HAR­BETH MON­I­TOR 30.1 LOUD­SPEAK­ERS

LOUD­SPEAK­ERS

Australian HIFI - - CONTENTS -

De­signed with the aid of the BBC, the Univer­sity of Sus­sex and the help of the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment, the M30.1 is Bri­tish to its boots!

Har­beth’s well-known M30.1 or, to use its ‘posh’ name, the ‘Har­beth Mon­i­tor 3.1 Do­mes­tic’ ac­tu­ally has its sonic roots in a com­mer­cial stu­dio mon­i­tor, the BBC LS5/9, which was de­signed by engi­neers at the Bri­tish Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion for mon­i­tor­ing the quality of the au­dio trans­mit­ted by the BBC’s ra­dio and tele­vi­sion sta­tions.

You might well ask why the BBC, with its (then) al­most lim­it­less tech­ni­cal re­sources (and money) at hand, both­ered to de­sign small mon­i­tor speakers at all.

Strangely enough, the is­sue was the same one that con­tin­ues to af­fect most mod­ern con­sumers: cab­i­net size. The BBC did de­sign many larger mod­els—one ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple be­ing the LS5/8 which mea­sured 760×460×400mm—but many of the BBC’s con­trol rooms, par­tic­u­larly those used for out­side broad­casts, sim­ply could not fit the larger and bet­ter-per­form­ing mod­els. This is one rea­son the LS5/9 was de­vel­oped, be­cause it mea­sured only 640×280×275mm.

Cab­i­net size was also the im­pe­tus for the devel­op­ment of the LS3/5a, in­dis­putably the BBC’s most fa­mous de­sign and, at 300×190×170mm, equally in­dis­putably the small­est of them!

As it hap­pens, Har­beth does man­u­fac­ture a ‘com­mer­cial’ ver­sion of the M30.1 which is known as the Mon­i­tor 30.1 Pro… as well as a pow­ered ver­sion of the Mon­i­tor 30.1 Pro called the Mon­i­tor 30.1 Pow­ered.

THE EQUIP­MENT

One of the de­sign­ers at the BBC whilst the LS5/9 was be­ing de­signed was one Hugh Dud­ley Har­wood who, af­ter re­tir­ing from the BBC in 1977, es­tab­lished Har­beth which, fol­low­ing Har­wood’s death, has been solely owned and op­er­ated by Alan A. Shaw. De­spite Shaw’s ti­tle as ‘de­signer’ at at Har­beth, he says all his de­signs are sim­ply evo­lu­tions of the orig­i­nal BBC de­signs, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the more

mod­ern com­po­nents and tech­nolo­gies now avail­able. If you’re won­der­ing why he then doesn’t use the BBC’s orig­i­nal names for his speakers, like some of the other man­u­fac­tur­ers that are still build­ing the BBC’s cre­ations, my guess is that it’s the cost of the li­cens­ing fees, which are rather steep and would in­crease the cost of the speakers for no au­di­ble gain at all. (The BBC has al­ways been good at ex­tract­ing li­cens­ing fees. Even now, ev­ery per­son in Eng­land who owns a tele­vi­sion has to pay the BBC a li­cence to watch it, even if they never watch any BBC pro­grams. Only pen­sion­ers are ex­empted from this fee.)

If you look at the Mon­i­tor 30.1 speakers—or any Har­beth loud­speaker—you will im­me­di­ately no­tice that one thing Shaw has not taken ad­van­tage of is mod­ern cab­i­net man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques. The cabi­nets are still built the same way the BBC engi­neers put to­gether their ‘proof of performance’ sam­ples back in the 50s, us­ing cab­i­net-build­ing tech­niques that were, even at the time, re­garded as ‘am­a­teur’. Why am­a­teur? Sim­ply be­cause Bri­tish cab­i­net-mak­ers had been mak­ing fine fur­ni­ture cabi­nets with­out vis­i­ble joints and with­out the use of fas­ten­ers for sev­eral cen­turies be­fore the BBC engi­neers made theirs, com­plete with vis­i­ble joints and us­ing dozens of fas­ten­ers, al­most all of which were also very vis­i­ble. It is said that even Dud­ley’s wife, El­iz­a­beth (the ‘Beth’ in Har­beth), was less than en­am­oured by the ap­pear­ance of her hus­band’s cre­ations.

