So I made a trip to my dealer today to listen to some systems (speakers + amps).
Source was my personal LPs on a Well Tempered Labs table (~3k) with (strangely enough) a Dynavector 20X (same as my current Scout). Along with a (I guess) reasonably priced Leben Phono Stage (~2.5k).
Anyway, I tested the Devore 88s, Zu Soul Superfly, and Harbeth SHL-5. Amp was the Leben 300XS (15wpc I believe). I heard the Devores with the Line Magnetic 218ia as well, but it had literally just been sold when I got there so it ended up walking about before I could hear it with more than a few songs (the customer actually waited for me to get there so I could at least hear it a bit, what a nice guy).
As far as ranking these 3 it's pretty easy to do.
Third: Devore 88
Second: Zu Superfly
This order was much easier than I thought it would be to pick. The Harbeth was easily the winner. Even my wife(ish) who has the 'it all sounds good' attitude picked the Harbeth.
I was absolutely floored by the Harbeth HL-5. It just out did the others in every way. The Devore while it sounded nice didn't go anywhere near deep enough bass wise and seemed a bit 'shouty'. It was a pretty short audition on those. It was fairly obvious with the first bass test that they just wouldn't work without a nice sub for my kind of music. The Harbeths came on next and set the bar. Stunning mids, deep bass (rated down to 40), and the higs were smooth but well extended. I liked that part quite a bit. Next the Zus. My dealer laughed as I asked him to put them on and said 'Good luck finding better than those HL5s'. While the Superfly was not a bad speaker by any means (and was cheaper than the HL5) something just felt off. The highs were 'off' the bass was 'off'. There was nothing in particular that stood out as bad...they were just off.
If I'd had the money right then and there I'd honestly have walked out with the HL-5 and the Leben 300XS (and the gorgeous rack it all sat on). I was that happy with it. Some people have said they're not a good match but I'd say to those people you're fools. It may not seem optimal in the numbers game but the amp didn't struggle to push them way beyond where I listen and it sounded fantastic. I didn't hear any other amps, but I'd say a sound I can't really find anything wrong with is a success.
I'll be returning in a few weeks to do a shootout between the 218ia and Leben 300XS but out of all the speakers he has in that store I think these Harbeths are the ones. I might try a few others just for the sake of it, but they're his favorites and right around my max as far as spending goes.
This was the scene today. Except with less people. I was stunned by how well the rack matched the wood on the Leben pieces, but the wife(ish) was having none of the gold color. 70's porno was her description of it. I honestly loved it. I forgot how much better Leben gear looks in person. The rack is a Box Audio rack.
Main test records were Pretty Hate Machine (NIN), Conditions of my Parole (Puscifer), and James Blake (James Blake).
Picked up an LP for the wife(ish). An Imported Bowie compilation, and a good looking copy of Heart's Dreamboat Annie for myself. I'll definitely be back to see Bryan as soon as possibly. One of most down to earth audio guys I've had the pleasure of having an extended conversation with.