Celestion manufactures or has manufactured the following equipment (click to expand models list):DVD-Players
Celestion web site (December 2003): Celestion is a company enmeshed in music and saturated by sound. It remains one of the few significant hi-fi loudspeaker companies with a real pedigree in the pro-audio business. Celestion is a name synonymous with the faithful reproduction of sound, live or recorded, at all levels, in the home, in clubs, bars, studio and stage. That reputation has been achieved through invention and innovation. It has ever been thus and will continue so to be.
Every advance in recording technology demands loudspeakers of equivalent sophistication - and the Celestion approach gives true audiophiles a choice of speakers which meet or exceed their requirements. And that means pure listening pleasure, every time.
Celestion web site (December 2003):
In producing this document I have attempted to serve the interests of various categories of reader - those associated with Celestion past, present and future, the technical reader, and those with a general interest. Inevitably all three have been compromised, but I hope that the balance is fair.
The bulk of the text covering 1930 to 1978 is based upon Gordon Kinsey's excellent Company History, with a few appropriate additions and corrections. However, a great deal of new information concerning the 1924-35 period has recently come to light, and for much of this I am deeply indebted to Mr.L.French, Miss D.French and Mrs.M.Hemingway, son and daughters of Ralph French. I would also like to acknowledge the contributions of Bill Strong, Maarten van Delft, Bob Smith, Sonia Calver, Oliver Prenn, Jasmine Booth, Graham Bank, Mick Masters and Mary Ranns, without whose co-operation this work would be much less complete.
What began as an apparently simple matter of updating Kinsey's work grew substantially as I realised there were several people who held small collections of unique material. I am sure that even now some have been overlooked. The History of Celestion encompasses a vast number of different companies and personnel, and I have attempted to acknowledge by name some of those earlier parties who are in danger of being forgotten. My research has been by no means exhaustive, but I believe I can claim that it is the most detailed to date.
No work of this nature will ever be 100% accurate and complete, but if it takes someone another 18 years to update it then I shall be justified in calling it
The History of Celestion!
1920's Celestion was born during 1924 in the picturesque Thameside village of Hampton Wick, where Cyril French set up a small business to manufacture loudspeakers. French had been approached by Eric Mackintosh for help with improving his invention, one of the earliest cone loudspeakers. French and two of his brothers, Leonard and Edgar, had taken over the Thames Valley Plating Works at 29 High Street, Hampton Wick, and created the Electrical Manufacturing and Plating Company, listed as 'electrical instrument manufacturers'.
Amidst great excitement, French and Mackintosh finally perfected the loudspeaker design and, now joined by Cyril's other brother Ralph French, began manufacturing upstairs while Leonard & Edgar French continued below with the plating business. The original Mackintosh design employed a free-vibrating edge and was filed for patent on December 15th 1923 and issued as British Patent No. 230,552 on March 16th 1925. The modified French/Mackintosh design used a clamped edge and was filed October 24th 1925 and issued on January 14th 1926 as British Patent No. 245,704. These numbers can be found on all early Celestion loud speakers
The conical paper diaphragm was strengthened with strips of bamboo imported from China. The driving mechanism at this time was a moving-iron balanced-armature type.
This was the time of the infancy of wireless, which was viewed by the majority of the population as the modern wonder. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had been formed in August 1922, registered on 15th December of that year, but actually began radio broadcasting on 14th November, 1922 on 369 meters with the call sign 2LO. After the success of the London station two further stations were opened at Birmingham on 5IT and Manchester on 2ZY.
Receivers were of two types; the valve set, which was regarded by the populace as 'awesome', and the more simple crystal receiver - the initiation of many to the marvels of wireless. Easy to tune, low-cost and a good variety of manufacturers made this the more popular receiver, many thousands of which were produced by home constructors. Earphones, comprising two coils wound on a horseshoe magnet vibrating a metal plate, were essential in order to convert the weak signals into sound - a far different state of affairs from the present day.
