A dale is a broad valley. The Yorkshire Dales are broad, picturesque valleys in Northern England, mostly named for the rivers or streams that run through them. One of these is Wharfedale, which is the upper valley of the River Wharfeand which was the original home of British firm Wharfedale Wireless Works, founded in 1932 by Gilbert Briggs.
I grew up in backwoods America. I never heard of Wharfedale speakers (or the River Wharfe) until 1982, when the company introduced a squat, cubic loudspeaker called the Diamond. At less than $100/pair, the Diamond delivered a satisfying portion of the natural tone and pinpoint imaging of the popular Rogers LS3/5a, at a fraction of the cost. (In 1982, the Rogers LS3/5a cost around $500/pair.) Since the advent of the very popular Diamond, Wharfedale has continued to expand its reputation as a maker of affordable, audiophile-qualityand distinctly Britishloudspeakers.
To celebrate their corporate longevity and place of pride among traditional British loudspeaker manufacturers, Wharfedale has introduced a third “Heritage Series” model: the 85th anniversary Linton Heritage. (Its ancestral namesake debuted in 1965.) The new Linton joins its smaller brothers, the 85th anniversary Denton 85 and the 80th anniversary Denton 80, in mixing traditional Wharfedale style and old-school speaker technology with 21st century crossover and driver design.
The Linton Heritage is a three-way bass-reflex design with an 8″ woven-Kevlar woofer, a 5″ woven-Kevlar midrange, and a 1″ soft-dome tweeter. Its rear-ported cabinet is made from veneered chipboard/MDFthe front baffle is painted blackand measures 22.25″ tall by 11.8″ wide by 13″ deep, with a weight of 40.5 lb. Lintons cost $1198/ pair, or $1498/pair with their companion 17″-tall steel and wood stands. They look and feel luxurious, like a vintage Jaguar saloon.
Wharfedale engineer Peter Comeau, who designed the new Linton, explained in an email that “this larger ported box, with its subsequent increased baffle size, helps solve a major problem in modern speakers, namely, the baffle step (footnote 1).
“I grew up with large speakers with wide baffles, but, as speakers reduced in size over the years I noticed that something was missing from the sound and, when I stuck my head firmly into speaker design, I began to understand the acoustic problems caused by the baffle step.
“Put simply, as the baffle size decreases, the point at which the acoustic radiation changes from hemispherical to spherical goes up in frequency. It also becomes sharper and narrower in bandwidth as the sides of the cabinet, and the walls and floor of the room, are further removed from the equation. So, this 6dB step in the power response becomes acoustically more obvious.
“I believe that a thin speaker always sounds thinner throughout the midrange when directly compared to a speaker with more generous baffle width. Of course, as designers of modern, slim speakers, we compromise by adjusting for the baffle step in the crossover, but in doing so, we also compromise sensitivity. What starts out as a 90dB at 1W drive-unit often ends up as an 85dB system once we have adjusted for the power loss due to the baffle step.” Wharfedale specifies the new Linton’s sensitivity at 90dB/2V/1m and recommends using amplifiers rated 25200Wpc.
Comeau has a clear preference in cabinet materials. “Personally, I’m a fan of high-density chipboard for cabinets and pioneered, for Wharfedale, the sandwich of chipboard with MDF skins that we now use. I have a raft of technical research which shows the superiority of chipboard over MDF.”
Wharfedale manufactures every piece of the Linton Heritage, including bolts and capacitors, in its 1.5 million-square-foot factory in Jiangxi Province, China. (Wharfedale’s parent company, International Audio Group, is based in Shenzhen, China.) All design work takes place in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, UK, where Wharfedale maintains a 50-person research and development team.
When the Lintons arrived, I had just entered a period of obsession with live Grateful Dead albums on Tidal. Posthaste, I christened the speakers with the version of “Ripple” from the album Reckoning (44.1/16 FLAC Decca/Tidal), recorded live at a 1980 show at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco. The Dead opened this concert with an acoustic set; the only amplified instrument was Phil Lesh’s electric bass. The Lintons loved the acoustic mandolins and banjo, which sounded realistic, but they boomed on Phil Lesh’s electric bass.
One of my British friends said, “Old Wharfedales suffered with wobbly bottomsand no edge.” Hoping he wasn’t right, I told him, “I doubt Wharfedale resurrected those qualities.”
I wanted to reach for some socks and stuff the ports. Instead, I moved the Linton boxes farther from the wall, to the exact spotmarked on my floor with tapewhere the Magnepan LRS quasi-ribbon loudspeakers sounded flattest and cleanest. (The LRS is a dipole design, its 180 degree-out-of-phase back wave interacting strongly with the wall behind it.) On the same record, with the front of the speaker now approximately 37″ from the wall behind, boom was reduced by 90%. The soundstage expanded. Midrange clarity was radically enhanced.
After some experimentation, I ended up with the Lintons’ cabinet fronts about 43″ from the wall behind them. I liked having the Lintons toed in so that the tweeters’ lines of sight crossed just in front of my nose. In this position, the Dead’s “Ripple” still had a touch more bass swell than I prefer, but the sound was sweet, deep, elegantly detailed, and harmonically extended overall.
While I fine-tuned toe-in with dual-mono pink noise, I had it in mind that the Lintons would never achieve the same sharp focus I get with the similarly priced, narrow-baffled KEF LS50 loudspeakersbut the sound clung surprisingly tight to center for a broad-baffle design.
Seeking greater resolution, I removed the Lintons’ fabric grilles and listened to a variety of recordings. Sans grilles, the sound seemed lighter in weight, a little blurry, and less properly sorted; I did all subsequent critical listening with the grilles on. Finally, on Peter’s recommendation, I removed the stick-on rubber pads from the tops of the steel stands and replaced them with pea-sized balls of Blu Tack.
The properly positioned Wharfedales, driven by the 100Wpc Rogue Stereo 100 amplifier, loved Alice Coltrane. Her A Monastic Trio album (44.1/16 FLAC Impulse/Tidal), which features Pharaoh Sanders on bass clarinet and Alice on piano, has rarely been so easy to disappear into. The opening track on this reissue, “Lord Help Me To Be,” is dizzying and hallucinogenic, but on a number of systems I’ve heard, it sounds strident and/or dynamically flat. Here, it sounded tuneful, supple, and dynamically alive. The bass was nicely detailed and robustnot “wobbly” at all.
Already, I realized something important about the Lintons: When they were in the system, I found it quite difficult to have critical thoughts about sound quality. Every time I tried to analyze what I was hearing, my mind went back to the music. I wondered, Is this their defining trait?
Eventually, I forced myself to examine the Lintons’ ability to resolve fine acoustic detail. To that end, I put on a track that always shows how much information a component can retrieve: “Buddy and María Elena Talking in Apartment” from Buddy Holly’s Down The Line: Rarities (3 CDs, Decca B0011675-02). This track was recorded by Holly in his New York apartment, on a portable Ampex recorder. It features Buddy and his wife, María Elena, talking and laughing, with lots of ambient sounds, including a telephone and outside traffic noises, filtering in through a window. In my systems, every component change affects the recovery of low-level room noise, María Elena’s voice intelligibility, and the distance between her voice and the microphone.
Footnote 1: Virtually all nondipole loudspeakers disperse low frequencies in every direction, both toward and away from the listener, but higher frequencies are associated with progressively smaller wavelengthsand as wavelength size decreases relative to the width of a loudspeaker baffle, sound is dispersed only toward the listener. The result, called the baffle step, is a perceived increase in high-frequency energy of about 6dB.
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