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Floorstanding loudspeakers
Castle HOWARD S3

Price (in Poland): 8900 zł (pair)

Manufacturer: IAG Ltd.

Sovereign Court | Ermine Business Park
Huntingdon Cambs | PE29 6XU, UK
tel.: (01480) 447700 | fax: (01480) 431767



Distribution in Poland: Eter Audio
Country of origin: Great Britain/China

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Photographs: Wojciech Pacuła/Piksel Studio
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

It is assumed, that history is seen in general in two ways – like a straight line, with a starting and ending point, where we talk about development, accumulation or like a circle, where we deal with a kind of fatalism, historical inevitability – here is no beginning, no ending, there is at most a “transitional period”, the true history, leading inescapably to “fulfillment” and “complementation”, returning to its beginning. When we assume, that those two visions describe the history well, then the Castle supports the second view brilliantly.

The company Castle Acoustic was founded on September 3rd, 1973 as a spin-off from the company Wharfedale. The Wharfedale Wireless Company established in 1932 is one of the oldest, still active audio companies. To a large extent this company is responsible for the British audio, its development and bloom. In the 60-ties and 70-ties the company recorded an extraordinary growth, what changed the methods of production from manual to mass production. And this was reflected in the quality and looks of the loudspeakers. This was the reason, that a group of directors and managers left Wharfedale and founded their own company, Castle Acoustic, locating it north from their old company, in Skipton. They returned to manual manufacturing of the cabinets in their workshop, veneering them with natural veneers, etc, and made that their identification mark.
Almost twenty years later two of the founders retired. The company was bought from them by the younger generation, in fact another group of directors from Wharfedale, who introduced new blood, new order, keeping those things, that distinguished Castle from other companies.

The beginning of the 21st century was not very fortunate for the company – the company was close to bankruptcy (making their own cabinets, expensive veneers became their ballast – the Chinese did it much cheaper; but did they do it better? – this is another story) and was bought by two brothers – Michael and Bernard Chang, the owners of IAG. IAG, International Audio Group, is one of the most interesting companies. It was created out of true passion and is led by music lovers and audiophiles, millionaires, who decided to use their money for their passion, and which grew to one of the biggest companies in the world. Today the following brands are in their portfolio: QUAD, Audiolab, Mission, Luxman, Castle, Wharfedale Pro, QUAD Industrial, Apogee Lighting, Coef, FAL, IAG Yachts, Surgex and – yes, yes – Wharfedale. And this is how the history has made a full circle – two companies, so closely bound together, have a common owner and their loudspeakers are manufactured in the same factory – completely on their own from A to Z (cabinets, drivers, cabling, passive elements, etc).
Of course the brothers Chang do not care about Castle alone. The head of the brand is Peter Comeau, and the head of engineering is the son of one of Castle’s founders. The engineering bureau and executive offices are located in Great Britain, however all production has been transferred to China. The politics of IAG is based not only on buying the brand name, but also the whole documentation, employing the original designers and constructors, and – if this is possible – buying the original machines, which are transferred to China. Due to that they keep the maximum of the heritage of a given company, adding to that production capabilities. I’ll just add, that the marketing and sales departments are located in Huntingdon, five miles from the original location of Wharfedale from 1932 in Yorkshire.


A selection of recordings used in the test:

  • Daft Punk, Homework, Virgin, 8426092, CD (1996).
  • David Sylvian, Sleepwalkers, P-Vine Records, PVCP-8790, CD (2011).
  • Dinah Washington, After Hours With Miss “D”, EmArcy/Verve, Verve Master Edition, 760562, CD (2004).
  • Jean Michel Jarre, Equinoxe, Dreyfus/Mobile Fidelity, UDCD 678, gold-CD.
  • Jean Michel Jarre, Téo&Téa, Aero Productions/Warner Bros, 2564699766, CD+DVD (2007).
  • Melody Gardot, My One And Only Thrill, Verve/Universal, 1796783, CD (2009).
  • Nosowska, 8, Supersam Music, SM 01, CD (2011);

Japanese versions of the discs are available on CD Japan.

