The upper midrange seemed ever so slightly lean and a touch smooth, which came at the expense of some macro detail, but nothing that was too distracting. On a side note, adding tubes into the mix seemed to cure this ailment. Vocals were open and natural, with a strong center presence in terms of not only air and delineation, but also weight. Speaking of center presence, the Jade 1's soundstage was awe-inspiring, a trademark of many smaller bookshelf speakers taken to the next step by the Jade 1's coherence, air and spatial detail. The soundstage was as deep as it was wide, neatly and appropriately appointed throughout, though it didn't quite match the three-dimensionality in terms of absolute extension into my room that I've heard from other bookshelf speakers in its class and above. Still, for its size and makeup, the Jade 1 is a hell of a capable performer when it comes to imaging and soundstage performance.
In terms of dynamics, the Jade 1 is a curious performer, for it sounds good at moderate and even low volumes, though it does elevate to that proverbial next step when given a bit of juice. The problem with this is that the window for it to be at its peak is somewhat narrow, in that you'll definitely notice when the Jade 1 has gotten comfortable, but it may not take much to break it from its comfort zone, the result being disaster. For me, this window spanned but a few clicks of the volume, which surprised me, though in thinking back, I can recall another great speaker that suffered from this phenomenon - the Revel Ultima Studio2. I will say this: when pushed too hard, the first thing to go is the Jade 1's tweeter, so should you notice any distortion and/or spatial flattening of the Jade 1's high-frequency performance, back it down. In defense of the Jade 1's higher-volume performance, it can play comfortably into the 80s and even low 90s in terms of SPL with little trouble. In many rooms, this will no doubt be sufficient. For those who live on the edge and have historically pushed their luck with speakers ill-suited for their surroundings: you've been warned. Also, adding a subwoofer doesn't seem to free up the Jade 1 in terms of its power requirements or the above-mentioned optimal performance window, though it definitely will help augment its low-end performance, which seems mandatory in all but the smallest of rooms or near-field setups.
Moving on, I cued up a reference favorite in Hanz Zimmer's "Seville" off the Mission: Impossible II Soundtrack (Hollywood Records). Due to the Jade 1's somewhat lithe bass response in my room, the dancers were recessed a bit further into the soundstage than what I've grown accustomed to. Because of this, the Jade 1's impact on this track was a little diminished. What wasn't diminished, however, were the soundstage accuracy and scale. Resting dead center within the soundstage was a pair of Spanish guitars, which sounded positively gorgeous. The guitars simply shone, possessing such agility that it made for an energetic and live-sounding performance. Within its wheelhouse, the Jade 1 proved to be both dynamic and detailed, with nary a hint of compression to be heard anywhere. The near-pinpoint accuracy with which every note seemed to hit and hang in space between the left and right speakers was simply amazing.
I ended my evaluation with Tori Amos' "Spark" off her album entitled From the Choirgirl Hotel (Atlantic). The opening few seconds possessed such spaciousness that it simply transformed the front of my room to that of the recording space. The following drums hit and rang true with near-lifelike dynamics and snap and, once again, the Jade 1's tweeter managed to hang onto the notes and drag them out just a bit longer than most. The Jade 1's midrange performance was again just a touch on the lean side, though always with a strong sense of presence, conviction and detail. Vocals rang true and were placed squarely and securely within the soundstage, which again was brilliant. It isn't difficult to get a good pair of bookshelf speakers to aurally disappear and the Jade 1 is no exception, for even when looking dead at its trio of drivers, I couldn't sense that the sound I was hearing was emanating from them. Again, the bass was a bit light, as was to be expected, but there was enough bass present to allow the Jade 1 to blend rather seamlessly with my two JL Audio subs.
In summation, the Jade 1 represents a phenomenal achievement in affordable bookshelf speaker design. It's a largely neutral loudspeaker that possesses terrific coherence, which makes it an ideal choice for a wide range of musical styles and tastes. Its traditional aluminum tweeter may not be the most sophisticated in terms of its materials, but it proves that if something isn't broken, there's no need to fix it, for it manages to sound every bit as good and esoteric as tweeters costing many times more - just don't push it too hard. The Jade 1's midrange is uncolored and pure and suffers from none of the usual resonances and/or cabinet colorations that are somewhat common in its price range. While its bass might be a bit on the light side, the Jade 1 still manages to sound grounded and possesses enough grunt to suffice for those with modest-sized rooms. The party piece has to be the Jade 1's soundstage, which is close to as good as it gets as far as I'm concerned.
