The Low Down:
(Ed. Note: The price of this speaker has gone up–now $1,199.00– since we wrote this review…thank the pandemic and inflation for that…by the way, it’s still an excellent value at the current price.)
For listeners who value sharp imaging and immersive depth, you probably can’t do better than the Wharfedale EVO4.2 at less than a thousand dollars a pair. This large-format 3-way bookshelf speaker with its precise separation and excellent tonal balance provides astounding realism for the price, making it an amazing value.
Keep in mind, despite its size, this is not a party speaker. You won’t get a subwoofer-type rumble, but instead, a tasteful thump to punctuate the rhythm. The soundstage is also not the widest, but the remarkable depth more than makes up for it.
The $998/pr Wharfedale EVO4.2 (available at Amazon) is my new favorite speaker under $1k, and I wholeheartedly recommend it!
Disclaimer: The EVO4.2 was sent to us by the U.S. Distributor in exchange for an honest review. It will be returned once the review is complete.
About the reviewer: My opinion comes from 20+ years of experience with Hi-Fi gear, including an extended stretch in the consumer electronics industry. I’ve undertaken extensive listening in professional and personal settings. I have experience with hundreds of speakers, amps, and headphones. This background lets me provide a nuanced impression of the product both on its own and in comparison to the rest of the market. I will not review a product I haven’t listened to for many hours, and I will always provide picture proof of my work.
The Wharfedale EVO4.2 bookshelf speaker is the largest bookshelf model in their EVO 4 line, which is the latest incarnation of their Evolution range. The original Evolution speakers (released in the mid-2000s) were known for engineering beyond expectation at their price, and EVO 4 continues that trend with design elements usually seen in more expensive speakers.
To that point, the EVO4.2 bears more than a passing resemblance to the flagship ELYSIAN series.
That’s because they have inherited quite a bit of trickle-down technology from ELYSIAN, like an efficient (and fast-playing) AMT tweeter, a heavily braced curved cabinet, and a slot-loaded bottom port (called SLPP or “Slot Loaded Profile Port”).
They also remind me a lot of one of my all-time favorite bookshelf speakers, the Wharfedale Diamond 11.2 (read our review here), which has a similar woven Kevlar midrange driver, slot-loaded port, and curved cabinet.
From my perception, that smooth-sounding speaker is partially based on an earlier Wharfedale Evolution model, so it looks like we’ve come full circle in a sense.
The EVO4.2 is a large bookshelf speaker (17.9 x 9.8 x 13.8 inches HxWxD) designed to provide the impact of a floorstanding speaker in a smaller package, and it achieves this for the most part. It may not have all the slam of a tower, but it does have enough punch to drive the rhythm with authority.
It’s a 3-Way design with an articulate AMT tweeter for the high end, a 2” soft dome for the midrange frequencies, and a 6-1/2″ woven Kevlar woofer for the low end.
As per the company, using the soft dome midrange allows a smoother transition between the high and mid frequencies since the soft dome can play just about as fast as the AMT tweeter.
The woven Kevlar bass driver is also designed to be light, stiff, and quick for articulate bass. This is quite the complement of drivers for a $999 pair of speakers, and as I said earlier, more tech than what you would expect for the price.
Of course, integrating three different drivers made of different materials takes some skill and expertise, and Wharfedale employs Computer-Aided Optimization to tune the crossover. This results in an excellent tonal balance, which is one of EVO4.2’s major strengths.
The curved cabinet seems to be nicely braced, with a quick rap test eliciting a mild thunk. Curved enclosures are known to be stiffer than straight boxes. They’re also known for their ability to alleviate standing waves, thus cutting down on unwanted resonances. At least that’s the theory.
That said, even from my initial listening sessions, I could definitely tell this was a quiet speaker, as they “disappeared” with no problem at all. This is the hallmark of an inert cabinet.
On the front of the speaker, you have removable magnetic grilles for a clean look whether you use them or not. In the rear, two sets of binding-post speaker terminals allow bi-amping or bi-wiring.
In the box, besides the speakers and the grilles, you get some rubber feet to isolate the speakers from surfaces, as well as a pair of white cloth gloves to let you put them in place without leaving fingerprints.
Listening to the Wharfedale EVO4.2
For my listening tests, I placed the EVO4.2 speakers on stands about eight feet apart and about three feet from the side walls. Then each speaker was about eight feet from the listening position, forming a triangle.
As I often do, I placed the speakers about four feet from the front wall, taking the room out of the equation as much as possible. This also served to level out the bass a bit in my space.
I found that a slight toe-in gave me the best balance of image focus and soundstage. Most speakers I point almost directly at the listening position, but with the Wharfedales, I found them to play more open that way.
I’ve always found Audiolab gear to be an excellent match with Wharfedale Speakers, and to an extent, this is probably by design since China’s International Audio Group owns both brands. In some countries, they are also under the same distribution, but not in the U.S.
Because of this, and the fact that the Audiolab 6000 series has some of my favorite affordable integrated amps, I paired the EVO4.2 speakers with an Audiolab 6000A Play/6000CDT Streaming Amp/CD Transport combo (read our review here), and I was not disappointed with the result.
By the way, the EVOs relatively high sensitivity (88 dB) will let you use a wide variety of high-current amps, and the 50W x 2 supplied by the 6000A play is plenty power-wise.
I started by listening to some music streamed from TIDAL, and the first thing that impressed me was the EVO4.2’s excellent focus and separation. Listening to “Joy and Pain” by MAZE, I was amazed at how the speakers just disappeared, and Frankie Beverly’s voice appeared so naturally between the speakers.
Not only that, I was also in love with how well the EVO’s separated his lead vocal from the background vocal and then placed the background singers precisely behind Frankie off to the left. You could hear the instrumentation placed all around him with such a natural timbre.
The tonal balance was also excellent. No matter how loud the volume, the treble never became hard, and the bass remained controlled. Plus, the mids, normally the strength of a Wharfedale speaker, were extraordinarily refined.
Next, I put on “Leyla” from the Eric Clapton Unplugged CD, and again I was wowed by the silkiness of the midrange. I also loved the beautiful separation between the background singers placed to the left behind the guitar players and the lead vocalist, who was upfront and center.
The sound of this speaker reminds me a lot of a British mini-monitor with its natural midrange and pinpoint imaging. It also has a smooth, detailed treble with no trace of edginess.
However, the large format of the EVO4.2 gives it a little more oomph on the bottom end than a mini-monitor, which I like. It also plays with a larger scale. To me, it’s the best of both worlds.
That said, this is not a party speaker. The bass has a nice punch that allows it to play relatively fast, but the low end is not as deep as a sub. So don’t expect it to have a lot of rumble.
The other thing to think about with this speaker is the soundstage. It’s not super wide. I found the presentation mostly between the speakers, which to me was not an issue since the imaging and depth had such good separation.
I also tried the EVO4.2s with a more expensive streaming amplifier, the $3000 Cambridge Audio EVO 150, and it provided these speakers with slightly more focus and detail, and even more depth. This let me know that these speakers will scale up nicely with better gear.
The Wrap Up
At the end of the day, the EVO4.2 is a very well-rounded bookshelf speaker that performs well beyond what you would expect for the price point. Separation, Depth, and Tonal Balance are off the charts. Since the bass is so tight and well-controlled, it may be a little too polite for some, but then they would be missing out on a bonified audiophile experience at a very affordable price. To me, this is the best speaker under $1k.
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My hunger for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.