Not all high-end speakers look, feel or sound like luxury objects, but the Harbeth Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition speaker absolutely does. Run your fingers over the speaker's silver eucalyptus veneers and you'll get a sense of craftsmanship that should be de rigueur on all similarly priced speakers, though it isn't.
With well recorded music the M30.2s sound yields more color, more complexity, more substance, which is the way that live, unamplified music sounds to me.
As you might assume from the name, there's already a Harbeth M30.1 speaker, so what's new about the M30.2? The crossover network has been redesigned to improve the blend between the proprietary 8-inch (200mm) Harbeth Radial bass/midrange driver and the 1-inch (25mm) soft dome tweeter. The other change is that the M30.2 features high quality WBT-Nextgen speaker cable binding posts. The eucalyptus finish is also exclusive to the M30.2; a regular, nonanniversary M30.2 with other finishes will start to be available in in the spring.
The speaker's sensitivity is low, just 85 decibels at 1 watt, and impedance is rated at 6 ohms. For most of my listening sessions I left the M30.2s' black cloth grilles in the shipping boxes so I could admire the hand-made cabinets and real wood veneers.
Unlike many other UK speaker companies that have moved production offshore, Harbeth manufactures all of its models in its factory in Lindfield, in West Sussex, England. The Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition sells for $6,495, £3,655 or AU$6,950 per pair.
How does it sound?
For all of my M30.2 listening tests I used a Pass Labs XP-30 preamp, Pass Labs XA100.5 or XA25 power amps, dCS Puccini SACD/CD player and a SME Model 15 turntable with acartridge.
Where some high-end speakers can come across as sterile and overemphasize detail and resolution, that's not the case here. The M30.2s sound like a portal back to the session. It's a sound you'll want to savor.
Electronica from Aphex Twin's brilliant "Selected Ambient Works, Volume II" projected a room-filling soundstage. The music's potent rhythmic pulse, even when it was subliminally buried in the mix, pushed the music forward, giving it momentum.
I love that the M30.2 makes less than stellar recordings sound more listenable than I would have thought possible. Take Arcade Fire's latest and worst sounding recording, "Everything Now." I like the music, but the sound is brutally compressed and mechanical, yet somehow the M30.2s let me get past that. It released the music that had been buried in the mix, while with most other speakers I can't get past "Everything Now's" wretched sonics.
Detroit's legendary soul label Motown had a house band, the Funk Brothers, and their music lit up the M30.2s big time. The band's grooves with meaty, visceral bass lines belied the M30.2's modest size. This speaker really has a way with electric and acoustic bass instruments -- not just the weight, you feel the texture of the vibrating strings. I love that!
Vocals are also lovely. They sound more fully developed and natural than I've heard from most other speakers in the M30.2's price class. Listen to a great singer like David Bowie and you feel like you're hearing him so much more clearly, so you're much more aware of his phrasing and the emotion he puts into the music. You feel him on the mic.
Stereo imaging is big and broad, but soundstage focus and layering were a touch more diffuse than I'd like. Treble is on the soft side of neutral, and bass can seem a bit plump on some recordings, but those nitpicks aside the M30.2s were always musical. My wife rarely comments on the sound of the products I review, but she did this time. She felt her old familiar recordings sounded better than she remembered them.
There was something really special going on here. The Harbeth Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition is a music lover's speaker.