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E=MC2: The Wharfedale E Series

Vaughan Warren goes back to the future and listens again to Wharfedales
mighty E series from the late 70s; revaluating the E50, and discovers that
E=MC2 (Efficiency=Musical Contentment2)!

Since the rediscovery and appreciation of modern valve amplification the audio community has had
a chance to reassess many things including some of the more challenging late 1970s loudspeaker
designs often dismissed as screechy, harsh, and fatiguing! Such is the case when reconsidering the
Wharfedale E Series built in an age dominated by the transistor amplifier with the promise of
cheaper power amplification to go louder at the expense of subtly. Bang for your buck or bust!
However these forgotten gems may now have a chance, at last, to truly shine and sing again!

So during the festive season and combined with a previous chance discovery of E20s in Penzance,
Cornwall, I found myself visiting my good friends at AudioGold, London (http://audiogold.co.uk/)
and liberated on test a pair of E50s. Note that E20s and E30s have bass/mids; not the beautiful
bass drivers of the E50/E70/E90.

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E20
E50
Note that the E20 is a 20 litre box as the E50 is a 50 litre box but while both share the quality of
cabinet construction, the electronic crossover and the E50 Bass driver is the key to a better design.

Despite super disco lookalike styling in the form of flashy aluminium rings and trimmings, the build
and construction in terms of cabinets and drivers was impressive, employing quality electronics to
deliver a sound product with lossy wooden cabinets not unlike the early Spendor BC1.

I suppose to the untrained eye the E50s style might also be mistaken for Yamaha NS-1000Ms; there
are interesting similarities worth noting however; transient response being only one of the qualities
shared by both designs if one preservers and coaxes the best out of this forgotten range of
Wharfedale Loudspeakers. I believe low wattage valve amplification is the key to unlocking their full
potential; and more on that later but as I discovered system synergy can crop up in the oddest of
places even at Christmas!
Not being able to wait until my return to Cornwall I set up the three way E50s with a Sony MDS
JE500 minidisc amplified through a clean sounding Trio KA-305 Solid State integrated and initial
impressions indicated a surprisingly good match ideally made in a Japanese heaven; (The horn
loaded treble is Made in Japan). The previously muffled, dynamically lacking pre-recorded MD of
Radioheads OK Computer resulted in a tuneful presentation with excellent L/R separation, clean,
fast, dry, deep and upper Bass with focused vocals and a delicate and articulate treble presentation.
This system also unlocked; a challenging recording of Joni Mitchel in concert downloaded from a HD
Skybox with an airy ambience and sense of performance location previously lacking.
The double sets of control knobs on the baffles were set flat as any reduction did just that; reduced
everything without any musical advantage. An obvious acknowledgement that some might find
these speakers overtly bright with the wrong amplification and a reason why they remain under the
audiophile radar. For me Music is at its most emotionally exciting when ones system gives you the
sense of a direct connection with the performer through the voice coils interaction with the
amplified source component; and a seamless lack of anything in between. The E50s constant crisp,
plucky, deep and simultaneously spacious brought a smile to my face, even in an imperfect listening
environment which bodes well for the serious listening sessions to follow.
Setting up the E50s in Newlyn Towers followed a system reference listening session through the
Yamaha NS-1000Ms which set the benchmark very high indeed! The Yamahas were replaced with
the E50s in the system; an Isol8 mains conditioner driving a Musical Fidelity FCD/X-Dac HDCD
combo feeding into my Carfrae (i) Integrated Valve Amplifier(@8W push/Pull) and finally arriving at
the E50s through Linn K400 speaker cables which have been working well with the NS-1000Ms.
Once again I make my point about speaker height which with the E50s is about 50 (52 being ideal)
placing the beautiful Bass driver at ear level when seated. Straight away marvellous timbral textures
were evident; dry, breathy, female vocals on June Tabors Ashore album; wonderful pluck on
Double Bass acoustic contrasted clearly and well defined against the high end strike of Piano
performance; all presented alongside the minutuae of smacking lips annouciating words and
humming of amps in the recording to make real the acoustic within a stereo image.

If one recalls the acoustic tapping of a microphone when heard through loudspeakers then one has
an idea of the distinctive live sound of the E50s which projects the transient attack of live music,
and in this respect the Wharfedales come very close indeed to the original sound. More than one
pair might equal an alternative domestically to a P.A. system like these lucky chaps in line array!

I have had access to hearing the Double Bass played live recently without amplification and was
extremley impressed in the sonic character of the E50s which captured all the resonance and
shimmer of the plucked strings highlighting the excellent integration of all the driver units with such
openess, warmth, and air. The super efficiency of the design with a horn loaded tweeter, which
although blisteringly fast is matched by the reactions of the paper mid and bass drivers whilst the
very large port almost big enough for a small cat to live in lets all the energy out in time with the
frontal delivery and as one can tell I am deeply moved by the E50s; if not an accurate loudspeaker
(What is?) if compared with the neutrality and transparency of the Yamahas, then a loudspeaker
with deliberate enhancement agendas concieved by design from a mass product consumerables
company to deliver quite an exceptional performance.
For example, following a divine television documentary on the overlooked political influence and
musical career of Roberta Flack (Killing me softly); then the Paris seiges by terrorists; I sought
solace in the wisdom of Marvin Gayes words from the album, Whats Going On through the E50s;
Ohh, mercy,mercy,me! I thought I knew this CD well but the E50s opened up a labyrinth of sonic
alleyways and dark passages of immense complexity and depth behind the frontal soundstage.
I have trusted in the Yamaha NS-100Ms to give me all of it not just some of it whilst the NS-10Ms
cut deep into the mix perhaps at the expense of absolute bass extension but WOW, the E50s
create a new ambient experience full of insightful analysis and yet still keep the music flowing like a
saline drip in synq with ones own emotional heartbeat.
What a system; one in which the Wharfedale E50 shines as a forgotten masterpiece!