Life after ATC, Harbeth 30.1 three months on

Posted by: Halloween Man on 29 December 2018

Let me start by saying that ATC SCM40 are the best speakers I've listened to and only moved on due to speaker/room mismatch (speakers offered too much bass energy for room).

Had time to really acclimatise to the Harbeth's now. They have changed very little if at all since the first week of first listening. I'm in love with these speakers as much as I was with the ATCs and have no regrets whatsoever in downsizing. The 30.1s are a perfect match for my room offering a balanced bass response. I just about prefer the mids of the Harbeth's due to the clarity and realism they provide, particularly on vocals. Expression and emotion really shine through. The Harbeth's are very easy to listen to and are very musical, they don't get in the way of the music or emphasise anything. The top end of the Harbeth's is perhaps just a tad more recessed than ATC but the differences are marginal. Overall from top to mid both ATC SCM40 and Harbeth are surprisingly similar but for my taste the Habeth's edge it very slightly.

Where the speakers differ most is in the bass. The ATCs simply better, more accurate, a bass guitar sounds more like a bass guitar, and better controlled. For a ported design, the Harbeth doesn't have poor bass, it's good, just that when you have come from ATC you know what you are missing. For me mid quality trumps bass quality as that's where most of the music is at.

I really love these Harbeth's and would recommend anyone with a modest room to give them a try. I preferred them to ATC SCM19 which I found lacking bottom end and a little unforgiving at times. It's absolute rubbish when you hear dealers say Harbeth are only good for classical. Utter nonsense. I listen to all genres of music and they play everything well. My room is 4m x 4.2m and have found they need at least 40cm behind them and at least 80cm to the side. If not then the bass gets very slow and bloated.

Posted on: 29 December 2018 by ROOG

'H-M' I can understand your comments about the SCM 40's, they are a little bass heavy in my room too which is 6 x 3.5m. I love the speed of the bass, plus that mid range unit but it would be nice to tame the bass emphasis just a little.

I have found that by changing my seating position I can dial out the bass issue altogether, (REW was helpful in informing this move) and I can select levels of bass in between, funny thing is as my listening sessions progress I find myself moving back  'into the bass zone' :0)

I love the classic look of the Harbeth range, I have only ever heard them at shows where just as with most manufacturers they don't sound at their best. I must satisfy my curiosity one day and get a proper audition. I am pleased that you have found a happy solution to your copious bass issue.

Posted on: 29 December 2018 by ryder.

The Harbeth M30.1 replacing ATC SCM40 and sounding better than the SCM19. Interesting. The interaction between the room and loudspeakers is certainly crucial, an element that can either make or break the system. It is good to hear the M30.1 has worked out well for you.

 I agree most that have been mentioned. The midrange is most important and for this reason the Harbeth does a good job here. It is surprising though that you find the treble and midrange of the ATC to be rather similar to the Harbeth. Perhaps the size of the room has somewhat toned down or altered the response of the ATC. In my limited experience having listened to the ATC SCM40 mk1 at an audio show many years ago, the treble and mids of the ATC are significantly more forward with an overall leaner presentation when compared to the Harbeth.

You can actually place the M30.1 closer to the side walls but you need to push the speakers further out into the room. It is a tricky exercise to get the balance right when placing the speakers relative to the front and side walls as all rooms are different. My SHL5 Plus always have a minimum of 70 cm clear space behind them, and they currently have 56 to 60 cm (toed-in) to the side walls. I appreciate the fact that more space from the side walls would be beneficial for the speakers but that is a compromise I would have to live with as the width of my room is 3.2m.



Posted on: 29 December 2018 by ryder.

By the way, the bass of the SHL5 Plus goes deeper than the M30.1 with added  punch and presence. Basically you will hear a fuller bottom end with the SHL5 Plus but the bass of the M30.1 will be sufficient in small to medium sized rooms as you have found.

Posted on: 29 December 2018 by Cdb

HM - I think your enthusiasm for the Harbeths is well founded and your description very much matches my experience with them. Unfortunately I had the opposite problem to you. When I moved house I couldnít accommodate the Harbeths - there was no position in the room to place them. I had to change to SBLs then SL2s in order to have speakers that would go right against the wall. The SL2s are excellent but I suspect the mid range doesnít quite have that Harbeth expressiveness.