One im­prove­ment I sus­pect Shaw has made to the Mon­i­tor 30.1 is the way the grille fits to the cab­i­net, which is very clever. A very nar­row chan­nel runs around the edge of the front baf­fle. The grille frame, in­stead of be­ing made from the usual plas­tic or wood, is made from thin, flat mild steel that has been formed into a rec­tan­gle. The grille cloth is then stretched over the re­sult­ing frame. This method of grille con­struc­tion means the grille frame is enor­mously strong and presents no ob­sta­cles or ob­struc­tions to the path of the sound waves trav­el­ling through it. But what about the frame? I hear you ask. That’s the clever bit! The frame slides en­tirely into the nar­row chan­nel around the pe­riph­ery of the front baf­fle, which then completely elim­i­nates the pos­si­bil­ity of re­flec­tions.

If there’s a down-side to this grille-fix­ing tech­nique I’d have to say it’s the dif­fi­culty of re­mov­ing the grilles for vac­u­um­ing, which has to be done from time to time (at least it does ac­cord­ing to my other half). I man­aged to re­move the grille from one of the speakers, but I could not re­move the other. Pre­sum­ably there’s some sim­ple tech­nique in­volved, but it’s un­for­tu­nately not men­tioned in the in­struc­tion man­ual. Per­haps a small note in fu­ture ver­sions of the man­ual would not go astray?

The cab­i­net of the Mon­i­tor 30.1 Do­mes­tic is made from high-den­sity fi­bre-board that is ve­neered on both sides. This is much bet­ter than us­ing just a sin­gle ve­neer on the outer wall (a tech­nique used by most man­u­fac­tur­ers) as it seals the fi­bre-board bet­ter against cli­matic con­di­tions and en­sures di­men­sional sta­bil­ity. Only a lim­ited range of fin­ishes are avail­able ex-stock in Aus­tralia: Cherry (which re­tails for $5,590 per pair), Eu­ca­lyp­tus ($5,790 per pair) and Rose­wood/ Tiger Ebony ($5,990 per pair). The other fin­ishes—Black Ash, Maple and Rose­wood—are avail­able only by spe­cial or­der. The ve­neers (and yes, they’re real wood ve­neers) on my re­view sam­ple were per­fectly grain-matched and fin­ished with a thin coat of cel­lu­lose lac­quer that ap­par­ently needs only to be wiped lightly with a damp cloth in or­der to be kept clean. Shaw says that the cabi­nets are made for him ‘in a small fa­cil­ity in a me­di­ae­val vil­lage in West Sus­sex, Eng­land.’

To my mind, the only thing mar­ring the ap­pear­ance of the Mon­i­tor 30.1 are the myr­iad brass screws on the rear of the speakers that very ob­vi­ously fix it se­curely to the main part of the cab­i­net. I would not have thought quite so many screws were re­quired, but I as­sume the BBC and Shaw knew what they’re do­ing. That said, the screws are on the rear, where you can’t see them. Al­though the front baf­fle is se­cured to the cab­i­net with the same num­ber of screws, you can’t seen them be­hind the black grille cloth… as­sum­ing you lis­ten to the speakers with the grilles in place. But if you do lis­ten sans grilles, you won’t be look­ing at bright brass screws, be­cause Har­beth sen­si­bly uses chem­i­cally coated (so they won’t rust) black steel ones on the front panel.

