In Appreciation of the Harbeth Compact 7 ES-3 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers
Written by Andre Marc   
Friday, 26 June 2015

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.

Harbeth C7ES-3All 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. 


 

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.

Harbeth C7ES-3It 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.






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