EQUIPMENT USED IN THIS REVIEW INCLUDED:
Origin Live Resolution Turntable With Full Manufacturer’s Upgrade Package
Origin Live Illustrious Tonearm with silver wire harness upgrade
ZYX Ultimate 100/Z
Allnic Audio H-1202 phono
ifi iPhono3 phono
PRE / POWER
Allnic Audio L-5000 DHT preamp
Thor TPA 60 Monoblocks
ARC Reference 110 (KT150’s)
Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor M
CABLES AND ACCESSORIES
PS Audio P10, Harmonic Technology Pro-Silway III RCA, Bogdan Audio Toto RCA’s, Tara Labs Master Speaker Cables, Anti-Cables 2.1 speaker cables, various isolation accessories etc etc.
Castle Acoustics Harlech S1 Speaker Review (Retro)
My long time love/hate relationship with Craigslist has turned up another little gem – the venerable UK classic Castle Acoustics Harlech.
The elegant cabinet design of the Castle Acoustics Harlech and its curved front grills make this speaker instantly recognizable, at least if you’re English, and over 40!
This bi-amp / bi-wire capable loudspeaker which sports Kevlar woofers, soft-dome 1.25″ tweeters, and a unique twin pipe quarter wave bottom port, was entirely hand-made in the UK, with all manufacturing processes taking place under the same roof.
Castle Acoustics was founded in 1973 and bought out later by a group of former Wharfedale employees. Dropping the ‘Acoustics’ and becoming simply ‘Castle’ at some point in their past, they were eventually absorbed by the International Audio Group, which owns British HiFi manufacturers: Wharfedale, Quad, Mission, Tag McLaren, and Audiolab. Though the Castle website is still online (castle.uk.co) it does appear that production ceased some years ago. The last post on their Facebook page was 2016.
The small range of Castle speakers was designed and made entirely in-house, to stringent quality standards. Strong emphasis was placed on creating beautifully appointed cabinets that looked like fine sculptural furniture. Using sumptuous mirror-matched veneers and beautifully detailed cabinets – the Castle Acoustics brand was all about creating quality heirloom speakers with the finest attention to the smallest detail.
Though winner of the venerable HiFi Choice Award and featuring a modest $2,400 MSRP back in the day(CIRCA 2000), the Harlech ought to have gained a lot more traction in the USA than it did. But alas, it remains as a very rare bird on US shores, which is a shame IMHO because I believe it sounds better than many of the other British offerings, including those from Monitor Audio, smaller ProAc, and several in the older Harbeth lineup.
The Castle Harlech is a fairly unusual design incorporating a top mid-woofer that helps to create a very spacious sound field while retaining quite good imaging ability. The bottom section of the tower ends in a fluted port which fires into a wooden base. It is invisible unless you flip the speaker over to look at the underside, and the gap between the port outlet and the wooden base is factory set.
The image below shows the Castle Knight’s quasi transmission line bass system, which is similar in design principle to the Harlech’s.
In terms of the style of presentation, the Harlech is certainly more ‘musical’ than it is accurate. It has that slight dip in the midrange, common to many British loudspeakers (“BBC Dip” – midrange brightness is clipped slightly by the BBC dip, making the speaker less forward sounding, less fatiguing, and a touch more ‘polite’, just like your typical British person 🙂
Bass is certainly a strong point with the Harlech, it blends seamlessly with the rest of the frequency range and gives the effect of going quite deep. I haven’t measured the LF response but it has sufficient weight, solidity and extension to negate the need for a subwoofer unless you’re incorporating home theatre into your system. Though spec’d at a 45hz low, I’m certain there’s plenty of output down into the lowish 30’s, in fact, the dabbling I did with subwoofers always resulted in an overall negative, so I preferred to just leave them out altogether.
The Harlech’s main weakness is in a slightly rolled-off top end. It doesn’t have quite the air and sparkle afforded by more modern driver technology, yet it does manage to retrieve a good amount of detail.
Its main strength, to my ears, is in the purity of the midrange. It has a wonderfully transparent presentation that is seamlessly balanced and coherent top to bottom, and even though slightly reticent, the midrange offered by this speaker is a real tough act to follow. It actually brought back memories of my long-gone Quad ESL 57’s with the purity of tone and timbre, a sheer delight to listen to.
If you see a pair of Castle speakers for sale on the used markets, I highly recommend you grab them and give them a try. Though there’s very little historic sales data available on the Harlech’s, if you picked up a pair in good functional and cosmetic condition and they set you back anywhere up to $1200, I’d almost guarantee that you’d be pleased with the value of your purchase.
