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Each speaker I review is primarily driven by my personal amplifier which for me is a reference voltage and current source with high damping factor, ultra-wide frequency response and minimal distortion. It's a sort of laboratory device to which I hook up all speakers under evaluation. This Soulution 710 sounds insanely good but its primary characteristic is that it removes itself from the signal path. Should I hear that this configuration with a given speaker exhibits certain anomalies or feel that it requires another approach, I try to listen with something completely different whose own character then turns into a strategic advantage. For that purpose I search, inquire, write emails and make phone calls to learn what might be recommended, what has already proven itself and why. With the Harbeth I knew right away what they wanted.

First however I took them for the compulsory round with my Swiss reference amplifier. In that combination the Harbeth immediately showed a very colorful saturated midrange and surprisingly extended low bass. The latter was powerful and solid even on Portishead and really rocked. The bass was also low and deep on This Mortal Coil where it was accompanied by a fantastically sized soundstage which added to the recording's momentum and scale though not directly from the speakers’ dynamics which on the macro level were somewhat curtailed.

The treble was slightly but not markedly rounded over. The frequency band containing the 'p' and 'f' consonants was slightly stronger than with the M40.1 to remind me of the company's P3ESR. It wasn’t a true sharpening of the 's' and 'c' sibilants which were in good proportion to the rest of the band but rather a slight refreshing. When the speakers first launched, Alan Shaw wrote about their improved openness and detail which now was easily audible.

The midrange is what’s most important about these speakers and nobody in the know about the brand expects anything else. This vocal range is shaped in a very characteristic way. The upper midrange is slightly hooded which compared to other speakers makes the M30.1 seem darker and less open. However the excellent resolution of all Harbeth designs allows for no muddiness or damping as there’s still a lot going on here which even a short demo would reveal. The most energetic sonic range is part of the 300 and 800Hz stretch exactly where the human voice is 'born'. Thus all vocals are slightly promoted or enhanced. That is achieved by polishing them as it were, not by pushing them spatially forward. These are speakers that allow the listener to enjoy the music not only on an intellectual but equally important emotional level.

They don’t force anything on you, hence an absence of instruments thrown right into our faces although the speakers can generally be described as being warm. The M30.1 thus has its own very recognizable character. One could say that it’s a signature trait of all Alan Shaw speakers. That would be a valid assumption but bear in mind that there exist two lines in his catalogue which, although very similar and as such markedly different from other manufacturers, still remain distinct from each other. One is a very warm sound. That’s it. A good representative of that was the M30.1 predecessor, the M30 (Monitor 30 Domestic) and the Compact 7SE-3. On the other hand we have more accurate and expressive models like the P3ESR and Super HL5. In this company the top-line M40.1 is a different beast by transcending these boundaries. The M30.1 meanwhile belongs somewhere in the middle between the Super HL5 and M30.

Harbeth M30.1 + Heed Audio Obelisk Si/X-2.
Listening to the M30.1 we get an impression of high dynamics which isn't entirely accurate. They are after all stand-mounted monitors. That impression however is overwhelming and mainly due to the most excellent microdynamic inflections of individual performers. The speakers driven by the Soulution reference amplifier clearly showed a response modification as well. There are two peaks, one in the treble range of 'p' and 'f' sounds, the other in the upper bass. While I didn’t mind the former at all, the latter bothered me more and more as time went on because it resulted in a rather uniform sound. Strong expressive bass on the majority of all recordings became a bit tedious. I had to do something about it.

I could go on describing my quest for various interventions digging through our archives but it's unnecessary. Perhaps it might help my image but the truth is more banal. I immediately knew what to do. I'd earlier written an article called Audio system for the mature listener which described my proposition of a system for discerning music lovers that could be had for decent coin. I'd described the Spendor SP1 speakers with an older version of the Heed Obelisk Si amplifier. Each on its own had a distinct character, quite similar by the way, but put together they far exceeded the usual sum of the parts. They made beautiful music. It was no different now. After finishing my review for Audio of the Heed Audio Obelisk Si with the matching Dactilus 1.2 DAC card and Obelisk DT transport, I'd felt unsatisfied not because the measurements clearly showed the amplifier to have very low headroom, high noise and high distortion, all things I know from tube amps.