Wharfedale Opus2 M2 Loudspeaker (TAS 216)

Equipment report
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Stand-mount
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Wharfedale Opus2 M2
Wharfedale Opus2 M2 Loudspeaker (TAS 216)

The Wharfedale Opus2 M2 loudspeaker is a standmounted, three-way, dynamic-driver design that is larger and heavier than a typical stand-mounted monitor. As such, its appearance is a bit of an odd duck; it is not tall enough to be close to a floorstander, but it is also larger, especially wider, than a typical standmount. Unusual proportions or not, the basic design configuration is worthy of consideration: a relatively small, but full-sounding three-way speaker that does not have to contend with the larger (and potentially more resonant) cabinet panels of a floorstander and whose eight-inch bass driver is positioned well away from the floor.

Wharfedale has been around for a long time, over 75 years as a matter for fact. It began in an area near Ilkley, Yorkshire, in the UK, where Gilbert Biggs first set up his Wharfedale Wireless Works factory in 1933. After several evolving developments, such as teaming up with Quad in the 1950s, and being sold to various other companies over the years, Wharfedale is still going strong. The design work is performed in the UK with all of the manufacturing done in China. Walter Schofield of Sound Import, the U.S. distributor, told me that Wharfedale’s manufacturing is completely vertically integrated. It makes its own drivers, cabinets, and internal parts—down to the capacitors, resistors, and, apparently, even its own hook-up wire—in a large Chinese manufacturing facility. The fit and finish of the product appear to be quite high, especially for its $2800 asking price. My usual unscientific practice of lightly running my fingers over cabinet surfaces while steady-heavy-beat music plays suggests that the M2 has a well-damped cabinet. The owner’s manual gets high marks for clarity, thoroughness, helpful graphics, and high quality paper.

The first thing that stands out about the M2’s drivers is its domed midrange unit. While not as prevalent as cone midrange units, other loudspeaker makers have used domes—ATC, PMC, Linn, and Ruark come to mind. The M2 textile midrange driver includes a concave die-cast aluminum bezel, which is said to provide a partial horn-loading effect, which makes the midrange’s dispersion similar to that of the tweeter at the crossover point. The textile dome tweeter is designed to extend out to 45kHz and is mounted on a fascia which folds over the top of the cabinet so that the tweeter dome itself is positioned very close to the top edge of the front baffle, presumably to reduce baffle diffraction effects and allow for a wider dispersion pattern. The bass driver cone uses a tri-laminate sandwich of “glass/carbon/glass.” It looks like a carbon-fiber-weave material.

The prevailing thought that crossed my mind as I began to dig into the M2’s sound was control. The M2’s sound is disciplined in all the right ways: no bass overhang, no midrange honkiness, no ragged high-frequency hash. My positive first impressions along those lines were not muted by long-term listening, either. In fact, the more I worked with the M2, the more I admired the skill with which its designers had apparently balanced frequency extension and dynamic range with the lack of bass bloat and treble glare, pitfalls that too often accompany speakers with “performance” ambitions in the sub-$3k price range. Which is not to suggest that all was well right out of the box; the M2 needs at least 200 hours of break-in time before it loses some bass restriction and allows all parts of the music to play with the same dynamic timing.

The M2’s tonal balance tilts pleasantly to the lighter side of neutral in my setup. This could be the case largely because I could not place the M2 as close the backwall as is recommended (12" to 16"), and thereby reduced design-predicated boundary bass-reinforcement. When I did place the M2 within the recommended range, any considerations about overall tonal balance were overshadowed by some midbass overhang, which may not necessarily occur in other rooms. I ended up with the tweeters about 50" from the backwall, 30" from sidewalls, and 7.6' from each other. Sound Import verified that the sand-filled 24" B&W stands I had on hand would work just fine. I used amplifiers ranging from 80 to 200 watts per channel, none of which had any trouble driving the M2. I listened with the grilles off.

The small upward tonal tilt was not unpleasant or harsh. In fact, I began to wonder if my sense of what constitutes neutrality might be overly influenced by my darker-sounding Dynaudio C1 mini-monitor ($7000). Not only was I listening to other speakers besides the C1, like the Music Culture RL 21 ($2950, Issue 215), the B&W 805 Diamond ($5000, Issue 210), and Aerial 7T ($10k, review forthcoming), but I also attended three performances with live orchestra during the same period. As I hear it, the M2 tends to favor the brighter and sparkling side of live performances, over the sonorous and full side...strings highlighted more than the instrument bodies, if you will. The burnished resonance and sense of corporeality of massed acoustic instruments do not get their full measure—even if one allows that any reproduced version of reality will not quite sound like it does live. The M2’s presentation was never unpleasant or threadbare; it just sounded more like one was sitting quite close to the orchestra (tonally speaking). I enjoyed my music collection through the M2, even cuts with known brightness in them, so well behaved is the M2’s upper-frequency performance. I heard no irritating glare or piercing qualities—from recordings free of same, that is.

