The Harbeth P3ESR Page 2

Sonic frontiers
The P3ESR is a direct descendent of the legendary BBC LS3/5A monitor that was manufactured by a number of British speaker companies---Goodmans, Rogers, Spendor, Harbeth and others---back in the day. All LS3/5A variants used the same KEF bass/mid driver and tweeter, the little speaker had a sound that a certain type of audiophile craved back in the day. The P3ESR is about the same size as the BBC monitor, and like the LS3/5A, the P3ESR was "voiced" for voice, and the midrange really is as natural as I've heard from any small speaker.

I compared the P3ESRs with the Adam ARTist 3 speakers I raved about a few months ago. The ARTist 3 is a smaller, self-powered monitor, and uses a pleated Heil tweeter. It's a very transparent speaker so I was curious to see how the far more traditional P3ESR would fare in a direct comparison. I started my evaluations with audiophile recordings from Chesky and MA to evaluate each speaker's fidelity. The Antenna Repairmen's Ghatam CD uses only ceramic percussion instruments, and the vivid tactile quality of the sound was extraordinary over the ARTist 3. Each strike against the bowls, pots and rods was presented with stunning clarity, and the ARTist 3's transient speed and air was on full display. Soundstaging was another key strength, the ARTist 3 seemed unbeatable, until I hooked up the P3ESRs. The sound was less hi-fi-ish and more fleshed out, smooth and warm with lots of detail. Each instrument sounded more "there," and more realistic over the P3ESR, though its dome tweeter was no match for the ARTist 3's tweeter. Its speed and resolution trumped the P3ESR's domes, but the P3ESR's sound was less forward, which is a good thing when you're sitting a few feet from a speaker. I used a Wadia 151 PowerDAC, a 50 watt per channel integrated stereo amp/DAC with the P3ESRs, the ARTist 3s are self-powered.

Janis Joplin's recently released Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968 concert may not qualify as an audiophile recording, but the sound of Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company is the stuff legends are made of. Joplin's screams and yowls will make your hair on the back of your neck stand up and fall down, and James Gurley's raucous guitar thrashings aren't too shabby! Too bad we had to wait 44 years to hear these performances! The P3ESR may look like a stuffy British monitor, but don't worry, it can knock you over with glorious noise when the need strikes.

Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood and classical composer Krzysztof Penderecki's new CD, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima reinforced my feelings about the P3ESR's seductive midrange. The highly percussive sound of dozens of bows tapping strings was rendered with excellent focus. The breadth and scale of the imaging on my desktop was the best I've heard at home.

The soundtrack to David Lynch's Mulholland Drive movie is loaded with moody atmospheres and ominously deep rumblings, and while the P3ESRs low frequencies quit around 60 Hertz I didn't feel a need to add a subwoofer (but some folks will want to add one). Putting aside the Wadia and switching over to my thirty plus year old NAD 3020 integrated amplifier (and USB Halide HD DAC) fleshed out the bass a bit, without losing definition. That old 3020 still surprises me, I'll never part with it.

Summing up
I love these speakers, but they're not for folks who really want full-range monitors – with gutsier dynamics, more bass slam and greater treble extension – and if that's what you're after the Adam ARTist 3s, or better yet, their larger siblings, the ARTist 5s might be preferable. Then there's the price, the P3ESRs ain't cheap – pairs run $2,095 in cherry and $2,195 in rosewood or black ash -- and you need to spend some dough on an amp to make them go. Considering their build and sound quality I think the Harbeths are priced fairly, and when I sent them back to the distributor I was sorry to see them go. The pleasures afforded by the very best desktop audio systems continue to amaze me, an old-school, two-channel, audiophile.

John Atkinson's P3ESR review in Stereophile.

Harbeth Audio Ltd.
US distributor: Fidelis AV
14 E. Broadway (Route 102)
Derry, NH 03038
(603) 437-4769

dalethorn's picture

I had the Rogers LS3/5A in the late 70's, purchased in Pittsburgh. The sample pair they loaned me while I waited for the new set had a bad driver. So already I was scared to play them loud. I remember a review comment at the time, possibly by Gordon Holt: "Minimum power required, 25 watts -- maximum power input, 25 watts." Something to that effect. In a very small room where I did play them they sounded a bit bassy. Using them in a larger room farther from the wall didn't seem like a good idea due to the maximum power issue. So I wonder how the newer Harbeth compares in real-world power handling.

donunus's picture

The newer Harbeths (havent heard the latest but the late 2000 models) are crazy good. Out of some Accuphase and Lamm electronics, I would say the Harbeth systems Ive heard compete with the best thats out there. Ive heard many systems in US audio stores and the Las Vegas CES has and only maybe 3 systems out there could hold my attention as much as a good harbeth setup.

