Harbeth Monitor 40.2

tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
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Chicagoland
The Harbeth Monitor 40.2 speakers are, for me, at least, end-game speakers. With these I can sail happily through my Golden Years. They have the sound of music as I've always dreamed it would sound at home.

Back to the Future

Last December I began listening again seriously to my Harbeth Monitor 40.1s in my downstairs music room. The size of the presentation, the richness, the AUTHORITY and NATURALNESS of the big Harbeths! No, even dialed in to face the listening position they didn't image and stage as precisely as the Janszen Valentina Actives in my upstairs audio room. But they just sounded REAL, even spatially. It struck me that at some basic level, for all their clarity, precision, and seemingly natural tonality, the Janszens, by comparison, sounded artificial and small.

So, as has happened again and again since my acquisition of the original Harbeth Monitor 40s back so many years ago, speakers come, speakers go, but I keep coming back to the big Harbeths because they, and only they, seem to have the sound of real, live, unamplified music and have it in such an abundance, no matter the material. I bought my Monitor 40s around the year 2001, within a year or two after Robert E. Greene's (REG) seminal review of them in The Absolute Sound #116 (February/March 1999). I waited to buy mine until there was a North American distributor in the United States, and thus waited until Fidelis AV in New Hampshire (which remains the North American Harbeth distributor to this day) acquired distribution rights and established a dealer network so I could hear the Monitor 40 before making a purchase decision. Before that, Winter Tree Audio in Canada seemed to be the sole North American distributor/dealer for Harbeth, despite REG's walk-on-water review. Since I've owned the Harbeths, I've acquired and then sold:

AR-3a (vintage)
AR-5 (vintage)
AR-303a (vintage)
Rectilinear III (vintage)
KLH 12 (vintage)
Spendor SP1/2 (vintage)
EPI 100 (vintage)
Ohm Walsh 5 Mk III
Linkwitz Orion
Sanders 10C
Gradient 1.3
Gradient 1.5 Helsinki
Gradient Revolution Active + Gradient SW-T triple tower subwoofers
Stirling Broadcast LS3/6 + AudioKinesis Swarm

Now I've sold the Janszen Valentina Actives as well.

System Changes and Context

In my prior home, after my first wife passed away in 2010, I had up to nine complete serious audio systems at once in seven different rooms. Since I remarried in 2015, in our new home, I've had two rooms dedicated to audio for the past couple of years.

But now I've decided it's time to slim down further audio-wise. I have now consolidated to a single dedicated audio room. The lifestyle changes involved in now having a large family for the first time in my life (my wife is one of seven siblings, for example) means that even I need to limit the space dedicated to purely audio pursuits. And the rewards of having a large family are very much worth it. Thus, the downstairs Music Room where my Harbeth Monitor 40.1s resided is now a living room without any serious music system.

When the Monitor 40.1s were developed, I had the original pair which was making the rounds of reviewers (the same pair reviewed in Stereophile and TAS) in my home for a couple of weeks. As a result of that audition, I traded in my M40s through Fidelis AV for the Monitor 40.1s.

Some (REG, for instance) say that the original M40s are better than the subsequent 40.1s. REG objects to the Monitor 40.1's emphasis in response around 1 kHz which he thinks needs to be equalized out in order for the later speaker to be competitive in accurate reproduction with the earlier version. I disagree, finding this emphasis benefits the subjective results on most music even if the objective response measurement is a bit elevated in this region. One thing REG and I agree about as to the original M40 is that the tweeter guard on that model needs to be removed for best sound, sound competitive with the openness of the high frequencies of the later models. See my discussion "A Delicate Operation: Removing Tweeter Guards From Harbeth Monitor 40s."

But I certainly think that both the M40 and M40.1 are GREAT speakers, so who am I to argue with REG's preference? Even Paul Seydor, who reviewed the new Monitor 40.2 for The Absolute Sound says that REG’s superbly dialed in M40s yield a reproduction of symphonic music second to none in Seydor’s experience.

I'd heard the new Monitor 40.2 two years running at AXPONA in Chicago and was impressed at both hearings. Designer Alan Shaw definitely seems to be onto something in his new designs, something which allows his newest creations, the SLH5+ and now the M40.2, to sound simultaneously very accurate and yet forgiving enough to allow the 90% of recordings which are not sonic exemplars to still be deeply satisfying listening experiences. Now, with the help of Mike Kay at Harbeth dealer Audio Archon in Illinois, I've traded in my Monitor 40.1s for a new pair of Monitor 40.2s.

I have also now paired the M40.2s with the bespoke 14.25"-high Ton Trager Reference stands for the M40.2s. For the first couple of weeks with the M40.2s I was using my similarly sized tried-and-true Something Solid XF MkII stands I was using with the M40.1s. Power is from a brand new pair of Benchmark AHB2's run in bridged mono mode. I'm high on the Benchmark electronics right now, if you hadn't noticed.


Here's a rundown of the equipment I'm now using in my dedicated upstairs audio room (a converted bedroom):

Sources: Oppo UDP-205 for disc playback; Auralic Aries G2 for streaming Tidal, internet radio, and Airplay from my iPhone. Both are new to my room.

The update from my former EVS-modified Oppo BDP-105D means that I can no longer decode my Reference Recordings HDCD discs, but all of these are available decoded through Tidal. And since I exclusively use the HDMI output of the disc player so as to be able to input high-resolution disc sources (SACD, Blu-ray Audio) to my Benchmark DAC, I wanted the HDMI de-jittering feature which is new to the latest Oppo UDP-205.

Since I rely on streaming from the internet for a lot of my listening these days, I've chosen one of the top new internet streamers to replace my classic Logitech Squeezebox Touch and Apple Airport Express. See the linked Aries G2 thread for my comments on the improvements the Aries G2 brings about in streaming sound quality.

HDMI De-Embedder: Kanex Pro HDMI Audio De-Embedder (converts the HDMI output of the Oppo to coaxial digital for input the my Benchmark DAC).

DAC: Benchmark DAC-3 HGC (driving speaker amps) and Benchmark DAC-3 DX (driving headphone amp). One of the coax digital inputs of the HGC is configured by moving an internal jumper to be a digital pass-through output to the DX.

Speaker Amplifiers: A pair of Benchmark AHB2 amps, run in mono. I'll have more to say down the road about these amps in another thread.

Headphone Amp: SimAudio Moon Neo 430 HA, fed a balanced analog signal from the Benchmark DAC-3 DX. The DAC in the headphone amp is not used.

Headphones: Audeze LCD-4 with aftermarket balanced cabling in the form of the Moon Audio Silver Dragon premium cabling for the Audeze LCD series.

Speakers: Harbeth Monitor 40.2

Stands: The sources all sit centered atop an Ikea Lack table enhanced and leveled with felt pads under its legs plus Bright Star Little Rock damping weights (themselves with felt padding on the underside contacting the tabletop). The Oppo sits atop a large Little Rock which damps the top of the Ikea Lack table. A smaller Little Rock sits on the cover of the Oppo; it is small enough that it does not block all the ventilation holes of the Oppo Chassis. The Auralic Aries G2 sits atop that smaller Little Rock; that Little Rock is large enough for the footprint of the Aries G2. This position for the Auralic and Oppo provides the strongest wireless signal reception from the wireless Netgear Nighthawk X8 router (with Comcast Extreme 105 service) on the downstairs main floor almost directly under these units.

The headphone amp sits under the Ikea Lack table and atop a large Bright Star Little Rock which has three Bright Star Isonode sorbothane feet between it and the wood floor. The top of the headphone amp is damped with another Little Rock which also serves as the base for the two stacked Benchmark DACs. The top DAC is damped with an issue of The Absolute Sound magazine. The Kanex Pro HDMI De-Embedder sits atop this magazine on three small nylon button feet.

The Benchmark amplifiers each sit on separate Mapleshade 4"-thick maple platforms, themselves sitting on three Mapleshade Isoblock 1 rubber feet, two under the front two corners and one in the center rear. These small amps sit at the front of the maple platforms so that the cables attached to the rear are supported on the platforms and have enough room so as not to hit the acoustic panels behind the amps. The speaker cables and all other cables are also routed so as to avoid contact with the room's carpet to minimize electrostatic charges on the cabling.

The speakers now sit on the bespoke Ton Trager Reference stands for the Harbeth M40.2 speakers.

Cabling: With one exception, the cabling is either from Blue Jeans Cable or Benchmark. The exception is the Oyaide NEO d+ Class A Rev 2 USB cable connecting the Aries G2 to the Benchmark DAC-3 HGC.

The Oppo is connected to the DAC-3 HGC via the Oppo's audio-only HDMI 2 output by Blue Jeans Belden Series FE HDMI cable into the Kanex Pro HDMI Audio De-Embedder. The output of the Kanex to the DAC-3 HGC uses Blue Jeans Cable coaxial digital cable.

The two Benchmark DACs are connected by a Blue Jeans Cable coaxial digital cable. The balanced analog output cables from both DACs are by Benchmark.

The speakers cables are Benchmark, with Speak-On connectors at the amp end and locking banana plugs at the speaker ends, the configuration Benchmark recommends for its AHB2 amp when used with non-Benchmark speakers.

Gain Structure: To maximize signal-to-noise ratio and minimize distortion through optimized system gain structure, the Benchmark DAC-3 HCG is used without output padding so it is putting out a high pro-audio-level signal and the Benchmark amps are used at their low-gain setting.

Electrical: All electronics are driven from two dedicated 20-amp circuits (one for the amps, another for lower-draw equipment), each of which feeds a single quad of wall outlets behind the audio equipment. Both of these circuits are fed from the same phase of the home's 220-volt service.

Acoustic Room Treatment: A combination of 4"-thick female-pattern Sonex and Pi Audio AQD Diffusers are used. The diffusers are at the first reflection points of the speakers on the side walls and wall behind the speakers as seen from the listening seat. The Sonex is used for reflection control in the corners behind the speakers, on the wall behind the listening seat to cover the first reflection points, and on the ceiling first reflection points. Wooden blinds cover the room's window and the wooden furniture and CD racks in front of the speakers is arranged to be at least five feet from the speakers. The listening position is also at least five feet from any of the walls or furniture in front of the speakers; this minimizes "early" reflections audible from the listening position.