The M2’s midrange is clear and well integrated with both the treble and bass, but the truly noteworthy aspect of the M2’s performance is its clean, pitch-defined, taut, and respectably extended bass. The stated –3dB point is 40Hz, and that is probably honest, if not erring on the modest side. My room tends to be bass-friendly, as it does not bleed off bass or create obvious bumps. Accordingly, the M2 extended as low or a bit lower than my Dynaudio C1, which I have verified can play tones serviceably down to 30Hz in my setup. The M2 also had a bit better bass definition than the C1. I cannot overstate how much this “skill” in the bass helps to make the whole presentation sound more clean and organized. The M2 clearly revealed the primary drum figure on “Song of the Nile” by Dead Can Dance from Spiritchaser [4AD] as a four-measure pattern of pitched drums and then a different group of drums (and pitches) for another four measures, alternating until about the 3-minute mark when the pattern shifts. I have heard systems with speakers costing well over twice as much that could not delineate the drum pitch differentiation in the song’s introduction, let alone allow me to follow the pattern throughout the piece as other musical elements come in and overshadow the drum theme.

The M2 cannot quite match its fine “bloat control” performance with equally impressive micro-dynamics. All the other speakers I had on hand could track subtle attack and decay cues better, except one costing $2000 to $4000 more. While the comparably-priced Music Culture RL 21 ($2950) could not deliver the bass extension or macro-dynamic thrust of the M2, the RL 21 could recreate finer gradations of dynamic shading which seemed to contribute to my personal connection with the music. I did not find the M2 uninvolving or boring; I just preferred the greater level of sonic refinement of the MC RL 21. As unfair as the comparison is, the more expensive speakers (mentioned above) also confirmed my impression that the M2 gets many performance aspects right but glosses over some subtle details.

The M2’s soundstaging is in keeping with the M2’s price-category. Width stretches from the outer sides of the cabinets but not much beyond that. Depth is average, and the layering of images from front to back is not as fleshed out as it could be and lacks some “continuousness” of space over all. Individual images are reasonably well focused and can be placed from front to back, especially if there are clear venue delay cues in the recording, but they tend to come across more as partial-relief outlines rather than solid, rounded entities. The M2 performs comfortably in areas of soundstage expansiveness, depth layering, and fleshed-out images, but is not price level busting.

The sum total of the M2’s qualities creates a lively, clean, fairly revealing rendering of one’s music collection. The M2 gets out of the way by adroitly avoiding missteps that interfere with following the music at a fundamental level: lumpy bass, a colored midrange, and a peaky treble. Forget about the classic British monitor stereotype of limited bass response, a midrange emphasis, and a somewhat soft, forgiving treble. If anything, the Wharfedale Opus2 M2 tends towards an ever-so-slightly recessed midrange. I dare say, the M2 will come as a welcomed salve for some listeners who live with an underlying murkiness coming from their home audio systems.

With appropriate system matching, the Wharfedale Opus2 M2 will reward the owner with clean, respectably extended, and refreshingly bloat-free music reproduction. It does a great job of delivering tuneful, articulate bass extending down to a meaningful level, one that allows enough foundation to underpin most music. It’s all about control, and Wharfedale applies it well.

SPECS & PRICING

Type: Three-way, vented-box system
Drivers: One 8" glass/carbon/ glass bass, one 3" textile dome midrange, one 1" textile dome tweeter
Frequency response: 40Hz–43kHz (–3dB)
Sensitivity: 88dB ((1W/1M)
Impedance: 6 ohms
Power handling: 100 watts continuous
Recommended amplifier power: 50–200 watts
Dimensions: 10" x 19.8" x 17.7"
Weight: 36.2 lbs. each
Price: $2800 (pair)

Wharfedale USA /
Sound Import , LLC
14A Rosenfeld Drive
Hopedale, MA 01747
(508) 422-9788
wharfedaleusa.com
sales@soundimport.com


ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
Analog Source: Basis Debut V turntable with Vector 4 tonearm, Benz-Micro LP-S cartridge Digital Source: Ayre C-5xeMP Phonostage preamp: Ayre P-5xe Linestage preamp: Ayre K-1xe Integrated amplifiers: Hegel H200, Music Culture MC 701 Power amplifier: Gamut M-200 monos Speakers: Dynaudio Confidence C1, B&W 805 Diamond, Aerial 7T, Music Culture RL 21 Cables: Shunyata Antares interconnects and Orion speaker wire, Wegrzyn power cords A/C Power: Two 20-amp dedicated lines, FIM receptacles Room Treatments: PrimeAcoustic Z-foam panels
 

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