There's a lot to like about this wallet-friendly, high-performance 5.1 loudspeaker array
It’s 1981 and the dying embers of disco are still burning the nation’s dancefloors, Diana Spencer is about to marry our future king, and British audio brand Wharfedale unveils its very first Diamond speaker – the progenitor of the 5.1 system you see before you.
This trip down memory lane underlines the decades of expertise behind the Diamond moniker. A best-seller in its day, the original Diamond design delivered sparkling sound quality from compact cabinets (thanks in part to their use of stiff yet light polypropylene cones) and each generation since has introduced new technology or material to the market – including 2009’s Diamond 10 series and last year’s excellent DX1 HCP package.
Despite Diamond’s evolution over the last 32 years, its value-for-money ethos has remained constant, which brings us neatly to the Diamond 100-HCP (or Home Cinema Pack), an impressively-specced 5.1 system that comes in at just under a grand.
It comprises two pairs of the company’s new Diamond 121 standmounts for the fronts and rears, the 101C centre and the SPC-10 PowerCube subwoofer. The Diamond 100 range also includes two floorstanding models, the 155 and 157, should you wish to upgrade to something with a little more oomph.
After liberating the Diamond 121s from their boxes, I couldn’t help feeling a little underwhelmed by their design. The black wood finish (also available in cherry, rosewood and walnut) and unique ‘Diamond pattern’ rings surrounding the cloth circles look pleasant enough, but it’s build quality that lets the side down.
I’m not saying they’re shoddily made – the chipboard/MDF cabinets are firmly bolted together and fairly weighty – but the plasticky finish on the front panel and plinth betray their budget price tag. By contrast, rivals like Acoustic Energy’s 3 Series manage to communicate a sense of luxury for a similar price.
The binding posts on the back are nice and sturdy, though, and there are two pairs should you wish to bi-wire them. If not, metal joiners bridge the posts.
Wharfedale claims that getting the best possible bass performance from small cabinets was top of its priorities when designing the Diamond 100 series, and the plinth on the bottom of the 121s plays a crucial role in its low-frequency performance. Bookshelf speakers are often limited by their relatively small ports, which make it hard for them to transfer high-pressure airflow effectively.
To combat this, Wharfedale devised the Slot-Loaded Distributed Port, a feature which is derived from the Aperiodic system used by Wharfedale’s high-end Jade series. High-pressure airflow exits through a slot between the plinth and cabinet base. This larger opening, it's claimed, allows for more efficient power transfer from port to open air, thereby reducing turbulence and acoustic phenomena like bass ‘chuffing’. It also makes it easier to place the speaker close to your wall if you have to, unlike rear-ported boxes.
The two-way Diamond 121 employs a 5in woven Kevlar bass driver and a 1in soft-dome tweeter that has been redesigned to incorporate a ferrite magnet system (as opposed to less cost-effective Neodymium) and a waveguide.
The 101C centre is identically styled, save for the customary horizontal orientation and an extra bass driver to give dialogue more authority. Its bulky cabinet is wider than most Blu-ray players, though, which isn’t in keeping with the more compact nature of the 121s. That could be an issue if you’re planning on placing it amongst all your other AV kit.
The subwoofer completing the line-up comes from the PowerCube range. Not strictly a cube, this partners a 215W Class D amplifier with a downward-firing 10in driver, and sports the same blackwood finish and curved edges as the other speakers. It looks the part and boasts decent build quality for the money. Isolation spikes are supplied in the box.
If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the Diamond 100-HCP is absolutely delicious.
What makes it so tasty is the speakers’ naturally rich and powerful bass output, courtesy of that Slot-Loaded Distributed Port. Low frequencies are tight and controlled, thumping right into your chest with no flab or colouration from the cabinets. You could quite happily listen to these sans sub and still enjoy a satisfying level of depth, which is almost unheard of at this price – great news for two-channel music listening as well as movies.
With the Stone Giants scene in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on Blu-ray, the sense of scale achieved by these unassuming speakers is remarkable. The giants slam boulders into each other with a massive, rumbling boom, while the cracks of splitting stones are delivered with no trace of harshness.
The SPC-10 subwoofer reinforces the speakers’ bass notes brilliantly, fusing seamlessly without overpowering them. It’s agile, too, handling the score’s fast-paced kettle drums without overhang.
Nor is this array all about power – it demonstrates a great deal of finesse, too. In Peter Jackson's flick, the soundstage positively twinkles with light, airy high-frequency information, from the rustle of dwarfish feet on woodland floors to the background murmur of Middle-earth wildlife. Meanwhile, the score’s sweeping strings have a wonderfully rich and velvety quality.
The Diamond 100-HCP's intricate, richly textured sound stays smooth and unhurried even when you crank up the volume. Crucial dialogue is articulated in a clear, commanding manner by the 101C centre speaker, picking out Gandalf’s gruff vocal nuances and lending depth to Azog’s barked orders.
The thrilling action all takes place within an expansive soundstage, into which effects are fired with energy and accuracy. Tonally, the speakers are voice matched, which means that surround information blends well with the fronts and centre when sonics are steered between channels.
So as budget speaker systems go, the Diamond 100-HCP is a real revelation, offering sound quality better than its price tag suggests. Bass performance is the highlight thanks to some clever port technology, but the sound is also beautifully detailed, clean and authoritative.
The only real negative is the build quality, particularly the plasticky front panel finish and the rather pedestrian look. And the cabinets themselves, especially the centre speaker, are bigger than some may feel comfortable with. But that aside, the Diamond 100-HCP is one of the best budget speaker packages on the market, and well worth a grand of anyone’s cash.
Wharfedale Diamond 100-HCP
Price: £950 Approx
Highs: Highly detailed sound; tight, potent bass reproduction; excellent value for money
Lows: Plasticky finish and rather pedestrian looks; larger cabinets than rival sub/sat systems
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