No longer: Wharfedale has found Antwerp in China, and the result is a speaker best described as revolutionary. And which has nothing to do with Chairman Mao.
Sharing no components whatsoever with its utterly charmless predecessor, the Diamond 8.1 is a completely brand-new design reminiscent of its immediate forebear in dimensions (and name) only. Actually, the 8.1 is some 2in shallower, so its 11.75x7.75x7.2in (HWD) measurements are similar only in width and height. Neither, though, is this a return to the '82 original, which older readers will recall was even teensier in comparison by being 2.5in shorter.
According to Wharfedale, the Diamond 8 Series, of which the 8.1 is the smallest, is a complete departure for the company, a return to audiophile values of yore. Funny, then, that the best speaker they've made in decades is manufactured entirely, bar the woofer cone material, in a country which has of late been regarded by its (envy-motivated) detractors as similar to Japan in the 1950s: nice price, shame about the quality.
But China's quality curve is improving even faster than Japan's, which took some 20-25 years from the end of WWII until it reached the point where 'Made In Japan' was a benefit rather than a demerit. If you consider that China has, in real terms, only been open to the West for a decade, then you have to agree that Wharfedale and countless others have trained their Asian staff well. In this case, if there was no 'Made In China' sticker, you would think that the Diamond 8.1 came from Denmark.
Let's not be coy about this. Wharfedale uses Chinese manufacturing facilities for the same reason as everyone else: to keep prices down. When you learn how inexpensive is the Diamond 8.1, though, you'll be grateful that China is entering the 20th, if not quite the 21st Century. Yes, KK has now found a bigger bargain than the still-luscious Tandy LX-5 Pro...
Competition and Comparison
To compare Wharfdale's Diamond 8.1 speakers against other speakers please read our reviews for the Rogers db101 speakers and the Opera Platea speakers. You can read more by visiting our Bookshelf Speaker section.
It's not all good news, though: the Diamond 8.1
Although coloured in the sort of subtle champagne worthy of vintage Marantz or current Quad tube gear, the Diamond 8.1 suffers because of its gilded Allen bolts, a tawdry injection-moulded-on-to-the-baffle, gold-plated Wharfedale signature/log, unnecessary grooves and the sculpting around the front port. I know: there are consumers who think that Caesar's Palace d cor is subtle and that Elton John dresses down; I'm not among them. But maybe simple boxes with nice wood and plain grilles are too Last Century for today's market. The 'artiste' who fashioned this has been watching way too many anime cartoons, and those who approved it clearly forgot that the 8.1 was supposed to be a break away from the previously-mined trailer-park-trash/moron market with its taste determined by running shoes which look like they were stolen off of a Power Ranger. Opt instead for the all-black version, and forget about cheap'n'nasty, let alone cheap'n'cheerful maple/gold version. Maybe, if this sucker is a big a hit as it should, Wharfedale will release an 8.1SE, with the baffle stripped of frippery...
Not that anything else needs changing - far from it. This speaker is (sonically) so close to perfect as to be upsetting. It will, if the retailers realise what they have on their hands, destroy the entry-level sector for all other brands. Unfortunately, no retailer in his or her right mind wants you to leave the shop wholly satisfied with something which costs 'X', some absolute steal of a purchase which delivers the performance of something costing eight times as much. Remember: retailers are the only ones in the UK who don't complain about rip-off Britain, £16 CDs and cars costing 30 percent more than they should.
Continue to Page 2 for Critical Listening and the Conclusion