Harpia are for me special loudspeakers. The sound heard about two years ago from the a big construction being the foundation to design the Time Coherent series amazed me with the presence of characteristics very rare in the loudspeaker world, and if found, then only in exclusive, pricey constructions like Wilson Audio or Sonics by Joahim Gerhard. Those were: speed, coherence, resolution and clarity. Verification of my impressions happened later, while testing the model Marcus, that resided in my system for quite some time, becoming a kind of a reference point. Its value was confirmed by us not only in the test but also by awarding the prestigious Product of the Year 2006 (Awards of the year 2006 – HERE). But even listening to them in the company of the brilliant Jadis JD1 Mk II/JS1 Mk III player, which make them sing divinely, I could not get rid of thinking of making some corrections here and there. It turned out easy to do, because a whole series of speakers was prepared based on the first order cross-over concept, linked with mechanical alignment of the speaker phases, called Time Coherence, where the Marcus were the cheapest solution. Hence the idea of trying something higher on the list. Should be easy to do, but only if we have two strong colleagues eager to help and understanding family. Because the Dobermann (new) that arrived finally at my home weigh almost 70kg apiece and are quite big. It is not even about their height, as even the many times cheaper ESA Intrada 3 are higher (the Dobermann are exactly 1m high) but about their depth. If we look on them from the side we will know what I am talking about – thick, with an unusual shape of the front baffle will not appeal to everybody, and not everybody will like them.
But desire is a strong force, in terms of the Eros as well as Techno, so the Dobermann came to me. But this was not the end of the story but the beginning. Connected to the system they hit me with… clatter. I could not believe my ears! And still… Harpia has create a certain, high level of confidence with the previously tested speakers, so I clenched my jaws hoping that this is only a question of burning in of the speakers. After a week, when nothing changed, I started to play around with the amplifiers. After listening to many constructions including the Leben CS-300, Accuphase A-45 or Theta Dreadnaught Mk II nothing changed, maybe even my frustration and irritation got worse. So I phoned the manufacturer and kindly asked to take back the speakers and suggested that they should be upgraded, preferably by burning them. The other end of the line went still. Then a series of questions were asked, and when I answered all of them, the confusion there got even worse. So we agreed that the speakers will be returned the same day.
That was it. The brightness disappeared, the contour remained. A few discs later, I knew, that my fantastic Leben, with its 12 watts, that handles most speakers perfectly, does not fully exploit the possibilities of those speakers. Just like the Marcus, the bigger speakers have an impedance linearization on the bass, that makes them much easier to drive, that it would seem just from the speakers the enclosure used. But this is also not that easy. From the technical sheet of the Dobermann it would seem that there should be no big problems with that, because with the effectiveness at 88dB at 6Ω, it should be fine, but practice showed another story, a quite unexpected one. Because the bass sounded well with the Leben – it was full, strong and thorough. The guys from Harpia do not like tubes, they go for strong transistors, but I know that their constructions can sound really beautiful with low wattages – like the Marcus with the Leben or the set in the Chillout Studio I listened to lately, a 30-watt, class A, Luxman L-590A with the model Keith. It is just about the fact, that the amplifier should be a good one, capable of delivering high currents, and everything will be at least OK. Well, it was different with this model. Just like I mentioned, the bass was just as expected, and the signs of distortion appeared... on the midrange. It is most audible on discs where the energy of this subrange, its complicated structure, pose additional challenges for the midwoofer – first with the vocals of Magda Kalmár singing In furore from the disc Vivaldi: Laudate pueri (Hungaroton Classic, HCD 11632, CD), and later with the brass section from the phenomenal disc Ros On Brodway Edmundo Ros and his Orchestra (Decca/First Impression Music, LIM XR24 016, XRCD24). Every time the volume knob surpassed a given level, not even so high, the sound became distorted or even wheezed. It made me quickly search for a solution. As I mentioned earlier, I was thinking about purchasing the power amplifier Accuphase A-45 and with this experience I was ready to finalize this transaction quickly, even if I had to buy a preamplifier soon. But I came across something better – more expensive, but probably final: the power amplifier M-800A from Luxman. It does also require a preamplifier, but the Lektor works much better without it as with the Accuphase, that begs for an preamplifier. This is 60W in class A (at 8Ω, at 4Ω it is 120W, and at 2Ω 240 W), what is completely sufficient, as many difficult loads have shown. And with this amplifier there were no problems with driving the Dobermann. But... Only the power of the Krell EVO402 allowed full control about the midrange. But about this later.
