It’s not always easy to be part of a large, successful dynasty. Just ask the Windsors. Despite the inherent advantages of belonging to a prosperous lineage, it can be tough to make your own mark and be noticed – for positive reasons at least.
Similar to the Royals, fellow British institution Wharfedale and its Diamond series of speakers have a long and storied legacy (albeit with significantly less scandal), as well as a bit of a German connection. Beginning in 1982 with a single model, the accessibly priced Diamond range is now in its 14th generation, slightly confusingly known as Diamond 12. This generation consists of three sizes of stand-mount speakers (12.0, 12.1, 12.2), two options of floorstanders (12.3 and 12.4) and a single centre speaker (12.C).
But there are no hereditary hangovers to be found here. For Diamond 12, Wharfedale brought in German-based designer Karl Heinz Fink, previously heavily involved with Q Acoustics, to makeover the range from front to back. Almost every aspect of the construction from the cabinet to the driver material has been revised, and the result is a surprisingly charming, affordable and well-engineered line-up of speakers for a stereo or 5.1 (or more) surround set-up.
There are several possible ways to configure combinations of Diamond 12 models in a home cinema environment. Here, we’re testing a system comprising a quartet of the excellent, mid-sized Diamond 12.1 bookshelf speakers for fronts and surrounds (priced at £249 / $399 / AU$699 per pair), with the 12.C in the middle (£229 / $229 / AU$575) and the SW10 powered subwoofer (£349 / $ 599 / AU$1149) supplying the bass.
In the UK, this system is called the Diamond 12 Home Cinema Pack and can be picked up for £999 – a saving of £77 over the cost of buying everything separately.
Diamond 12’s redesign began with the construction of the cabinet, and the result is a solid, smart, understated build. Available in four shades of matte wood grain, the classic design is neatly offset by a high-shine baffle in solid black or white.
The engineers created the panelling from varying thicknesses of MDF that, together with spot bracing, help better control unwanted resonances. The boxes have a substantial feel but aren’t visually obtrusive. They also look more expensive than they are. Each of the speakers has a claimed 8 ohm impedance and two sets of terminals for bi-wiring, with mirror-finish metal straps included for non-bi-wired set-ups.
Type 2-way, bass reﬂex
Max power 100W
Impedance 8 ohms
Frequency response 65Hz to 20kHz
Dimensions (hwd) 31 x 18 x 28cm
Weight 6.8kg (each)
Diamond 12.C centre
Type 2-way, bass reﬂex
Max power 120W
Impedance 8 ohms
Frequency response 90Hz to 20kHz
Dimensions (hwd) 18 x 48 x 21cm
Weight 8.5kg (each)
Amplifier output 200W
Line input impedance 10 kilo ohms
LFE input Impedance 5 kilo ohms
Frequency response 40Hz to 120Hz
Dimensions (hwd) 42 x 34 x 38 m
Weight 16.5kg (each)
The 12.1 stand mounters have a two-way rear-ported design featuring a single 13cm mid/bass driver composed of something called ‘Klarity’, which is not a Kardashian but a new polypropylene composite cone material with mica added to improve rigidity. The Klarity cones are driven by a magnet with an aluminium compensation ring to minimise the effects of fluctuations in inductance that can occur as the voice coil moves.
The 25mm textile tweeter domes, meanwhile, are almost completely exposed, with a high gloss coating and a design intended to offer wide dispersion, smooth response and strong dynamics. The two drivers are linked with a carefully calibrated crossover that the company says uses premium components. The 12.C is configured similarly to the 12.1, but with a pair of 13cm Klarity drivers and a single tweeter.
The SW-10 subwoofer is available in matching wood finishes with the same polished baffle housing a single front-facing 25cm long-throw driver. Hidden at the rear are physical controls for level, phase and auto-sense (the sub comes out of standby when a signal is received), as well as two RCA inputs. Perched upon four stocky feet, it sits at 42cm high and, despite it being the smallest sub in the four strong SW series, it is by no means tiny. However, the quality of the build means it resembles a handsome piece of furniture rather than an awkward black cube and, especially given its performance, we imagine most people will be happy to make space for it in their living room.
The tautness and dexterity of the SW-10 is immediately striking when the Diamond 12.1 HCP gets playing. It’s an incredibly musical sub and it blends seamlessly with the smaller speakers, which themselves have an. impressively well-integrated low end. The result is rich and lively sound, particularly with films with a heavily featured score. When watching Amelie, Yann Tiersen’s famous accompaniment bursts with warmth and depth while there’s an undeniable snappiness across the board that isn’t limited just to high transients. Despite this responsiveness when things get busy, the 12.1s maintain a strong control, with a secure sense of authority and cohesion.
The sonic agility of the package is displayed well in the scene in which Amelie meets the photo booth repairman for the first time. Here, the stylised, heightened sound design is matched up with the choppy film editing and each sudden effect bursts dynamically with confidence, drama and uniformity around the viewer.
The soundfield is smooth and although swapping the front two speakers for floorstanders would certainly provide more scale, there is something to be said for the consistency of tone created by using the same speaker for fronts and surrounds.
Also in this respect, the 12.C centre speaker is well-matched to the 12.1s and, unlike with so many other packages, pulls its weight equally. We watch sonic psychological drama The Sound Of Silence and find that audio-obsessive protagonist Peter’s ultra soft-spoken, emotionally repressed dialogue is well projected with clarity and nuance. Set in the bustle of New York, Peter’s job is to rid the city of unwanted ambient sounds and as he pads around his clients’ apartments hunting for creaking floorboards and whining pipes, the Diamond 12 HCP digs up plenty of domestic detail and subtlety, making us feel the need to check if it’s actually our air conditioning unit making the annoying hum.
To give these tabletop-sized boxes a bit more of a vigorous challenge we try Blade Runner 2049 and they project the meaty, sonorous score with both composure and charisma. In the scene in which Ryan Gosling flies to the orphanage there are plenty of delicate nuances, from the sound of the raindrops landing on the windscreen to the wiper cleaning them off. Later on, when things inevitably start to get explosive, the 12.1s still deliver with balanced but compelling force.
With poise, effortlessness, cut glass diction and charisma, the Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 HCP is essentially the Audrey Hepburn of home theatre speaker packages. It offers rich bass without sacrificing or overpowering the mid and treble, presenting a mature sound that’s rich in impact, agility, detail and sensitivity.
Large enough to provide cinematic scale with a wide soundfield, but discreet and affordable enough to be accessible to a variety of audiences, the 12.1s prove to be an excellent choice for both music and film.
- Sound 5
- Compatibility 5
- Build 5
Read our review of Q Acoustics' 3010i 5.1 Cinema Pack
Read our review of the KEF Q350 AV 5.1
Read our review of the Dali Spektor 2 5.1