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Mini monitor shoot out: Harbeth P3ESR vs Proac Tablette Anniversary

Discussion in 'New Gear - Values' started by Spektre, May 9, 2012.

  1. Spektre

    Spektre Brit alert

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    I thought I’d post this mini review I was asked to do on another forum about a comparison of these two competing mini monitors, I know some members here will be interested. I own both so I have no axe to grind when making these comparisons, each has its own virtues and problems.

    The Proac’s have a more extended treble that’s a little dry and a quiet forward, the Tablette’s throw loads of detail at you whether your want it or not. Harbeth’s highs are sweeter and much more refined, it sounds very balanced with the rest of the speaker and they tread a perfect line between levels of fine detail and finesse. Listening to “Delphia” from the Freddie Hubbard album Red Clay, Joe Henderson adds Flute accompaniment during the introduction, with the Tablette’s it was obvious that we were hearing a flute and it was clearly etched in space. The P3ESR felt more like an organic part of the mix but it took a few seconds of careful listening to register what kind of wind instrument I was hearing, this was a surprise. The Harbeth’s trumped this with a close to perfectly weighted and shaped notes leaving Ron Carters electric bass; by comparison the Tablette’s bass sounded a little blurred.

    Midrange is what these speakers are all about and in this department it’s the Harbeth’s that sound the most natural to me. Female voices clearly stand out from the rest of the mix and all the nuances and inflection in the voice are delightfully teased out, again it’s a slightly sweeter sound. The Proac’s make female voices actually project slightly forward from the mix, but it’s a slightly more edgy sound, which worked fine with Tory Amos but I’m not sure how well it would sit with someone like Diana Krall for instance (sorry I couldn’t tell you, I don’t own any). On classical the P3ESR are without peer, string instruments have both the correct amount of bite and warmth and despite their small size give enough weight and scale to satisfy the illusion of being at a concert hall. This is the one music genre that I didn’t really feel the Tablette’s worked, violins in particular seemed to sound a semitone higher and there seemed too little body or weight to them. On chamber music they faired better being very lucid and detailed, allowing you to hear all the little creaks from chairs, movement and breathing.

    Turning my attention mid-upper bass and on the Tory Amos track Hotel (From the Choirgirl Hotel) the quantity of bass from the tiny Tablette’s is impressive, giving a very real sense of scale and menace and even making the walls vibrate a little. The P3ESR have a little less bass in terms of quantity but it’s just that bit better defined; looking at the speakers balance they don’t sound bass light. The one problem with the Harbeth’s bass is I don’t find it very nimble, try getting it to rock and it sounds like it’s lagging behind and just can’t keep up. On a number of occasions I was also disappointed with the the P3ESR. Listening Bad Mans song by Tears for Fears on vinyl version it had nothing like the impact or power when played through the Tablette’s. This is a track I think tailor made the Harbeth’s with the right combo of voices and acoustic instruments and its well produced, the P3’s made some nice noises but it just didn’t move me in the same way.

    Sound staging is again an area where mini monitors do well and both are excellent in this department. The Harbeth’s do a much better job of portraying depth, though for the most part they perform just behind the plane of the speakers. The Tablette's project slightly forward of the speaker plane and sometimes into the room, the width is about the same but their portrayal of depth is not so convincing. With the Proac’s you get a seat in the first four rows to the Harbeth’s 8th row seat. In terms of imaging the Proac’s give you a laser-etched outline of both musician’s and instruments, personally I love this but it’s not for everyone. The Harbeth’s counter with a sense of solidity and real presence, both are rock solid with instrument placement.

    In the important area of dynamics and timing the Tablette’s easily show the P3ESR a clean pair of heals. The Proac’s have more sensitivity and more headroom to play with, their drivers also seem to stop and start quicker a lot quicker. The Harbeth’s simply refuse to play any louder regardless of how far you turn the volume dial and when things start to get a little frantic they start to sound lazy. Unlike the original HL-P3 though the the soundstage does not shrink in size, something that really bothered me about the original.

    I’ll sum up my thoughts with a few consideration’s or recommendations starting with the Harbeth’s. For instance I wouldn't match them with either a warm sounding amp or a Tube amp. Personally the sound was start to veer to close to syrupy and it I don’t feel it I would get volume to listen at the levels I prefer. Forget anything such as Kraftwerk, Daft Punk or anything with electronic noises or beats as they’ll just round off the edges of these sounds, its just not right for this kind of music for them. These speakers love acoustic instruments and voices and I doubt you’ll be unhappy if your tastes are classical, jazz blues and even a little pop music. Finally fresh from the box the Harbeth’s sounded very good, I've noticed little change from when they were brand new. If I were giving marks for finish and construction they’d get a very solid 10/10.

