We’re big fans of the Wharfedale Diamond 121 standmounters. They’re brilliant performers with great detail and enthusiasm, and we gave them a heartfelt five stars in our January 2013 issue.
Naturally we were excited to test four of these speakers together, in a home cinema package (HCP) that also includes a Wharfedale PowerCube SPC-10 subwoofer and a Diamond 101C centre speaker. It's known as the Wharfedale 100-HCP.
Design and build
To begin, we examine the Diamond 121s that make up the front channels. Quality control was the only issue we had on our first encounter. Our samples still feel a little cheap, but they now look good enough for us not to dwell on it.
The 121s have a 13cm woven Kevlar cone for midrange and bass, as well as a 25mm soft-dome tweeter. There’s also a ‘slot-loaded distribution port’, a reflex port that fires down into a small gap between the base of the cabinet and the plinth below. This helps to reduce chuffing noise and to make the speaker less fussy about its proximity to walls.
We haven’t seen the Diamond 101C centre speaker before. It looks a lot like the 121s, although there are two mid/bass drivers. There’s no fancy slot for bass, either: just a plain downwards-firing reflex port.
Finally we get to the PowerCube SPC-10 subwoofer, which scored five stars in 2011. It has a 25cm downwards-facing driver and, unlike the rest of the speakers here, the finish is lovely. It’s solidly built, and very sturdy.
More after the break
With everything in place, we settle down to watch a Blu-ray of Star Trek: Into Darkness. It’s a terrific disc with plenty going on, and we liked what we heard. What immediately struck us was the scale of the sound.
The 100-HCP easily engulfed us with sound effects, and helped to convince us that we were in the middle of a hyper-speed chase through space.
Take care when setting up the speakers. The design of the 121s may have been intended to make them less fussy about placement, but we find they perform best when placed close to walls. After doing so, the stereo image becomes more solid and precise.
Elsewhere, the sound is detailed and punchy. There’s an impressive level of subtlety, conveying a sense of the texture of everything from phasers being fired to glass being shattered.
The subwoofer provides a good amount of weight, although it’s more focused on agility and detail. The sub and the surrounds work well together to convey what’s happening in the movie, too – integration is a strong point here.
But it isn’t all good news. As capable as this package is, we can’t help feeling that it’s a little restrained. The 100-HCP needs more energy to be a truly engaging listen. We put on a Blu-ray of Michael Jackson’s This Is It, and find this package isn’t quite as thrilling as we’d like.
The cause? The centre speaker. It isn’t as transparent or as dynamic as the others, and so makes the sound seem a little controlled. As an experiment, we disconnected the speaker and diverted the centre channel to the front Diamond 121s.
Everything immediately felt a bit more energetic. Then we went one step further and swapped the centre speaker with another Diamond 121, and got what we were looking for: panache.
It’s a shame the centre speaker isn’t particularly accomplished. We’re surprised the 101C doesn’t sound better, as it has the same drivers as the 121s.
As it is, it waters down the package and holds it back from greatness.