INTERVIEW: GRAHAM MCGEE, WHARFEDALE
Recently Graham McGee, Wharfedale’s Sales Manager from England, was in New Zealand for a promotional visit to introduce the new 5-series range of Wharfedale loudspeakers. Zounds managed to grab a few minutes of his time to ask a few questions.
What is the audio scene like in New Zealand compared to England?
Very similar in some respects. Most of the Auckland dealers are very similar in that they have seperate listening rooms. Most of them are pretty aware of what’s happening on the UK hi-fi scene.
Tell me a little about the history of Wharfedale.
Wharfedale started business in 1932. The company was started by a man called Gilbert Briggs who lived in Ilkey in Yorkshire. Ilkey sits on the River Wharfe, hence Wharfedale. He stayed in business until 1958 when the Rank Organization made an offer for Wharfedale. He stayed on as Managing Director, so at least he had some emphasis on the direction the company was going to take. About the same time, the Rank Organization bought out HJ Leak. They became the electronics arm and Wharfedale the speaker arm.
In the 1960’s the business absolutely boomed. At the same time Leak were producing their products most successfully, and the company looked to be going from strength to strength. That continued until the the early 1970’s. (Rank decided to finish with Leak Electronics in 1975).
The hi-fi industry seemed to be slowing down (in the late 1970’s). In 1982 the Rank Organization took a decision to dispense with 90% of their manufacturing companies in the UK, including Wharfedale.
We were bought by a chap called Peter Newman. He ran the company for two years, but all he did was hide over the cracks. In 1984 he decided to sell the company. A consortium of businessmen, headed by two brothers – Julian and Martin Valance – bought the company. New Zealander’s wouldn’t have heard of these people but they are very, very large in retailing in the north of England. They own 65% of Wharfedale’s business now. The rest is owned by a couple of other businessmen, plus the West Yorkshire Enterprise Board, who helped finance the move from Bradford – where the factory has been since 1958 – to Crossgates in Leeds, again in Yorkshire. This new company known as Wharfedale Limited have been on the new site since early 1984.
We’re doing about 100,000 pairs of loudspeakers per year, of which 60% go to export markets.
What is the build ring that Wharfedale use?
The build ring is essentially a jig, that holds together the cone, the coil and the suspension. This item allows normal production to make consistant drive units every time. Prior to this invention, all the components of a loudspeaker were held together on a jig, set together at different times and glued together with different glues. The glues had to have different temperatures (to set) and basically you had a very good chance of making a drive unit that was not perfect in every way.
This little build ring is a plastic moulded jig, and every single loudspeaker that uses this method is consistant. It also means that you can glue all the components together at one time, rather than having to wait for the glue to dry before adding another component.
It enhances the build and quickens the speed of the build, which means that we can supply our products at a lower price. Basically, at the moment, you can only use it with polypropolene drive units but we intend in the next year or so of figuring out a way of using it with paper or pulp cones.
Tell me about the Wharfedale metal dome tweeter.
In terms of clarity there is nothing to beat a metal dome
More and more hi-fi loudspeaker companies are using metal domes. JBL are using titanium domes, and a couple of companies in Germany are using a metal dome. The Wharfedale one is an aluminium dome, designed and made in our own factory, and it actually has a seperate tiny surround that is glued to it – it’s a very skillful operation. We believe (the seperate surround) enhances the sound. When we measure it with a laser, we find that the dome is actually piston like – and that is the key to drive units, to not have the break-up – right out to around 36 kHz. We also think that in terms of clarity there is nothing to beat a metal dome.
The other thing we’ve looked at very closely of late, is the effect of cabinet or box colourations. Whether we make our cabinet of wood or this new polystyrene sandwich material – which we introduced in the 708 – we look very carefully at stiffening the box. With the wooden box basically what we do is we brace them. If they get to any great height – say above 300mm high – we brace the cabinet.
We also have, what we call, the Wharfedale tray. Basically this means that the back panel of the speaker is recessed, therefore forming a T-junction with the back of the cabinet, making the cabinet stiffer. We also use MDF (medium density fibreboard) as a baffle.
Original published in the print magazine Zounds, January 1987
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