Britain has long been recognised throughout the world as being the home of loudspeaker technology in terms of innovation and quality. This reputation has been built up over many years by some of the World's most famous loudspeaker manufacturers.
Wharfedale, established over seventy-five years ago has always been at the forefront of developing this reputation. It was in 1932 that Gilbert Briggs built his first ever loudspeaker in the cellar of his home in Ilkley, Yorkshire. This sleepy little market town was located in the valley of the river 'Wharfe' – an area known to this day as 'Wharfedale'. This unlikely location would see the birth of a brand that was to become recognised all over the world, synonymous with quality in high-fidelity reproduction.
It was in 1933 that Gilbert set up a small factory near Bradford to build his new loudspeaker drive units. Radio was an exciting new technology and word of the new transducers had spread quickly around the area. In the same year, he entered the Bradford Radio Society's annual competition and won both first and second place, earning the company their first major order. From this point, the Wharfedale Wireless Works never looked back, going from strength to strength, producing up to 9000 units per year until the outbreak of World War II.
Technological advances in electronics made during the war impacted heavily on the emerging audio market during the 1940s. In America, a trend developed for seeking better and better music reproduction. Wharfedale were well positioned to meet the growing demand for quality loudspeakers and by 1945, had developed the first two-way loudspeaker – the prototype of the modern loudspeaker. The device would look strange by modern standards with a 10" tweeter and a crossover that took two grown men to lift, but it set the standard for an entire industry.
In 1958 The Wharfedale Wireless Works were sold to the Rank organisation. Gilbert Briggs, then 68 years old, continued to manage the day-to-day running of the company until his well-earned retirement in 1965. The first four years of the Rank era saw two major breakthroughs. Wharfedale pioneered the use of the now famous 'roll surround' on cones and in 1962 launched the first ever loudspeakers using ceramic magnets.
Through the 1960s, the company moved into electronics manufacturing with a number of tuners, amplifiers and even turntables being introduced to the market. Growth was rapid as the quality and styling of these units strongly appealed to the newly liberated youth market. Throughout the late 1960s and 70s, fashion played an important part in hi-fi design. Teak vinyls and ultramodern plastics were introduced to an eager and enthusiastic audience.
After the frivolity of 1960s pyschedelia, the 70s saw a return to the more sober, traditional crafted form of loudspeaker. The loudspeaker kits which were once best-sellers for Wharfedale were re-introduced in the late 1970s under the 'Speakercraft' name. This opened the market once again to hobbyists with ranges like the Glendale proving highly popular amongst those for which hi-fi was a deep and serious passion. Production growth continued unabated throughout the 1970s with classic loudspeaker models such as the Lintons and the smaller Dentons. Such was the popularity of hi-fi and the efficiency of the new factory, production in 1977 reached 800,000 drive units.
Rank continued to invest heavily in research and development, and the early 1980s were the age of technology and analysis. Investment in cutting-edge equipment led to Wharfedales development of Laser holography processes and the more scientific analysis of components. Our advanced 'SCALP' (scanned laser probe) and the 'FRESP' (frequency slice plot) techniques led to a better understanding of the physics of loudspeaker technology and to the further advancement of the industry.
By the Early 1990s, Wharfedale had become reunited with some of it's hi-fi brethren. After Rank decided to focus on the film and leisure activities, Wharfedale was sold to a large group of companies called the 'Verity Group PLC'. The Verity Group also owned Quad and Leak. Wharfedale, Quad and Leak were the subject of a management buy-out in 1997. The deal was completed on 19the September 1997 - we were independent again!
In the early 1980s Wharfedale took the opportunity to enter a new market. The rapidly developing professional loudspeaker market had for many years been an attractive proposition. In the early 1960s Wharfedale had experienced much success with 'Public Address' or P.A. systems, so this was hardly a new venture. The market had, however, become much better defined. Bars and Public Houses were installing better sound systems. Nightclubs were a booming business. People had more leisure time than ever before and every teenager wanted to be in a band.
We developed larger and better professional loudspeakers and became involved in developing loudspeakers for huge touring rigs. This was a steep learning curve and, in turn, taught us to make better and more powerful home loudspeakers.
By 1998 the momentum of development within the Professional industry prompted the decision to establish a separate division within Wharfedale to concentrate purely on the Professional market. Wharfedale Pro was born.
Today, Wharfedale Pro is still one of the fasting growing professional audio companies in the world. By staying true to the pursuit of product excellence whilst adapting products to our customers' needs and providing unparalleled value for money, we have survived both evolution and revolution.
Wharfedale products are still amongst the best in the world, winning top awards for acoustic excellence, just as Gilbert Briggs did in 1932 with his 'Bronze' transducer. His legacy and philosophy still permeate the company. Whilst designing the best products he could, he firmly believed that 'a fair price to all is the best way of doing business'.
We are here now to celebrate our seventy-five anniversary and look to the future with more optimism and confidence than ever.