No waffling: I really love the Wharfedale Diamond 10.2 bookshelf speakers. They're not cheap ($449/pair) but they both look and sound like speakers costing more than twice the price.
These are interesting times in the home audio world. There are a lot of good or very good options for $500 or less, options that are of far better quality than we could buy for those prices in the '90s or early 2000s. Still, very few of those improved options really approach the advantages of true audiophile gear. These Wharfedales may not quite match the quality of $2500 pairs, but they manage to suggest that experience for a fraction of the price.
What's the best thing about these speakers? There's a smoothness to the sound from low to high that makes them incredibly versatile. If you listen to jazz and classical and rock and hip hop, the Diamond 10.2 aren't going to distract you with too much bass or the kind of harshness that comes sometimes with too much emphasis on the top end. Really consistent, really nice sound.
If you buy them from MusicDirect.com, they come with a 30-day guarantee, so you can test them out at home and figure out if they work for you without fear of a restocking fee. They're available here in the USA in black, cherry and rosewood finishes.
The Diamond 10.2 speaker has bi-wire terminals on the back to connect your cables. They're 14.33" H x 8.78" W x 11.85" D and weigh 15 lbs. each, so they're on the large end of the bookshelf speaker spectrum. If that's too big for you space, you might check out the Diamond 10.1 speakers. They're 3" shorter, retail for $349 and get reviews online that are almost as rapturous as this one.
I've spent a few weeks with these speakers and the sound opened up beautifully as I broke them in. I paired them with a SMSL SA50 Class T Tripath integrated amp (a steal at $68) and an Apple Airport Express. If you don't already own a wifi adapter or a good receiver, that whole setup will run you less than $650 and the sound absolutely destroys anything in the sub-$1000 range with Bluetooth or AirPlay audio systems. Of course, simplicity and portability are supposed to be part of the attraction with a wireless speaker system, but this is a reminder of what you can get from a hybrid setup with old-style component systems paired with new technology.
Wharfedale is a British brand with an audiophile reputation stretching back to the '70s and they also make the Cobalt, a good wireless Bluetooth speaker. How are they delivering such excellent sound for this price? The cabinets are MDF, but you'd never really notice that if you didn't already know. They're also manufacturing in China, something that's controversial with the audiophile crowd. There are claims that Chinese manufacturing can't possibly meet the quality control levels necessary for a high-end audio component, but the smartphones that almost everyone's carrying in their pockets suggest otherwise.
One last note: yeah, these do sound better than those really good Pioneer bookshelf speakers that everyone recommends. The Pioneers are an excellent bargain but they look cheap compared to the Wharfedales and the Diamond 10.2 speaker sound more than justifies the price difference.
These have been a real pleasure to review. The Diamond 10.2 speakers are a great value if you've got $450 to invest in speakers and they're now my go-to recommendation in this price range.
Here's some more technical detail for the spec-obsessed:
- Cast aluminum ports, binding post and Tweeter frame for fit and finish at this price point
- Tweeter, Midrange and ports are “locked” together stiffening the front baffle
- Cast aluminum frames for all drivers reduces resonance, improves power handling
- Open back driver design for zero back-wave bleed through the cone
- Kevlar cones for highest stiffness to mass ratio, unheard of at this price point
- Low reflection MSBR surrounds with increased linear driver excursion, improves dynamics and isolates reflections
- Tweeter gets neodymium magnet for high power and ultimate control
- Polypropylene Capacitors on tweeter crossover for silky smooth highs
- Curved side panels reduce panel flex and cancel internal standing waves
- ¾" MDF enclosure for solid impact and dynamics
- Full internal cross-bracing for reduced enclosure vibration
- Poly-fill stuffed enclosures improve bass and midrange performance