The Duos bring the performance a little closer to you than the Harbeth perspective, and they are both smoother and more detailed overall. The Harbeths sound more extended in the high frequencies, though, and a Radio Shack sound level meter and Stereophile's Test CD 2 confirmed this: The Duo tweeters sign off above 16 kHz somewhere (the next step on the CD is 20K which the Duos don't register at all) while the Harbeths' keep on sailing up to 20 kHz. It's another story with the low frequencies. The Duos can go flat to 20Hz whereas the Harbeths start rolling off pretty quick below 50 Hz, and are down 16dB at 20. But think about that for a minute. The Harbeths still arrive at 20 Hz, and that with the 3-watt Fi dwarf! I guess that sort of amazes me, but there's more: These monitors are down only 10dB at 31.5Hz. Deep bass is thus not MIA but rather peeking out at ya discreetly from a distance. So here's the take-home story: The Harbeths do well with bass extension for a small two-way speaker. When you are listening, you'll never notice anything missing.

I really like the fingerstyle guitar album LJ Plays the Beatles [Solid Air Records SACD200]), by Lawrence Juber whom Paul McCartney had asked back in 1978 to play lead guitar for the Wings. You could say that next to Beatle McCartney, LJ may have more insight into the feel of the Beatles music than any other guitar player around. On this all-acoustic set of fingerstyle solos, LJ plays fourteen Beatles gems in inspired arrangements of his own. With DADGAD tuning on most of the songs, CGDGAD on two and standard tuning on four songs. LJ's playing is spectacular. Through the Harbeths, Juber's guitar technique is full of life and musical color. There is a percussive nature, a note-by-note dynamic reactivity that keeps me in continual state of surprise and awe. The Monitor 30s slightly soften and round the sound of the guitar, warming it up a little compared to real life, albeit in a way that is entirely consonant with the music. Every time I listen to "Let It Be", I am enthralled by the emotiveness that LJ evokes with his playing. Listening to "Let It Be" through the Monitor 30s is the auditory equivalent of viewing a beautiful sunset: There is cheerful warmth of color, beautiful interplay of light and dark elements, and a sense of awe and reverence at a wondrous moment of beauty.

I experimented with several speaker placements during the review period. I placed the speakers about 6 to 7 feet apart depending on distance from the front wall, and at positions approximately 24, 36, and 59 inches out into the room, toed in so that the listening seat showed only the front baffle. The Harbeths sounded good everywhere I placed them but were at their best when placed further out into the room, 36 or 59 inches. With the Fi & Vibe combination, they were impressive in a nearfield setup, the rear of the cabinet 59 inches from the front wall, speakers 7 feet apart and 7.5 feet from the listening position. When using the Naim NAC 112 preamplifier and NAP 150 amplifier, I placed the Harbeths 36 inches into the room and the soundstage really opened up over the 24 inch position, to give a nice layered effect from front to back and well localized, solid life-like images.

Let's talk about the Fi-Vibe combination versus the Naim 112/150 combination for a moment. There's no question in my mind that through the Harbeths, the Fi-Vibe combo sounded better than the Naim combo. When played through the Avantgarde Duos, the Fi-Vibe combination is spellbinding: The added resolution, soundstaging, dynamics and expanded palette of tonal colors make it the most satisfying system I have ever owned. Yet in terms of the Monitor 30s, the Naim played music better, and in a more engaging fashion than the Fi-Vibe combo. There are some magical combinations of gear where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts: ProAc 2.5 loudspeakers with Cary 805C amplifiers; Merlin loudspeakers with Joule Electra amplifiers; Cain & Cain loudspeakers with Art Audio amplifiers, to name a few. Add to that list the Harbeth Monitor 30 loudspeakers with the Naim 112/150 duo - it's magic!

You really ought to read the Naim review after this, to get the full scoop on how well the Naim gear worked with the Monitor 30. During a recent visit, TAS-meister Stephæn Harrell described the Harbeth/Naim combo as soft, warm, and propulsive. He's exactly right. Believe me, warmth and rhythmic verve can be an addictive combination. There were times during the review process when only a Harbeth-Naim fling could assuage my musical desires. Then after a bit of indulgence, I'd go back to my Duo/Fi/Vibe rig and be carried away to musical bliss by its charms. Oh, the sweet torture of it all.

