio for the partially-sighted and the blind, who developed the first truly high-fidelity turntable that isolated the platter and tonearm from the motor with a sprung subchassis that formed the template for Linn and others (and that most companies apart from SOTA today ignore in their motor-bolted-to-a-piece-of-MDF rush for money), the EV who introduced progressive employiment practice into audio manufacture and, like Grado, would repair your purchase not matter how old usually for free, and who eschewed patenting to allow anyone who wanted to to use his revolutionary hearing-aid system to do so for the benefit of all.

This giant of the audio world and humanist is one that we all owe our respect to, and this little nobody-critic Reichert besmirches his name by suggesting, however glibly, that Villchur "ruined audio". EV did more for audio that you will ever do in a hundred lifetimes Reichert.

If I had a subscription to Stereophile it would now be gone

Incidentally, if Reichert did indeed hear "...a distinct drop in energy between 80 and 100Hz, followed by a rise at 63Hz", note that the AR18 is flat right through that audio band and falls off at only 12db/oct thereafter -- something that is apparently beyond Alan Shaw's 50x-more expensive pretty-box.

Herb Reichert's picture

My glib point about EV was that two way boxes sound mostly like two way boxes - not at all like horns ribbons planar magnetic plasma or electrostatic speakers. However, during the last couple decades I have owned both AR3 and AR M1 loudspeakers. The M1s were smooth and natural despite their metal dome. I used them as my workbench speakers - they looked cool and fit on a shelf. They sounded pretty darn good driven by low-power triode amps.

just sayin'
nobody from Brooklyn

dalethorn's picture

I bought the Advent** after a rave review by Holt, and after reading the astounding literature from Henry Kloss claiming a bandwidth that would reproduce the sound of large cathedral organs, etc. And in just the right room, large enough to put the lowest resonant frequency below 32.7 hz, and not so large as to lose the bass reinforcement, the deep bass was a real breakthrough for the size and price.

**The Advent was somehow a descendant of those AR's, I assumed from the relationship of Kloss, Lieberman, Hoffman et al, going back to the 1950's.

But given that "velvet fog" that Holt noted, and the less-than-stellar bass detail along with other factors, it was still a box with a boxy sound. Perhaps the AR3a was better, don't know. Holt himself much preferred the transmission-line speakers from IMF for bass detail.

mink70's picture

The subject of your sanctimonious outrage is not Herb's comment but your intentional bad-faith misreading of it. There's no disparaging of Villchur in the review, only a comment about the acoustic-suspension speaker. Any adult with a high-school education can discern this—including you. But I guess twisting the meaning of his comment to accommodate your tirade was just too tempting—and unlike you, Herb actually signs his writing with his name.

And if you think that Herb is a "little nobody-critic," you really have no idea about this hobby's history. Or what writing talent looks like.

davip's picture

Really? Are you unable to understand what "... I think Edgar Villchur, inventor of the acoustic-suspension loudspeaker and the dome tweeter, ruined audio" says? It disparages a man whose contributions to high-fidelity are numerous, and an appeal to glibness from the scribe in question or your sucking-up for his 'writing talent' is irrelevant. My name is in my ID pal -- David Page -- and you can find my published papers, book chapters and edited volumes in Scopus, Mendeley and Google Scholar so give me a break with your fellatory adulation and disparaging of those who don't follow you to the Glory Hole.

I understand audio sufficiently I think -- I started buying vinyl in 1978 and had an STD/Hadcock when I was 16, with a Nytech CA252 and AR18s (that I own to this day) by the following year. What system did You have as a teenager? Something by Kenwood perhaps..?

dalethorn's picture

"Fellatory?"

mink70's picture

That's impressive, David. I didn't get my first STD until I was 22.

davip's picture

"...Reply posted by: mink70
Reply title: I'm not sure what an STD
Reply comment: I'm not sure what an STD/Hadcock is, but perhaps it has something to do with the glory hole you mention, David".

You've never heard of the first real competitor to the Sondek (STD = Strathclyde Transcription Developments) or George Hadcock's legendary tonearms, and you point the finger at others for not knowing "...the history of our hobby"?

LOL. Comedian.

mink70's picture

You don't lack knowledge David, just a sense of humor. Being this angry about your hi-fi cannot feel very good.

davip's picture

...and my hi-fi doesn't anger me in the least -- stupid, unknowledgeable people who run their mouths in fora and then appeal to humour when they're called-out do, however. Think twice the next time you feel like telling someone to shut-up in a forum and question their understanding when you have so little of your own.

mink70's picture

I will think twice, David, but not for the reasons you propose. People like you seem completely immune to correction, conversation or even shame. Yes, you may have had a fine turntable at 16, but you don't seem at all flustered by your willful misreading of this review, or your bullying, homophobic jokes, or your pompous, self-serving tone. Your rhetoric has one setting—you're a sage and everyone else is an idiot. You're not here to listen or even converse, merely to beat on people with your "knowledge." So yes, I will think twice, because you will have learned nothing from this interaction. Take care, David.

davip's picture

... in telling me to "shut-up" and saying that I had no understanding of "..the history of this hobby", you were actually seeking an interlocutor to 'listen' and 'converse' with. So it is with all bullies -- you come-off all aggressive to begin with and then act the hurt victim when you're slapped back.

Take it like a man, not a baby. As for my 'homophobia', it seems unlikely as I'm as bent as a 10-bob-bit. I stand by my assertion -- you're an idiot. You take care too...

ckharbeth's picture

Herb,
You did a lot of good comparisons with amps, but what about with your own stand mount Stirling, Falcon, KEF speakers? I'd love to hear a companion with the SHL5+ I own, but may have to wait until my local shop gets the 30.2 in stock. I find speaker comparisons as valuable as your own descriptions of the speaker being reviewed as it provides a richer context to consider relative merits of each speaker. Thanks for your good work

Stevens's picture

It does amaze me that Harbeth recommend on their product page a minimum of 25w and the reviewer uses amps at 35w, 25w and 22w. Ask any Harbeth owner (I have SHL5+ 40th and P3ESR) and they will tell you 80w minimum and 150w or more is ideal (i.e. Croft, LFD or any Quad amp from 606 onwards).
Then ask them about the grilles and they will all tell you to leave them in place. Most owners have never removed them. If you do, Alan Shaw will tell you to blow through the material and feel what comes through - not a lot - clearly demonstrating they are part of the design.
Finally, Harbeth have said time and again their no. 1 design issue is for the speakers to be totally non-fatuiging, which as someone else said, they are.
That said, nice review and I'm glad the reviewer liked them.

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