Castle Compact 5.1 Home Theatre Loudspeaker System REVIEW

$2499

5 Stars

Short on space but needing sound quality in both hi-fi and HT? Castle may have a Compact answer.

BACK IN 2006, I sold the last brand new set of English-made Castle Compact speaker packs on NZ soil. I remember the speakers well, having sold them at retail level for about six years, until the eventual demise of Castle as an English owned company.

For such a compact system they had exceptional balance and poise as a music solution, but had enough welly and headroom to do justice to the most demanding movie soundtracks.

Yes, there was a lump in my throat as I passed the boxes over to the new owner. A short time later, Castle had bitten the dust financially and I was ready to relegate the iconic brand to the history books.

But now Castle has risen from the ashes like a phoenix reborn, and happily, they’ve kept true to their history by re-introducing favourites such as the Howard, Avon and now the sweet little Compacts.

They have made improvements along the way, with new crossovers, drivers and slightly reworked cabinetry, but the end result is unmistakeably Castle. Amen!

Satellites/Centre

It’s a well-worked theme – four satellites take care of the main L+R and surround duties, with a dedicated centre and the 150w active cube subwoofer. All units are beautifully wrapped in a real-wood veneer, and this veneering extends to the internal surfaces for extra rigidity. Both the centre LCR and satellites use the same drivers – a 20mm fabric dome HF unit and 110mm glass fibre bass-mid driver (the centre doubles up on the main drivers in a horizontal MTM configuration), while Castle has eschewed the norm by using sealed enclosures. That’s excellent in terms of speed and agility (and ease of placement, no port ‘chuffing’, for instance) but the trade-off should be a reduction in sensitivity. Sure enough, the Satellites have a fairly low 86db efficiency, but the slightly larger centre LCR chimes in with a respectable 91db spec.

Helping out here is a nominal 8ohms impedance, meaning the system will be an easy load for practically every HT receiver on the market. The centre and satellites are pre-threaded on the rear panel for wall mounting, while the non-bi-wire terminals are of a good quality and will accept banana plugs/spades or reasonably thick bare cable.

Subwoofer

The Cube subwoofer uses an 18mm MDF ported enclosure, with a large ‘double trumpet’ port located underneath the cabinet. A decent gap between floor and enclosure is ensured by the large conical feet and although of plastic construction, the feet were very sturdy and up to the job of supporting the reasonably hefty cube. Sporting a 250mm air dried paper cone and a class A/B amplifier, the Cube can accept either high level speaker inputs or line level via RCA. Phase, crossover point and attenuation (volume, in other words) are all adjustable via the back connection panel. The Cube also has line level outputs, and so can be inserted between a preamp and power amplifier if required. Auto on/off (signal sensing) is incorporated, as is Castle’s proprietary ‘Time Power Sense Limiter’, which will protect your Cube if that idiot friend of yours decides to go ape with the volume control. My advice: find some better friends!

Aesthetically, the Castle Compacts scream traditionalism over gimmickery, and the cabinetry is ‘old school’ but in a very good way. Thank goodness they didn’t go crazy and coat the things in bloody plastic and garish badges – IAG has just carried on where the old Castle left off with superb workmanship and sound electro-acoustic design.

Set-up

Both Satellites were positioned on spiked stands either side of my 55-inch TV panel and 100-inch projection screen, while I carefully removed my Castle Richmond 3i’s from their brackets just behind my couch and replaced them with the surround Satellites. The Centre LCR naturally took its place directly underneath the screen/s. This was also a chance to use my HT system without using the pre-outs on my HT receiver (usually to my Audiolab 8200CDQ in HT Bypass mode), so I gleefully connected both Satellites and Centre to my near-new Onkyo TX-NR3900 and disconnected my trusty Castle Classic sub, replacing it with the spunky Cube.

My room dimensions are around 5m x 7m. Would the Compacts have enough welly for my environment?

Sources for both music and movies were the exemplary Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player, with streamed content across my network provided by the ubiquitous Apple TV3.

After a few minutes running Onkyo’s excellent Audyssey microphone calibration system on the 3009 (the advanced setting) I was ready to rock. Or is that rumble?

