Pros: Solid build, attractive design. Wireless. Versatile connectivity. Clear and engaging sound
Cons: A little pricy. No audio cables provided.
Way back in 1932 Gilbert Briggs built his very first loudspeaker in the cellar of his home near the river "Wharfe" in an area now known as "Wharfedale". 70 years on and Wharfedale is known worldwide for producing quality audio equipment. They built the world's first two-way loudspeaker in 1945 and have many more innovative achievements under their belt. In 1981 the Wharfedale Diamond was born and took the world by storm. There have been numerous successive models, each one introducing a new technology or material which brings us to today's review. I'll be looking at the new Wharfedale Diamond Active A1 - an "innovative, convenient wireless technology with an award-winning loudspeaker formula". Let's get started.
My computer serves as my main source for electronic entertainment while I'm at home. I store my entire music collection on the PC, regularly watch YouTube and movies, stream music with Pandora or RadioTunes via JRiver and play games. So obviously it's important for me to have a decent sound system connected to the PC. This usually consists of a DAC/headphone amplifier connected via USB and a pair of powered monitors connected to a DAC. Headphones are for at night, when someone is watching TV in the living room or there are people about whom I don't want to annoy with whatever I'm listening to. When I'm at home alone or when I won't be disturbing anyone else I like to use speakers. When I had the chance to test the Diamond Active A1 I figured they'd be perfect (bordering on overkill but you know us audio freaks) for my desktop which also happens to be in my medium-large sized living room.
This sample was sent to me for the purpose of an honest review. All opinions and observations here are my own, based on my experience with the product. I'd like to thank Wharfedale and Thanit from HiFi Tower for the opportunity to test the Diamond Active A1.
Packaging and accessories:
The A1 comes in two separate boxes, one containing the Hub and the other are the speakers. Both of the boxes are brown cardboard with blue accents and vector images displaying the contents. First let's take a look at the Hub box. Upon opening we're presented with the user manual on top and everything else seated securely in black foam. The contents include:
- Diamond H1 Hub
- Power adapter
- 3 pin plug adapter
- Remote control
- 2 x AA batteries
- User manual
- Quick Start guide
Moving on to the second box, once again we find everything very securely packed in black foam. Inside are:
- Diamond A1 speakers (pair boxed together)
- User manual
- 2 x Power cables
- 2 x White cotton gloves
I found the inclusion of the gloves unusual and almost comical. Presumably they're there to handle the Hub which is a smooth, glossy fingerprint magnet. While it was a bit strange it also gives you the impression that the box contents are something of value that deserve to be handled with care and a hint of reverence. So anyway, after I put on the gloves - my setup process was significantly delayed whilst I danced to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" in front of the mirror and followed that with a session of miming.
After my recent experience with the Edifier R1700BT it was a surprise to find that there weren't any audio/data cables included in the package. I guess the manufacturers assume that you either have the necessary cables at home already or still have enough money leftover after your purchase to buy them separately. The inclusion of a USB, SPDIF or RCA cable would have been appreciated.
Build and appearance:
The speakers are immediately recognizable as part of the Diamond series by silver-colored driver surrounds and the two separate circular mesh covers in place of the more common single cover that most speakers are adorned with. The cabinets have rounded edges that lend a touch of modernity and offer a welcome change from the usual box shape. They're finished with a black leatherette covering that looks sleek and feels premium to the touch. It also prevents the speakers from getting covered in fingerprints. The front baffles come in two colors - white and black with a high-gloss finish. The dimensions of the speakers are 315mm X 186mm X 220mm.
Removing the mesh covers reveals the 130 mm woven Kevlar mid/bass cones and 25 mm fabric dome tweeter. According to Wharfedale's website:
Quote:"The cones incorporate semi-elliptical ‘break-up’ areas, which smooth the response throughout the audible range".
Additionally the tweeter sits in a waveguide around the diaphragm to augment dispersion. Inside the cabinets is a sophisticated crossover network and 50W amplifier for a combined output of 100W for the pair.
