Wharfedale Elysian 4: On the way to the land of high-end

Wharfedale Elysian 4
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The history of the Elysian line is quite simple. In recent years, Wharfedale has concentrated on equipment that is more likely to be in the entry-level segment. They released a couple of generations of the Diamond series (including the active one), put pressure on the love of retro with Linton and Denton, sat down in the development department and presented a rather unusual EVO, which also cannot be called particularly expensive, but still it is a step higher than most of what the company produces.

And then the company decided that budget technology is, of course, good, but variety is also needed. Therefore, heavy, massive, huge Elysian 4 appeared with a beautiful price tag of $10,000. And many began to wonder: that’s how much for Wharfedale? Is there a reason for it?

Quintessence of the brand

The leading ideologist of the line is Peter Comeau. He is the head of the development center of the IAG group of companies, which owns Wharfedale and five other British audio brands (and at least one Japanese one). Peter himself grew up on Wharfedale and says he absorbed the brand’s core from his teenage years building speakers from DIY kits.

He says that in the Elysian series, according to tradition, they tried to incorporate the principle of musicality: first of all, the acoustics should sound interesting, captivating with their sound. And all sorts of engineering tricks exist not to fill press releases with clever words and achieve the ideal frequency response in ideal conditions, but only as methods for achieving this most exciting sound. Science and engineering are important early in the development process, but pretty numbers alone won’t get you far, and the simple human ear is still the most important tool in audio design.

When developing Elysian, Peter wanted to surpass the Opus series – the only full-fledged high-end from Wharfedale. It certainly surpassed it in size: the speakers are 118 cm tall and almost half a meter deep, weigh half a centner each, and have a three-way design with a ribbon tweeter, a 6-inch midrange driver and a pair of 8.5-inch woofers.

The body is dull, heavy, and inert due to its multi-layer structure; the usual MDF is supplemented with stiffer HDF on the front panel – all in order to reduce unnecessary resonances. There are not many finishing options: there are black and white piano lacquer and walnut veneer covered in gloss. Horizontal stripes on the body, visually separating the speaker sections from each other, combined with the veneer, bring back memories of other European brands. “It’s as if the Italian acoustics were made by the Germans,” said Yulia Gorbatova during the shoot, and this phrase perfectly describes their design.

It has the clarity of brutalism, form follows function: precisely calculated rounded sides, tapering towards the back wall, are adjacent to a flat, wide front panel, on which black emitters are framed by the thinnest metal rings. In the monochrome version, the acoustics become an art object from the era of retro-futurism. At the same time, the quality of the finish is excellent: the veneer is precisely fitted, six layers of varnish shine dazzlingly without a single smudge.

The bass and midrange drivers are custom-made ScanSpeak drivers with woven fiberglass cones coated with a special coating that improves the absorption of internal resonances. Both bass speakers are located in a single volume and are complemented by a slotted bass reflex – it is separated from the floor by a wide base on massive legs extended beyond the body and carefully hidden from view by carefully selected foam dampers.

The midrange driver has its own chamber, and its characteristics were selected so that it fits perfectly with the ribbon tweeter and plays with it as one. Wharfedale makes its own tweeter – it is a large emitter measuring 27×90 mm, complemented by a concave plastic diffuser to avoid too narrow a dispersion.

The developers tried to make such a rather large acoustic system with large speakers a fairly simple load for the amplifier – and achieved a sensitivity of 92 dB. And this opens up a wide field for experimentation, since due to its own character, Elysian 4 very clearly shows the sound features of all other components of the system, without suppressing them in any way. But it seemed to me that even despite the fairly high sensitivity, they behave a little more cheerfully with amplification with good current output.

This is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, the Elysian 4 itself is transparent and neutral enough to show off the features of the components. On the other hand, this introduces certain difficulties in the selection of all elements of the system: the nature of the acoustics will not be able to disguise some family features of other equipment.

