Anyone who has been to Europe understands we, as Americans, have no idea what old really means. Many homes in The States are less than 30 years old, while many across the pond are several hundred years old. Well, apparently we, or I, don’t have a good feeling for old when it comes to audio companies either. I considered 30 years experience to make a long-standing company, but Wharfedale, the maker of the Opus 2-3 loudspeakers that are the subject of this review, has been continually making speakers for over 77 years. The Opus 2-3 sits atop the line up and is a three way floorstanding loudspeaker designed to be equally at home in a two channel or home theater system and retails for $6,999 a pair.
With a history over three quarters of a century, Wharfedale has made history more than once. They are the first company to make a two-way loudspeaker, heralding in modern loudspeaker design and were the first to use roll surrounds on drivers too. What sets them apart from many manufacturers is that every single part of their speaker is made in house. From the cabinets to the drivers-even the screws that secure them to together are 100 percent made by Wharfedale. This allows their design teams near total freedom and quality control. Drivers are matched to within 1 dB of each other and are produced in matched pairs. Crossovers are specifically designed and built with the highest quality parts and mounted on vibration resistant mounts. The cabinets are hand finished with 10 plus coats of lacquer and hand sanded after each coat. Not only does this total vertical integration allow better quality control and design freedom, it saves on cost as well. There are no middlemen to take their cut and shipping is essentially eliminated.
The speakers comes in several available finished to suit your tastes and décor including high gloss piano lacquer finishes in black, maple, and rosewood. My speakers came in the maple and they were simply stunning to behold. Three sets of binding posts located on the back and they are staggered positive and negative with jumpers allowing you a wide variety of connection options from single wire to tri-amplification should you so desire.
The Opus 2-3 is a full range, floorstanding speaker with a quoted frequency response of 33Hz to 43kHz. They carry a 91dB efficiency from a relatively easy to drive six Ohm load. The drivers consist of a one-inch Textile dome tweeter that sits at the very top of the front face, with a three-inch soft dome Textile midrange below and a pair of 10-inchTri-lam woven carbon fiber composite woofers for the bass. The speakers themselves are 48 inches tall, 12 and a half inches at their widest point and just over 17 inches deep and weigh 88 pounds each.
While these numbers make them sound huge, and they are large, the shape of the cabinet does a lot to minimize their physical appearance. The sides of the cabinet arc back to make the rear of the speaker significantly smaller than the front and help prevent any standing waves from forming inside the cabinet. To ensure stability the Opus speakers sit atop a plinth that allows the large included spikes a wider base in the rear.
My Opus 2-3s came by freight in two large double boxes. Normally unboxing speakers takes either luck or brawn, but Wharfedale was wise enough to pack the speakers well and give simple instructions for removal. The fit and finish of the Opus 2-3 was beyond reproach. Joints and seams were perfect and the finish was simply gorgeous.
Once I had the speakers unboxed, I connected one pair of the jumpers from the midrange to the woofers and ran my Transparent Reference XL speaker wires to the midrange posts with Transparent jumpers to the tweeters. The binding posts are staggered and sort of angled out making spades a little difficult as you have to come at them from the sides, I generally find banana connectors or bare wire best for speakers that offer so many wiring options. The rest of my system was my reference two-channel rig consisting of the Audio Research Ref5 stereo preamp, Krell Evolution 403 amplifier and EMM Labs TSD1/DAC2 combo with an Apple Airport Express for music server use.
Wharfedale recommends placing the Opus 2-3 near your front wall with only a few inches between the wall and the speaker in order for the speakers to sound their best. Due to my Sony rear projection TV sitting between them I found them to image much better when pulled out so as to extend in front of my display. When I was finally happy with their positioning they were about 14 inches off the front wall and seven feet apart with a distance of eight feet to my listening position. I found the imaging best when the speakers were toed in and after positioning them to my liking, read the manual which told me to set them up almost exactly as I did. Maybe one day I’ll learn to read the manual first.
My review pair of Opus 2-3s had some burn in on them but to be sure I ran them for a few weeks prior to doing any critical listening.
I started out with some classic music from Miles Davis’ Columbia Years 1955-85: Blues and Standards (Sony). “All Blues” starts off with subtle drum work with brushes and a muffed horn that sounded so sweet, as the song progressed, the drums kick up nicely and the stand up bass line stayed ever present. I was impressed by how well the Opus 2-3 portrayed each instrument and the balance across the entire frequency range. The bass was tight and controlled, the midrange was smooth yet lively, while the top end was never harsh or edgy. “Summertime” gave me a huge soundstage; the bass stood solid while the horns jumped in and faded out, the subtle drum work remained just that, subtle, as it was meant to be. I was again impressed by the degree of bottom end reproduction these speakers produced, and the speed with which the bass notes attacked. “Footprints” showed me that the Opus’ could handle fast and complicated passages as well and with all the separation I saw in simpler songs. The bass notes stayed powerful despite what was happening in the rest of the music, be it quiet or intense, and as the intensity kicked up, the horns jumped in with liveliness and detail.
I spun up Ray Charles The Birth of Soul (Disc 2) (Atlantic/WEA). From the start of “I Got a Woman” I was impressed by the liveliness of the horns and fullness of Rays vocals. The stand up bass was solid and went deep but stayed in check, in fact the speakers show amazing coherence. “A Fool For You” again showed the depth of bass the Opus are able to portray from the stand up bass while the subtlety of the keyboards was light and delicate yet perfectly clear and distinct and Ray’s voice had just the bit of edge I’d expect. Moving forward to “I Want To Know” showed excellent separation between the horns, stand up bass and drums even to high volumes.
To really give the Opus 2-3s a work out I cued up Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire (Sony). “People of the Sun” showed me that the Opus could rock, possessing powerful depth to the bass lines while keeping the entire spectrum of sound well defined. At extreme volumes the upper end had a slight sizzle to it but was not fatiguing or harsh. “Bulls on Parade” showcased powerful dynamics and the ever-present depth of bass Rage is known for, yet the quieter passages possessed a delicate precision coupled with incredible detail.
For some female vocals I chose Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love (Capital Records). The first track of the album “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” showed me a huge soundstage with fast almost machine gun like bass attack. Kate’s teenage vocals were breathy and clear. “Hounds of Love” gave me equally fast bass with clarity to both the main vocals as well as the background vocals, making each of the backup singers voices clearly distinct. The bass was truly tested on “Mother Stands for Comfort” from the first note, the bass attacked with speed and precision and decayed just as quickly. As the song progresses, the additional elements stayed completely distinct and the vocals were smooth and breathy as I expect from Kate Bush. The eeriest song of this album to me is “And Dream of Sheep” and the opening showed me why I feel this way, the simple piano notes and Kate’s voice sent chills up my spine. The Wharfedale’s did an exceptional job portraying the emotion of this delicate piece.
To try the Opus speakers for TV, home theater and gaming I removed my Audio Research Ref5 and connected instead a Sony PS3 and BDP-S350 Blu-ray player as well as a Scientific Atlanta HD8300 cable box all running through my Arcam FMJ AV888 AV preamp. No matter what I threw at them, be it Fallout New Vegas, which is a great game but has the worst soundtrack of any video game title, to “The Last Airbender” (Paramount) on Blu-ray, the Opus 2-3’s held their own admirably. They were able to output huge dynamics yet kept vocals in sync with my Canton Vento center channel giving me good transitions across the front three, for those who want a perfect theater experience, Wharfedale makes a complete home theater system including a center channel, surrounds and subwoofers, which I can only assume will mate even better than what I had in my system.
Read The Downside, Comparison and Conclusion on Page 2