Other Tweaks: All non-soldered electrical contacts I can reach are treated with Caig Audio DeOxit Gold GL100, the brush-on liquid stuff, not any of the spray varieties. Most equipment (Squeezebox Touch and speaker terminals excepted) have EVS Ground Enhancers added.

Further details about the equipment and set-up are discussed in other threads in Tom's Corner, including:

Kanex Pro HDMI Audio De-Embedder
Sennheiser HD 800 S Headphones + SimAudio Moon Neo 430 HA Headphone Amplifier
Apple Airport Express as Internet Audio Streaming Receiver
Benchmark DAC3 DX
The Lowly Toslink
EVS Oppo BDP-105 Mods, Ground Enhancers, Black Discus & Mounting Tweaks
Electronic Visionary Systems (EVS) Ground Enhancers: Can You Spare $30?
Contact Cleaning: The Right Stuff
If It's Spring, It Must Be Time for New Speakers (and More): Janszen Valentina Active

Electronic Equalization

Sure, in my small (11' x 13') audio room I may need to use electronic equalization to best tame the big Harbeth low end. We'll see; so far on most program material there is no obnoxious flatulence. Designer Alan Shaw has further domesticated the low end of his big guys. But, hey, I've equalized the Harbeth low end many times before and I've long since become an expert at flattening the bass of the 40.x with such EQ, if needed. I've also owned a lot of equalizers in my time, most of them since I've had the Harbeths:

Cello Palette Preamp
Z-Systems rdp-1
Legacy Steradian (for Legacy Whisper speakers)
Rives PARC (the first equalizer I used with the M40s)
Rane DEQ-60L
TacT RCS 2.2XP AAA, both stock and fully Maui-modded versions
Audient ASP231
DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core (both 2012 and 2013 models)
Behringer DCX2496 + DEQ2496 (also provided stereo shuffling processing)
ART EQ355
RoomPerfect (in Lyngdorf TDAI-2170)
Z-Systems rdq-1
DSPeaker X4 (coming soon, I’ve again been recently promised)

If I decide that I do need or would just like to try electronic equalization, my trusty Z-Systems rdq-1 is waiting in the wings if the DSPeaker X4 does not soon materialize at my doorstep.

The Ton Trager Stands

Harbeth designer Alan Shaw is not in the habit of recommending speaker stands. To my knowledge, the Ton Tragers are the first speaker stands to get a solid recommendation from him, a video recommendation, no less, which can be viewed here.

My M40.2s are set atop the Ton Trager stands per Ton Trager's recommendations here. Following those directions as closely as I can seemed to make a positive difference.

Without meticulous adherence to those directions, the sound I was getting with my Something Solid XF MkII was at least the overall equal of that produced with the Ton Tragers. Those preferring a bit more high frequency zip and air and the largest possible stage presentation and greatest feeling of envelopment from near-field listening will probably still prefer the Something Solids even if the directions are meticulously followed.

But get the speakers positioned just so atop the Ton Tragers and give the stand feet a few days to really settle into the carpet and what you get is better depth, increased mid and high frequency smoothness and realism, as well as increased natural detail with all traces of excess tizz eliminated. Bass seems deeper and better defined. Most of all, at high playback levels, the speakers seem cleaner. It sounds like room and/or speaker box resonances or overload are reduced. The stage shape and size changes more from one recording to another.

At just under $1,400 a pair, the Ton Trager stands are expensive. The Something Solid XF MkII, the next best stand by far which I have used with any of the M40 series, is still a close second and is much less expensive, less than 1/3 the cost, even counting shipping charges from British dealer Deco Audio.

Appearance-wise, yes, I suppose the Ton Tragers are more handsome. Certainly my wife thinks so. But there is something to be said for the vestigial appearance of the Something Solids with their much more open framework. That more open framework also makes it very simple to approximately adjust the toe-in of the speakers to get each toed in equally by just looking at the frame from the listening position.

I should note that these comments are in the context of not using spikes with either of these speakers stands. The stands "float" atop the carpet and carpet pad atop the wood floor.

I generally do not like the sound of spiking the big Harbeths or any other speakers, for that matter, to the floor. Not using spikes allows the carpet and weight of the speakers to considerably damp a metal-frame stand like the Something Solids compared to the awful metallic ringing you get when the metal stand is spiked to the floor. With the Something Solids the entire lower rectangle of the framework of the stand contacts the carpet. With the Ton Trager, only the extended tenon "tone bed" makes contact with either the floor or the speaker. When plucked or tapped with a finger with the M40.2s on board, both the Ton Trager and Something Solid stands resonate a bit. The Ton Tragers sound like wood with an apparently lower-frequency resonance, the Something Solids like metal with a higher-frequency resonance, but neither has a long resonant "tail" to the excitation produced when tapped or plucked.

Even with heavy speakers on board, the Something Solid stands are fairly easy to move on the carpet by small amounts to get the speakers adjusted just so with respect to the walls and listener. The much smaller contact points of the Ton Trager stands makes such movements considerably more difficult, but not impossible. You just have to lift up a bit and concentrate on moving a particular corner at a time, rather than swiveling or sliding the entire stand. Obviously the whole stand does in fact move; it's just the technique that is different.

I also should mention that the Ton Trager stands apparently were designed to be mounted directly on hardwood floors or, even better yet, on slate rock atop the hardwood floor. That is not possible in my room given the room size and desired carpet damping of the listening room floor. Anyway, in my experience, you definitely want a thick carpet and pad at the first floor reflection between you and the speaker drivers as viewed from the listening seat. Thus, even if you mount the speaker stands on a wood floor, you'd better have carpet begin very close to the stand and the carpet should extend from there to and through the entire listening area.

Actually, Sonex damping of the floor sounds more wonderful yet, but is a dangerous tripping hazard, especially in a darkened room. But in my younger and even more idealistic years, I sometimes had not only 4" Sonex covering the first floor reflection areas, but as much as 12" of Sonex damping the floor reflection. That one reflection is responsible for quite a lot of upper bass coloration, but to scotch such a reflection, you need a thick layer of acoustic foam. The carpet will damp the treble nasties, but not much else.

Speaker Set Up

Given this room's size and shape, I have found that the listener and speaker positions computed by the Rule of Thirds 29% Version tool to work very well with the previous speakers I've used in this room, so that is what I've started with using the M40.2s. With the room's 132" Main Wall width and 161" Side Wall length, that puts the center of the front baffle of the Harbeths 38 9/32" from the side walls and 46 11/16" from the wall behind the speakers. The listening position is 94 11/16 from the Main Wall behind the speakers, or 48" from the plane of the speakers. The speakers and listener form an equilateral triangle of about 55 7/16" on a side. This is near-field listening as I and most others define it. It keeps my head more than five feet away from the wall behind the listening position, which is important, in my experience, for the best spatial presentation. Bass room modes, while certainly both measurable and audible, are less than with most other arrangements and the spatial presentation is the best I've heard in this room.

On the Ton Trager or Something Solid stands, the tweeter center ends up about 40.25" above the floor (the tweeter is 26" above the bottom of the M40.2 cabinet). My velour-upholstered Drexel listening chair gives me a nominal very comfortable ear height of about 38.25". That puts my ears about 2" below the tweeter center. While Harbeth has long specified tweeter height as the proper listening axis, from the M40 on I've noted that 2" below the tweeter axis has always sounded best to me, especially for near-field listening. This puts the stage up a bit higher and provides significantly better height illusion, thus providing a superior sense of envelopment in the vertical dimension, as well as seeming to be the position where the tonal balance is most natural.

To get the Harbeths into position, I tape a strip of masking tape along the top front center edge of the flat part of the cabinet (the flat part begins about 3/8" behind the beveled front edge of the cabinet). I mark the center of the speaker on that masking tape and measure from the side and back walls to that mark with a tape measure and/or laser measuring device.

I adjust toe in so that the tweeters of left and right speakers point directly at their respective ears when I'm seated in the listening position. To do that, I temporarily remove the speaker grills and tape 2" circular flat mirrors directly below the tweeter guards. Then, with my head pointed straight forward, I look to the left at the left speaker with just my left eye and adjust toe in until I see my left ear's reflection centered in that mirror. For the right speaker with my head pointed straight forward, I look to the right at the right speaker with just my right eye and adjust toe in until I see my right ear's reflection centered in the mirror attached to the right speaker.

The trick to the positioning, and what takes awhile to accomplish, is to get three parameters—toe in, distance from side wall, and distance from the wall behind the speakers—all dialed in as closely as possible by moving the speaker stands just so, all without moving the speakers from their optimal position mounted on the stand itself as specified by Ton Trager's directions.

Once the speakers are thus positioned, I carefully put the grills back on the speakers, taking care not to move the speakers on their stands in doing so. This is more difficult than it sounds since the grill edges fit very tightly into a groove routed around the perimeter of the front baffle. Considerable pressure and a bit of grill bending must be done to get the grills back on. Removing the grills is at least equally problematic because of the tight fit. For both operations it helps to leave one arm atop the speaker cabinet and put some body weight on that arm while working the grill edges with my other hand.

Yes, I suppose that the speakers look better or at least as good with the grills off to show off more of the wonderful wood grain and to see the handsome Harbeth Monitor 40.2 badge. But, looks aside, sonically there is absolutely no contest. There are no sonic parameters improved by listening with the grills removed. Those who think the speakers sound better without their grills need to have their ears examined because they apparently are functionally deaf. The grills are an integral part of the design, making rather obvious contributions to both response smoothness and perhaps consequently the apparent detachment of the sound from the physical location of the speaker baffles.

Once the speakers are thus positioned, I also adjust the diffusers so that the center of each diffuser panel is at the first reflection spot of the nearest speaker front cabinet edge to that room boundary as seen from the listening position with a flat mirror attached to the relevant wall. Decades of experience with experimental placement of room damping and diffusing have shown me that these are the best spots to place the room treatment.

Sonic Evaluation

Bottom line at the Top: based on my early listening at home, to my ears, these are, far and away. the best yet of the M40 series from Harbeth. That makes the M40.2s overall the best speakers I've ever had in any of my home audio set ups. As I said at the very top of this thread, this is how I've always dreamed home speakers should sound.

