Sumptuous looks, beautiful integration, plenty of scope to match different speakers in range Minus points:
Warmish sound won't suit everyone
Part of the International Audio Group which also includes Quad and Audiolab, Huntingdon-based Wharfedale produced its first Diamond speaker over two decades ago, in 1981. The original standmount design was intended to be a giant-killing budget box, incorporating quality technology and craftsmanship into a very affordable package. A lot's changed since then of course, but the latest Diamond range (9 and counting…) still maintains the ethos of affordable quality.
There are ten models in all in the Diamond 9 range, though for the purposes of this trial we selected the floorstanding 9.4 (other models include the 9.5 and 9.6, plus the standmount 9.0, 9.1, 9.2 and SR), the CS centre channel (there's also the CC), a brace of DFS bipole surrounds and the addition of an SW250 subwoofer (though we could also have had the SW150, SW300 or SW380).They can be mixed and matched in any configuration to make a surround system, or as a stereo pair or even 2.1 system.
Wharfedale takes pride in its construction methods, and it must be said that this is in no obvious way a budget speaker package. Unusually at this price, all parts, including trim rings, tweeter fascia plate, port tubes, and rear terminal housing as well as the bass/mid driver chassis are all die-cast, which makes for a very sturdy and good quality proposition.
The bass/mid drivers all have the same open-backed chassis, designed to present a very small amount of acoustically reflective surface directly behind the cone. The theory is that this should reduce the possibility of ghost images and other unwanted resonances, though it can only work thanks to the large amounts of wadding crammed into the curved cabinet to reduce the effect of resonances and standing waves within the cabinet itself.
The cabinets' rather classy looking curves by the way are the reason given by Wharfedale for clothing them in an (admittedly rather nice) vinyl wrap as opposed to wood veneer, which would have been impossible at this price point. Even so, the effect is sumptuous and all look as though they should cost considerably more than they do.
All the speakers in the range include Kevlar drive bass/mid drivers units and silk dome tweeters (not real silk of course, but a more reliable man-made fabric with similar properties) and all bar the sub are magnetically shielded.
The floorstanding 9.4 is quite an imposing beast at 22x80x30cm and hosts a single 165mm bass/mid driver beneath a 25mm tweeter. It's bi-wireable and features Wharfedale's unusual splayed terminals. These point outwards at a 90 degree angle from each other, the idea being that less pressure is put on heavier cables which might pull them out from the sockets. The binding posts are gold-plated, which adds to the classy feel (as well as being an excellent electrical conductor).
The CS centre channel features two 125mm bass/mid drivers around a single 25mm tweeter in a kind of horizontal d'Appolito configuration. The bipole DFS features twin 100mm bass/mid drivers atop 25mm tweeters and are designed for wall hanging, although they can also stand on furniture if needs be. The drivers are angled at 90 degrees from each other which necessarily makes for a more diffuse, less clearly defined sound, which is generally more suitable for movies than audio enjoyment.
The SW250 subwoofer has some interesting attributes. It's a sealed box construction with a 10in downward-firing Kevlar driver encased in a curved cabinet. It looks sumptuous and sounds powerful, but the clever bit comes with the inclusion of a remote control that allows you to set four different presets for gain, low pass filter and phase (not available on the SW150). If you're prepared to put the time in at the start, this makes it very easy to switch between movie and audio settings with a button push.
Using the floorstanding 9.4s rather than one of the standmount options offers greater depth but you'll need a bit of space in your listening room to make room for them, both physically and aurally. In our 4x3.5m room there was occasionally the suspicion that the big pair were just a mite overpowering, though they offered superb detail and a transparently clear sound, nicely detailed and with impressive dynamic range.
There's a good deal of warmth when listening to this system - perhaps a little too much. The treble certainly couldn't be said to be bright, and there is the suspicion that some of the last vestiges of detail may not be getting through in the upper register. While this won't have any great effect on movie enjoyment, it can actually work to your advantage, since it's less likely to grate with prolonged listening.
Down in the low end meanwhile, the SW250 subwoofer integrated cleanly and seamlessly with the other speakers, offering plenty of low rumbles, but also taught, crisp notes when required. There's no sense of wooliness here, or of bottling out when it gets down to the seriously low end. In fact, the only hint of this came when we cranked up the volume to silly levels, but for all practical purposes it was fine - and for larger rooms where silly levels may be required, Wharfedale produces two larger models.
The CC centre channel complemented the stereo pair well, with expressive, natural and clear-sounding midrange, and we found it to be particularly good with speech, dynamic and clear, with no trace of sibilance. The DFS surrounds by definition don't offer a pin-sharp sound picture but they certainly do their bit when it comes to integrating the surround sound information into the overall experience. With the rest of the system, they contribute to a rich, enveloping experience that, like a pair of particularly comfortable slippers, are a pleasure to slide into.
You can put together a Diamond 9 system for half this price, and the earlier 8 series is still available, though it lacks some of the design features present in the new models. As a first step into high end audio, there are few better, and the scope offered by the 9s gives you plenty of room to experiment with what works best for you and your room. While the system we tried is probably better suited for home cinema than a full-on hi-fi system, aesthetically, build-wise and for sheer long-term enjoyment, it's extremely hard to beat.
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