Welcome back the Knights in shining armour

At Stereotype we love music and we want you to get the best reproduction of that music in the price range that you can afford. We are not after your money; we only want you to be happy “to get more out of the music you love”.  I am semi-retired, and Brendan works on the site in his spare time, we aren’t all about the money, we do it because we are passionate about music and good sound. I want to tell you about our latest speaker brand we added to our growing list of great value for money products, they don’t cost the earth, they look fantastic with real wood veneers and they sound terrific too, that brand is Castle.

I have always been a fan of Castle speakers and I have personally owned all their top models and many others in their range over the years.  The four things I always like about them are also the four core things we consider before we even think of adding a brand to our range, we call it: the four L’s: Looks, Label, List price and Listening test.

So let’s look at how the new Castle Knight range fits the four L’s. There are five speakers in this range: Two stand mount models: Knight 1, Knight 2 and three floorstanding, the Knight 3, 4 and 5.

LOOKS

Of the components that make up a good music system, the speakers are the largest and will impose the most in your room. The modern popular way of room décor nowadays is minimalist and that is why in-ceiling, in-wall and sub/sat speakers are so popular. Unfortunately, the sound quality goes down as these sub/sat, in-wall, in-ceiling and sound bar speakers often can’t reproduce the full frequency spectrum naturally, and at various volumes. (For more on this, see my blog on “What is good sound“).

So what can we do?

Real wood!

Speaker designers have been working hard to make speakers like designer furniture: using glass, chrome or piano black finishes and different shapes from the conventional box (these types of speakers sometimes get referred to as having good WAF, or Wife Acceptance Factor). These are great for some but others like the warm and natural look of wood, this is where Castle comes in!

They are all made with REAL WOOD finishes unlike other Brands that use cheap vinyl or plastic finishes keeping the costs down. No wonder your other half doesn’t want them in the lounge! Currently two wood finishes are imported in the new Castle Knight range, Cherry and Mahogany. The finish is stunning, with the most beautiful deep-figured slices that are sourced from sustainable timber. Each speaker pair uses hand selected matched slices that are then sealed and waxed by hand in a process which takes over 5 days. It’s almost impossible not to run the back of your hand down the top and sides of these beautifully crafted speakers to feel their smoothness. Watching customers do the same when they first see them always brings a smile to my face.

Safely packed

The other appealing factor of this range is the size of three of these speakers, the Knight 1, 3 and 4 are small and slim line, and look the part in any room. The best way I can describe them is to use the words of most customers, “they are so cute”.  The Knight 2 and 5 are big and immediately you know they are serious speakers and I mean serious! The quality of finish does not stop with the real wood finish. Even the packaging is one of the best I have seen of any speakers, even at three times the price. The amount of care Castle went through to get the product safe and sound to you and to add to the experience of opening up your set is unseen and unheard of at this price level. You immediately know Castle is very proud to present you with your set. Even the manual is in a form of a glossy brochure, not a piece of copy paper with a few printed words.  You feel already proud to own this speakers long before you even heard them!  So the first L (Looks) gets a big fat tick!

LABEL

Gloves to keep that ‘oh so pretty’ real wood finish smudge free

The Castle Brand has a long pedigree in the UK. It was founded in 1973 and is one of the most respected brands in UK.  It’s considered by many as the poor man’s ProAc‘s and I think I have to agree with that. Not all of us have the means to afford a ProAc speaker but this Castle range is reachable for many budding music lovers. Castle has been a loudspeaker manufacturer in the truest possible sense with both design and manufacture of their speakers housed entirely in one factory. Castle is rare amongst loudspeaker manufacturers in that they not only manufacture the drive units and electronic components found in their speakers but also the beautifully hand crafted real wood veneered cabinets. Despite changing times Castle still retain this as the basis for the company even in the hands of their new owner IAG from China. So you can tick the 2nd L, Label.

LIST PRICE

Quality Spikes

Now here was my biggest surprise. Real wood finish speakers are expensive (like ProAc and the higher end B&W and Paradigm series speakers for instance).  So when we heard the RRP we thought it was for a single speaker but when we were told “No, it is for a pair!”   we immediately asked “where do we sign up?”. Unbelievable. The low cost is made possible by the fact that IAG bought the Brand and are now made in their own factory (no I must say resort… you must see this place it’s like a 5 star resort and I am sure it’s like that for all their workers too). So an even bigger tick on the 3rd L, List price!

LISTENING TESTS

Do we need this? After going through the looks, label and list price it was almost a forgone conclusion that we must have this! We know Castle and we knew they would deliver. And sure enough after going through the range we were even more impressed.

First up was the Knight 3 because this one intrigued me the most, simply because there aren’t many similar products like this out there in the market. It’s a very slim line (165mm wide), and stands only a petit 820mm high (760mm without spikes), with only two drivers, a 1” soft dome tweeter and a 5” bass driver. When I looked at the specs that state it can play down to 38hz I initially thought it was a bit optimistic… so unlike my normal routine of testing all things new first with a midrange test I decided to test the bass first.

Heavy Plinth

I was quickly put in my place, that claim is true!  Wow, how did Castle get that right in such a small floorstanding speaker?

Then I remembered why I always liked the Castle speaker’s bass so much. It’s the way they handle those bass waves inside the cabinet that is different to all other speakers and it now explains to me the angled wood plank I saw inside the box when I fitted the plinth. Castle owns Twin-pipe technology – a new type of transmission line implementation that vented through the speakers base onto its own plinth not towards the front or rear.