Read Paul Seydor's review for The Absolute Sound. So far in my early experience with the M40.2s, I agree right on down the line with most of what he says. Below I'll try to mention some aspects not fully explored in Seydor's review.

Designer's Comments: Paul Seydor's review in TAS includes the transcript of an interview with Harbeth designer Alan Shaw. But I think if you want to get a fuller explanation of the evolution of the target frequency response and other aspects of the sound of the big M40.x speakers over the years, you should take a look at Shaw's comments on the Harbeth User Group. Start with post #60 in that thread, and also look at Shaw's subsequent comments in #87, 92, 94, and 146 in that thread.

It does appear that Alan Shaw pays a lot of attention to marketing feedback he gets from dealers, reviewers, and owners in terms of voicing his speakers. That could be good, in the sense of getting more information about how the product performs in a variety of real-world listening rooms other than recording studios. He does say that he designs in isolation with no one else having heard his designs before he finished them.

On the other hand, cynics may conclude that he may just want to grow his company and make some more money by giving his potential customers what he thinks they want. Having heard the evolution of the Harbeth sound over a couple of decades now, I'm inclined to side with those who find that evolution to be the designer's honest approach to making already fine products approach ever more closely the goal of having home speakers which sound like real music.

Measurements: Rather than show the effects of my room on low-end response, here is a link to the German AUDIO magazine's test report on the Harbeth Monitor 40.2. See the response curves in the left graph at the bottom of what is labeled page 24:

http://www.inputaudio.de/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/harbeth_m402_audio_test.pdf

To my knowledge, these are the only published frequency response measurements of the M40.2 to date. The axial response looks fine to me, like a target curve I would pick when applying an electronic equalizer to the sound measured from the listening position.

REG's response to seeing these measurements after having heard the M40.2s casually at Paul Seydor's house was, essentially:

Of course it looks nice--in a way. I am unperturbed by the bass rise. One assumes one has to control bass anyway and better a bit too much than too little to start with.

[F]urther up, if one looks carefully (compressed vertical scale as always in magazines) one sees a typical Harbeth recessed presence range. Between 1 and 2 kHz, there is what appears to be about a 2 dB shelf down. One might like this. The speaker sounds very easy on the ears. And the reviewer did like it[.] But I would probably pull the presence range up slightly just to get a little more brilliance(and truth) on violins. Still as speakers go it looks nice. (Sounds nice too along the lines suggested by the measurements--this is pretty much exactly what I would have expected from listening a bit)[.]
REG

PS: As such, speakers are not supposed to exhibit target curves above 500 Hz in their direct arrival. The roll off of highs etc in listening position measurement is generated by room effects (rolled down power response)[.] It is better to have a target curve sort of response than to have say a rising top but ideally one would like the speaker to be anechoic on axis neutral and the house curve to be generated by the house as it were. If you mess about with the on axis, one will hear it!

Near-Field Listening Coherence: First, never in my experience were large three-way speakers made which were so conducive to the type of near-field listening I do in my room (about 55 inches from the speaker drivers) as the big Harbeths. Frankly, very few large-ish multi-driver speakers have a degree of inter-driver coherence from this sort of listening distance which makes the speaker sound like a single driver.

The Stirling LS3/6 and Janszen Valentina Actives do okay from this sort of listening distance if one is very careful about getting the listening height correct and/or the speakers angled back just so. For best inter-driver coherence and tonal balance, the Stirling LS3/6s must be listened to with your ears level with the lower of the two tweeters. From close up on the recommended 400 mm-high stands, that requires either sitting on the floor or tilting the speakers back a bit. The Janszens are quite short and the middle of the electrostatic array is only about 22 inches above the floor, so it has to be tilted back a lot to get your ears on the proper axis from any reasonable listening height when you sit close to them.

The problem with tilting short-ish speakers back to get on the proper listening axis is that while the tilt back gets you properly balanced high frequencies, with most such speakers you will still be looking a bit "down" on the spatial presentation. The Janszens almost succeed in this respect despite their shortness since they have been designed to project images and a stage a bit above the top of the speakers and this design goal works pretty well even when listening closer than the recommended eight feet back.

One of the nice things about the big Harbeth speakers is that they are big. That implies that they are tall enough, when used on proper stands, to get the speakers high enough so that your ears will be in the right position with respect to the speakers for best coherence and tonal balance when sitting in a comfortable chair and with the speakers mounted vertically on their stands. Not having to tilt the speakers back, and the speakers having a traditional box shape makes for much less difficulty in positioning the speakers just so with a tape measure and/or laser measurement tool. A tilted-back speaker with an unusual shape like the Janszens makes getting the two speakers symmetrically positioned in the room with respect to walls and the listening position quite a bit more difficult.

As noted before, the small size of my listening room forces near-field listening. Speakers which do not perform optimally at listening distances of much less than 8 feet from the plane of the speakers—which is actually most speakers larger than mini-monitors—will not perform optimally in such a room. Yes, as explained above, I adjust things to maximize the inter-driver coherence from other speakers in this room, but there were still some audible compromises due to close-up listening which I was aware of but could mostly ignore, at least for awhile.

From past experience with the original M40, however, I KNOW that those speakers sound like ONE DRIVER from as close as 20 inches from the plane of the speakers, as long as the speakers are set up to point at my ears and the listening height is carefully chosen to be a couple of inches below the center of the tweeter. Four feet from the speaker plane is thus a piece of cake for the big Harbeths.

As coherent as the M40 was, the M40.1 was better yet. The front panel seemed to radiate sound all across its position, not at any driver locations at all.

But from the moment I put sound through the M40.2s, I knew that by further tweaking the crossover, designer Alan Shaw has wrought further clearly audible improvements in this seamless driver blending. Even from four feet from the speaker plane, the physical positions of the speakers truly disappear on well-recorded, and even much not-so-well-recorded, material, with sounds coming from various locations on the stage behind and in front of the speaker positions, depending on how close those sounds were to the microphones.

The inter-driver coherence in near-field listening like I use is at its quite considerable very best when the listening height puts your ears about two inches below the tweeter centers, as I described how to do in the set-up section. This height yields not only what I regard as the best overall subjective tonal balance, but also maximizes the smoothness of the transition from midrange to tweeter. From this listening height, the blend is seamless indeed. This blend was as audibly seamless as I'd ever heard even with the original 40 from such a listening position. The M40.1 was even better in this respect, and the M40.2 is—well—let's just call it truly seamless and truly undetectable.

No, as Paul Seydor's review mentions, the image height illusion is not the equal of true tall line sources, but from close up to the M40.2s, the speakers have a seeming line-source top-to-bottom radiation angle or space, creating lifelike image sizes, great depth, and wonderful immersion of the listener into the reproduced space of the performance. This quality supports and compliments the fabulous sense of "authority" for which the M40 series is justly famous.

Deep and Mid Bass: One of the first things I noticed compared to the M40.1 is that there is more bottom octave bass and less midbass with the M40.2. That is a very good thing for my smallish room. The specs say that the bass extends flat down another 5 Hz to 35 Hz. Subjectively, the bass warble tones on Stereophile's Test CD 2 sound pretty even down to 40 Hz, still strong at 30 Hz, but the 25 Hz and 20 Hz tones sound weak.

I know what true flat and even elevated 20-Hz-and-below bass extension sounds like in this room, having measured and equalized the response of the Stirling Broadcast LS3/6 plus AudioKinesis Swarm subwoofer array for flat or even elevated bass down to below 20 Hz. Yes, on a few pipe organ bass spectaculars, like the Dorian recording of Jean Guillou playing an organ transcription of Moussourgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, the low notes in, for example, the Gnomus section are more awesomely rendered with superior room lock by great subwoofer support.

But absent that sort of material and direct comparison or good memory of how such sounds, you would never know anything was missing from the bottom octave with the M40.2. In contrast, the Janszen Valentina Active, while having good bass response in this room and never sounding thin, rolls off enough in the bottom octave to make the reproduction of such pipe organ spectaculars more polite and less than authoritative.

And Shaw has definitely tamed what many feel was truly excessive midbass for most real-world room set ups in the M40. In my opinion, without electronic equalization, very few domestic room set ups produce acceptably flat midbass with those speakers—REG is truly one of the fortunate few in this respect. The M40.1 was better, but still needed a favorable, bass-leaky room and ideal placement to avoid a peak of about 8 dB around 60 to 70 Hz.

The M40.2 has been further domesticated. Even in my small room, on most material the midbass is just concert-hall-naturally-full without electronic equalization, not overbearing in any way. I have not yet measured the bass response of the speakers as set up in this room, but I'd estimate a narrow band resonance in my room of about 4 dB in the midbass. This is most noticeable on closely miked acoustic bass solos with notes in that range. Outside that range, the walking bass notes are clearly differentiated and fairly evenly tempered as the bass playing moves up and down the scale.

The bass quality has a great combination of punch, detail, fullness, and warmth. It also will handle considerable power/SPL in this area cleanly. Bass quality is an area where the M40.2 clearly stands above its predecessors.

Authority: Several factors—the above-mentioned inter-driver coherence, the warm and rich frequency balance in the orchestral "power" range, the low distortion, great dynamic contrasts, the ability to play loudly without increased distortion, the generous depth and vertical height illusion—all contribute to reproduction which sounds naturally weighty and authoritative with all sorts of music, but especially acoustic unamplified instruments playing en masse, as with large-scale classical orchestral and choral pieces.

It is in this area where the contrast to the Janzen Valentina Actives I had in this room just before the Harbeths is most striking. With the Harbeths there is a lot of meat on the bone, a lot of gravitas where called for. Delicate sounds are suitably delicate, but with a fully-formed, lifelike balance which is in no way artificial, undersized, or lightweight. Glorious!

The Janszens are every bit as revealing about what is going on in the music both spatially and in terms of musical lines. And instruments sound natural enough. But there is something inherently small, light weight, and not forceful enough about their presentation, despite seemingly very high dynamic contrasts and plenty of bass. Many say that electrostatic speakers generally lack impact compared to good dynamic drivers. Maybe that's part of it. The Janszen presentation is exquisitely high on clarity and analysis without ever sounding analytical, but lower than it should be in terms of guts, heft, and authority.