Listening Session – Movies

As the system was brand new and hadn’t been run in at all, I was expecting a rather different result to the one I experienced. From the get-go the Castles sounded exceptional, giving little away to my much larger HT speaker system, if anything. Sound quality from this elegant sub/sat speaker combo was equally good with both movies and music, and I gorged myself with both while in possession of the Castles.

I love superhero movies (no, it’s not about dudes wearing their underpants on the outside) and that’s where I started, with The Avengers (in DTS-HD Master Audio): a rollicking action-fest with plenty of special effects, a killer cast and a decent sense of humour to boot. The Compacts really made the film come alive in terms of sonic impact and detail, and I’m happy to say my concerns around whether they would have the balls to fill my room with quality sound were very much unfounded. Sounds panning from left to right/front to back were extremely precise and dynamic, while the Cube sub kept up with the loud bits spectacularly well with a very good low-end performance. That sub is extremely nimble and articulate and although just pipped by my larger Classic sub in terms of overall bottom end response (it has a 300mm driver/300w amp) there really wasn’t much in it at all.

Adding to the experience was the clarity of the Centre LCR: for such a tiny cabinet it really does communicate what’s happening on-screen well. Dialogue was clear and conscise, and a perfect timbral match to the satellites. That’s the beauty of using the same drivers in an HT loudspeaker system. One scene in particular was the dialogue between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson – woof!) and Loki, and their conversation was extremely clear and lifelike – well, as lifelike as a wee chat between a demigod and super assassin would be, I guess.

Prometheus has a vastly more serious undertone, and here the Castles also shone, from the deep rumble of the spacecraft’s motors to the eerie sounds inside the alien building – all reproduced with tension, detail and super clarity. While both movies have their share of bangs and crashes, it’s the small things such as sounds in the background, voice quality and micro-detail that make a home theatre loudspeaker system either ordinary or extra-ordinary.

Listening Session – Music

If you’re going to plump for a speaker system that can do movies and music it had better be a good ‘un, and I’m happy to say the Compacts didn’t disappoint with music either. Loading up the BDP-95 with Beck’s Seachange (24/88.2 DVD-Audio Multichannel), I sat back with coffee in hand and awaited the opening note.

It sounded excellent – Beck’s plaintive vocals came across with the love-lorn pathos I’ve heard from my two channel rig, and although missing out on out-and-out scale, it really did draw me into the performance. Once again, the Cube didn’t quite plumb the depths that my Classic sub can reach, but that sub retailed for $3600 – more than the cost of the entire Compact system combined.

Two channel audio was equally impressive, with Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True providing an enjoyable listen in 24/96K flac quality via the multi-talented Oppo.

Conclusion

It’s a qualified five star result then, for Castle’s beaut little Compact system. I only wish I’d held on to that last set I sold back in ’06: while enjoying this system during my review sessions I kept staring at the wall either side of my screens and wishing I’d cabled in-wall and set the Satellites up as a separate HT system, leaving my 2-channel rig unencumbered with HT duties.

That, my friends, is the benefit of hindsight. Five stars? By crikey, it’s a definite yes. GARY PEARCE

www.capisco.co.nz

2 Comments

  1. Hey Gary

    How coincidental you posted your review on the day I decided to Google these little fellas. I recently picked up a set of these, the originals from a few years back. Got them for £140 delivered. They’re absolutely beautiful, to the extent that even my wife likes them. Which is a borderline miracle. I paired them with a Harman/Kardon amp but was getting a somewhat muffled centre. Tried a Sony amp and it definitely seems cleaner. Perhaps the HK is not a good match for the Castles. I dunno. Got a terrible feeling my centre may be damaged in some way.

    Anyway, good to read your review and even better to know these are being made again. I may require a centre speaker if it turns out mine does indeed have a problem. I only ran the Sony for an hour so lots of testing to do.

    Thanks again for the review! All the best from Scotland.

    Graham

  2. Gidday Graham,
    What a steal you’ve scored there!Looks like you’ve got a duff centre there, it should sound crystal clear. I’d get it checked out by a repair outfit. The good news is that the IAG buyout of Castle hasn’t been detrimental to the quality of sound or build – it’s business as usual.
    Let me know if you ever decide to sell the Compacts and I’ll pop around, cash in hand!

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