Take a look at the gap between the plinth and cabinet at the bottom of the Diamond 121 (below). You wouldn’t think it, but this unassuming space is crucial to its performance.
The airflow limitations of most ported bookshelf speakers make it difficult for them to generate powerful bass, so to solve the problem Wharfedale came up with the Slot-Loaded Distributed Port.
This gap turns high-pressure air from the port into a low-pressure flow, thereby making the power transfer more efficient, reducing turbulence and (theoretically) improving bass performance. It also means you don’t have to be quite so picky about where you place it.
This bass loading system is inspired by Wharfedale’s high-end Jade range and is unique in this price class – we’re fascinated to find out how well it fares…
The Diamond 121s use a two-way design with a 130mm woven Kevlar bass driver and a 25mm soft dome tweeter. The 101C centre is also a two-way speaker but uses two 130mm bass drivers and a larger cabinet volume to give voices more clout. The use of composite chipboard/MDF cabinets helps to damp unwanted resonance and block sound leakage.
The subwoofer also has a lot to offer, not least a clever proximity sensor that lights up the volume and crossover frequency dials when your hand is nearby. This, combined with their placement on top of the unit, makes it easy to adjust in the dark.
On the back are speaker- and line-level inputs and outputs for linking up other subs, alongside a mono LFE input. Inside the sub’s ‘infinite baffle’ sealed box is a 200W Class D amplifier that powers the downward-firing 250mm driver underneath.
Fittingly, when it comes to movie playback the Wharfedale Diamond 100-HCP sparkle as much as the name suggests. That’s largely due to their beautiful high-frequency reproduction, which makes detailed hi-res Blu-ray tracks sound crisp and airy. As a result the soundstage is open and intricate, never leaden-footed or congested.
There’s plenty of evidence of this when we fire up our trusty Blu-ray copy of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. From the very first moments of the prologue, as Bilbo regales Frodo with the story of Erebor, the Diamond 121s and 101C eke out delicate textures from the soundtrack, such as the glassy clink as dwarves mine for rocks, and the gently hissing wind as Smaug approaches.
Lots of speakers in this price range can tease out detail from a disc but the ease and clarity with which the 121s deliver high-frequencies really is impressive for the money.
From the silky flute-heavy score to the gruff nuances of Gandalf’s voice, everything sounds smooth and refined, never harsh or hurried. Even with our partnering Onkyo TX-NR818 pushed to anti-social levels the Diamonds stay cool and composed.
But it’s not just about detail – the Diamond 100s are talented in the bass department too. A pay rise please for whoever came up with the Slot-Loaded Distributed Port idea.
As Smaug smashes his way into the mountain, bass notes are deep, meaty and nimble, giving this boisterous action scene an immediate sense of scale and grandeur, plus a lack of overhang ensures a fast, clean sound.
It’s testament to their power that when we first started playing the movie, we didn’t realise that our receiver was set to ‘subwoofer off’. This superb bass extension is a real bonus for music lovers who want to listen in stereo.
The soundstage is also spacious, effects are accurately placed and there’s seamless tonal consistency as sounds move between channels, showing that the speakers have been carefully voice-matched.
We don’t have a bad word to say about the Diamond 100-HCP’s music performance either. Their naturally smooth and detailed character draws you right into the music. Spine-tingling vocals, tight rhythms and percussion so light it virtually floats – it’s sometimes hard to believe these are ‘budget’ speakers.
They’re not the prettiest nor the best built speakers we’ve seen in this price class – the Acoustic Energy 3-Series beats it hands down on that score – but there’s no arguing with their sound quality, which is simply delightful.
With bags of detail, hefty-yet-agile bass courtesy of the slot port and a refined character, the Diamond 100-HCP’s sound quality makes a mockery of its price, and for that reason it’s highly recommended despite its aesthetic shortcomings.
A great value 5.1-channel speaker system that uses innovative tech to deliver refined, authoritative sound quality – if the build and looks were better we might have been looking at a 10/10 product.