Wharfedale Diamond Active A1 – wireless speaker review
The HUB is square shaped and is small enough to sit unobtrusively on your desktop or TV cabinet. It’s finished in the same high-gloss finish as the speaker baffles. Surrounding the touch controls on the top is a silver-colored surround identical to those on the speakers. In fact it’s identical in size to the surround on the tweeter. Obviously someone has put a lot of thought into the design here as it’s very clear that it’s a complete system and not just separate components bundled together.
On the front is Wharfedale’s branding and the IR receiver. On the back (from left to right) are:
RCA analogue input
Micro USB update port
DC 12V power input
On the topside of the unit are the touch sensitive controls with 4 buttons: On/Off, Menu, Plus and Minus. In the middle of the touch buttons is the HUB’s display screen. Underneath the unit are 4 rubber feet to keep it in place and to protect the surface the HUB is sitting on.
The remote is constructed from plastic and here we can see again Wharfedale’s exemplary attention to detail as it’s a matte black finish with high-gloss accents that tie in seamlessly with the HUB and speakers. It’s powered by 2 AA batteries and has rubber buttons. At the top is the power button. In the middle is an OK button surrounded by a 4 button directional pad with Plus, Minus, Left and Right. The Plus and Minus adjusts the volume in normal operation or works along with the Left and Right buttons for navigating through the menu in setup mode. Above and below the D-pad are the input select buttons for the 4 different input methods: Auxiliary, Optical, Bluetooth and Coaxial. Finally at the bottom are the Menu and Mute buttons. The layout and functions are simple, yet intuitive and very easy to use.
The first thing you need to do is position the speakers and plug them into the mains and turn them on. When you do this the LED on the back of the speaker will flash slowly indicating that it’s not paired to the Hub. At this point you should use the Left/Mono/Right switch to configure your speakers. Select Left or Right for normal stereo setup or Mono if they’re positioned in an unconventional way. *Note that the speakers can be placed up to 20 meters from the Hub so there’s really no limitation on how you could position them. Okay, so next you plug your source into the Hub and connect it to the mains. You’ll see a red LED on the right side of the unit indicating it’s in Standby mode. Turn the Hub on using the touch button or the remote then enter the Menu and navigate to the “Speakers” screen. Press Ok to enter pairing mode. Once in pairing mode simply press the pair button on the back of each speaker and within a few seconds it will connect to the Hub and you’re all set. I probably made this sound more difficult than it is but the directions in the user manual are really easy to follow.
Once setup is completed the actual operation is very simple. When you press the On/Off button the Hub comes out of standby and the Wharfedale logo appears on the screen for a few seconds. After that the selected input is displayed on the screen. You just select the input using the touch controls or the remote and that’s all there is to it. You can have up to 3 sources plugged in simultaneously and there is also Bluetooth though of course you can only listen to a single input at any time. All the available operations can be done with the touch controls or remote but I generally found the remote to be the most convenient.
The Hub transmits the left and right audio signals to the appropriate speakers via uncompressed wireless transmission on the 5.8GHz frequency band avoiding the more common 2.4GHz to ensure there’s no interference. The wireless module is also able to switch between frequencies automatically if necessary so there should never be any problems with interference from other devices.
The display on the Hub is clear and easy to see even in daylight and the software’s response is snappy with no input lag. The touch buttons on the Hub respond equally as well as when using the remote.
Here are the various menu settings:
Speakers (shows “Connected” or “Not connected”)
Balance (set the speaker balance depending on placement)
Brightness (set the display brightness)
Display Delay (Always on, 1 minute, 30 seconds (default) and 15 seconds)
Auto Standby (always on (default) or 20 minutes)
Update (used to update system firmware)
Firmware (shows the system’s current firmware version)
Pairing with Bluetooth is a breeze. Just select Bluetooth input with touch controls or remote then scan for devices with your source. The Hub will show as “Diamond A” in the found devices and takes just a few seconds to pair. It worked flawlessly with my Samsung Galaxy Note 5 but continued to fail with the FiiO X1ii which is known to have flaky Bluetooth in the current firmware version. The Diamond Active system supports the AptX codec for superior quality Bluetooth audio.
Regardless of the input method there was no signs of audio degradation whatsoever when using the Diamond Actives. On the Wharfedale website it says:
“Additionally, the DAC is built around a high performance 24bit chipset delivering a CD-like quality from all devices.”
which means you can play high resolution files without sacrificing audio quality.
For my testing I had the bass set to 0dB or +6dB depending on my music choice or mood. The wireless speakers were placed on my desktop about 1.5 meters apart and roughly 30 cm from the rear wall. Unless the speakers are in a difficult to reach position adjusting the bass takes just seconds to flick the switch. For the most part the A1 speakers are quite neutral across the frequency range with no emphasis on any particular part of the sound, almost reference level. The cabinets feel very solid and this helps keep any distortion at a minimum. These things can produce a big sound and I’m not talking about boosted frequencies, I’m talking SPL muscle. They can really blast out sound at loud volumes thanks to the 50W amplifier in each unit. They certainly have enough gusto to fill a large room without breaking a sweat and depending on proximity could entertain or annoy your neighbors to boot.
Imaging is very good making these speakers great not only for music but an excellent companion for gaming and movies. They create a stunning soundstage and accurately represent the position of artists and instruments.
Bass is very well controlled and on the default 0dB setting is quite linear without any noticeable elevation. Even on +6dB it remains on the safe side and never really lets loose. That’s not to say it feels lacking or anemic though as with proper placement you certainly can feel its presence. The Kevlar driver doesn’t cause any bleed into the midrange even when set to +6dB its well contained. Sub-bass gets its rumble on in a good way and digs pretty deep but there’s always that sense of refinement rather than all out party mode. It’s a more mature kind of tuning but occasionally makes you wish it would just let its hair down and go a bit wild.
When it comes to midrange the A1 wireless speaker is all about clarity. Vocals and instrument details come through very clearly and well articulated. Personally I would have liked a little more body and warmth in the mids but that’s just personal preference and of course if overdone could sacrifice the aforementioned clarity. The mids are leaning towards bright but not to the extent where they become uncomfortable or intrusive.
The treble is also clear with great extension. There isn’t any noticeable roll-off and high notes have great texture and pizzazz. Treble isn’t splashy and cymbals shimmer with accurate timbre adding a sense of air and space. There was some sibilance present in the track I use for testing it, (Utada Hikaru’s “Traveling”) but I know that it’s already in the track and if it ain’t’ there then there’s some manipulation going on. The trick is to reveal it but in a way that isn’t distracting or unpleasant and the A1 pulls this off convincingly.
The Diamond Active A1 wireless speaker is a solid and versatile performer from Wharfedale. It’s not cheap (currently £599 on Amazon) but for your money you get a pair of great sounding speakers plus the added utility of the Hub. The Hub can be physically connected to 3 different sources (2 digital and 1 analog) and then there’s Bluetooth on top of that. This is great for those who don’t have an A/V receiver or DAC and it has an easily manageable, relatively small footprint.
The wireless aspect also adds convenience by allowing you to place the speakers anywhere you like as long as they’re within 20 meters of the Hub. The stylish pleather covering and rounded edges give the speakers a classical look with a modern touch and should complement whatever decor is around them.
I really can’t think of any cons with these except maybe the price and lack of audio cables but I believe the Hub and wireless connectivity add a lot of value to the package. They have a lively, clean sound and enough power to fill a large room. If you’re looking for desktop speakers or a small but powerful home theater setup then the Wharfedale Diamond Active A1 wireless speaker should not be overlooked.