The Entry Level #34

Last month, I'd intended to compare the overachieving Pioneer SP-BS22-LR stand-mounted loudspeaker ($129.99/pair) with the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 ($349/pair). In fact, I was deep into the process—surrounded by pages and pages of scribbled notes, thumbs swollen and sticky with Blu-Tack—when it occurred to me that something was wrong with the Wharfedales.

When I noticed the problem, I wasn't really paying attention to the music. I wasn't even sitting in the sweet spot—a fact that I find slightly annoying and, even more, disturbing. Maybe all critical listening should be done in the bathroom. In this case, I was sitting with my back turned to the system, at a desk pushed hard against the living room's right-hand wall, about 3' from the right-channel speaker. Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2) was spinning in the NAD C 516BEE CD player (see below). I'd been using the test CD to confirm proper channel identification and phasing (geeky, I know, but necessary and comforting—or necessary because it's comforting), and I'd simply allowed the disc to continue playing while I tended to other important matters, like the score of the Mets game. (Losing—again. Sigh.) It was right around the four-minute mark of Cantus's performance of Debussy's Invocation, just after the short piano bridge that heralds the choir's re-entry, that I heard distortion coming from the right speaker. The massed voices are supposed to sound glorious and triumphant; instead, they sounded ragged, strained, and dirty.

And with that, everything I thought I knew about life, love, and the pursuit of audio excellence evaporated—poof (footnote 1). My world had more or less come to an end. If you've been involved with hi-fi long enough—like, more than a week—you know the feeling. I shut down the system, waited a while, said a prayer, powered up the system, and played the track again. Same problem. I shut down the system, waited a while, muttered a series of Fred Flintstone–like profanities, swapped the speakers, powered up the system, and played the racking fracking track again. Now the distortion came from the left channel—the problem had followed the speaker. I replaced the Wharfedales with the Pioneers. Everything sounded as it should.

I'm not certain how or when the Wharfedale was damaged, but I suspect it had occurred a few days earlier, when a heavy summer thunderstorm left us temporarily without electricity. I came home from work to find the system entirely shut down and all of the apartment's digital clocks blinking 00:00. I hate that.

For obvious reasons, I was upset about having damaged the speaker—after all, the thing wasn't mine—but I was also upset for a more selfish reason: I wanted it to be mine. In the time the Wharfedales had been in our home, Ms. Little and I had fallen in love with them—she for the first time, me all over again.

What's that you say? I'm full of it? Okay, okay. I fell in love with the Wharfedales all over again; Ms. Little merely approved. Same thing, though, right? Whatever.

Anyway, for a day or two, I tried pretending that I'd never heard the damn distortion. But I couldn't keep up the charade. Even if Ms. Little never knew the truth, I would always know—sadly, once you hear something, you can never unhear it—and living with myself is already difficult enough as it is; no need to add embarrassing secrets about the hi-fi.

I broke the news to Ms. Little. Surprisingly, she wasn't too torn up. Wharfedale quickly arranged to have another pair shipped to me, in the only finish readily available: black.

Black? Black like my old PSBs? Black like the Dayton Audio B652? Black like the Music Hall Marimba? Black like the Pioneer SP-BS-whatever? Black like almost every other loudspeaker I've reviewed? When it comes to loudspeakers, black is the new blah. But, as I soon discovered, when it comes to the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1, black is also beautiful. The speaker looks good—stylish and distinctive, but not overdone—in any of its finishes: rosewood, cherry, or . . . black.

The sound? Just as I remembered: Delicate without being weak, clean without being sterile, detailed without being clinical, sweet without being cloying, refined without being stuck-up boring, and always exceptionally involving, with no particular aspect of the music calling undue attention to itself. Compared to the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR, the Wharfedale had a warmer overall sound with more delicate highs and a richer midrange, but lacked the Pioneers' awesome image focus and clean attack transients. Both speakers excelled with Miles Davis's In a Silent Way (SACD/CD, Columbia/Legacy/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD2088): The Pioneers sounded more exciting, with a wider soundstage and more tightly focused images, but the Wharfedales had an almost magical way of making Miles's trumpet sweetly and gracefully materialize in the space between the speakers. Similarly, with "Slipped Dissolved and Loose," from Lambchop's Oh (Ohio) (CD, Merge MRG335), the Wharfedales surpassed the Pioneers at revealing the emotion—the grit, weariness, and desire—in Kurt Wagner's voice. I liked that—a lot.

