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