The IAG loudspeakers à la Castle resemble to a large extent what I remember from times, when I was the proud owner of bookshelf speakers made by that company – those were my first “serious” hi-fi speakers. This is a slightly warm, full and brilliantly mannered sound. We could talk about an “English” character of the sound, when talking about them, but now, in the second decade of the XXI millennium, any kind of “national” character of the sound is only a memory of the past.
The Castle loudspeakers are characterized with a few things, that are hard to find elsewhere and they will decide if this is “our” sound of not. They have their weaker sides, like anything in the world, but also strong ones, from which some are searched for in even high-end systems and often are not found even there.
The sound of the Howard S3 is big, saturated, oversaturated even. It is splendidly audible, that a large cabinet, a thought through way of loading the woofer do not have the goal of imitating a subwoofer, not booming but amending the midrange – the most important and especially critical part of the audible frequency range.
I hope that you see where I am aiming at – the bass, although big, full, strong and just plain nice, is not the main element of this sound. It is used here to build a large volume, it underlines the fullness of the midrange. This intention, if I read it right, was successfully implemented. The voices are exceptional in their saturation and fleshiness. Melody Gardot from My One And Only Thrill, from whom I started the listening session, was reproduced in a convincing, sensual way. At the same time, her vocal was not pushed forward, this Is not the case, that the voice is underlined and jumps out of the mix, being located close to us. The sound of the Castle is located on the loudspeaker line and behind it. This is a slightly withdrawn, I mean an unobtrusive sound. The loudspeakers built a large sound stage, something in the form of a bubble, but not in front of them, not in front of our nose.
I mentioned Gardot in the very beginning with a purpose – in such kind of a text coincidences are rather a flaw than a real coincidence… Already with that disc it was audible, that small ensembles sound extraordinarily well with the Howard S3. I will tell about electronics shortly, it is even nicer, but here and now the first information is more important – small ensembles.

It could seem, that this is not how it should be, that a large cabinet, two drivers, a kind of labyrinth, other things – all this should pre-destine those loudspeaker to strong, dynamic sounding and they should get wings with large orchestras, with – for example – Wagner they should fly off, together with us… I am writing “they should” not because “this is how it should be and this is not an error”, but because the looks of the Howard S3 triggers stereotypical thinking and this is what brings the “should” to the surface. And, I think, that their sound, especially the bass, is a result of compromises, assumptions, used drivers and cabinet. And amongst them the most important was probably the creation of a sound, which is very well assimilated. This is why we do not have such a strong and energetic bass, like from PMC OB1i, where it dictated the rules and created the sound as a whole. The Castle have a beautiful, deep bass, which does not reach very far down. Rather its saturation in the whole reproduced frequency range was the goal, and its integration with the midrange. This is the reason, that very low passages from the discs Téo&Téa J.M. Jarre and Homework Daft Punk did not have such animal power, like with the PMC or my Harbeth. But at the same time there was no booming, like it is usually generated by those discs in other loudspeakers. We could say, that this is a fantastically controlled bass, if not the fact, that this control is not audible – this is no punctual bass, with which such control is usually associated. This is rather a Harbeth type bass, where this is just a natural thing – nothings draws attention to itself. And this is the first cognitive dissonance – between that, what we see and what we hear.

The second one comes almost at the same time with the first one, as soon as we notice, that there is no subwoofer, but a very big bookshelf speaker. It is about electronics. Discs from Jarre, Daft Punk, Kraftwerk, etc, got wings with the Howard S3 – they involved us in their world, sucked us into a warm, quite dynamic, always attractive world.
This is interesting, because with large ensembles, with many instruments playing unison, the loudspeakers get a little lost and lose analytical qualities for large sound spots. I think, this is only a supposition, that it is about a combination of a big, full midrange (volume) and exceptional stereophony. The latter is not about creation of clear, separated virtual sound sources, we do not have palpable voices – it is rather about its size and freedom.
This will be the first or second thing we’ll notice – the Castle have a large sound, also in terms of space. I got used to this exceptional quality with the Harbeth, but the Castle show, that this can be approached for not so much money. I’ll repeat – this is not the kind of sound, like for example from loudspeakers German Physiks HRS 120 Carbon. This is a more massive, stronger way of creating the space. For example when in the piece Beautiful Agony Jarre (for clarity – this is about orgasm…) a characteristic female voice is heard, then it is just behind us – the rhythm and melody is in the front, and we hear a strong, beautiful sound just behind our head. This is of course a trick with counterphase, but this is the kind of music, that the Castle play in a very tasteful, credible way. Maybe the combination of fullness, control, depth and a large bubble of space resulted in electronic music sounding so exquisite, really incredibly involving.