Does it make sense to love a loudspeaker? I suppose it doesn't. So what? I love the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 as I love certain pieces of art and furniture. I love the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 as a pipefitter loves a Ridgid wrench or a ballplayer loves a Louisville Slugger. The Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 remains my favorite affordable stand-mounted loudspeaker. For $350/pair, I'm not sure you can do better.

NAD C 516BEE CD player
I can't say that I'm in love with any CD players. I reviewed NAD's C 515BEE ($299) in February 2012, and, for more or less practical reasons, I bought it: I liked its price; its compact size; its simple, tidy overall appearance; and its smooth, coherent sound. At the time, it struck me as the perfect reviewer's tool—a reference against which all other affordable CD players might be judged. In the time I've owned it, it's proven entirely reliable, and my appreciation for its easy, evenhanded way with music has only grown.

So this past February, when NAD replaced the C 515BEE with the identically priced C 516BEE, I was kind of annoyed. I'd hoped that my investment would last a bit longer. What gives?

1013entry.nad.jpg

NAD's director of technology and product planning, Greg Stidsen, explained that the C 515BEE's transport mechanism is being phased out of production—"a more or less constant problem with CD players these days." In addition to a new transport, the C 516BEE uses a new, "more powerful" digital signal processor for disc handling and decoding MP3, AAC, and WMA files. According to Stidsen, this "necessitated a revised microprocessor for control functions, along with new firmware."

I found the disc drawer of the new model to open and close slightly more smoothly, quietly, and slowly than the old. Similarly, the new model takes a couple of seconds longer to read discs before making music—no big deal.

The new model has a revised power supply for lower power consumption in Standby mode, and an automatic-standby feature that puts the CD player to sleep when not in use. I tend to keep my components always powered up (see blown speaker, above), so I worried that this auto-standby thing would tick me off—but I've come to really appreciate it. I like not wasting power. Auto-standby has never been annoying or inconvenient, and, to wake the player, all I have to do is touch a button on its front panel or on the included remote control.

Though the new model retains the old model's size (about 17" W by 2.75" H by 9.5" D), the front panel has been subtly updated to more closely resemble NAD's Master Series components. The disc drawer is thinner, the display larger, the buttons ever so slightly rounder. Whereas the old player came packed with a neatly printed user manual, the new model puts its manual on a CD-R housed in a glossy sleeve—a cool modern touch, though some may prefer a printed manual.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the C 515BEE's audio circuitry has been carried over into the new model. Stidsen says those audio circuits were "highly optimized" to begin with. Why fix what isn't broken, or replace what isn't going out of production?



Footnote 1: See Henry Rollins's "As We See It" in this issue.
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COMMENTS
Jimmy_G's picture

As an Entry Level hobbyist myself, I always enjoy reading your articles.  Last March I purchased the 10.1's for my system downstairs and enjoy them everyday.  Of course there are some speakers in this price range that do one or two things better, but the Wharfedales strike such a balance at this price point that they're impossible not to love. 

I'm glad you got a pair up and working again and look forward to hearing your continued adventures in affordable HiFi.  

Stephen Mejias's picture

Thanks very much, Jimmy. I'm glad the Wharfedales are working for you, too.

Bill B's picture

Since you heard more info via repeated listenings, how did you consider that what you heard was definitely the cables, and not (at least partly) the effect of repeated listening?  Just askin.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Since you heard more info via repeated listenings, how did you consider that what you heard was definitely the cables, and not (at least partly) the effect of repeated listening?

That's a great question. I wouldn't be surprised if many reviewers asked themselves the same thing. I do.