On the back of each speaker are:
- Dual rear-firing reflex ports
- DC 24V power input
- Pair button (for connecting wirelessly to the HUB)
- Micro USB update port
- Balance Sync button
- Bass adjustment switch (-/+ 6dB)
- Speaker mode select switch (Left, mono, Right)
- Power switch
The HUB is square shaped and is small enough to sit unobtrusively on your desktop or TV cabinet. It's finished in the same high-gloss finish as the speaker baffles. Surrounding the touch controls on the top is a silver-colored surround identical to those on the speakers. In fact it's identical in size to the surround on the tweeter. Obviously someone has put a lot of thought into the design here as it's very clear that it's a complete system and not just separate components bundled together.
On the front is Wharfedale's branding and the IR receiver. On the back (from left to right) are:
- RCA analogue input
- Optical input
- Coaxial input
- Micro USB update port
- DC 12V power input
On the topside of the unit are the touch sensitive controls with 4 buttons: On/Off, Menu, Plus and Minus. In the middle of the touch buttons is the HUB's display screen. Underneath the unit are 4 rubber feet to keep it in place and to protect the surface the HUB is sitting on.
The remote is constructed from plastic and here we can see again Wharfedale's exemplary attention to detail as it's a matte black finish with high-gloss accents that tie in seamlessly with the HUB and speakers. It's powered by 2 AA batteries and has rubber buttons. At the top is the power button. In the middle is an OK button surrounded by a 4 button directional pad with Plus,Minus, Left and Right. The Plus and Minus adjusts the volume in normal operation or works along with the Left and Right buttons for navigating through the menu in setup mode. Above and below the D-pad are the input select buttons for the 4 different input methods: Auxiliary, Optical, Bluetooth and Coaxial. Finally at the bottom are the Menu and Mute buttons. The layout and functions are simple, yet intuitive and very easy to use.
The first thing you need to do is position the speakers and plug them into the mains and turn them on. When you do this the LED on the back of the speaker will flash slowly indicating that it's not paired to the Hub. At this point you should use the Left/Mono/Right switch to configure your speakers. Select Left or Right for normal stereo setup or Mono if they're positioned in an unconventional way. *Note that the speakers can be placed up to 20 meters from the Hub so there's really no limitation on how you could position them. Okay, so next you plug your source into the Hub and connect it to the mains. You'll see a red LED on the right side of the unit indicating it's in Standby mode. Turn the Hub on using the touch button or the remote then enter the Menu and navigate to the "Speakers" screen. Press Ok to enter pairing mode. Once in pairing mode simply press the pair button on the back of each speaker and within a few seconds it will connect to the Hub and you're all set. I probably made this sound more difficult than it is but the directions in the user manual are really easy to follow.
Once setup is completed the actual operation is very simple. When you press the On/Off button the Hub comes out of standby and the Wharfedale logo appears on the screen for a few seconds. After that the selected input is displayed on the screen. You just select the input using the touch controls or the remote and that's all there is to it. You can have up to 3 sources plugged in simultaneously and there is also Bluetooth though of course you can only listen to a single input at any time. All the available operations can be done with the touch controls or remote but I generally found the remote to be the most convenient.
The Hub transmits the left and right audio signals to the appropriate speakers via uncompressed wireless transmission on the 5.8GHz frequency band avoiding the more common 2.4GHz to ensure there's no interference. The wireless module is also able to switch between frequencies automatically if necessary so there should never be any problems with interference from other devices.
The display on the Hub is clear and easy to see even in daylight and the software's response is snappy with no input lag. The touch buttons on the Hub respond equally as well as when using the remote.
Here are the various menu settings:
- Speakers (shows "Connected" or "Not connected")
- Balance (set the speaker balance depending on placement)
- Brightness (set the display brightness)
- Display Delay (Always on, 1 minute, 30 seconds (default) and 15 seconds)
- Auto Standby (always on (default) or 20 minutes)
- Factory Reset
- Update (used to update system firmware)
- Firmware (shows the system's current firmware version)
Pairing with Bluetooth is a breeze. Just select Bluetooth input with touch controls or remote then scan for devices with your source. The Hub will show as "Diamond A" in the found devices and takes just a few seconds to pair. It worked flawlessly with my Samsung Galaxy Note 5 but continued to fail with the FiiO X1ii which is known to have flaky Bluetooth in the current firmware version. The Diamond Active system supports the AptX codec for superior quality Bluetooth audio.