    The Proac’s treble sounded a little acidic when brand new and I had to replace the grills during the first two weeks of the run in period and I literally had to pound them into submission until they sounded acceptable. Having previously owned a pair Super Tablette's I think the treble smoother than previous iterations of this speaker. They require less power to drive them, and will go loader, a tube amp may even be adequate but I'd prefer a warm to neutral tranny amp such as my Creek. I'd steer clear of bright sounding amps or ancillaries. The Tablette’s are also less music genre specific and will make a decent fist of most program you play through them. The only caveat being I wasn’t really convinced by how they played any large orchestral forces. Fit and finish would be an 8/10

    During the listening session one thing clearly emerged and that was it really depended on the track I was listening to as to my speaker preference. Even with the same artist on the same album I found little things I preferred from track to track that completely reversed my judgment. It would pay dividends to anyone auditioning speakers to listen to more than one track from the same album.
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2012

     

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  2. Art K.

    Art K. The Voodoo You Do! Subscriber

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    Nice write up, Gavin.

    Having listened to them both I would have to say that your conclusions relative to timing with the Harbeths will be dependent on everything from source and electronics to cabling and most importantly room size. The P3ESR can be very dynamic and sound full range in a small enough room as their low end drops off slowly from 75hz to 35hz. In a small room you feel bass all the way to the bottom of it's range. I don't limit my listening whatsoever as I find Jimi Hendrix and Wilco every bit as engaging with the Harbeth's as I find chamber works and acoustic jazz. The P3's become more genre specific the larger the room gets.

    The P3ESR's lack of SPL is what limits them to small rooms for more dynamic music. With the appropriate room they do indeed rock. The ProAc's will play far louder and the clarity in the upper midrange will give the appearance of better timing at volume in a larger room.

    Totally agree, I would never try to pair the P3's with a low powered tube amp. However if you use a 35-50 watt tube amp that is neutral in character the P3's will aquit themselves quite well.
     
  3. Spektre

    Spektre Brit alert

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    Yeah I was just surprised sometimes with the results I got. On a couple of occasions when I thought the Harbeth's were going to ace a track I was left feeling slightly underwhelmed, hopefully it wasn't unfair expectations on my part having been blown away by the originals. My SA1's have a slightly lighter balance, a bit more smokey version of the Harbeth's but I think they give a more satisfying rendition of rock and pop in the context of my system. I honestly can't point the finger at my turntable or phono stage, they produce some of the most powerful and dynamic music I've ever heard. Cabling at the moment is still a WIP though and my listening room is about 14' x 10. Fortunately for me at least my collection is largely 20th century classical, in this department I feel the P3's hard to fault and without match here, I'll have to give my copy of Electric Landlady a spin though.
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2012
  4. Art K.

    Art K. The Voodoo You Do! Subscriber

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    LOL!

    Yeah, I think perhaps we just have a bit different taste which is a good thing. I love the Spendors but I would prefer the Harbeth's for any music. I really love ProAc's with a good tube amp, that's where they really shine for me. The AR amps are a really nice match. I'm gonna have to take a spin down to Eugene so we can do a listening session with those fabulous monitors that you have! I haven't heard the Creek Destiny with any of your speakers, but I REALLY am a Creek and Michell fan.
     
  5. audiodon

    audiodon Addicted Member

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    Well written and good back-and-forth.
    Not only does it take time to do this level of analysis, it takes time to even write it up.
    Thanks.
    Most revealing to me was the timing thing in the bass on the Harbeths. I've experienced that before with different speakers, but I think:
    1. I've worked around it by using powered subs
    2. I forgave it as natural rolloff of Brit monitors.

    I'm a Spendor guy and I don't like forward. Haven't heard the SA1s but I have a pair of A9s in-house and will be doing a writeup sometime.
     
  6. Art K.

    Art K. The Voodoo You Do! Subscriber

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    Another thing I always forget when discussing speakers is that I believe that I simply don't listen as lound as the average person does and so that definitely colors my view of what each speaker is capable of. I very rarely crank up the volume and even then it isn't loud enough for many. When I go to Eugene HiFi they play music much louder than I do. Also when folks come over to my house for a listening session they usually want me to push the volume louder than I am willing to. I simply don't need the volume to put me into the performance...
     

     

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  7. Art K.

    Art K. The Voodoo You Do! Subscriber

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    Really looking forward to the write up of the A9's. Beautiful speaker.
     
  8. Art K.

    Art K. The Voodoo You Do! Subscriber

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    Gosh another thing that occurred to me is that I listen to CD's almost exclusively and I think you listen to that fabulous Michell deck primarily. Isn't that right, Gavin?
     
