Wharfedale Jade 7 Speaker System Page 2

The five main speakers were driven by a Parasound Halo A51 power amp (Home Theater, June 2012) and an Integra DTC-9.8 surround processor (Home Theater, May 2008). The primary sources were a Panasonic DMP-BDT350 Blu-ray player (with an HDMI connection to the Integra processor) and a Pioneer BDP-09FD Blu-ray player (used as a transport for CD music playback from its coaxial digital output to the Integra’s onboard D/A converter). The eclectic mix of cables—some of them vintage, some fairly new—were from AudioQuest, Monster, AR, and Kimber.

Two-Channel Music
I began with two-channel music and no subwoofer. But it soon became apparent that the Jade 7s’ low end was constrained by their position, well out from the front wall. It was tight and well defined but a little light, and it lacked the appropriate level of awesome on music featuring powerful percussive drums, classical organ, or heavy bass synthesizer. Wharfedale makes suitable subs, particularly the 12-inch SW300 ($1,600) and the 15-inch SW380 ($2,399), but they weren’t on hand for this review. Instead, I relied on the Hsu VTF-15H mentioned earlier. It blended well and easily solved the bass extension and impact issues. You should carefully consider the Jade 7 measurements presented here (not yet performed as I write), your taste in music and movies, and how much flexibility you have in positioning the speakers before determining whether you need a subwoofer. In my situation, I did, so the Hsu remained on for the remainder of this review for everything below 80 Hz.

Out of the box, the Wharfedales sounded a bit constrained. In particular, the highs were a little too laid back in my slightly more damped than typical listening room. While this room has worked well with other speakers, with the Jades I felt the need for a slightly livelier (within reason) top end. As the Jades broke in, they did loosen up and sounded a little more open. Fiddling with cable changes also made a small but useful improvement. But the sound still needed something more.

I experimented with the Integra processor’s Audyssey room EQ but wasn’t crazy about the results. But the Integra also offers a manual octave equalizer. Used with a heavy hand, this sort of equalizer can get you in sonic trouble very quickly and would certainly have no place in a review. I added the smallest degree of compensation possible: –1 decibel from about 100 Hz to 400 Hz and +1 dB from 6.3 kHz to 16 kHz. I also measured the Integra’s output to make sure the changes its EQ provided remained within the +/–1 dB indication on the controls. With two minor exceptions (–1.4 dB at 100 Hz and +1.1 dB at 10 kHz), they were.

These minor tweaks made a world of difference—the sort of audible improvement audiophiles are often willing to pay big bucks to achieve. To many audiophiles, any form of EQ is the spawn of the devil. But a change of roughly +/–1 dB across the audio band is well within the range of response changes that different rooms, different room setups, and even production variations in speakers themselves can produce.

Since neither a different room nor the option to move the speakers around very much were available to me, I chose this subtle EQ route. In another setup—yours, perhaps—such a tweak may not be necessary at all. But for me it moved the experience from barely above “meh” to a solid “yay.” Extended listening was now a pleasure. Percussive drums were crisp. High percussion sparkled. Strings had just the right degree of sheen. The soundstage was wide, deep, and precise, with centered images in particular locked in so tightly that the center speaker appeared to be operating—but was not. The latter is not uncommon in my setup (a possible benefit of the speakers being well out from the front wall), but the Wharfedales did nothing to compromise it. Male voices had the right weight, female voices soared, and sibilance was never unnatural or spitty—assuming the source material cooperates. Obvious coloration was low with no boxiness or muddled midbass, although the latter will always be determined as much by the room and placement as by the speakers themselves.

The Jade 7 handled all types of music convincingly, including small ensembles, jazz, classic rock, and both male and female vocals. They sounded neither forward and pushy nor overly laid back. If they have a weakness, it’s the inability to reproduce a close-miked symphony orchestra in full cry without some homogenization and congestion. That’s an issue shared by most speakers with two-channel sources. The Jades overcame it easily when the source was a well-recorded multichannel symphonic film score, which sounded far more convincing. But that’s a story for...

