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The HiFi Merry Go Round is something that is often joked about, where hobbyists rotate equipment chasing their tails. This leads to mostly lateral moves. The Compact 7 ES-3 gets you off the Merry Go Round. No fidgeting in the listening chair, no second guessing. Just pick a finish you like, and there are some stunning ones available, since you will be looking at these stylish boxes for years to come.
There is a great chance you will listen to more music, and your listening sessions will be longer, and more relaxed with ES-3. But it is important note that these are not parlor speakers designed for teetotalers. They can rock out, within reason, as long as you are not aiming for unreasonable SPLs. On the flip side, they are coherent and whisper quiet levels.
It must be said that all the models in the Harbeth portfolio are superb, but the Compact 7 ES-3 is the sweetheart of the line. Of course a lot of this depends on your listening room, and simple physics. For instance the fabulous but hefty 40.1 needs ample room to breathe. The ES-3 is so easy to integrate into any listening room. Their so-called old school charm also lend a sense of coziness to the room.
The ES-3s sitting in my second listening room gives me daily comfort as I walk by and glance inside to see an old friend. An old friend who gives me daily pleasure, and requires zero maintenance. I wish I could say that about all my old pals! Day in, day out, they charm with their versatility and consistency. Sitting in the listening chair being serenaded the 7s is like being wrapped in a soft, warm blanket in winter.
Like a MGB-GT or Jag, Harbeth speakers have a pedigree, offering a pride of ownership not often found in high end speakers, many of which feel like “product”. It is also comforting to know the ES-3s are assembled by people making a decent living in a controlled environment. No faceless assembly line junk here. The fact that each pair is matched, numbered, and has Alan Shaw’s signature on the back panel is nice touch.
If looking for a reference speaker for reviewing or listening, I would buy a pair of the Compact 7ES-3s all over again. Unless Alan Shaw finds some dramatic way to improve them, they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Since Harbeth does not churn the product line, I won’t be holding my breath.
Really the best way to sum up the value of the Harbeth Compact 7 ES-3 is as a product that provides the longest of long term satisfaction. The fact that not many of these models are available on the used market is telling (though when they do pop up, they are snatched up immediately). I have reviewed several dozen speakers in the very spot where my ES-3s reside and, as great as some of those speakers were, I would choose none over the Harbeth to keep, regardless of price.