The character of the Harbeth Monitor 30 is to the warm side of neutral and they are slightly dark. This was more pronounced with the Naim than Fi & Vibe components which were more brightly lit. Regardless, the Harbeths were a bit soft sounding. Their marketing brochure described 'em as being warm, involving and possessed of super resolution. I go with warm and involving indeed, but as for superior resolution? Not really. Good resolution? Yes. Super resolution no, as they don't unravel all the information that the Fi & Vibe is capable of displaying.

Paired with the Naim components, the Harbeths had tremendous melodic and rhythmic sophistication that bested what I have heard from any other HiFi rig to date. Stephæn was a little troubled by their bass response, thinking it a bit overblown. "Definitely out of balance with the rest of the spectrum", mused he. "There's an emphasis that calls attention to itself and becomes fatiguing. Also, I like my bottoms - er, bass tighter and leaner than many." Moi, je ne suis bothered by le bass response. Instead, I felt it gave a little extra oomph to their rhythmic drive. We were, however, able to minimize what was troubling Stephæn by spiking the stands and adding small rubber decoupling pads to each speaker corner without compromising the speakers' rhythmic prowess. I think filling the stands with sand probably would have minimized it even further, but I thought they sounded so good that I didn't bother.

Harbeth had very specific design goals for their monitoring loudspeakers like the 30. They wanted a high level of clarity, a sense of spaciousness and low coloration. They also wanted a natural sound that'd be easy to live with during long studio sessions, and a well- balanced frequency response. Finally, Harbeth wanted their monitors to have high value for their price. That's a pretty ambitious list of goals. How does the report card turn out? I'd say Harbeth largely accomplished their goals. The Harbeths possess clarity, but perhaps not über-alles resolution. They are slightly colored by being somewhat warm but serve the music and beat lean-sounding every time in my book. They are distinctly easy on the ears during long-term listening. As an important bonus, they convey the entire musical message convincingly at low listening volumes, something few loudspeakers seem to manage but which is an important factor for me. Frequency response? You'll have to listen for yourself to decide whether or not you think the Monitor 30s are truly balanced. They can put out prodigious bass for what is essentially a small two-way loudspeaker. I find them cannily balanced in the bass, and a little careful positioning during setup can get them dialed to your tastes.

They also sound really good off-axis to avoid the 'head-in-a-vise' unfriendliness of some designs. Price is always a highly subjective thing, and $3,195 for two-way loudspeakers plus $500 for mandatory stands ain't chump change in real world terms, but the Monitor 30 does pack a lot of value for its class. Compared to the ridiculous price of most so-called High-End loudspeakers, they are of course a stone-cold bargain.

Who should consider buying 'em? First on the list are people who know what music sounds like and who spend a lot of time listening to music. Next are those in audiophile burnout hell whose gear was designed to emphasize 'sound'. Consider the Monitor 30 a good place to get off the High-End merry-go-round. The truth is, a lot of hi-faluting equipment is expensive, poorly designed and can't play music as well as a clock radio. The Harbeth Monitor 30s are the antithesis of that: Relatively affordable, designed to an extremely high standard, with pro-level build quality that will last as long as you. They also sound great and play music believably well on affordable gear like the Naim. In the Naim review, I worried that the HiFi sound freaks wouldn't get the Naim gear. I wonder the same about the Harbeth. But I get it. And music lovers will get it. And so will musicians. Like Naim, the Harbeth Monitor 30 is HiFi designed for people with more going on in their lives than just audio. The Harbeths make music a no-fuss part of it, allowing the listener to enjoy a wide variety of music at varying levels of recording quality and still get the full musical wallop. During the review period, they delivered the musical goods every time I called upon them. Despite their sensitivity rating, they are also surprisingly amplifier-tolerant to allow experimentation with SETs if you're so inclined - though something along the 20 watts of the Art Audio Jota is more realistic than my 3-watt sample. The Harbeth Monitor 30 is thus highly recommended for grownups everywhere.

Manufacturer's UK website
US distributor website