With all of its channels operating and a good multichannel soundtrack, the Wharfedale Jades produced a big, generous sound. Without the EQ tweak mentioned above, the system’s balance leaned more toward an integrated, slightly warm sound, but with the EQ, it was close to neutral without turning clinical or bleached out. While not specifically designed for ear-bleeding playback levels, the Jades kept up with the most challenging soundtracks in my collection at volume levels higher than I could tolerate, and that’s pretty high; I don’t listen to soundtracks at elevator-music levels.

When I review a new set of speakers, I like to check them out with both familiar and unfamiliar material. The familiar tells me what I can expect of the system compared with what other speakers have provided in my room. The unfamiliar keeps me from being wired too tightly into how a particular soundtrack should sound based on my previous experience of it.

Having missed it during its theater run, most of Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol was new to me. But I had recently experienced excerpts from it on a JBL Synthesis system. While the Wharfedales could not erase the memory of that multi-amped, room-EQ’d-to-the-nines, six-figure setup, they didn’t leave much to the imagination. On a soundtrack that jumps through just about every audio hoop an ambitious audio mix can muster—explosions, gun battles, car crashes, a monster sandstorm, a rocket launch, and, at the other end of the dynamic spectrum, the subtlest of ambient details—the Jades checked off all the boxes. The dialogue was clean, fully intelligible, and never artificial or edgy sounding. From the smooth, clear (but not edgy) orchestral strings, the blare and body of the brass, the fiery percussion, and the wide and deep recording of the Russian chorus in the first act, the Jades produced a uniformly immersive and believable musical soundscape.

I’ve seen 1996’s Dragonheart before but experienced it here for the first time in years—and for the first time on Blu-ray. The film’s schizophrenic mix of serious drama and slapstick comedy never really comes together, and the CGI dragon, which was groundbreaking for its time, isn’t quite as convincing in HD as it was on DVD. It’s also not given a particularly consistent video transfer here. But the movie’s soundtrack was always a treat and remains so. In one reference sequence, the dragon Draco circles around the audience, talking as he does so (yes, the dragon talks, sounding exactly like Sean Connery). The effect works beautifully on the Jades, with one exception: The voice was boxy sounding as it transitioned to the Jade 3 surrounds. Of all the surround program material I watched, this was the only time the Jade 3s called attention to themselves and didn’t sound of a piece with the overall soundfield. But when I substituted another small pair of good-quality bookshelf speakers (Revel Concerta M12s) for the Jade 3s, the boxiness remained, confirming that the issue was in the soundtrack, not the Jades.

But the real treat on Dragonheart, and the reason to watch it despite its dramatic quirkiness, is Randy Edelman’s spectacular score. It’s by far the best part of the movie, and the Jades didn’t shortchange its immense soundstage and percussive bass that will roll down your socks. The latter is impressive enough even with the big Jade 7s driven full range, but the sock-rolling does demand a good subwoofer.

In addition to the material mentioned above, I also sampled many of my favorite movie demo scenes: from Serenity, the opening title sequence (chapter 3); from the original (and the only tolerable) Transformers movie, Sam’s first encounter with the Autobots (chapter 3) and Megatron (chapters 17 and 18); from Evita, the funeral scenes in the first act; from How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup meeting Toothless the dragon (chapter 6) and taking his first flight (chapter 9); and much more. Everything I heard combined dynamics (where needed), subtlety (when called for), detail, and a lack of excessive edginess (at any tolerable volume) that made these experiences irresistible.

When the time came to move from one favorite source to another, I was always reluctant to make the change—I was having so much fun with the disc spinning in the player that I didn’t want it to stop. If that’s not enough to justify giving the Wharfedale Jades a high recommendation, I don’t know what is.

(781) 821-5100