The DX-1SE is the replacement for the DX-1 HCP, a compact 5.1 speaker package that I praised for its terrific sound quality and exceptional value back in 2012.
The idea behind the new DX-1SE is the same: namely to deliver full-sized home cinema sound from pint-sized speakers, without taking a toll on your living space or bank balance. But this time round Wharfedale has fine-tuned the drivers and redesigned the cabinets in a bid to take performance to the next level.
In the box you’ll find four identical satellites for the front and surround channels, plus a dedicated centre speaker and compact active subwoofer. The system comes in a choice of black and white high-gloss finishes – Wharfedale sent me the latter and it’s gorgeous.
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It was hard to imagine how Wharfedale could improve upon the design of the DX-1 HCP without raising the price tag, but somehow the company has managed it.
Changes to the cabinets are subtle but effective, giving them a cleaner, more contemporary look. Out go the tapered back ends of the DX-1 HCP in favour of straight sides and a sheer back panel. Wharfedale has also shaved 12mm off the width of satellites, making them even more compact than their predecessor.
Build quality is also impressive for the money. The cabinets feel hefty and solid, while the glossy finish communicates a sense of luxury. The only obvious reminder of their affordable price tag are the plasticky cloth grilles, which are held on by plug fixings, not magnets. That said, the black grilles do form a striking contrast against the white cabinets.
Remove the grilles and there’s more to admire. The ridged silver rings surrounding the 19mm silk dome tweeter and 75mm woven polypropylene mid/bass driver add a touch of industrial glamour, although the screws fixing them to the baffle are a little too prominent for my liking. A silver Wharfedale logo at the bottom is the only other visible detail.
The satellites sport a closed-box (or "infinite baffle") design, which allows you to place them close to a rear wall without adversely affecting performance. In fact, you can even mount them on the wall if you prefer using the keyhole fixings on the back. If you’d rather place them on stands or furniture then you can stick the supplied rubber pads to the bottom. Either way, their remarkably compact dimensions mean you shouldn’t have any trouble accommodating them in your room.
The centre speaker boasts all the same aesthetic features as the satellites, but its horizontal shape is designed to fit snugly on an AV shelf or even in front of your TV if you have space. Apart from its orientation, the other big difference is the extra mid/bass driver, designed to give dialogue some oomph.
Unlike the sealed-box satellites, the centre uses an aperiodic loading system to control airflow – a vent on the back filled with resistive porous foam – that aids bass response, according to Wharfedale. The centre also comes with keyhole fixings for wall mounting. All of the speakers are equipped with sturdy gold binding posts, another surprisingly luxurious touch for a budget speaker package.
Last but not least is the WH-D8 active subwoofer, a remarkably compact box that sits unobtrusively beside my TV. The build quality dips a little here due to the cheaper matte finish that covers most of the cabinet, but the front panel is coated in the same high-gloss as the other speakers.
The front-firing 200mm long-throw bass cone is driven by a 120W amplifier, while the rear panel offers an array of controls to tune bass output, including volume and crossover frequency dials, plus phase inversion and auto power switches.
To test the Wharfedale’s mettle I fired up Mad Max Fury Road on Blu-ray, a movie that demands scale, power and attack. Somehow these diminutive speakers deliver all three in spades, conveying the film’s ferocious action scenes with the authority and poise of a larger system.
The opening scene – in which disembodied voices detail Earth’s destruction and Tom Hardy scoffs a two-headed gecko – is a demo room favourite and sounds terrific through the DX-1SE. Hardy’s voice is a big, looming presence in the room, and clear, detailed whispers echo around the soundstage. As Max bites into the gecko, the crunch is disgustingly detailed.
Aptly, the system goes from 0 to 60 in a flash. The sonic carnage goes silent as Max almost topples from the tower, but as the War Boys grab him the system slams back to life quickly and decisively.
Skip forward to the attack on Furiosa’s rig in chapter three and the Wharfedale goes through the gears with a fast, entertaining presentation. As cars collide and tumble the sound of metal hitting metal is fierce, but a smoothed-off top end stops it sounding brash at loud volumes.
Thankfully, there remains enough bite to keep excitement high as the staccato score drives the action forward. I pushed the volume beyond a comfortable level and the DX-1SE gobbled it up.
Meanwhile, the subwoofer’s thunderous bass lends scale and presence without overpowering the other sonic elements. It could be a touch quicker and punchier with gunshots and explosions, but there’s no questioning the size of the rumble as the cars zoom into the huge sandstorm.
Like the DX-1 HCP, the SE is a precise and detailed listen, sounding surprisingly refined for a so-called affordable system. Integration is also terrific – you almost forget the sub is there, and effects pan between channels without any shift in timbre.
The Wharfedale’s talents extend to music playback too. There’s a wealth of detail and a clear mid-range that allows voices to shine. It keeps its composure as you crank up the volume too and the subwoofer does a decent job keeping pace with basslines – but again, it could be tighter.
If you want full-scale 5.1 sound at a small-scale price, the DX-1SE is just the ticket. Its alluring design and exhilarating performance make it an absolute bargain, delivering a bigger sound than the dinky cabinets suggest. Admittedly, there are better-sounding systems around if you spend a little more – the Q Acoustics 3000, for instance – but for £400 the DX-1SE is an absolute no-brainer.
With its surprisingly powerful sound and classy, compact design, the DX-1 SE is an absolute steal at this price.