WHARFEDALE DIAMOND 8.1 revisited

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Redistributions Renovations Reviews

 

Wharfedale Diamonds 8.1 (and the entire Diamond line) have been reviewed to death by audio magazines. They got almost unanimously great reviews, so when I spotted a cheap pair, I bought it to see what all the fuzz was about.

That pair had a defect, but I was able to repair it myself, listen and resell. I was going to write a short review but frankly I forgot. Another opportunity presented itself when guys shopping for an amp or receiver came by to audition few units I had for sale and brought a pair of Diamonds with them. Impressions refreshed and few more photos taken (see expanded gallery below, we now have photos of black version and the crossover), here’s the review after all.

 

Wharfedale Diamonds 8.1 are small-ish, 2-way, front-ported bookshelf speakers with a 5-inch Kevlar-coned woofer and a 1- inch silk dome tweeter. They have 55 Hz to 20 kHz frequency response, crossover frequency is 2.2 kHz. Nominal impedance is 6 ohms according to specs, and the sensitivity is 86 dB, not bad, nothing special. Power handling is 100W, with at least 20 WPC amp recommended. Binding-post terminals are of decent quality for cheap speakers and allow for bi-wiring, but the placement is less than ideal – you won’t be able to use double banana plugs when bi-wiring. Enclosure is made from MDF, with plastic front baffle. Grilles are really poor quality and look cheap, plastic fronts with grilles off look even cheaper. The light-colored version I had before looked straight awful, worse than Jamo or Sony speakers. Maple finish was poor quality, champagne gold plastic baffle didn’t help. The black version does looks a bit better, but still cheap. There is also an active version with black mid-woofer cone.

Four versions of Diamond 8.1 exist (that I know of), 1 active: 8.1 Active, and 3 passive: 8.1 (non-SE), 8.1 SE and 8.1 Plus. Both pairs I tested were the basic, non-SE version. There is no information about differences between non-SE and SE versions, they have the same specs, use the same drivers, and they are identical externally. There could be a difference in crossover, or they could be the same speakers with different stickers. If you own Diamonds 8.1 SE, please take few pics of the crossover and send them to me, I’m really curious. Diamond 8.1 plus has 8.5 cm deeper enclosure and different frequency response (50 Hz- 24 kHz according to specs).

 

The first thing I noticed after connecting the Diamonds I bought before was that one speaker sounded different than the other. The better one had less highs than I would like, the worse no highs at all. I suspected a blown tweeter, but testing the tweeters separately with spare crossovers proved they were both OK and sounded the same. Turned out that Wharfedale used cheap, crappy electrolytic caps in their crossovers, and a 6.8 uF cap died. Who would have thought, more cheap components. I can understand a bad cap in a 20-30 years old speakers, but these are quite young. If your Wharfedale Diamonds have a tweeter that went silent, test the tweeter and check crossover caps before buying replacement parts! Anyway, I replaced the bad cap and both Diamonds finally started to sound the same. How they sounded is another thing.

 

Now, remember the rave reviews I mentioned? Well, I hope those guys got paid really well, preferably not in Diamonds. The only thing Wharfedale Diamond 8.1 does sort of right is midrange. It’s present, natural, vocals sound pleasant and the image is quite wide, but frankly I could say the same about Acoustic Solutions AV 120 speakers I had at home some time ago (FYI, those are cheap Chinese tower speakers with a single cap for a crossover). Wide, but lacks depth. Lows are quite clear if you keep tone controls flat and any bass boosts your amp might have off, but there is less bass, especially lower bass, than I would expect from a ported speaker, even considering the size. In fact there’s barely enough bass to justify calling Diamonds 8.1 stereo speakers and not HT rears. In fact at least some stores sold these as rear speakers in HT sets only, and the smallest stereo model offered in the Diamond 8 line was 8.2.

Diamonds 8.1 do not respond well to bass-boosting either. Things get all muddy and resonating, so it is better to just accept the sound with controls flat. If you can place them near the rear wall, it might help a bit with bass quantity (but not quality).

But bass is not the biggest flaw these speakers have. The real problem with Diamonds 8.1 are high frequencies. Veiled, muddy, they lack clarity, detail and sparkle even with sharp and clinical amps and sources. I tried at least 10 amps with different sound signatures, power from 20 to 120 WPC, and I couldn’t squeeze good highs from these tweeters. Even the best amp/speaker combination (quite surprisingly with a 15 WPC Toshiba SA-300L receiver) was far from the praise reviewers gave to these speakers. OK, I’m a bit spoiled by speakers that sport Vifa silk domes, Quadral ribbons and titanium domes, but the Diamonds take ‘veiled’ to a whole new level. It’s not like a curtain over speakers anymore, it’s a thick blanket. I’m not a fan of ear-piercing tweeters, but the HF rolloff here is simply unacceptable. Removing the grilles helps a bit, but don’t expect miracles. With the grilles off highs are still veiled.

Tannoy M2 is an example of a very popular speaker that suffers from the veiled sound. Diamonds 8.1 are worse. They are actually worse than the Acoustic Solutions AV 120 that I mentioned (granted, in the bass response department the AS have enclosure volume going for them). The thing Diamonds and Tannoys M2 have in common is that you can crank it up without highs becoming unbearable. But at normal and low volume levels they’re dull.

