Wharfedale Jade 7 Speaker System
The Wharfedale brand is one of the oldest and most widely respected in the loudspeaker business. Gilbert Briggs founded the company as the Wharfedale Wireless Works in Yorkshire, England, in 1932. While his name is less well known in the U.S. than, say, Saul Marantz, Avery Fisher, and James B. Lansing, Briggs was also clearly one of the founding fathers of the high-fidelity business that took off big time in the 1950s.
Wharfedale (along with other well-known brands such as Quad, Mission, and Luxman) is now part of the International Audio Group (IAG) based in Shenzhen, China. While its products are manufactured there (many audio roads today lead to Shenzhen), they’re designed in the U.K.
It’s been years since we’ve reviewed an upscale Wharfedale speaker system, and the company’s new Jade lineup provides an ideal opportunity. The full range consists of two floorstanders, two bookshelf/stand mounts, two centers, and a dedicated surround.
Down the Line
Our review system consisted of the floorstanding Jade 7, the Jade C2 (the larger of the two center speakers), and a pair of Jade 3s (the larger of the two bookshelf models, used here for surround duties rather than the Jade SR surrounds). While Wharfedale makes subwoofers, there’s no Jade-specific sub. For this review, I pressed a Hsu VTF-15H subwoofer (Home Theater, December 2011) into service for deep bass duties, where needed.
The Jade 7 sits at the top of the Jade line. It’s a five-driver, four-way system. Two 8-inch woofers are said to handle the range below 180 hertz. From there to a stated 590 Hz, a 6.5-inch midbass takes over. The latter hands off to a 3-inch midrange, which then continues on until the specified 2.8-kilohertz handoff to a 1-inch tweeter. With the popularity of svelte speaker designs, 8-inch woofers have become relatively uncommon in high-end speakers (the Jade 7 is relatively full-figured at just under 11 inches wide), at least in those selling for less than five figures. Good four-way designs are even harder to find.
For its bass and midbass drivers, Wharfedale uses a material it calls Acufibre, apparently a composite of glass and carbon fiber in a woven matrix that is claimed to be self damping. The design molded into the dustcap-free cone is not purely decorative, but rather designed to break up standing waves in the cone and allow it to operate as near as possible to an ideal piston. The motor system uses shorting rings to reduce distortion. The 3-inch midrange utilizes an inverted dome made of a pulpaluminum composite. (The 3-inch rating appears to be generous.) The tweeter employs an aluminum dome and sits in a pod that protrudes slightly above the cabinet’s angled top.
The Jade’s curvaceous cabinets incorporate a Wharfedaledeveloped technology it calls Crystalam. A laminate of natural wood and composites, it’s said to minimize panel vibrations.
The Jade 1, 5, 7, C1, and C2 employ aperiodic bass loading. The other Jades, including our Jade 3 bookshelf/surround, are closed-box designs. Aperiodic loading isn’t new; the most well-known example of aperiodic bass loading was the Dynaco A25, a very popular loudspeaker dating from 1969. This technique is sometimes referred to as a controlled leak in an otherwise sealed box. The leak is actually a damped opening in the box, which retains the single impedance peak of a sealed enclosure while significantly dampening it.
The aperiodic technique is little used today, but in theory, it can produce attractive advantages, including (its proponents claim) clean, tight bass. The Jade 7’s aperiodic design derives from openings in the bottom of the cabinet, with the damping provided by a slot between the cabinet and the top of its base or plinth. In the Jade C2 center speaker, two small, foam-damped ports do the job. An aperiodic design more closely resembles a closed box than a ported one; some say it can offer the advantage of a sealed enclosure in a smaller box.
The sealed-box Jade 3 is a three-way design that also uses an Acufibre woofer cone, a 3-inch (specified) inverted-dome midrange, and an aluminum-dome tweeter. The drivers cross over at a stated 350 Hz and 2.8 kHz. The Jade C2 center speaker employs the same or similar drivers, but with four woofers. The crossovers are listed at 240 Hz, 810 Hz, and 3.3 kHz.
The Jades come in your choice of three matte-finished wood veneers or Gloss Piano Black. The Jade 7’s cabinet is fitted with cone-shaped spikes that are closer to feet than spikes and are too wide to penetrate carpet. The manual states that narrow spikes are also included, but they are not. The U.S. importer can provide sharper, narrower spikes to buyers who request them.
The Jades have multiple grilles that fit over each of the cone drivers. I auditioned the speakers with these grilles removed. They have a subtle curvature toward the left and right sides of the Jade 7 and Jade 3, and the top and bottom of the Jade C2, matching the gentle curvature of the cabinets’ front baffles. If the grilles aren’t replaced with correct orientation, which can only be seen on close inspection, they won’t fit properly. With a total of 12 separate grilles for the five speakers, removing them for listening and replacing them afterwards to protect the drivers is a chore. But if you choose to leave them off, at least the seamless cone drivers don’t have the conventional dustcaps that tempt little fingers (and some not so little). The small midranges and tweeters are protected by non-removable mesh grilles.
Each of the Jade models in our system also has two sets of high-quality terminals for biwiring, if desired. I used them in both single- and biwired modes during my testing, although the final comments below are based on biwire operation for the front three speakers. But I am not, in general, convinced that biwiring will offer most buyers benefits that justify the extra expense and complexity involved, particularly in a multichannel system.
As is my usual practice with speakers, I placed the Jade 7 towers about 5 feet out from the short front wall behind them (15.5 feet wide), approximately 9.5 feet apart, in my 3,200-cubic-foot home theater room. The left Jade 7 was about 4 feet from the left wall and about 2 feet from the right wall. These positions were immediately to the left and right of the retractable, non-perforated projection screen. The screen’s position was fixed, so toe-in offered the only placement flexibility, and the speakers were angled in toward the center seat. The screen was retracted during all music listening. The Jade C2 center was placed on a low stand beneath the screen, aimed slightly upward. The Jade 3s, performing surround duties, also sat on stands near the back of the room. The main seating positions were about 11 feet from the front speakers and 7 feet from the surrounds. I took a center seat for two-channel music listening but moved about 20 degrees left of center for multichannel movies. The Hsu subwoofer sat behind the center speaker and closer to the front wall.