The Midrange: Well, here it has all been said before. As Paul Seydor's review said, "how many variations can you ring upon 'beautiful,' luscious,' 'ravishing,' 'drop-dead gorgeous.'?" I would just add superbly natural and real sounding. If you know the sound of real acoustic instruments and voices in a favorable space, the Harbeth speakers, Harbeth M40 series in particular—and especially the M40.2—nails that sound as no other speakers I've heard do. Other speakers, like the Janszen Valentinas, Stirling LS3/6, or Gradient Revolution, which can for a time seem natural enough, will sound at least a bit artificial when compared to these M40.2s and the real thing. Most speakers, truth be told, sound QUITE artificial in comparison to these Harbeths and even the best of the rest just don't give you that disarming impression of "yes, this is the truth" about their sound. The impression on much material—not just a few audiophile specials—is overwhelmingly of the sound of actual players in front of you.

This is the part of the Harbeth sound which has been most important in repeatedly drawing me back to the M40 series year after year. It is in this area that they simply are not matched by any other speakers I've heard at any price.

As Seydor mentions, with the M40.2 this window on the all-important midrange is widened to include the upper bass/lower midrange all the way up through the presence range. And the perceived distortion is now lower than ever before, adding yet more realism. And, unlike the Quads, where later versions widened the magic midrange window at the expense of at least a bit of the magic the early ESL had in the heart of the midrange, nothing has been lost and much has been gained by the widening of this area of supreme naturalness in the M40.2.

Presence Range: The range from, say, 2 kHz to 5 kHz is largely responsible for how close we perceive the music as being to our listening position. The words "forward" and "recessed" are largely descriptive of the look of the frequency response graph of speakers in this frequency range. Elevated response in this area moves the apparent sound source forward, while depressed response in this area tends to back the apparent sound source off further from the listening position.

Because of the way most commercial recordings are miked, the traditional BBC speaker voicing had relaxed response through this region, with a depression typically measuring some two to five dB in this range or some part of it. Many classical music listeners believe that this response trough yields better overall realism from the majority of commercial recordings, the theory being that since most recordings involved miking from much closer than concert hall audience listening distances, the recordings have a bit of presence exaggeration built in and this response trough helps ameliorate that exaggeration.

With his earlier M40 and M40.1, Harbeth designer Alan Shaw definitely adhered to this "BBC dip" philosophy. With the M40.2, however, Shaw is on record as having decided to flatten out the presence range response as much as possible. Given the published test report measurements linked to above, there still seems to be a bit of presence-range recession/relaxation in the response. But this increased presence was the very first thing I noticed about the sound the new M40.2s in comparison to the M40.1 and original M40. Solo voices and instruments are more forward, not at all recessed.

But Shaw has managed a fine balancing act here between increased presence and flattering a wide range of recorded material. Through some legerdemain—or maybe it's just an upward extension of the "magic" which Harbeths have long had in the core of the midrange—this increased presence does not grate at all and does not in any way reduce the wonderful depth perspective which the M40 series has had from the start with classical music, large scale and otherwise. In other words, there is no sense of excess forwardness and no less depth of field apparent. Sound sources closer to the recording microphones appear closer to the listener on the sound stage, but sound at least as natural as before while instruments in the back of the ensemble are still waaaaay back there. There is thus actually an enhanced amount of depth information presented. Simply marvelous! This is the way things sound in a good hall from around audience Row 8 to 10: the violins are close but in no way screechy or unpleasantly close, while the woodwinds, brass, and tympani are way back in the next county.

I've noted the same positive effects on pop and jazz. Soloists pop with presence, but the ensemble depth is fully developed, making for a very involving and interesting presentation spatially.

Top Octaves: The M40.2s, like the earlier models in the M40 series, have truly extended, airy highs. There is no lack and no exaggeration here. The top two octaves are there in the proper proportions. The impact ting of sticks on cymbals and the following sheen and shimmer are there in the proper proportions in time, space, and frequency balance.

That was not the case, I'm afraid, either with the Stirling Broadcast LS3/6 or Janszen Valentina Actives. The stick impact was there, but the following sheen and shimmer were reduced, making percussive images that were lower in placement, not as spatially free, and sounding tonally a bit more like escaping steam from a valve. You'd think that electrostatics without any crossover between midrange and highs would get top octave air correct. You'd also think from REG's reviews and subsequent comments that the Stirling and Janszen both get this right. This just is not so, I'm now convinced, whether subjectively or measurably. Both the Janszen and Stirling measured as rolling off above 5 kHz from whatever distance or angle I placed the measuring microphone of the OmniMic V2 measuring system. Both measure down some 12 db by 20 kHz. I thought this was either a measuring artifact or a product of narrow dispersion in the highs.

But I knew that the same measuring system showed the M40.1 to have just a dB or two of gradual slope off above 5 kHz. And the highs of the M40.1 sounded realistically airy on everything from cymbals to violins, not to mention high trumpet note overtones. The M40.2 does just as well, if not better. See the linked published test results. The Harbeths get the balance between the stick impact and the following shimmer and sheen correct and generally have a very natural amount of airiness to their sound.

Judging by both ear and published measurements, many speakers designed in the past few years have excess air built into their design, showing a measured peak in response of 5 to even 10 dB somewhere above 5 kHz. Like REG (see his comments about the linked M40.2 test results above) I find this sort of response tailoring far more objectionable than the type of relatively benign smooth rolloff found in the Stirling LS3/6 and Janszen Valentina Active. A peak or roll-up in this area draws attention to the tweeter (the tweeter sound "sticks out") and in music with cymbals, draws them forward in the mix.

The Harbeth M40, M40.1, and M40.2 have each had a superb sense of blend and integration between the midrange and tweeter. You cannot hear the transition between the midrange and tweeter drivers and there is still the proper amount of high frequency air.

Low Distortion and Clarity: In this respect these Harbeths seem basically equal to the Janszens. While the Janszen Valentina Actives perhaps allow following musical lines in complex music to an even greater degree, these Harbeths are very close to that standard in that respect.

The Harbeths are superior to the Janszens and all other speakers I've owned or heard in allowing small details to emerge naturally without any frequency response peculiarities. Instruments sound both superbly natural/real and you can hear the small musical (and not-so-musical, such as breathing, chair noises, air handling roar and rumble, etc.) sounds with superb clarity. The clarity is not provided by any exaggeration of mids or highs or rolling off of bass or warmth ranges. The M40.2s fully match, and even sometimes exceed the level of detail audible through my Silver-Dragoned Audeze LCD-4 headphones, something I never thought any speakers could do until hearing the M40.2 in my room.

Distortion also seems at least as low as with the Janszens, which is as low as I've heard with speakers. Given decent program material, the sound is very, very clean, with no apparent distortion or noise. Part of this impression is probably the supremely low distortion and high signal to noise ratio of the combination of the Benchmark DAC-3 HGC and AHB2 amps when their gain structure is arranged to produce maximum signal-to-noise ratio and minimal distortion as I have done.

Low Level Listening & Correct SPL: Perhaps because of a combination of all the above factors, the Monitor 40.2s sound more realistic and satisfying at low volumes than any speakers I've ever used before. There is no need to listen at high volumes to achieve a natural low-frequency balance.

The proper or natural SPL for any given material is also very well defined for these speakers, more so than with any others I've used. That natural volume also seems to be at least a bit lower than with other speakers, allowing home listening to sound extremely well balanced tonally even without "blasting" the music. In this respect the speakers mimic the live unamplified concert hall experience better than other speakers. Unamplified acoustic music in concert rarely exceeds the 80 – 90 dB range from audience seats, even in loud portions. With the Harbeths, you get full concert hall realism at similar volumes.

This of course also means that neither the speakers or amps need be stressed by high SPL in order for the reproduction to sound "right." But, if you want to play your music very loud, the speakers are capable of delivering the goods quite well indeed.

High SPL Capability: Part of this is the Ton Trager stands, but even with the Something Solid stands it was quite obvious to me that the M40.2 will play at considerably higher SPLs without compressing or distorting on rock or large-scale jazz, for example, than either the M40.1 or M40. The M40.1 had definite limits which even my Lyngdorf SDA-2400 with its 200 watts per channel could begin to hit, not to mention the Sanders Magtech Monos with their 1600 watts per channel. Earlier speakers in the M40 speakers were natural sounding speakers at respectably high volumes up to and including the mid-90 dB range on peaks, but if pushed would start to complain at SPLs I'd classify as very loud where peaks measure about 100 dB or so.

I'm sure a bigger room would show the M40.2's limitations, but in my small room the M40.2s just get louder to higher SPLs than I care to listen for more than a few moments. They do this without any apparent increase in distortion. This applies from low bass to highest highs. They can do this without taxing my $6,000/pair Benchmark amps which are capable of clean power north of 400 watts per channel into the M40.2 load but are by no means the highest-power amps available.

This may not be important at all to classical music listeners. But if your tastes are eclectic like mine or are more in the rock or big-band jazz veins, the M40.2 can be immensely satisfying on such material at very high SPLs, at least in a smallish room like mine.

The Sum of the Parts: As good as the parts are when analyzed, the Harbeth Monitor 40.2s sound even more impressively natural and real when considered as a whole without any attempt at sonic analysis. That whole package tends to disarm analysis since it just sounds so real, so beautiful. The speaker does not favor certain music over other types; all sound incredibly life-like.

If your musical tastes are as eclectic as mine you will have found a willing partner for your musical explorations. These are speakers just made for today's world of millions of tracks available for internet streaming on demand. Even if you don't regard yourself as having eclectic musical tastes, I can guarantee that the M40.2s will encourage you to make new musical discoveries while it also brings yet deeper appreciation of old musical friends.

Best friends for your journey, that's what these are.

Sure, if Alan Shaw designs a Monitor 40.3 someday before he retires, I will investigate his latest thinking. But if retirement means I can no longer afford new speakers of this cost, as I said at the beginning, with the Monitor 40.2 I can sail happily through my Golden Years. They have the sound of music as I've always dreamed it would sound at home.

