Wharfedale Linton 85th Anniversary loudspeaker

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Wharfedale Linton 85th Anniversary

Once you lift the Linton 85s from their cartons you realise another fine detail touch: all their surfaces (save for the front baffle) are covered in oil-finished wood veneers. This includes the tops, sides, bottoms, narrow front bezels, and even the rear panels. On said rear panels one finds two flared bass reflex ports, a pair of gold-plated speaker binding posts, and a brass escutcheon plate denoting the speakers’ 85th Anniversary Limited Edition status, and bearing both the Wharfedale logo and a small red, white, and blue Union flag. From the front, the loudspeaker looks a bit like a trip back to yesteryear, in that these are relatively large, broad-shouldered monitors with tasteful, padded black grilles mounted flush to the narrow bezel strips that frame the speaker’s face. The design harks back to classic British monitors from the past—such as bygone models not only from Wharfedale, but also from Spendor and Harbeth. Let me come right out and say it: these speakers are a feast for the eyes so that their owners will, I think, feel an appropriate sense of pride of ownership beyond all proportion to the speakers’ price.

The stands are no less lovely and they are sturdily and purposefully built. The top and bottom of the stands are satin black steel plates that exactly match the footprints of the loudspeakers, while square-section, satin black steel tubes serve as vertical risers. Then, on the underside of the top plate and the upperside of the bottom plate, there are thick mass-loading panels treated to wood-veneered surfaces to match the loudspeakers. Finally, there are nicely finished, threaded floor cones to complete the picture. These robust stands not only lift the Linton 85s to the perfect height for seated listeners, but also turn out to provide space for storing 50-60 vinyl albums beneath each speaker. Clever. Given all these factors, I think we can also consider the “fine craftsmanship” and “beautifully proportioned” boxes ticked.

This, of course, brings us to the most important question of all: namely, do the Linton 85s deliver the promised element of “natural sound quality”? 

Let’s begin by looking at the internal ingredients responsible for delivering the Linton 85s’ sound. The loudspeakers feature 200mm woven Kevlar-coned bass drivers with die cast chassis, 135mm woven Kevlar-coned midrange drivers that are housed in their own internal enclosures, and a 25mm textile soft-dome tweeter with a high flux ferrite magnet. Joining these drive units is a crossover that Peter Comeau describes as “near inaudible to the listener, resulting in a coherent, seamless musical output.” Last but not least, the cabinet panels are formed from a three-layer sandwich of MDF-Chipboard-MDF,  a panel construction said to distribute and mitigate cabinet resonances.

I found the Linton 85s to have considerable audiophile appeal as they were, by turns, engaging, energising, seductive, and just plain fun to listen to. I mention those last several points because I have heard any number of high-end loudspeakers that, while impressive in an abstract, theoretical, and academic sense, somehow manage to miss the deep emotive impact that music should have. Happily, the Linton 85s are not among them; instead, they tread the fine line between being revealing yet also inviting and at times downright seductive. They also can boogie, when the occasion arises.

One of my favourite test tracks is ‘Flamingo Sky’ from Marilyn Mazur, Josephine Cronholm, and Krister Jonssen’s album of the same name [ECM. 16/44.1]. The track is full of Mazur’s delicate high percussion and insistent, syncopated low percussion, Cronholm’s unorthodox vocals, plus Jonssen’s angular yet almost jovial guitar lines. The Linton 85s proved revealing yet never edgy on the high percussion, delivered the deep ‘thwoomps’ demanded by the low percussion, captured the desirably quirky inflections of Cronholm’s voice, and caught the energy, angularity, and underlying humour in Jonssen’s guitar. What is more, the Wharfedales imaged beautifully and managed to convey a sense of front-to-back stage depth that is often elusive.

Another fine illustration of the Linton 85s’ capabilities came when listening to ‘Chant’ from Nils Frahm’s Solo {Erased Tapes, 16/44.1], which juxtaposes middle and upper range piano phrases against powerful and sonorous low-frequency keyboard passages. The Linton 85s caught the uplifting and meditative qualities of the middle and upper range piano lines, while nailing the sheer depth and gravitas of the low-frequency elements. 

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