Wharfedale D320 Standmount Speaker Review
What does £200 get you these days? In speaker terms, more than you might expect.
What is the Wharfedale D320?The Wharfedale D320 is the larger standmount member of Wharfedale’s new D Series of speakers. These have entered the market to fill the gap left by the long running Diamond series heading slightly upmarket over the years. This is a common enough situation - we’ve also seen it with Monitor Audio releasing the Monitor Series to fill the gap beneath the Bronze models. It’s good for the consumer that companies are working at keeping the entry level rung intact.
What is notable about the literature that has been released with the D320 is that - if taken at face value - it is an ‘economy’ product. In fact, some of the technology designed for more expensive models has seen further refinement before it has been used here. Obviously, if you phrase a sentence carefully you can convey almost anything you like without it being either a lie or entirely true but these do not appear to be your typical cost saving exercises.
This reflects the importance of the category and the strength of the competition that is present within it. Q Acoustics, Fyne Audio, Acoustic Energy and of course IAG sister brand Mission are all very active in this market segment and we’ve seen some superb products from all of them. This was once the area where Wharfedale dominated though, so is the D Series a no holds barred attempt to regain the high ground or a cheap speaker with some great marketing?
Specification and DesignThe D320 is a two way bookshelf loudspeaker and the larger of two models in the D300 range which in total comprises two different standmounts, a floorstander and a matching centre speaker. Large is a relative term here and it would be a stretch to call it big - it is in fact pretty much the median for all the speakers we have tested at this price point at 31 centimetres tall (ish, as we shall come to) and 18 wide.
The drivers will be familiar to people who have been watching what Wharfedale has been up to in recent years. The midbass unit is 130mm design made from woven Kevlar - Whafedale’s material of choice for over two decades now. This is now mated to a very lightweight polymer surround and combined with a ‘super long throw’ motor system to create a driver that is very light but has considerable freedom of movement. A central dust cap is physically part of the driver rather than a phase plug.
The tweeter has also been seen before. A 25mm soft dome unit, it is built around the ‘Wide Frequency Response’ design that Wharfedale has been using for a few years now. This mounts the tweeter inside its own enclosure and this allows Wharfedale to control the dispersion better. Like a number of tweeters we have seen on speakers at this price (and well beyond), the dome is recessed slightly from the front plate and there is a shallow wave guide, although the inference is that the chamber is more important in governing the actual sound.
These two drivers are mated together via a software designed crossover that makes use of some reasonably high spec components in the signal path. As there is considerable variation in where brands are choosing to put their crossover point at the moment, we can log the D320 as being one of the more traditional entrants with a relatively high 2.4kHz point. Like most of its rivals, biwiring is not supported and a single pair of terminals is supplied.
The cabinet that contains the drivers is a little unusual in the context of speakers at this price. It makes use of a 28mm thick front baffle supported by internal bracing, and makes use of rounded corners to reduce diffraction. This is a more cost effective way of achieving what the Diamond series now does with curved edges. The most striking feature though is the bass port. Instead of the slot port arrangement that the Diamond uses (and that is now very en vogue with manufacturers at various price points), the D320 goes for a downward firing port.
On paper, the advantages to doing this are considerable. It means that the cabinet’s interaction with other vertical surfaces should be minimal which helps placement. It can make internal arrangements more logical and ensures that the vertical sides of the cabinet are as rigid as possible. Most importantly, as the distance between the port and the surface is placed on will always be a known quantity- because the manufacturer gets to fit and supply the feet that control that distance - you can engineer the flow of the port to a fixed value.
Of course, if there were no downsides, we’d never see ports fitted anywhere else. The use of a downward firing port means that the surface you place the D320 on has to be large enough to ensure that all four feet make contact with them. In this case, the vital numbers aren’t too onerous - the D320 needs 130mm by 200mm to do this and most speaker stands can do this. At the moment, none of these stands are actually made by Wharfedale but I am told that one is in the pipeline.
The D320’s most distinctive features are those curved edges and the use of a black baffle - not as immediately obvious on the black review sample as it is on the wood finishes. It doesn’t automatically look like a Wharfedale speaker in the manner that the Diamonds do but it is far from unattractive. One of the nicer features is that, thanks to the feet keeping that lower port clear, in lower light conditions (or ‘winter’ if you will) it appears to float off the stand which makes it look a little more elegant than some rivals.
It is also extremely well made. As Wharfedale is part of IAG, this almost goes without saying but this is still an immaculately constructed pair of speakers for £200. I do prefer the aesthetic of the Q Acoustics 3000i Series but I do think this is even more solidly made and that, realistically, makes it the best made product at the price. I’m not entirely sold on the black finish but the walnut option looks good (white and rosewood are also available) and none of the finishes are actively offensive. I’m not sold on the vertical arrangement of the speaker terminals because it seems to be harder to get my speaker cables to stow neatly when mounted in this fashion but that is probably something solved with different cables.
