Was able to spend a few hours with Harbeth and Graham and Focal today. All with my amp (the Leben CS300XS) and with the Accuphase E-270 integrated amplifier. Specifically, the M30.1 and Super HL5+
As well as the Graham LS5/9 and the Focal Sopra No. 1. I had never heard speakers from any of those brands before, and the Accuphase was new to me as well.
I EXPECTED to like the Harbeths the best, but was generally disappointed in them. They sounded closed-in to me. The treble was soft and too polite, and I just felt that neither the M30.1 nor the Super HL5+ was sufficiently “lit” for my tastes. Neither was particularly dynamic either - just kind of polite. Bass was surprising deep and tight (even with the little Leben), and I had no cause to complain on that account for either Harbeth model. But that being said, they didn’t have the get-up and go I would have liked (or that I am used to). Midrange was very good, as expected. It seemed to “breath”, in a way that I hadn’t heard in my system before. But I wonder if it didn’t border on sounding just a bit overly sonerous or “thick” on occasion. It was an issue on some recordings, but not on others (I though the M30.1 was better in this respect than the Super 5’s . . . The 30 was a bit better lit as well. It MAY VERY WELL BE that I am acclimated to having brighter, more forward speakers as I have had Rega speakers in one version or another for many years.
I liked the Focals better than either Harbeth, but I also thought they were the most “Hi-fi” of the bunch. They reminded me a lot of a pair of Proac Tablette 2000’s I had several years ago. They were the most efficient ones of the day, and my amp had the easiest time with them. They seemed very “technically” good, with an extended and resolved upper end (though less “airy” than I would have expected. Bass was tight and fast, and reasonably well extended. But they didn’t move me. I thought their particular virtues seemed available in a thousand other (albeit expensive) speaker brands. For almost $9000 with stands, I didn’t think they were at all special.
Without question, to my ears, the Graham LS5/9’s were the best. Dynamic as hell, even as my Leben seemed to reach its limit with them in the (admittedly) large room (I’d say it was 20 x 20 feet, at least). Bass was AMAZING. Tight, articulate and it just plain MOVED!! Moreover, the tweeter was extended and detailed, without ever sounding etched or fatiguing. I’m surprised a bit by this because the tweeter is larger than is typical (about 1.5 inches). The midrange was as natural as I’ve ever heard (if not quite as projected out into the room as my long-time favorite Spica TC-50’s). Nevertheless, the speaker images really well for me (also surprising). They just sounded “right” to me, and these are the speakers to get for me. I will admit, however, that they are EXPENSIVE - almost $7000 for these pretty smallish monitors. But THIS is the one to beat for me at this point. I REALLY liked them.
Finally, a word about the amplifiers. Frankly, I preferred my Leben to the Accuphase, Which was shocking to me given the Accuphase reputation. I thought both “moved” equally well (I grew up on Naim for about 15 years - if it doesn’t move, I can’t abode it - the Leben never ceases to amaze me with its ability to deliver appropriate PRaT, despite that it is tubr based), but the Leben sounded “bigger” and more “airy” and just more sophisticated overall. The problem with my Leben is that it runs out of steam. The Accuphase, on the other hand, seemed to have limitless power. But i didn’t think it sounded particularly special, as I had been expecting given the reputation of the brand of late. And it was $5000.
Anyway, that’s how I heard it today.