After a recent budget bookshelf shootout, I ended up becoming enamored with Wharfedale's more modest offerings. I was so impressed with the humble 10.1's, that curiosity got the best of me, as it often does. I just had to try some of their newer creations.
Enter the 220 and the Denton. More about the Denton later, but for now let's talk about the 220's. The 220's are actually two generations removed from the 10.1's. There was a short-lived intermediate model that was plagued with manufacturing issues and was thus quickly (and wisely) replaced with the 2XX series. It's design is a ground-up reworking of the Diamond line that began after the 10.X series Diamonds were "discontinued".
Side note: As fate would have it, a new-to-the-States 11.X series has just been made available to us Americans. Prices are not inline with what I consider the "budget" category quite yet, but they likely will be in the coming years. The new KEF Q series is currently in a similar situation.
The Wharfedale Diamond 220's (220's from now on) look nothing like the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1's (10.1's from here on out). The 220's feature a bottom-slotted port, a rectangular cabinet, and an unusual-looking tweeter waveguide. The tweeter is no longer protected behind a metal mesh screen. Soft domes and Kevlar woofers are still the order of the day and have become something of a Wharfedale signature trademark. A faux-wood vinyl adorns the outside panels.
The Wharfedale Denton 80th Anniversary "Limited" Edition (Dentons for the remainder of this review) speakers are all alone making up an entire line themselves. You will not find any matching centers, surrounds, or subs. These are for two channel listening, plain and simple. Wharfedale isn't the only "British" (Wharfedale and KEF are both technically Chinese-owned) loudspeaker company playing this game. KEF has recently brought a similar strategy to market with tremendous success: The venerable KEF LS50 (on my wishlist since it was released). Think of it this way: The Denton is to Wharfedale; as the LS50 is to KEF. Ok, don't worry, there won't be any more SAT analogies in this review!
Alright, enough with the preamble, already! Sorry! So, with all that background in mind, let's start this Wharfedale hat trick of a review...
Set-up, listening conditions, and gear partnering: Same as my most recent shoot-out thread.
WD 220 ($279)
It's a rectangular box. It has a woodgrain vinyl wrap. The grill is really two grills. One small circular grill for the tweeter, and one larger grill for the woofer. The shiny metallic rings are visible with or without the grills in place. I think both the other WD's look better than the 220's. The 220's look like every budget speaker you've ever seen. This isn't necessarily a bad thing! The cabinet might be less lively than the curvier 10.1's, but not significantly so.
How do they sound? Do they improve upon the 10.1's? Yes and no.
Let's start at the bottom. The achilles heel of the 220's is the bass. They have the least amount of bass in the trio. And by least, I mean barely any. I have no idea if it's the slot port design, the distance from my wall, or just the way they are voiced, but the bass just does not satisfy my room. Almost every 5 inch woofer-based bookshelf I've tested has had more impactful bass. There is some serious audible roll-off in the lowest three octaves. I wouldn't be surprised if the roll-off began above 100Hz. These NEED a subwoofer. It's not really even an option. If you hate bass, then these are for you. These actually sound like they are sealed. If I didn't feel air coming out of the bottom, I'd believe it too. Quality is good. Quantity is lacking.
Mids? These 220's still have WD's notorious "Magic Mids". They aren't as syrupy sweet as the 10.1, but you gain a noticeable amount of clarity and neutrality. There is just the teensiest amount of warmth present here that really make these pleasant to listen to. If the 10.1's are like adding half-and-half to your coffee, then the 220's are like adding whole milk, instead. I wouldn't want my mids to be any thicker than the 10.1's, just as I wouldn't want to use heavy whipping cream in my brews. (No more coffee analogies in this review). My Dynaudio's sound very similar, in fact, as far as mids go. I can't say anything bad about the 220 mids. They are simply sublime.
How are the highs, you ask? The highs are my favorite part of this bookshelf. They extend wonderfully and sound nice and delicate without any harshness. If KEF could get the Q series to match this level of tweeter output, I would be all over them. The mids and highs sound perfectly balanced to me. They provide the extension that is sorely lacking in the 10.1's. The woofer-tweeter transition is likewise seamless.
The soundstage and imaging is very similar to the 10.1's. The 10.1's have a small advantage in depth and three-dimensionality while the 220's have an edge in precise imaging and instrument separation. The 220's are more forward than the 10's which are themselves ever so slightly laid-back.
To sum up the 220's: They have a smooth, almost dead neutral presentation that improves on the 10.1's in a couple ways. The 220's offer more mid neutrality and greater tweeter extension than the 10.1's. Mids will be a matter of taste but the high-end extension is obviously superior to the 10.1's. However, and it's a big HOWEVER, the bass cannot compete with either of the other speakers compared here. These require a sub, and a sub is not allowed in this room (I've asked many times, if you're wondering). No sub, no 220.
PROS: Neutral mids don't add any coloration. Good tweeter extension. Very good clarity and detail without any harshness or edginess. Bass is not overhyped. Imaging is excellent. Better for movies and dialogue intelligibility (with a sub) than rocking out. Very clean overall presentation.
CONS: Appearance is ho-hum. Bass thump, kick, impact, and rumble have gone fishing. A sub is basically mandatory. Those looking for "warmth" might be disappointed unless they are coming from "bright" and will instead be delighted.
WD Denton ($399)
They only thing vintage about these bad boys is the real-wood veneer and inset front baffle. These look AMAZING! If you hate the vintage look, these aren't for you. If you are a self-described "old soul" and want a speaker to match your inner 20th century, the Dentons have your market cornered.
