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Harbeth Super HL5 Plus XD

AUTOR VIKTOR KUBAL
FOTO HARBETH ACOUSTICS

Harbeth Acoustics was founded in 1977 by H. D. Harwood. As a long-time technical engineer and employee of the British BBC, he was involved in the development of a patented polypropylene material for the manufacture of diaphragms for mid-bass and bass transducers. On his well-deserved retirement, the BBC granted him permission to patent the material and nothing stood in the way of the subsequent birth of Harbeth Acoustics. Over the course of its existence, the company has developed a unique loudspeaker solution with a distinctive sound expression and easily recognisable design. The philosophy on which the Harbeth Acoustics tradition was built is now being developed by the founder’s successor, semiconductor technology specialist Alan Shaw.

At first glance, the HL5 Plus XD look extremely inconspicuous, one could say archaic. Simplicity and absolute expediency is clearly the main design criterion here. The classic square cabinet of atypically distinctive dimensions is made up of a frame and a demountable front and back wall, the screws are nicely acknowledged and give the product the impression of “home made”. Also, a normal knock test on the walls does not give the impression of an extremely rigid soundboard, rather the opposite is true. The inside of the cabinet is cushioned only around the perimeter with a strip of dense foam, the back wall is lined on the inside with a bitumen strip. On the rear wall there is also a frequency switch, which goes directly to the all-metal gold-plated terminals (allowing bi-wiring connection), the connection of the switch and the converters themselves is made via a Blue OFC speaker cable from Van Damme. The design of the cabinet itself is not motivated by the intention of financial or material savings, as it might seem at first glance, but is the result of a sophisticated resonant design, which, in cooperation with the transducers, creates a perfectly tuned whole.

Underneath the front fabric removable grille there is an asymmetrically positioned bass reflex port, which is damped inside with foam, and three transducers – two tweeters with aluminium domes with diameters of 2 and 2.5 cm and a 20 cm mid-bass Harbeth Radial 2. It is the result of the work of the Harbeth Acoustics development department and uses the aforementioned patented diaphragm made of an extremely rigid but very lightweight plastic film material. As a result, this inverter provides tremendous accuracy and speed of response to the signal.

The transducers and their arrangement on the front panel may give the impression that this is a pure three-band concept – treble, mids and bass, but it’s not. Here the concept is a bit different, it is a combination of a mid-bass transducer with a tweeter and a so-called. superheight converter. The perfect matching of the individual converters into a single compact unit is ensured by a precisely designed frequency switch, which is referred to as “super-pass-through” and which imposes very little resistance to the passing signal. Thanks to this unique turnout concept and despite the claimed sensitivity of 86 dB, which is generally considered to be low, it is possible to operate the HL5 Plus XD even with amplifiers with relatively lower power ratings. Our listening test fully confirmed this assumption.

The test took place in the newly opened hifi studio of DreamAudio, the importer of Harbeth Acoustics products for Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The listening room itself is excellently prepared both acoustically and visually. First analogue and then digital was used as the signal source. The analogue was represented by a Kuzma Stabi R turntable with a Kuzma 4 Point Single arm and a DS Audio Grand Master optical transmission in cooperation with a special phono preamplifier for DS Audio W2 Equalizer optical transmissions. A DS Audio ION-001 ionizer was used to eliminate static charge on the LP surface. Digital was presented by an Innuos ZENith mk3 streamer combined with a DAVE digital-to-analog converter from Chord. The amplification was provided by the Jadis I-70 integrated tube amplifier (both of the latter devices have already been presented on the pages of our magazine). The cabling used was from Siltech class 680 Classic Legend.

