Opening Ears Wider on Day One

Without question, some of the best sound at Florida Audio Expo came from the Danish trio of Aavik, Ansuz, and Børresen. This combination of electronics, speakers and cabling, expertly set up by industry pro Lars Kristensen, managed to overcome room-related problems and deliver some of the most spacious sound heard over my three days in Tampa.

At first I thought the spaciousness I heard from recordings of Steely Dan—the most frequently played rock group at the show—and Diana Krall was a mite artificial, but when I listened to my CD of Sarah Vaughan singing "Send in the Clowns," I realized that I was simply hearing everything that a particular recording could offer. This with speakers intentionally placed very far apart and close to the outer walls. I could have used a mite more top extension, but that's a small quibble about sound that, from such small speakers, was truly exceptional.

I did not receive an equipment list in time, but by checking the website of Gated HiFi, I believe we heard the Børresen 01 two-way monitor with ribbon planar tweeter, Ansuz Acoustics cabling, and Aavik U-300 integrated amplifier with phono and 24/192 DAC.

A beautiful warm midrange was the standout feature of a system that featured Luxman electronics and Harbeth loudspeakers. Indeed, playing Jennifer Warnes' "Too Late Love Comes," the system emphasized the midrange over everything else. Heard: Harbeth Super HL5 Plus loudspeakers ($7995/pair); Luxman's L-509x integrated amplifier ($9495), D-08u SACD player ($14,995), PD-151 belt-drive turntable ($3895), and 15000 series cabling; Melco's N1ZH60 music server ($4999) and D100 optical drive for CD playback and ripping ($1295); and TonTräger stands.

COMMENTS
Charles E Flynn's picture

Harbeth has recommended the Tontrager Audio speaker stands shown in the photo above. See https://www.tontraeger-audio.com/lang/en/ .

hnickm's picture

They really sounded lovely playing the aforementioned Steely Dan. But to look at them...they are one of the few speakers that look better with the grills on. Some folks thought they were DIY because of the screws. Yikes!

Charles E Flynn's picture

If you look at really good close-up photos of a Harbeth speaker, it looks much less like a DIY project:

https://www.stereophile.com/content/harbeth-monitor-302-40th-anniversary-edition-loudspeaker

PAR's picture

Harbeth speakers come from a legacy of genuine studio monitors. Real monitors ( as opposed to speakers without professional users which are just given that description by their manufacturer) often have screw in front baffles to allow for easy in situ repair work should things go wrong. Downtime in a studio costs money.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You can always tell the visitors who are impressed by the sound, that you hand built them yourself ...... They will be even more impressed (cover up any logos, though) :-) .........

hnickm's picture

Funny comments. I did look and touch the sides of the speaker - very nice woodwork.
It wasn't my comment about DIY - I knew about Harbeth and BBC etc.
They really did sound lovely in what I suspect were tough rooms for audio.

philr's picture

Harbeth speakers are designed to be used with the grills on. So the aesthetics with them off are a mute point.

Charles E Flynn's picture

You make a good point. Careful use of a search engine reveals that the Harbeth speakers do have grills.

Here is an old thread, with Harbeth participation, about removing the grills. I do not know how relevant it is to current production:

https://www.harbeth.co.uk/usergroup/forum/the-science-of-audio/speaker-design/244-how-to-safely-remove-the-grilles

briandx11's picture

They should be coming in a few weeks. One of the reasons we purchased the speakers with Rosewood was that they look much better with the grills off, which we have to do. Why? Because we have two cats who would destroy those grills in a couple of weeks.

All of our auditioning was done with the grills of. We were blown away by their sound.

ckharbeth's picture

Having owned the model of Harbeth speakers that Jason comments on here, I was surprised by his rather limited take just talking about the midrange, which is lovely. But the coherence and transparency of these speakers has been commented on and reviewed in many places. Maybe it was the setup or the musical selection. Also, Harbeth does not recommend any particular brand of stands. Alan Shaw, the designer of Harbeth speakers, is quite clear that getting the right height of the tweeter to our ears is the most important role of any decent quality stand. And you certainly don't need to spend over $1000 for the stands referred to here. I have 17 inch high IKEA short table with top table slab taken off for $20 each that work wonderfully.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

This is a show report - an impression, or snapshot in time - rather than a review. What I chose to do in this case was focus on the system's strengths. In this room, with this equipment configuration (which includes rack, cables, room treatment, and the air conditioning), the midrange was the strong point, not coherence and transparency.

ckharbeth's picture

Sorry if I came across as critical Jason, I appreciate your reviews and reports. I just thought your comment on the Harbeth room didn't add much value or anything new or interesting to the experience of these speakers or system. And I realize you have a lot of ground to cover and potential products to cover which makes more discerning or discriminative observations challenging, especially in these settings.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Sorry. I can't and won't manufacture things to please Harbeth partisans. I just say what I hear. And let's get real about this. I'm not talking about these speakers in the abstract; I'm talking about them in this particular equipment pairing.

