Our focus in recent columns has been on “bookshelf” loudspeakers; a misnomer as almost all of the current offerings really belong on stands and placed at least 2 feet away from the walls around them. We are going to pivot for the next few weeks to some of the excellent floorstanding loudspeakers available below $2,500 from brands like Zu Audio, Magnepan, Elac, and Wharfedale. Not everyone wants a pair of heavy and ugly stands in the middle of their living space and would rather go for a pair of attractive speakers like the Wharfedale Evo 4.4.
The “Linton” speakers from the venerable British brand get a lot of love, and we’re big proponents of the current Diamond 12 Series (review) which offer a lot of value and great sound quality in an affordable package. Wharfedale has something for almost anyone from $350 to $10,000.
The Evo 4.4, however, might be the best kept secret in high-end floorstanding speakers and for less than $2,000.
A Naked American Man Just Stole My Balloons…
If you ever awaken without clothing in the zoo in central London, the Evo 4.4 will provide a degree of cover because they are on the larger side when it comes to floorstanding speakers (42”H x 10”W x 14”D) and the cabinet is a solid 56 pounds. The fit and finish on the cabinets is excellent and we’re particularly fond of the walnut real wood veneer.
Definitely not a speaker to cover up with the supplied magnetic grille covers; they look and sound better in both scenarios.
The Wharfedale Evo 4.4 loudspeaker employs a specially engineered 1.1875″ x 2.375″ AMT (Air Motion Transformer) transducer for very smooth high frequency reproduction. By design, the AMT allows for a higher volume of air to be moved during playback than with a conventional soft dome tweeter. The AMT driver has excellent extension and detail and can be quite airy sounding with the right amplifier.
There is one drawback with the AMT that requires some attention during setup. The dispersion pattern is somewhat narrow so you might discover that the treble sounds quite different when you listen off-axis as opposed to sitting in the sweet spot.
The Evo 4.4 is also a 3-way design that incorporates a 2″ soft-dome midrange to go along with its AMT high-frequency transducer and Kevlar cone woofer. The 2″ driver is rather unique; you don’t see it on too many loudspeakers anymore, but it certainly makes the speaker sound more full-range, and the midrange is wonderfully detailed. Vocals really benefit from the driver compliment and there is a naturalness to the sound that makes it easy to listen to for many hours.
The Evo 4.4’s two bi-directional weaved Kevlar cone 6.5″ woofers can deliver a lot of bass; both in terms of extension and visceral impact.
The bass response of the Evo 4.4 was a real surprise the first time we heard the loudspeakers setup in a medium-sized room; they really need some space to not overload the room. If your listening room is not very large, I would recommend the smaller Evo 4.2 or Evo 4.3 which offer the same tonal balance and presentation but less bass.
The Evo 4.4 require at least 2-3’ behind them (at a minimum) and at least 3 feet on either side to really shine.
The tonal balance is on the warmer side and the loudspeaker is most certainly laid-back sounding, but not at the expense of clarity or detail. The midrange has excellent resolution, and the AMT delivers detail galore on every recording.
Wharfedale suggests between 6-13’ feet of separation but we’ve had excellent results with 6-8’ and don’t agree that they need as much toe-in as the manual recommends. They do image better with the cabinets turned slightly inward and angled towards your listening position, but the stereo image didn’t collapse with 15° to 20° in our room. Every situation will differ so experimentation is a must.
Is That A Power Amplifier in Your Pants or Are You Just Glad to See Me?
The Wharfedale Evo 4.4 are not a difficult load (89 dB, 4 ohms) but they really do benefit from some power and control in the low end. They also need an amplifier with a slightly forward presentation to make them come alive.
I’ve read some strange discussions online about using amplifier ‘x’ with only 50 watts or amplifier ‘r’ with 40 watts of tube power – and I’m going to say with a strong degree of certainty that you need 80-200 watts with these loudspeakers to make them work at the level that they can.
AVRs are a bad choice unless we’re talking about Anthem or the top models from Marantz.
As I mentioned before, do not buy these for a smaller room. I know people using the smaller Evo 4.3 in 15’ x 12’ rooms with 50 watts and they are quite happy with that combination at conversation volume levels.
The Evo 4.4 are a very different loudspeaker with greater extension, scale, and dynamics.
These speakers need a “Schiit” load of power, and you won’t feel bad about it the next day.
Tower of Power
My first inclination was to recommend the Cambridge Audio CXA81 integrated amplifier because it has the right tonal balance and more than enough power to drive the Evo 4.4’s to satisfying levels.
At $1,300 USD, it’s hard to find fault with this combination. You still need to add a phono preamp to make this work with your turntable, so any configuration is going to fall between $1,700 – $2,000.
I think a better long-term combination would be the Schiit Audio Vidar/Freya+ which will run you $1,598; more power, greater low end control, larger soundstage.
You still need a phono stage and DAC or streamer so the difference in price will be $200 – $300.
The Freya+ is a tube preamplifier that will add some extra detail to the sound and create a more fleshed out presentation with the Vidar.
Sources of Evil
Keep things simple with the Bluesound Node 2i; it sounds good, provides access to almost every available streaming service, and is compatible with MQA and hi-res formats except for DSD (that 99% of the world has never heard of).
The Wharfedale Evo 4.4 really shine with analog sources and I’m to going to suggest investing a bit more in your turntable/cartridge with this system.
A restored Thorens TD-160 Super reproduction turntable from Vinyl Nirvana with an Ortofon 2M Bronze would be stellar in this system.
Wharfedale Evo 4.4 Loudspeakers ($1,999.98/pair)
Cambridge Audio CXA81 Integrated Amplifier ($1,299.99 at Crutchfield)
Schiit Audio Vidar Power Amplifier ($699 at SchiitAudio.com)
Schiit Audio Freya+ Tube Preamplifier ($899 at SchiitAudio.com)
Moon by SimAudio LP110 V2 Phono Preamp ($475.00 at Amazon)
Thorens TD-160 Super Reproduction Turntable by Vinyl Nirvana with Ortofon 2M Bronze ($2,109)
Bluesound Node 2i Streamer ($549.00)
Total: $6,432.00 – $6,733.00
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