The Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 stand mounted loudspeakers have the distinction of being in residence in this reviewer's system for seven consecutive years. The speakers, in a distinguished cherry finish, are not only an excellent reviewer’s tool, but a music lover’s dream. These British boxes have been reviewed numerous times in print, and online. The speaker has in been the Harbeth line in previous iterations for a number of years, but the ES-3 really brought something special to the table.
Out of the box, there is something magical about these unassuming classic-looking British monitors. Good stands get the best out of them, and my listening room they sit on custom ordered Sound Anchor stands. The stands, without question, are worth the extra expense. Good speaker cables are offer another payoff. I have have in rotation, depending on amplifier, Transparent, QED (as recommended by Harbeth head honcho Alan Shaw), and Kimber speaker wire.
One of the reasons the ES-3 are keepers is that it plays well with others. The list of amplifier and source brands that sound great with these monitors include, but are not limited to, products from Simaudio, Plinius, Marantz, Mcintosh, Musical Fidelity, Roksan, Bryston, Eastern Electric, Audio Research, Conrad Johnson,Channel Islands Audio, and many more.
All of the electronics paired with the ES-3 are generally shown in the best possible light, and the speakers also seem to bring the best out of great recordings. Sort of a really great team player that often gets overlooked for MVP awards, but none the less provides the foundation for elite performance. Apparently the BBC agrees because they have been using Harbeth speakers to monitor broadcasts for decades.
But here is the best part. The Compact ES-3 plays music...any kind of music with without prejudice. Electronica? Classic Rock? Pop? Vocal music? Orchestral? Singer songwriter? Yes, yes, yes. Maybe this is because the speakers were famously designed by Alan Shaw using his daughter's voice as a point of reference. Once you get you get tone and timbre right, everything falls into place.The human quality that is so often associated with Harbeth speakers is commonly linked to the living, breathing thin walled cabinets.
So what else makes the ES-3 so good? The holographic imaging. The seemingly perfect balance between the tweeter and woofer. The coherence and seamless presentation. Of course, that famous British monitor midrange is utterly sublime. The 7s are the antithesis of what some hifi speakers have become in today’s market...all fireworks and no soul.
Some manufacturers have somehow convinced a certain group of buyers that sizzling tweeters, super inert cabinets, room rattling bass is the way to audio nirvana, which quickly fades once the initial excitement wears off. What we have here is the opposite, performance that one grows to appreciate even more over time.