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.

Read much more on Page 2



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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Celestion-3000-Reviewed.gif

Out came Old Faithful, my Radford SA25 Mk IV. Talk about a

transition. The spit and sizzle disappeared, without taking away

any of the top end information. But I was still in a quandary.

How valid is a review of an affordable new speaker with an

out-of-production amplifier with a circa #1000 price tag? Relief

came in the form of Antony Michaelson, who dropped by with the

Musical Fidelity B1 (#199) and A100 (#499) integrated amplifiers,

products which you can buy and which you shouldn't have too hard

a time finding in shops which also sell Celestion. The results

were absolute bliss, so -- for those of you who crave the 3000 --

you can drive 'em with a #199 integrated amp and still get almost

all they can deliver bar the absolute dynamics. As for the A100,

well, why spend more?

Before launching into a description of the performance, let me

put you into the right frame of mind. I have this crazy image of

polyester suited sales reps in countries like the USA running

around hyping the new Celestion hybrids with lines like 'They

blow away Apogees/Mangenpans/etc'. Let me tell you from the outset

that these speakers cannot be compared to full-range ribbons or

any other dipoles because there are certain things which the

3000s cannot do. For starters, they are nowhere near as

'open-sounding' or transparent as dipoles. Furthermore, the bass

has a distinctly cone-like speed and control which dipoles (or

affordable ones, at least) can't emulate. It is unfair to compare

the Celestion to dipoles -- ribbon tweeter or not -- because

they can't compete. They should be compared to other boxes...in

which case they'll clean up. I suggest that Celestion sacks any

rep who employs the above practice, because he or she obviously

doesn't understand the product, the market, hi-fi or

salesmanship.

What the Celestion does to boxes in its price class is elevate

the standards by a frightening degree. Given that the speakers

will compete with like-priced, like-dimensioned boxes, I expect

that Celestion shares are the ones to buy for those of you with

stock portfolios. Talk about high-end for the poor...

I've settled on one track which tells me more about a product

under review than any dozen can. It's my crash course in hi-fi

assessment; anything I listen to afterwards is simply for

confirmation. The track is the CD single version of Willy De

Ville's 'Assassin of Love', which even Antony -- a classical-only

type who thinks that Fleetwood Mac is a village in Berkshire --

found to be revealing in excelsis. It tests, with great

authority, the following: bass extension; bass control; transient

attack, decay and recovery; stage width, depth and height; vocal

textures; sibilance; scale; image specificity; 'layering' and a

whole lot more. The 3000 sailed through with flying colors.

It was through the use of this disc that I learned how the 3000s

could convert power and scale without compression, and do a damned

fine 'disappearing act' of near-dipole invisibility. Another test

disc, supplied by Antony, yielded a second opinion. The recording

in a church of some classical bit to do with Daniel and the lions

proved the 3000s capable of replicating the sound of a massive,

echo-y venue, the procession starting far behind the back wall

and ending in front of the line of the speakers. So far so good.

In absolute terms, the Celestion's staging capabilities were of

an order so far beyond what is expected at this price point that

I wanted only to listen to other 3-D extravaganzas. More telling,

though, was the utter independence which the listener has, with

seating three abreast not resulting in a fight for centre

position. This, my friends, is the perfect speaker for those of

you who eschew onanistic listening practices and prefer to share

the music with others. And it's one area where price doesn't

enter into the equation, because in this respect I reckon that

the 3000 beats all comers.

The other feat performed by Celestion which makes the 3000 so

special is its seamlessness. This speaker is the first hybrid

I've used which shows no joins, the bass driver having been

tailored to the ribbon (or vice versa) with such overwhelming

synergy that you're forgiven for thinking that it's a full-range

system. The result is an 'of a whole' sonic spectrum, with

consistent speed, clarity and low coloration throughout.

The sound is drier than that of, say, the Apogee Diva, less rich

and a shade cooler, but it only sounds clinical or hygienic when

paired with too dry an amplifier. The two Musical Fidelity amps

and the Radford were perfectly capable of keeping the 3000 from

sounding too much like hi-fi rather than music, so I'd suggest

that you audition the Celestions with amps in that vein. Lord

knows what these would sound like with -- no, I'd better not name

it.

So what do you get by spending more? At #699 per pair (or #858

including the mandatory stands), the 3000 has revised the

expectations of a purchaser with under #1000 to spend. What you

get from the floor-standing model 7000 is greater bass, dynamics

and power handling. What you get from other speakers, like the

Quad ESLs, Apogees, Martin-Logans et al is more transparency.

True, the Celestion has a finely-grained texture all of its own,

but it's euphonic and -- sighs of relief from Ipswich -- utterly

consistent from top to bottom. In other words, you'll have to pay

at least the same amount again to remove one or two rather

diaphanous veils.

As far as I'm concerned, this is the best speaker money can buy

for under #1k, provided that the purchaser understands the

critical nature of matching this to a sonically sympathetic

amplifier. In basic terms, driving these is no great challenge, so

you don't have to spend your readies on sheer power. With a

beauty like the B1, the combination is a bargain for would-be

high-enders. So don't think of these as a poor man's Apogees.

Regard them instead as Everyman's ribbon.

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