Harbeth Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition loudspeaker Page 2

A small wooden house in Butcher Hollow, in Van Lear, Kentucky, was the birthplace of country-music megastar Loretta Lynn, in 1932. Artist, musician, and record producer Jack White was born in 1975, in Detroit. Van Lear Rose, the album White produced for Lynn in 2004, was nominated for five Grammys and won two (CD, Interscope 80002513-02).

Van Lear Rose is the most heart-grabbing recording I've heard in the 21st century. One of its songs, "Women's Prison," begins with Loretta shooting her lover, and ends with her in the electric chair—symbolized by White's guitar solo. The Harbeths excavated every frightening jolt, every electric texture, every remorseful word of this exquisite but morbid soliloquy.

Alan Shaw told me that he designs Harbeth speakers to be "stand-, cable-, genre-, and amplifier-agnostic." That might be crazy talk, but his Monitor 30.2s sure let Miles and Loretta be their full jazz and country selves.


Checking for more examples of genre agnosticism, I provoked the Harbeths with poems, growls, recitations, and prepared piano: pianist Cecil Taylor's In Florescence, with bassist William Parker and Greg Bendian on percussion and vocals (LP, A&M SP5286). This is not easy-flowing cocktail jazz; it's a rabidly powerful, brain-bashing, art-jazz smackdown. In "Anast in Crisis Mouthful of Fresh Cut Flowers," Parker's sawing and plucking tried their best to make the Monitor 30.2s' drivers buckle or wince, but they remained stoic. Taylor's mad prepared-piano explorations shook the room while walking a close edge to audio distortion. Think enormous crashing sounds and machine-gun snare-drum whacks mixed with gurgling drains and explosions. With unshakable clarity, the Harbeths reproduced all of this at peaks of up to 100dB.

Amplifier Changes
I replaced PrimaLuna's ProLogue Premium power amp (35Wpc into 8 ohms, $2199) with Pass Laboratories' spectacular new XA25 (25Wpc into 8 ohms, $4900) and put on the premiere recording (1965) of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Momente, with the composer conducting soprano Martina Arroyo, four choral groups drawn from the West German Radio Chorus, and 13 instrumentalists of the West German Radio Orchestra (LP, Nonesuch H-71157). I immediately realized that the dynamic capabilities of the Monitor 30.2s were much greater than I had so far heard. Forget slam and boogie factor—with the Pass XA25 this LP was borderline frightening. Imagine a large chorus suddenly quieted by the voice of a lonely, distant soprano, to be smashed only moments later by an even larger chorus backed by gongs, and Lowrey and Hammond organs! Imagine spine-tingling, gunshot-explosive sound with nary an off tone or fatiguing moment.

A few days later I tried Momente again, this time driving the Harbeth M30.2s with Line Magnetic's LM-518 IA integrated amplifier used only as a power amp (22Wpc into 8 ohms, $4450). With the Pass Labs amp the sound had been as transparen, corporeal and hyperdynamic—and oh my lord, with the Line Magnetic the Monitor 30.2s became vivid and textural in a most enticing way.

This newly discovered vividness caused the Harbeths to remind me of vintage Quad ESLs. Powered by bright-emitter triode tubes, the M30.2's midrange came into full electrostatic bloom. The Line Magnetic made the Monitor 30.2s' sound more tonally complete, more fully tactile and spatially adept, than did the PrimaLuna or Pass Labs amp. But I doubt the LM-518 will deliver enough power for most audiophiles with these speakers. Turning the volume up and listening for clipping, I heard some, but it was soft, and only on 97dB/2m peaks.


Remembering that these low-powered amplifiers might seem a little weak for normal people in regular-size listening rooms, I replaced the Line Magnetic with Bel Canto Design's e.One Ref600M monoblocks (300W into 8 ohms, $4990/pair). Switching from lush, breathy, class-A tubes to an NCore class-D module taught me a lot about audio amplifiers, and even more about Harbeth's Monitor 30.2.

With Bel Canto's 300W monos, the Monitor 30.2s' monitor-like clarity and dynamic contrasts were considerably better than with any of the lower-powered amps. More power made the Harbeths lighter on their feet and stronger on the bottom.

Best of all, the Ref600Ms added music-enhancing weight to instruments and voices. This extra instrumental mass took Winston Reedy's "What a Feeling," from the reggae compilation A Tribute 2 Studio One & Treasure Isle Records (LP, Cou$ins LP037), to a higher level of listening pleasure. I played this track very loud through the Harbeths, but it flowed easily and never felt loud. Bass guitar, snare-drum whacks, and especially the Hammond organ—all sounded exactly as they should. Easy-flowing power made "What a Feeling" beg to be played three times in a row. So I did.

Alan Shaw had told me that Harbeth speakers are "amplifier agnostic," and that I should just "pick anything—as long as it has 80Ws or so." Amp designers often say stuff like that. Usually, I ignore it. But the Harbeth 30.2s responded well to power: The combination of the Harbeths and Bel Cantos was a nonstop pleasure.

But! The Pass Labs XA25 exceeded the Bel Cantos in clarity and transparency. Overall, the Nelson Pass–designed XA25 allowed me to engage more with the music, and the Harbeths to reproduce almost everything right. Most important, "What a Feeling" had more, well, feeling. The Pass Labs XA25 is the amp Herb the Reviewer recommends for use with the Monitor 30.2s.

