Wharfedale Heritage Series 90th Anniversary Dovedale loudspeaker

When I first got interested in audio in the UK, in the 1960s, four English brands dominated the domestic loudspeaker scene: Goodmans (founded in 1923), Celestion (whose first loudspeaker was launched in early 1925), Tannoy (which started making loudspeakers in 1928), and Wharfedale. Wharfedale was the youngest of these brands, founded in 1932 in Yorkshire—the land of the Dales—by Gilbert Briggs.

In 1968, following some failed experiments with home-brewed speakers, I was looking to buy a pair of "real" loudspeakers. I was attracted to the large Wharfedale Dovedale, with its 12" woofer, but ended up with a pair of Wharfedale's Super Lintons, the two-way model with the "purple jellyfish" tweeter. I was able to afford the smaller Wharfedales, and they fit on bookshelves in my parents' living room. I subsequently installed the speakers on shelves in my first apartment, then again on shelves in my first house's living room. I used the Super Lintons for several years, until I joined the staff of British magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review in 1976. But I always wondered if I should have borrowed enough money to buy those original Dovedales.

Wharfedale is still a British brand, with its R&D department in the UK, but it's now owned by the IAG Group, which was founded in Hong Kong in 1991 and is based in Shenzen, China. In addition to Wharfedale, IAG owns the Audiolab, Castle Acoustics, Leak, Luxman, Mission, and Quad brands. In recent years, Wharfedale has been introducing redesigned versions of some of its classic speakers. Herb Reichert favorably reviewed the three-way Linton Heritage loudspeaker in September 2019; then, at the 2022 Munich High End Show, Wharfedale introduced the subject of this review, the Heritage Series 90th Anniversary Dovedale. The original Dovedale I lusted after in the 1960s was a two-way; the new speaker is a reimagining of the three-way Dovedale 3, from 1971.

The 90th anniversary Dovedale
The new Dovedale is the first Wharfedale loudspeaker to be manufactured in IAG's new, 9000ft2 UK production facility in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. It was designed by IAG Acoustic Director Peter Comeau. In an interview at the 2022 Munich show (footnote 1), Comeau outlined the new Dovedale's design philosophy, recalling that as a teenager he built a pair of Dovedales from a Wharfedale "Unit 5" driver/crossover kit. In addition to the Linton Heritage, Comeau was responsible for the great-sounding Mission 770 I reviewed in November 2022.

Superficially, the Dovedale looks like a larger version of the Linton Heritage. The midrange and low-frequency drivers use the same black, woven Kevlar diaphragms used in the Linton. The 5" midrange unit is the same as the Linton's. It crosses over to the woofer—a 10" unit in the Dovedale, in contrast to the Linton's 8"—at a somewhat lower 560Hz. The 10" woofer uses a diecast chassis and is reflex loaded with two flared, 2" ports at the base of the rear panel. The soft-dome tweeter is derived from the one used in the Linton, and it uses the same ceramic magnet. However, it adds a rear chamber to lower the frequency of its fundamental resonance so that now lies well below the upper crossover point of 2.9kHz. Electrical connection is via a single pair of binding posts at the bottom of the Wharfedale Dovedale's rear panel.

"Large cabinets can have large problems," I was once told by a veteran speaker designer. The Dovedale's cabinet is large, measuring 26" high, 14.6" wide, and 17.6" deep. Comeau therefore focused on making the hefty enclosure as inert as possible. The panels use sandwich construction with constrained-layer damping between particleboard on the inside, high-density fiberboard on the outside, and a layer of latex glue in between. The cabinet is finished in walnut veneer.

The tweeter and midrange unit are offset on the front baffle, which Wharfedale says "scatters reflections and provides superior focus on the stereo image." (The speakers are supplied as a handed pair.) The original Dovedale featured what was called a "floating" grille, inset on its front baffle. The new Dovedale uses a similar grille, magnetically suspended between the raised edges of the baffle. The inner surface of the grille's fiberboard frame is subtly contoured around the drive units to optimize their dispersion.