The cabinet that contains the drivers is a little unusual in the context of speakers at this price.
How was the D320 Tested?The feet of the Wharfedale did not pose a problem for my existing Soundstyle Z60 stands so these were used throughout testing. A Naim Uniti Star running from an IsoTek Evo 3 Aquarius mains conditioner and taking content from a Melco N1A and an LG55B7 OLED acting as sources. Some additional testing has been undertaken with a Michell Gyrodec with SME M2-9 tonearm and Audio Technica AT-VM95SH cartridge running into a Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage. Material used has included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF, some DSD, Tidal, on demand and broadcast TV and some vinyl.
The review samples arrived brand new and were therefore left with taxing duties like giving life to CBeebies while they got some hours on them. Having done so, the D320 strengthens the argument that this circa £200 point is one of the most keenly contested price points going for speakers and that incremental improvements in materials, production processes and overall experience are still moving things on in terms of what you can expect from a speaker.
The word ‘incremental’ is key here. The Wharfedale doesn’t ‘rewrite the rules’ or ‘make everything obsolete’ or anything dramatic like that. In some areas, I suspect that the Q Acoustics 3010i will be better and the Mission LX-2 still has some extraordinary attributes too. These are not speakers that another design at the same price will suddenly be radically better than but even so, having spent some time with the D320 it does have some new party pieces.
Most notable of these is the lack of ‘boxiness’ that the D320 possesses. We’ve noted on the podcast in the past that using affordable speakers in a stereo pair can be a bit of a struggle to get the stereo image to snap into place and then stop it sounding like two distinct points of sound. The Wharfedale is something of a star in this regard. Listening to Fink’s Sort of Revolution demonstrates this to good effect. It helps that it is a relatively simple recording without truly seismic bass but even so, there are points where each speaker can’t be located by ear alone. For all its virtues (and it has many), the Mission LX-2 has never been able to do that for me.
Combine this with a very honest and even tonality and the D320 is a speaker that does a very fine job of giving an unembellished take on what is on the record. Historically, some Kevlar drivers have induced a specific (and not always wholly unpleasant) sense of colouration to material. Here, this seems to have been tamed into absence and the result is that standard tricky tests for speakers like violins and the scourge of children’s music recitals everywhere, the oboe, are dealt with extremely well. The handover between the two drivers is smooth and cohesive and the tweeter is extremely hard to provoke into harshness or aggression. It would be wrong to call the D320 a ‘monitor’, not least because I don’t think this is what Wharfedale is gunning for in how they are set up but it is an impressively unembellished take on what you choose to play on them.
The other good news is that the downward firing bass port delivers most of its notional potential too. The D320 doesn’t have more bass than rivals, indeed compared to something like the Acoustic Energy AE101, it doesn’t have as much, but it’s fast on its feet, nicely integrated with the upper registers and totally immune to proximity to walls. It helps the feeling of unconstrained and open performance and the fact that some rivals can hit a little harder in absolute terms is offset by how cohesive it is.
Is it perfect then? Not quite but the weakness it demonstrates for me is a pretty subjective one. Compared to the Mission, it lacks the last ounce of excitement with high tempo material that the LX-2 can deliver and compared to the odd looking but deeply entertaining Monitor Audio Monitor 50, it can feel a little straight-laced. It is probably important to note though that some of this might come down to partnering equipment. Testing the Wharfedale on the end of £3,500 of Naim all in one means that the refinement that the D320 quite possibly makes great use of with more affordable and forward equipment isn’t going to be present here and as the antidote to edgy partnering equipment, I suspect it is ideal.
It also hints that the multichannel configuration of D300 speakers is going to be very good indeed. That lack of cabinet colouration, excellent dispersion and fundamentally ‘grown up’ sound suggest that it is going to work brilliantly with soundtrack material. As it is, the D320 has been a very fine partner with broadcast TV material. Dialogue is unfailingly clear and easy to follow and the perceived scale and ‘wrap’ of what you hear is rather more enveloping than you might expect from two speakers.
the D320 is a speaker that does a very fine job of giving an unembellished take on what is on the record
- Accurate, spacious and refined performance
- Easy to drive
- Extremely well made
- Need some care with placement
- Can lack the last ounce of excitement
- Not especially pretty
Wharfedale D320 Standmount Speaker ReviewThe Wharfedale D320 arrives into a market where there is no shortage of talent. It’s not a spectacular looking device and it has some minor but important requirements about where you place it. If you can meet those requirements it does a great deal to commend itself. This is a startlingly ‘grown up’ speaker with attributes that are unusual at the price and if you value the sort of unforced neutrality that often costs rather more to achieve, this is the speaker you need to seek out at £200. Combine these singular talents with the solid build and unfussy partnering requirement and you have a speaker that comes enthusiastically Recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £199.99
Ease of Use8
Value for Money9
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