In most loudspeaker designs, room modes are easily excited by forward or rear-firing reflex ports, which can cause resonance and a resulting ‘boom’ at particular bass frequencies. Whilst giving an impression of good bass response, this boom frequency masks other frequencies making bass loose and slow. Using Twin-Pipe Technology inside the cabinet the bass response is extended without using unruly noisy reflex ports. This system couples the bass response within the cabinet enclosure using a twin-pipe quarter wave design to provide a smooth and even bass response which augments that from the main bass driver with clarity. Using a rigid yet light mixed-fibre cone material in the bass driver makes it fast enough to track the most complex score and its unique ‘TPT’ (Twin-Pipe Technology) extends the bass response of all its floor-standing models.

So there you have it and all I can add is: It works and it works amazingly in an almost unbelievable way. True it will never have the bass “volume” of say its bigger brother the Knight 5, but the Knight 3 ‘s bass is very pleasant to listen to and this is an ideal speaker for late night listening at a quieter volume  or perfect for small rooms.  Oh! I forgot to the mention the treble and midrange. The treble is nice and smooth which one would expect from a soft dome tweeter. The benefits are that the sound isn’t fatiguing, but they don’t have the sparkle of a say a Paradigm or B&W top end. So it’s a happy middle ground and it will please most except the extremists. That brings me to the midrange. Initially I thought it to be very rich and full bodied which accentuate the overall “big” sound I heard from these tiny floorstanders, but it was only after I listened to the “middle” brother the Knight 4 that I realised what I was missing, in comparison to the Knight 4 the midrange on the Knight 3 is set further back in the mix.

From left Knight 3, Knight 4 in Cherry and Knight 5 in Mahogany

Knight 4: Here I went my normal way of testing, starting with midrange first. I played the same track as on the Knight 3 and immediately I could hear more clarity, more presence in the voices and a more open sound compared to the Knight 3’s. So yes, a dedicated midrange driver makes a big difference.  The treble has the identical character of the 3’s and the bass I found almost identical to the 3 as well. I thought it would have a bit more bass due to the slight bigger cabinet… certainly it can play louder than the Knight 3 without sounding strained. So I concluded that this is the preferred speaker if you are into vocal music, Jazz or acoustic material.

Knight 5: This is a big speaker and I expected a big sound. I was not disappointed… it did all I expected it to do plus more. The mids are full, present and rich. The treble is clear and extended without any harshness and the bass is tight and deep. But to me the most satisfying character of  its sound was the fact that it has very little “boxiness” to its sound. I am over sensitive to most of the floorstanding speakers in the $2000 to $4000 range that has those dreaded drone-hollow sound in the upper bass and lower midrange. This makes them sound dull and mask the true complexity of natural sound.  Most of these defects are produced by cabinet resonance due to a cheap cabinet design, little or no bracing inside and poor decoupling of the drivers from the cabinet. This is the down fall of most big floorstanders under $4000. The Jamo D570 and D590 with their ellipse form cabinets were the first big floorstanding speakers I came across that nearly solved that problem completely. No wonder so many other modern speaker Brands have copied that curved body design.  To completely eliminate cabinet resonance you must have no cabinet at all, like the revolutionary Jamo R909 or the Magneplanar speakers. No wonder these are some of my favourite speakers. The Knight 5 has remarkably little cabinet resonance basically due to the extra internal bracing use to do the Twin-pipe bass loading. So I have to say this is a truly remarkable big floorstanding speaker and to me one of the best sounding floorstanding speakers under $3000 I have heard and its only $2299 a pair!

Knight 2 and Knight 1 (And the limited edition Richmond Anniversary model which I will review another time because it’s from… another world).

Knight 1: These are standmount speakers. The Knight 1 is a Medium sized standmount speaker.  What makes it special is the real wood finish! There are few standmount speakers finished in a real wood veneer and I am sure there are none at the price level of the Knight 1’s $699 or even the $999 price of the Knight 2. The Knight 1’s sound took me by surprise. I expected a thin weak sound but I was greeted with a rich warm full sound that asked for more when I turned up the power… If you are after a small standmount speaker in a real wood finish and are on a budget. This is it! There is nothing else, contact us for an audition today.

The Knight 2:  At first I almost thought the Castle Knight series didn’t need a big standmount speaker. The Knight 1 will cover most of the needs for a standmount speaker and can be used as rear speakers in a Home theatre set-up. However, I think a well designed and built big standmount speaker are in many ways the best way to go in a normal sized room. Big standmount speakers are in fact one of my favourite collectors speakers. They do not have that dreaded drone and hollow sound of so many floorstanders simply because you can make the cabinet so much stronger. The other plus factor is that you only have to get two drivers right to balance each other to get that critical coherence between the top, mid and bass right. My Jamo Concert 8 speakers are an excellent example of this. This EISA award winner was made by Jamo for nearly 15 years! True it was expensive at $4500, the Knight 2 is only $999 a pair… can it beat my Jamo Concert 8? …hell NO but it delivers a lot of performance for the money. It does not have the finesse at the top and the deep bass of the Concert 8’s but it has similarly exceptional midrange. Why do I compare this to my Concert 8? Because to me the Knight 2 does not have the same “family” sound as the rest of the Knight’s range. Ok they share the same drivers, they have the Knight 5’s width and depth but they have a tightness and authority to their sound that are really remarkable, so currently they are definitely my favourite Large standmount speaker under $1000.

So there you have it, the Castle Knight range has a speaker for everyone: Husband, wife, son or daughter… Rocker, easy listener or Jazz fan, no matter what your type of music you like, you will find a pair that will suit you. Even movie fans are most welcome; they have a matching centre and subwoofer to complete that picture as well.

Welcome back to New Zealand Castle, make yourself at home.

View the Castle range here, or contact us to arrange an audition.