The Dovedale's price includes a pair of substantial, rectangular open-frame stands made of carbon steel. Standing 13" high on its four large stainless steel spikes, the stand has black glass inserts at the top and bottom. Three of the four uprights are filled with damping material. The fourth is hollow so that speaker cables can be threaded through it.

Before I could start optimizing the Dovedales' placement in my listening room, I had to assemble the stands. The necessary tools were provided, the instructions were easy to follow, and in a matter of minutes, I had the two rigid, four-pillar steel stands ready, spiked cones beneath and felt pads on top. Once I had lifted the speakers onto the stands, I experimented with their positions to give the most even midbass and upper-bass balance. The Dovedale's manual says the speakers should be "clear of room corners." Their front baffles ended up 77" from the wall behind the speakers. The left-hand speaker was 33" from the LPs that line its nearest sidewall, the right-hand speaker 43" from the bookcases that line its nearest sidewall. I toed each speaker in to the listening position and, since Peter Comeau had said that the Dovedales sound best with their grilles on, I left them in place for my auditioning.

I used my Roon Nucleus+ to feed audio data over my network to an MBL N31 CD player/DAC, which was connected directly—no preamplifier—to a pair of Parasound Halo JC 1+ monoblocks. I single-wired each speaker with AudioQuest Robin Hood cable.

With the Dovedales sitting on their stands, the tweeters were 35" from the floor, an inch below my ear height. Listening to the dual-mono pink noise track on my Editor's Choice CD (Stereophile STPH016-2; no longer available), I didn't hear any significant change in tonal balance if I slouched a little, but the sound acquired a slight hollowness in the upper midrange if I sat up high enough that I could see the tops of the cabinets. Removing the grilles resulted in a slight emphasis in the low-treble region.

Without realizing it, I initially had the speakers with the drive units on the asymmetrical baffles closest to their respective sidewalls, the opposite of the recommendation in the manual. (In my defense, the grilles were in place, and I couldn't see the drivers when I placed the speakers on their stands.) The dual-mono pink noise track on Editor's Choice was reproduced as a stable central image, but it was not as narrow as I am used to, and there was some splashing to the sides in the midrange. I swapped the speakers so that the drive units were now on the inner edges of the baffles. The image of the pink noise was now more stable, with only a small amount of "vertical venetian blind" effect (comb filtering) as I moved my head from side to side.

Footnote 1: See youtube.com/watch?v=MHSZA0VxjHE.

IAG House, 13/14 Glebe Rd.
Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, PE29 7DL
England, UK
(312) 738-5025

Utopianemo's picture

Sir, I have been waiting for a review of these speakers, so thank you for that. However, greater thanks to your generosity in sharing your recording of Jonas Nordwall’s excellent organ work.

There was a fantastic pizza restaurant in Portland called the Organ Grinder, which as you may have deduced, featured a Wurlitzer theater pipe organ. It was a magical place to visit as a child in the ‘80s, and I was fortunate enough to work there in the ‘90s, before zoning and customers’ changing interests forced the owner to shutter its doors and sell off the organ piece-by-piece.

Mr. Nordwall was possibly the Organ Grinder’s premiere organist. My experiences there influenced my love of spectacle in music (in moderation, of course), and also what began my quest for good sound reproduction. My audio setup doubles as a home theater, but in truth the reason I have two 18” subwoofers is to try and recreate, even on a small scale, the experience of listening to that organ.

As an aside, a local documentarian is creating a film on the Organ Grinder. We recently heard Mr. Nordwall was interviewed for the film. I recon it will be worth watching when it eventually is released.

John Atkinson's picture
Utopianemo wrote:
Sir, I have been waiting for a review of these speakers, so thank you for that. However, greater thanks to your generosity in sharing your recording of Jonas Nordwall’s excellent organ work.

You're welcome. Hard to believe that I recorded Jonas a decade ago!

Utopianemo wrote:
As an aside, a local documentarian is creating a film on the Organ Grinder. We recently heard Mr. Nordwall was interviewed for the film. I recon it will be worth watching when it eventually is released.

Look forward to watching it.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile