Celestion SL600si loudspeaker & DLP600 digital equalizer Page 3

The lows of the '600 have always been a favorite of mine. While Richard Vandersteen can show that fourth-order LF alignments needn't boom, a good second-order, sealed-box loading seems inherently to have a cleaner mid-upper bass presentation. My ultimate torture track to test speakers in this region is the 12" Huey Lewis and the News single, "The Power of Love." With the Krell driven to the point of clipping, it is astonishing to hear the clarity with which the Celestions can present kick drum, coupled with a suitable degree of weight. Bass extension is not as generous as with, say, the Vandersteens, but there is enough for 90% of most music's needs, even the Dorian Goldberg recording sounding sufficiently powerful and my own piano recordings having sufficient left-hand "purr." The transition from the SL600's upper-bass to the lower midrange was always a little uneven, however, and the Si revision still seems a little lumpy here. Male spoken voice, for example, was always too chesty.

It nearing Easter as I carried out the serious listening for this review, my musical diet became less secular—Richard Hickox's new recording of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, the classic Wilfred Brown Finzi Dies Natalis, the Solti Parsifal, and a recording I haven't played for quite a long time, Neville Marriner's 1978 performance of the Bach B-Minor Mass on Philips (9500 412) with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. I have no idea whether this is still available (footnote 1), but it features great soloists—Margaret Marshall, Janet Baker, Philip Tear, Samuel Ramey—and I was privileged to attend a couple of the recording sessions, in London's church of St. John's, Smith Square. Over the Celestions, the sound was as naturally presented as I can remember—or imagine. It is easy to get used to a slightly blurred soundstage presentation and accept that as the norm. But when you hear the vocal and instrumental soloists in a recording like this so delicately delineated in space—and a space that you recognize—and separated in depth from the choir and orchestra, you realize what you've been missing from even good loudspeakers.

The scale of the music is small, it has to be admitted; this is the region where the big panel speakers and all-out designs like the Infinity IRS Beta score hands down. But the SL600Si's achieve musical perfection on that restricted scale. I cannot imagine a more pure presentation, for example, of the "Laudamus Te" in the Philips recording as presented by these speakers. Iona Brown's obbligato violin, its tone color absolutely correct, weaves a delicate tracery around Janet Baker's rich contralto, supported by cello and chamber-organ continuo. There are no speakers, just a rectangular window into a holographically real miniature representation of the church acoustic.

In its revised Si incarnation, the SL600 has, in my opinion, one of the cleanest trebles around, bettering just about every other dynamic loudspeaker in its presentation of a natural violin tone. It offers a higher degree of transparency than its ancestor, with slightly lower levels of lower-midrange congestion. Nevertheless, its need for pedigree amplification, its sweet, if somewhat dark-sounding and "polite" tonal balance, and its restricted dynamics mean that the SL600Si is by no means a speaker for Everyman. It is also less ruthlessly revealing of musically relevant detail than the SL700 or Vandersteen 2Ci, and it doesn't begin to approach the precise time-slicing abilities of the best US speakers, such as the Thiels. But I can quite see why some commentators have proclaimed it to be more consistently musical than its 50% more expensive sibling.

In fact, I am tempted to keep both pairs of speakers on hand: the '600s for when I want to be swept along by the tide within the music, the '700s for when I need a rather more analytical viewpoint (without losing sight of the music).

If your musical tastes tend toward classical music, your room is relatively small, and you don't mind using high-quality front ends and amplifiers, then the Celestion SL600Si will consistently offer you sound which, if not quite scaling the dynamic peaks and see-through clarity of the best panel speakers, will never fail to be musical.

Should you replace your existing SL600s with the Si revision? It depends on your priorities. I would say yes, but only if you already have upgraded your amplification or source components to the point where further investment would only bring a minuscule improvement. If not, then you have other areas to improve first.

Incidentally, though expensive, the SLSi stands impressed me with the solid foundation they gave both the speakers and the music. Check out the 24" model, all you LS3/5a and Acoustic Energy AE1 owners!

Footnote 1: Richard Lehnert's Schwann Guide informs me that the original LP version is long gone, this stunning non-authentic performance only now being available on LP as a Sequenza re-release (6527 7099). It is also available on CD (416 415-2).