Wharfedale’s long running Diamond series is a bit like the Volkswagen Beetle. After close to thirty years in production, it has taken on a kind of life of its own as a standard bearer for no-nonsense performance combined with sky-high value. Unlike the barely changed Beetle however, today’s 16 model strong Diamond 10 lineup is almost unrecognizable next to the modest little four-inch two-way speaker that started it all back in 1982.
In addition to three different two-way bookshelf models similar to the Diamonds of yore, the 10th generation of the series includes five floor standing towers, three center channel speakers, two dedicated surround speakers, and three powered subwoofers.
Sadly, production of the Diamonds no longer takes place in the picturesque Yorkshire valley that gave the 79 year old company its name, but rather in a new 1.5 million square foot factory in Shenzhen China. Design work still takes place back in England, where parent company IAG employs a fifty person strong R&D team.
Since day one, the Diamonds have always been no-nonsense in-room box speakers, with no fashion driven flirtations into iPod docks, or in-wall versions. There is a Diamond 10 LCR soundbar that’s available in some countries, but apparently not in the USA. Here the Diamonds are aimed at buyers who are proud of their gear, and don’t feel a need to make their audio system disappear into the woodwork.
With maximum bang for the buck topping the priorities list, one of the first casualties of penny pinching is any hope of getting a real wood veneer. Here in the States Diamond 10s come in a choice of three different finishes, blackwood, rosewood quilted, and cinnamon cherry, while those lucky European buyers get to pick from seven. All are petroleum rather than tree derived, but look reasonably realistic if you don’t try to shine too bright of a light on things.
To see how much the Diamond franchise has changed, we picked a review system that represented the best Diamond 10s available for each position in a 5.1-channel rig. For the main left and right speakers this meant a pair of the 3 ½ way, four-driver Diamond 10.7s ($1299/pair), with a Diamond 10 CM center channel speaker ($449), a pair of the Diamond 10.DFS surround speakers ($299/pair), and a Diamond 10 GX-SUB subwoofer ($799). That’s not exactly the kind of impulse buyer-friendly sticker price that came with the original Diamond, but it’s still clearly a whole lot of speaker for the money.
Diamond 10.7 floor standing speakers, technical highlights.
•The Diamond 10.7 uses a 1-inch soft dome tweeter, which is recessed slightly into its mounting plate creating a shallow horn to improve efficiency. A perforated metal plate sits flush with the baffle to protect the dome from curious fingers, while also acting as a diffuser to flatten out the tweeter’s response up to 30-kHz.
•The midrange driver is a 2-inch soft dome, which—like the tweeter—is mounted in a shallow horn to bump up the sensitivity. It too has a perforated metal grill to protect the driver.
•The Diamond 10.7 features two 6 1/2-inch woofers, but they are not identical in design or function. The upper woofer’s frequency range extends up to the midrange crossover at 850 Hz, while the lower woofer is only used for deep bass below 150 Hz. Both have similar Kevlar weave cones, but the upper woofer adds a bullet shaped phase plug to improve its response at the upper and of the range. A diamond shaped pattern stamped into the rubber roll surrounds of the woofers is designed to reduce standing waves in the surround, resulting in a smoother transition over to the midrange driver.
•Snap-on fabric covered grilles are provided, and these attach using rubber plugs that push into some of the driver fixing screws. This means that there are no unsightly grille plug holes on the front panel of the speaker.
•Dual pairs of binding posts below the large port on the rear panel allow for bi-wiring, and each pair is offset at an angle from the back to give more breathing room for thick cables and connectors.
•A plinth attached to the base of the speaker provides a stable platform for mounting the standard spikes or rounded rubber leveling feet. Both options include a neat adjustable lock ring, that lets you tighten down the footers at the optimum height.
Diamond 10 CM center channel speaker, technical highlights:
•The Diamond 10 CM center channel speaker looks like a smaller sideways version of the 10.7, but there are some important differences. While the tweeter and midrange driver are the same, both of the 10 CM’s woofers are the wide range version with the phase plug. This is because the 10 CM is a standard 3-way design, with both woofers covering the same frequency range up to the midrange crossover. Unlike the 10.7, the 10 CM is not ported, so the crossover points have been tweaked a bit to suit the altered woofer loading.
•Four small attached rubber feet allow the curved bottom of the 10 CM to sit on a shelf or other flat surface.
Diamond 10.DFS surround speakers, technical highlights:
•Dual 1-inch soft dome tweeters and dual 4-inch woofers positioned in a semi-bipole arrangement.
•The 10.DFS’s triangular enclosure has what is essentially two small two-way speakers facing apart from each other, on baffles that form a V shape against the wall. When mounted on the wall using the two screw eye holes, the bottom of the speaker also slopes away towards the wall to reduce diffraction. The speaker can be used in an inverted position on a shelf, with the Wharfedale badge rotated to match.
•Due to their unusual dispersion pattern, Wharfedale suggests that mounting the 10.DFS on the rear wall is preferable to the more common side wall placement, although both are acceptable.
•The 10.DFS comes only in one finish, a stretchy black fabric that covers all visible surfaces.
Diamond 10 GX-SUB subwoofer, technical highlights:
•Downward firing 10-inch Kevlar weave woofer cone with diamond pattern rubber surround roll.
•Sealed acoustic suspension enclosure.
•Adjustable leveling spikes or rounded rubber feet.
Wharfedale’s director of acoustic design Peter Comeau has done a fine job of making all the different Diamond 10 models sing together with one voice. Matching the voicing from model to model is no mean feat with a range as extensive as this, but it is essential if a surround setup is going to sound like a coherent whole.