IMG-6006.JPG IMG-6007.JPG IMG-6009.JPG IMG-6002.JPG IMG-6005.JPG
 

BruceD

VIP/Donor
Dec 13, 2013
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WoW! Nearfield personified ! Those stands look the goods alright--beautifully composed room --Kudos

Great writeup and consensus in spades from MOI!:D

BruceD
 

DaveyF

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Aug 1, 2010
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La Jolla, Calif USA
I think you should get the prize for the longest write up on the forum. I cannot believe that you squeezed( this really is the term) those very large speakers into your 11x13 room...did I read that right??
Having heard the 40.2’s on a coupe of occasions, I would think that they really need a MUCH bigger room....like 20x30 for instance. The smaller Harbeth’s...like the Super hl5’s would be a much better fit...I would have thought.
Even these would make me question the room size to speaker size....BUT if you like the SQ with the 40.2’s in that size room, that’s all that counts.
 

CGabriel

Industry Expert
Nov 1, 2013
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www.shunyata.com
I really appreciate your description of your system and informative details. I too have a set of Harbeth 40.2 speakers that I enjoy immensely. Isn’t it interesting that such a humble looking (conventional) speaker is capable of doing. No X or Q materials in the cabinet; no exotic diamond, beryllium or kryptonite tweeters; no $100K price tag. And yet these speakers are some of the most musically enjoyable that I have had the pleasure of experiencing.

BTW, my speaker stands were custom made by Core Audio from exotic Wenge wood to match the Tiger wood finish of the speakers. It sounds like your stands are similar in that they are made from a fine wood material. Congratulations and enjoy.
 
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leyenda

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Mar 3, 2011
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Great detailed report. I am taken by the speaker list, particularly the Orion and the Sanders. Did you set up both speakers in the same room? The Orion needs room to breathe in my experience. As for the Sanders I would have imagined it to be at least very very competitive to 40.1 in your current setting. What did you not like about it? Thanks.
 

tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
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Chicagoland
I cannot believe that you squeezed( this really is the term) those very large speakers into your 11x13 room...did I read that right??
Having heard the 40.2’s on a coupe of occasions, I would think that they really need a MUCH bigger room....like 20x30 for instance. The smaller Harbeth’s...like the Super hl5’s would be a much better fit...I would have thought.
Even these would make me question the room size to speaker size....BUT if you like the SQ with the 40.2’s in that size room, that’s all that counts.

In my opinion, it is incorrect to assume that "large" speakers won't "fit" into "small" rooms. I'm not sure what people even mean when they say that a large speaker "needs" a large room. Yes, my room is 11 feet by 13 feet, with an 8.5 foot ceiling height.

A large room may well give you more extended bass because the longest supported (i.e., resonant) bass mode goes lower in frequency as the largest room dimension gets longer. But we all know that even in as small a space as the interior of a car, full bass extension is possible because bass in such spaces operates in the pressure mode rather than the resonant mode. The same is true, of course, for headphone bass, even with open-backed units. And a larger listening room does not make the bass resonances any easier to deal with. They are still there, at least for rooms one usually encounters. It is only when the room gets to be church or concert-hall sized where we begin to get dimensions where bass no longer operates in resonant mode but fully supports all bass wavelengths because the room dimensions are much larger than even a 20 Hz wave (which is 55 feet long).

The primary bass problem in rooms is typically caused by the floor-to-ceiling resonance and occurs in the 60 to 80 Hz region. This will tend to be the same in most rooms because ceilings tend not to be proportionately of greater height as the length and width dimensions increase. If positioning the speaker optimally fails to sufficiently tame that resonance, you may need to use electronic equalization. Some set ups have more of a problem with this typical midbass resonance since the other room dimensions are close to whole-number multiples of the floor to ceiling distance and/or because of where the speakers and listener are positioned. And, of course, if the speaker is especially strong in the bass (as the original M40 was), more rooms will give you problems that need electronic EQ to solve. As I discussed, the M40.2's bass has been considerably tamed in the sense of now being much more listening room friendly than was the original M40 or even the M40.1.

The other problems room size creates can be overcome with the right speakers and the right set up. I listen in the near field, as described. This allows me to keep my ears at least five feet away from room and furniture surfaces (except for the floor, which is the same distance away from our ears in most any listening room). This distance minimizes early reflections of higher frequencies from the room surfaces, as does toeing in the speakers to point directly at my ears as I do. I use absorption and diffusion to further reduce reflections from the room surfaces.

Near-field listening puts a premium on inter-driver coherence. I discussed how the big Harbeths are so excellent at this. Thus, I hear a very coherent sound even four feet from the plane of the drivers and from past experience know that even the early M40 sounded more or less like a single driver from as close as 20 inches from the driver plane.

Basically, a small listening room helps you make the "right" decisions about speaker and listening positions. Near field listening, combined with toe-in and room acoustic treatment maximize the ratio of speaker-to-room sound, helping you to hear more of what is on the recording and less of what your listening room's acoustics are overlaying on the recorded sound. You tend to minimize the "second venue" effect, in other words. And the big Harbeths are unusual in that, while physically fairly large as speakers go, they have that superb inter-driver coherence compared to other speakers.

One of the prior speakers I had in this room was the Stirling LS3/6, which is similar in configuration to the Harbeth SLH5+. The Harbeth M40.2s sound no less "at home" in this small room than did those smaller speakers. The midbass emphasis was at least as great from the LS3/6 and the bottom octave was not as extended. And, as I discussed, the Stirlings do not have ideal inter-driver coherence for such a near-field set up which the Harbeths have. When used on stands which give the LS3/6 enough bass (i.e., not too high), you have to angle the LS3/6 back a bit to get your ears on the proper listening axis of the lower tweeter and then you look down a bit on the stage. The big Harbeths, as I said, are big/tall enough to allow a comfortable sitting height with the speakers vertical on relatively short 14.25" stands, which are great for bass response.

Larger rooms create more difficult problems in terms of "second venue" effects. Most listeners will tend to listen 8, 10, 12 or more feet back and thus will tend to hear much more room sound compared to the direct sound from the speakers. Sure, you can treat all the room surfaces, but few audiophiles do that since the cost of room treatment goes up with the square feet treated.

I think that most audiophiles think that large speakers are like wine--they need space to breathe. But I think that what such folks are really reacting to is the secondary venue effect--they like the way the listening room sound adds to the sound on the recording. That's fine, people are of course free to like this effect. But play something like a clap track and it will be immediately obvious from the audible echos after the transient clap just how much sound the listening room is overlaying on the recorded sound.
 

tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
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Chicagoland
Great detailed report. I am taken by the speaker list, particularly the Orion and the Sanders. Did you set up both speakers in the same room? The Orion needs room to breathe in my experience. As for the Sanders I would have imagined it to be at least very very competitive to 40.1 in your current setting. What did you not like about it? Thanks.
No, my ownership of the Orion and Sanders speakers predated my current home. My listening room in my prior home was a basement room of 20 feet, by 13 feet, with an 8-foot ceiling. I did have both the Sanders and Orion speakers in that prior room.

Dipoles (the Sanders are dipoles above the bass, and the Orion is a dipole in the mids and bass) need a lot of room behind them for best performance, in my experience. Seven feet or more is ideal. Thus, such dipole speakers would not work ideally in my current small room. Yes, you can use room absorption to cut down the back wave's high frequency bounce off room surfaces. But I found that the extremely narrow high frequency dispersion of the Sanders created an odd combination of a speaker which sounded too bright on axis and too dead even a few inches from the sweet spot. I played around a lot with the amount of room treatment in use, but that was my ultimate conclusion. In addition, the bass of the Sanders 10C model I had just was not strong enough in my room and when EQed to match the upper range output started to distort at levels below what I wanted. The 10E may well be a different animal in the bass and I have been impressed with the 10E at AXPONA.

As to the Orion, well, here is what I wrote on the REG forum back in 2014 which summed up my hindsight experience with them:

[FONT=&amp]The early Linkwitz [/FONT][FONT=&amp]Orion[/FONT][FONT=&amp] speakers I had suffered from flaws which quickly (even for me!) made them tiresome: a nasty sounding transition between midrange and tweeter; lack of inter-driver coherence in near-field listening; insufficient bass headroom before the amps and/or drivers distorted on bass transients on large-scale classical music--could only produce about 88 dB peaks in the bottom octave cleanly; a noisy electronic crossover--both hiss and hum from the speakers, as well as mechanical hum from the power supply transformer; a lack of midrange clarity due to doppler distortion caused by the torquing of the baffle by the offset woofer mounting--the baffle holding the midrange and tweeter would literally oscillate visibly back and forth over a range of about plus or minus 1/8 inch in response to strong bass from the woofers; and as a result of the baffle oscillation, the mounting screws holding the tweeter to the baffle needed constant tightening to prevent the rattling/buzzing which would frequently crop up.

On the issue of dipole speakers, my experience with the several I have owned can be summed up like this:

1. Dipole bass is great for yielding flatter response in a room with stiff surfaces (like my old room which was in the basement and basically had concrete behind the drywall for all four walls plus a concrete floor under the carpet) because dipoles activate the bass modes of such a stiff room to a lesser extent, leading to smoother bass (less peaks and dips) before electronic equalization than seems possible with most box-bass speakers.

2. Despite flat bass response right on down to 20 Hz and lots of driver area and excursion capability (as in my Gradient Revolution Active system with the SW-T added subs--eight 12-inch woofer per side in all), dipole bass tends to lack punch or impact compared to box speaker bass.

3. Dipole bass speakers and in fact dipole speakers in general need to be placed according to the rule of thirds so that the speakers and listening position are at the 1/3 and 2/3 positions of the room length. This stems not only from the way dipole bass works with room bass modes, but also from the way the dipole back wave reflects off the wall behind the speakers and how the front wave reflects off the wall behind the listener. Those reflections should arrive at the listening position at the same time. Linkwitz covers that on his website.

4. Very narrow dispersion dipole midrange/high frequency radiators like the flat-panel Sanders 10C are ultimately fatiguing if the imaging possibilities are maximized by damping the room surfaces enough to eliminate the laser-like richochets of the panel sound off room surfaces. With the room treated with lots of absorption, the speakers sound way too dead even a few inches away from the sweet spot, which is disconcerting even for a sweet-spot listener like me. Reduce the room treatment, however, and you get too much echo from all the reflections.