Because I took you already enough time, and there is no finish of the test in sight, I will summarize the whole in a few words so that you can go quickly for a walk or brew yourself a coffee and have a feeling that everything is OK. The Dobermann are one of a kind speakers. Their resolution, cleanness and drawing precision is phenomenal and comparable only with speakers like the Wilson Audio Model 8 and higher. I have never heard something like this at home, and at my friends only while listening to the Wing Speaker from Ancient Audio, the speakers made for the owner of Kingston Technology, John Tu. The same is to tell about the stage: the speakers disappear better than almost all other stand mount speakers I know, and I know now, that the physical size of the speaker is only one of the elements that make the stage. The loudspeakers, while big, do not exist. When we put on a monophonic recordings, like Carmen McRae Carmen McRae (Bethlehem/Charly, CDGR 129, CD) there is nothing like two separate sound sources but just one, big, stable voice in the middle. Even coming closer to one of the speakers the sound does not jump inside it, but just moves on the stage, still stable and strong. These are characteristics that made me reevaluate my thinking about the sound, and it will not be easy for anybody to copy it. Because I listened to the Dobermann for about half a year before writing this text, in a company of a few dozen of other speakers, so this is not a matter of enchantment – because this passes quickly – or accommodation, because I tested new constructions again and again, I attended demonstrations, with one word – I kept on comparing. The level shown by the speakers in those categories exceeds that what headphones like AKG K701 or Ultrasone PROLline2500 driven by the Leben CS-300, or even the best setup with dynamic headphones, namely Ultrasone Edition9 connected to the Cary CAD-300-SEI can deliver. Only the top electrostatics from STAX tested by me some time ago (test HERE) sounded in a comparable way. And it is known, that the headphones excel in the area of microdynamics and speed: the low mass of the diaphragm and small distance to the ear make it easy to achieve. The Dobermann are at least that good in doing this. I am also sure, that the level of distortion brought in to the sound by the Harpia speakers is negligible. Comparing other loudspeakers to them, the former sound mostly as wet carpets. During this time I did not come across other speakers that would match them with speed, attack, the ability to reproduce energy in any given timeframe. Because this is another asset of the Dobermann: they do not wash-out the attack and decay, ahich makes the pace of the recordings ideal, I have not heard a better attack and decay, maybe except for the Wing and Wilson.
There is another side to the story. If somebody thought that this would be a congratulatory card then he is mistaken – as always, also here I want to be in agreement with my conscience and knowledge about the construction. First of all the speakers need a large room to be placed in. I rephrase this: the speakers need quite a distance of the listener from them. It was not so obvious with the Marcus, but the Dobermann require a more distant perspective. In part this is related to the scale and intensity of the transmission: when the brass or the cymbals hit, then they really hit, making a big, intensive picture, that does not fit nicely in between the speakers but comes out to the front. The virtual sources are shown behind the loudspeakers, this is not the “to the front” type of presentation, but the sound is not only the drawing, but also dynamics, and the latter makes the instruments are more energetic than everywhere. I make the listening sessions in medium-close field setting, meaning between the close field monitors and classic loudspeakers. This setting allows me to eliminate some of the reflections and to concentrate on the main sound. This means that I sit about two meters from the loudspeakers base. Almost all constructions, including the mighty tubes Avantgarde Acoustics Uno Picco handled this well and when I closed my eyes they disappeared. It was different with the Dobermann. The brass section from the piece Bewitched from the mentioned album of Edmundo Rosa makes us step back instinctively. And there is no place to do that, the couch requires us to stay where we are. This is a characteristic that we have to take under consideration. The company states in the promotional materials that the speakers need a room from 20m², up to 70m² and this should be adhered to, remembering the right distance to them. And this one thing is the reason that I will have to search for another construction for myself. I will try to delay that, but I thing the time will come. And I will do this with pain in my heart, because the Harpia are like a magnifying glass, you can hear everything through them, really EVERYTHING. Every change of a cable, pads and similar was very clear, and even more – the way the sound changed could be easily determined. In this terms this was a real tool, something like laboratory equipment – there is no place for love and emotions, there is only the truth.