We have no idea how the SE version sounds in comparison, but unless it has a completely redesigned crossover, it’s probably the same or very similar. A different crossover could help the highs, but there’s not much you can do about bass response here. The one comment I’ve found about the Diamond 8.1 Plus version was that they’re “not the bassiest speakers in the world, but midrange is fairly good for acoustic music and treble isn’t awfully harsh”. Sounds familiar?

 

Wharfedale Diamonds 8.1 are cheap and they were cheap when new 10 years ago, but not quite the bargain many reviewers claimed they were. In fact you get exactly what you pay for: cheap speakers that look cheap, sound cheap, and are built with cheap components. I can only recommend them for vocal and maybe acoustic music; play anything that needs some grunt or sparkle and they will disappoint. On the upside, they are really cheap and still better than most HT rears and speakers sold with mini systems. There are actually many worse speakers out there, Diamonds 8.1 simply fail to live up to the hype. Did I mention that they are cheap? Yes they are. But, if you’re not afraid of buying something a decade or two older, there are much better speakers for the price. For speakers about that size that offer a good sound, I recommend to look at Mission 760i (if you like it warm) or Quadral Rondo (if you like it a bit less warm) instead.

 

WHARFEDALE DIAMOND 8.1 (non-SE)

 

Manufacturer: Wharfedale (IAG Group)

Years of manufacture: 2004 – ?

Manufactured in: China

Colour: maple/beech and gold, black

Dimensions: 296 x 198 x 181 mm/11.7 x 7.8 x 7.1 inch (H x W x D)

weight: 7.5 kg per speaker

Original price approx .: £120 / $200 / PLN 600 per pair

 

Specifications

 

Type: 2-way front-ported system

Woofer: 1x 130 mm Kevlar

Tweeter: 1x 25 mm silk dome

Power handling: 100 W

Recommended amplifier power: 20-130 W per channel

Sensitivity: 86 dB

Frequency response: 55-20000 Hz

Crossover frequency: 2200 Hz

Nominal impedance: 6 ohms

Special features: magnetically shielded

7 comments

  1. Frank Catenacci

    I have 8.1’s non SE. Not sure what SE is. I either have a bad speaker or cross over. When I send a test tone from my A/V receiver I don’t hear it until I tap on the Kevlar speaker. Then it works. Even when I listen to music, I have a 5 channel option on my Marantz SR8000 receiver. So all my speaker should come on. It will not work until there is some low bass then it will work. Seems weird, that is why I am thinking a bad cap or something. Just wondering if you had some experience with these.

    1. rafal lisinski Post author

      Frank, the symptoms you describe are typical for a bad contact/connection. With a bad cap normally you would have a problem all the time, it wouldn’t be intermittent (and go away when you tap the speaker or feed a signal with lower bass). It could be on the crossover, midwoofer’s connector or in the driver itself (less likely). I would start with checking if the speaker wires from your receiver and the bi-wire jumpers are secured tightly (unless you’ve done that already). Then have a look at the crossover, check the connector screws on the inside and reflow all solder joints. If that doesn’t help remove the midwoofer and check the wire connections to it. I don’t remember if the wires are soldered to the midwoofer or connected with – if they have bobby pins check if they are connected securely, if they are soldered, reflow. If you’ve done all that and the problem remains, try swapping the woofers between speakers – if the problem follows the woofer, the woofer needs to be repaired or replaced. If it stays with the speaker, recheck all connections and start checking continuity of crossover parts. Hope that helps.

        1. rafal lisinski Post author

          I would check all connections and solder joints just in case before you start buying replacement parts.

          One more important question I forgot to ask, and I should start with that: when the speaker does not work, is only the woofer silent, or both woofer and tweeter? If both are silent, this would suggest that the problem is NOT in the speaker. The paths are separate for each driver from the connectors on the back of the speaker all the way to each driver. If neither driver works, and then they both start working when you play a louder signal or play music for a longer time, this indicates that the problem is in the receiver (or the wire between the receiver and speaker, but that’s less likely).

          But if one driver plays and the other is silent, then the problem is in the speaker.

        2. Frank Catenacci

          It’s not the speakers. Either A/V receiver or cable. Probably receiver, as it warms up it start to work. I have both Wharfedale 8.1 regular and SE. The SE’s look to have a more realistic wood grain to them. They look like real wood. I think everything else is the same.

          1. Frank Catenacci

            I swapped with a new speaker cab it behaved the same, forgot to mention that.

          2. rafal lisinski Post author

            In that case, the symptoms would indicate a bad joint or dirty relay in your receiver. Normally it would be quite easy to repair, but AV receivers are more complicated with more channels and features packed inside. Troubleshooting can take a while, and access to components inside is probably not easy. You could start with making sure all the connectors inside are firmly placed (especially the white ribbons) and, if you can see relays, tapping them to see it sound appears in the problematic channel when you do that. This would have to be done with the receiver on and working and cover off, so be very careful, easy to damage something else this way. If you don’t feel safe doing that, or simply don’t have a lot of time and patience – take it to a repair shop.

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