It was into this world that the new Celestion speakers made their way, becoming a necessary component of the new valve receivers that appeared as a result of the BBC stepping up transmitter power, and also providing alternative programmes. Powerful wireless transmitting stations also appeared in Europe, and it became possible to pick up their programmes via the new more selective wireless receivers. The era of earphones passed, to be replaced by the free standing horn reminiscent of the ornate specimens beloved by the gramophone enthusiasts.
These cumbersome sound appliances gradually gave way to the separate loudspeaker cabinet, always regarded as a piece of furniture and often highly decorative as it took pride of place in the lounge, or 'front room'.
The 'Celestion' loud speaker was launched early in 1925 by The Electrical Manufacturing and Plating Company at a retail price of six pounds ten shillings, with a choice of oak, walnut or mahogany cabinet. It was sold as 'The Loud Speaker of Distinction' and was favourably reviewed in Popular Wireless and Wireless Review, April 25th 1925 as "a high-class instrument capable of high-class performances". It was Ralph French who devised the ingenious name Celestion with heavenly connotations. He was also responsible for the cabinet designs and advertising. However, Cyril French was the driving force behind the business, which at this time was highly successful and lucrative. An associated company, Constable-Celestion, was formed in Paris, and export by air took place from Croydon airport.The first Celestion product was followed shortly afterwards by a complete range comprising models A1, A2, A3, A4 & A5.In 1927 the Celestion Radio Company and Celestion Limited were formed. Models C10, C12, C14 and C24 were produced with a price range of £5 10s to£25. The model C10 was claimed to be 'the finest loud-speaker procurable at the price'. Popular Wireless of 31st March 1928 described the C12 as "a long way ahead of its class". At this time, and for many years to follow, Celestion advertising carried the phrase ' The Very Soul of Music'.With such a burgeoning trade, a move to large-scale manufacturing premises was inevitable. In 1929 Celestion Ltd. moved to a site opposite Norbiton Church at 145 London Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, shown as the 'Gramophone Works' on this 1932 Ordnance map.
1930's A Celestion booklet of 1930 proudly illustrates three grand models of Electrical Gramophone and Radio Gramophone in craftsman-built footed cabinets of oak, mahogany and walnut priced from 75 guineas to 125 guineas.electrical gramophone incorporated a positively silent motor, the world's finest electrical pick-up, the famous Celestrola Moving Coil loudspeaker, completely screened amplifier and continuous control of volume from maximum to zero, all contained in a superlatively designed and finished cabinet.
Its companion the Celestion Radio Gramophone comprised the above, but incorporated a completely screened radio unit with the latest H.F. valve for long or short wave, the radio being made available to the listener by means of a single switch.
Such were the pleasures of 1930, when Celestion was moving in both spheres of the home entertainment industry, mechanical and electrical. These units were so popular that Celestion issued a separate booklet for Electric Gramophones, Reproducers and Band Repeater Equipment for ships. Produced with a fine vessel on the cover, steaming with porthole lights gleaming over a tranquil sea, one interesting item illustrated is the Type S/LSP loudspeaker which must surely be one of the first dual purpose Public Address loudspeakers. It seems difficult to appreciate the caption nowadays, that the loudspeaker unit could be bracketed to a bulk head, above or below deck "remote from the instrument"! 1931 the 'C' range had been supplemented by models D10, D12 and D50, the latter in oak retailing for Ã‚Â£8.French and Eric Mackintosh both left Celestion in the early 1930s. The reasons for these changes are not clear, but there is evidence to suggest that Cyril French was a hard taskmaster.
With the mass production of mains receiving sets, which overcame the disadvantages of batteries and accumulators, the demand for loudspeakers steadily grew and their styles became less ornate, the fretted front being replaced by a cloth or metal grille.
Many ingenious ideas were incorporated in speaker designs in order to raise the quality of sound reproduction, such as during 1932 when Celestion brought out the Ppm Permanent Magnet Moving Coil Speaker which drew the following review from Wireless Trader:-"It handled 2 watts easily... its tone was very good indeed... bass generally was firm and clear and not booming. middle register was even and free from peaks, while upper register was well in evidence and clear and crisp. was natural."
