Wharfedale Jade 7 loudspeaker Page 2
Compared to the Simaudio and McIntosh, the sonic character of the ProLogue Premium was much like what I'd previously heard through the speakers with powered woofers: a smooth, musical presentation, missing only some of the fine detail that characterizes the more expensive combinations of preamp and power amp. There was a little extra warmth in the midbass, and the bass was not quite as tight or as extended as with the other two amps (especially the Simaudio), but it wasn't notably deficient, either. If I hadn't heard the speakers with these other amps (not forgetting the contribution of the Convergent Audio Technology SL-1 Renaissance preamp, which alone costs $9995), I wouldn't have thought there was anything amiss. After an initial period of comparing amplifiers, most of my listening to the Jade 7 was with the McIntosh MC275LE. Except as noted, my descriptions of the Jade 7's sound refer to the speakers being driven by this amplifier.
For most audiophiles, tonal balance is at the top of the list of attributes desirable in a speaker. If a speaker significantly departs from tonal neutralityeg, if it sounds too bright or distinctly warmit may still be preferred by some audiophiles, especially if it has other desirable characteristics (eg, startling dynamics) that make one overlook the tonal imbalancebut in that case, the speaker succeeds despite rather than because of its tonal characteristics.
The Jade 7's tonal balance was about as neutral as they come. With well-recorded orchestral recordings, such as Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra's performance of Mussorgsky-Ravel's Pictures at an Exhibition (HDCD, Reference RR-79), the full range of the orchestra, from the shimmer of cymbals to the solidity of the bass drum, was presented in a way that sounded much like the real thing. A well-known principle of tonal neutrality requires that the treble and bass be evenly balanced. Judgments of tonal neutrality are subjectiveas J. Gordon Holt pointed out in "Down with Flat," a measured flat frequency response does not necessarily translate into perceived tonal neutrality.
As I write this, I don't yet know how well the Jade 7 measuresreviewed components are measured by John Atkinson, and reviewers don't see those figures until the review is about to be publishedbut whatever the measurements will show, it seems to me that the decisions made by the designer in balancing the frequency response of the Jade 7's drivers, and in blending their responses with the crossovers, has resulted in a speaker that did its job without unduly emphasizing or shortchanging any part of the audioband. As mentioned in the "Break-in" section, my initial impression was that the treble was on the soft side, but this pretty much disappeared after the speaker was broken in. Vocal sibilants, which can expose problems in the treble, were well controlled, perhaps just a bit deemphasizedwhich is far preferable to them being "spitty."
In fact, the faithful reproduction of voices was one of the Jade 7's strengths. I have a CD of opera arias that was included with an issue of CD Review (now sadly defunct) more than a decade ago. I was quite fond of it, and used to play it a lot until, a few years ago, I misplaced it. It resurfaced while I was listening to the Jade 7, and I was delighted to hear it again. The collection (the CD insert identifies it as BMG Classics, but there's no catalog number, so I don't think it was released separately) includes several arias sung by Plácido Domingo, and it was a pleasure to listen to the sound of his voice in its prime, more effortless than in his later years. Through the Jade 7 and at an appropriately high level, it had a "ping" and power that presented a convincingly real impression. The Jade 7 also did well with the voices of the various sopranos represented on this disc: Leontyne Price, Monserrat Caballé, Renata Scotto, Carol Neblett, Ileana Contrubas, and Anna Moffo. The distinctive quality of each woman's voice was easily apparent.
When it comes to evaluating bass performance, one of my favorite tests of speakers' bass extension is the low synthesizer note at the beginning of track 7 of Mickey Hart's Planet Drum (CD, Rykodisc RCD 10206), which the Real Time Analyzer of the iPhone AudioTools app shows as having a fundamental of 32Hz. Through many speakers, this note is present only in the form of harmonics, or is missing altogether. It was clearly there with the Jade 7, a firm note with a good sense of the fundamental rather than a doubled harmonic. The Avantgarde Uno Nano, MartinLogan Montis, and GoldenEar Triton II perform even better on this test, with more of a room-shaking effect, but each of those speakers has a powered subwoofer and, except for the Triton II, is more expensive.