When you read a review, it often seems (and, as in this particular column, it's actually made to seem) as though all the listening takes place over one session. In fact, however, the listening takes place over many sessions, often spread out over weeks or months. The thoughts expressed in the review, then, reflect all of my listening -- not just the results of one casual session.

I'm very careful to be sure that I'm really hearing what I think I'm hearing -- I don't want to be wrong and I don't want to mislead anyone -- so I repeat the tests over and over again until I'm very comfortable with the results. What the column does not describe is that I listened at my place, then at Pete's place, then at my place again and again and again -- over several sessions, both casually and seriously focused. 

In the end, I also trust myself and remain true to myself. "To thine own ears be true," John Atkinson has taught me, and I think that's very important.  

SergioLangstrom's picture

Seems to me that some one that thinks the Croft Acoustic Amp sounds great needs their  hearing checked out or at the very least take a course in how to listen and what to listen for.

Bill B's picture

Thanks. 

destroysall76's picture

I've seen the Epos Epic 1 on sale recently, and seeing how the Epos Epic 2 is of the same, do you recommend it more than the Wharfedales?

Stephen Mejias's picture

I haven't heard the Epos speakers at home, nor have I compared them with the Wharfedales, under any circumstances, so I can't say. The Epos and Wharfedale speakers strike me as being very different, however. I would expect the Epic 2 to sound bigger with deeper bass, but that's just a guess. Robert Reina has reviewed both the Epic 2 and the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1; reading his reviews might help.

Andrew R's picture

Great artical as always Stephen. I wanted to know if you still planned a more detailed comparison between the Pioneers and the Wharfedales? I bought Pioneers this past summer with some influence from Stereophile, and they are fantastic. 

Stephen Mejias's picture

Thank you, Andrew. I'm glad you enjoyed the column and glad to hear that the Pioneers are working out for you.

Regarding the Wharfedales vs the Pioneers: Besides what I've covered here, I'm not sure I have anything really significant to add. They're both terrific speakers. I purchased the Wharfedales and I've still got the SP-BS22-LRs; I plan on using both in future reviews. If something strikes me as noteworthy, I'll definitely mention it, but, for now at least, I think I've covered the main differences between the Pioneer and the Wharfedale. 

AlphaMale2.0's picture

Nice review Stephen.

Do you perhaps know how they compare to the 9 series? From the outside they do not look that much different.

Sold my lovely black 9.5s, 9.2s and 9.cm about a year ago (eagerly yearning for a much better stereo stage) and replaced them with 2 Heco Statements. Never had any regrets (the Heco's are just superb!), but I do miss the Diamonds sometimes, somehow...

Perhaps, one day... I get me another set, next to the Statements.

street_stephen's picture

Stephen,

I enjoy your column very much.  We seem to have much the same taste, and I've found many of your recommendations to be terrific.

I have the Wharfedale 10.2s (sold for the price of the 10.1s which were unavailable at the time-- no doubt due to favorable reviews here).

I have a very small listening room -- 11x12x10 with the speakers blu-tacked to sand-filled stands near the front wall, slightly toed in towards a single club chair that sits agains the opposite wall.

I'm using SONOS --> Schiit Bifrost --> NAD 326BEE --> BiWired Anticables --> Wharfedale 10.2s

My question is this:  with a room that small, should I be considering adding a sub, and if so should I go with a Wharfedale to match the 10.2s or go with a pricier brand like a REL or a Velodyne?

Any thoughts you (or anyone else) may have on the subject would be very welcome.

Thanks,
Steve

Stephen Mejias's picture

My question is this:  with a room that small, should I be considering adding a sub, and if so should I go with a Wharfedale to match the 10.2s or go with a pricier brand like a REL or a Velodyne?

Hi Steve. It just depends on whether you think you're missing bass. In a room of your size, with your system, and the music I enjoy listening to, I don't think I'd need a subwoofer. But you might feel differently. If you do think you're missing low frequencies, you could certainly opt to partner your Wharfedale speakers with a Wharfedale sub -- that's probably what I would do, but not so much because of the sound, but simply because I prefer that kind of coherence or synergy among my components. Wharfedale isn't particularly well-known for their subs and I haven't listened to their subs, so I can't make any statements regarding their quality. I have heard and enjoy REL subs, however, and they are highly regarded.

street_stephen's picture

Stephen,

Thanks for the reply.

