It is 1978 and the pop charts are dominated by the Bee Gees, and the other acts like Tavares and Yvonne Elliman appearing on Robert Stigwood’s magnum opus movie Saturday Night Fever. You are a cash-strapped aspiring audiophile, but can only dream of the esoteric things you read about in the pages of Hi-Fi For Pleasure magazine.
No way can you afford a Linn Sondek turntable, Nytech CTA252XD receiver and Spendor BC1 loudspeakers. That’s about £1,000 – or the third of the price of a new Mini – and thus well out of your league. Instead, you find yourself in London’s Tottenham Court Road looking for a bargain, and finally return home with a Trio KD-1033B turntable (£59), JVC JAS-11G stereo amplifier (£79) and a pair of Wharfedale Chevin XP2 loudspeakers (£37). These are the riches of the poor!
Think of the Wharfedale Chevin XP2 as a gateway drug. Anything cheaper really wasn’t a hi-fi loudspeaker. There were Solavoxs and Amstrads and so on, yet despite being bigger and with more drive units, they simply weren’t as a good. The Chevin was a basic minimum guarantee of quality that you’d got a serious hi-fi loudspeaker; you bought it knowing it was flawed, but you knew it was less so than its flashier price rivals.
You might liken it to a late eighties BMW 316 saloon, but in hi-fi terms. Sure, there were bigger and faster cars for the money back then, but the 316 was a BMW with all that meant – and that was a basic, inherent quality that its rivals didn’t have. The Chevin was just the same – you could hear that it had “a good tone”, as people would call it. There was a fundamental level of refinement and decent – if not stellar – build quality. The cabinet was a proper piece of wood and the driver(s) were made by people who knew what they were doing. The Chevin, Wharfedale quite rightly said, gave “the best sound per pound”.
I know all this because the Chevin was my first ever proper ‘built’ hi-fi speaker; previously I had pulled a couple of elliptically shaped full range drivers out of an old open reel tape deck and made my own cabinets. Now that I had money in my pocket, I was determined to buy the very best I could and thus spent hours listening to this speaker and its rivals. Then one fine day I walked out of a Comet discount warehouse in Oxford with a pair of baby Wharfedales.
I spent two happy years with them, and came to appreciate the smooth and amenable midrange, fulsome upper bass and sweet – albeit slightly curtailed – treble. My pre-gig teenage ears were ultra sensitive measuring instruments back then, and I could tell the speakers were lopping a lot of high treble – yet still they did a lot well, especially soundstaging.
This was down to the unique Wharfedale drive unit with its own mechanical crossover; a small diaphragm was inset into the main 200mm paper bass/mid unit. The result was a quirky speaker measuring 305x240x220mm, with an 11 litre cabinet in a choice of real teak or walnut veneer. The Chevin was a true bookshelf loudspeaker – you’d never have used it on a stand – and this was made possible by its infinite baffle loading. Reflex ported loudspeakers were less popular in the nineteen seventies than they are now – not least because manufacturers expected the speakers to be fitted into hi-fi cabinets or racks, often bought from MFI or Habitat. Despite its lack of reflex loading, the manufacturer claimed an impressive 89dB/1w/1m sensitivity figure.
Wharfedale said it would work with amplifiers from 6W to 25W RMS per channel. I used a 10W RMS per channel Sony TA-73 to drive my pair, and it just about generated enough level to truly enjoy How Deep is Your Love and Stayin’ Alive. I later upgraded to Wharfedale Denton XP2s, which were only 87dB, and could hear the Sony struggling at high volumes in a way that it didn’t with the Chevins! Stated impedance was 6 ohms, which wasn’t too much trouble for the new generation of solid-state amplifiers hitting the market back then.
Quoted frequency response was 80Hz to 20kHz, at -5dB points. I think Wharfedale was being a little optimistic here, because – as previously mentioned – that treble lacked sparkle and extension. The ‘Hi-filter’ on my Sony amp worked at 10kHz, and it clearly dulled the speaker, but not by that much. Likewise there was little in the way of low bass, but there was a big bass bump around 110Hz that made some bass guitar notes sound far louder than others.
By modern standards the Chevin XP2 is pretty poor small speaker. It can’t handle much power, has a narrow bandwidth with a lumpy frequency response, and isn’t especially kind to amplifiers either. Yet still this little loudspeaker has a certain charm of its own – then and now it has a naturally agreeable and organic tone that makes music sound nice. Moreover – unlike many modern small speakers – it doesn’t sound like the music is being squeezed out of a toothpaste tube; that largish 200mm woofer has its uses! Back in the day, the Chevin sounded like most people’s idea of what real hi-fi was.
Even by the standards of the other models in Wharfedale’s new-for-1978 XP2 range – the Denton, Shelton, Linton and Glendale – the Chevin was pretty vague and veiled, yet it clouded things in a pleasing way. Put a pair of these on the end of good budget separates or a higher end music centre, and you’d come away thinking you’d got a bargain. Best of all – as yours truly proves – it was good enough to not put people off either music or hi-fi, indeed it made them want more…