Wharfedale Diamond: The best-sounding $350 speaker on the planet?
There are lots of decent affordable speakers on the market, but few great ones. The Wharfedale Diamond ($350 per pair) is definitely in the latter group.
The Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 is easily the best speaker I've heard for $350 per pair. Wharfedale started making loudspeakers in 1932, which makes it the second-oldest still-surviving speaker manufacturer in the world (Tannoy is the oldest). The entry-level Diamond Series speakers debuted some 49 years later; the Diamond 10.1 we're reviewing today is from the latest incarnation of the line.
Wharfedale not only designs and builds all of its own woofers and tweeters in-house, it also designs and manufactures nearly every part of its speakers, including the crossover networks' resistors and capacitors. Even the bolts that attach the drivers to the cabinets are made by Wharfedale. Its 1.5 million square foot factory is in Shenzhen, China, but design and engineering come from the U.K., where there is a 50-person research and development team.
The Diamond 10.1 is a medium-size "bookshelf" speaker. Its deeply curved sides look cool and the heavily braced cabinet feels extremely well put together. Details like the polished trim rings surrounding the 1-inch silk dome tweeter and 5-inch woven Kevlar woofer add a bit of bling to the handsome design. The speaker is 11.75 inches high, 7.5 inches wide, 10.75 inches deep, and it has threaded inserts on its backside to facilitate wall-mounting. Wharfedale offers dedicated floor stands for use with the Diamond speakers.
The 10.1's front baffle is a composite panel with a high-gloss black finish. Wharfedale claims the dense baffle "reduces the effects of vibration and provides a stable platform for the woofer and tweeter." Translation: the unique baffle construction makes the speaker sound better.
My review samples were finished in Cinnamon Cherry; Rosewood or Black (vinyl wrap finishes) are also available. A black cloth grille covers the drivers, but the 10.1 is so pretty I left the grilles in the box.
There are 13 speaker models in the Diamond Series line, including center channel and surround speakers, plus a range of subwoofers. So if home theater is your thing, go for a complete set of Diamond Series speakers.
If I like a speaker at all, it usually takes an hour or so of listening to get a handle on the sound. Not this time, I fell for the Diamond 10.1 as soon as I played the first cut on the "Fred Hersch Plays Monk" solo CD. Jazz pianist Hersch has a distinctive touch, with very subtle gradations and dynamic shadings. The 10.1 let me hear just how good Hersch really is.
The Black Keys' primitive blues rock kicked the 10.1 into high gear. The band's heavyweight punch hit me hard; bass impact and power were impressive, and the full-boogie dynamics were lively. The Keys "Brothers" CD is strong from start to finish, and with speakers as willing as these you'll want to crank the volume and feel the music's power. Bass was surprisingly deep, so there's no need to add a subwoofer for music, but for home theater, sure, add a sub.
My old Ella Fitzgerald CDs, like "Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie" demonstrated the 10.1's realistic midrange tonality. The jazz singer's vocals were reproduced with remarkable presence, and her band's rhythmic swagger kept me fully engaged with the music.
I used a JoLida JD301RC integrated amplifier ($425) and anBlu-ray player ($999) for most of my 10.1 listening sessions. I briefly hooked up my solid-state integrated amplifier ($199), and it sounded less full, less rich, and the soundstage dimensions shrank. The Diamond 10.1 still sounded fine, but the sound didn't hold a candle compared with what I heard from the JoLida JD301RC - Diamond 10.1 combination. Those two are magical together! To be fair, the N22 sells for less than half the JD301RC's price, and judged in that context it's a viable option for Diamond 10.1 buyers who can't swing a JD301RC.
I had to stop and remind myself over and over again, this is a $350 speaker; it sounds like double that very reasonable MSRP.