Perhaps more important than the sheer extension of bass is its quality: in the case of the Jade 7, the bass was tight, tuneful, and fast. How much of this was due to the use of aperiodic cabinet loading is open to debatethe design of the drivers, crossover, and cabinet must play important rolesbut the combination as a whole simply worked. The timpani in Harold Farber and the All Star Percussion Ensemble's All Star Percussion (CD, Golden Strings GS CD 005) came across with crispness and as distinct musical notes, and I found it easy to follow the double-bass accompaniment on Sure Thing, Sylvia McNair's album of Jerome Kern songs (CD, Philips 442 129-2).
The late Peter Walker, of Quad, suggested that there is a single "correct" playback level for every music recording. Although I'm sympathetic to this view, and often fiddle with the level to get an effect that sounds natural to me, I think that what people consider to be the correct playback level depends on several factors, including how "comfortable" a particular speaker sounds at various levels. Speakers like the original Quads, and classic minimonitors like the Rogers LS3/5A, sound great when played at relatively low levels, but push them a bit more and they start to sound strained, so you end up backing off the volume. With the Jade 7, it was almost the opposite effect: I found myself playing the speakers at higher volume levels than usual. The speakers seemed to thrive on this, with the dynamic punch of even larger speakers. This dynamic behavior also manifested itself in the communication of the music's ebb and flow.
The soundstage produced by the Jade 7s was wide and deep, with instruments and voices precisely defined within the soundstage. It wasn't quite the best I've heard from speakers at around this pricethat honor is held by the GoldenEar Triton IIbut it was close.
The ideal speaker would transduce the electrical signal into sound with 100% accuracy. But, as we all know, the ideal speaker does not exist. (At least, I haven't encountered it.) For speakers that comprise dynamic drivers in a box, such as the Jade 7, part of the challenge is to design drivers with low levels of resonant coloration and a box that similarly avoids having a characteristic sound of its own. This lack of resonant coloration would then allow the speaker as a whole to reproduce the musical signal without imposing on it a "sound" of its own, regardless of the type of music played.
The Jade 7 approached this ideal to a degree that's rare in speakers designed with cost constraints. In fact, I found it difficult to get a handle on the Jade 7's sound, and finally decided that, for all intents and purposes, it didn't have one. With the otherwise-admirable GoldenEar Triton II, I am at times aware of a box resonance. Not with the Jade 7. The construction of the Wharfedale's cabinet, with its Crystalam laminated panels, nonparallel walls, and aperiodic loading, has produced an enclosure that is, to a large extent, sonically inert. For a speaker priced well short of cost-no-object level, this is a major accomplishment.
As well as being low in coloration, the Jade 7 also evinced high resolution of detail without sounding etched or clinical. The percussion instruments in track 3 of the Chesky Records Jazz Sampler & Audiophile Test Compact Disc, Vol.1 (JD37) all had the requisite clarity, falling just short of the transparency I'd heard through the MartinLogan Montis.
Listening to how a speaker reproduces familiar recordings is one way of determining its ability to resolve sonic details, and it's probably the most important. But a second, more audiophile- than music-loveroriented approach is to listen to how the speaker responds to changes elsewhere in the system. Late in my auditioning of the Jade 7, I replaced the tubes in my CAT SL-1 Renaissance preamp. As far as I could tell, there was nothing specifically wrong with the old tubes, but I've used this preamp on and off for more than three years. I called CAT designer Ken Stevens, who said that retubing was definitely a good idea, and that he'd recently received a supply of 6922/6DJ8 tubes that were possibly the best he'd ever heard. The new tubes didn't result in a change in tonal balance, but I did hear an incremental increase in detail and dynamics that attested to the Jade 7's ability to reproduce the fine nuances in the signal it receives.
The word that for me best describes the sound of the Wharfedale Jade 7 is balanced. Not just its tonal balancewhich was almost ideally neutralbut a balance of the various sonic attributes most valued by audiophiles. Transparency, detail, soundstaging, and dynamics were all excellentperhaps only a rung below what's available from more costly offerings. At $4199/pair, the Jade 7 is competitive with such speakers as the Focal Chorus 826W (reviewed in the November 2010 issue, Vol.33 No.11) and the GoldenEar Triton II (February 2012, Vol.35 No. 2), two of the best audiophile values available. The Jade 7 is a speaker in the classic tradition of Wharfedale. Gilbert Briggs would be proud.