Celestion 3000 Ribbon Loudspeakers Reviewed

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Hybrids are supposed to be the best of two or more technologies, and we've seen the approach used for all manner of products. Solid-state-plus-valve electronics, moving-coil cartridges with 'Decca' architecture -- I could go on and on. The most feverish of hi-fi's Dr Frankensteins, though, have always been devoted to loudspeakers.

Name any type of tweeter and I can assure you that it's been mated to a cone-type bass driver. The reasons are simple: planar tweeters (electrostatic, isodynamic etc) offer the speed, openness or transparency not generally available from cone or dome tweeters, while cone woofers offer greater damping, control, 'snap, efficiency and domestic suitability than manageable panel-type bass units can deliver. This isn't to suggest that cone bass drivers are superior to panel woofers, only that they're usually more practical and cost-effective.

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Ribbon/cone hybrids have been around for years, with the Germans producing variants in the way that the British pump out £99 per pair budget speakers. Among the most famous, though, is the Decca London enclosure, which used Stan Kelly's ribbon, so there are British precedents. SD Acoustics, Alphason -- this hybrid may be slightly off-the-wall, but it's not uncommon. Tweaky, yes, but not all that rare.

Noble though the efforts of SD and the others may be, their products are fairly exclusive and less 'commercial' than is required for spreading the word beyond audiophile circles. Now it's time for one of the majors to step in, and with a design to address the curses which keep ribbon technology from being truly affordable and domestically acceptable.

Celestion's 3000 attempts to banish the problems of low sensitivity, death-defying impedances, low power handling, domestically aggravating siting requirements and a host of other concerns. Indeed, the Celestion 3000 is the most 'complete' new

product I've examined in years, with every single detail -- right

down to the owner's manual -- dealt with in full before a single

unit left the factory. Aesthetics, fit and finish,

fine-tuning...nothing's been left to chance.

The 3000 (and the 5000, which is identical except for cabinet

finish) employs a box-type enclosure measuring a mere

650x330x300mm (HWD). It's substantial, assembled from high

density particle board and made rigid with figure-of-eight

internal bracing. The company also offers a sonically and

aesthetically ideal support for #159 per pair which stands 550mm

tall; I can't imagine anyone not using this beautifully styled,

sand-and-lead-filled, spiked sculpture. The novelty of a ribbon

tweeter is highlighted by an aluminum casting which runs the

height of the speaker, at an angle and situated on the inner edge

of the baffle. As you'd expect; the speakers are supplied in

left-and-right-handed pairs. The 3000 is all black; for an extra

#100, you can purchase the 5000, identical except for walnut

surfaces.

The front surface is covered by a black grille cloth on a solid,

sculpted frame; it protects a 200mm polyolefine cone bass bass

driver, which operates up to 900Hz. The grille has been designed

to create a smooth surface on the outside edge of the ribbon's

chassis, mirroring the inner, veneered surface, so the grilles

should be left in place at all times.

The back contains binding posts for single, bi-wire or bi-amping

connections, and they accept spaced banana plugs. For some

strange reason, Celestion fitted them in a row reading (from left

to right) treble minus, bass minus, bass plus, treble plus, so

you've got to interleave and spread the wires across the

connectors; I'd have preferred to see the connections grouped as

bass plus/minus and treble plus/minus, but this is a small

quibble. It simply meant paying attention to the wiring of the

spaced bananas I insist on using.

And now for the ribbon. This 500mm driver consists of a narrow

strip of 12 micron thick, corrugated aluminum foil suspended

between two rows of strontium ferrite bar magnets. Although it

looks like a clone of the Apogee tweeter, it differs in details.

For starters, the ribbon itself is pure aluminum without any

backing; the Apogee uses Kapton. At the top and bottom, the

Celestion ribbon is connected with a foam-damped 'kink' in the

ribbon to relieve strain. Where Apogee uses foam 'knuckles' to

support and centre the ribbon at various points, Celestion uses

stretched silicon rubber belts supported by small pillars on

either side of the ribbon. The other major difference relates to

the 3000's non-dipole status.

There is no gap between the ribbon's edges and the magnets, a

critically selected gap being required for use in dipole

installations. With the Celestion, the sound firing from the back

of the ribbon is reflected off of the surfaces in the speaker

cabinet, the ribbon actually being mounted to its own separate

enclosure within the 3000. This partially explains why the ribbon

is mounted at a 45 degree angle to the enclosure; the rear-firing

sound fires directly into absorptive foam and out of harm's way.

The other reason for the 45 degree angle is to aid in positioning

and the creation of a line source which disperses sound in a

cylindrical manner. I mentioned before that the rigid grille is

to be left in place so as to create smooth surfaces on either

side of the ribbon. This fools the driver into reacting to the

cabinet as if it were a cylinder, the result being an enclosure

which has no edges to cause diffraction. In practice, it means

that the only requirements for siting concern the bass, because

'toe-in' requirements have been eliminated. Sayonara, hot seat.

These are, without doubt, the easiest speakers I've ever reviewed

as far as positioning is concerned, save for certain types where

the siting is fixed or quite specific (e.g. Bose 901s, some

Allisons). Celestion recommends that they stand approximately six

inches from the back wall, with the backs parallel to the wall.

Because of the dispersion characteristics of the ribbons, the

distance between the speakers is not critical. The further apart

you're able to place them, the wider the sound stage they'll

produce. I had to move them over 15 feet apart before I could

detect anything resembling a 'hole in the middle', from a

listening position 12 feet away. Naturally, you'll augment the

bass if the speakers are too close to the side walls, but that's

true of most loudspeakers. Where I differed from Celestion's

preferred siting is in the distance from the back wall. I found

the bass just a bit too overpowering, so the ideal spot in my

room was 15in from the back wall.

Amplifier selection is another matter entirely, and I wasted a

whole week before I hit on the first of three magic combinations.

Arbitrary though it may be, I try to review speakers with the

kind of amplifiers which I think the consumer will use, as well

as with 'reference' amplifiers. The argument for the latter is

that only by hooking up a pair of, say, #99 Celestion 3s to a

#10,000 Rowland will I be able to assess the full potential of

the speaker. On the other hand, the reviews are only valid for

the readers if the speakers have been tried with likely

candidates.

In the case of the 3000, I had to throw out all of the rules. I

started with what I thought would be a sensible choice for a

speaker/stand combination at this price point, the #1250

Counterpoint SA-12. (Also, I should add, a hybrid.) For 80

percent of the time, all was wonderful except for the handling of

torture tracks I use to test sibilance. These include recordings

which are 'right on the edge', such as Juice Newton's 'Break It

To Me Gently' or Poco's Head Over Heels. The 3000/SA12 pairing,

while stunning in most respects, simply fell to pieces. And it

was a textbook lesson in why you should always audition a

potential purchase with the system in which it will reside. The

Counterpoint -- sweet and smooth with the Sonus Fabers -- sounded

edgy with the Celestion 3000, the opposite of its general

behavior.

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HTR Product Rating for Celestion 3000 Ribbon Loudspeakers

Criteria Rating

Performance

3

Value

3

Overall

3

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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