I know, I know, this is a headphone review site, not a speaker review site, what am I doing?! Well recently I purchased some the Wharfedale Vardus 5.1 speaker pack, along with an Onkyo TX-SR508 receiver, and there were very few reviews around, so I figured i’d share! Read on for my review.
The Vardus speakers are my first decent speakers, and I really have nothing to compare them to, so this review is really not going to be much good to audiophiles looking for an objective or comparative review. It should be useful to average people who just want decent sound at a reasonable price. I use a Sony Playstation 3 to connect to the media on my PC, running the free PS3 Media Server software, and I have a Samsung 55″ LCD TV.
The Vardus speakers are a 5.1 setup, with two impressive looking floor standing front speakers, a small shelf or wall mount centre speaker, and two surprisingly large rear speakers. There’s a subwoofer in the package as well. I have to say it was great value, I got them for about US$600, which is a complete steal. The Onkyo 508 is really a 7.1 receiver, but I only have 5.1 speakers, but it works fine in 5.1 mode.
Honestly, this setup is just awesome for music. When you put the receiver into “direct” (ie no processing) mode things sound a bit flat, but when you switch to Dolby Pro Logic II things really come alive. The receiver does some funky things with stereo sources, somehow it manages to have the main singer come mostly from the front speakers, but the backup singers come more from the rear. It messes it up a little occasionally, but not enough to be a problem. To me the sound is crisp, clear, detailed, and the bass is great: low and strong. I’ve listened to everything on it: jazz, vocal, dance, rock, it all sounds good.
The setup is also great for movies. The PS3 is a blu ray player, and it’s good enough I sold my proper blu ray player. With a 5.1 source, such as a blu ray dvd, the speakers and receiver work even better than with stereo sources. Sounds are even more clear, and come from exactly where they’re meant to. I’m often distracted by some small sound coming from the rear speakers, wondering what’s behind my sofa, before realising it’s just a sound effect from the movie.
The weakest point of the system is probably the subwoofer supplied with the Vardus pack. It works quite well, but it can bottom out during particularly loud parts of movies. Of course I have it on about 90%, and that can be fixed by turning it down… but I don’t want to! I’ll probably upgrade the sub some time, but I won’t be in a great hurry to do it.
I use a Logitech Harmony One remote along with the Logitech Harmony PS3 adapter to control the system. It’s very, very handy to have one remote that does everything, though for tricky things such as setup I still resort to the remotes that came with the components. You can use the Harmony remote for that, but you have to dig through the menus on the touch screen to find them, if you haven’t set up the touch screen buttons to make it easy. You do have to keep the remote pointed at the system for 10 seconds while it turns everything on, and occasionally it misses a step, but if you push “help” it will have another go and usually gets it right. Controlling the PS3 is a little slow, compared with the native remote, but the convenience outweighs the 1/4th of a second delay between pushing a button and having the PS3 respond.
With the harmony remotes you define activities, such as “watch TV”, “watch a DVD”, “listen to music”, etc, and it turns components on and off as required. The great thing is that it knows that you usually want to control the receivers volume, not the TV volume, but when the receiver’s off it knows to control the TV volume directly. It’s really a cool piece of technology, and hugely increases the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) of your home theatre system.
But back to the speakers. For the price the Wharfedale Vardus speakers are just amazing, really a huge step up from the $200 Panasonic stereo I had before. I really can’t recommend any of the equipment I have highly enough.