Harbeth vs JBL/Altec/Klipsch

Discussion in 'Speakers' started by quanghuy147, Apr 14, 2018.

  1. quanghuy147

    quanghuy147 Member

    I have a question that is stuck in my mind for a long time. I tried to google but have not found a satisfactory answer. I am using a pair of Harbeth 30.1 (upgraded from Klipsch Chorus 2). I have been using Harbeths for 2 years, and I much prefer it to the Chorus 2. Harbeth is much less tiring, more detailed, smooth and natural.

    I plan to upgrade the speakers, a friend of mine in Vietnam suggested me to try Altec 604-8g or JBL L300. I don't have a chance to audition them so I don't know how good they are. To find the answer, I once asked a dealer in my area about vintage Altec and JBL vs Harbeth. He said if I liked the natural sound, the organic sound, I should stick with Harbeth. Altec and JBL are "just the opposite" (I guess he meant they are colored).

    I am confused because I know that vintage Altec and JBL have lots of fans. If the natural, life-like sound is the holy grail, why are so many people willing to pay thousands to get those vintage speakers?

    I don't have budget to buy Altec or JBL in the same price range as Harbeth 30.1 to compare. The only way is to audition or to sell Harbeth and buy a pair of Altec to try out. I can't do the audition in my area and I don't want to deal with the hassle of selling so I hope those who have experienced with Altec, JBL and Harbeth to shed some light onto my question: Are Altec and JBL opposite to Harbeth , are they colored and not natural?

    Thank you.



    Please register to disable this ad.

  2. bobins08

    bobins08 Loving the dream Subscriber

    St. Louis, MO
    Well I doubt too many people have compared the Harbeth to vintage JBL or Altec in a one on one setting. I know I can’t give a definitive answer.

    I recently heard Harbeth bookshelves on stands with some excellent modern gear. In another session I heard Altecs with a restored vintage tube amp. The Harbeth system sounded much better to me. Could have been the rest of the system but I was really impressed with the high end modern equipment.

    I liked JBL and Altec back in the 70’s but the last few times I’ve heard them I find them colored and bright.

    I tend to favor modern speakers.
    Roadrash and stish like this.
  3. joebeadg

    joebeadg Active Member

    Eustis, Fl.
    But seriously, it depends on you’re interpretation of what is natural sound. Many people have Klipsch because they sound natural, but others have latex, because they feel they sound natural. I don’t think there is a natural sounding speaker, there are just speakers, and some people favor some speakers over others just because they like the way they sound. Natural, how can you know, you have no way of really knowing how the original performance sounded
    stish and Alobar like this.
  4. borus

    borus Luthier tube guy Subscriber

    VA Beach
    You should try to find some l20T's used. Will not be to much$$ and will give you a feel for at least the top end of the JBL sound. At the price you'll be able to play them side by side.
  5. sqlsavior

    sqlsavior AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Española NM
    If those Harbeths leave the house, you'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.

    It would be like losing Sam. In case you miss my Casablanca references, don't do it. Don't sell the Harbeths to audition Altecs or JBLs.

    If you get a chance to audition some long term, and prefer them, that is different. But don't sell the Harbeths just to satisfy your curiosity.
    winters860, Roadrash, asilker and 4 others like this.
  6. Drugolf

    Drugolf AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Yeah, i think you would have to go pretty far up the chain of Altec and JBL to get to the point where you could like them over the Harbeth's. Especially if you enjoy the Harbeths. The L300 might be there as might a really good pair of up to date Altecs. There are some other options that are in the same vane of the Altecs that I might try first. But you are talking about $5,000 Harbeths vs old vintage technology and drivers here. Would be fun to try though. Where are you located? Maybe somone can let you try something for the fun of it.
    Are you looking for a departure to the kind of experience the Harbeths give you?
    Gotta consider the electronics too.
    botrytis likes this.


    Please register to disable this ad.