I am not convinced that spending two hours in this room would have changed my opinion of a system that, to my ears, did not excel in transparency, and that failed to allow Vadim Gluzman's violin to soar on my SACD of the Brahms Violin Concerto. That I didn't mention this in my report above is because I completed it at 6 AM at the Tampa airport, just as my plane was starting to board and I needed to grab my place in Southwest's line so that I'd be sure to have enough room for my carry-on.

The other comment about the system's midrange that I failed to include was, to quote my notes word-for-word, was "Kinda too much of a good thing."

ckharbeth's picture

Jason, Thanks for taking the time to expand on your experience. And I never asked or alluded for you to manufacture praise for the Harbeth speakers. Wondering about any fresh insights is not the same. I find your comment less than fair, and somewhat surprising given your generally judicious columns.

hb72's picture

while i really cannot commment on sensitivity of Harbeth speakers to variable stand quality, I have noticed with my own speakers (old english budget 2-ways, long out of production, Arcam delta 2 for your reference) an astonishing refinement, when I put them first time on very rigid & heavy, welded DIY stands, made of massive steel profiles, filled with sand and damped with wooden plates glued to metal top and bottom plates, so that they could serve as dead silent anti tank barriers. Spikes of course serve for "decoupling" (I put this under quotes, because it is not what is happening IMHO, instead, I'd call it firm grounding of cabinet on 4 defined points).

In the last weeks before first trial on new DIYed stands I had them positiend on some wooden "stools" of a slightly wobbly static (used to find best hight & tilt angle etc); note the "anti tank barriers" were built to hold the speakers in identical position. At first trail on new stands (and me acquainted to the sound they had on the wobbly "stools") the speakers surprised me with the removal of boxiness, removal of mid- to upper bass hump (and lard), cleared voices, had deep(er) bass which also tightend up and got more punchy, hard stomps sounded (and still do) more like real stomps on the floor etc etc., and there was a fine 3d sound image which seemingly had little to nothing to do with the speakers. So, all in all, quite a transformation.

Certainly, speakers of doubious cabinets, prone to all sorts of resonances might benefit from rigid stands alot more than e.g. the excellent Harbeths (and where controlled plate resonance might be part of the concept?). Still, I want to offer my experience to inspire others to perhaps trial a possibly real good set of purpose built stands if you get the occasion.

I definitly confirm the importance of hight, but I'd like to add: bass and fundamental tone are also to notably influenced by stand hight, not only treble related aspects.

cheers
h

Charles E Flynn's picture

https://www.harbeth.co.uk/usergroup/forum/subjective-soundings-your-views-on-audio/electronics-sources-stands-cables-accessories/harbeth-s-approved-accessories-hardware-and-software/2444-stands-for-your-harbeths

ckharbeth's picture

Alan was showing enthusiasm for the care and quality put into the making of these stands. If you are at all familiar with the Harbeth house philosophy you know that he believes the quality and price of the stands do not make a noticeable difference in the sound of the speakers. I've had all sorts of stands over my 40 plus years involved in owning good quality hifi equipment and my Ikea stands are as good as any. Which also leaves more funds available for acquiring more recordings that I love.

invaderzim's picture

I really enjoy the reviews but do wish there were more videos. They make it feel like we get to visit the show with you.

daveyf's picture

Jason likes to condemn with fair praise. In this instance, we.see how a reviewer can potentially sway the public from a product ( in this instance the Harbeth’s) by giving an opinion that is based on minimal exposure...which at least he admitted to! My only question is...why comment at all favorably, if all you really want to say is...they suck! Is there really anything so wrong in bringing that to our attention...
Since you seem to be implying that!

hb72's picture

I guess Jason commented on *The System* and not on *The Harbeths*.

I suppose we all know how little changes, e.g. on ancillaries etc, can make a same system sing & swing - or leave us somewhat uninspired, thus I'd not interpret dampend enthusiasm against one single component (and then, why only against the speakers, and not against anything else?).

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Thank you for pointing out the fact that my report is not of the Harbeths, but of the sound of a particular system in a particular room in a particular hotel on a particular day when the electricity was flowing at a particular level. I had hoped that it would not have been necessary to point this out again.

Everyone seems to need their God. God can do no wrong. Those who speak against God are God's enemies, and must be vanquished. etc. etc. Amen.

For the record, those still wishing to label me as a heathen are welcome to search out my past reports of Harbeth-inclusive systems at audio shows.

I now bid adieu to this thread and move on to writing more show reports.

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

jason

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'We report, you decide' :-) ..........

Ortofan's picture

... the Luxman/Harbeth system seeming to "emphasize the midrange over everything else" is that the Jennifer Warnes' "Too Late Love Comes" recording used for demonstration (aside from acoustic and double bass instruments) contains mostly midrange information - no drums or cymbals, for example.

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