The choice of a dome midrange is pretty unexpected at this price range, and it allows the Diamond 10 to be impressively expressive and detailed through the midrange. To match that soft dome midrange, Wharfedale has gone with a soft dome tweeter rather than the more popular metal dome design. Metal dome tweeters can be a bit of a two-edged sword, combining a splendid ability to deliver gobs of fine detail, with a tendency to become a bit colored by resonances if not handled carefully. By sticking with a soft dome design, the Diamond’s tweeter manages to blend seamlessly with the dome midrange driver, but it just manages to miss the last word in fine resolution in the top octaves. To be clear, it’s not that the Diamond 10 sounds dull or rolled off, but more that the top octave detail has a texture that’s closer to fine sand than a powder.
With two woofers backed by a cabinet sporting a big fat port, you might think the Diamond 10.7s would have big fat bass that could run a bit out of control at times, but this is far from the case. Tight and lean are the first two words that come to mind, putting control and tidiness above power and super deep extension. Given the right program material the bass could sound quite powerful and deep, but it never really had the pants leg-flapping ultra-deep bass power capabilities of some other big floor standing tower speakers.
Imaging was one of the 10.7s strong suits, and used by themselves as a stereo pair they were able to conjure up a big open soundstage with a palpable sense of depth. Wharfedale suggests toeing in the speakers quite a lot, and this helped to lock in the focus on individual sounds within the stage, without noticeably shrinking its size. In surround mode with all of the speakers in play, the accurate timbral matching allowed sounds to move across the room in a coherent and continuous sweep.
While it was valuable for delivering the LFE signal and for augmenting the center and surrounds, I never felt that the 10 GX-SUB was adding much to the bottom end capabilities of the 10.7s. So for most of my stereo listening I used a bypass mode that kept it out of the loop. However, when required, the 10 GX-SUB could really rattle the floorboards, offering lots of deep bass grunt for heavy-duty movie soundtracks.
Despite having a somewhat different driver complement, the 10.DFS surround speakers are able to blend seamlessly with the three speakers up at the front of the room. The semi-bipole layout does seem to spread the sound out over a wide angle, but the way they projected sound into the room was really not all that different from any direct radiating speaker. I did try the rear wall placement that Wharfedale suggests, but generally preferred the results when they were slightly behind the listening position on the side walls.
Overall the Diamond 10 system gave a clean, clear insight into the various recordings I tried, with priority given to order and coherency over ultra-transparency and sock-it-to-me dynamics. The effect was more like a deep intellectual discussion than a wild party where everyone was letting it all hang out. The Diamonds always managed to avoid sounding crude or uncouth, which is probably a good thing given the way many movie soundtracks sound.
Center channel performance is the key to good home theater movie sound, and the Diamond 10 CM did a fine job delivering the goods. In the beach landing scene from The Thin Red Line, all hell is breaking out from every direction with explosions, aircraft flying overhead, the thrum of the landing craft’s motor, and the sea splashing off the boat. Through it all the Diamonds kept the dialog clear and easy to understand despite the surrounding din. The aircraft passes demonstrated the system’s excellent timbral matching, with seamless pans from left to right and from the front of the stage back towards the surrounds.
The scene where Vector and Gru have a midair dogfight in Despicable Me is always a good test of dynamics and bass impact, and through the Diamond system we get plenty of both. The clicks and clacks of the various weapons unfolding from Gru’s ship were just a tad muted sounding, but the thrum of his ship’s engine had plenty of heft.
When the first Diamonds came out in the early 1980s nobody had even heard the term “home theater,” so it makes sense that these speakers are first and foremost at home with music. I cranked up the Talking Heads’ album Little Creatures [EMI], and felt like the Diamonds were really in their element with this stuff. Comparing the original stereo mix with Jerry Harrison’s 5.1-channel surround mix for the DVD-Audio disc showed how he was able to extract so much more bandwidth at both ends of the spectrum from the original multitrack tapes. Through the Diamonds the differences were not subtle, with the surround mix opening up the soundstage and laying out the individual component parts of the recording in a far more clear, coherent manner.
Elton John’s early albums come from that era before recording engineers had so many tools to screw up the sound, and they tend to have an honest and simple production quality that beats the pants off the sonic mush we typically get these days. “Amoreena” on Tumbleweed Connection [Island] is a good example, with Elton’s band rocking out. This got the Diamonds to sit up and belt it out, although they still had a slightly reserved quality as if it was just a bit beneath them to really get down and boogie. Perhaps it’s an English thing, but I often found myself wanting to crank it up a bit to coax a little extra life out of them.
Consider this system if:
•You want a big sounding surround system that doesn’t require a second mortgage.
•You are okay with traditional speakers that don’t disappear into the background.
•You want a comfortable sounding system that is coherent, and smooth.
Look further if:
•You thought your college roommate’s old JBLs weren’t quite dynamic enough.
•You have a significant other who thinks an audio system should be invisible.
•You can’t live without a real wood veneer finish.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced surround speaker systems)
•Transparency and Focus: 8
•Imaging and Soundstaging: 9
•Tonal Balance: 8
•Bass Extension: 8
•Bass Pitch Definition: 8.5
•Bass Dynamics: 7
The Wharfedale Diamond 10 system gives you a lot of speaker for not a whole lot of money. Bang for the buck is the key here, and the complete package can be compared favorably to systems costing twice as much. Sonically the emphasis is on coherency and smoothness over sledgehammer dynamics and power, but considering the price that’s a pretty good compromise.