ANYONE FAMILIAR WITH the world of loudspeakers is certain to be familiar with the name Celestion. Star of hi-fi, studio and stage for more years than most care to remember, Celestion have a reputation for getting the job done without grabbing too much attention. So it is with Celestion's current SR (Sound Reinforcement) PA series - quality live sound without the hype. And while PA systems lie outside MT's usual coverage, the flexibility of the SR range makes it ideal for onstage keyboard monitoring. Getting more specific, I recently field-tested two pairs of SR cabinets - SR1s and SR3s - along with their "controller" units - SRC1 and SRC3 - to see how they performed.
The first thing I learnt was that the SR cabinets are designed to work in pairs along with a dedicated control unit. This unit sits between the power amp and the speakers protecting them from any amplification excesses and allowing them to be driven harder than would otherwise be advisable. In this way, it's possible to get away with a lower-rated system than a particular situation would otherwise demand. The second thing I learnt was that the modest 8" drivers that occupy the SR cabinets are specially designed for the purpose. Nothing if not thorough, Celestion.
So, armed with SR1 and SR3 speakers and their control units, I faced several 500-strong audiences and the rest of my band (drummer, bassist, guitarist and vocalist). Somehow I wanted to hear myself as well as 504 other people.
Taking the lower-rated system first, I took a stereo feed from my keyboard mixer (additional to the one feeding the 2 kilowatt FOH PA) into a C Audio RA2000 amp and into the SR3s via the SRC3. Theoretically this gave me 290 watts/channel from the amp into two 150 watt speakers. What I got for my trouble was a crystal clear monitoring system that might have suited a more peaceful monitoring environment than mine (adjacent to a 300w Peavey bass rig). It might even serve as a full PA for a low-key acoustic band, but it really wasn't up to the row we produce onstage.
Substituting a pair of SR1 cabinets for the SR3s, an SRC1 controller for the SRC3, and an RA3000 (400 watt/channel) amp, however, changed things entirely. With the SR3s' single SR driver replaced by the SR1s' two, the resulting 500 watt/cabinet power handling allowed me to cut my way through the onstage cacophony with surgical precision. Where Celestion offer an SR2 Sub-bass unit for PA applications, the SR1s alone provided an ideal balance of volume and clarity for serious keyboard monitoring. All the features of keyboard sounds (except deep bass, which finds its way back from the front-of-house PA) are well represented - bright pianos, icy digital synths, analogue filter sweeps... Much of the bass was reproduced too, although there's obviously a limit to what 8" drivers can do (Celestion claim 50Hz-20kHz for the SR1s and 60Hz-20kHz for the SR3s). I can only describe the clarity as perfectly-suited to keyboard applications.
What also became clear was the importance of driving the cabinets hard. This is made posible by the SRC unit which allows you to use an amplifier too highly rated for the speakers, leaving the SRC controllers to protect the drivers - Celestion claim the SRC units make the cabinets "virtually indestructible". The SRC1 is actually an equaliser and thermal cutout that also filters out any low-frequency transients that would otherwise damage the drivers. I testify that it works. The SRC3 - intended for use with the SR3s at lower sound levels is only an equaliser, and so precludes the ability to drive the cabinets quite so hard.
Anyone familiar with the problems of regular gigging will recognise the importance of portability. It really wouldn't matter how good these monitors sound - if it were too daunting a prospect to cart from gig to gig, I wouldn't wish them on anyone. Fortunately, portability is one of the SR1 series' strengths - the control units are 1U-high rack jobs, the SR1s come in at around 12" x 22" x 14" and weigh a manageable 34lb, while the SR3s measure 10½" x 13" x 9½" and weigh an even more manageable 20lb. This has to go down as one of the SR system's pluses. On top of this, the SR1 units come with hard front covers (similar to those on Bose speakers) which double as low-level stands if Celestion's pole support system isn't to your liking.
Although I can't claim to have tested either model of speaker cabinet in a studio monitoring capacity, I'd anticipate the response being too coloured for such applications. In any case, objective monitoring at these sound pressure levels really isn't the way to get a good mix - just damaged hearing.
As a footnote to this review, I will personally be investing in a pair of SR3s (SR1s being out of my price range at present) and an SRC1 controller to allow me to obtain the monitoring levels I need. Furthermore, in the course of my investigations, the sound man who regularly handles our PA was sufficiently impressed by the SRs that he's anticipating the full SR system for professional PA use. While it's still only Victor Kiam who can claim to have "liked it so much I bought the company", I can't overstate how much Celestion's system impressed me.
Prices SR1 cabinets, £529 each; SR3 cabinets, £195 each; SRC1 controller, £253; SRC3, £138. All prices include VAT.
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