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Wharfedale Opus 2-3 Speaker & Opus 2-M2 Bookshelf Speaker & SW380 Subwoofer Review

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Sucking power?

It should be noted that the SW380’s line level output was less than the Ayon CD-5, and consequently I had to bring the level up quite a bit more when the signal was passed through the subwoofer. I did not see a spec in the manual for Output Level or Output Impedance of the subwoofer; I speculate that the Line Level signal from a source is moderated by running it through the SW380. Readers using low-power amps might want to discuss possible implications with Wharfedale. I can foresee a situation in which a SET amp could be over-taxed at higher listening levels if the SW380 is inserted into the system and the Line Level signal is shunted from the sub to the amp. I surmise that most solid-state amps will not have any issues.

Rough Ride

Even though the speakers arrived at my home palletized and extremely well packaged, there was some damage to the finish of the Opus 2-3 tower speakers from the cartons having been laid on their side at some point in their journey. Intended to be transported vertically so as to avoid such scuffing, it was obvious someone had ignored the warning on the cartons. The stiff foam inserts holding the speaker in place had rubbed against it. Even with a cotton cloth protective bag the finish was scuffed. I would strongly recommend to Wharfedale the use of thicker, velour bags for protection. The two functional, black contoured grills, held onto the front baffle by rather diminutive plastic pins, suffered enough of a jolt in shipment to snap off just over half of them. I listen to speakers sans grills, so it was of no consequence to the sound reported here.

While on the topic of the appearance of the speakers, all three models had slightly differing appearance in Maple. According to Sound Import, all future models will be in the piano black, piano rosewood or piano maple finish, all high gloss; the SW380 Subwoofers were in the high gloss piano finish. Having seen the richness of the gloss, I would recommend it to those wanting a “lustrous” appeal. These are some of the most cheery appearing speakers I have used, and I would think they might meet with a much higher WAF than the typical black monolith.

One last gremlin reared its head: While the monitors appeared to be in fine shape, one exhibited a soft buzzing heard most distinctly on solo piano material. Bob helpfully suggested it might be the midrange, as they are sensitive instruments and a stiff strike to the container can damage them. Certainly the entire pallet had suffered an attack; grills aren’t nearly sheared off without violent forces applied to the container. Replacement of the midrange is not a big deal; four screws hold it in and it is wired via spring clips. After I was finished assessing the towers I swapped a midrange driver from the tower to the monitor. It’s a bonus that Wharfedale makes its own drivers; they can get you a new one directly.

However, this did not correct the problem. I had assessed the cause as a problem tweeter; this was confirmed by the switch made to the midrange, yet the soft buzzing was not eliminated. The tweeter is not replaceable, being mounted with a flush plastic plate over its hardware. Bob readily offered a different pair, but I declined; the effect was so slight that in normal listening of complex music it was inaudible.

One discovery while switching the midrange drivers did give me pause. The harness wiring between the crossover and midrange in the C-M2 monitor was quite different than that in the Opus 2-3 tower. The tower had a multi-stranded Kimber-like braided cable leading to the midrange, whereas the 2-M2 utilized a rather inexpensive looking clear wire, possibly of 12 gauge, with what was to my eye a steel conductor to the negative post and copper to the positive. My surprise here is that I would expect similar build quality and internal components from a speaker of the same line. Wharfedale makes much of their in-house operations and superior quality control, so I would expect a higher and more consistent result in build. It is possible that there was a running change to the wiring implemented at a later date and I received a set of early-wired monitors.

Yet, I was unable to isolate a difference between the midranges of the two speakers. The global sound of the tower versus the monitor is different enough that trying to hear a single wire on one driver is a bit like peering through a driving snow storm while distinguishing between a housed painted an egg shell white color from one that is daisy petal white. Possibly feeding a signal only to the midrange/tweeter drivers would tease out a distinction, but one does not listen to a half-disabled speaker – it’s all or nothing. Having two identical pairs wired differently might resolve the question, but in this instance it is moot. Some audiophiles considering purchase may not be able to accommodate such a revelation, while others will consider it of little importance. In the end a speaker is judged largely by how it sounds and its reliability. The 2-M2 has good sound, and I don’t think the difference in wiring would contribute to a diminishment in reliability.

The damage to the speakers from shipment was beyond Wharfedale’s control. The wiring issue is potentially a build-quality concern. The subwoofers’ odd functionality is a mystery. Can anything good come from all this?

A Dose of Reality

The mishaps and oddities surrounding the Opus speakers represents for me a great example of the real life challenges which audiophiles face. Which among us has not had a shipping related disaster? Who has not faced an inexplicable inoperative feature? I saw this situation as a chance to make a less-than-perfect speaker sound as close to perfect as I could. So, what did I do?

I started with the towers, and set them up with my new reference player, the Ayon CD-5. I used three different amplification schemes including the Jeff Rowland MC-606 multi-channel class D amplifier, the Cambridge Audio Azur 840W amps in bridged mode, and the Pathos Classic One MkIII integrateds, also bridged. I kept the system clean and simple – source direct to amps, then on to the speakers. Wiring both the towers and the monitors, I used two sets of speaker cables and bi-wired the speakers, keeping the midrange/treble and bass as separate runs.

The nature of the Opus line seems to be a curious mix of old school cabinet and new school drivers. There was a resonance discernible at all times with the Opus tower and monitor, produced by what seems to be intentional tuning of the cabinet to work with the drivers. The flavor of the cabinet sound was reminiscent of the Tannoy Glenair, where there is supposed to be a box coloration present. Harbeth also uses the cabinet as a performance feature of their designs. So, one has to decide immediately if they like to hear the cabinet prominently in a speaker’s sound.