These things are TANKS. I mean it. They are HEAVY. Only my Dynaudio's have an equally inert cabinet. These have not a single resonance that I can detect from played material. Rapping them with my knuckles results in a soft "thud". I brick you not, these are solid. It was a struggle carrying these all over the house while in the "double-box". My Hsu sub was laughing at me, but the Dentons reminded them that they are "music-makers" and not filthy "wall-shakers". Anyway, these are beastly for 5 inchers. Grills insert into stand-offs like the (original) Elac Debuts.
The tweeter is a soft-dome tweeter. No waveguide. Fair enough. The woofer is a Kevlar woofer with an inverted dustcap. Fair enough. No shiny metal. No metal mesh tweeter protector. Fair enough. Volume-wise, these are the biggest 5 inch bookshelf cabinets I've tested. Easily the biggest and heaviest of the bunch.
Twin rear ports round out the obvious technology and look similar to the 10.1's, in this regard. Did I mention these have a gorgeous real-wood veneer? That wasn't a typo, by the way. $400 speakers with this level craftmanship? These surely don't come packaged with white gloves so that you don't get your greasy hands on the finish, do they? SPOILER: They do. White gloves are in the box, baby. So, what's the catch? There's a catch, right? Well, let's find out...
Again, I'll start at the bottom. The specs say these have a -6 db point at 44Hz. The 4.92 inch woofer can't go that low can it? It can. It does. These honestly go that deep. These have more deep bass than any other 5 inch bookshelf I've tested outside of Elac. However, the quality bass present here is on a whole other level. There is no boominess that is sometimes exhibited on the 10.1s. There's more rumble, thump, and texture than even the Hsu HB-1's. I think it's safe to say that the Dentons have the best bass I've heard at this price point. Deep, powerful, textured, and detailed. Perfect. This room loves the bass from the Dentons. Only the 10.1 comes close to sheer enjoyability and only the B5's compete in depth. Overall though, neither best the Dentons in the bass department. The B5's lack detail and texture as do the 10.1's in comparison. The 220's were too afraid to even sign up for the competition. There is actual impact and slam which is amazing for a 5 inch driver.
There is also nothing vintage about the mids. They are dead neutral. If you are expecting these to sound dark or "vintage" fear not. They are clearer and cleaner in the mids than even the Q100's and my old CBM-170's. Are they warm? Not really. Are they dry and sterile? Nope. These sound natural and smooth. I love the Denton mids.
The tweeter is clearly not a budget tweeter. It's detailed and unforgiving. It won't hide any faults or harshness. In my lively room, they have a tendency to "splash" some of the highs around the room. However, when I get closer to the tweeter, that all goes away. There is an upper-mid push that really enhances detail and intelligibility. Is it pushed too far? For most rooms, definitely not. For my room, sometimes it can be too much. It's a very smooth, very coherent splashiness though. I can actually hear some of the echoes and reverb during singing that would normally sound "blurry" in less capable speakers. Bad recordings sound bad, good recordings sound great. Movies are clear as day and never sound muddy. Sibilance does bite on occasion, but I can tell it's mostly my room to blame. With some brighter speakers, my room can make them unusable and the Dentons are just shy of this phenomenon.
Imaging is immaculate. I literally can't tell that the speakers are sitting there somehow emanating sound. The sound just "is". It doesn't sound like it's originating from anywhere in particular. Soundstage is nice and big. I'd say it's overall a little bit forward but mostly neutral. Plenty of air and openness in the soundstage. Lot's of detail and texture across the spectrum in a smooth and non-fatiguing way. Dynamics are just as good as the CBM-170's, except in the bass, where the Dentons have dynamic bass that the Ascends don't. Plenty of upper mid attack and "thwack" as well. These speakers truly "disappear" in the soundstage while still maintaining very accurate imaging.
This isn't a budget speaker, and there are no budget components being used. You are gonna hear the recording for better or worse. These aren't vintage, they are high-fidelity. The tweeter has more detail, delicacy, and extension than any of these other "budget" bookshelves. A bright room will make them sound bright. In my room, they can be a little too forward, but not due to any unevenness or irregularities. These are the first budget speakers that have made me want to fix my room instead of switching speakers, so take that how you will.
Bottom line, the Dentons are not in the same league as anything else I've tested in this price range. My Dali Z1's were the same price ($400) and were toys compared to the Dentons. The Dentons originally retailed for $1000 and it shows. The build, sound, and presentation are NOT those of a $400 per pair speaker. Double that price at least to find a worthy competitor.
PROS: Cabinet. Bass. Mids. Highs. Soundstage. Imaging. Dynamics.
CONS: Must like the vintage aesthetic. Upper mids can be aggressive and "bite" on occasion.
I still think the 10.1/10.2 is one of the best deals and bang-for-the-buck in audio. For warmth, clarity, a 3D soundstage, and with a healthy amount of mid bass, I still recommend them highly. The 220 will offer more neutrality in the mids. They also have more detail and extension up top. They don't have the same satisfying bass or lushness in the mids as the 10.1's, though. The 10.1's are also cheaper.
The Dentons have bass and mids that are simply superior. The same goes for the cabinet and craftsmanship. The tweeter is hyper detailed which could be too much of good thing for some. I don't think they are bright at all but they can be a little forward and in the wrong, more reflective rooms, they might overwhelm. However, there is no doubt that the Dentons are an absolute steal at $400 and they have no business being available at that price brand new. I wish these were being talked about as much as the LS50's.
I will be keeping the Dentons and the 10.1's. They both represent such good bargains, that I can't see myself letting either of them go.