13mh13's picture

Not sure why articles like this are being piped over to IF? I THOUGHT Tyll's little project was for mainly headphone and headphone-related gear. I can get THIS this article on Stereophile.

Stretch's picture


Tyll Hertsens's picture
IF is about personal audio. That includes everything from headphones to clock radios, IMHO. You betcha I'll be doing more headphones, but I also think it's important to cover all aspects of personal audio over time. There will be some overlap between IF, Streophile, and Audiostream. You'll just have to be patient and let the balance show over time.
woody's picture

if you actually have some reading comprehension, then you'd see that it was explained it here....

"Editor's Note: I'm endlessly asked on the InnerFidelity YouTube channel what kind of speakers I have on my desktop. Wanting to give a full answer, I asked Steve Guttenberg to review these lovely Harbeth speakers."

Swisslad's picture

Glaring errors on the first page...

Alan Shaw did not start the Harbeth company in 1977 as was stated in the review. The founder of Harbeth was Dudley Harwood. Alan Shaw bought the company from Harwood in 1986. The company is called Harbeth because Dudley Harwood took the first three letters of his surname and added the last three letters of his wife Elizebeth's first name, hence 'Har' 'Beth'. Similar to the reason another British speaker brand Spendor is named after Spencer and Dorothy Hughes.

Secondly, Harbeth's drivers are not composites of carbon fibre, Bextrene and polypropylene. This is the only place I've ever read that. You must have just guessed. They are actually made from a unique proprietary polymer named RADIAL which Harbeth spent years developing, part funded by the UK governement. No other manufacturer knows how to make it and no-one else could make it. It is highly complex and eradicates all the problems of bextrene and polypropylene which were the precursors of the RADIAL material.

Also, Alan Shaw was never a BBC research engineer, although he did work weekends for a BBC Radio studio as a youngster where he was first exposed to the BBC way of doing things. Before taking over at Harbeth, he worked in semi-conductors for NEC in Japan. Harbeth's founder Dudley Harwood was a BBC research engineer, in fact head of the department and was one of the principal designers of the LS3/5a.

This would have been simple to check by asking Harbeth to check the review before you published it. Instead we have more disinformation going round muddying the facts due to frankly, lazy journalism. Please improve for the benefit of your readers and your own journalistic integrity.

Steve Guttenberg's picture
I got some of the info (including the bit about the carbon fibre, Bextrene and polypropylene) from the importer, which is why I didn't do a fact check. So other than those boo-boos, what did you think of the review? I will try and do better.
The Monkey's picture
Do you happen to have any links that confirm your points? That would be helpful. Thanks!
Swisslad's picture

Not sure if you were asking for links about my points but if so, the best place for Harbeth information both technical and historical is Harbeth User Group:

DaveBSC's picture

In regards to Harbeths and other "vintage" style speakers, cabinet designed has moved on quite a bit since the days of the LS3/5A, and yet these just continue on as if nothing has changed since 1975, same old box as usual.

Don't they have a significant disadvantage in terms of diffraction and standing wave buildup vs. modern teardrop style cabinets?

Or you could go another route and cut 3/4 of the box open, ala Nola Micro Grand Reference. Best monitor on the planet IMO.

The Monkey's picture
First, I think nearfield listening is very much related to headphone listening and I think Tyll (and Steve) are on point here. Second, I heard HeadRoom's Harbeths a few years ago at CanJam in Florida and they blew my gotdam mind. I will own a pair one day.
Dr.Phil's picture

From your review, Stevem, I got the idea that the Adams are better ?
And they are also much more cheaper than the 2000$ harbeths which need a amplifier contrary to the Adams.

Also its time to get a pair of the new Adams with the X tweeter and review it ?

The overall impression say it's a big improvement to the old Adam you reviewed, so would be cool for further comparisons to compare with the actual Adams available for purchase.