  7. soundmig

    soundmig Super Member

    Western Colorado
    Stick with the Harbeths!!! You'll have to go all the way up to the 4367 JBL's to start to get a sound that has similar sonic richness and "natural" timbre. If you can afford them the big JBL's (4367's) will play louder and probably have more "dynamics" ... but its not likely that you will actually like them any more than your Harbeths. JMO
    UncleBingo and botrytis like this.
  8. robert_kc

    robert_kc AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Midwest USA
    Apparently - based on what I’ve read here on AK - "natural, life-like sound" is not everyone's goal. Moreover, "natural, life-like sound" may not be relevant based on the music being played. (What is the "natural, life-like sound" of electronic music?)

    I listen to classical music, and "natural, life-like sound" - with full frequency range and dynamics - is my goal. And I have a reference for "natural, life-like sound" - I have full season tickets to the symphony and opera, where no electronic sound reinforcement is used. (I.e., what I hear in the symphony hall and opera house is only the natural sound of orchestral instruments and the unamplified human voice.)

    However, my preferences likely aren’t relevant to you.

    Here's the important questions: What types of music do you listen to? How large is your listening room? How loud do you listen? Budget? If you like the Harbeth, why are you considering changing? What don't you like about them?

    What amp did you use with the Klipsch Chorus II? Were the Klipsch Chorus II in good condition? (I don't buy vintage speakers - only new. I've heard too many stories about drunks "cranking up" speakers at a party. And big speakers apparently attract the attention of many drunks.)

    IME - based on new Klipsch RF-7II and Paladium P-37F - Klipsch and tube amps (except perhaps KT88) go together like peanut butter and jelly. (OTOH, Klipsch can sound harsh with solid-state amps.) If you were to listen to a top-quality hi-res recording via a pair of McIntosh MC30s (or an MC225), and a high-end pair of Klipsch, I think you might be surprised by the "natural, life-like sound" - and the unrestrained dynamics (particularly if a high-quality large subwoofer off-loads the extreme low frequencies – i.e., crossover before the amp.)

    I've never heard Harbeth, so I can't comment. They appear to have a low sensitivity specification, and therefore would likely require relatively high amplifier power. (Again, important factors are room size, type of music, and how loud you listen.)

    My only point is that you have to talk about speakers in conjunction with the amp, and your preferences in music, and your preferences in the inevitable trade-offs in sound quality. Someone who plays rock music at "ear bleed" levels in a large room has completely different needs than someone who wants to reproduce the natural timbre of a string quartet in a small room. Most challenging - IMO - is recreating the "natural, life-like sound" - and the power - of large scale orchestral music and opera. (Moreover, if you want to fully experience the pedal notes of a pipe organ, you’ll need a “big boy” subwoofer.)
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2018
    Tedrick and Grbluen like this.
  9. toddalin

    toddalin Super Member

    So then..., wouldn't you want to use JBLs/Altecs if you listen to Motown?
  10. damacman

    damacman Blown and Injected Subscriber

    Gilbert, AZ
    Really, this is kind of like asking - '69 Boss 302 or new Camaro ZL1? Either can be the right answer, depending on the situation.
    Ross6860, stish, Roadrash and 2 others like this.
  11. sqlsavior

    sqlsavior AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Española NM
    There are nothing like big horns and big woofers for reproducing the sound of a rock concert, as they are used to produce them in the first place. And they can do better on jazz and classical than some suppose. That was the experience I sought and had when I was 19. On rare occasions I wish I had that SPL capability still. Nothing wrong with having both flavors to choose from. But if you switch to Chocolate Fudge only, you may miss your French Vanilla.
    Archguy and robert_kc like this.


    Please register to disable this ad.