The most controversial issue is related just to this. I have discussed it many times with the constructors, but we did not come to a consensus, and it will be the decisive point when choosing the new speakers. The best speakers I heard at home, that made me most pleasure, were the mentioned Avantgarde, tested for the “Audio” Peak Consult Empress and the new KEF Reference 205/II. The best, in absolute terms, are the Avantgarde, KEF and... the Harpia. The order is random. The tube speakers from Germany had a bass I never heard later. Better than the KEF, much better than the Peak Consult. The Harpia are phenomenal in that aspect. Their bass is not much worse than my reference, the bass from Picco. It is mostly about the control in the whole spectrum and the extension of it. When I paired the Dobermann with the mighty amplifier EVO 402 by Krell (test in November) the effect was a bit worse, but the difference remained. The KEF and the Peak Consult play this subrange splendidly, but the coherence, clarity and rhythm of the Harpia is unrivaled. But I was to talk about the controversies and not praise them again. All the three mentioned constructions have something, that is not present in the Dobermann: passion. The Polish loudspeakers play with a very clean, thorough midrange, which – in my opinion – is lacking the filling. And it is there in the products of the competition. The cost for that is a slightly lower resolution, but in terms of timbre there is no doubt that a fuller spectrum is available by for example the KEF. Many amplifiers came and went, some stayed longer, and the effect was repeatable every time. The best combinations were: Accuphase P-7100, Luxman M-800A, Krell EVO 402 and Nagra Pyramide PSA. It does not have to mention, that those have to be so expensive devices that work with the Harpia, but that the Harpia allow them to shine in bright light. But I missed some “body” at the midrange every time, something that makes me shiver. Maybe this is still not very controversial. So I will say it stronger: more emotion is induced by the tiny, costing less than 800zł a pair, loudspeakers Infinity Primus 150 II (test w przyszłym miesiącu) than by the Dobermann. Enough? - I hope so, because I already see the sparks in the eyes of Harpia lovers... I do not want to offend anybody, because it is not about that, but I want to describe the issue thoroughly. The Dobermann create emotions, but by showing the differences, dynamics and speed. The mentioned shivering are often caused by distortion of a certain type, like in the Infinity, but in the more expensive speakers this are not directly distortions, but a certain type of shaping sound. I do not know if both things can be brought together, maybe only the Wing could do that, but if I would have to choose between: less – like in the Dobermann – or more – like in the Avantgarde, then this will be a sharp choice, that will not be indifferent for anybody. I don't know myself what to do. On one hand I do not see the possibility to repeat Harpia's assets for a reasonable amount of money. On the other hand, I am not always a journalist, a test person, and I would like to listen to something that will sound nicer, even sacrificing some precision for this.
And this was short. I will not write out more, as I told everything now. I'll add just this, that the frequency brinks are outstanding with the proper amplifiers (Luxman on top and Krell on the bottom edge). The treble from the SEAS is phenomenal and it is hard to beat. Also the bass – it is full, strong, and reaching really deep. It has a good contour and it sound like from the best paper designs, only better... Half a year of listening would allow to fill a dozen sheets of paper with text. I think that the most important things have been said, but you have to listen to them yourself, in your room, with your equipment. And this is not all, one more thing at the end: the manufacturer recommends to point the loudspeakers directly at the listener, so that the tweeter would radiate in the direction of the listeners head. This is a true concept, but I tried another, slightly rotating them to the outside, by a little bit. This resulted in a slightly less focused stage, but it gained space. And, really finishing now, I'll repeat: these are speakers, that create new paths in many areas and are – not only on the polish market, but also in the hi-end as a whole – something absolutely unique. Even if they do not give 100% satisfaction from listening, by the lack of fleshy saturation on the midrange, then I treat them as my work tool, like a surgeon his scalpel. I cut, I separate and I look inside. Wherever I want.
The model Dobermann (New) is a floor standing loudspeaker from the company Harpia Acoustics. This is a big, stubby construction, with a characteristic shape, that is used to time align of all speakers. Most to the back is the metal dome tweeter from SAS, located in a specially created element, very solid and turned and milled out of one plate of aluminum. Below it there is a metal midwoofer from Visaton placed on an angle, and even lower a mighty aluminum woofer from SEAS. On the back there are two bass reflex outlets and a big metal plate with wire terminals. Here we also find a most peculiar element of the construction, a heat sink, that made many people that visited me think, that those are half-active speakers. In reality, the heat sink is to cool down the resistor in the tweeter signal path, that gets very hot during normal operation and thus changes resistance. There are two wire terminals, gold plated. The same kind is used by Rotel, Edgar, etc. And although they are not exclusive, they are quite sturdy. The cross-over, as I mentioned, is extremely worked out. The overview of applied components, very expensive and hand-picked ones, can be found on the manufacturers web page, in the section devoted to the theory of the Time Coherent series. Those are: a toroidal coil in the bass path, tape coil in the midrange path, tin capacitor SCR in the treble path, a Mills resistor in the treble path, polypropylene capacitors for impedance linearity in the bass section, tape conductors in the mid-bass section, Kimber TC wires in the treble path, silver plated PCB trails in the treble-midrange section. The whole cross-over is placed in a separate chamber. The elements are really superb – the polypropylene capacitors are bigger than a glass, the coils bigger than a sausage. The whole looks like the best constructions I saw in my life. The enclosure is made very thorough, from very thick MDF, reinforced with internal ribs, and the sides were damped with bitumen mattes and polyurethane moulders. The loudspeakers are placed on flat feet where spikes can be screwed in. And I must say that this is the only element, that does not fit the otherwise very thought through and solid construction. This can be changed after purchase by ourselves – we are saving a few dozen thousand złotys buying the Dobermann and not one of the competitive loudspeakers from a foreign manufacturer on a comparable quality level...
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