The Celestion 5is available in simulated black ash or oak finishes. It is "capable of recreating a fairly realistic soundstage" The Celestion 5 has "added bass and improved dynamics" over the popular and well received Celestion, "with no tradeoff in bass control" and there are also "gains in dynamic capabilities..."
Picture this: a design team staggers into the office, obviously
hung over from the previous day's/night's celebration. They're
the crew responsible for designing a product so clever, so
competent, so absolutely ¬right¬ that they're the company's heroes
of the moment. Then a voice shatters the reverie: 'Okay, guys. What do we do next?'
In most cases, such a scenario has a pre-ordained response to that inevitable question. A killer stereo power amp is often followed by a monoblock version. You follow a pre-amp with a
The Celestion 3 has been an absolute smash hit. Don't take my
word for it; just check the serial numbers on the most
recently-arrived pair at your local Celestion outpost. Like very
few other budget items -- the original NAD 3020, the Dual 505,
the Wharfedale Diamond -- this product is a winner all the way.
It's cute. It performs admirably. It suggests serious high-tech
despite a low tariff. It costs -- even after the inevitable
post-launch price hike -- bubkes. So imagine how the designer(s)
must feel when the order comes from on high: 'Now we want a '3
Panic stations: the hardest thing to do in the world of speaker
manufacture is to produce a model above your bread-and-butter
champion that meets the right criteria:
1) It must be priced high enough to distinguish it from the model
below. In the case of following a #99 (or #109) speaker, there
must be a gap of at least #30, or they're 'too close' and
therefore almost mutually exclusive.
2) It must be physically larger. This is entirely due to the
nature of 'perceived value'. Better/bigger drivers in the same
sized enclosure just isn't enough of a (visual) inducement.
3) It must be audibly superior, to justify the higher price.
The standard formula varies little when following a hit. With
movies, eg ¬Rambo II¬ or ¬Die Hard II¬, it means louder, with more
explosions/car, train or helicopter chases/dead bodies/special
effects. In Detroit, it was 'longer, lower, wider'. With two-way,
bookshelf/tall stand loudspeakers, it means better bass, greater
dynamics and higher SPLs.
This isn't to suggest that the Celestion 3 was wanting so
severely in any of those areas, especially not when judged with
the criteria a sane person would use for budget speakers. If
anything, the '3 stands out from the pack just because it's such
a damned fine liar. You really do think that you're listening to
something much bigger.
Bass? Whack 'em on to a pair of substantial stands, say, #40
worth of Partington, feed them signal from a decent amp and
choose the right cables and they'll satisfy all but Yanks,
Rastas, acid-house denizens and HM casualties. Dynamics? The '3
is much better at resolving subtleties amidst the crescendos than
you have any right to expect for the size-and-price. Maximum
SPLs? Okay, so they squash things a bit when the loud pedal is
floored, but then they are designed for small rooms, and
Celestion is forgiven for assuming that people sitting in the
near-field don't need 112dB/1m.
But that isn't a rationale which will satisfy those who ¬do¬ want
more. Celestion knows this, and the answer probably presented
itself in the form of a gut reaction. Price? #149 per pair is the
next, most logical price point. Size? Keep it small enough to
retain the '3's appeal, without losing any of its
'bookshelfness'. Added features? What else besides a larger
See what I mean about it almost being a natural progression?
The problem, though, is that no recipe is foolproof. (Watch the
Brothers Roux on the Beeb and see if your consomme comes out
anywhere near as clear. Or should that be transparent.)
Celestion's 5 looks exactly like what it is, a slightly larger
brother to the '3, and it sports the same 25mm titanium dome
tweeter mounted on that clever moulded polycarbonate chassis with
its integral woofer basket.
Read more on Page 2
This time, though, the 130mm felted fibre mid/bass driver is
replaced by a 150mm unit of similar design. The enclosure size has gone from 310x185x215mm (HWD) to 350x206x250mm, barely significant as far as encroaching upon your lebensraum , but that works out at an internal volume of 12 litres instead of 8 litres. Other changes include an increase in sensitivity from 86dB to 88dB for 1W/1m, frequency response of 70-20kHz v the 3's 75-20kHz, and a power amplifier rating of 10-90W instead of 10-60W continuous sinewave output.
The crossover point has been moved down from 5kHz to 4kHz, the new network being a 5-element design with second order low pass and high pass filters, whereas the '3 employed a 4-element network with first order low pass and second order high pass. In other areas, the '5 is similar, with 4mm multi-way binding posts, 12mm thick high density chipboard cabinet, internal bracing and open-edged grille frames to avoid edge diffraction problems. The '5 is available in either simulated black ash or oak finishes.
Using a variety of components, including a Musical Fidelity B1 integrated amplifier and the Croft/Denon pairing featured in this issue's 'killer system' article, I found the '5s to be as easy to match as the '3s, but with one proviso. For some reason, the '5s were more likely to sound bright in borderline situations that the '3s, odd since the tweeters are the same and -- if anything -- the extra bass of the '5 should have changed the listener's focus away from the top end. But bright it could sound, and -- sadly -- the '5 is not an ideal match for the B1, despite them seeming so perfectly suited on paper.
I settled on the Croft/Denon combo, plus the Arcam Alpha CD player and the Moth/Audio-Technica front-end, as well as a spell with the speakers driven by the Aragons, the Audio Research SP-14 and the Basis/SME/Koetsu front end. Though I liked what I heard, finding the extra #40 to be more than justified, I have some serious reservations.
In a nutshell, the Celestion 3 is simply too hard an act to follow. Whatever the compromises, that speaker is capable of recreating a fairly realistic soundstage, with image height and overall 'bigness' found in few if any other small designs, budget or otherwise. It's the one trait which won me over, and everything else was simply icing on the cake.
The '5 just about managed to paint the same sized picture, but with slightly poorer focus. I don't want to come off as a 'point source' devotee, and I find it hard to believe that a baffle only slightly larger could cause such a sonic departure from the performance of the '3, but that's what I heard.
The brightness, though, was of more concern, and I had to change components, tweak things a bit, mess around with cables -- yes, I could tame the '5 to '3 levels, but that's not the point. The '3 was sweet and untemperamental straight out of the box and with a wider range of components. What Celestion may have done is cursed the '5 with the fussiness which is anticipated with lunatic fringe rather than real-world hardware.
As for the qualities which can't be found in the '3, though, Celestion performed exactly the right amount of magic in endowing the '5 with the added bass, improved dynamics and greater SPL capabilities. The extra weight in the bottom is immediately apparent, with no tradeoff in bass control. The gains in dynamic capabilities were more subtle, but they'll be appreciated by those who prefer orchestral music. Headbangers will be more impressed by the ease with which the '5 can hammer your skull, and to far greater effect than a pair of '3s if the latter are to remain healthy.
But still I'm puzzled with the the '3's greater refinement and politeness. Although the family resemblance remains -- the midband on the '5 differs not in tonal quality but in forwardness -- the '5 is more the punchier product, a bit more hi-fi, a bit more exciting. It is a '3 grown up, but one which on the way lost some of its breeding. It should, however, clean up at its price point, because it doe
s almost all that a '3 will do and a whole lot which the '3 cannot do.
So the Celestion team managed to repeat the miracle, but with the inevitable trade-offs. The test is: did they make the right trade-offs? If you're after more grunt, more kishkes, more testicular fortitude, then the extra #40 may be the best forty quid you've spent on budget hi-fi. But it's a bit like going from a highly civilised Porsche to a wild-and-wooly Cobra. You'll get the extra buzz, but it may leave you breathless. And with a sore tush.