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Admittedly the latter is not the object of this review. But you have to know that it was the Quad which imposed the general character on this set, not the Harbeth. That’s the significant element. The British loudspeakers approached things synergistically, communicating well with the electronics and listener. Discs from the 50s were phenomenal. I was glued to the sofa (which I plan on exchanging so additional damages don’t worry me). Not only were such discs served well—more about others in a minute—but those did shine like stars. I am aware that not many audio lovers fancy that kind of music anymore which came from labels like Savoy, Bethlehem, Prestige, Mode Records, Tampa Records etc. That’s a pity. But I have to start somewhere and the impressions I gained from Carmen McRae or Moody Marilyn Moore transposed promptly to other genres too including the latest moderns.

The Quad/Harbeth set was gorgeous. The ‘friendly’ description would go a bit too far in the direction of homogenization and too far away from neutrality. With its beautiful timbre, the Quad with the Harbeth was actually closer to neutrality. This was a warm but not muddled sound. I had no impression of any dynamic lack or closing in. While the treble was not especially resolved, it was not withdrawn. In fact it was only an addition—an essential creative one but only an addition— to the midrange and bass.

Yes, bass. The British speakers are miniatures in all meanings of that word. There is no lower bass. But the art of making loudspeakers means that you challenge restrictions. This is an ongoing fight to give sense to sound. In the end it remains the most imperfect element of this playback path. The Harbeths communicate perfectly with the listener but require help which the Quad provided. Its strong bass allowed most of the discs to come across with unexpected might and bass (without the latter’s lower octave of course). The flaws of small speakers were obvious but in this case alleviated for a moment, momentarily suspended it seemed to have the loudspeakers appear bigger than they were.

Voices had incredible intensity. I mentioned the two vocalists on the Bethlehem records but the same happened from Frank Sinatra to Savage to indicate proper spectrum. With the last disc I was surprised by the extraordinary dynamics - extraordinary in general but given the boxes’ dimensions downright astonishing. These are disco recordings to require rhythm and ‘progressive’ dynamics, something I wrote about in the Everything But The Box Terra II Pro review in the same issue. It’s dance music by definition. In small loudspeakers rhythm, drive and swing or whatever we shall call it are at best limited. Here I did not hear anything like that. Quite the contrary. Everything sounded as though coming from big well-balanced loudspeakers - without low bass and explosive dynamics obviously but I did not really miss those let alone cry over 'em.

It would be exaggeration to claim that leashing the Harbeth to the complete reference system with an amplifier twenty times as expensive and a preamp ten times so made the magic disappear. At most it changed. But I also have to say that I started to listen more mercenarily. This was a much better sound, far more resolving, with better tonal balance, far better drawn soundstage etc. And yet. The audible limitations of the loudspeakers now bugged me a little. Those were still classy bookshelf speakers in all aspects, transparent, honest and so on but they did have weaker sides which had disappeared with the Quad like a circus act. Tim de Paravicini’s trick in designing the Classic integrated relies on lifting up the midbass and warming up the sound which perfectly meshed with the not so forgiving character of the Harbeth boxes. Were the Quad’s prototypes tested with them? I would not exclude that possibility.

Any limitations faded over time as I got used to the new sound but they did not disappear completely. They remained in my head just waiting to surface. But we need to return to reality first. To start as objectively as possible, I should begin as follows: these are incredibly accurate loudspeakers. Their lower bass is nonexistent but with appropriate amplification, this lack will not really be perceptible. The impulse characteristics of sealed cabinets are well known but here they are not merely repeated, their shortcomings are inaudible. The bass is neither dry nor anaemic. There is as much of it as was recorded and even if we do not feel the low passages, the higher harmonics inform us about them to integrate properly. This selectivity was perfect and even very low passages around which "Sleep" from Anja Garbarek’s Briefly Shaking disc is built did not destroy it.