The main rea­son I re­moved the grille (with dif­fi­culty, see ear­lier!) was to check out the driv­ers Har­beth was us­ing on the 30.1. As I rather ex­pected, the bass/midrange driver is the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion (RA­DIAL™) of Har­beth’s own de­sign, which Shaw de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with the Univer­sity of Sus­sex, us­ing grant money from the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment Science & En­gi­neer­ing Re­search Coun­cil (SERC). I per­son­ally find the name ‘ra­dial cone tech­nol­ogy’ as used by Har­beth rather con­fus­ing, be­cause the cones are not ra­dial at all: the word ‘RA­DIAL’ is Har­beth’s acro­nym for ‘Re­search And Devel­op­ment In Ad­vanced Loud­speak­ers’, and the ‘ra­dial’ it refers to is ac­tu­ally the ma­te­rial used to man­u­fac­ture the cone… a spe­cific for­mu­la­tion of polypropyl-

The real wood ve­neers on my re­view sam­ple were per­fectly grain-matched and fin­ished with a thin coat of cel­lu­lose lac­quer for easy care…

ene or, as Har­beth terms it, ‘a new poly­meric com­pos­ite.’

Har­beth says that un­like or­di­nary polypropy­lene, the ‘ra­dial’ poly­meric com­pos­ite it uses to form the cones is able to be ei­ther in­jec­tion-moulded or vac­uum-formed, with Har­beth opt­ing for in­jec­tion-mould­ing be­cause it says this method of man­u­fac­ture de­liv­ers ‘ the best sonic performance’. The for­mula for the poly­meric com­pos­ite was re­cently changed slightly, and so Har­beth mod­els are now spec­i­fied as hav­ing ‘RADIAL2’ cones to indi­cate the use of the newer ma­te­rial. Har­beth says that al­though the word ‘RA­DIAL’ is an acro­nym, it is also a de­scrip­tor of the cone be­cause the points at which the cone ex­hibits its great­est stiff­ness and ef­fi­ciency are ra­di­ally lo­cated on it. (At the time of writ­ing, Har­beth had not up­dated the ‘Spec­i­fi­ca­tions’ sec­tion of its web­site to re­flect the fact that the Mon­i­tor 30.1 is fit­ted with a RADIAL2 driver.)

The cone in the Mon­i­tor 30.1 is rated by Har­beth as be­ing ‘8-inches’ (203.2mm) in di­am­e­ter but be­cause it’s mounted from be­hind the baf­fle, I could not con­firm this mea­sure­ment. How­ever the most im­por­tant di­am­e­ter for any bass driver (or bass/midrange driver, in this case) is the Thiele/Small di­am­e­ter, which is what’s used by de­sign­ers to de­ter­mine the vol­ume of the cab­i­net and the size and length of the bass re­flex port in that cab­i­net and, for the Mon­i­tor 30.1 that di­am­e­ter was 164mm. This gives a driver area (Sd) of 212cm².

The driver’s sus­pen­sion (or, if you pre­fer, the ‘roll sur­round’) is made from rub­ber, which will be much longer-lived than if it were made from foam. (Here in Aus­tralia, roll sur­rounds made from foam start dis­in­te­grat­ing af­ter about five years, pri­mar­ily due to the ex­tremely high lev­els of ul­tra­vi­o­let ra­di­a­tion in our an­tipodean at­mos­phere.) Nei­ther is the roll sur­round a con­ven­tional geom­e­try, be­cause it uses an ‘in­verse’ roll, rather than the more usual one. Al­though this is char­ac­ter­is­tic of many Har­beth driv­ers, it’s par­tic­u­larly use­ful here be­cause the driver is mounted from be­hind the baf­fle. If the driver had had a con­ven­tional roll sur­round, the baf­fle would have in­ter­fered with the move­ment of the cone.