As is customary with me, the turntable got the main say in showcasing the quality of the reproduction. From the first notes of the first musical sample, Melody Gardot, Sunset in the Blue, the great tonal balance of the whole reproduced spectrum caught my attention. Od prvých tónov prvej hudobnej ukážky, Melody Gardot, Sunset in the Blue, ma zaujala skvelá tónová vyváženosť celého reprodukovaného spektra. Such expression is typical of studio monitors, and you can tell that Harbeth Acoustics is really at home in this area. What catches your attention at first hearing, however, is the delivery of the bass component. Bas je objemný, sýty, šťavnatý, má razanciu a rých­losť – všetko atribúty typické pre veľkoobje­mové, plno rozsahové reprosústavy a nie pre klasické stojanovky (aj keď o niečo objem­nejšie, ako je bežný štandard). This effect is evident across a wide range of genres, but most notably in those where the bass line is emphasised – for example, Monty Alexander’s Samba de Orfeu. The double bass is dosed with almost surreal power and punch, its physical display manifesting vibrations that could be felt through the surface of the body transmitted through the comfortable leather seat. However, there was no artificial accentuation or annoying rumble during the listening test, and the bass was fast, clean and accurate.

Traditional to Harbeth Acoustics is a strong presentation of the mid-band, where most of the spoken or sung word is found, a band to which the human ear is strongly accustomed. It was presented with the utmost naturalness and naturalness. Also, the presentation of high frequencies is unforced and subtle, without annoying accentuation. Arne Domnérus’ popular Jazz at the Pawnshop impressed with its rendition of accurately rendered details, including all the bustle of the spontaneous audience of this live recording. The spatial representation of all the recordings that allowed such a display was perfect, the scene unfolded in all dimensions, the layout of the musical sections or the focus on the individual musicians was easy to read. Once again, the massiveness and volume of the music scene impressed. The tuning of the individual bands into a single sound unit is perfected here, and the credit for that definitely goes to the transducers themselves, which Harbeth Acoustics (mid-bass) develops and manufactures in-house and is therefore able to work with them properly.

The transition to streaming digital preserved the overall character, all previous positive impressions remained intact. It is known about digital as such that compared to analogue (it also has its negatives, but more on that some other time) it introduces a hint of hardness, perhaps nervousness, coldness into the reproduction… Every listener defines it differently, but the difference is there, and in the most critical areas. That’s why in this case I was curious about the vocal delivery, especially the female vocal. Italian Filippa Giordano gave a great performance in Habanera in a modern rendition of Georges Bizet’s classic opera Carmen. The speech had excellent drawing and punch, with excellently handled entrances and transitions between the soft passages and the distinctly strong ones; the singing was smooth and perfectly balanced. Chris Stapelton’s bluesy male vocals on Death Row or ZZ Top’s jazz-rock Brown Sugar were just confirmation that HL5 Plus XD can put on a truly grandiose musical spectacle – haunting, pulsating, three-dimensional.

The Jadis I-70 tube integrator certainly has a lot to do with the overall result. Despite the loudspeaker’s low claimed sensitivity, it handled them well with its 50 W per channel in pure class A, even when playing at increased volume. Overall, I found this combination, tube + HL5, to be extremely successful and compact and it has my high recommendation.

I have to admit, I’m an extremely picky listener when it comes to reproduced music. The hefty price of a component or the historical tradition of a brand is no yardstick for me at all. The product must come from the “human dimension”, have its own soul and be able to captivate, in short, it must be all about the experience, and Harbeth Super HL5 Plus XD is clearly such a speaker! Despite a slight initial mistrust – too simple construction and “strange” three-band concept – I have no choice but to say that listening to them is one of my strongest positive experiences.

Pros

  • perfectly tuned compact three-band,
  • excellent sound

Cons

  • I don’t have them at home

Harbeth Super HL5 Plus XD
Design: 3 bands
Transducers used: 200 mm mid-bass; Harbeth Radial 2, 25 mm ferrofluid-cooled dome tweeter, 20 mm dome Super tweeter
Frequency range: 40 Hz – 20 kHz (+-3 dB), measured with grille on
Impedance: 6 Ω
Sensitivity: 86 dB
Recommended amplifier: from 25 W per channel
Dimensions (H x W x D): 635 x 322 x 300 mm
Weight: 15.8 kg
Finish: Rosewood, Walnut, Cherry
Price: 6 800 €
www.dreamaudio.sk

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