The Downside Because of the Jade 1's almost triangular shape, it doesn't exactly sit perfectly on all speaker stands. The most obvious solution for this is to pair them with their matching stands from Wharfedale - just know that it does add nearly $600 to the Jade 1s' asking price. One caveat regarding the Wharfedale stands is that there is no way to affix the Jade 1 to the stand, so those with large pets and/or curious children may want to take note.
The speaker's metal bridging straps are rather robust, but ultimately don't do the speaker any favors. While I experimented with bi-amping the Jade 1s, I found simple bridging straps made from leftover pieces of my homemade speaker cables produced better, more satisfactory results over the factory straps. Those with bi-wire speaker cables needn't worry.
For full-range sound, the Jade 1 needs to be mated to a subwoofer or two. Wharfedale makes several subwoofers to choose from, though currently there are none in the Jade Series. My $2,100 JL Audio Fathom f110 worked well, though you do not have to spend anywhere near that amount to achieve satisfactory results.
Lastly, the Jade 1, despite being a simple bookshelf speaker, is rather inefficient at 86dB into six ohms. In smaller rooms, I was able to get them to sing on as little as 35 watts, courtesy of the Napa Acoustic MT-34 tube amplifier, but it wasn't until I connected them to my 250 watts per channel Parasound that they really came alive. My recommendation would be to power the Jade 1s with at least 50 to 75 watts, and possibly more if you can manage it. Also, because of their low efficiency, the Jade 1s' optimal performance envelope or butter zone is surprisingly narrow. While they sound good at low and moderate volumes, feed 'em a bit of juice and they're simply magical. The problem with this approach is that you can find the point at which you can feed them too much in a single step up the volume ladder, at which point the Jade 1s go ugly early. It won't take long before you discover the speaker's butter zone and, once you do, you'll know where its limits are andvhow to never cross them again. Now, if you have a larger room, you'll more than likely want to step up the Jade Series food chain and go with the larger Jade 3 or even the smaller Jade floor-standing speakers to avoid this phenomenon. Those with smaller rooms need not worry: the Jade 1 should serve you and your needs just fine.
Competition and Comparison The $1,000 per pair price point is rife with options, including floor-standing loudspeakers, with which the Jade 1 must do battle, such as Paradigm's Studio 20 bookshelf loudspeaker at $1,198 per pair. The Studio 20s are personal favorites and one of Paradigm's best value products. Thanks to its larger driver and higher sensitivity, the Studio 20 is going to be able to play a bit deeper, as well as be easier to drive in comparison to the Jade 1. The two have vastly different sonic signatures, with the Studio 20 possessing a livelier and more open sound, compared to the Jade 1's controlled modesty.
Pitting Brit against Brit, I do find the Jade 1 to be somewhat comparable to Bowers & Wilkins' new PM1 bookshelf loudspeaker that I recently raved about. While the PM1 retails for $2,800, or more than double the Jade 1's asking price, its fit and finish is superior to the Jade's in virtually every way, although the two are more evenly matched in the performance sector than even I was prepared to believe, which only cements the Jade 1's value proposition in my book.
If the Jade 1's $1,199 asking price is too rich for your blood, a few solid choices for around half would be HSU Research's HB-1 MK2 bookshelf speakers at $298 per pair or Aperion Audio's Verus Grand Bookshelf Speakers at $598 per pair. Both the HSU Research and Aperion Verus Grand punch far above their weight class and, in some respects, give speakers like the Jade 1 a run for their money.
Conclusion The Jade 1 bookshelf speaker from venerable manufacturer Wharfedale at $1,199 is an achievement that is difficult to put into words, except to say it's brilliant. While not perfect - what speaker is? - or without its quirks, the Jade 1 is still a special loudspeaker in that it manages to possess more of that high-end flavor many spend thousands of dollars and countless years chasing. The Jade 1 is well-crafted, beautifully built and easy to integrate into virtually any living space. Because of its diminutive size and elegant shape, it scores high on the wife acceptance scale and, because it doesn't cost half a kidney, your children will still get to go to college. And you? You'll be left to enjoy one of this industry's newest great loudspeakers.