The Mon­i­tor 30.1’s sin­gle bass/midrange driver hands over at 3.5kHz, with a re­ported 4th or­der acous­tic slope, to a 25mm-di­am­e­ter soft-dome tweeter whose dome is pro­tected by a steel mesh that Har­beth calls a ‘Hex­grille.’ Fairly un­usu­ally, the Mon­i­tor 30.1’s bass re­flex port is po­si­tioned quite a long way from the driver whose out­put it is in­tended to aug­ment, and it is also rather un­usu­ally po­si­tioned at the top of the front baf­fle. Look­ing at the size of the port (it’s 50mm and 55mm long) and the width of the bass driver and the front baf­fle, it seems this po­si­tion was forced upon Shaw in or­der to keep the cab­i­net com­pact—it is, af­ter all, pro­moted by Har­beth as ‘ the space-sav­ing ref­er­ence mon­i­tor’— but I would have thought that us­ing dual ports, lo­cated slightly above and to ei­ther side of the bass/midrange driver might have been prefer­able, as he’d al­ready done on the Mon­i­tor 40.2.

I re­ally didn’t like the way that if you op­er­ate the speakers with­out their grilles you can see a piece of white damp­ing foam at the in­side end of the port. It would have been bet­ter if black foam had been used at this point, or black cloth fit­ted to the rear of the port. But if you use the speakers with the grilles in place (as most peo­ple un­doubt­edly will) you will not be able to see the foam through the port any­way.

Al­though the front baf­fle of the Mon­i­tor 30.1 is made from 18mm-thick stock, all other pan­els, in­clud­ing the rear baf­fle, are only 12mm-thick, which is one rea­son the speakers are so light (11.6kg). The light­weight con­struc­tion is in­her­ent in the orig­i­nal BBC de­sign, with panel res­o­nance be­ing con­trolled by tun­ing de­vices (mats) at­tached to the in­side of the pan­els. Un­like some Har­beth mod­els, how­ever, there is some cross-brac­ing in­side the Mon­i­tor 30.1. The cab­i­net it­self mea­sures 460×277×275mm (HWD).

Rather than be­ing mounted on a ter­mi­nal plate in the con­ven­tional man­ner, the Har­beth Mon­i­tor 30.1’s sin­gle set of gold-plated speaker ter­mi­nals ap­pear to be at­tached to the cab­i­net it­self. They’re not, of course. In fact, the ter­mi­nals plunge through the cab­i­net where they at­tach di­rectly to the printed cir­cuit board (PCB) used to ac­com­mo­date the com­po­nents in the cross­over net­work: four fer­rite-cored in­duc­tors, nine ca­pac­i­tors and six cer­met re­sis­tors.

In Aus­tralia, lo­cal dis­trib­u­tor Au­dio Magic has two stands avail­able that have been specif­i­cally man­u­fac­tured for the Har­beth Mon­i­tor 30.1. One pair is made by TonTräger (pic­tured) which re­tails for $1,700 and the oth­ers, which re­tail for $1,190 per pair, are made by UK out­fit HiFi Racks.

In Use and LIs­ten­Ing ses­sIons

I am not sure how ‘space-sav­ing’ the Mon­i­tor 30.1s ac­tu­ally are if you choose to mount them on stands, be­cause they re­ally wouldn’t take up much more space than Har­beth’s 40.2 de­sign, which Har­beth it­self spruiks as ‘ Har­beth’s best loud­speaker, ever’. It would cer­tainly, how­ever, ap­ply if you mount the speakers on walls, or on book­shelves, or in sof­fits, which is pretty much how I imag­ine the BBC would be mount­ing them. (Com­mer­cial work­ing en­vi­ron­ments are not con­ducive to the place­ment of loud­speak­ers on stands.)

That said, you will cer­tainly ex­tract the best performance when the Mon­i­tor 30.1s are mounted on stands, and even more so if you are able to po­si­tion those stands (and thus speakers) well away from walls. If you are con­strained to us­ing your stand-mount speakers with the stands close to walls, you’d likely be best-ad­vised to in­stead place them on shelves, or on a side-ta­ble, for rea­sons of

sound quality, vis­ual amenity, cost-sav­ings and not need­ing to worry about the speakers ac­ci­den­tally be­ing top­pled by a bois­ter­ous dog, cat or small child.