Posted on: 30 December 2018 by Simon-in-Suffolk

To me this just demonstrates the power and importance of auditioning... life after Harbeth for me was ATC..(11,12 and 19) I found ATC more truthful, less coloured, and importantly more tuneful bass.. Obviously I did like Harbeth speakers though, especially the lower mids.. seemed to really add a rich flavour to crooners like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin...or even poorly recorded orchestral work,  but to me feed them something more demanding and it just sounded like rich Hi-Fi, and the bass often became heavy and indistinct, as if there were poor cabinet resonances somewhere, as well as the life being sucked out of the transient dynamics.. it just didnít work for me in the end, to the point I found it irritating and off putting .. and ended it up having to sell them.

Posted on: 30 December 2018 by Halloween Man

Roog, I'm surprised you are finding the 40s bass heavy in a room that size, just goes to show how much bass energy that driver can generate. Are you firing down the long or short length of the room? At least you can adjust positioning to your taste. I didn't really have much room to manoeuvre so the speakers had to go unfortunately. Lovely speakers though.

CDB, never listened to SL2s so can't comment. I do find it surprising though that there are not more speakers designed for close wall placement given the modest size of most UK listening rooms. Front ported or sealed work best in my room.

Ryder, yes surprising but true if you compare a vocal only track through SCM40 (mk2) and 30.1, say Tracy Chapman, Behind The Wall, they are remarkably similar, both my wife and I thought this. I've never heard SCM40 mk1 but I never found SCM40 mk2 forward or lean. I did experience this with SCM19 mk2 on too many tracks for my liking. I never auditioned the SHL5+ as the 30.1 is pushing it in my room and I suspect the SHL5+ would have pushed it over the edge. Room and speaker matching and positioning is by far the hardest thing to get right imho.

SiS, yes, you have to hear speakers in your own room and decide which you prefer, couldn't agree more. Some will prefer a more forward and highly detailed presentation others not so. I've never listened to the Harbeth C7 you used to own Simon but the bass on the 30.1 times okay for a ported speaker and is well balanced and controlled with proper positioning, albeit not as good as SCM40.


Posted on: 30 December 2018 by Halloween Man

I suppose at the end of the day ATC and Harbeth are both great speaker manufacturers and you have to decide which presentation you prefer, which compromises you are willing to accept, and which works best in your room.

I'm envious of SCM40 mk2 owners that have the right room for them. Both SCM19 and 30.1 worked well in my room but overall I preferred the 30.1, others may well prefer SCM19. All are great speakers imo. I did read one comment by a sound engineer in another forum who said he preferred to work with ATC speakers in the studio but listen at home with Harbeth. I can understand that.

Posted on: 30 December 2018 by Dave***t
ryder. posted:

You can actually place the M30.1 closer to the side walls but you need to push the speakers further out into the room.

Not necessarily.  As you go on to say, it's room-dependent.  The only important thing is to try it for oneself.

My 30.1s are only about 25cm away from the wall behind them, but that's where the lower mids sound right, and the bass is the best compromise for me.  Further out sounds anaemic.  My room is clearly just a bit odd in that respect (I suspect that, being a stud wall, the wall behind them damps rather than reflects some lower frequencies), and there's no substitute for trying things out.

Posted on: 30 December 2018 by ROOG

Hi H-M, I have tried the SCM 40's along the long wall and along the short wall. I found that firing across the shorter distance meant it was harder to get away from the walls at both speaker and listener ends, the sound stage was more dramatic though. I currently have them on the shorter wall firing down the longer length of the room, this has allowed me more options for getting away from the end walls, plus it does look better in the room. Both configurations exhibit excess bass, its just that the latter configuration allows me to sit in a 'quiet bass' position, in fact I can dial in the amount of bass by moving my seating position back and forth by a metre or less.

Alternatively as long as i don't try to rattle the windows, which is most of my listening, it sounds lovely in either orientation, its just that it is nice to turn it up every now and again!   

