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Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 Loudspeakers: The Audiophile System Builder

Did you just quit Spotify Premium over Neil Young? The $449 Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 loudspeakers, Qobuz, and a Dongle DAC are your answer.

Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 Bookshelf Loudspeakers Group of 5

Spotify’s decision to let Neil Young take his music elsewhere over his objection to Joe Rogan’s podcasts on the pandemic and science behind vaccines has created an interesting marketing opportunity for Qobuz and TIDAL.

Twitter has been particularly animated the past few days about the topic with 0000s boasting that they quit Spotify Premium (as opposed to Spotify altogether) in support of Neil Young and because I enjoy taking shots at Spotify — I’ve been telling as many people as possible to take their money over to Qobuz or TIDAL.

The responses from those who have taken the bait have ranged from “only audiophiles care about that shit,” to “you need a really good stereo to hear the differences.”

A few curious posters asked me privately if I could recommend a system below $1,500 that would work with their smartphone or laptop and the aforementioned hi-res streaming platforms.

With that in mind, I have one in particular that I think makes some sense.

Desktop audio systems have become a reality for a lot of consumers who have been at home working remotely throughout the pandemic. Even with lockdowns lifted in most countries, tens of millions of people may find themselves working from home for the foreseeable future.

The remote zombie might become a permanent thing. Stuck at home, people are listening to a lot of music; out of boredom, and as a way of maintaining their mental health. If you’re one of us – we think the Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 loudspeakers are a fantastic affordable option. 

Wharfedale’s founder, Gilbert Briggs built his first loudspeaker in 1932 in his home in Ilkey, Yorkshire; the town was based in the valley of the river “Wharfe.” Briggs opened Wharfedale Wireless Works in 1933 supplying advanced loudspeaker drivers to the growing radio industry and the company became a leading supplier selling more than 9,000 units per year until the outbreak of World War II. The company flourished after the war and became one of the first companies to offer a two-way loudspeaker in 1945 – the prototype for the modern loudspeaker. 

Fast forward to 2022 and we find Wharfedale as a major global brand in the loudspeaker category with almost 65 products in its lineup. The company still designs everything in the United Kingdom but conducts it manufacturing overseas to keep its products affordable; the Heritage Linton and EVO series loudspeakers deliver excellent sound quality and are extremely popular with consumers shopping for loudspeakers in the $800 – $2,000 range. 

I’ve been a Wharfedale customer for almost a decade and listen to my pair of Diamond 10.1 bookshelf loudspeakers almost every single day. They were an exceptional value when I purchased them almost 7 years ago and they work well with a wide variety of electronics. 

The Diamond series receives a facelift every 3-4 years, and the new Diamond 12 series products are already proving to be a massive hit. 

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Wharfedale understands that most consumers don’t have a lot of space and are working within a very specific budget when buying a hi-fi system. 

There are specific brands of electronics that work exceptionally well with Wharfedale’s loudspeakers; Audiolab, Croft, Marantz, Cambridge Audio, Quad, Rega, and NAD. All of these brands have at least one integrated amplifier that is affordable and a good match for the Diamond 12.1 loudspeakers. 

Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 Bookshelf Loudspeakers Group of 3

The Wharfedale Diamond 12.1’s are the ideal size for a desktop loudspeaker or placement on a credenza in a home office scenario. 

These stand-mounters are a two-way, bass-reflex design. The 5-inch mid/bass driver uses a polypropylene/mica composite cone material, and the tweeter is a 1-inch textile dome design that offers a very smooth sounding top end and excellent dispersion. 

The Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 loudspeakers are rear ported (which is a switch back to the older design that sits on my desk) and offer two sets of binding posts.

The cabinet is extremely rigid for a design at this price level; there are multiple layers of MDF and extensive bracing to control resonance that might otherwise impact the sound in a negative way. 

The loudspeaker measures 12.25” H x 7” W x 9.8” D making them a rather compact bookshelf loudspeaker design. 

For 2022, the Diamond 12.1’s are available in 4 different finishes; we’re a huge fan of the Light Oak finish that is very clean and modern looking. The white baffle looks very sharp on the desktop on a pair of stands. 