5. At least seven feet from speakers and listener to the walls behind them would be necessary to adequately tame the problem noted in 4. Thus, dipoles don't work well in rooms whose length is less than 21 feet or so, but can work quite well in larger rooms. The trick is to make the wall reflections arrive at the listening position late enough so that they sound like pleasing added ambiance rather than annoying early reflections. But purists will always hear these reflections as spurious second venue effects: you are hearing the contributions of your listening room's "ambiance," not the recorded ambiance. This is clear when you play short transients like a clap track. Dipole speakers, no matter how far away from the walls they are will add an echo to the sharp transient. They will never sound like the clap track sounds via headphones; on headphones there are no audible echos at all since none are recorded. The best purists can do is add room damping at the room's reflection points, but the more of this you add the less "pleasing ambiance" you will hear.

6. Curved baffle dipoles (like the Martin Logans or Sound Lab), don't have such laser-like reflections since the curved panel spreads out the radiation pattern, but neither do they image nearly as well as flat panel dipoles can since the curved panel means that all the speaker's sound is never arriving at the listening position at the same time--the curved panel creates various distances from radiator to ears.

7. What could well work in a small room, dipole-wise, is something like the old KLH Model Nine where the tweeter is very small and not a line source compared to the rest of the panel. The rest of the panel may operate as a shield or wall shielding the listening position from tweeter reflections off the wall behind the speaker. The overall panel is large enough, in other words, to run interference for the tweeter sound.

8. Despite limited dispersion in the horizontal and vertical directions, because of 4. and 5. above, dipole drivers for mids and highs tend to need greater amounts of room treatment to absorb and/or disperse the back wave of the mids and highs. This is especially so when the panels are toed in, since when toed in, the side walls behind the speakers also become reflectors of the mid/treble beams.


[/FONT]
 
Last edited:

DaveyF

Well-Known Member
Aug 1, 2010
6,134
145
523
La Jolla, Calif USA
In my opinion, it is incorrect to assume that "large" speakers won't "fit" into "small" rooms. I'm not sure what people even mean when they say that a large speaker "needs" a large room. Yes, my room is 11 feet by 13 feet, with an 8.5 foot ceiling height.

A large room may well give you more extended bass because the longest supported (i.e., resonant) bass mode goes lower in frequency as the largest room dimension gets longer. But we all know that even in as small a space as the interior of a car, full bass extension is possible because bass in such spaces operates in the pressure mode rather than the resonant mode. The same is true, of course, for headphone bass, even with open-backed units. And a larger listening room does not make the bass resonances any easier to deal with. They are still there, at least for rooms one usually encounters. It is only when the room gets to be church or concert-hall sized where we begin to get dimensions where bass no longer operates in resonant mode but fully supports all bass wavelengths because the room dimensions are much larger than even a 20 Hz wave (which is 55 feet long).

The primary bass problem in rooms is typically caused by the floor-to-ceiling resonance and occurs in the 60 to 80 Hz region. This will tend to be the same in most rooms because ceilings tend not to be proportionately of greater height as the length and width dimensions increase. If positioning the speaker optimally fails to sufficiently tame that resonance, you may need to use electronic equalization. Some set ups have more of a problem with this typical midbass resonance since the other room dimensions are close to whole-number multiples of the floor to ceiling distance and/or because of where the speakers and listener are positioned. And, of course, if the speaker is especially strong in the bass (as the original M40 was), more rooms will give you problems that need electronic EQ to solve. As I discussed, the M40.2's bass has been considerably tamed in the sense of now being much more listening room friendly than was the original M40 or even the M40.1.

The other problems room size creates can be overcome with the right speakers and the right set up. I listen in the near field, as described. This allows me to keep my ears at least five feet away from room and furniture surfaces (except for the floor, which is the same distance away from our ears in most any listening room). This distance minimizes early reflections of higher frequencies from the room surfaces, as does toeing in the speakers to point directly at my ears as I do. I use absorption and diffusion to further reduce reflections from the room surfaces.

Near-field listening puts a premium on inter-driver coherence. I discussed how the big Harbeths are so excellent at this. Thus, I hear a very coherent sound even four feet from the plane of the drivers and from past experience know that even the early M40 sounded more or less like a single driver from as close as 20 inches from the driver plane.

Basically, a small listening room helps you make the "right" decisions about speaker and listening positions. Near field listening, combined with toe-in and room acoustic treatment maximize the ratio of speaker-to-room sound, helping you to hear more of what is on the recording and less of what your listening room's acoustics are overlaying on the recorded sound. You tend to minimize the "second venue" effect, in other words. And the big Harbeths are unusual in that, while physically fairly large as speakers go, they have that superb inter-driver coherence compared to other speakers.

One of the prior speakers I had in this room was the Stirling LS3/6, which is similar in configuration to the Harbeth SLH5+. The Harbeth M40.2s sound no less "at home" in this small room than did those smaller speakers. The midbass emphasis was at least as great from the LS3/6 and the bottom octave was not as extended. And, as I discussed, the Stirlings do not have ideal inter-driver coherence for such a near-field set up which the Harbeths have. When used on stands which give the LS3/6 enough bass (i.e., not too high), you have to angle the LS3/6 back a bit to get your ears on the proper listening axis of the lower tweeter and then you look down a bit on the stage. The big Harbeths, as I said, are big/tall enough to allow a comfortable sitting height with the speakers vertical on relatively short 14.25" stands, which are great for bass response.

Larger rooms create more difficult problems in terms of "second venue" effects. Most listeners will tend to listen 8, 10, 12 or more feet back and thus will tend to hear much more room sound compared to the direct sound from the speakers. Sure, you can treat all the room surfaces, but few audiophiles do that since the cost of room treatment goes up with the square feet treated.

I think that most audiophiles think that large speakers are like wine--they need space to breathe. But I think that what such folks are really reacting to is the secondary venue effect--they like the way the listening room sound adds to the sound on the recording. That's fine, people are of course free to like this effect. But play something like a clap track and it will be immediately obvious from the audible echos after the transient clap just how much sound the listening room is overlaying on the recorded sound.

All good points, and I generally agree with you.
I too listen in a very small room and in the near field.

However,I do believe, having heard the 40.2's and the 40.1's that they are simply too big a speaker for this space. Not in the sense that they will not be pleasing to the listener in such a room, but in the sense that they are being totally underutilized in such a set up and room. Like i said before, if they are working for you, then that is great, and all that matters for you.
My opinion, and that is all that it is, is that to shoe horn a large speaker into a small space is not doing anything except asking for trouble. There are even some manufacturer's who strongly recommend against doing this with some of their larger products. I believe that Genesis, as an example with their Dragon speakers, might not even sell you the product if it is going to be placed in too small a space.
 

tmallin

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My opinion, and that is all that it is, is that to shoe horn a large speaker into a small space is not doing anything except asking for trouble. There are even some manufacturer's who strongly recommend against doing this with some of their larger products. I believe that Genesis, as an example with their Dragon speakers, might not even sell you the product if it is going to be placed in too small a space.

Let's please not make absurd comparisons. The Genesis Dragon looks to be roughly the same size as the old Infinity IRS/Genesis 1. Even just the midrange/tweeter enclosures of those speakers are at least 41" wide and 96" tall (the dimensions of the Genesis Prime) with large numbers of drivers having considerable horizontal spread and a long vertical line source. There is no way that such a speaker would be coherent from four feet away. And of course their sheer bulk would be next to impossible to put in a room the dimensions of mine. You would have to sit at least 12 feet back from such an array to even hope to get any semblance of inter-driver coherence.

The Harbeths, while fairly big boxes, have but three drivers all vertically lined up in relatively close proximity. The box is about 29" H x 15" D x 17" W--larger than a bookshelf speaker but only taking up an extra five inches each in width compared to an SLH5+, for example. I KNOW they sound like a single driver from close up since I've owned and used the 40, 40.1, and now 40.2 for about 17 years straight from near-field listening positions.
 

dan31

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Nice evaluation between the three versions of the M40. I am happy you have found the new M40.2 a nice update. I will soldier on with my M40.1. The Harbeth M40’s a a wonderful nearfield speaker. I sit a similar distance to my speakers.
 
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DaveyF

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Let's please not make absurd comparisons. The Genesis Dragon looks to be roughly the same size as the old Infinity IRS/Genesis 1. Even just the midrange/tweeter enclosures of those speakers are at least 41" wide and 96" tall (the dimensions of the Genesis Prime) with large numbers of drivers having considerable horizontal spread and a long vertical line source. There is no way that such a speaker would be coherent from four feet away. And of course their sheer bulk would be next to impossible to put in a room the dimensions of mine. You would have to sit at least 12 feet back from such an array to even hope to get any semblance of inter-driver coherence.

The Harbeths, while fairly big boxes, have but three drivers all vertically lined up in relatively close proximity. The box is about 29" H x 15" D x 17" W--larger than a bookshelf speaker but only taking up an extra five inches each in width compared to an SLH5+, for example. I KNOW they sound like a single driver from close up since I've owned and used the 40, 40.1, and now 40.2 for about 17 years straight from near-field listening positions.

Not really that absurd a comparison...IMO it doesn’t make that much difference as to how large the speaker system is, because too large is simply that...too large. IMO, having heard the 40 series on several occasions, I think they are far better suited to a large room, not that they may not work ok in a small room...in a near field scenario; but that they will work a heck of a lot better if the room is more appropriate. I guess YMMV.
 

JackD201

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I believe that this is a case where what looks like a large speaker actually works very well in a near field situation.

Let's look at the driver configuration. 1" and 8" woofers are standard fare for monitoring duties. At the same distance Tom is at and nearer, imaging and coherence have never really been a problem. Specs show a +/- 3 dB rating at 35Hz. Very conservatively we could guess flat to the low 40s to high 30s so the 11" woofer is not being run too low. The box size would definitely be a giveaway since while large looking the volume really isn't what one would find with an 11" tuned to go into the twenties. It would have been maybe twice as deep.

The curveball is the wide baffle. While we have been told that wide baffles are "bad", in truth they are just different and success depends on how they are deployed. This deployment being the effective use of the inherent dispersion. In the near and far/mid field wide baffles pose little issue, it is in the midfield where somehow diffraction can be problematic. Granted that narrow baffles do not have a problem in the near field it would be imprudent to dismiss a wide baffle cab as a general rule. In other words there are windows where speakers such as these thrive, the very tight and the very open. It is no coincidence that these types were used both ways by the BBC. They just work.

