Wharfedale Linton Heritage Loudspeakers Review
Mike Perez compares two generations of this iconic affordable British speaker…
Wharfedale Linton Heritage
Stand Mount Loudspeakers
AUD $3,399.99 RRP including stands
You had to live through the nineteen seventies in England to understand the significance of the Wharfedale Linton loudspeaker. Hi-fi was huge back then – the third largest expenditure for British people after a house and a car. It's a pretty niche pursuit now, in a world of many others, but back then, 'the world and his wife' wanted a stereo system. Even furniture stores had sections devoted to wooden cabinets specially designed to house your shiny new music centre!
The Linton name had already been on Wharfedale loudspeakers for ten years when the new Linton 3XP came out in 1975, but the latter truly popularised the model in its domestic market. Resplendent in its real teak veneered cabinet – all the rage at the time – and with three drive units – a badge of it being a 'proper' speaker – it was affordable for working people who'd saved up a few pounds. Its crisp, contemporary styling really hit the spot, but its sound was the clincher. All XP series models were clean, smooth and musical performers; everybody's idea of what a hi-fi speaker should be back then. The Linton was the upper middle range model, between the flagship Glendale 3XP and the smaller 2-way Denton 2XP. All the names were taken from village names in North Yorkshire, around the River Wharf.
In 1978 the XP2 range appeared, and with it, the new Linton XP2 – the last Wharfedale speaker to bear the name for nearly forty years. Like its predecessor, it was an infinite baffle design with separate bass, middle and treble drivers – all of which could now take a little more power. The 3XP's silver metal trims around the drive units were retained, but the stick-on information plaques beside the tweeter were moved to the rear. The new speaker sounded slightly tauter and faster, making its predecessor seem rather warm and rounded. Yet it still had the company's trademark 'nice tone' and good manners – unlike many of its price rivals, it was perfectly house-trained. That summer, many a Linton XP2 would have been playing the Grease Original Soundtrack album or the theme from Saturday Night Fever by The Bee Gees.
The Linton 2XP didn't last long, though. As Britain waved goodbye to disco and embraced New Romantic tones of Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, it suddenly seemed incredibly old-fashioned. There was none of the retro nostalgia you get today; old was bad, and something you should feel ashamed of owning. The Wharfedale Laser series arrived to replace the XP2 range, bringing more striking styling and graphics and less of the teak wood. Not long after, the small standmounting Diamond would be born, sending the company in an entirely new direction…
All the original Lintons were sealed box designs, as were most speakers back then. The 3XP could only take 35W RMS of power, and wasn't the most sensitive of designs. Its three drivers – a 1-inch soft dome tweeter, 2-inch midrange unit and 8-inch woofer – were decent enough considering its $120 selling price – but not the match of anything you get from Wharfedale today. It was a largish loudspeaker for those not used to serious high-end designs, but again not as big as this new Linton.
By modern standards, both the Linton 3XP and the XP2 sound congested, boomy, veiled and compressed with a lumpy bass and poor treble extension. Yet they were very decent for their day, and deservedly popular. Even now, they have a charm of their own, with a nice, pleasant, soft and warm sound that epitomises that era of loudspeakers. That's something the new Linton attempts to hark back to. But does it succeed?
Image credit: Reddit umacnerd93
BACK TO THE FUTURE
The resurrection of the Wharfedale Linton for the company's eightieth anniversary is a nod at the original model from 1965 and its successors. Mechanically the so-called Linton Heritage is entirely different from what came before, with IAG – the company that owns the Wharfedale brand – specifying a clean sheet design. It is priced in Australia at $3,399.99, including the branded stands. What makes this loudspeaker special, in my view – aside from its retro aesthetics – is the approach to the sound that the engineering team has followed.
Taking a more prominent approach than the conventional standmount, the physical build of the speaker has a presence at 300mm wide and 565mm tall. As with its immediate predecessors, it's a 3-way design but now sports an 8-inch black woven Kevlar coned woofer, a 5-inch black woven Kevlar midrange driver, and a 1-inch soft dome tweeter. All were designed exclusively for this speaker, so you won't see them on any other Wharfedale.
Unlike earlier Lintons, this new one is reflex-loaded, with two large bass ports around the back. The cabinet is medium density fiberboard/chipboard sandwich, supposedly giving a cleaner sound with this type of enclosure. It's a bit hollow sounding when I did the old knock test, not as solid as a heavier MDF would have been. But that's being nit-picky because it weighs a hulking 22kgs, which is heavy for a bookshelf speaker. You get a natural wood veneer for the outside of the enclosure, not the vinyl you see on other speakers. The choice of colour is yours; you can buy them in black, red mahogany, or walnut.
IAG's design supremo Peter Comeau optimised the Linton's enclosure to work best with the grills on. I don't particularly care for this practice since I love seeing the drivers work when I play my favourite music; however, they are nice grills with Wharfedale branding, and cut to get a better frequency response and dispersion, according to the manufacturer. I used the Cambridge EVO 150 integrated amplifier and Lyngdorf Audio's CD2 CD player to test this speaker design. Since Wharfedale specifies a sensitivity of 90dB and a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, they're a relatively easy load.
This speaker made me smile upon the first listen. I feel that the Linton Heritage is instinctively voiced in favour of someone who wants a speaker that can perform effortlessly throughout the frequency range. Along with a beautiful tonality, the imaging and overall soundstage are more dynamic than I expected. Also, the bass is satisfyingly sumptuous, a feat that many of its similarly priced rivals cannot match.
For example, I love a flat response when I listen to music, and I felt like the Linton provided real weight in the bass. For the ultimate bottom-end test, I chose the Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack, which has several tracks that dig very deep into the lower frequencies. Wharfedale only rates this speaker as going down to 40Hz, but I feel it is a conservative figure. In my room, it had real low-end presence but was not overwhelming.
The whole spread of the Linton's sound is very well integrated, then. I played Norah Jones's Come Away with Me album, and her voice served up a detailed midband performance that didn't sound tinny and loud. Some speakers have a very pronounced midrange that can quickly fatigue the listener, but not this. The warmth of the tweeter is highly pleasing and makes for very long listening sessions if you're that way inclined – especially with modern music.
This big standmounter certainly isn't as intense as KLH's Model Fives, for example, a speaker that I feel has more midrange clarity. The Model Five isn't necessarily as smooth as the Linton in the top end and surprisingly not as aggressive in the low end. This surprised me, mainly because the Model Five has a 10-inch driver compared to the Linton's 8-incher. Perhaps it's the magic of positioning a ported speaker correctly in a boxed-in room. However, the Model Five does have a more natural sound, and the listener can manipulate the sound itself with an attenuation knob in the rear of the speaker. A feature that's not available on the Linton.
This striking retro-styled loudspeaker is actually far more modern sounding than it looks. The Linton Heritage is an extremely well-engineered design from master speaker designer Peter Comeau and fabulous value for money. It looks fantastic, sounds superb and feels terrific to display in any system that wants to add a high-performance speaker with that classic British feel. This should be an easy conclusion when considering a significant purchase decision for your home sound system.
For more information visit Wharfedale
Based in Denver, Colorado, Mike is a writer, photographer and audio enthusiast. Music was a creative conduit for Michael growing up an combining his interests even led to being tour photographer for Bone Thugs n Harmony. Later years saw him merge his passions together to create Audio Arkitekts, a resource for all who wander in the world of audio.
Posted in:Hi-Fi Loudspeakers Bookshelf / Standmount Applause Awards 2022
Tags: wharfedale audio visual revolution
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