  12. twiiii

    twiiii Addicted Member

    west Texas
    There is no way you can compare the sound of a horn loaded speaker with a ported or reflex woofer from Altec , JBL, EV, against a point source speaker of any type. Now if you feel your speakers are dynamically challenged, which they are, you might fall for Altec or JBL just on that basis. Horn speakers are more dirctional and there fore have a more forward sound, which you may or may not like. You might prefer PMC, B&W, and even some point source JBL's. The newest Altec 604's produced by Great Plains audio are fantastic speakers are a point source horn loaded speaker and are efficient. If you do buy older 604's you can have them upgraded if you so choose. Your speakers will have lower harmonic distortion than the older ones recommended. Used in a relatively small space your speakers should be more than adequate unless you like to blow out windows or have knee bending bass.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2018
    Zonker92 likes this.
  13. musichal

    musichal poet emeritus Subscriber

    Norman OK
    Are Altec and JBL opposite to Harbeth , are they colored and not natural?

    Opposite is too strong a word, but I do believe the Harbeth are less colored. You certainly answered that for yourself as compared with Klipsch, obviously, when you found you prefer these bookshelf speakers over the Chorus II. twiiii, above makes some remarks I think valid. Some listeners will prefer the Chorus. Many agree that Altec and JBL horn speakers are less colored than Klipsch. Some prefer Klipsch.

    Point is, it is your ear, your bias, and your preferences that must be met. It does seem that you have found you like a neutral midrange, where most music lives, which often happens over time with many listeners. Selling a known and loved speaker to purchase an unaudited model can be like buying a pig-in-a-poke. Even if someone here has heard all these speakers, that may be the only commonality between him and the OP - his bias/preferences may be different.

    Also, twiiii alluded to the difference in dispersion patterns between the smaller point-source speakers and the various horns mentioned, and that may well be part of their appeal for your ear in your room. So if you do want to replace them, I'd suggest trying hard to audition, but if that just isn't possible, then make it a significant upgrade with an eye for the kind of midrange performance you expect, with similar dispersion characteristics.

    If you are not using subwoofers, then another upgrade path may lie that direction - good dual subs would keep you busy listening anew for awhile.
    stish and bimasta like this.
  14. sqlsavior

    sqlsavior AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Española NM
    If a listener is satisfied with the volume available from his or her speakers, then with respect to that listener, those speakers are not 'dynamically challenged'. Equating 'will play louder' with 'better dynamics' is very crude, IMO, despite being nearly industry-wide. :smoke:
    Tedrick, musichal and Roadrash like this.
  15. tarior

    tarior Dirty pool, old man?

    Kelso, Washington
    A friend had fairly large set of Harbeths. They were very nice sounding speakers. I'll keep my JBLs though.
  16. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

    PODUNC USA......
    I would rather have the Harbeth's versus ANY JBL/KLIPSCH, etc. Just to me a better designed speaker and WAY better sounding.
    Roadrash likes this.


    Please register to disable this ad.

  17. asilker

    asilker Bible Reader Subscriber

    Chicago IL
    OP, where are you located?
  18. UncleBingo

    UncleBingo AK Subscriber Subscriber

    It's not like they were mixed on something like JBL's or Altec's : )
  19. UncleBingo

    UncleBingo AK Subscriber Subscriber

    JBL L112's would be a decent place to start comparison wise. Not as grindy as L-100's midrange.

    Imo it also depends on whether you have the patience to monkey around with older speakers or have a line on a pair that has rebuilt crossovers and then who did them with what components.

    I loves me some Altec's, but when they ain't right, look out. They can bite you on certain material.
  20. Roadrash

    Roadrash AK Subscriber Subscriber

    St.Louis MO
    I've never heard the Harbeths either, but from your description of their sound I would assume they have what is commonly referred to as the East Coast sound. Which is more laid back and smooth, compared to the Altec, and JBL West Coast sound which is brighter and more forward. Neither is better really, it's just a matter of personal preference. If you really like smooth and laid back you may not be a fan of the Altec or JBL sound. That being said I've heard Altec 14s, 17s and 19s, but never any of the really high end JBL speakers but several of their different mid level offerings. Strictly in my opinion I prefer the East Coast sound especially to the JBLs(the L100 specifically). If you're happy with your Harbeths, just sit back and enjoy them. Play with cables or something, they're cheaper than speakers. Lol

Share This Page