Review: Harbeth Super HL5plus Loudspeakers

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by Mark Gusew

5th October, 2015

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Reviews

Reviewed: Harbeth Super HL5plus

The cabinet is made to the typical BBC British monitor design methodology of using very thin (8mm and 12 mm) timber walls with tuned or controlled resonance. I was not about to open up the review pair of speakers, but I have seen photos of the interior of the loudspeaker. I can report that there is no structural reinforcing or brace plates anywhere to be found inside.  Rather, the interior is lined with dense acoustic foam and has a thick and heavy tar like sheet on the back panel directly behind the drivers to absorb rear firing energy from exciting the rear wall. The interior is otherwise empty except for a 100mm thick acoustic foam block that is snuggly placed inside the enclosure. There is no damping on the front baffle, but there is a plastic bass reflex port that is positioned underneath and to the right of the bass driver.

The front is covered by a removable black grill cloth that is held tightly in place by a well formed metal frame. Removing the grill there are a number of chemically coated black screws that attach the front panel to the cabinet, while the rear panel uses brass screws to hold it in place. It’s hard to not notice the simplicity of the build and visible use of timber screws, but that is exactly how Harbeth believes loudspeakers should be manufactured. It may look a little DIY to the casual observer, but upon closer examination it is obvious that a great deal of care and attention has been paid to the fit and finish. It has been put together with a lot of consideration and attention to detail, even the cabinet screws have been carefully torqued. They have making them for 38 years now, so they know exactly what they are doing.

Quality control is paramount at Harbeth, as every individual drive unit is measured and pair-matched before assembly. Each crossover board is carefully checked and tested using computer-controlled equipment. At the end of assembly, each unit is tested before shipment, ensuring the finished product leaves the factory according to the designer’s specification. They are shipped as pairs of speakers, with a left and a right speaker. A small L or R is printed on the end of the serial numbers to indicate the correct orientation. The small Harbeth logo on the front grill sits to the inside of each of the boxes when you have them correctly oriented.

At the back there are two sets of speaker binding posts, unlabelled but identified by the red or black stripes on the brass thumb screws.

Stands

The Super HL5plus is more substantial in size than a typical bookshelf sized loudspeaker, being a stand-mount design with the traditional 'two cubic feet' of volume proportions found in many BBC monitors. They stand 64cm tall and 32cm wide and are made to be situated with the tweeters at ear level. This necessitates the use of speaker stands which Harbeth do not offer.

Reviewed: Harbeth Super HL5plusThankfully Audio Magic was able to supply a set of HiFi Racks Limited stands that are purpose built for the Super HL5plus dimensions. They are finished in “solid oak satin black” finish and really look lovely. They are extremely strong and stable stands, made of solid hardwood timber and weighing 10kg each. At $1,190 RRP for the pair they’re not exactly cheap, again affected by the recent weakening of the dollar. With the supplied carpet spikes in place, the super tweeter is at the height of my ears when I’m in my listening seat.

Setup

Before critical listening, I found that at about the 150 hour mark that they started to really smoothen out, and noticed that they played louder at a given volume than before. I typically use the “Tellurium Q System Enhancement” CD, playing it continuously to achieve adequate run-in time.

The speaker connections have a metal bridging strip installed that connects the high and low elements of the crossover. This allows you to connect a single set of speaker cables to your amplifier. By removing this metal strip, you can bi-wire the speakers with two pairs of cables, or even ‘bi-amp’ however Harbeth does not recommend this. I used Synergistic Research Atmosphere UEF Level 4 speaker cables (review coming) bi-wired for this review. These were connected primarily to the NAD Masters M12/M22 power and pre amplifier combination for the burn-in and initial testing period, playing back digital files and CD’s from an AVM CS2.2 and the AVM SD3.2 (review coming).

Listening Impressions

The very first impression that I had of the Super HL5plus was very positive. Without the benefit of many days of seasoning or finding the optimum position within the listening room, it was obvious that they are a loudspeaker with a wide array of capabilities. They fill a room with a large soundstage, and a full lush warm sound that had some typical BBC monitor mid bass bloom. But as I gave them some time to bed in and then experimented with positioning, their true capabilities were shown and it was well worth the effort. They certainly smoothed out and became almost totally neutral. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting them to neutralise to the extent that they did and to sound so darn good. They played very well in my small listening room, but also sounded even better in a large open space.

They have an innate ability to draw you in to the sound and to be immersed in the experience. For instance, playing “Miss Bea” by the McCoy Tyner Quartet was eye opening in the way that all the instruments played so cleanly in their own space within the soundstage. Apparent was the pure and liquid midrange that allowed me to relish the tonality of each of them, especially the tenor saxophone of Joe Henderson. His playing imparted a sense of freedom and calming carefreeness that I really enjoyed. They are able to deliver a reasonable sense of touch, depending on the amplifier powering them. The speed and timing is very good at all frequencies except for the bass, were it is just a touch slower than the higher registers are. This wasn’t always noticed and I don’t consider this to be a flaw, it is simply a characteristic of the sound that is presented.

Johnny Frigo playing jazz guitar at a frantic pace on “Stompin' At The Savoy”, with the two guitars of Bucky and John Pizzarelli has little bass content but has plenty of mids and highs. The pace and timing of the three guitars is spot on, as each is easy to pick out and follow. The success of the track depends on the precise timing of each of the players and it absolutely succeeds on that count.

Mark Gusew's avatar

Written by:

Mark Gusew

Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early 80’s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now manages a boutique audio manufacturer.

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Posted in: Hi-Fi
Tags: harbeth  super hl5plus  loudspeakers  audio magic 

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