I bought a pair A Compact for $600 at Audioadvisor.com last summer. Coincidently, I had a pair of Mission 780, which I purchased a week before for around the same price. Having enough room for one pair of speakers, my intent was to compare these two well-rated speakers - the Mission 780 received a 5 star rating from "What's HI-Fi" and was awarded Product of the Year for 2001, the Celestion A Compact received 5 stars rating in 1998 - and pick the one pair that I liked best. After two days of auditioning, I picked the Celestion.
In terms of design and construction, both the Celestion and Mission were both attractive. The Mission's narrower front, inverted mid-bass/tweeter alignment and brushed aluminum dust cap gave the speakers a more modern and "sexy" look. The Celestion had the traditional "tweeter-on-top-bass-driver-below" design and basic rectangular dimensions. On the other hand, the Celestion furniture grade real wood cabinets outshone the Mission's vinyl wood imitation cabinets in terms of quality and the "expensive-feel-factor." The Celestion also hinted at better craftsmanship. The fabric on the Mission's grilles was not well sown and there were a few loose strands poking out in the interior corners. The Mission logo on the speakers and grilles were also made from a lower quality print; their glossy shine rubs or scratches off quite easily. The Celestion, on the other hand, had the letters "Celestion" engraved in small - my guess is 6-point fonts - fonts on top of each tweeter. Quite beautiful. Thus, although the Mission looks sexier from a distance, the Celestion holds up much better in terms of overall feel and construction quality.
Sound-wise, choosing between the Mission and Celestion boils down to a matter of personal taste. I prefer speakers that are more "laid-back" and "warm" sounding. I also like a more "crisp" sounding tweeter to "bright & shiny" tweeters. Having played a variety of music ranging from 2-Pac, The Lion King musical, Jesse Cook, U-2, Kitaro and George Winston, I found that the Mission was more neutral sounding when compared to the Celestion. For example, on one of Kitaro's track, there were sounds of waves breaking onto a shoreline. When played through the Mission, the speakers produce more realistic pitch and convincing spatial dimensions to the recording. On the Celestion, the sound was more "weighty" and the waves did not "breathe" as realistically as when reproduced on the Mission. I attributed this fault to the Celestion's much warmer sound. However, on string instruments and percussions, the Celestion's warmth added a depth to the soundstage in ways that the Mission could not quite match. In Jesse Cook's "Baghdad," the acoustic guitar and percussions were much more engaging (read: toe tapping and finger snapping) then the clinical sounding Mission. I believe that part of this has to do with the Celestion's more detailed sounding tweeters. Both speakers were quite good with vocals and I must say that this is where personal taste comes in once more. The Celestion gave female singers more "body", while the Mission had a "lighter" sound.
Both the Mission and Celestion are excellent speakers. Would I recommend the Celestion over the Mission? The answer: probably not. The problem is Celestion appears to have very few dealers outside of England. If you live in the United States like I do, I wish you good luck in trying to find a pair of Celestion, not to mention repair parts for an older model like the A Compact. Also, the A Compact's MSRP in 1999 was $900, compared to the Mission's $600 in 2001. I'm not sure if prices for the Celestion have fallen significantly. Nevertheless, if you were fortunate enough to stumble upon a pair of A Compact that is being sold for a reasonable price, I would recommend that you give it a good listen. If you are into jazz and vocals, it may very suit your taste.
Accuracy is important in a stereo which, like mine, is used to reproduce classical music. Good looks are also important. So is the price of the equipment.
A year ago, when I began to upgrade my stereo's speaker system, I found that a subwoofer was for sale with the features of: o a flat frequency response from 20 to 120 Hz, o a package that was 11 inches on a side and, o mitigation of distortion via feedback control of the woofer cone position and biamplification of the signal from the CD player. This subwoofer, Velodyne's HGS-10, offered the potential for achieving accuracy, good looks and economy in my speaker system.
I located a copy of the subwoofer at at an attractive price and bought it. Then I looked around for a pair of speakers to use as its satellites.
The HGS-10 contains a filter that passes only frequencies above about 80 Hz to the satellites. That low bass is not required from them makes it possible to use satellites that are relatively compact. Advantages of compact satellites include: o better imaging, o lower cost, o easier placement, and o unobtrusiveness. Compact speakers suffer from relatively low sensitivity but this is not an issue for me, as I prefer to listen to music at moderate sound levels.
After a bit of research on the alternatives, I bought a pair of Celestion's A Compacts. With a frequency response that was approximately flat above 80 Hz and that rolled off below that frequency, they complemented the frequency response of the HGS-10 nicely. Also, Celestion claimed low distortion for this speaker.
While Velodyne provides test data on the distortion levels of its speakers, Celestion does not do the same. Thus, I am unable to validate Celestion's claim of low distortion. However, I can say that, with the HGS-10, the A Compacts seem to reproduce music quite accurately. In particular, my new speaker system reproduces the low bass region better than the system that it replaces, a pair of EPI 100s, and it images better. More importantly, with a good recording, as-reproduced music sounds very much like live music.
The aesthetics are also favorable visually. The HGS-10 is hidden away in my equipment cabinet. Only the A Compacts are in plain view and, unlike the EPI 100s, they look beautiful.
The costs of this system seem quite reasonable. My cost for the HGS-10 and pair of A Compacts has been $2000. I think this is close to the lower bound on the price of a system that makes as-reproduced music sound like live music.
Readers contemplating the creation of a similar system should read "Small is Beautiful" in the January 2001 issue of the British publication HiFi News. It presents a side by side comparison of six highly accurate, compact speakers, including the A Compact. The A Compact is the reviewer's top choice for looks but not for accuracy.
Additional data on the A Compact are available in "Celestion: 'A' Series Compact Loudspeaker" in the January 2001 edition of the British periodical Hi-Fi+. Data on Celestion's A3 are available in "Celestion A3 loudspeaker," in the June 1998 edition of Stereophile and are pertinent because the technology of the A3 is similar to that of the A Compact.