I don't hear any low-end missing in James Blake, Purity Ring, Trentemoeller, or Radiohead and my beloved Mahler sounds as thunderous and heartbreaking as ever.

I have found as I drift down the audiophile rabbit hole that I don't know what I'm missing until I've added some new piece to the mix.  For example, adding the Bifrost to the mix made a huge change in the depth and breadth of the soundstage that I didn't know was possible as I'm still such a noob.

You've seen and heard a lot, and I'm grateful for your insight.

I really enjoy your column, and I appreciate you taking the time to reply.

Utopianemo's picture

Stephen, 

How far from the front wall are your wharfedales?  I am planning on getting the 10.2's, but due to room limitations, I've got 18" max distance from back of speaker to back wall.  Based on your experience with the 10.1, do you think that's enough breathing room?

Stephen Mejias's picture

Hi there.

I have about 27" between the rear of my speakers and my front wall. But I don't see why having less space would be a bad thing.

jbucko's picture

Great article Stephen, as a budding 20-something audiophile (mostly thanks to my audiophile dad) I really enjoy your writing.

I decided to edit down my previous post...

Basically, I want to get entry-level AQ interconnects for my entry-level set up (Debut III, older Oppo player, Cambridge Topaz AM10) and I'm wondering if I would notice any difference between using mini-to-mini, mini-to-RCA, or iPod-to-RCA to hook up my iPod classic full of mostly AACs/MP3s and some Apple Lossless. If Stephen or anyone else has any thoughts it would be much appreciated, thanks!

Stephen Mejias's picture

Thanks very much. I'm glad to hear you enjoy the column!

Sounds like you've put together a great system. I'm not sure if you'd hear a meaningful difference between those different terminations. You might. I haven't tried such comparisons, but, typically, I tend to prefer the iPod-to-RCA connection, simply because it feels most secure. The mini-to-mini might be easiest and most convenient, however, since you can go directly into the Cambridge's front-panel MP3 input.

cmuto's picture

Stephen, I just purchased a pair of the Diamond 10.1's. They are beautiful and the fit and finish suggests a much more expensive speaker. Stereophile made me aware of them and your approval was weighty in my decision to audition a pair. And they sounded great when I auditioned them and subsequently I purchased a pair.

My dealer told me they need 50-70 hours of moderate volume to break in. Did you observe a break in period, in which after the fact, the sound quality improved?

Stephen Mejias's picture

My dealer told me they need 50-70 hours of moderate volume to break in. Did you observe a break in period, in which after the fact, the sound quality improved?

Sounds like you've got a good dealer, in so far as he properly communicates the vision and needs of the company he represents. Wharfedale has told me the same thing about break-in -- noting, specifically, that the speakers' initial hardness will vanish over time. However, in my experience, with both well-worn samples and out-of-box-cold samples, the Diamond 10.1 never exhibited hardness. If anything, they sounded wonderful and involving right out of the box and, while I have grown to love them more over time, it's only because they're so nice to look at.

By the way, another thing Wharfedale has told me is that the Diamond 10.1 prefers to be wired at its topmost terminals, if not bi-wired. I've taken their word on that, but haven't actually performed listening tests to confirm it.

leberumen's picture

Hi Stephen,

I've been following your reviews for a little while as I am doing research on speakers and amps for my first decent audio system. I am seriously considering the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 paired with the NAD 3020 or Pioneer A-20. However, being incredibly naive about some aspects of audio equipment, I have a question. Is it a good idea to use active studio monitors (Behringers, see link) instead of dedicated speakers and amp? Are there any fundamental differences in the way they're made or the sound they will deliver? I understand you might not have listened to these monitors in particular, but I would like to get your general insight. Please advise and keep up the great work.

donunus's picture

I wonder if Audioquest makes the RCA to minijack cables with the opposite directionality. I need it to go from my DAC with RCA outputs to a portable headphone amplifier with a 3.5mm input jack.

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