Why do people buy bookshelf speakers? I’m not really convinced that a lot of them end up on bookshelves, but the marketing nomenclature rules the day. If you don’t have a lot of space and need to place them out of the way on a credenza or bookshelf, there are no shortage of options in 2021 to fulfill that need. Bookshelf speakers are also (with some notable exceptions from Sonus Faber and Wilson Audio) generally on the more affordable side. $500 goes a lot further in 2021 than it did in 2010 when it comes to sonic performance. The $399 Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 loudspeakers are the real deal.
Don’t let anyone ever try to convince you that you can’t purchase an audiophile-quality bookshelf speaker for $500. If that fits into your budget and space requirements – and you love how they sound, that’s the only opinion that matters.
And make no mistake, the Wharfedale Diamond 12.1’s with the right amplifier can deliver far more performance and scale than their size might suggest. Do they need a subwoofer to augment the low end? Possibly – but only if your room is on the larger side or your musical tastes require it.
If you listen to a lot of techno, electronica, or heavy metal – the Diamond 12.1’s gets a lot right above 70 Hz, but you might want to consider the larger Diamond 12.3’s which can play a lot louder and have greater seismic impact in small to medium-sized rooms.
The Diamond 12.1’s with a REL or SVS subwoofer would deliver music clean down to 30 Hz and deliver rock solid imaging. That combination will also work very well in a music/movies scenario if you want better sound quality while watching television; it would crucify most soundbars in terms of transparency, scale, low end performance, and resolution.
A Bissel History…
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.
Fast forward to 2021 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 6 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.
As I mentioned earlier, affordability does not mean that a bookshelf speaker can’t deliver a lot of sonic performance.
You can spend $10,000 on a pair of bookshelf speakers and you will have the foundation for an excellent sounding hi-fi system. If that fits your specific situation, don’t let anyone tell you that you’re an idiot for spending that kind of money on bookshelf loudspeakers.
Some of us max out at $2,000 for a pair of loudspeakers (which is a lot of money) and that’s perfectly normal. Some of us have a weird loudspeaker addiction and own 11 pairs of loudspeakers at home between $350 and $2,000.
$500 sounds like a good place to stop. Maybe.
Big Things Come in Little Packages
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. I’ve vacillated over the years with the bi-wiring issue with all Wharfedale loudspeakers
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.
You know you’re getting a better designed bookshelf speaker (especially at $400/pair) when the manufacturer is putting this much thought and money into ways to maximize the scale of the sound, and low-end response.
Nothing feels entry-level about this speaker; I drove it with the NAD C 316BEE V2, Schiit Audio Ragnarok 2, and a brand new integrated amplifier from Rotel (under embargo so I can’t spill the beans until April 19th) that really sounded great with the Diamond 12.1’s and works within the context of a $2,000 system. More to come on that in a few weeks.
The loudspeaker measures 12.25” H x 7” W x 9.8” D making them a rather compact bookshelf loudspeaker design.
For 2021, the Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 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.
Wharfedale offers multiple stands for their Diamond and EVO Series loudspeakers and I would strongly recommend either the ST-3 or ST-1 models (Between 22″ and 24″ high) for the Diamond 12.1 loudspeakers if you want to place the speakers a few feet out from the wall behind them and achieve a proper height for the tweeter. They benefit from some space if you want to listen to them disappear in your room.
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.
Listening to Lana Del Rey’s Chemtrails Over The Country Club (Qobuz, 24-bit/48kHz), the Diamond 12.1’s demonstrated their midrange resolution and transparency. Del Rey’s sultry and often ethereal voice flooded my listening space and sounded far more lifelike than you would expect from such a small pair of loudspeakers.
The midrange is excellent on these loudspeakers; warm, detailed, and quite transparent for a loudspeaker in this price bracket.
What is most striking about the Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 is how authoritative it can sound with the right amplifier; and within the context of a desktop or bookshelf system.
Devo’s “Gates of Steel” (Freedom of Choice, Qobuz, 16-bit/44.1kHz) and Aphex Twin’s “Ageispolis” (Selected Ambient Works 85-92, Qobuz, 16-bit/44.1kHz) had both punch, clarity, and a real sense of pace through the Wharfedale Diamond 12.1’s.
The Devo album has iffy recording quality and the Wharfedale didn’t hide it. That level of clarity can be a double-edged sword.
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. See above.
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.
The Q Acoustics 3030i comes to mind as the obvious contender at $400. It’s a much larger bookshelf speaker; the depth is definitely problematic if you really want to hide them inside a bookshelf.
I’ve been listening to both for a few weeks and there are some obvious differences.
The 3030i have far greater scale; especially with classic rock, large orchestral works, and pop music. The soundstage is wider and deeper with most music as well.
The Diamond 12.1’s disappear better in the room as far as imaging is concerned; everything is tighter and firmly carved into space.
The 3030i have much more bass; tighter, bolder, and far more impact with the right amplifier.
You don’t need a subwoofer with the 3030i. The Diamond 12.1’s benefit from those extra octaves; it also opens up the mid bass and lower midrange making the loudspeakers sound larger and more open.
The midrange and treble are pretty damn close. They both make vocals sound superb and the treble on both never gets out of control. The Q 3030i are a tad more laid-back sounding but that can be fixed with an amplifier if you want a little more energy from the presentation. It also needs more power to really open up.
At $399, the Wharfedale Diamond 12.1’s are a lot of loudspeaker within a very small enclosure; transparent, detailed, and very engaging. The midrange is superb for such an inexpensive loudspeaker.
Are they the last word in the bass department? No — but that is easily solved with a subwoofer.
They are not without some serious competition from Q Acoustics, PSB, and Elac — but they just make beautiful sounding music at a very affordable price. Wharfedale has a major winner with this loudspeaker. One of the best below $500.
For more information: wharfedale.co.uk
Next up: Learn what hi-fi components we’d recommend to buy with Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 Loudspeakers to complete your audiophile system for under $1700, maybe less.
See more: Bookshelf speaker reviews and news