The Wharfedale Diamond 12.1’s are also not a very demanding load for an amplifier; the impedance does drop to 3.9 ohms, but the 88 dB sensitivity rating is accurate and you’re fine with any amplifier over 40 watts/channel in a desktop scenario.

Their quoted frequency response is 65Hz – 20kHz, and they definitely benefit from the addition of a subwoofer if you listen to a lot of techno, electronica, or classic rock.

Nu? How do they sound?

Wharfedale loudspeakers most certainly have a “house” sound; warm in the midrange, smooth and slightly rolled-off in the treble, and never aggressive. 

What is most striking about the Diamond 12.1’s is how authoritative these loudspeakers can sound with the right amplifier; and within the context of a desktop system where you are only a few feet away from the loudspeakers. 

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Coherency and detail are both excellent, and I was pleased to hear that they don’t make excuses for poor recordings. Feed them garbage and you’ll know it. 

The midrange is excellent on these loudspeakers; warm, detailed, and quite transparent for a loudspeaker in this price bracket. 

The treble has a little more bite than I expected from a Wharfedale, but it knows when to stay in its lane. You would have to drive this loudspeaker with very analytical sounding equipment to make the top end sound hard or etched. 

Bass response is surprisingly robust to a point; hence the reason why I’m suggesting a subwoofer in this scenario. The Wharfedale Diamond 12.1’s can deliver a punch – just not a knock-out blow. 

NAD C 316BEE V2 Stereo Integrated Amplifier Front View
NAD C316BEE V2 Integrated Amplifier

The NAD C 316BEE V2 is a perfect match for these loudspeakers; from a tonal perspective and because it comes with an excellent phono stage if you ever decide to add a turntable to this system.

Based on the responses that I received on Twitter, almost everyone wanted to use the desktop or smartphone app for music playback and the DAC had to be something that they could use with headphones as well.

The Helm Audio Bolt is my obvious suggestion. It does everything the DragonFly Cobalt does for a lot less money and I prefer the tonal balance and weight when connected to my iPhone.

Helm BOLT Portable USB DAC/AMP Adapter connected to laptop
Helm Audio Bolt Dongle DAC

You will need a 3.5mm to RCA cable to connect the Bolt to the NAD but that’s easily done with the QED Performance J2P Graphite that we just reviewed.

Helm does provide a USB-C to male USB adapter for those with MacBooks and IMacs that don’t offer USB-C. You will require a Lightning adapter for your iPhone.

Wharfedale is available through MoFi Distribution out of Chicago and in honor of my former home, I’m calling this system the “Char Dog.” 

Char Dog
Char Dog from Wieners Circle in Chicago

If you’ve ever been subject to abuse from the fine people at the Wieners Circle on N. Clark – we are practically family at this point. 

Standing in line once at midnight in the cold next to a shivering Vince Vaughn, I realized that there are still some things that make us all the same.

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You. Me. Them. Everybody.

The Char Dog

Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 Loudspeakers ($449.00/pair at Crutchfield | Amazon)

NAD C 316BEE V2 Integrated Amplifier ($479.00 at Crutchfield | Amazon)

REL Tzero MK III Subwoofer ($498.00 at Amazon)

IsoAcoustics Aperta Isolation Speaker Stands ($199.00 at Crutchfield)

Helm Audio Bolt USB DAC ($99 at Amazon)

Cables & Adapters ($30 to $80 each)

Total: $1,795

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Joe Pop

    March 22, 2021 at 11:06 am

    I took the active route to further reduce the clutter on my Covid-19 work-from-home desk. The SVS Prime Wireless Speaker System replaced my receiver with a Chromecast audio for streaming, and my old Paradigm bookshelf speakers, in one neat, great sounding package. For $600 they are an outstanding value.

    • Ian White

      March 22, 2021 at 11:30 am

      All solid choices. The new Micro subwoofer looks very interesting. Will have to cover more SVS in future columns.

      • Joe Pop

        March 22, 2021 at 11:48 am

        Yes, the Micro subwoofer does look interesting. Possible addition to my desktop system in the future. BTW – love the new expansion and direction for ecoustics. Quickly becoming one of my favorite audio websites.

        • Ian White

          March 22, 2021 at 1:17 pm

          Joe,

          Very happy to hear that and thank you for reading us. We have some really exciting things coming in Q2.

          Ian

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