But! The amp that Herb, that Monk in the Bunker, most enjoyed with the Harbeths was PrimaLuna's ProLogue Premium. Its 35Wpc were enough power for my type of listening, and its EL34 tubes added an appealing touch of saturated color that kept my focus on the music rather than on the sound.

Stands Deliver
My review samples of the Monitor 30.2s came with TonTräger Audio's 24"-tall Reference stands ($1495/pair). These are exquisitely crafted from slender poles of black-stained beech. They sit on bases of polished slate 13.75" square by 1.25" thick. I used the TonTräger stands for the first month of my listening, but then I couldn't stop myself: I replaced the 6-lb TonTrägers with my 57-lb Sound Anchor stands and listened to both sides of Antony and the Johnsons' I Am a Bird Now (LP, Secretly Canadian SC 105).

The difference in sound was a lot like stopping down the aperture on a camera lens. With the Sound Anchors (and no Blu-Tack), the musical picture got darker, especially around the edges. Image focus softened in the foreground but reached deeper into the soundfield. The upper bass and lower midrange sounded fuller, and maybe a bit more powerful. But there was some blur and smear that I'd never noticed with the TonTrägers. The effect was similar to reducing the contrast in a photograph.

Of the intricate contrast spectrum I'd heard with the Harbeths sitting on the TonTrägers, 80% returned when I inserted pea-sized bits of Blu-Tack between each Harbeth and its Sound Anchor (footnote 1). And bass became more forceful than with the TonTrägers. The heavy Anchors made images seem more solid, but overall, focus wasn't as crisp as with the TonTrägers.


When I returned to the TonTrägers, the musical view became brighter and wider—like opening the aperture on a fast camera lens. Which stand showed me more of what might be on the recordings? I can't say for sure.

Clearly, Alan Shaw understands that loudspeakers sound like the sum of their parts. He understands that you can't accurately reproduce timbres if the bits of Kevlar, carbon, titanium, or beryllium sing louder than the King's College Choir. Shaw also understands that the secret of making an accurate loudspeaker is not a gaudy cabinet that weighs a quarter of a ton. Harbeth Audio's Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition demonstrated that the best way to make a reference-quality loudspeaker might be the simplest: use cones and domes and boxes that minimize the aforementioned material colorations. Shaw says that the sound of his Radial2 cone is the least colored of all present-day bass-midrange cones. I believe he is right.

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.

Footnote 1: See my discussion of the interface between a speaker and its stand and the measurable effect of Blu-Tack.— John Atkinson
Harbeth Audio Ltd.
US distributor: Fidelis Music Systems
460 Amherst Street
Nashua, NH 03063
(603) 880-4434

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
2) Raidho D-1.1


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!


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


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.

gizmo101's picture

Research done more than 40 years ago is outdated and irrelevant by any measure. Alan Shaw has little to offer and it shows.

rogeronimo's picture

I think it's going to come as quite a shock to every engineer and scientist on the planet to learn that there is a 40-year statute of limitations on research, as you assert (typically, with no evidence! ).

The fact is, Harbeth's acknowledged product quality, healthy turnover and appreciative customer base suggests that Alan Shaw knows a fair bit more about designing, manufacturing, and selling high-grade loudspeakers than you do.

To be generous, I'll give you another 40 years to prove him (and the BBC's renowned Engineering Research Department) wrong.

gizmo101's picture

A decade old research finding may be obsolete, let alone 40 years. You and Alan Shaw spin bullshit and have no credibility. As many would agree, his speakers are not even of high-grade quality; a fact that has been established by personal experience.

rogeronimo's picture

[flame deleted by John Atkinson]

For sure, new discovery MAY overturn previous research findings but this rarely happens when they are backed up by verified and repeatable experiment. I don't think that Archimedes' principle of buoyancy has yet passed its sell-by date, and that's after two hundred and twenty 'decades'.

In addition to Harbeth, there is a considerable number of other well-respected loudspeaker manufacturers using the damped thin-wall approach to cabinet construction advanced by the original BBC research. Their designs are in continuous use in professional studio and broadcast applications around the World, and for domestic use in the homes of countless thousands of satisfied users. You don't build or maintain such a user base on the back of 'irrelevant' technology. Nobody is claiming that it is the only way to make a loudspeaker cabinet, but like all good engineering solutions ... IT WORKS.

If you have new insights into the mechanical properties of laminated engineered timber and surface layer visco-elastic damping materials that render the detailed research and experiments by H D Harwood's BBC Research team 'obsolete', how about you publish your findings? You clearly have enough free time to troll the Harbeth reviews here, so you can't be that busy.

gizmo101's picture

Harwood's BBC research is history. Shaw's Harbeth is resource-poor and has little to offer, same old drivers and cabinets in all their 'new' models. Look to KEF and Dynaudio for some inspiration, dude. Changing veneer, binding posts etc. will not bring sonic improvement, not unless you imagine it.

rogeronimo's picture

ALL research is 'history', by the next day. Is that all you have?
Goodyear tyres, huh - same old materials, same old shape, little to offer in their 'new' models? Here's another lesson for you : successful businesses don't change a winning formula, and I have no doubt that Harbeth's sales will continue despite the opinions of some anonymous self-appointed internet pundit.

Herb Reichert's picture

the TAD ME-1 seems more balanced lively and long-term pleasing than every speaker you mentioned


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

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

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


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

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.

ejlif's picture

I have looked a few reviews lately and then the comments. My god what a mean bunch of *ssholes lol. It's just a pair of speakers for Christ's sake.