So we deal here with a full, saturated midrange and bass brilliantly glued to it – in fact it is hard to talk about those two separately; this is a unanimous, smooth range. Bravo! But we have to notice a certain characteristic, which will define the electronics used with the Castle.
The tweeter used in the Howard S3, a very nice one, without pins and needles, without sharpness is really not a very high quality driver. A large cabinet, splendid craftsmanship, splendid sound, etc, almost force us to utter statements like “it should cost twice as much”. But I think we should cure ourselves from that kind of thinking (I am thinking about myself) – now everybody tries to make sensible manufacturing, meaning cutting costs where possible, where possible investing only in key elements for them, and this is not only the “China syndrome”. Here the cheapest element is the mentioned tweeter. Its reverb is not very long, and the attack is slightly hardened. This is why it sometimes attracts attention to itself – not by sharpness, but with a harder element, which is not present in the rest of the sound spectrum. This is the reason, that I would recommend even electronics to drive the Howard S3, maybe even a slightly warm one. In this case I would not worry about an overlap of the characters of the amplifier and loudspeakers – this is not the case here. Good electronics and the Castle will support each other, they will not fight each other. The loudspeakers are not very resolving, or selective, but even a warm tube amplifier – this can be divine! – will not make the sound mudded. This will not be a boomy sound. Maybe there will not be too many details, but – please believe me – we will not miss those. Those loudspeakers offer something else, they offer fullness, breath and depth of sound. I would listen to them with the Music Hall 70.2, with the Orion II Ayon Audio, with the amplifier Hegel H70, or with the splendid IA-30T Linear Audio Research, etc. I would think over using less powerful devices, with smaller current output, because in this case the more we have – the better. Those are beautiful, fantastically made loudspeakers with a surprisingly even frequency response. Their main assets are: brilliant midrange, combined with fleshy bass, lack of annoying booming and rumbling, and despite that a big, saturated sound. And exceptional stereophony. The drivers used in the Castle, especially the tweeter, are not the last word in terms of resolution and selectiveness, for example Dynaudio is much better in that area. But in terms of integration of the drivers, their application in the cabinet, then I give respect, full respect…


The loudspeakers were placed on anti-vibration platforms Acoustic Revive RST-38 next to my Harbeth M40.1, which I moved aside for this reason. To counteract the movement of the M40.1 woofers, I shorted their terminals. The tweeter of the Howard S3 was on the same height as the midrange driver of the Harbeth, what means a little higher than my ears. The loudspeakers were turned inwards in such a way, that the axes of the loudspeakers crossed behind my head. The tweeters were positioned on the inside. The top grille was in place, while the front one was removed. I used the jumpers supplied with the loudspeakers.


The Howard S3, from the classic series, are the biggest loudspeakers from the company Castle. This is a floor standing loudspeaker, with three drivers, two-and-a-half way. Two midwoofers were employed, with a diameter of 150mm each, and a soft dome tweeter with a 28mm diameter. The two first use a diaphragm from woven carbon fiber, with a dust cup in a shape of a phase corrector and a cast carcass. The voice coil is made from aluminum, copper coated wire. Especially for this construction especially shaped pole shoes were made, which increased dynamics. The tweeter has a soft, impregnated diaphragm. It is placed in a short, wide tube, which rather improves directionality than efficiency.
Two speakers were mounted on the front baffle, with the tweeter below the midwoofer and shifted from the middle axis.
The bigger driver is loaded with a kind of a labyrinth cabinet, its version called “quarter wave”. The second driver, placed on the top cover. Together they create a set called “twin pipe quarter wave”, with the outlet on the bottom plate. Each is tuned to a different frequency. The load creates a plinth – the air exits by a narrow slit between the cabinet walls and the plinth. This is done by a MDF plate, running through the whole height of the cabinet, dividing it into two parts – the front and back one. Near to the back of the cabinet there is another plate, this time placed at an angle, creating a labyrinth for the top speaker. This part is almost not damped.
The driver with the diaphragm facing forward is placed in a small sub-chassis, heavily damped and open from below to the rest of the chamber. The cabinet is made from 18mm MDF reinforced with wreaths and the internal division plate of the speaker load system. It is beautifully veneered with a natural veneer – for testing I received the version “ancient oak”. The whole cabinet is supported by large spikes with plastic pads.
The cross-over is mounted on a removable plate on the back. The manufacturer writes, that the connections are point-to-point, that there are ICW capacitors. The internal cabling is CasWire – made by Castle themselves. I confirm – we have there large and very large polypropylene capacitors with Castle logo on them, an air coil for the tweeter, and two, very big core coils on transformer carcasses for the two remaining drivers. All elements of this construction are made in one place, in the Chinese IAG factory. The company writes also about WBT wire terminals – and in reality the ones used look very well. They are placed in twos, for each section. The jumpers are very nice cables with spades – this is the same cable as used for the internal wiring. Those are really worth noticing, as usually we get only gold plated, thin metal strips.

Technical data (according to manufacturer):
Frequency response: 35Hz-20kHz
Nominal impedance: 8Ω
Efficiency: 90dB/1W/1m
Amplifier power: 25-175W
Dimensions (HxWxD): 1000 x 210 x 335mm
Weight: 26kg

Distribution in Poland: Eter Audio

Contact: ul. Malborska 24 | 30-646 Kraków
tel./fax: 0048 12 425 51 20/30 | tel. kom.: 0048 507 011 858


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