With a specific mission to upgrade my existing system, my buddies and I went on a quest to find the best speakers money (or more specifically, around RM 8,000) can buy.
Body: We tested a few speakers that day but there were really only 2 contenders (with another one worth mentioning but the KEF reference series was way, way, way beyond my paltry budget, about 4 times beyond):-
B&W Nautilus 805: First, a note about the B&W showroom in MidValley. This shop is ONE of the BEST, if not THE BEST hi-fi shop in terms of size, variety (if you’re looking for B&Ws and Arcams), interior decoration and, oh yes, tastefully furnished and sonically superb listening rooms. Now for the speaker:- the Nautilus 805 speaker is sweet! The test track that we played was one of those non-descript-generic-fusion tracks and the result was good with excellent highs and clear mid-range. As this is a bookshelf, the bass was little muted but the lows was deep enough for most purposes. It is a fast speaker with excellent transients. One small thing…it is a little too sweet for my taste as I found the sound to be overly bright. Normally, I can stand bright speakers but the Nautilus 805 lacks something…something that I couldn’t put a finger on until we tried the Harbeth…
Harbeth HL Compact 7ES-2: Ok, before I go on, a word about the hi-fi shop that carries Harbeth in KL, namely Tropical Audio. This small shop is hidden in between motorcycle repair shops in Setapak. Upon entering, I was shocked to see the listening “area”- which wasn’t a room. As one enters the shop, one sees a run down rattan sofa, very much like those that was in vogue during the early eighties, pushed all the way up against the left wall. On the right, was a line of speakers and in the middle of the line was a pair of old and dusty Quad CD Player and 606 amplifier. I also noticed a JBL subwoofer in the line up of speakers as I hesitantly took my seat in the old rattan sofa. Before me stood 3 pairs of the most ugliest speakers that I had ever seen. They are rectangle boxes. That’s the design! To make things worse, I nearly left when the lady of the shop inserted a Jacky Cheung CD into the CD player. Expecting the worst, I closed my eye and waited for the result…And the result was fantastic! The 7ES-2 sang with bass that was tight and surprisingly low (coming from a half floor stander- of course, this can only be concluded after we coaxed the lady to disable the JBL, which was giving an artificial rumble to the set up). The highs were clean. But what blew me was the stereo imaging, I could literally “see” Jacky in the middle of the room! Wanting more, the lady switched to Aaron Neville- which I protested and got a Telarc Happy Trails instead. Again, I felt the orchestra in the room. I could literally pinch the red haired oboist sitting to the right of me.
Comparing both, I realized what the Nautilus 805 lacked are the superb stereo imaging, clarity and pure passion of the 7ES-2. After listening to the both, I had not choice but to abandon my personal favourite (though the B&W still looks absolutely sexy) and settle for a pair of boring looking, but sonically superior Harbeth.