Wharfedale Pacific Evolution System
The first speakers I owned were Wharfedales, and when the time came to cart them off to a college dorm room, they were layered with candle wax - but still sounded good. Wharfedale's EVO-30 towers are a far cry from my original pair. To be honest, with their wood veneer finish, yellow Kevlar drivers, and wedgelike form, they look more like a small version of the B&W 803s that I normally use as a reference. But I guess if you're going to model speakers after another pair, that's a good place to start.
At two grand, Wharfedale's entire system costs significantly less than a pair of the B&Ws, but it's sturdily constructed, and each EVO-30 comes with an impressive set of metal spikes that you can use to couple the speaker's plinth (base) to a carpeted floor. According to the specs, the three-way EVO-30 goes down to 35 Hz, but Wharfedale still sent along a PowerCube DX12 subwoofer as part of the system. Unlike many subs, it comes in the same choice of finishes as the main speakers - a handsome rosewood veneer on our test samples.
As in the towers, the dual woofers on the EVO-Centre speaker can be amplified separately from its tweeter in a biwire configuration. The EVO-DFS surround is a bipolar design, with two sets of drivers arrayed on either gently sloping side of its cabinet, the front of which is completely covered by its nonremovable grille cloth. Unlike a dipole, a bipole speaker has its opposing drivers wired in phase, which makes their radiation pattern less diffuse. Wharfedale designed the EVO-DFS to be wall-mounted, and it comes with metal brackets on the back panel for that purpose.
The subwoofer's driver fires down, and along with connections on the back panel there's a four-position phase switch, a crossover control that's continuously variable between 60 and 170 Hz, and a signal-sensing auto-on power switch.
With the exception of the surrounds, which I managed to balance on stands against the side walls slightly behind my couch, setting up the Wharfedales was pretty straightforward. The towers went to either side of the screen, the center speaker on a stand directly below it, and the sub in the front corner.
I ended up listening to the system two different ways. The first was to run full-range signals to the front towers and use the sub just for the low-frequency-effects (LFE) signal, the ".1" in 5.1-channel. And the second was to use my processor to high-pass-filter the signal sent to the main speakers at 80 Hz, with all lower frequencies directed to the subwoofer alone.
British speakers have a reputation for being reticent, but that label hardly applies to this Wharfedale system. Playing The Transporter's soundtrack, the speakers immediately displayed good dynamics and powerful bass in the opening car chase. I was also impressed by the seamless manner in which the surrounds meshed with the rest of the system. There was a fine sense of continuity on effects panned from front to rear, with the bipolar EVO-DFS speakers providing a good mix of ambience and directionality.
Shuttling back a century or so to Dances with Wolves, the Wharfedales displayed similar virtues during the buffalo-hunt scene. The rumble of the herd was nothing short of dramatic, and each time the wayward lieutenant shouldered his rifle, its echoing report reverberated through the room. Costner's narration sounded natural over the center speaker, with only a small amount of treble dropoff, or "lobing," when I listened from positions on the sides of the couch.
I started out listening to music on the system with the EVO-30s alone, and overall their sound was pretty pleasing. On "Moon River," the speakers' smooth tonal balance made the acoustic guitar sound clean and natural, and I could easily hear the crisp patter of brushes being dragged across a snare drum. In Thompson's "King of Bohemia," the EVO-30s delivered a focused image of the singer's solo performance. Although I could locate his voice precisely in the soundstage, his vocals had a thick, chesty quality that made him sound way too present.
Adding the PowerCube DX12 subwoofer to the mix didn't remove the chestiness, but the extra bass did mask it somewhat by rounding out the sound from the EVO-30s. What's more, the EVO-30/DX12 combination rocked. The bass- and snare-drum thwacks were dynamic in "No One Knows" from Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf CD, and the music sounded effortless even at loud volumes. And when I listened to adventurous multichannel tracks - like Pink Floyd's "On the Run" from the Dark Side of the Moon SACD - the bipolar EVO-DFS surround speakers delivered a precise sonic image that served the music well.
They may not be the same speakers that I remember from high school, but a pair of EVO-30s combined with the EVO-Centre, EVO-DFS surrounds, and a PowerCube DX12 subwoofer add up to a speaker system primed to deliver a dramatic performance with movies and rock out on music. Wharfedale's Pacific Evolution system has a whole lot going for it.
As our technological world grows increasingly complex, it's nice to know some things are still as easy to grasp as a six-pack. Whether you have two grand or half that to spend on home theater speakers, these three contenders show that systems packing a surprising amount of punch can indeed be found within that price range.
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