Adnans Fritz Carrera BE vs Harbeth 30.1 AudioGon Review
I have been auditioning the Fritz Carrera BE speakers in my home office setup for about 2-3 weeks now. They have temporarily replaced my all-time favorite bookshelf speakers – Harbeth M30.1. During this time, I also borrowed a pair of Proac Response D2R speakers from my dealer for a few days for comparison. I tested all three with Audio Hungary a50i and VTL I-85 amps. I mostly listen to jazz, vocals, classic rock, classical, new age guitar/fusion, and an occasional run in with EDM. I thought I’d share some of my impressions with fellow audiophiles.
So let me start by saying that I was not really expecting the Carreras to be anywhere near the performance I get from my 30.1s. For one, there is a pretty significant price difference – the Harbeth 30.1s sell for close to $6k, while the Fritz Carreras have a retail price of $3.5K. Secondly, the 30.1s are noticeably bigger in size. What surprised me though was that despite the size difference, the Carreras are heavier at roughly 30 lbs. per speaker compared to 25 lbs. for the 30.1s. Now, understand that this is by design. Harbeth purposefully uses thin walls to voice their speakers in a certain way. But still, it is remarkable how the diminutive Carreras are heavier.
The other thing you notice about Carrera BE is the quality of materials (drivers, tweeter) and overall cabinet construction. Yes, Harbeth still looks more polished and high-end comparatively speaking, but the difference is not as pronounced as the price would otherwise suggest. In fact, the Carrera has a handmade, artisan quality to the build that I find more charming in some ways. Fritz throws in a 7” paper cone Scanspeak Revelator and Beryllium dome tweeter. When you combine this with the solid cabinetry and overall fit and finish, I don’t understand how Fritz makes any profit on these. Well, I take it back actually. He is able to offer such a terrific product at $3.5K by cutting out the middleman and traditional marketing.
So on to the sound quality ... how do they sound like? And how does the sound compare to Harbeth 30.1s or Proac D2Rs? The first thing you notice is the extended upper frequency range, thanks to the beryllium tweeter. It delivers more details and has an overall clean, crisp, and modern sound. However, Fritz has done a great job in making sure that it doesn’t get into the hyper-detailed territory like some Focal or KEF speakers tend to do. The treble is airy, sweet and extended but never bright or harsh. I would say the treble is somewhere in between Focal/KEF on one end of the spectrum and Harbeth on the other. Fritz has done a remarkable job in achieving the overall tonal balance. If you like Focal or KEF but wish they were just a little less energetic or bright in the treble region but without losing the other desirable attributes of these two brands, you owe it to yourself to give the Carreras a listen. On the other hand, if you love Harbeth 30.x but wish that it was maybe a bit more open up top or slightly less ‘buttoned down’, you owe it to yourself to give the Carreras a listen.
Soundstage is really wide. It’s actually wider than that of the 30.1. Imaging is about the same, which if you think about it is quite an achievement for a speaker which is priced considerably less. For soundstage depth, I would still give a nod to the Harbeths. But again, the difference is not as pronounced as the price difference might suggest.
When it comes to vocals, you really can’t beat Harbeth. The Carreras are good and come much closer to the 30.1s, but still the texture and nuances of human voice is something the 30.1s still excel at. The vocals just sound more human-like compared to any other speaker I’ve owned. However, I must say that the Carreras outperform the Proac D2Rs when it comes to vocals and, at least in my listening experience, their overall sound signature is more balanced top to bottom than either the Harbeth or Proac. FWIW, I really tried to like the Proac but I just found it to be just a tad more bright/forward for my taste. It is also the most lean-sounding of the three. I think if my musical taste leaned towards rock, EDM, or metal, I probably would have preferred the Proacs. But, in this instance, I preferred the Carreras over Proac.
For midrange, my preference is still Harbeth 30.1. It just has that extra bit of midrange magic that has won Harbeth so many loyal fans. But I will say this, the Carreras come much closer in this aspect compared to any other bookshelf speaker I’ve owned or auditioned, including KEF LS50s (owned), KEF Reference 1 (auditioned at home), LSA Signature-10 (owned), Proac D2R (auditioned at home), Focal Aria 906 (owned briefly but returned within 30 days), and Harbeth P3esr (owned and loved). The Carrera midrange, as you might have guessed, is neither pronounced (like Harbeth), nor is it lean/neutral like KEF, Focal, or Proac. It’s somewhere in between. Again, please remember these impressions are based on my listening preferences and either ownership or extensive auditioning. To be fair, I will add that with the exception of Proac D2R, Carrera BEs, and Harbeth 30.1s, which I ran with the same amps, the other speakers I listed were used with different gear. So take it with an appropriate amount of salt if you will.
Bass is ‘different’ between 30.1 and Carreras. Notice I said different, not better or worse. The 30.1s produce bass which is has more heft (sorry if I’m misusing the word here but don’t know how else to describe it), but the Carreras are punchier and actually sound better on classic rock and EDM. I honestly haven’t been able to make up my mind about which one I prefer. They’re two different flavors of ice cream but equally good.
So which one do I prefer? First off, I returned the Proac D2R to my dealer on Monday. I much preferred the 30.1s and Carrera BEs over the Proacs. Now between the Carrera and 30.1, I have been swapping them back and forth for a few days now. And the simple truth is that I’m unable to declare an outright winner here. I love the vocals and midrange on the Harbeth, but prefer the more detailed, airy and extended treble on the Carreras. I also find the Carreras to have a slight edge when it comes to tautness of bass, but it lacks the nuance and texture of Harbeth. Sometimes I prefer the clean and crisp presentation of the Carreras, but other times I miss the midrange ‘presence’ and scale of the 30.1s. Sometimes I prefer the more engaging and lively presentation of the Carreras, but at other times I want the relaxing and sophisticated sound of Harbeth.
In some ways you could argue that if a speaker which retails for $3.5k is going shoulder to shoulder in many, if not all, aspects of music reproduction with a speaker that retails for $6k, that in of itself is a victory for Fritz. I am going to request Fritz to let me keep the Carreras for another week to help me reach a decision.
If you are in the market for bookshelf speakers and your budget is $6000 or less, please put the Fritz Carrera BE’s on your list. He has an excellent return policy, which should tell you something. I’m somewhat of a Harbeth fanboy, so for me to say that the Carreras come so close to my 30.1s that I’m unable to make up my mind about which one to keep should tell you something :)
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