Designed to accompany British speakers maker Wharfedale's Diamond line of bookshelf and tower speakers, the 9.CS center-channel speaker ($350 list) is the midprice model of the three Diamond centers. It plays well with other Wharfedales, providing a clear rendition of center-channel audio on both music and home-theater sources.
The new Wharfedale Diamond 9.CS's sexy curves were probably inspired by some of the better high-end British and Italian speakers; in other words, it's one of the most beautiful speakers we've seen for this kind of money. Build-quality details are exemplary. We noted that the speaker's terminal cap that supports the gold-plated biwire binding posts is made of cast metal as opposed to plastic and that the twin woven Kevlar 5-inch bass drivers are supported by cast-alloy metal frames--the structural part of the speaker behind the cone. Many competitors rely on thick plastic or stamped metal frames that can restrict airflow inside the speaker, and that's a bad move because it tends to muddy their sound. The 9.CS's treble range is handled by a 1-inch soft dome tweeter with a neodymium magnet and a thick aluminum faceplate.
The Diamond's rounded cabinets are fairly inert and finished to a high standard. The only obvious cost-cutting move is the vinyl-wrapped exteriors, but at least that's a sonically benign compromise. We were still impressed with our sample's distinctive brushed-silver finish, and the speaker is also available in black, cherry, beech, or rosewood finishes (the last two aren't imported to the United States). Considering its sound quality aspirations, the 9.CS isn't all that big at 16.5 inches wide, 8 inches tall, and 9.5 inches deep. The rounded bottom speaker sits upon four rubber feet. Its rear-mounted port will limit its placement options within cabinets.
Viewed from the side, the Diamond 9.CS's curved top and bottom panels are visually distinctive and also serve to limit internal standing waves to enhance the speaker's sound quality. Indeed, the deep-toned narrator on the Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events DVD sounded wonderfully present and natural. James Taylor's JT SACD puts the mellow folk singer's voice solidly in the center channel, where it demonstrated the Diamond 9.CS's purity of tone. Taylor's pipes were vividly portrayed, without even a touch of chestiness, boom, or the dreaded cupped-hands coloration we hear from lesser center speakers. We were more aware of Taylor's subtle vocal inflections than usual, and the 9.CS nailed the singer's presence in a most believable way.
Overall, the 9.CS is the perfect home theater complement to Wharfedale's Diamond speaker line. For more info, check out our reviews of the company's Diamond 9.1 bookshelf speakers, Diamond 9.5 towers, and SW150 subwoofer.