Harbeth has a cult status in the audio world. Some love them, some just shrug. Somehow the link with the BBC gives them something extra for some people. To me they just look old fashioned, but somehow stylish.
I listened to them for a while. I think the first music I heard played on them was Diana Krall… The ultimate speaker audition cliché. They sounded ok, but a bit dull. Later I would learn that probably had a lot to do with the Hegel amplifier.
Before I ever got to listen to Hegel amplifiers I thought they were the best a modern amplifier could offer. After all I had read so many positive reviews about them and I love their minimalist design.
Then one day I was listening to some speakers. Dynaudios and KEFs on a Marantz amplifier. It sounded ok, but I thought these speakers had more to offer. So I asked if they could hook up a Hegel.
The shop had a very convenient system where they could not just switch speakers electronically, but also amplifiers. As soon as the Hegel was hooked up all life in the music was gone… Not musical, not very dynamic.
It shocked me. That day I learned reviews and other people’s opinions don’t mean anything. It’s only about what you think that matters.
The guy helping me then hooked up a Rega Elex-R. This amplifier was by far the best amplifier I heard that day.
After I listened to the Elacs I had a chance to listen to this speaker, half of the Kii THREE BTX system. At over 30.000 euros, not exactly attainable for everybody.
The owner of the shop wanted to impress and played some loud pop music with a lot of bass. I have never heard such a loud and tight bass. The floor was shaking.
I could hardly give a serious impression of this speaker as I just heard it for a short while, but it sounded quite detailed and in control despite the high volume. But at a little over 30K it should be exceptional, shouldn’t it?
When you are looking for active speakers online, you quite quickly run into the Elac Navis ARB-51. I like the ideas behind it. You can use them wirelessly with the Discovery Connect module, but you can also turn off all the wireless bits in the speaker and feed them with an analog cabled source.
The speaker is very well executed. It looks gorgeous and is well built. I particularly like the ones in the Emara finish.
I had the chance to listen to a pair of these, but cannot say I was very enthusiastic. They were displaying a lack of control. I do not know why this was, as this speaker generally gets quite favourable reviews. Maybe it was not run in yet or maybe it was the Discovery Connect’s power supply. Hans Beekhuyzen talks about it in his video about this speaker.
In January 2019, during my lunch break I walked to an audio store to get some info on what the audio world has to offer these days and I got to listen to these little speakers. I do not exactly remember what they were connected to, but I think it was a Nam Unity ATOM.
They did not sound too detailed. The sound reminded me of computer speakers. Also their price quite baffled me. They are close to 6000 euros for a pair!
Steve Guttenburg (also known as the Audiophiliac) gives his take on this decade’s advances and trends in audio. No real surprises, but I think he makes some good points.
What he had to say about active speakers I found the most interesting. He comes to the conclusion that active speakers are becoming more and more popular, but that the popularity is mostly in the more affordable segment. He is referring to the KEF LS50W, DALI Callisto 2c’s and Elac Navis ARB-51s of this world.
There are of course the Kii Audio THREE speakers, but they are quite alone in their segment.
Over the last year I have been getting back into audio hardware. I have always dabbled, bought the odd DAC or headphones, but for over two decades I have not bought anything really substantial. I haven’t even had a dedicated audio system in the house for close to a decade.
Somewhere in the eighties I bought a Kenwood amplifier and CD player. I added some floorstanders by Magnat. I was 16 and proud of my first audio system. The Kenwood amplifier was quite well reviewed.
Somewhere in the 2000s I ditched my audio system. I don’t remember why. It probably had something to do with moving to a smaller place. In 2009 I added a pair of AudioEngine A5’s to my Mac Pro and enjoyed them for quite a while.
A couple of years later, fed up with the sound of my tv, I added AudioEngine A5+ speakers to my tv through an AudioEngine D1 DAC.
Then in 2016 I bought a Dragonfly Red DAC and a pair of Shure SRH1540 headphones. The sound quality was lovely. To my untrained ears tight and detailed.
In February 2019 I replaced the AudioEngine DAC connected to the tv in the living room with a Bluesound NODE 2i. This allowed me to stream hires audio in the living room to the AudioEngines.
Later that year I gave into a slight obsession with open headphones. I bought a pair of Sennheiser HD 660 S headphones and I couldn’t resist adding a Chord Mojo DAC to the order. To my ears quite a step up from the Shure and Dragonfly.
Having achieved a certain level of audio quality in the headphone department, my mind started to shift to a serious audio system.
In the next blog posts I will write about my journey towards a new audio system for the living room.