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Castle Knight 1 Speakers – Small Package, Big Surprise

We thought it was time to write an article on one of our favourite products because it has such a wide appeal and such astounding value – the Castle Knight 1 bookshelf speaker.
When Castle was formed 30 years ago, the founding concept was to be a complete loudspeaker manufacturer (cabinets, circuitry, and drivers) and despite changing times and the globalization of manufacturing, Castle still retains this as the basis for the company while the majority of other competitors use 3rd party suppliers for their parts.

Castle products are developed through sophisticated research in acoustics engineering, while retaining the traditionalvirtues of musicality and aesthetics – a perfect balance of form and function.

The Knight 1 is Castle’s cheapest bookshelf in the Knight range ($499) and is exemplary of Castle’s class leadingproducts. Available in a choice of two real wood veneers (cherry or black ash), the Knight 1’s sport a proprietary 135mm cone woofer matched to a 25 mm textile dome tweeter. Frequency response is rated at 46-24,000 Hz with sensitivity of 88db, pretty exceptional for a small box like this. The speaker is finished in a mirror-imaged veneer and covers all sides. The finish is so precise, we can think of no other speaker under $1000 with such a high level of cabinetry. Connections include two sets of chunky gold-plated five-way binding posts for those wishing to experiment with bi-wiring. A small flared rear port fits perfectly flush on the back.

Unpacking the speakers is a pleasure, each is individually wrapped in its own cloth bag with white gloves for handling – a nice touch for such a modestly priced product! The Knight 1’s like a heavy 24” stand and work well with as little as 20 watts. In practice 40 is ideal and they work exceptionally well with EL34 or 6550 tube amps, and a number of our customers are using them with $3000+ amplifiers! The Knight 1’s are able to resolve the quality in upstream electronics quite easily, but are not a fussy load and any neutral amp at a modest price point will suit them just fine. Our top combo is the Mies i100 for $499.00.

The Knight 1’s have a sound that can be best described as musically cohesive from top to bottom. Given the $499 price point to which it is designed, there was little in the way of significant comprises across the spectrum. The treble is vividly detailed without being overly bright (an almost universal flaw in most speakers these days), the bass is taut and offers a slight boost in the 60 Hz region which gives it an overall sense of warmth and punchiness. We can see this speaker offering a lot of appeal to both Naimies and to lovers of jazz and small classical works, it has enough swing factor that is can play subtly with great rhythm or really rock out if you give it a big amp and some volume. For a speaker of this size, it also has remarkable bass extension and power handling for dance and other dynamic types of music. For a listener who needs more “slam” the very gradual rolloff means it is exceptionally easy to match with a good subwoofer, such as our favourite REL T7 ($1199), for a truly large room live-dynamic sound.

We’ve left the midrange for last because it’s a bit special. Only when comparing to Harbeth P3ESR’s for example, which retails for 4 times more, did we find the mids slightly reticent and missing the last degree of immediacy, but under $1000 there is not a single speaker to touch it, and it will handily beat the majority up to $2k. Tracks such as “Angoisse” from Serge Gainsbourg’s “Du Jazz dans le ravin” is an especially good test for midrange purity. Here there is a robustness and presence the sax which recalls moments of Quad ESL-57. Really nicely textured. Vocals too are perfectly balanced, we’ve found many speakers at this price point suffering from “midrange suck out” syndrome with the resulting sound too sizzly in the highs and/or an artificially boosted bass to create an impression of excitement. The Knight 1’s are an audiophile and music lover’s speakers in a very holistic sense. They are firmly situated in the English BBC tradition of being faithful to a recording so that one can forget about the “qualities” of the sound, and simply embrace the enjoyment of the music.

Over 5 years ago, a speaker of this quality would have cost upwards of $1,500 (and many of the old-standby’s still do), but the Knight 1 is one of the positive outcomes of an increasingly global manufacturing environment and affords the average consumer a true taste of high end on a pork and beans budget. Our favourite speaker under $1000, for only $499.

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