When the Wharfedale Diamond 121 bookshelf speakers were dropped off at our doorstep, we really didn’t know what to expect. We’ve heard plenty of Wharfedales before and some have surprised us more than others, but there is no particular signature sound that any of the pairs have in common, which has its goods and bads. As the Diamond 121 is one of the smaller bookshelf speakers that we have received, we had some predictions laid out, but in the end there were a handful of surprises that scattered all of our predictions in the wind.
Out of the box
This pair is super light and relatively small, which does raise the question of whether or not they’ll be able to provide the rigidity needed to handle the bass. With a matte black cabinet, which boasts of a cubic shape with just a gentle curve from the side panels to the front baffle, there is a good twist to the traditional cube cabinet. The front baffle, however, doesn’t come with a large grille; rather the tweeter and the woofer come with their own, perfectly cut plastic grilles that are difficult to remove. The grilles have been made to swell just a little above the surface of the front baffle, almost like an extension of the curves of the cabinet.
Dimensions are well-balanced
The drivers have evolved from the high-end Jade range of Wharfedale speakers. The woofer is a Wharfedale Woven Kevlar cone that’s been given semi-elliptical ‘break-up’ areas, which smoothen out the response of the mids and lows. Each of the surrounds match the edge of the cone they are supporting with the diamond pattern-moulding that Wharfedale has become a champion at. The dust cap has been blended and treated to make for a smooth transition to match the tweeter. The tweeter is a sheer fabric dome and advanced ferrite magnet system, which is a development from the one used in the Jades. The dome is surrounded by a waveguide that helps in dispersion and mid-range performance.
The crossover has been developed by Wharfedale’s ‘Virtual Speaker’ software, which allows Wharfedale to run all kinds of tests with the speaker without even making the prototype. It takes into account the driver performance, cabinet construction and room placement to test on and off-axis performance. The Virtual Speaker also takes into account cabinet walls and internal bracing with its Delayed Cumulative Spectral Analysis, which reveals everything about cabinets from colouration to internal resonances. So finally, when it was time to make their cabinet, Wharfedale was told by the software team to go in for multi-grain faceted boards bonded together to dampen internal resonances and block internal sound leakage. The result was that the noise from within the cabinet was dropped 35dB below the driver’s output.
Setup is easy
The reflex port is a slot-loaded distributed port that equalises the air pressure to mimic that inside the cabinet. This results in a smooth transition between the pressure variations in the cabinet and the low frequency sound developed in the room. Virtual Speaker is used here too, so you can be sure the results would be thorough and for the benefit of the speaker.
Setting up a pair of bookshelf speakers is as simple as placing the two stands that will support them in their respective places. Some bookshelf speakers do give you a hard time as they tend to have a narrow sweet spot, but not the Diamond 121s. After towing them in ever so slightly, I took my place on the sofa before being hit by a wide, expansive soundstage that was home to all the electronic elements of KiloWatts' “Eastward” from the album ‘Routes’. This song is made of a steady baseline that also plays the role of a crispy pad as it pulsates with deep a grinding beat. I realised almost instantly that the lower end of this pair was surprisingly deep, especially when you look at the small woofer it’s vibrating from.
There is also immense control on the kick drum and bassline that are also the determining factors of how wide the soundstage can go. And whenever a speaker gives me this kind of lower end, I have a habit of testing its limits. So I drove our Onkyo amplifier to a point where it said ‘50’ on its dial, which is where I had to stop because the woofer began to distort as I’d reached its excursion limit. There was a very fine point where this distortion began, which was a click between 48 and 49 on the amplifier. Now, although keeping the level at 45 was reasonable for our studio, it wouldn’t be enough for a mid-sized living room, so that is unfortunate.
Drivers have evolved from the Jade range speakers
There is a definite sense of wholesomeness when you run vocal music through this pair. It gives you an extremely rich frequency range, especially the lower-mids, which always sound meaty. I played some Kings of Convenience through them, and I could hear the two vocalists right in my ears with their acoustic guitars right behind them. The body of the guitars was as prominent as the body of the voices, and that’s how this kind of music has to be rendered. With such a firm grip on the frequency range, the timbre of instruments can be heard effortlessly. For instance, “There Will Be Blood OST” by Johnny Greenwood is filled with solo string instruments, like the violin and the cello, both of which titillated both my ear drums and my tastebuds alike. Even at the nominal level the speakers allowed me, the music felt like a salty lake that would keep you afloat without you doing a thing. When you experience something like this from a pair of bookshelf speakers, there’s definitely something extraordinary going on, which adds a whole lot of value to the pair.
Priced at Rs. 20,000, the Wharfedale’s Diamond 121 bookshelf speakers are both realistic and magical. I say realistic because reality is never perfect and neither is this pair of dimunitive speakers. They have a threshold for power and you can’t cross it without damaging them; hence, they are apt for small rooms but won’t do for larger ones. They are magical because within that threshold, they ‘bend the spoon’, to speak in the Matrix lingo. You’re expecting a lower-end that can’t go beyond 100Hz, they’ll give you 50Hz. You think they’re too small to render a wide soundstage, they’ll give you a seabed that’s fertile enough to support human life. The 121s are worth their price and if you’re looking for a bookshelf pair for your bedroom, please don’t give this pair a miss.
AV MAX is a special interest audiophile magazine that focuses on reviewing high-end AV equipment like amplifiers, stereos, floorstanding speakers and related news
Updated 19 May, 2013, 5:16 pm IST
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