Other innovations at this time were the Celestion Reetone Dual and Reetone matched speaker units, where in the former large and small speakers were built into a fascia plate which covered a transformer, the theory being that the two units were so coupled that the treble was accepted by the treble unit and the bass by the bass unit, these working as a crossover-less splitting system. The latter incorporated two speakers of equal size with a transformer, but in this system the matched speakers were staggered. This staggering eliminated the tendency to 'boom', a failing in small moving coil speakers in which the bass had not been suppressed. The Kingston-upon-Thames factory was also involved with the manufacture of multi-ratio transformers for use in conjunction with the various speaker models available, and once again price is interesting as these were retailed from fifteen shillings to one pound five shillings.
The Celestion catalogue for 1934 listed models ranging from a model P84, 18" of 40 watts at Ã‚Â£25.4.0 less transformer to the now more streamlined walnut, oak and mahogany bookshelf cabinets, suitable for all receivers, fitted with volume control but without transformer at prices from Ã‚Â£3.18.0 to Ã‚Â£6.15.0. So the loudspeaker had not vanished entirely into the integral receivers, indeed many purchasers preferred their speaker to be separate from the receiver.
The worldwide recession at this time hit Celestion badly. The first 'boom' era came to an abrupt end and an advertisement in The Broadcaster and Wireless Retailer of April 20th 1935 announced that Cyril French had resigned from the board of Celestion Ltd., leaving Billy Page as Managing Director. French returned to the old site at Hampton Wick to operate as sole wholesale and retail distributor of Celestion products in Great Britain., a few miles north of Kingston-upon-Thames another loudspeaker manufacturer was making similar product. This was the British Rola Company, an offshoot of the Rola Company of Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A., which began in 1934 at Minerva Road, Park Royal, London NW10. The two companies were in competition for the home and export markets, and their products were influenced by changes in the wireless receiver market. As the receiver became more sophisticated and smaller, so the loudspeaker began to be housed within the receiver cabinet itself, thus dispensing with the separate speaker unit. To keep in line with this new development both Celestion and British Rola designed and produced a series of smaller speaker units, often to the receiver manufacturer's specification, and so the market swung over to this new product.
Prior to World War Two, radio accessories were manufactured by Celestion and these included such items as "MIP" (moulded in plate) radio valve holders. These were advertised thus: "the new Celestion - valve holders are the strongest holders in the world today, and yet are compact in size, modern and attractive in appearance and lower in price". Marketed in both English and American types they retailed at prices ranging from 5d to 10d. Alongside these were the Celestion Amphenol Microphone Connectors in a variety of types - all at prices highly competitive for the day.
British Rola Limited was registered during 1938 as electrical and general engineers, toolmakers and stampers, and when World War Two broke out they opened up a dispersal factory at Bideford in Devon, in the former garage of Messrs Elliot and Sons. Production for the war effort grew apace with the manufacture of the R.A.F. B3 Vacuum Pump, several thousands of which were produced. These were followed into production by the Rotol Airscrew Feathering Pump, four of which were fitted to all British multi-engined bombers. The final product was the Integral Hydraulic Pump BH Mark IV, and all these items contributed in no small measure to the Forces' need for reliable battle equipment.
1940's In 1942 the American company transferred to British Rola the right to manufacture and sell in the British Empire (excluding Canada and Australia) and the Continent of Europe, Rola products as used in the aircraft, engineering, electrical, motor and radio industries. At this time the Managing Director was Mr.R.W.Cotton and on 4th February, 1944 he joined the Board of Philco Radio. It was hoped that as both companies had American affiliates and both made products for the radio and allied industries, the two companies would work in close co-operation.
During World War Two both Celestion and British Rola were restricted to the manufacture of one type of loudspeaker, the utility "W" type, these being produced at Celestion's Kingston factory, whilst Rola made theirs at Ferry Works, Summer Road, Thames Ditton and their other dispersal works at Pans Lane, Devizes, Wilts. The Ferry Works site had previously been occupied by Astor Engines, a manufacturer of steam engines who had used their own generators to power the plant. It is believed that this site was the first in the country to be illuminated entirely by electricity!
