It was in his humble Yorkshire home in Ilkley that Gilbert Arthur Briggs built his first ever loudspeaker in 1932. Located in the valley of the river Wharfe, in an area known as Wharfedale, he was to make the name famous around the world by the time of his passing, despite never having been formally trained in engineering. Instead, he began as a gifted, passionate amateur.
The one-time cloth seller set up a small factory a year later near Bradford, to build loudspeaker drive units. It was family run affair, his wife Doris hand wiring and winding coils. Wharfedale Wireless Works won their first major order of ‘Bronze’ drivers via a Bradford Radio Society competition, and demand rose up to nine thousand units per year by the beginning of World War II. His company had outgrown its premises by 1936, and moved to a larger factory, while the onset of war saw it producing transformers for Marconi. By 1945, it had sold 40,000 from a team of just twenty people – and that same year the company introduced its first two-way loudspeaker. It featured a 10” tweeter and a vast crossover, and set the blueprint for other speakers to follow. Later products such as the Airedale – with its sizeable hexagonal cabinet with drivers running Alnico magnets and an upward firing ‘ambience tweeter’ – proved best sellers.
His famous book, Loudspeakers: The Why and How of Good Reproduction, was published in 1948. A short tome, it nevertheless proved a great reference work for budding speaker designers and hi-fi enthusiasts alike, and was reprinted many times. It proved so popular because it was written in plain English, making the black art of hi-fi reproduction and loudspeaker design surprisingly accessible. Needless to say, a series of others followed…
In the fifties, Briggs started an audacious series of events comparing live and recorded music. Using Wharfedale loudspeakers and Quad or Leak amplification to play back an acetate just cut (live) of a band playing, the first demonstration at the Royal Festival Hall was a great success. The concerts spun off into a number of locations, from Bristol Music Hall and the Philharmonic Hall to Carnegie Hall, New York, Portugal, Hong Kong and Canada. These events used the largest of all Wharfedales, a three-way, nine cubic foot corner speaker which was sand filled and reflex loaded, running a W15 woofer. Sitting atop was a discrete enclosure featuring ceiling-firing Super 8 and Super 3 drivers, radiating forwards for an omni directional effect.
In 1958, the sixty eight year old Briggs sold Wharfedale Wireless Works to the Rank Organisation. He retired seven years later, by which time he had overseen two major breakthroughs – the pioneering use of ‘roll surrounds’ around paper cones, and the launch of the first speakers using ceramic magnets. In 1967 the company announced its move to a vast 170,000 square foot factory in Highfield Road, Bradford. In the nineteen seventies, Wharfedale grew strongly, with a range of finely voiced, affordable products such as the Chevins, Dentons and the Lintons you see here. It also introduced the high efficiency ‘E’ series, and the popular ‘Isodynamic’ tweeter used in the high end SP series. By 1977, production of drive units was running at 800,000 per year.
The Linton 3XP hails from the glory days of the brand as it was originally constituted. Selling from 1975 to 1978 for around £100, it was most people’s idea of a high end loudspeaker, even if in real terms there were plenty more expensive designs. In a hi-fi world where many speakers were single driver full range designs, being a three-way was a mark of quality. The Linton came in fine quality teak cabinets – so nineteen seventies – and had bright trim rings around the paper dome tweeter and ‘isodynamic’ paper cone midrange driver giving them some visual drama. An 200mm paper bass unit took care of low end duties. The ‘3’ in its name refers to the number of drive units, and ‘XP’ was the name of the series – Extra Power.
The measured performance of the Linton 3XP seems amazingly poor by modern standards; even the company’s base models turn in far better statistics. For example, quoted sensitivity is 85dB/1w/1m, with maximum power input of 30W RMS and a nominal impedance of 6 ohms. The frequency response was more encouraging though, being 60Hz to 20kHz at -3dB. Round the back, the small screw-type terminals wouldn’t tick any audiophile boxes today!
Despite this, the Linton 3XP was an attractive sounding speaker of its day. By modern standards it sounds coloured and soft, but has what would traditionally be called “a good tone”. It’s pleasantly rich and sumptuous and has a gentle, lilting musical quality that lets any type of music you play sweetly roll along in front of you. Dynamics aren’t good, and the speaker overloads quickly, but driven from a reasonably powerful amplifier at middle listening levels and it’s a surprisingly pleasant thing to sit in front of. It was Wharfedale’s ability to offer a big, well finished box with a commensurately impressive sound at modest price that give it grant commercial success over this period.
The Linton 3XP was replaced by the Linton XP2 (Extra Power series 2), and got a slightly different drive line up, and a new type of grille material and badging, along with the deletion of the little sticker over the tweeter with the speaker’s quoted specifications. It was still a similar beast however, but with a slightly tighter and less sumptuous sound. By 1979, the XP2 range had been replaced by the Laser series, which was a more futuristic looking range with slightly less impressive build quality. The Total Sound Recall series replaced the SP2 range, heading up the premium range. Research done during the development of the top-of-the-range TSR102 begat the Diamond, which went on to epitomise the trends in nineteen eighties loudspeaker design…