Test Report: Wharfedale DX-1 Speaker System Page 2

Setup

The Satellite and Centre both have plastic keyhole mounts on the back so you can hang them on the wall. I figured most people would put them on stands, though, so that’s what I did: two Satellites and the Centre in front, and two more Satellites to the sides of my room just behind my listening chair. The curved bottom of the Centre made stand-mounting difficult, and my search of the box revealed no rubber wedge or similar device to prop it up, so I wadded up some Blu-Tak poster adhesive and shoved it under the back of the speaker. Toeing in all the speakers to point straight at me gave the best sound. The grilles sounded fi ne with movies but dulled the treble a bit with music, so I tossed them back in the box.

I connected all the speakers to my AudioControl Savoy amp, which was fed signals from a Denon A/V receiver. I then connected the Denon’s subwoofer output straight to the subwoofer’s line input.

Sadly, like almost every other manufacturer, Wharfedale fails to specify a subwoofer crossover point in the manual. A little experimentation showed 120 Hz to be a reasonable compromise.

The bright blue LED on the front of the sub proved annoying when I turned down the lights to watch movies, but a piece of electrical tape fixed that.

Performance

When I’m faced with a small speaker system, my first instinct is to find its limits. So I loaded the Captain America: The First Avenger Blu-ray and skipped to the scene near the end where Cap fights his nemesis, the Red Skull. In my roughly 3,000-cubic-foot listening room, the DX-1 system sounded pretty good at 98 dB peak level, measured from my listening chair. At 100 dB, though, I got too much distortion. So the DX-1 is adequate for a bedroom or small den, but not for full-bore listening in a large room. No surprise there. What did surprise me, though, was the fidelity of the sound. I’ll get my complaint out of the way right now: Male voices lacked that last bit of body when heard through the DX-1 Centre. Except for that small fl aw, though, the system rendered voices impeccably. All of the voices in Captain America, from the German-accented growling of the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) to the soft tones of Cap’s love interest, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), sounded incredibly natural.

The DX-1 system even handled one of the toughest voice tests on DVD — singer Arnold McCuller’s solo at the end of “Shower the People” from James Taylor’s Live at the Beacon Theatre — as perfectly as I can remember hearing it from an affordable speaker, with none of the distortion or strain that McCuller’s voice often causes in inexpensive systems. The excellent timbre matching between the Satellite and Centre produced a huge sound field with 5.1 material, making movies and music videos especially immersive.

The system’s performance with music was even more impressive. The second movement of the Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra from David Chesky’s String Theory (available on CD or high-rez download at hdtracks.com) blew me away. The violin and cello imaged impeccably among the speakers, while the orchestra stretched out all the way across the front of my listening room. This is the kind of performance I associate with good $3,000-per-pair bookshelf speakers, not with an HTiB system. Still, the DX-1 system’s limited power handling prevents it from delivering orchestral works and big-sounding pop/rock recordings with the sense of majesty you’d hear from larger and more expensive speakers.

Although the subwoofer sounded tuneful and satisfying, its deep bass output was limited. For example, the bass notes that kick off Holly Cole’s rendition of Tom Waits’s “Train Song” elicited chuffing noises from the sub’s ports, and the driver bottomed out a couple of times when trying to reproduce the powerful synth-bass lines in electro-pop band Olive’s “Falling.” You can’t expect much from an 8-inch driver and a 70-watt amp, but this sub needs a limiter.

Wondering how the DX-1 compares with the HTiB systems listed earlier? I didn’t have them on hand for direct comparison, but I can make a few comments based on what I said in those reviews. I’d say the DX-1 sounds better and plays louder than the Cambridge Audio Minx; sounds slightly better than, but doesn’t play as loud as, the Polk Blackstone TL3; and sounds almost as good as, but doesn’t play as loud as, the Paradigm MilleniaOne.

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