With the coming of peace the British Rola dispersal factory in Bideford closed down on 31st January 1946, personnel being transferred to Thames Ditton for the assembly of loudspeakers. Because of the lack of post-war building material necessary for extensions the Thames Ditton factory progress was slow, and the Devizes factory stayed open to ease the problem. Joint Works Managers at this time were Mr. Jack Jones and Mr. Loach. The Technical Director was Mr.Poole. The British Rola motif was a picture of a bird on a branch with the words 'The speaker you know by ear'. The factory was virtually self-sufficient, producing cones, suspensions, voice coils and transformers 'in-house'.
The extremely hard winter and fuel crisis of 1947 caused havoc to production, and two interesting extracts from the Surrey Comet newspaper for 15th February illustrate this problem:-
In an effort to get production started again, Celestion, Kingston, have bought petrol driven generators, but yesterday they were still trying to obtain permission from the Ministry to use them and to get the petrol to run them. If they are successful they will be able to bring some of their 240 workers, most of whom are women, back on the job, but at the moment production is at a complete standstill'.
Over 300 employees at British Rola's Ferry works, Thames Ditton, will continue for a further week to receive guaranteed wages as a minimum. Previous decision to close the factory if power were not obtainable on Monday has been cancelled because, according to the Works Manager (Mr.J.Jones) the staff have responded magnificently to an "all hands on deck" appeal by the directors. They have been clearing up following building work on the factory, and making wireless transformers with the help of a concrete mixer driving an air compressor. Ninety per cent of the firm's loudspeaker output is for export'.
British Rola acquired Celestion Ltd. on 13th April 1947 together with a subsidiary firm, Pressmach Limited, which originated at Woolacombe, Devon, and another small pressing firm, Belark Limited, also came under British Rola control. The Investors Chronicle for 1946 reported that British Rola would be responsible for the production of considerably more than half of the loudspeaker trade in the United Kingdom, and the two companies together covered practically the entire export loudspeaker business.
During July 1948 Celestion ceased production at Kingston-upon-Thames, and production machinery and personnel moved to Thames Ditton as a consolidation of the two companies. The company title became Rola Celestion Limited, and Celestion was adopted and registered as the trade mark for the company's product.
As the post war market evolved and product demand was established, it became evident that the new wonder - television - would account for a large number of loudspeakers, although of course the radio speaker market was still strong. As the television population grew, so did the need for speakers for them and the Thames Ditton production lines were fully engaged meeting the manufacturers' deadlines.
Another change in fortune came about during 1949 when Rola Celestion Limited was acquired by Truvox Limited, a company based in Wembley and well known for its Public Address loudspeakers and systems. These covered the whole spectrum of this market and included such units as horns and loudspeakers for cinemas and many acoustic devices for the Forces which Truvox had developed and produced during World War Two. The new Company was now owned and chaired by Mr.D.D.Prenn and the Head Office situated at Mount Street, London, with the joint Managing Directors, Billy Page and Jimmy Tyrrell, and Technical Director Arthur Young resident at Thames Ditton. This brought the Public Address loudspeaker systems into the Celestion range, where they were further developed by demands from the new petrochemical and allied industries.
1950's Curiously, around this time a number of diverse alternative product lines were tried, including a pre-Christmas production of toy ducks! A more logical diversion was that of a moving coil microphone. Loudspeaker production at this time was about 30,000 - 35,000 units per week.
This era gave birth to the stereophonic long playing record and, in order to take advantage of this, a new product was introduced known as the G44/1300, which enabled an existing radio gramophone to be modified to incorporate two 12" G44 and HF1300 high frequency units. Likewise a special enclosure could be constructed to house these units, and for many this was their first experience of stereo sound. The system retailed for the modest sum of £18.10.0 and this included the speakers and complete enclosure and installation details.
As the taste for high fidelity increased, so did the demand for even better sound and stereo was no longer only to be enjoyed by the wealthy few. The Company's first real foray into this market came with the Colaudio, a 12" bass/midrange unit made of expanded polystyrene and fitted with three suspensions, coupled with the increasingly popular HF1300.