- CASTLE ACOUSTICS HARLECH SERIES 2 SPEAKER SPECIFICATIONS: (the reviewed item is S1 not S2)
- * Design: Twin Pipe Quarter Wave Bottom Ported
- … Tweeter: 1.25” Soft Dome
- … Woofer: 2 x 5” Woven Carbon Fiber (Kevlar), Cast Chassis
- * Frequency Response: 45 Hz to 20,000 Hz
- * Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- * Sensitivity: 89 dB
- * Amplifier Requirements: 25 – 150 Watts
- * Dimensions:
- … Height: 36.0” (915mm)
- … Width: 7.9” (200mm)
- … Depth: 13.2” (335mm)
- * Weight: 53 pounds each unpackaged
The speakers shown/reviewed are not S2`s, they`re the original Harlechs. The S2`s have black Carbon fibre bass/mid drivers, a completely different tweeter and sound nothing like each other !
Cool…thanks for the heads-up!
Yes Shadrake, I concur. The model reviewed is the 1st Gen, the original Harlech speakers as that’s what I am listening to. I have a question, any idea where can I get replacement black carbon fibre bass/mid drivers?
I have a great love for the warm detailed sound of British amps and speakers. I have an Arcam Alpha 9 integrated amps (actually, 2 of them), an Alpha 9 Power Amplifier, and an Arcam Delta 290 and 290P (power amplifier).
Today, after a couple of years of non-use, I resurrected my Alpha 9 amp. I had a problem with hiss and loss of sound on my left channel. I did some amateur quick-fix with spraying WD40’s Specialist Fast Drying Contact Cleaner under the hood. Zapped the potentiometers, electric motors, and switches. It seems to have worked.
Finally jacked them into my Castle Harlech speakers (the best of British). The Arcam Alpha 9 and the Castles was “magic”. I have always been a fan of the in-house build philosophy of Castle. Sadly, both Arcam and Castle are not built in the UK anymore. My Harlech’s are a gem which I bought decades years. I had blown the mid-range speakers about 15 years ago with poor bi-amping of my Arcam integrated and power amplifiers. After replacing the speakers at a huge cost (I live in Malaysia), I then got my local specialist store to rewire the innards with high-end matched cabling.
Today, I spent a few hours listening to some great music through my Castle Harlech’s. Love them.
I am considering buying a pair of S1s. I would be bi-amping with Arcam Alpha 7 integrated and Diva P80 power amp, so I’m curious about your experience of blowing the mid-ranges with Arcam amps.
They are wonderful things, those Harelchs, especially so the mk2 iteration*, with the carbon mid-woofers, which, together with the new, higher quality tweeter, they exude an elusive electrostatic midrange! Have been gone through various Hi End and Hi Fi loudspeakers over my years, these Castle speakers speak softly and sentimentally about music, without any histrionics, usually found in today’s quest for extreme high fidelity, leaving your brain at ease and your heart full of emotion and warmth, whatever the music!
*had the mk1 back in 1998 and they stayed long but this time the mk2 will remain as a second system forever!
Kaz…curious to know what amp you favour with the Castle Harlech?
Great review. I have the a pair of Howard S3’s which are the bigger brother to the Harlech S2’s, both of which have the newer black carbon designed drivers. No idea if the is a source for the drivers nowadays. In the early 2000’s I was able to order a new wooden plinth (base) and have it shipped over from the UK by way of May Audio. Probably not a viable source for replacement Castle parts any longer.
Unfortunately I’ve never heard the S1 version of either speaker before.
Got a pair of S1 Harlech S1s myself. Decided to recap them as upper treble was rather too dull for my tastes. The original capacitors are of surprisingly high quality for what Castle were asking for them new; Claritycap SA’s throughout (although at the time, they were marked as ICW, who are the parent company of Claritycap). I found that the best option was to stay with Claritycaps, but upgrade to CSAs. This is because I did try Jantzen sliver Z’s and these did open up the top end beautifully, but they also mucked up the upper mid balance between woofer and tweeter, and so we’re a non starter.
Interesting. I never really thought about a re-cap. Is the SA to CSA worthwhile, or is it worth trying something more exotic?
I have a pair of the Harlechs S1, with all original parts, in the Yew finish. I bought them used in 2014. I am powering them with Cambridge Audio 851A. I simply love these speakers. Warm, soft, very musical, the sound is classic British with accuracy of reproduction the goal, not exaggerated bass or treble to impress the beginner. I found they needed a fairly powerful amplifier. I started with the CA 651A, at 75W/ch, but found them a little laid back. They came alive when I upgraded to the 851A at 120W/ch. I also paired them with a Paradigm SE Sub, tuned with Paradigm’s PBK (Perfect Base Kit). The sub filled out the bass subtly and very is very musical. The end result is nirvana for me. Wether CDs or streaming, the music carries itself and fills the room with beautiful mids, crips highs, and detailed and warm bass without getting boomy. Vocals, especially female vocals, are magical. These speakers love jazz and classical, especially fine with piano, but they can also hold their own with prog rock. Unless I win the lottery and upgrade to Tannoys and McIntosh amps, this is my forever 2 channel rig.
Nice review of the Harlechs. I own the same integrated amp as you – that’s the most underrated product out there! It’s a fantastic amp. I’ve had mine for years and heard it trounce far more expensive amps, even a pre/power combo from Krell, worth upwards of $25K