Common Wave Hi-Fi, Harbeth | T.H.E. Show 2019

I last lived in Southern California in 2007, and it seems like there are so many new high-end audio stores that have cropped up in the LA area since I left–which is good news for the industry. Common Wave Hi-Fi, located right on E. 4th Street in Los Angeles, is a new name to me, but at T.H.E. Show 2019 they featured many brands that I know well such as Harbeth, Nagra, NAD and Shunyata. The folks at Common Wave Hi-Fi created something unique with their set-up at the show, however–by pairing the Harbeth Super HL5 Plus loudspeakers ($7495/pair) with electronics from Nagra, they came up with a sound that was very different for these traditional British 3-way monitors.

This reminds me a little of Eric Franklin Shook’s experimentation at Capital Audiofest last year with a pair of Harbeth Monitor 30.2s. Common Wave Audio matched the Harbeths with the Nagra Classic Preamp ($17,595), Classic Tube DAC with Classic PSU ($39,500), Classic Amp ($16,595 each), VPS phono stage ($8750 with optional MM/MC modules and Nagra transformers), and an analog rig comprised of a Pear Audio Blue Kid Thomas with the Cornet 2 tonearm ($7995, plus $1995 for the external power supply option). The sound was not the warm, refined BBC sound of yore, but rather a concise, crisp and forward presentation that revealed tons of detail.

This goes back to Eric’s original hypothesis, that Harbeths don’t really sound like you think they do. They’re very sensitive to amplification and are transparent enough to allow the rest of the system to shine through and reveal its true character. The Harbeth HL5 loudspeakers aren’t usually my favorites in the line–that would go to the 30.2 and 40.2–but I might change my mind after hearing what Common Wave Hi-Fi accomplished at this show. I’ve always thought the super-tweeter in the HL5s tilted the upper end a little bit too much and robbed me of that smoothness and warmth that’s typical of Harbeth. The performance here was so different, however, that I no longer thought about how Harbeths should sound.

Common Wave Hi-Fi also had a second room where they featured a more modest system featuring Larsen speakers, Pear Audio Blue, Pneuance Audio isolation systems and Shunyata Research, which sounded balanced and intriguing as well. But I can’t stop thinking about that Harbeth/Nagra combo, and how it defied my expectations. Common Wave Hi-Fi is a very interesting dealership–they claim to be downtown LA’s first high-end audio salon, and they even have a repair shop for all types of gear. I wish them luck!

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