1960's New approaches were also made by the Rola Celestion laboratory staff to perfect the performance of the larger speaker models, and two new types, the 15-watt CX1512 and the 20-watt CX2012 were introduced in 1962. These were twelve inch (305mm) units, but differed from previous designs in having a compression loaded treble and/or horn unit built into the cone area of the bass speaker. Once again this was an attempt to separate the high and low frequencies without the aid of a crossover network, and one other feature of these units was the fact that they were fitted with a remote control for brilliance increase. They were also of the permanent magnet type, thus dispensing with the transformers previously fitted.
Alongside production of the domestic and power speakers were the units of the Public Address range, many of which were designed to meet Government specifications for use by the Armed Forces, Local Authorities, Police and Fire Brigade. Built to stringent specifications these speakers often performed in extremely difficult and arduous conditions such as coal mines, chemical works, aircraft and lifeboats.
The burgeoning market for live, amplified music gave rise to the enormous success of the G12, which eventually achieved fame as the guitar loudspeaker used in the Vox AC30 used by the Beatles and many of their contemporaries. However, the G12 was not originally conceived as a 'guitar' loudspeaker, and it had been in production since 1936
With their ears continually to the ground and their eyes on the market, the Thames Ditton design and engineering staff produced in 1964 what was to be the first of many notable Celestion hi-fi loudspeaker designs. Utilising the name of its birthplace, the Ditton 10 was launched at a critical time when it satisfied overnight a demand that hitherto had been frustrated. Offering the best possible audio quality from its bookshelf size, it was highly commended for its bass response, a quality that the pundits had always maintained could only be achieved with a large and heavy enclosure.
Celestion's design team, fired with the success of the Ditton 10, continued the endless pursuit of ultimate sound quality. Their plans were to incorporate an Auxiliary Bass Radiator (ABR) into the system, this passive unit working in conjunction with the bass speaker to extend and reinforce the lower end of the register.
Resultant of their research and engineering, the Ditton 15 made its appearance during 1966, and confounded the experts with such a low response from a small enclosure. The price was also reasonable, retailing for£28.11.6 a pair. The Ditton 15 was eagerly sought after by the now stereo conscious public, and became the biggest selling bookshelf loudspeaker of its time. This system remained in production for over a decade, during which period about 250,000 were made, and continued in production in modified form as the Ditton 15XR with a slightly extended response range. Around this time Neil McKinlay was appointed Managing Director. Staffing levels at Thames Ditton are estimated at 400.
As the demand for Ditton loudspeakers mounted, production became a problem at the Thames Ditton factory and it was decided that, as expansion at the present site was restricted by the river and road perimeters, a new location was the only obvious solution. Bearing in mind the considerable business that the company enjoyed, and problems which had been encountered with various docks in the London area, the East Anglian area was surveyed and eventually, after an initial plan to settle in Bury St. Edmunds, a site was acquired on Foxhall Road, Ipswich. New buildings were constructed, existing ones modified and the nucleus of a work force recruited using ex-Thames Ditton supervisory staff to train the new employees. Production began in Ipswich in late December 1968.
First into manufacture at the new Ditton Works, Ipswich, so named to perpetuate the original site, were the 12" Power loudspeakers of the G12 type. In the early days supply and distribution raised many problems as a vehicle was despatched early each morning from Ipswich to make the 90 mile run through London to Thames Ditton, carrying the previous day's production. It then loaded and returned by the same route, carrying back essential components for the next day's production, enabling the supervisor, charge hand and twelve ladies to meet their schedule.
As the weeks passed the interior of the Ipswich works began to house more and more sophisticated production machinery and more staff were engaged to operate the lines, which were now able to relieve the problems at Thames Ditton in the supply of domestic speakers to the manufacturers.
1970's In 1970 Rola Celestion was brought together with a publicly-quoted clothing company and the holding company created was named Celestion Industries plc
The production of domestic speakers reached a peak after about three years at Ipswich, and then a shift in the market evidenced itself and a noticeable decline in this product became apparent in the factory. Its place, however, was taken by units for the ever increasing demand for high fidelity stereo cabinet systems, and at this time further expansion took place with the acquisition of a modern assembly plant on the Hadleigh Road Trading Estate on the other side of Ipswich. Ditton Works now concentrated on the manufacture in all aspects of hi-fi component units, Power Range loudspeakers and units in the Public Address sector.