See­ing that I al­ready owned a pair of stands of the height rec­om­mended by Har­beth (“typ­i­cally 20 inches”, says the printed ma­te­rial that’s pack­aged along with the speakers, which in­cludes a ‘Har­beth Guide’ and an ‘Owner’s Cer­tifi­cate’) I started my lis­ten­ing ses­sions with the Mon­i­tor 30.1s on stands, well out into my lis­ten­ing room.

Porch mu­sic has al­ways been dear to my heart, not least be­cause I was in­tro­duced to it by the late Chris Green, an erst­while re­viewer for Australian Hi-Fi Mag­a­zine as well as for Bris­bane’s Courier Mail, so it was with high hopes that I used the Har­beth Mon­i­tor 30.1s to spin the sup­posed de­but al­bum from The Pheas­antry, (rather con­fus­ingly, the al­bum is also named ‘The Pheas­antry’) but is ac­tu­ally sim­ply the first al­bum to be re­leased un­der the band’s new name, the first five al­bums hav­ing been recorded un­der their pre­vi­ous moniker, ‘The Pheas­ant Pluck­ers.’ It’s porch mu­sic, and so it largely falls un­der the ‘alt-coun­try mu­sic’ genre, but the tracks on the The Pheas­antry are so mu­si­cally di­verse that the al­bum re­ally falls un­der the ‘great-sound­ing, feel-good’ mu­sic genre, and the band members are so old (sorry guys!) that the lyrics are mean­ing­ful vi­gnettes of the var­i­ous sit­u­a­tions that life throws at us as we grow older, so it’s very easy to em­pathise with their sub­ject-mat­ter.

All the band’s in­stru­ments (with the ex­cep­tion of the lower notes of Rod Boothroyd’s acous­tic bass) fall com­fort­ably within the am­bit of the Mon­i­tor M30.1’s own range, so with the ex­cep­tion of those deep acous­tic bass notes, I didn’t feel I was miss­ing out on any­thing dur­ing my au­di­tions us­ing the Mon­i­tor 30.1. What I cer­tainly gained from us­ing the Mon­i­tor 30.1s was a live­li­ness and clar­ity that gave truth and mean­ing to the ‘good sound­ing’ as­pects of this al­bum. The re­spec­tive dis­tinc­tive sonic traits of the acous­tic gui­tar (Matt Camp­bell) and elec­tric gui­tar (an un­usual twist for Dan Kerr, who’s usu­ally on acous­tic) were re­pro­duced mar­vel­lously well, with the two dif­fer­ent sounds also con­trast­ing per­fectly with the cut-through banjo sound of Pete Somerville. The truly de­li­cious har­mon­is­ing by Matt and Keith (Ludekens, also har­mon­ica and per­cus­sion) were de­liv­ered by the M30.1s as if the two were singing in my own room. The al­bum’s close-out track Si­mon is my favourite on this al­bum, but vies for such with the gospelly Let Me In.

Har­beth speakers are renowned for their abil­ity to cre­ate acous­tic space around works—am­bi­ence, to use the com­mon par­lance—and I found this at­tribute was demon­strated per­fectly on ‘Preser­va­tion’, a new al­bum by Kiwi songstress Na­dia Reid. The clanks, clicks and myr­iad sonic ef­fects on Te Aro are re­pro­duced so ac­cu­rately and so re­al­is­ti­cally by the Mon­i­tor 30.1s that you will be so to­tally im­mersed in the sound­scape that when the sud­den shock of sound chimes in at 4:20 (the first of sev­eral) I dare you not to jump in fright. Reid writes in­tensely per­sonal songs with ob­vi­ous in­sight ( Richard) and sings them with a com­mit­ment that weaves you into the sto­ries ( I Come Home to You). Some may find the al­bum a tad over­pro­duced, and I wouldn’t dis­agree, but you’ll still be haunted by it.

