Castle Richmond 7i £900
1st Nov 2006 | 00:00
Castle's tower speaker turns in a storming performance
Castle says that its widely lauded standmount speaker, the Richmond 3i, has set new standards not only for Castle but the industry as a whole, and that the all-new Richmond 7i - under consideration here - is set to do the same for the floorstanding market.
At first glance, there's nothing exceptional about the Castle 7i; it's a modest-looking, smartly finished floorstander that does little to attract attention to itself.
This, considering the amount of time one spends listening to a loudspeaker compared to the amount of time it sits mute in the room being a piece of furniture, is no bad thing.
In fact, it is a consideration whose importance escapes many people; until, that is, their aesthetically sensitive significant other quietly, or otherwise, brings it to their notice.
Similarly, its construction seems outwardly unremarkable. However, its apparent simplicity barely hints at the amount of effort that went into its voicing and fine-tuning: in particular, the attention that was paid in order to elicit from it a bass performance that is especially engaging and a top end delivery that, while detailed and assertive, doesn't threaten to scrape the enamel off the listener's teeth.
The Richmond 7i is a three-unit, two-way design that employs a pair of Castle-designed, 130mm, carbon-fibre coned bass units, developed from those used in the popular 3i, alongside a 25mm, fabric-domed Vifa tweeter.
The drivers are integrated by a bi-wirable, third-order, Linkwitz-Riley crossover that uses carefully-selected components including Silicon Iron inductors, which Castle contends are the best for bass speed and tunefulness, and polypropylene capacitors to give detailed, naturalistic treble.
These all sit in a discrete chamber within the base of the cabinet to avoid compression and vibration effects.
The cabinet itself is formed from 18mm, matched veneer MDF, which is braced and ported to offer the sort of bass performance one would perhaps expect from a more expensive loudspeaker, along with an overall sense of naturalness and rightness about the rest of the spectrum.
Particular care was taken over the internal damping to maintain this balance: too much was felt to give a sound that appeared over-damped and too dry while too little allowed the cabinet to contribute too much to the sound, which gave results that were too 'noisy'.
According to Castle's PR, there is an ideal balance between a total absence of cabinet intrusion and an amount - albeit tiny - that the ear finds natural and acceptable.
After all, in our everyday lives we rarely hear music emerging from absolute silence so why should sound emerging from a perfectly silent loudspeaker appear natural? Or so the argument goes.
If this appears more evolution than revolution, then that fits the company profile. Some thirty years after its foundation, the company (still British owned and managed) remains based in the same place in which it began life, Skipton in North Yorkshire, and still maintains its long-standing, initial philosophy.
This involves the combination of using the latest advances in technology alongside honest, old-fashioned, hands-on craftsmanship.
There is, however, no hint of xenophobia about this operation; Castle's design and management teams have forged an excellent working relationship with the loudspeaker world's leading hired gun. Who else but Germany's renowned designer, Karl-Heinz Fink - who designed the 7i as well as the acclaimed 3i.
Our 7i review samples were finished in an attractively figured book-matched Cherrywood veneer but, as is customary with Castle's designs, the speakers can be ordered in one of seven other standard veneers if preferred.
Initial listening showed that Castle had achieved a very respectable performance across the spectrum, with the bass being particularly noteworthy for its dexterity, punch and clarity. Although only extending down to a claimed 47Hz, the low frequencies had good weight and impact, and lacked little in the way of visceral impact.
Its speed seemed comfortably able to justify Castle's claims for its performance, demonstrated with its commendable showing on the Chic classic, Le Freak, where it deftly exposed the groove under Bernard Edwards' agile and precise bass playing and showed how his lines interwove seductively with Nile Rogers' abruptly choked guitar chords. And all this when it was being driven by a modest AV receiver.
Switching to a Naim system, using a NAP250 power amplifier, showed that the 7i had far more to deliver. At least it did once we relocated our pair from the customary speaker positions in that room, firing down its length, to fire across the room's shorter dimension.
Set up close to a solid back wall with no toe-in, the sound seemed to gel more convincingly. Don't let that discourage you, however, as the speakers sounded fine firing down the length of a second room we tried, set a half a metre or so from the rear wall, which suggests they experienced some sort of adverse interaction with the layout of the first room.
'Seductive' is the ideal term to describe the speaker's performance. Delightfully detailed yet beautifully coherent, it allows the listener to relax into the flow of the music easily, while delivering all the nuances the critical listener might demand.
Furthermore, it seemed equally indifferent to the sort of music we played and neither favoured nor voiced its disapproval of anything we subjected it to (and that ran from Arvo Part, ancient, bronchial era Dylan through to Radiohead, gangsta rap and beyond).
In particular, the 7i displays outstanding dexterity when replaying acoustic guitar music; while listening intently to the techniques of one or two players, it demonstrated an uncanny ability to dig deeply into a mix. As we listened to one particular track during our test period, we became aware of a faint buzzing that occasionally intruded into the music.
This proved not to be a failing drive unit, but was actually on the disc - the guitar had its action set fractionally too low and the sound was the low strings buzzing against the frets. This wasn't something that regularly manifested itself and promoted a great respect for the revelatory prowess of the Castle design.
The 7i is certainly couldn't be accused of highlighting recording deficiencies but it did, for example, show quite clearly the mess that is the stereo soundtrack of Cream's Disraeli Gears. The mono mix, in which Ginger Baker's drumkit stays in the same room, sounded so much more coherent.
The speaker was also discriminating when it came to speaker cabling, sounding far better to my ears with the heavyweight Chord Signature cables than it did with the Epic versions.
Above all, though, the Castle 7i proved to be a persuasive communicator of music. Its hi-fi attributes and abilities were merely the icing on the cake.
And, as an added bonus, there's no need to listen to the speaker cranked to high heaven - as is my usual wont - because it sounds equally dynamic, comfortable and informative at 'don't wake the children' levels, which isn't something that one can say of all loudspeaker designs. Malcolm Steward