With the surge of interest in hi-fi from the general public, staffing levels reached a peak in January 1974 with a total of 907 employees at the two sites in Ipswich and at Thames Ditton, some of these working night shifts.Distribution was now wholly carried out from Ipswich by a new fleet of company vehicles, this being necessary for two reasons. The Thames Ditton factory was gradually run down, eventually closing altogether in 1975, and a new marketing policy by Celestion opened up a great many more smaller distribution points instead of the previous few selected wholesalers.
On 20th January 1977 Chairman Mr.D.D.Prenn announced the creation of overseas subsidiaries in France (September 1976), West Germany (October 1976) and U.S.A. (February 1977).
The increasingly international nature of the company's business led in 1979 to the adoption of the name Celestion International as a corporate identity for the parent company and all major overseas subsidiaries1980's In 1980, Celestion's continued investment in technology bore fruit behind the scenes of loudspeaker design. An instrument was developed which uses laser light to scan a diaphragm and produce moving 'microscope' pictures on a computer screen. This system taught Celestion's designers hitherto unknown subtleties of loudspeaker design, many of which remain trade secrets to this day.
One of the first loudspeakers designed with the aid of the laser was the SL6, a compact two-way loudspeaker launched at the 1981 Harrogate Audio Fair. This system contained revolutionary designs for both drive units - the bass unit was a PVC cone with an integral moulded dustcap and the tweeter was a one piece copper dome.
The Hadleigh Road site had been closed down in the early 1980s and resources concentrated at Foxhall Road, which remains the international headquarters of the Celestion operation.
In 1983 the revolution was completed by the addition of an aluminium honeycomb cabinet which provided a remarkably high stiffness/weight ratio. The SL600 set new standards at the audiophile end of the market, selling particularly well in Japan, and winning numerous awards around the world.
In 1984 the Sidewinder range of guitar speakers were unveiled. These were endowed with a special edgewound aluminium voice coil - a process developed to maximise the ratio of motor strength to mass which resulted in very high efficiency designs.
In 1986 Celestion produced the System 6000, a unique, patented, double-dipole subwoofer system with active crossover, designed to complement and enhance the SL600. Public Address systems benefited from Celestion's new double suspension B15 and B18 range, which offered power ratings up to 1000W. These were followed in 1987 by the SR series of Sound Reinforcement loudspeakers. The original (SR1) driver incorporated an integral aluminium dome to provide high-frequency output. The SR1 operated with an electronic controller which dynamically adjusted the low-frequency output to optimise bass levels and longevity
When the Celestion 3 was launched in 1989 it set new performance standards for low-cost hi-fi loudspeakers. One of the first of the genre to incorporate a metal dome tweeter, the Celestion 3 was highly acclaimed by both public and critics. The Mark II model was awarded '1994/95 European Loudspeaker of the Year' by the European Imaging and Sound Association.
1990's In 1992 Celestion International Ltd. was sold, as a separate entity from the clothing division, to Kinergetics Holdings (UK) Ltd., a holding company whose majority shareholder is Gold Peak of Hong Kong. The group acquired KEF of Maidstone, another top British loudspeaker company, at the same time. Gold Peak began in 1964 as a producer of batteries and has grown to become a multinational force in electronics and technology.
The Celestion Kingston continues the long history of technological advances. The Kingston was launched in 1995 and is both an evolution of the SL600 family and a major innovation - the cabinet is made from Alphacrystal, a moulded stone/resin aggregate - and tapers to a point at the rear such that the traditional back panel is eliminated.
Today the Celestion and KEF manufacturing operations are united under the banner of KH Manufacturing Ltd. while Celestion International Limited continues the tradition begun by Cyril French and Eric Mackintosh over 70 years ago - the research, development, sales and marketing of loudspeakers of the highest quality.
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