Regardless of the input method there was no signs of audio degradation whatsoever when using the Diamond Actives. On the Wharfedale website it says:
Quote:"Additionally, the DAC is built around a high performance 24bit chipset delivering a CD-like quality from all devices."
which means you can play high resolution files without sacrificing audio quality.
Samsung Galaxy Note 5 (Bluetooth)
PC/Gigabyte Z170X Gaming 7 - Sound Blaster Recon3Di SPDIF-Out > A1 Hub Optical-In
FiiO X1ii - Line Out > A1 Hub RCA (Auxiliary)-In
For my testing I had the bass set to 0dB or +6dB depending on my music choice or mood. The speakers were placed on my desktop about 1.5 meters apart and roughly 30 cm from the rear wall. Unless the speakers are in a difficult to reach position adjusting the bass takes just seconds to flick the switch. For the most part the A1 speakers are quite neutral across the frequency range with no emphasis on any particular part of the sound, almost reference level. The cabinets feel very solid and this helps keep any distortion at a minimum. These things can produce a big sound and I'm not talking about boosted frequencies, I'm talking SPL muscle. They can really blast out sound at loud volumes thanks to the 50W amplifier in each unit. They certainly have enough gusto to fill a large room without breaking a sweat and depending on proximity could entertain or annoy your neighbors to boot.
Imaging is very good making these speakers great not only for music but an excellent companion for gaming and movies.
Bass is very well controlled and on the default 0dB setting is quite linear without any noticeable elevation. Even on +6dB it remains on the safe side and never really lets loose. That's not to say it feels lacking or anemic though as with proper placement you certainly can feel its presence. The Kevlar driver doesn't cause any bleed into the midrange even when set to +6dB its well contained. Sub-bass gets its rumble on in a good way and digs pretty deep but there's always that sense of refinement rather than all out party mode. It's a more mature kind of tuning but occasionally makes you wish it would just let its hair down and go a bit wild.
When it comes to midrange the A1 is all about clarity. Vocals and instrument details come through very clearly and well articulated. Personally I would have liked a little more body and warmth in the mids but that's just personal preference and of course if overdone could sacrifice the aforementioned clarity. The mids are leaning towards bright but not to the extent where they become uncomfortable or intrusive.
The treble is also clear with great extension. There isn't any noticeable roll-off and high notes have great texture and pizzazz. Treble isn't splashy and cymbals shimmer with accurate timbre adding a sense of air and space. There was some sibilance present in the track I use for testing it, (Utada Hikaru's "Traveling") but I know that it's already in the track and if it ain't' there then there's some manipulation going on. The trick is to reveal it but in a way that isn't distracting or unpleasant and the A1 pulls this off convincingly.
The Diamond Active A1 is a solid and versatile performer from Wharfedale. It's not cheap (currently £599 on Amazon) but for your money you get a pair of great sounding speakers plus the added utility of the Hub. The Hub can be physically connected to 3 different sources (2 digital and 1 analog) and then there's Bluetooth on top of that. This is great for those who don't have an A/V receiver or DAC and it has an easily manageable, relatively small footprint. The wireless aspect also adds convenience by allowing you to place the speakers anywhere you like as long as they're within 20 meters of the Hub. The stylish pleather covering and rounded edges give the speakers a classical look with a modern touch and should complement whatever decor is around them. I really can't think of any cons with these except maybe the price and lack of audio cables but I believe the Hub and wireless connectivity add a lot of value to the package. They have a lively, clean sound and enough power to fill a large room. If you're looking for desktop speakers or a small but powerful home theater setup then the Wharfedale Diamond Active A1 should not be overlooked.