HARBETH: P3ESR vs Proac Tablette Anniversary

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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.

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