Wharfedale DX-1 HCP Speaker System
Price: $799 At A Glance: Sweet but detailed mids • High-gloss finish • Great sats, OK sub
One of your best friends calls up to announce that she is about to wed someone rich and powerful. He owns a shipyard that manufactures exceptionally luxurious yachts. You’re happy for her, but you worry, too. Would living with such a strong personality, a guy with all that money and all that power, be good for her? Would it make her stronger or weaker? A few years later you run into her, and after a few hours of conversation, you conclude that she’s in great shape internally as well as externally. There’s a serenity beneath the tan. Her husband is affectionate and faithful, a child is on the way, and she’s never been happier.
That’s pretty much the Wharfedale story. This distinguished British loudspeaker brand has been under the ownership of the International Audio Group since 1996. IAG’s owners are Taiwanese, but its manufacturing operations are based in Shenzhen, China. The company’s formidable soup-to-nuts engineering and manufacturing resources enable it to make just about every part that goes into its loudspeakers and other products—and those resources include designers who know how to push a music lover’s pleasure buttons. As a result, Wharfedale products have acquired a reputation as value overachievers that celebrate the true-blue values of hi-fi history, but at prices accessible to people who don’t collect $5,000 phono cartridges.
Incidentally, the yachting part of the metaphor is real. IAG now owns a shipbuilding business in Zhuhai, a short distance from its audio factory in Shenzhen. At the same time, it’s deepened its involvement in consumer and pro audio, adding Luxman, Audiolab, and Castle Acoustics to a brand portfolio that already includes Wharfedale and Quad.
Small Craft on a Milk Sea
The DX-1 HCP satellite/subwoofer set reviewed here is part of a vast product array. While not all of the speaker lines listed on Wharfedale’s British Website are available in the U.S., folks on this side of the pond do have access to the Achromatic, Diamond, and Jade lines—all previously reviewed here—as well as the Vardus, which we haven’t gotten to yet. We’re also tantalized by the prospect of a Wharfedale A/V receiver, the AVR-5110, currently available only overseas. For more details see both wharfedale.co.uk and soundimport.com.
There are several distinctions between the DX-1 HCP and the Achromatic WA-S1 sat/sub set reviewed two years ago. In contrast to the Achromatic’s unusual woofer-on-top design, the DX-1 Satellite has the tweeter on top. Though both have silkdome tweeters, the DX-1 sat has a woven polypropylene woofer cone, as opposed to aluminum, and metal-nut binding posts instead of wire clips. The drivers are surrounded with cosmetic shiny metal accent rings and are built into baskets made of the same heavy polymer used in the Diamond line—it’s said to be stiffer than metal. The curved sides of the DX-1 Satellite and DX-1 Centre enclosures echo the shape of the new Jade line, as well as the older Evo and Opus lines. And the entire package, including sub, comes in a handsome black or white gloss finish. All this may explain why the DX-1 HCP package sells for $200 more than the $599 charged for the Acromatic configuration we previously reviewed.
While the DX-1 Satellite has a sealed enclosure, the DX-1 Centre has a back port plugged with foam (which I left in place). This is actually more interesting than it looks. Wharfedale uses what it calls aperiodic bass loading, a controlled venting process intended to relieve back pressure on the woofers. The claimed result is a better-controlled driver that can travel farther, combining the best traits of vented and sealed enclosure designs. As is common practice, the horizontal center also has dual woofers.
The DX-1 subwoofer shares the black gloss finish and handsomely rounded edges of the other speakers. It has a front-firing woofer slightly less than 8 inches wide and a pair of ports in the back. Other occupants of the back panel are standard and minimal. They include volume and crossover dials, phase and auto-sense/on toggles, and a pair of line-level inputs.
Associated equipment included a Pioneer Elite VSX-53 A/V receiver. Signal sources were an Oppo BDP-83SE universal disc player and, for a change of pace, a Lenovo Windows XP laptop running through the AudioQuest DragonFly DAC. All movie demos, plus the first music demo, were Blu-ray Discs with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks.
Polite but Delicious
One of the DX-1 HCP’s two chief traits emerged immediately: It has a polite top end. Most latter-day Wharfedale products are voiced this way. The other trait took longer to emerge: These satellites and center have a delicious and well-defined midrange. It’s sweet without being vague and images surprisingly well, on or off axis. It also holds up at moderately high volumes. These speakers like power: The sats have a rated sensitivity of 84 decibels, fairly low, with the center not far behind at 86 dB. As for the sub, it’s tuneful but underpowered. It did well with the low-frequency component of voices but fell short on the impact of effects.