In the end, we settled on a Naim Uniti Nova setup as a player and a Cary Audio SA-200.2 ES preamp and power amplifier. With them we managed to find a very pleasant balance of musicality, emotionality and technicality. But the most important quality of Elysian 4 – neutrality – allows you to very sensitively adjust the overall sound of the system with other components and cables, adding a warmer amplifier, a softer player or, conversely, richer and denser, so you can experiment with the technique, it seems, forever.

This is a big acoustic, and it plays big – but at the same time it dissolves in the room. She creates a high, rather prominent stage, correctly spreads layers of noise around and into the depths in industrial and neurofunk, and slightly raises her voice above the bodies in the tracks Morcheeba and Björk. There is no feeling that specific speakers are playing – but there is music. They feel a certain effect of grandeur, which does not try to overwhelm the listener with sound, but only paints a very large-scale picture.

And if trip-hop and pop music purred melodiously at low-medium volume, then on psychedelic jazz like The Comet Is Coming you wanted to step on the gas – to which the system readily responded, without adding an unnecessary crunch of distortion to the hysterical saxophone bursts, leaving everything in place planned after-sounds. The ability of such large speakers to get lost in the room on the track “Summon The Fire” created a simply gorgeous immersive effect, throwing samples with a flanger not just from right to left, but throughout the room, not allowing them to mix with the rhythm and distorted horns, without clogging up the chirping percussion.

 

The bass in the melodies does not dominate – it has a good balance of biting deafness and massive hum, which does not crush under itself, but creates a tangible, juicy substrate for the entire composition. Perhaps it was a little lacking in speed in this setup: on Noisia and Culture Shock I would have liked more discreteness between the bits. At the same time, electronic music, consisting entirely of artificial sounds, sounded just as interesting as live music: apparently, it was precisely this lack of speed that gave the samples a slightly more realistic softness, more honest, natural after-sounds.

The women’s voices are beautiful – fluid, melodic, and only slightly protruding above the overall mix. The shorter men seem more down to earth, more embedded in the music – but they don’t lose their emotions. The mid-frequency range is presented volumetrically, airily, and is well integrated into the overall outline of the melody – it does not break away from it, does not protrude much forward. The strings have enough clarity, the piano sounds shimmering and rich, and the winds just breathe.

A feature of Wharfedale ribbon tweeters, which can be heard even in the EVO line, is the absence of harshness and coldness, which is often inherent in this type of driver. At high frequencies, there is still clarity in the clink of cymbals and rustling percussion, but there is no surgical precision that robs the sound of life, and there is no sense of particularly strong directionality. And the stitching of the stripes between the middle and the top is not felt: the emitters really behave as a single whole.

Due to its character, you can listen to these acoustics for hours without getting tired at all – and even at a volume at which the amplifier tries to go into defense. There is no feigned grace in her, but there is also no feigned analyticity, feigned rollicking, or feigned emotionality. There is nothing “extra” in the sound: there is exactly as much as is needed, as much as is intended. Of all the Wharfedales to come out in recent years, Elysian 4 is the closest to being a precise, unflappable instrument: this approach to sound was already seen in the updated EVO series , but it feels stronger in Elysian.

For many years

By achieving a neutral, detailed, yet still musical presentation from the Elysian 4, Wharfedale has reached a level where speakers with hefty price tags compete for the attention of quality sound lovers. But at this level it is much clearer that each element of the audio system contributes something of its own to it. It becomes clearer that technology intervenes in the dialogue between music and its listener – and choosing the combination whose interpretation of melodies suits specific ears and a specific room becomes a matter of life.

In the case of Elysian 4, I have four recommendations: put them in rooms at least 30 meters away, move them further apart, pay more attention to the gain (there is never too much current, believe me) and look for good recordings (because “Nymphetamine” by Cradle of Filth and recorded neurofunk mixes were painful to listen to in home studios).

And, let’s be honest, this is not such a big list of requirements. You can live with Elysian 4 for many years, gradually changing the components around them.

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