Posted on: 30 December 2018 by benjy

I've been using harbeth m30.1 for several years now and for the most part have been very pleased with them. I bought them from mostly reading reviews as it was near impossible to get out and audition at the time (health issues now much improved). The harbeths can be a bit on the "polite" side and lacking in deep bass, but they are easy to listen to , even over long periods. They work well at low and regular volume. They can get confused with orchestral or layered music, but for most jazz, vocals or soft rock, they are a very good choice. Perfect speaker? no, enjoyable? yes. Btw. my speaker stands are foldable iron bookcases from container store - I can't hear any difference with or without books on lower shelves.

Posted on: 30 December 2018 by Bob the Builder

Speakers are always about compromise I have quite big floor standers in a medium size room about 17m2 and yes they can be a bit boomy at times but I'm prepared to put up with it because the mids and the tops and the presentation is so good.

I tried small fast speakers back when I had a 300 and couldn't put up with the lack of bass I would rather have my bass slightly overblown than non existent.

Posted on: 31 December 2018 by Halloween Man

Yes, like everything in life there is no perfect. For me the biggest compromise is the quality of the bass, there is enough of it but it's just not as accurate as what ATC offered. It's still very good for a ported speaker and I'd rather that than unbalanced and overpowering bass in my room, or thin and forward sound.

The 30.1 remind me a little of my headphones, AudioQuest NightHawk, in that they are not always the most accurate but they are just very enjoyable to listen to and nothing sounds bad on them. A happy medium. That for me is the most important consideration.

Posted on: 31 December 2018 by leni v

Heard good opinions on the spendor classic 2/3.I think no lack of bass there.

Posted on: 31 December 2018 by Halloween Man

I auditioned the new Spendor 2/3 with the 30.1, they had more bass than the 30.1. The 30.1 was a better match for my room. Both sounded excellent, the Harbeth a tad more neutral/transparent. What did surprise me was the 3/1 had more bass than both, probably due to the rear port being closer to the solid brick rear wall. Much preferred the 2/3 to the 3/1.

Posted on: 31 December 2018 by Dave***t
leni v posted:

Heard good opinions on the spendor classic 2/3.I think no lack of bass there.

Yes, I auditioned the Classic 2/3 at a dealer, alongside a few other quite different speakers. At the time the Spendors sounded rather veiled, and so I didnít linger on them (amidst quite a lot of competition, it was the P3ESRs that really caught my ear that day). But on reflection, I think it was just because I was swapping too quickly, and listened to the Spendors too soon after a much brighter speaker. With more time Iím quite sure the 2/3s would have won me over.

When I got my 30.1s, I was also on the lookout for 2/3s, but the Harbeths came up for what I thought was a good price and I grabbed them. I could have easily gone the other way, and may possibly do so in future if the winds of change blow in that direction.

Posted on: 31 December 2018 by jlarsson

I had to use floor decoupling to tame the SCM40A bass which made the speaker more expensive and taller. In the end I didnt like them for late-night low-level listening.

I compared the Graham LS5/9 and the Harbeth 30. I preferred the Harbeth, so far I have been surprised by the musicality and how it holds together at low levels. I have also tried the Falcon LS3/5a, still a fantastic speaker

Posted on: 31 December 2018 by ryder.

M30.1 has its own charm, having more presence in the midrange region and richer vocals than the SHL5+. The SHL5+ has a more linear sound and flatter presentation. I certainly agree that the Harbeth sounds a little polite with bass guitars sounding more accurate on the ATC. Electric guitars also sound a little smooth through the Harbeth but on overall terms the sound is very easy on the ears. With most music genres the Harbeth still sounds exciting enough with good tonal balance. Most instruments especially percussion and strings sound close to the real thing when compared to most speakers out there. On a good day i can listen to music all day long.

Yes, low level listening is another strength with the Harbeth. When i listen to music late at night with SPLs below 40dB, the midrange and bass are all there. Pretty balanced presentation at low levels. I also occasionally listen at moderate to high levels but my ears usually give up earlier as the room is the limitation.

Posted on: 31 December 2018 by Daniel H.

I recently auditioned the ATC SCM19 and the Harbeth 30.1. Same equipment and same room. I preferred the Harbeths by a large margin over the ATCs. The ATCs sounded cold and lifeless (on a SN2). They were easy to listen to, but not engaging. The Harbeths just seemed to breathe life into the music. The timbre quality on the Harbeths is amazing. 

The 30.1 might not be the most accurate speaker for bass, but it is a delightful speaker to listen to.