When the speakers landed in the country I received a call from UPS requesting they take care of the import and GST fees on my behalf after they obtained my CC details.
To my delight, the speakers arrived the next day.
Upon opening the carton I was greeted with such beautifully finished speakers I just stood there admiring the fit and finish for what seemed like an eternity. The hardest decision when ordering was choosing a colour which ended up being Rosewood. I also opted for the 'Special Edition' version with studio grade ulta pure OFC internal wiring.
Using my main system of Herron preamp, Conrad Johnson poweramp and source being a North Star Design DAC and transport combo. JPS Labs cabling was used throughout so I think my system was up to scratch.
Other speakers on hand to compare to the Harbeth's were my trusty ML-1 Signatures, and Linn Kan mk 1.
...and now to my thoughts. In a few words. An intoxicating listening experience.
I kept the musical content brief with a few tracks from Rosanne Cash, Leonard Cohen, Angus and Julia Stone. Nothing too challenging like a full scale orchestra with my TT setup out of action.
My first pleasant surprise with the P3ESR was the weight of sound it had compared to my lean sounding Linn Kans. As the Harbeths share a similar sealed box design and are only slightly deeper this came as a revelation. Playing Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' the bass was literally felt and not just heard when the volume was turned up a few notches. The chestiness of his voice was ever so present. On my ML-1's the bass is seismic but his voice did not captivate me as did with the Harbeth's presentation.
When hearing Angus and Juila Stone's 'I'm Not Yours' I really felt the timbre of the piano with the Harbeth to be spot on whilst on both the ML-1's and Linn Kans it did not sound right by comparison. When Julia's child like voice begins the Harbeth presents it with more weight than the other two speakers that adds more emotion to the song. Right or wrong I preferred the Harbeths on this one. As the bass kicked in shortly afterwoods this was where the ML-1's excelled with its exceptional control and depth. In fact I felt this was brought too much to my attention as to detract from the enjoyment of the song.
Finally listening to Rosanne Cash's duo with her famous dad, 'September When It Comes' the Harbeth really sealed the deal for me for musical enjoyment and involvement. Rosanne's voice had an added richness and body to it the Linn Kans definitely lacked and the ML-1's only hinted at. When Johnny joined in I just forgot all about the gear in front of me and drifted into the music.
A quick listen to some fast electronic music with lots of deep bass showed the Harbeth handled it well but slightly struggled to keep pace compared to both the ML-1's and Linn Kans which are known to be super fast. I would not be buying the P3ESR if you solely listen to hip hop, dance or electronic music. I think you would be wasting their talents but who knows as everyone's ears are different.
Finally connecting my trusty old Redgum amp proved the Harbeths sounded great with more modest amplification. Certainly the separation, soundstage width and depth were diminished as were detail levels but most of the musical message got through to give an engaging listen.
Now I realize comparing speakers like this is not really a fair assessment. But I don't think I have ever read a review, when comparing different speakers, where the reviewer has multiple systems on hand optimised to each speaker. Perhaps my setup was not suitable for both the Linn Kans and the ML-1s but in isolation I have always enjoyed these speakers in my main setup.
So in conclusion I find the Harbeth P3ESR the most musically satisfying small speaker I have ever listened to. It is not perfect as no speaker is. I would enjoy a little more air to the sound but that could effect the intimacy of its presentation. Also the bottom end is not the fastest or the deepest I have heard for a standmount. The combination of midrange clarity with a slightly warm character is the best I have heard which is where it really counts. With acoustic instruments and voices the P3ESR just sounded so natural. Now I understand why this speaker has received such worldwide acclaim.
Edited by vmhf, 07 April 2011 - 04:10 PM.