First Listen: Wharfedale Diamond 10 5.1-Channel Speaker System

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Wharfedale Diamond 10 5.1
First Listen: Wharfedale Diamond 10 5.1-Channel Speaker System

 It’s been nearly 30 years since Wharfedale launched the original Diamond, a diminutive and unassuming bookshelf model that sold for well south of $200 a pair. Now over five million speakers later, the 10th generation Diamond has mushroomed into a lineup with sixteen separate models, catering to both two-channel and multi-channel customers alike. Throughout these generations the one thing has never wavered is the Diamond’s primary goal of delivering the maximum bang for the buck in a conventionally designed speaker. There are no Diamond soundbars or iPod docks, just maximum value passive speakers like the original 1982 model.

I decided to check out how much the Diamond franchise has progressed in 30 years, so the review system is essentially a maxed-out 5.1 channel Diamond 10 surround rig. In each position I went for the best Diamond 10 model designed specifically for that role, comprising the following models:

•1 pair of Diamond 10.7, four-driver, 3 ½-way floorstanders (MSRP, $1,299/pair).
•1 pair of Diamond 10.DFS, four-driver, 2-way wall-mount dipole surround speakers (MSRP, $299/pair).
•1 Diamond 10 CM, four-driver, 3-way center channel (MSRP, $449/each).
•1 Diamond 10 GX-SUB, Subwoofer, with 10-inch Kevlar woofer, a 250-watt class D amp, (MSRP, $799/each).

Both the 10.7s floorstanders and the 10 CM center channel speaker follow the same basic formula, using a one inch soft dome tweeter and a two inch dome midrange driver, partnered with 6 ½ inch Kevlar weave woofers. The use of a dome midrange is an unusual feature in a value priced speaker, and both it and the tweeter dome are mounted in shallow horn-like waveguides that provide a useful bump in efficiency.

While the 10.7 floorstander and the 10 CM center appear to use the same driver lineup, there are a few important differences. The 10.7 is what’s known as a 3 ½-way design, where two woofers are used but they cover different overlapping ranges. The lower woofer is there to add power in the deep bass and thus rolls off above 150-Hz, while the upper woofer continues on up to the midrange crossover point at 850-Hz. This gives you the extra bass power of a dual woofer setup, without introducing the phasing issues that could occur if both woofers extended up into the midrange. The two woofers are slightly dissimilar to reflect the difference in their respective roles; specifically, the upper woofer features a phase plug whereas the lower woofer does not include a phase plug.

The smaller 10 CM center channel speaker uses a pair of the same wide range woofers as the 10.7, but because it has a sealed enclosure unlike the ported 10.7, the crossover point between the woofers and the midrange has been put a little higher.

Both the 10.7 and the 10 CM use a fashionable tapered cross section cabinet, where the sidewalls are curved so that they taper towards a truncated point at the rear. This shape can result in a stronger and less resonant enclosure, and the non-parallel sides should mean fewer problems with standing waves inside the box.

The Diamond 8 and 9 series had a clean and somewhat subdued appearance, but for the Diamond 10 the designers went for the maximum bling effect, with shiny silver surrounds for each driver set into a high-gloss black baffle. The other surfaces of the review samples are wrapped in what Wharfedale calls Rosewood Quilt, with cherry and black as alternate options. It looks decent enough, even though you’re unlikely to convince anyone that an actual tree was involved in its creation. If you’re not a big fan of bling, the shiny drivers can be covered up with the supplied grills, although further listening will be needed to determine any sonic effects.

The hefty 10 GX-SUB follows the lead of the main speakers, using a similar vinyl wrapped cabinet with curved sides and a glossy black panel on the front. The beefy looking 10-inch Kevlar cone woofer is mounted on the bottom, while the rear facing amplifier panel includes all of the connectors and controls. Unlike many subs these days, the GX is a sealed design, so I found getting it positioned ideally to be pretty easy. The low pass line level crossover has only a few discrete steps, but they do include a bypass setting for use with an LFE signal. One minor annoyance is how the GX lacks of any kind of signal sensing or remote power switch. To turn it off you need to grope around the back for the on/off switch, otherwise it will idle away sucking about 15 watts continuously from the wall outlet.

In this system the wall-mounted 10.DFS surround speakers seem like the odd ones out, with a somewhat different design and look compared to the other speakers. The black fabric covered molded plastic enclosures use a semi-bipole approach, with identical pairs of drivers on two sides of a low-profile triangular shape. This is supposed to help spread the surround information around the back of the room, resulting in a more enveloping presentation. The bottom of the speaker tapers to a thin edge at the wall, although if you want to use them on a shelf or stand they can be inverted. The tweeters appear to be similar to the other speakers, although the mid-woofers are totally different, using a four-inch Kevlar cone.

When I initially setup a new surround system, I like to run my Integra receiver’s Audyssey calibration program to see where it believes the crossover for each speaker should be set. With the Diamond 10 system it determined that the big 10.7s could be run full range, while the 10.DFS surrounds should run down to 80-Hz, and the 10 CM center channel should only go to 120-Hz. I normally view these determinations with some skepticism and fine-tune them by ear, but it was interesting how the software was quite impressed with the 10.7’s bass, but with center channel and its similar driver complement, not so much.

A detailed report of the Diamond 10 system’s sonic performance will have to wait for the full review once everything is fully broken in, but my initial impressions are of an open sounding system that paints its sonic images on a big canvas, without trying to dazzle you with gobs of fine detail. On a two-channel recording like Lou Reed’s Set The Twilight Reeling, the 10.7s delivered a spacious soundstage with plenty of depth. Fernando Saunders’ fretless bass sounded tight and punchy, while Lou’s clean electric guitar sound had plenty of color and dynamic swing.

I also cranked up the airplane crash scene from Fight Club just to see whether the Diamonds could deliver a real punch, and had no problems reaching levels that would normally have me diving for the volume control. Even at full tilt boogie there was no obvious distress, and they could deliver a real sonic punch when needed.

Clearly the Diamond 10s can do the big stuff without breaking a sweat, and with further listening I will investigate whether there’s also some subtlety in the mix. Stay tuned for an upcoming full-length review in The Perfect Vision.

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