This is the world I grew up in: iPods, ear buds, tinny laptop speakers. Most people my age don’t think twice about their equipment, so long as it makes sound. Your average iTunes aficionado isn’t going to shell out big sums of cash on stereo equipment, especially when everything seems to have speakers built in these days. Why bother?
But there is good sound at approachable prices, fantastic sound really, the sort of sound that people obsess about. It’s not a mystical thing; it’s a visceral one; and younger people are finally starting to figure it out. Vinyl’s comeback is proof of that. The iPod generation is ready for quality; it’s just a matter of figuring out how to get it. And for me, it always starts with speakers.
There’s nothing better than opening something new, which is probably why people watch videos of strangers unboxing hardware on YouTube. The Wharfedale Diamond 225s sat wrapped in plastic covers sandwiched between tight foam inserts at the top and bottom, keeping them secure in transit. When I finally got them up and out, I stared at the gorgeous rosewood-veneer boxes, with their black-lacquer MDF baffles and the small Wharfedale logo just beneath the woofer. I leaned back in my desk chair and thought: “Wow, those are pretty.” They’re clean, unpretentious, and clearly put together very, very well.
OK, the speaker grilles were a little weird. They’re two round foam pieces with little plastic rods that snap in over the tweeter and the woofer, leaving the rest of the baffle exposed, as opposed to something that covers the whole front. It’s not my favorite aesthetic choice, though it’s not necessarily a bad one, either. Just a matter of taste, I guess. At least they’re easy to remove, so I popped them off and forgot about them.
The 225s are fairly compact, though deep and solid. Sound is always the most important aspect of any audio component, but you still have to live with these things, and it’s easier to live with beautiful stuff. Fortunately, they’re exactly what they need to be: simple and attractive. Clearly the people at Wharfedale know what they’re doing, which makes sense, considering how long they’ve been around. Wharfedale is a relatively large British outfit founded back in the 1930s, and they’ve been a big name in British hi-fi ever since. The Diamond series debuted in 1981, and Wharfedale has been slowly improving the Diamond designs and sound without inflating cost, and that’s exactly what I’m looking for.
The 225s list at $450, which is a price an actual human with a real job could potentially afford. If you’re like me, and you’re sick of “affordable” equipment pushing easily into the $1000 range, this review is for you. Fact is, the majority of people can’t shell out the cash for the absurdly hyper-expensive audio equipment that clogs up most blogs. If we want to get the next generation to fall in love with great sound, I think it’s about time to accept that there’s some seriously good, affordable stuff worth writing about.
So with all that in mind, I put the 225s on top of my cheap stands, hooked them up to my (also British) Cambridge Audio CXA80 integrated, and turned it all on. Truth is, my listening space isn’t ideal. It’s small, oddly shaped with a sloping roof, and my speaker placement is limited. They have to be up close to a wall, though fortunately for me, these Wharfedales were designed with that in mind. The slot-loaded bass port fires downwards, instead of back, minimizing room interaction. So don’t worry about sticking them on either side of an entertainment system in the living room, for example, or squeezing them into a small office. Like I said, we have to live with these things, and space is sometimes at a premium.