I recall another British speaker, the Wilson Benesch Curve, which took the opposite approach to Wharfedale in terms of the cabinet. The Curve is made with state-of-the-art materials and its goal is to be inert. The one-piece aluminum cabinet deadens vibrations to such a point that one imagines hearing only drivers. The Wharfedale Opus series uses the cabinet as an enhancement for the drivers, much the way a violin string resonates in the body of the instrument.

Coupled with exquisitely punchy bass drivers using Kevlar weave – somewhat like B&W – one hears the “pop” of the bass punch like the Wilson Benesch, but also the expansive “bummm” of the cabinet like the Tannoy. It’s an engaging mixture, one which was not displeasing unless playing music bottom heavy in electronic bass. I ran through Bass Addiction’s For Whom the Bass Tolls and felt I heard more cabinet than I wanted. However, this is excessive LF music and all but the most radically reinforced cabinets will suffer exposure of cabinet design resonances. With acoustic instruments I felt the combination of stiff driver and mellow cabinet worked well. Brian Bromberg’s It Is What It Is was punchy but warm in the bottom-end. It was quite unlike the Vandersteen 2CE or 3, which gets great marks for warmth but not so much for tautness. I would invite the reader to imagine a panel speaker nestled into a cabinet – a bit of punchiness and a bit of a wooden-toned aura.

Delectable Domes

I will treat the midrange and treble together as a unit, since by Wharfedale’s own design they are “matched” as soft dome units. When consistency in design of drivers is achieved, the result is quite noticeable. As very few other speakers, the Opus mid/treble are as one. I never sensed a rift in higher-end performance, but only a silky smooth wholeness to upper frequency reproduction.

I have had a fair bit of experience with soft dome versus hard dome tweeters and I typically lean toward the soft dome. One possible exception is the Vivid Giya, which uses a metal dome tweeter and midrange. The manual has extended discussion of the construction of the mid driver, complete with an illustration entitled “Anatomy of a Midrange Dome”. This exploded view of the driver shows the ten exquisitely prepared pieces comprising the magical Mid. Indeed, the midrange is magical, and is the strongest performance feature of these speakers.

I am seeing more 3” (75mm) dome midranges at shows recently. I appreciate the wide frequency response from 400 Hz to 5kHz, -3dB, as it completely covers the midband frequencies, from about 700 Hz to 4 kHz. Absence of crossover in that range means no introduced anomalies to correct. Indeed, the wholeness of the midrange is tantalizingly clean like an electrostatic driver. I found it very difficult to make the upper-end performance of the Opus speakers brittle or harsh, especially so when tubes were in the system. The Pathos amps introduced no listening fatigue whatsoever, while the Cambridge and Rowland Class D had only mild effects. At moderate listening levels, all three were quite acceptable amplifications in this regard.

These Wharfedale drivers fairly resist the etching and metallic sounding edginess which I found could appear with ring radiator tweeters. With the paired Opus soft domes, I could listen to Soprano vocals and synthesized music at moderate levels without fatigue. Some speakers are so hot on the top-end that virtually with any amp and source one has to watch the listening level so as to avoid piercing notes. The Opus’ upper-end is nearly the antithesis, with such forgiving and open highs that one is tempted to listen at risky levels and for extended periods of time.

5 Responses to Wharfedale Opus 2-3 Speaker & Opus 2-M2 Bookshelf Speaker & SW380 Subwoofer Review


  1. Nigel Marsh says:

    Hi Doug,

    I am a little late but I have read your review from 2010 on the Wharfedale Opus family members several times. I bought the smaller Opus2 M1.

    Have you heard them ?

    I find the mids on up are exactly as you describe. However the bottom end “cabinet tuned Sound” is not there with this model.

    A superlative speaker sound and build quality.

    Regards from snowy Toronto,

    Nigel Marsh

  2. Nigel,
    God’s Joy to you,

    Thanks for the encouragement! I really enjoyed my time with the Opus line; I was soooo close to buying the bookshelf with the stands and two or three times wish I had them. I believe you about the M/T being spot on, and the bass without resonance. I relished the large dome mid; it was a lovely driver and so coherent with the dome tweeter, a terrific combo.

    You’re right, that line is a lot of speaker for a very good price!

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  3. William Kube says:

    Great review Douglas, I too like the sound of Wharf’s spkrs.
    Where in T.O can these spkr be heard. That’s Toronto slangly.. ha! ha!

    Thanks

  4. Doug Schroeder says:

    William,

    God’s joy to you.

    Yeah, the Opus line is sweet and forgiving on the ear and wallet!

    You’ll have to check with the company on dealerships nearest you.

    Blessings,

    Doug

  5. Dissanayake says:

    Hi Doug! I am from Sri Lanka. I have the SW380 sub woofer. It is great. My ceiling literally rattles ( 30 feet high ) when I play some music. However, when I connect the sub woofer, it always switches on with low frequency thump. Is this normal? Plus, when I play no music and the receiver is on there is a little hum coming form the sub woofer. It goes away as soon as I play some music. It is not a big deal but I wonder if there is a problem of the sub woofer. Apart from that I have no issues because this sub woofer is sufficient for almost any kind of average home unless you have a huge house. My system is :
    LG 47LW550T 47 inch passive 3d LED TV
    Yamaha rxv-3900 7.1 receiver (140w x 7)
    Samsung Blu ray player BDC 6800

    JBL northridge E90 (Front x 2)
    Boston Acoustics Classic II CS225C (Center x 1)
    Yamaha NS 333 (Rear x 2)
    JBL northridge E30 (Rear back x 2)
    Wharferdale SW380 (Sub woofer)

    Thanks

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