Friday, March 21, 2008

History of Wharfedale

One of my greatest passions in life is to find time to sit down in my room, with a warm cup of coffee in my hand, and listening to a CD from my favorite all-time 80's band; a-ha. And thanks to a great pair of Wharfedale loudspeakers, these guys seem to be performing "live concerts in my room" on a daily basis, if you know what I mean. These loudspeakers communicate not just the music as it was recorded, but also the very essence of the performance! This inspired me to finally sit down and write a post on the History of Wharfedale.

Wharfedale was in fact founded in 1932, by Gilbert Briggs who built his first loudspeakers in the cellar of his home in Ilkley in Yorkshire, England. This quiet market town was located in the valley of the river 'Wharfe', hence 'Wharfedale', the unlikely setting for the birth of a brand that was to become synonymous with quality and technology wherever hi-fi was used throughout the world.

In 1933, a small factory was established in nearby Bradford in order to build the increasingly popular loudspeaker drive units. In the same year the Wharfedale Wireless Works won both first and second prizes in a national competition organized by the Bradford Radio Society. These were but the first of many awards that the company has since received. From this time, Wharfedale went from strength to strength, and, following a move to a larger factory, production reached 9,000 speakers in the year 1939.

During the war years the company concentrated on the production of transformers for military equipment, but in 1945 a new factory was found and loudspeaker production restarted with a staff of over 20. Production levels grew dramatically with loudspeakers being shipped across the world and in 1956 Wharfedale formed its own subsidiary company in the USA and the following year opened a massive new automated cabinet factory in Bradford.

Gilbert has built quite a reputation for himself for pioneering a hifi industry. His popularity extends to the books he has written which led him to stage an audacious series of concerts to compare live vs. recorded music. These concert demonstrations became very famous, using Wharfedale loudspeakers with either Quad or Leak electronics. It also led to the very close working relationship between Gilbert and Peter Walker of Quad that led to the next major development for Wharfedale.

In 1958 Gilbert Briggs, by then over 68 years old, sold the company to the Rank Organization; a major UK industrial group which also owned the audio electronics company Leak and also Heco; a German loudspeaker company. Rank made major investments in R&D and in marketing and distribution. Wharfedale continued to lead the loudspeaker world in technological developments with the introduction in 1960 of roll-surround suspensions and in 1961 the first use of ceramic magnets.

By 1988 Wharfedale Loudspeakers plc was listed on the London Stock Exchange and in 1992 the company changed its name to the Verity Group plc and purchased a number of other companies including Mission; Cyrus; Quad (all British hi-fi companies) and Premier Musical Instruments. The then managing director of Wharfedale led a management buyout and formed a new company; the International Audio Group which incorporated Wharfedale loudspeakers; Quad audio electronics; Leak high-end audio electronics and Airedale loudspeakers.

As for the man who started it all, Gilbert Briggs died in 1978 but his legacy and enthusiasm lives on in his products. Today Wharfedale is a truly international company with its Marketing and Design departments headquarters in Huntingdon, England.

So the next time you have a look at a Wharfedale loudspeaker, remember, you're getting a product which has a 75 year experience, one of the most advanced research and development programmes, and high quality control processes in the industry.