Congratulations Tom. May you have many years of enjoyment with you new babies!
 

tmallin

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The curveball is the wide baffle. While we have been told that wide baffles are "bad", in truth they are just different and success depends on how they are deployed. This deployment being the effective use of the inherent dispersion. In the near and far/mid field wide baffles pose little issue, it is in the midfield where somehow diffraction can be problematic. Granted that narrow baffles do not have a problem in the near field it would be imprudent to dismiss a wide baffle cab as a general rule. In other words there are windows where speakers such as these thrive, the very tight and the very open. It is no coincidence that these types were used both ways by the BBC. They just work.
[/QUOTE

For a discussion of why wide baffles are sonically helpful, see pages 16 - 19 of Robert E. Greene's discussion, "Audio in Modern Times: The Triumph of Rationality." The part of most interest is the part subtitled "The Myth of Wide Dispersion and What Actually Makes Speakers Work in Rooms." The entire article, however, is very good stuff for those who are as yet unfamiliar with REG's thinking on audio reproduction.
 

tmallin

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Here are two more pictures of my current listening room showing the missing view of the other rear side of the room, plus the view of the ceiling. I could only attach five photos to my original post.

The ceiling photo is looking up at the ceiling from behind my listening seat. It shows two 2-foot by 2-foot sections of 4"-thick Sonex balanced atop the fan blades. These pieces of Sonex were placed so as to absorb the ceiling reflection of the speakers as seen from the listening position.

I obviously can't use the fan like this. I had every intention of permanently attaching the Sonex to the ceiling, but this arrangement worked so well sonically, and stapling that Sonex to the ceiling while holding it above my head and avoiding the fan blades seems like such a daunting task, that for now I've decided to leave it just like it is and forego use of the fan. The several inches between the back side of the Sonex and the ceiling surface may actually make the Sonex more effective in terms of absorption at lower frequencies.

IMG-6010.JPG
 

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jeffrey_t

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Several CES' ago I listened to the 40.1 in the near field and was very impressed. There was such an easy and musicality to the presentation of Neil Young's Live at Massey Hall, I'll never forget it.

Congrats on your set up, it looks like you have a serious approach to room optimization and minimizing reflections.
 
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tmallin

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The Original Monitor 40 Review by Robert E. Greene (REG) for The Absolute Sound

"Public" online versions of this 1999 print review from The Absolute Sound #116 February/March issue have always been difficult to locate. Perhaps someone with better Web research skills than I have can locate one, but so far I've been unsuccessful. I suspect that at this point uncovering one will require use of the Internet Archive's WayBackMachine but even there I have yet to be successful.

The only online copy of that review I've been able to locate probably requires being signed in as a member of the REG's Audio Forum which is part of Yahoo Forums. The link to that copy is here.


That's the review which started my two-year quest to find a dealer in the United States which actually displayed and demonstrated the Harbeth Monitor 40. As you can tell from my review of the M40.2, that quest was worth it for me.

I encourage all here to join REG's Audio Forum. You will find information there--good solid information--not available anywhere else, much of it from REG himself, things which he has not published anywhere else. He has the best ears in the high-end audio reviewing business and tells it like he hears it and that often--even usually--means like I also hear it. He is especially open and candid about his personal views in his forum posts. Many other thoughtful members of REG's forum, including me, regularly participate in the discussion.

REG's REG on Audio site is also a great repository of his more formal audio writings. However it omits (presumably for copyright and other reasons) many of REG's TAS equipment reviews over the years, including his Monitor 40 review.

 
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tmallin

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In my initial post in this thread, I said about setting up the M40.2s:

[FONT=&quot]On the Ton Trager or Something Solid stands, the tweeter center ends up about 40.25" above the floor (the tweeter is 26" above the bottom of the M40.2 cabinet). My velour-upholstered Drexel listening chair gives me a nominal very comfortable ear height of about 38.25". That puts my ears about 2" below the tweeter center. While Harbeth has long specified tweeter height as the proper listening axis, from the M40 on I've noted that 2" below the tweeter axis has always sounded best to me, especially for near-field listening. This puts the stage up a bit higher and provides significantly better height illusion, thus providing a superior sense of envelopment in the vertical dimension, as well as seeming to be the position where the tonal balance is most natural.[/FONT]

While I still find this listening height quite satisfying, with the M40.2s I've been experimenting with listening right on the tweeter axis, about two inches higher. I add a small auxiliary throw pillow to the seat of my listening chair to gain the extra listening height.

For the first time in my 17 years of listening to the M40 series I can say that I now agree that the manufacturer's recommended listening height is a legitimate contender for the best listening height position. With the M40.2s, yes, this still does slightly reduce the height illusion and the stage still does move down a tad. But the feeling of envelopment remains about as strong as ever, the depth of field expands just a bit as forward images move a bit further forward and images in the back stay as far back or maybe even move a bit further back, imaging placement is perhaps a bit more definite yet, the presence range is brought a little further forward yet, and the sense of inter-driver coherence (sounding as if there is only one driver, not three) is as strong as ever.

Despite the further enhanced presence range, there still is no grating or excess forwardness. From my near-field listening position, the decreased height illusion is not too important since the images are still plenty tall for my tastes. And while the apparent stage does move down a tad, it is not as if I'm looking "down" on the stage, just more straight ahead rather than a tiny bit "up."

With the original M40 and M40.1, moving the listening position right up to the tweeter axis tended to flatten the stage a bit, call a bit of attention to the tweeter, decrease envelopment, and decrease the height illusion quite a bit more. Two inches below the tweeter was clearly a better spot to my ears. With the M40.2, however, Harbeth's recommended height of even with the tweeter is, I must now conclude, completely legitimate.
 

tmallin

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Chair Height Adjustments and the Listening Chair Itself

You may be asking yourself whether an inch or two in listening height can really make an appreciable difference in the quality of the stereo presentation. I can assure you that it does, at least in the near-field listening arrangements I've used for decades.

Near-field set ups are very sensitive to listening height, as well as other positioning aspects of your set up. Importance of precision is magnified when you were listening from close up. I believe this is because the closer you are to the speakers, (1) the more angular difference with respect to the speakers drivers a small change in position at the listening position makes and (2) the greater phase and volume differences a small change in position with respect to the two drivers makes. Small positional changes thus affect both the frequency response and timing of the sound reaching your ears more when you listen close to the speakers than from the more typical eight or more feet away.

Lest you doubt, just move in very close, to a foot or less from the front baffle of one of your multi-driver speakers. Now move your head slowly with respect to the baffle, up and down and side to side and listen to how much the apparent frequency response changes as you move from having your ears in front of the tweeter to in front of the woofer, off to the side, etc.

These effects don't totally disappear as you move away from the speakers, they just greatly lessen, probably approximately in proportion to the square of the distance. Back at eight feet or more they thus are relatively minor for movements of a couple of inches in any direction, even as to left/right balance. But move to the "near field," where I am, about four feet from the plane of the speaker baffles, and an inch or two in any direction is audibly quite significant. That is why I've gone to relatively extreme measures in terms of measuring the position of both the speakers and the listening position to make sure that my ears are as close to equidistant from the two speakers as I can get them, to make sure the speakers are vertical, that they are toed in equally, and to make sure that I adjust the listening height to exactly what sounds best to me.

As mentioned above, I was using an additional throw pillow atop the seat cushion to raise my ears a bit more toward the on-axis position of the tweeters. But as time goes on, the pillow stuffing compresses more and more, leading to a lower seating height. This is because the stuffing in the throw pillow is not resilient foam like is used in furniture cushions.

First, a bit of discussion about the nature of a comfortable listening position. For me, this means a seated position which I can maintain without stress on any part of my body or mind for half an hour or more while still keeping my head erect, rather than with my head tilted back. I know that a lot of furniture, with high seating backs and angled-back seat backs encourage a reclining seating posture. But I figured out long ago that for best perception of stereo imaging and staging, my head must be straight up and down with respect to gravity. Try it and see if you don't agree; try listening to the spatial aspects of a presentation with an erect head position and then either lean forward or, worse yet, lean backward. If you perceive things the way I do, you will find that your perception of imaging and three-dimensional staging is vastly inferior as your head position departs from vertical.

In addition to a vertical head position, for best spatial perception from stereo playback, your head should not be close to any object behind it, including the seat back. That is why I arrange things so that the wall behind the listening position is at least five feet behind my head even in my small room. Five feet translates to roughly a 10 millisecond gap between direct sound and the reflected sound off the wall behind my head. Ten milliseconds is regarded as the minimum time for the ear/brain to cease trying to fuse the "early" reflected sound with the direct sound. Thus, with a five foot/ten millisecond gap between your listening position and the reflection, while you may hear the reflection, it won't smear and brightly distort the direct sound the way earlier reflections will tend to do.

This is why high-backed chairs/sofas are bad for stereo listening. Even if the fabric is softly upholstered, the very nearness of the seat back to your ears will distort your ability to hear the recorded space, as well as mess with the perceived frequency response.

Now it most definitely is true that having any back at all on the chair you are sitting in lessens your ability to perceive the recorded and reproduced space. A backless stool is definitely best—at least for a short while. But I personally cannot be comfortable sitting erect in a backless chair or stool for more than a couple of minutes at a crack. The lack of physical comfort then for me becomes more of an interference with sonic perception and musical enjoyment than the presence of enough of a chair back to give me adequate back support for physical comfort. Thus I compromise on a chair with a back which supports my shoulder blades, but not my neck or head.

With that said, my Drexel velour upholstered listening chair has such a low back and a comfortable “stock“ erect listening position of about 37 inches above the rug. To raise the listening position to about 38.25 inches, I placed a old Target TT equipment rack shelf beneath the seat cushion pushed against the seat back. That shelf is 18 x 14“ by 1/2 inch thick. The addition of this shelf adds more than its 1/2 inch thickness to the listening height since the distribution of my weight over the area of the shelf compresses the spring in the chair bottom far less than when I’m actually sitting in the unmodified chair.

I only kept one such Target shelf when I got rid of the old Target equipment rack. What to use as a substitute for additional Target shelves? I discovered that there are some kitchen cutting boards about the right size and thickness available through Amazon. I ordered three such 3/4-inch-thick solid bamboo cutting boards for $10 each and I experimented with those underneath the seat cushion in addition to the Target shelf.