Might­ily im­pressed though I was with the Har­beth Mon­i­tor 30.1s when they were on stands, I be­came even more im­pressed when I switched them over to shelf-mount­ing, though in this case the shelves were not shelves as such but brack­ets fixed to the wall in a room I use a ‘re­treat’. The prox­im­ity of the rear wall boosted the low-fre­quency out­put of the Har­beth 30.1s hand­ily, ex­tend­ing the re­sponse be­low that which I’d been able to ex­tract when the speakers were on stands. I did lose some of the stage depth as a re­sult of the near-wall place­ment, but be­cause the Mon­i­tor 30.1s are so much more am­bi­ent-sound­ing than most other speakers, the diminu­tion ap­proached in­signif­i­cance.

The prox­im­ity of the rear wall cer­tainly gave the bass a boost, but the clar­ity and ac­cu­racy of the midrange re­mained completely un­af­fected by the change in room po­si­tion… which was a very good thing, be­cause the clar­ity and ac­cu­racy of the Mon­i­tor 30.1’s midrange sound is sec­ond to none. Its abil­ity to re­pro­duce vo­cals is un­can­nily good, such that ev­ery nuance of a singer’s voice will be de­liv­ered to per­fec­tion. I was so im­pressed I even pulled out one of my big guns for as­sess­ing vo­cal clar­ity, Dy­lan Thomas’ fa­mous ‘play for voices’, ‘Un­der Milk­wood’. If a speaker can’t ar­tic­u­late cor­rectly, you’re go­ing to miss half the di­a­logue of the play, and if it can’t sep­a­rate dif­fer­ent voices speak­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously you’ll miss the whole ‘feel’ of the play. The Har­beth Mon­i­tor 30.1s didn’t merely rise to the dif­fi­cult task of re-cre­at­ing this work, they smashed it out of the ball­park!

The tran­si­tion from midrange to tre­ble is han­dled beau­ti­fully, though I thought the level of the high fre­quen­cies was slightly held back in the over­all pre­sen­ta­tion, but all the highs were still clear, clean and beau­ti­fully ar­tic­u­lated.

I never ex­pect much in the way of deep bass from a small two-way loud­speaker… and nei­ther should you: If you’re look­ing for deep bass in a hi-fi sys­tem, you should be look­ing at a large three-way de­sign or at in­clud­ing a sub­woofer in that sys­tem. The Mon­i­tor 30.1’s bass is not overly ex­tended, but in smaller rooms it should be more than suf­fi­cient, and the clar­ity and pre­ci­sion of the bass will cer­tainly im­press you, as it did me. Also im­pres­sive is the ‘live’ bouncy way the bass is de­liv­ered, with plenty of pace and ev­ery­thing you could ask for by way of dy­nam­ics. There’s cer­tainly noth­ing pon­der­ous about it! A slight for­ward­ness in the up­per bass is just au­di­ble, but mostly works in favour of the mu­sic, de­liv­er­ing a lit­tle more punch that you will be able to ame­lio­rate if you’d like by care­ful po­si­tion­ing.

CON­CLU­SION

In­vest­ing in a pair of Har­beth speakers is an in­vest­ment in a piece of Bri­tish au­dio his­tory, thanks to a di­rect, un­bro­ken lin­eage that traces back to the heady days of the BBC’s finest achieve­ments in au­dio re­pro­duc­tion. De­signer Alan Shaw is of­ten quoted as say­ing that he’s ‘con­tin­u­ing the tra­di­tion’ and the ap­pear­ance and performance of the Har­beth Mon­i­tor 30.1 Do­mes­tics are the proof that he’s do­ing a fine job of it. Hugh Dou­glas Read­ers in­ter­ested in a full tech­ni­cal appraisal of the performance of the Har­beth Mon­i­tor 30.1 Do­mes­tic Loud­speak­ers should con­tinue on and read the LAB­O­RA­TORY RE­PORT pub­lished on pages 24 and 26.

The bass/midrange driver is the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion (RA­DIAL™) of Har­beth’s own de­sign, which Shaw de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with the Univer­sity of Sus­sex, us­ing grant money from the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment.

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