Not long ago, we published a review of Wharfedale's retro-flavoured Airedale Neo speaker. Even with its tried and tested technology (some of which is pre-WW2) we didn't expect it to become a best seller. It does have a strong appeal in China, however, (where it's built) and all points East: markets in which JBL and Tannoy's wardrobe-sized speakers usually hold sway.
Now, specifically for the European (and eventually US) markets, Wharfedale has engineered a new range of speakers called Opus2. During a recent press trip to the factory, the company demonstrated early preproduction samples to us, driven exclusively by Quad electronics and their performance was notably good. So much so, that we were quick to put our names down for a test pair.
The Opus2 M1is the entry-level model in the range, but still costs £1,000 plus an additional £300 for the (optional) column stands. Unlike the miniature speakers often sold as satellites with a separate subwoofer, the Opus2 M1 is a generously proportioned compact with enough bass to cope in a full bandwidth system with or without a sub.
It is partnered by a full range of home cinema/multichannel audio related models - centre, surround and subwoofer - and there are scaled-up models for those looking for comparable designs with commensurately greater bass and maximum volume potential.
Made in Australia
Some of the key features of this speaker will be familiar to Wharfedale enthusiasts, indeed some are from the book of contemporary loudspeaker design. For example, the teardrop enclosure cross section in a twin vented enclosure. Made from Australian eucalyptus and pine blended with synthetic resins, it forms a series of curved walls and non-parallel internal surfaces to help disperse back radiation from the larger drive units.
Nor is it completely unprecedented to take as much care as Wharfedale's engineers clearly have over the quality of the exterior surface finish. The test pair, for example, came in real wood veneers with ten or more layers of a truly exceptional deep gloss.
This impressive attention to detail was apparent in the solidly built optional pedestal stands. The only criticism being that the gold plated biwire terminals are fitted with pressed metal links. These are clearly inferior to links made from stranded cable stock.
Most of the other key features are not at all conventional. First, the Opus2-M1 is not a two-way speaker, despite its compact size and limited frequency coverage. Instead it perpetuates Wharfedale's long-standing preference for large midrange domes by sandwiching one with a 75mm soft dome which is partially horn-loaded to control dispersion near the top of its frequency coverage between a dedicated bass driver and tweeter.
The midrange dome is equipped with a 75mm voice coil on a hard aluminium former which helps ensure geometric concentricity during assembly and to encourage heat dissipation. The unit is pressure equalized by a closely coupled underside perforated dome baffle and a finned alloy diecast rear cover.
The unit operates between 700Hz - 4kHz, which is virtually the whole of the human vocal band, with dispersion tailored to mimic the tweeter. The other units are a bass driver fitted with a 170mm cone and a 25mm textile dome tweeter. The bass driver has a tri-laminate glass/carbon/glass cone optimised to reject internal reflections from the small enclosure.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the tweeter's soft dome covers up to an impressive 50kHz. All this is knitted together by a relatively simple crossover with low insertion loss inductors and low loss, low-ECR polypropylene or reversible electrolytic Wharfedale Super Audio branded capacitors.
We partnered the Opus2-M1with a system comprising a Denon DCD-SA1 SACD player and PMA-SA1 amplifier and it was clear right from the off that it had a facile ease and naturalness. It doesn't have much of what might be described as overt character to call its own, but it is absolutely, unequivocally and completely musical. It achieves this with no sense of strain, though the enclosure is not as dead as some when subjected to the rap knuckle test.
Don't look for the kind of muscularity in the bass that you would expect from a full size floor stander, or even from a moderately compact powered subwoofer. But there is a rightness about what the M1 delivers. There is an ease and naturalness that is unusual.
The bass sounds full, but completely at one with the midrange which acts as a wellspring from which the bass emerges in a natural, organic way. Cellos sound ripe and double basses lack a little of the weight and power of the genuine article. But they don't sound lightweight or merge into the cellos despite the clear overlap between these instruments.
Best of all, the bass and midband clearly belong together. They have much the same weight and are similarly proportioned.
Most impressive of all, however, is the homogeneity of the sound higher up the frequency spectrum. Without straying into the rarified worlds of diamond (B&W) or beryllium (Focal JMlab) tipped exotica, or electrostatics or ribbon based treble from the likes of MartinLogan and Monitor Audio, the Wharfedale top end, which comes from what at first sight looks like a perfectly conventional 25mm dome tweeter, is truly exceptional.
There is no hint of harshness or aggression, which is probably attributable to two factors: the unusually extended high frequency limit which, according to Wharfedale, extends to 45kHz (-10dB), with the first HF resonance probably somewhere around 22-25kHz. And, perhaps, more importantly, is the unusually uniform polar responses (horizontal and vertical), which are documented in the Wharfedale literature.
It is not possible to be completely definitive about this, however, as the scaling of the plots leaves something to be desired, but it is obvious from the listening that the response falls away smoothly towards the limits of the useful soundstage.
The geometry of the midrange dome - which is similar to a scaled version of the tweeter -must also play a contributory role here. The system is rated to deliver up to 90 degrees horizontally at 14kHz and 70 degrees vertically at 12kHz, which impressively reinforces the points already made.
Other design parameters help satisfy the ease of use equation. Nominal impedance is 6 Ohms, which won't cause any hardship for modern amplifiers; and harmonic distortion levels are low (<1% 600Hz - 50kHz). The Opus2-M1 is relatively insensitive to partnering equipment, too but is a high-resolution speaker that won't couple well to ancillaries of indifferent quality, but what loudspeaker of any real merit does?
Above all, it is a personable, human scale transducer with a winning combination of high resolution, excellent tonality and stereo imagery. It also looks great and is palpably well made. The matching column stands are also highly recommended, by the way.