It only took about an hour of experimentation to determine that using more than one of these additional boards underneath the seat cushion raised my ears too much for my listening tastes. With more than one of the cutting boards added in addition to the Target shelf under the seat cushion, the perceived position of the stage moved down too much for my taste. In addition, the tonal balance shifted a bit away from ideal warmth toward a thinner sound (not brighter, just less midbass and lower midrange).

Thus, right now, I am using one of the cutting boards plus the Target shelf beneath the seat cushion. If you need a thinner board to get to just that just-right spot (even 1/4 inch can make a clearly audible difference in my set up, I've discovered) you could use the slightly thinner HDPE Poly cutting board which I have also experimented with. It is only 7/16-inch thick.

In the old days, when I was using the M40 and then M40.1 speakers in a much more problematic basement concrete bunker room of my former house, I tried everything I could to lessen the midbass excess those speakers produced in that room. This included using much taller speaker stands than my current 14-inch-high TonTrager stands. I used stands up to 24" high.

When I was using taller stands with my M40-series speakers, I used a pneumatic lift office chair, the Steelcase Leap chair, to adjust my listening position vertically. I discovered that such chairs, at maximum height extension, put my ears at about 49+ inches above the carpet, which is just about right for the M40-series speakers on 24-inch-high stands.

For lower stands, I would adjust the pneumatic lift of the chair until the sound was "right," and then measure the amount of exposed support tube underneath the chair seat. I then recorded this measurement. If I made further adjustments in the seat height, I could always easily come back to that recorded measured chair height.

Such an office chair also made adjusting the chair position with respect to the room walls very easy. The center of the vertical pillar supporting the chair has a small recessed dimple in the middle of the bottom of the pillar, which dimple is only a fraction of an inch above the carpet. I would first measure the room width and then place masking tape along the centerline of the room. I then moved the listening chair back and forth along that centerline tape until I found the "right" position in terms of distance from the speakers. Once I found this position, I removed the tape and placed a small aluminum Mod Squad Tiptoe underneath the center of the chair's vertical pillar with the point of the Tiptoe pointing up and placed into the small dimple in the bottom of the chair's center pillar. This marked the exact spot for the chair. I then taped the Tiptoe to the carpet with masking tape. That way, if the chair was moved for any reason, I could easily relocate the chair to the exact previously determined position.

Unfortunately, such pneumatic lift chairs, while also very comfortable, are not compatible with listening heights below about 44 inches. I have not located any such chairs which can position my ears at 40 inches or lower. I have also explored both musical and medical stools which are adjustable through rotation, but none of those stools can be adjusted low enough to get my ears down to 40 inches or less. Thus the need for the ordinary comfortable Drexel chair that I use for lower speakers.

This “ordinary” Drexel chair really isn’t that ordinary at all. In fact, it is very difficult to find chairs which will comfortably support me so that my ears are at the 36 inches or a lower position required for many floorstanding and stand-mounted speakers. The Gradient 1.3, 1.5, and Revolution speakers which I owned for several years, for example, required a listening height of about 33 inches for best presentation in the near field. The Drexel chair, without the seat cushion, is one of the only chairs I’ve found which can get my ears that low.

The M40-series speakers mounted on 14 inch stands like a TonTrager stands I currently use, place the tweeter centers of my M40.2 speakers at just over 40" above the carpet. Forty inches is really a kind of “no man’s land“ in terms of listening height for the chairs I have available. Few chairs will get my ears down below 42 or so inches above the floor, while this lower Drexel chair has trouble getting my ears up to 40 inches without the assistance of the auxiliary shelves beneath the seat cushion.

There is hope for a "stock" solution, however. In the downstairs room where I used to use the M40.1s, I have another very comfortable Penny Mustard barrel chair which naturally produces just about the required 39 – 40 inch listening height, but it is part of a set in that room and is a swivel chair. Ideally, I'd like a chair which does not swivel. Eventually I may custom order such a chair without the swivel function.
 
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tmallin

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More Chair Height Adjustments

In my last post I said:

[FONT=&quot]Thus, right now, I am using one of the [3/4"-thick bamboo] cutting boards plus the Target shelf beneath the seat cushion. If you need a thinner board to get to just that just-right spot (even 1/4 inch can make a clearly audible difference in my set up, I've discovered) you could use the slightly thinner [/FONT]HDPE Poly cutting board[FONT=&quot] which I have also experimented with. It is only 7/16-inch thick.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
[/FONT]
After much further experimentation, I've determined that my original chair height adjustment made with just the single Target shelf placed under my seat cushion was just a bit too low, while the listening height created by adding the 3/4" bamboo cutting board was just a bit too high. As I said, 1/4" makes an audible difference in my near field set up of the Harbeth M40.2 speakers.

The ideal height seems to be to use that shelf and add a single 7/16"-thick HDPE Poly cutting board to the Target shelf's 1/2" thickness. To prevent slippage of the two boards with respect to each other, I've taped them together with clear packaging tape. As best I can measure, this final listening height adjustment still puts my ears an inch or more below the tweeter centers.

Listening from any bit-higher position starts to lean out the frequency response and shift the image down just a bit. At this final arrangement, the frequency balance is just as I like it, images are maximally focused, stage depth and overall three-dimensionality are maximized, the stage position is straight ahead, and vocals and instruments are maximally clear, subjectively lowest in distortion, and tonally "right." There's nothing like listening to recorded or live-broadcast massed voices to dial in system set up.
 

tmallin

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Capsule Review of the Harbeth Monitor 40.2

Alan Shaw of Harbeth was understandably thrilled with my review of the M40.2 in this thread. Harbeth asked me to write a four-paragraph capsule review for their monthly Harbeth Newsletter. I agreed, on condition that the Newsletter capsule review link to the full Tom's Corner review. Harbeth agreed. That capsule review was published in the "In your words" section of Harbeth Newsletter #99, published in June 2018. Since that Newsletter may not be readily available to all on the Web, I'm reprinting my unedited (by Harbeth) version of the capsule review here. For those of you who found my longest-ever post which starts this thread a bit much to digest, here is the Cliff's Notes version. Enjoy!

*******

The Harbeth Monitor 40.2: End-Game Speakers

by Tom Mallin

I first learned of Harbeth back in the late 1990s when the line's virtues were being trumpeted almost single-handedly in North America by Dr. Robert E. Greene (REG) writing in The Absolute Sound. I had long admired REG's equipment reviews, increasingly finding his assessments of loudspeaker virtues and vices well-aligned with my own. I took notice when REG in conclusion called the C7 "quite extraordinarily good at sounding like music." I took extreme interest when he said that the M40's "nearly ideal tonal character . . . superb midrange articulation, and the exquisite high frequencies carry all before them, and make this speaker hypnotic, addictive, irresistible." I was hooked when in conclusion he noted that a visiting listener said of the M40s' sound, "It sounds real, but it is almost more beautiful."

And that beauty, my friends, is what made me purchase the original Monitor 40s once I got to hear them, then the M40.1s, and now the M40.2s. In the 17 years since I acquired the original M40s, many other speakers have come and gone at my house, but I keep coming back to the big Harbeths because they, and only they, seem to have the sound of real, live unamplified music and have it in abundance. Especially in the midband, Harbeths are superbly natural and real sounding. It is this part of the Harbeth sound which has been most important in repeatedly drawing me back to the M40 series year after year. If you know the sound of real acoustic instruments and voices in a favorable space, the Harbeth speakers, the M40 series in particular—and especially the M40.2—nails that sound as no other speakers I've heard do. The impression on much material—not just a few audiophile specials—is overwhelmingly of the sound of actual players in front of you.

From the start, my M40 set ups have been near field and try to minimize the sonic contribution of my listening room and maximize the direct sound from the speakers. When the direct sound is this coherent and ravishingly real, I believe that second-venue listening room effects should be relegated to the background as much as possible. My current listening room, a converted bedroom, is quite small at about 11 feet wide, 13 feet long, and 8.5 feet high. The M40.2 speakers with their grilles in place are set on TonTrager stands and toed in to point directly at my ears. My ears are nearly on the vertical axis with the tweeters, with my ears and the drivers forming an equilateral triangle with sides about 55 inches long. I use a combination of diffusers and absorbers at the first reflection areas of the speakers on the room surfaces as viewed from the listening position. The Rule of Thirds 29% Version set up I use keeps the speakers at different distances from the side and back walls, maintains an equilateral triangle set up, and keeps both the speakers and the listening position as far from the walls as practical, given the small room, so as to avoid the earliest reflections. With this arrangement, bass modes are less measurable and audible than with other arrangements I've tried and the spatial presentation and sense of envelopment is the best I've heard in this room.

Sonically, my M40.2s in this arrangement are, for me, at least, end-game speakers. They have the sound of music as I've always dreamed it would sound at home, far and away the best yet of the M40 series. There is total coherence among the drivers from very close up—even much closer than my near-field set up; the speakers disappear from the sonic field and give no clue of their multiple-driver nature. Bass has enough bottom octave extension to satisfy without any subwoofer support. The midbass and lower mids are full but not bloated. The lower ranges—together with low distortion, great dynamic contrasts, and generous depth and vertical height illusions—all contribute to reproduction which sounds naturally weighty and authoritative. The justly vaunted Harbeth magical midrange now extends lower and up through the presence range and this extended magical range is, if anything, yet further enhanced in quality from its M40-series predecessors. There is increased presence, but this increased presence does not grate at all and does not in any way reduce the wonderful depth perspective which the M40 series has had from the start. The top octaves are truly exemplary—extended and airy, yet in perfect balance with the rest of the range and with perfect blending of the midrange and treble drivers. The speakers will play quite loudly without increased distortion and yet have tremendous real clarity at even whisper levels, a clarity which, together with the full lower ranges, allows for home reproduction with naturally balanced sound at the lower-than-expected measured SPLs we actually experience in a concert hall. As good as these parts are when analyzed, the Harbeth Monitor 40.2s sound even more impressively natural and real when considered as a whole without any attempt at sonic analysis. The whole package tends to disarm analysis since it just sounds so real, so beautiful.

For Tom's full review of the Harbeth M40.2s, click here.
 

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