Wharfedale is an elder statesman of the audio world, with decades’ worth of expertise to plough into its hi-fi and home cinema kit. The latest recipient of its sonic wisdom is the DX-1 HCP, a compact 5.1 speaker system priced to lure the budget buyer – hopefully without compromising on sound quality.

Systems like these are an excellent introduction to home cinema with their affordable prices and space-efficient designs, but the market is fiercely competitive. Big guns like Tannoy, Boston Acoustics, KEF and Canton offer great-value packages that make soundtracks really sing, so what can the DX-1 HCP bring to the party?

The system comprises four identical compact satellites for the fronts and rears, a dedicated centre and the Moviestar DX-1 active subwoofer. The satellites’ design inspiration is Wharfedale’s Diamond 10.1 standmount, with gently curved sides and a high-gloss white finish that radiates contemporary elegance. A gloss-black finish is also available for those with mucky fingers. For extra pizzazz yank out the grilles from their plug fixings and you’ll uncover some stunning silver cone surrounds.

The cabinets feel substantial and robust. Affordable they may be but Wharfedale has clearly channelled as much of the cost as possible into their construction – a foundation on which good sound quality is always built.

Each satellite uses a two-way driver arrangement, comprising a 3in mid/bass driver fashioned from woven propylene, and a 0.75in silk dome tweeter.

Placing them around the room on furniture shouldn’t be a problem due to their compact dimensions, and thanks to the infinite baffle (sealed box) design you can plonk them close to the wall without any acoustic repercussions. In fact, you can even hang them on the wall using the keyhole brackets on the back. Metal binding posts on each speaker are another small but satisfying sign of the system’s quality.

The centre speaker is larger than the sats and arranged horizontally for easy under-the-TV placement. Build quality is every bit as solid as the other sats. The driver array is different however, with two mid/bass drivers to give dialogue added kick.

The centre uses an aperiodic loading system, which means the speaker enclosure has a reflex port on the back that’s stuffed with damping material (in this case a foam bung), controlling the airflow. Sounds unusual, but there’s method in the madness. Allowing air to leak from the vent in this way means the enclosure can be smaller than if it was a sealed box (vital for a compact array like this) but keep better control over low frequencies.

The Moviestar DX-1 subwoofer is another design triumph. It’s one of the smallest, cutest subs around, jazzed up with some rounded-off edges. A cluster of controls lurk around the back, including volume and crossover dials and a phase inversion switch, alongside two phono inputs for connection to your AVR. Its dimensions may be modest but the spec is solid – a 150W Class D amplifier and a front-firing, 8in long-throw bass cone.

Best in class

After probing the Wharfedale with a range of movies and music, it’s clear that it’s up there with the best systems in this price class. To me, the mark of a great compact package is its ability to deliver a sound bigger than its dimensions suggest, and the DX-1 HCP does just that.

Thor’s DTS-HD Master Audio Blu-ray track hammers home the point, providing clear evidence of the Wharfedale package’s size-defying power. When Sir Anthony Hopkins’ Odin hits his staff on the floor during Thor’s coronation, the thump is thick and authoritative, rolling around the soundstage with a long, atmospheric echo.

The ensuing pursuit of the invading Frost Giants showcases more of this solid bass work, alongside crisp mids and highs that fire across the expansive soundstage. It’s thrilling stuff, managing to sound aggressive and dynamic without stepping over the line into harshness.

Push the volume really high and it strains slightly, yet you’d have to be some sort of masochist to listen at the level I’m talking about. Keep it sane and the Wharfedale array remains smooth as silk.

Shifts from tense, talky stand-offs to full-blooded action are delivered with impressive speed, and when the action gets really feisty, the DX-1 HCP conducts the chaos with confidence. Thor’s revenge attack on the Frost Giants is ten minutes of pure brutality that the system takes in its stride. There’s an even tonality across the entire array, making steering seem smooth and ensuring a focused, unified soundstage. Effects placement is terrific, and high frequencies have a crisp, airy quality, sprinkling a delicate layer of detail onto every scene.

None of this would be possible without the talented sub, which anchors it all with lean, purposeful bass notes that fuse tightly to the satellites. This little bass box is a revelation, doing its job without making a song and dance about it.

The centre speaker tops off this pleasing performance nicely. Dialogue is communicated with clarity and focus, beefed up by solid low frequencies. So when Odin starts barking at his foolhardy son, or King Laufey sneers in his deep voice, both sound rich and realistic.

Great value

Wharfedale has hit pay dirt with the DX-1 HCP. Not only is it a stylish and solidly-built 5.1 system that takes up precious little space, it also delivers a kick-ass performance. Movies sound bigger and bolder than you might expect given the size of the speakers, plus it teases out plenty of detail and underpins it all with natural-sounding bass. And at just £400 it’s also great value, giving Wharfedale an advantage in the face of such stiff competition.


HCC VERDICT

Wharfedale DX-1 HCP
Price:
£400 Approx

Highs: Solid build; compact design and neat styling; large-scale sound
Lows: Slight straining at very loud volumes

Performance: 5/5
Design: 5/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 5/5


Specifications

DX-1 Satellites
Drive units: 1 x 3in woven propylene mid/bass driver; 1 x 0.75in silk dome tweeter
Frequency response: 120Hz-20kHz
Sensitivity: 84dB
Power handling: 20-80W
Dimensions: 122(w) x 190(h) x 123(d)mm
Weight: 1.8kg

DX-1 Centre
Drive units: 2 x 3in woven propylene mid/bass drivers; 1 x 0.75mm silk dome tweeter 
Frequency response: 80Hz-20kHz
Sensitivity: 86dB
Power handling: 30-100W
Dimensions: 292(w) x 122(h) x 123(d)mm
Weight: 2.5kg

DX-1 Subwoofer
Drive units:
1 x 8in long-throw cone
Frequency response: 20-200Hz
On board power: 150W (RMS)
Dimensions: 285(w) x 335(h) x 320(d)mm
Weight: 8.6kg
Connections: Stereo line in; LFE line in