Wharfedale is one of the oldest, and most respected names in audio, whose first speakers were produced in 1932. They have an extensive product matrix, with small affordable entry level systems to larger, expensive systems. In this review we look at their well-known Diamond 220 series coupled with the D8 subwoofer for an affordable and musical 5.1 surround system.
This review is a bit tardy as we started on this review with the 220's predecessors, the Diamond 10.2 front right and left speakers, the 10.0 CC center speaker, the 10-SX subwoofer, and DFS rear surrounds. It was a fine sounding system, with the unique DFS rear surround speakers that were designed to hang flat against the wall with a single screw or nail. We had problematic woofers with crunchy voice coils on the 10.2 units, probably the result of our pushing them too hard, so Wharfedale kindly swapped out the system for the newly released Diamond 220 set instead. We were glad for the opportunity to work with both sets as it highlighted the improvements the 220s bring.
The new models are immediately set apart by their black finish, brushed aluminum rings around the drivers, for a more design conscious appearance then their predecessor. Because we have two adorable but mischievous cats, we opted for the bookshelf models instead of the towers for the front right & left speakers. Also, we are aware that space is a limitation for many consumers and many consumers prefer bookshelf over towers for that reason. Make no mistake, these are still large enough to require a shelf or stand to hold. With the craze for the small tiny satellite speakers and a subwoofer, a full-sized bookshelf system might seem like an anachronism, but we haven't found many smaller systems that deliver the full-range of audio that larger components and cabinets can. One immediate difference was that the curved cabinets of the 10.2 were replaced with more conventional straight cabinets in the 220, a move mirrored by Andrew Jones in his shift from his Pioneer speakers for his new ELAC speakers. Perhaps curved cabinets are now passé?
We used identical 220 speakers for the front and rear pairs for a consistent audio signature. They feature a 5.1-inch (130mm) Woven Kevlar Cone Bass driver with a larger magnet structure then previous models, and 25mm Soft Dome tweeter that is unchanged from the 10.2 models. The 220C center speaker utilizes two of the same bass drivers from the 220, and a single tweeter from the 220. The 220C is available in more colors, Black, Walnut, Rosewood, or White, and interestingly the 220C by itself is more expensive than a pair of 220s. One interesting design choice for the 220’s is that they are vented downward for bass. Most systems at this price are rear ported, thus placement too close to a wall or the back of a shelf would seriously compromise the audio. Because they are downward ported to a small air gap/slot at the bottom edge of the speaker, they are much easier to place, although as noted later, they really shine on stands.
The D8 Subwoofer features include a low pass filter slope that is continuously adjustable from 40Hz - 150Hz, a phase invert switch, low frequency bass extension (below 30Hz), with a wide 86dB dynamic range, low level inputs, dedicated LFE input, and finally an auto power sensor. It’s available in either Blackwood (the version we tested) or White. The subwoofer is front firing with a cloth grill cover and the amplifier is rated at 70 watts, with 150 watts at peak output.
Using the Oppo BD-105 Universal Blu-ray Player, and the Pioneer Elite SC-71 AV Receiver, we used the Pioneer MCACC® audio calibration software for audio equalization to normalize the room, compensate for placement distances, and linearize the spectral response. At first we were a bit wary of the accuracy of the built-in MCACC system, but in practice it's proven to be accurate, easy to use, and impressive in taming room acoustics.
Ok, so how did they sound? They were very good indeed, especially at this price point. Instrument placement was precise and free from sibilants, mid-tones especially with vocals were handled with aplomb. The 220’s are well balanced even at low listening levels. We did notice a bit of break-in for the speakers, and suggest you give them 40 to 60 hours of use before really auditioning them. The HD Tracks high-resolution remaster of Ella and Louis, the classic Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong album features a vocal performance by Fitzgerald that defines "smooth as silk" with gorgeously believable voicing, and here the Whafedale's didn't disappoint. Vocal placement was open and airy, and the lower bass registers were handled without any trace of strain from either the subwoofer or the speakers themselves. The same was true of HD Tracks' Willie Nelson's "Stardust", where the road dust in Nelson’s voice almost seems tangible. The ache in his delivery of "September Song" can bring you to tears, and once again both the percussive elements were smooth, and the vocals as one would expect. We tried them on speaker stands, with room for the speakers to precisely placed, and as you might predict, the audio was more open, airy, and less directional leading to a warm instrument placement. In listening to them, we noticed warmth to the audio signature in the mid-tones, which revealed itself in vocal performance. These are not sterile, overly precise in tone, but rather generous and enjoyable.
Switching to surround AV content, we wondered how the system would handle the booming theatrics of the recent Blu-ray release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Our listening room isn't large, and the D8 Subwoofer was up to the task with 70 watts (150 peak) and an eight-inch long-throw front firing woofer. The scene where Rey and Finn escape Jakku in the Millennium Falcon features Tie Fighters screeching by, the impact of blaster guns, and the shouts of Rey, Finn, and BB-8, as they try to elude their pursuers from the First Order. The scene is part pandemonium, all out warfare, and an aerial dogfight just above the surface of Jakku. The Class-D amplification of the Pioneer Elite SC-71 was able to handle the outrageous dynamics of a first-rate Skywalker Sound audio mix without strain or evidence of clipping. The room thumped as the blaster guns blazed, and yet through it all the vocals were easily discernible. Despite the cranky press that Class D often receives in the audiophile press, we have found that properly executed, the design can strike a fine balance between cost effectiveness and audio quality, and we found it a good match with the Diamond 220s.
One test was using the High-Resolution Surround Mix by Steven Wilson of Jethro Tull "Aqualung", which as our earlier review stated is a tour-de-force demonstration of the restoration and remix of this classic rock album. The system gave a very musical presentation and the rear surrounds seemed the perfect accompaniment. We are enthusiastic supporters of surround, so the ability of the system to work with AV content, as well as critical listening for high-resolution surround was a testament to how the 220s were able to accommodate nuanced content.
No matter if you are looking for a solid set of stereo bookshelf speakers, or a matched system for surround music, and home theater use, the Wharfedale Diamond 220s should be carefully considered. We have been able to live with them for an extended period, and have found them comfortable with just about any content we could throw at them. If you have a larger listening room, you might want to audition the Diamond 230 towers, and D10 Subwoofer for more punch. While it's rare for such an affordable system to be this musical, the Wharfedale 220s are a great buy, with the ability to handle a wide-variety of differing musical styles and genres. The fit and finish are well done, especially at this price point, and we really like the down firing ports which will help most listeners find it easier to fit them into their own shelving system and yet still maintain a clean bass signature. The Wharfedale Diamond 220 speaker system comes highly recommended.
Harris Fogel and Nancy Burlan, posted 4/12/2016
For more information on the Wharfedale Diamond 220 speaker systems visit: http://www.wharfedale.co.uk
For more information on high-resolution audio from HD Tracks visit: www.hdtracks.com