  9. Spektre

    Spektre Brit alert

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    795
    Location:
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    I also believe we have a lot of overlaps as well, otherwise you wouldn't have a taste for good Brit gear. If I had to hazard a guess at where we are different is where our priorities lie with presentation. I know the Creek doesn't have the kind of Naim PRaT but it no slouch either, where it is stronger is creating the illusion of depth, width and 3D immersion, thats something high on my list. Listening on the Michell is pretty special and I've yet to fully exploit its potential, been looking at Lyra's Delos as a replacement for the venerable Audio Technica, hopefully before the years out.

    Your more than welcome to come down Art, I'm sure it will be both rewarding and interesting, I'm always glad have an excuse to talk about and listen to good music, but who needs an excuse?
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2012
  10. Art K.

    Art K. The Voodoo You Do! Subscriber

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    We definitely have some overlap, more so than not.

    As with John VF, who has a great ear as well, you both value the soundstage depth and width as well as "3D immersion" as you so beautifully stated much more than I do. I'm about tonality, timing and proportionate or relative scale first (each instrument to each other). That presentation difference as you noted really is where our differences are. That explains our preferences nicely. I am looking forward to hearing your collection of great monitors and meeting you in person.
     
  11. Spektre

    Spektre Brit alert

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    Yes please.
     

     

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  12. audiodon

    audiodon Addicted Member

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    Gavin,
    Are you on a minimonitor roll?
    Or are you on a winnowing down plan?
    Did you do an SA1 writeup?
     
  13. Spektre

    Spektre Brit alert

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    I know from reading your posts your that Jazz seems like your main food, I confess I have a small collection along with some blues but I'm nowhere near as knowledgable as I'd like to be. There's still a lot 20th century and contemporary repertoire within classical music I'm discovering so it leaves less space/ time to enter my consciousness.
     
  14. Art K.

    Art K. The Voodoo You Do! Subscriber

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    Actually 20th Century and Contemporary Classical are among my favorite music in that genre (which is right up with Jazz for me). Good to see another fan of 20th Century Classical here and yet another area of common interest for us.
     
  15. Spektre

    Spektre Brit alert

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    Haha, I've always been a fan on mini monitors ever since I was first exposed to the LS3/5A when I worked as a BBC trainee. My first speaker was actually quiet large (Rogers LS/4a) and it seemed like I was going to progress to floor standers but somehow I never got round to giving them a try, perhaps one day.

    Actually I'm in the process of accumulation, winnowing and preferably culling is something my wife is a fan of.

    I haven't done a write up on the SA1, as you know Spendors win you over with their qualities provided your prepared to give them time. I can easily see some folk selling them straight away, not my cup of tea, not grab you by the throat etc (even the SA1). I don't always want to listen that way though, hence the collection and refreshingly different presentations on offer.
     
  16. Spektre

    Spektre Brit alert

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    I just like to be challenged and fact that its harder to predict the musics direction, Webern, Ligeti, Bartok, Turnage were all difficult at first its just a question of sticking with it, its a shame so many people merely dismiss it as just noise, but its their loss I feel.
     

     

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  17. davidro

    davidro Lunatic Member

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    I'd love some Beat Furrer SACD (perhaps Fama) on those ProAc (actually I should think Usher would be interesting with Furrer). Nice review man.

    Contemporary classical music is the ultimate audiophile music btw!
     
  18. Art K.

    Art K. The Voodoo You Do! Subscriber

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    It's a wild ride is it not. Bring me some Varese!
     
  19. JohnVF

    JohnVF Lunatic Member

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    I was thinking about this recently after making a gear switch that totally killed the soundstage until I moved the speakers around. I'm not sure what but a flat sound just kills it for me. I need to have the sound in the room or its like the difference between a picture and reality for me. Good that we're all wired differently.

    I'd LOVE to hear the P3esr in a small room. My exposure to them has always been in this giant warehouse of a terrible room at my local Harbeth dealer. All of the lower midrange on down was completely missing, but I don't fault the speakers. It was just a terrible room for them. Terrible for any speaker, really. I've not heard anything but a pair of Dali Helicons sound good in that place. I bought my Compact 7s on faith, let me tell you.

    Even in that terrible room the P3esr stood out as a timing/timbre champ. They can certainly keep a tight pace.
     
  20. Spektre

    Spektre Brit alert

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    The room and enviroment is so important particularly if you rate sound staging highly, and if its on the disc thats what I'd like to get close to hearing. It needs a lot of experimentation with speaker position though, always the root of some metaphorical as well as real groaning.
     

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