What Hi-Fi (UK)
Wharfedale Elysian 4
Stereo speakers £6495
Those spikes might not be adjustable but the build and finish is gorgeous
Wharfedale’s Diamond range has been one of the leading contenders at budget price points for more years than we care to remember. The success of this affordable series has spanned almost four decades and, understandably, tended to overshadow the company’s more premium efforts. We don’t think that’s fair, given the excellence of the current Award-winning Evo 4.4 floorstanders and now the hugely ambitious Elysian 4.
These towers are one half of Wharfedale’s new high-end Elysian range – the other is the Elysian 2 standmounters – and were developed in tandem with the Evo series. While there are common engineering threads between these two ranges, it doesn’t take long to realise that the Elysians represent the full expression of those principles.
Standing 119cm tall and 40cm wide, the Elysian 4 are big speakers – unusually broad by current standards. They are a three-way design with a 27 x 90mm AMT (Air Motion Transformer) tweeter, 15cm midrange unit and a pair of meaty 22cm bass units. All three of the larger units use a cone made of a woven glass-fibre matrix.
The bass units are tuned by a downward-firing port venting through a gap between the base of the main speaker cabinet and the plinth. This arrangement makes the transition from the high air-pressure inside the enclosure to the low pressure of the listening room smoother and is claimed to reduce bass distortion, increase efficiency and spread the bass energy more evenly around the room.
The front baffle and internal braces of the Wharfedale’s cabinet are made of high-density fibreboard (HDF), while the rest of the enclosure uses layered MDF and particleboard panels in a bid to control resonances. The cabinet volume is split internally so that the bass units have their own separate space to work in. The enclosure sits on widely spaced floor spikes, giving the Elysian 4 a solid and stable stance on a level surface, though oddly they can’t be adjusted – something to note if you have uneven hard floors.
Wharfedale has finished these speakers beautifully. The towers are available in three classy-looking colour options – walnut, black or white – and covered in a deep, handpolished piano gloss. While such a gloss finish is hardly rare, this level of quality certainly is.
It comes as no surprise to find that such big speakers need a decently large space to shine. We manage to get a good, balanced sound in our relatively humble listening room, but even then it’s clear that the Elysian 4 would relish more space to breathe.
We suggest starting with them at least a metre from the rear wall and as far from the sides as possible. We end up pointing the tweeters so that they cross a little behind our heads, but thanks to the AMT’S relatively even horizontal dispersion there’s enough leeway to experiment. These are revealing speakers, and any compromise with the partnering source or amplification is readily heard. That said, a sensitivity of 92db/w/m and a nominal impedance that’s rather vaguely described as ‘8 ohm compatible’ suggests that lower-powered amplifiers should not be discounted. Indeed, we get great results with Leben’s 28W-per-channel CS600X integrated amplifier. The bulk of our testing is done with our reference Burmester 088/911 Mk3 pre/power combination fed by Naim’s ND555/555 PS DR music streamer and the Technics SL-1000R record player fitted with a Kiseki Purple Heart MC cartridge.
“The 4s capture the album’s moods brilliantly, making us feel sad, hopeful or peaceful depending on the track.”
MUSCULAR – AND BEAUTIFULLY TONED
These floorstanders deliver a combination of scale, power, authority and dynamic punch that most (invariably smaller) price rivals can’t match. This is apparent when we play Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture; the Wharfedale’s high-volume capability and impressive muscularity come to the fore. Large-scale crescendos are dispatched with confidence, the Elysians punching out sound with real venom. They can play at high volume levels without stress but also have the less common attribute of still sounding interesting at whisper levels (good news for the neighbours).
If all this talk of muscle and physicality suggests a lack of finesse or subtlety, it shouldn’t. If anything it’s the Elysian 4’s impressively civil nature that appeals to us most. They have the insight and delicacy to bring Ólafur Arnalds’ Found Songs album to life, organising its detail in a natural and intuitive way. We like the way these monster floorstanders express the album’s dynamic nuances and the skill with which they communicate instrumental textures. These towers capture the album’s various moods brilliantly, making us feel sad, hopeful or peaceful depending on the track we’re playing.
Tonally, these Wharfedales are smooth and admirably refined. And that AMT tweeter is a good one: it combines resolution with smoothness, delivering the highs sweetly without lacking bite. And that’s a difficult balance to strike.
Stereo imaging is impressive, too. Like most big speakers they don’t quite manage to disappear within the soundstage, but they still render a nicely focused and layered image.
Switching between Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit, Kanye West’s Yeezus set and Debussy’s Clare De Lune, we are struck by the Elysian’s transparency. They clearly differentiate between the various recordings, their presentation shifting accordingly. It’s all overlayed with an overriding smoothness and slightly laid-back nature, but that’s easy to hear through. As we listen, we’re taken by Simone’s passionate delivery, the way each vocal phrase cuts with hurt, the Elysian’s midrange clarity making it all possible. Kanye West’s album proves these floorstanders can dance if they want to, while Clare De Lune highlights the Elysian 4’s lovely treble performance and the way these towers track dynamic shifts so diligently.
These big Wharfedales represent excellent value. When it comes to build, engineering content and performance, they have little to fear from any rival. It’s clear that Wharfedale now has another jewel in its crown.