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Wharfedale Diamond 9.1 review: Wharfedale Diamond 9.1

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The Good Beautifully built bookshelf speaker; elegant curves; wood cabinet; 5-inch woofer; 1-inch tweeter; form-fitting metal grille; all-metal biwire connectors.

The Bad It's bigger than your average satellite speaker.

The Bottom Line Wharfedale's pricey Diamond 9.1 bookshelf satellite sets a high standard for build and sound quality.

7.7 Overall

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Wharfedale introduced its original Diamond speaker in 1981 in England, and the darling little thing made a big splash on our shores a few years later. Back then, the Brits dominated the worldwide market for pricey minimonitors, but the Diamond was heralded as a breakthrough design, mostly because it was the first truly affordable British minispeaker. Sure, they cost a good deal more than your typical bookshelf models, but the Diamond 9.1s ($350 per pair) are built to higher standards than we'd expect at this price.

The Diamond 9.1 might be the most beautiful speaker we've seen for this kind of money--its sexy curves were probably inspired by some of the better British and Italian speakers. The only obvious cost-cutting move is the use of vinyl-wrapped finishes, but at least they're a sonically benign compromise. That said, we were impressed with our samples' distinctive brushed-silver finish, and the satellite is also available in black ash, cherry, beech, or rosewood finishes (although rosewood and beech are not currently available in the United States). The Diamond 9.1 is fairly large for a bookshelf speaker, measuring 7.75 inches wide, 11.75 inches high, and 11 inches deep.

Build-quality details are exemplary. We noted that the terminal "cap" that supports the speaker's biwire binding posts has a cast-metal housing and that the front-mounted ports are also cast-metal parts (most speakers make do with lots of plastic bits and pieces). The Diamond 9.1's woven 5-inch Kevlar woofer resembles the ones we see on pricey B&W speakers. The woofer's cast-alloy metal frame, the structural part of the speaker behind the cone, is extremely strong yet thin. Many competitors rely on thick plastic or stamped-metal frames that can restrict airflow inside the speaker--a bad move because it tends to muddy the sound. The 9.1's treble range is expertly handled by a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter with a neodymium magnet and a thick aluminum faceplate.

The 9.1's binding posts deserve special mention, first because the all-metal gold-plated connectors are pretty enough to be audio jewelry, but also because they're unusually versatile and can easily accept the thickest bare wire ends, spades, or banana jacks. Two sets of connectors are provided for those of you who would like to biwire your 9.1s for slightly better sound.

For our home-theater listening tests, we paired the 9.1 with Wharfedale's Diamond 9.CS center speaker and SW150 subwoofer. As we checked a bunch of our favorite DVDs, we noted that the all-Diamond system's tonal matchup was smooth as can be, and there was no sign of where the 9.1's bass was cutting out and the SW150 subwoofer's was coming in.

When we switched over to music, we listened with and without the other Diamond speakers. The new Motown Remixed CD features the Temptations classic "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" with a newly added funky bass line. The 9.1s on their own delivered a very credible groove. The Temps' vocals were clear and clean, and treble detail was above par. We feel confident that in small rooms (less than 200 square feet), some Diamond 9.1 buyers might not feel the need to add the sub for music or home-theater duty.

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