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The IAG aka Castle speakers resemble to a large extent what I remember from when I was the proud owner of pair of bookshelf speakers made by that company. Those were my first serious hifi speakers. Theirs is a slightly warm and full but brilliantly mannered sound. We could talk about an English character but in this second decade of the 21st century, any kind of national sonic character is really just a memory of the past.

The Castle loudspeakers are characterized by a few qualities which are difficult to find elsewhere. They will directly determine whether this is your kind of sound or not. They have weaker sides like anything else and particular strengths which often aren’t found even in true high-end systems. The sound of the Howard S3 is big, dense and saturated - even oversaturated. It is perfectly audible how a large cabinet with a clever way of woofer loading does not aim to imitate a subwoofer’s power and extension but simply amends the midrange as the most important and particularly critical part of the audible range.

I hope you see where I am going. This bass, although big, full, strong and just plain lovely, is not the main element of this sound. Instead it is used to build up large volume as mass simply to underline midrange fullness. If I understood this intention correctly, it has been successfully implemented. The voices are exceptional in their saturation and fleshiness. Melody Gardot with My One And Only Thrill is how I started the audition. She was reproduced in a most convincing and sensual way. At the same time her vocals were not shoved forward. This type of saturation relies not on underlining the voice to extricate it from the mix and move it closer to us. The sound of the Castle is located on the main line between the speakers and behind it. This in fact is a slightly set back or unobtrusive perspective. The loudspeakers build up a large soundstage in the form of a bubble but clearly not in front of themselves - or in front of your nose for that matter.

I mentioned Gardot in the very beginning with a purpose. Already with that disc it was plain how small ensembles sounded extraordinarily good with the Howard S3. I will talk about electronica shortly as it got better yet but here and now the first impression is the more important – small ensembles. It could seem that this is not how it should be. After all here we have a large cabinet, quasi paralleled mid/woofers, a sort of internal labyrinth... all items which should predestine this speaker to a strong dynamic showing that would soar with large orchestral works like Wagner. I’m saying ‘should’ not because anything else would be an error, just because the appearance of the Howard S3 triggers certain predictable stereotypical responses.

I believe that particularly the bass tuning here is a very careful result of deliberate compromises and specific voicing goals for the given drivers and cabinet. Senior here was probably the creation of a sound which is very coherent. That’s why the bass isn’t as powerful or energetic as it had been with the PMC OB1i where it dominated the sound as a whole. The Castle has beautiful bass but it simply doesn’t extend very low. The primary aim was complete saturation of the covered range and full integration with the densely hued midrange.

This is why the very low passages of Jarré’s Téo & Téa and Daft Punk’s Homework lacked the raw animalistic power they have with the PMC or my Harbeth. But at the same time there was no booming as it is usually generated with those discs by other loudspeakers in my smaller space. We could say that this is fantastically controlled bass were it not for the fact that this control is inaudible. This isn’t the kind of punctual wiry bass with which such highly damped control is usually associated. This rather is melodious Harbeth-type bass – natural, without drawing attention to itself. That then is the first cognitive dissonance between what the speaker looks like and how it actually behaves.