Bookshelf Shootout: Celestion SL 6si vs B&W DM601 vs Paradigm Atom v4

All the bookshelf speakers together. Clockwise starting from the stand: Celestion SL6 si, B&W DM601, Polk Monitor 7, Paradigm Atom

All the bookshelf speakers together. Clockwise starting from the stand: Celestion SL6 si, B&W DM601, Polk Monitor 7, Paradigm Atom


I just picked up a pair of slightly-battered Celestion SL 6sis. My initial impressions were very positive – they have a detailed and pleasing sound, very accurate and with great separation. I’m currently using a pair of slightly-battered B&W DM601s in my bedroom and recently purchased a pair of Paradigm Atom v4s for installation as my rear surrounds in my basement HT system. It was high time for a shootout!

The conditions for the competition were as follows: my NAD Monitor 7100 receiver would be the power source, fed by my Apple iPod Classic 160GB and my Sony Blu-Ray player feeding into the NAD.

All three pairs of speakers would run without subwoofer and mounted on the Celestion 24″ stands I picked up with the SL6s.

First up were the Celestions. The SL 6si was a later incarnation of the original Celestion SL6, released in the early 1980s. The SL6 was lauded as the first metal-dome tweeter. The first tweeter was rendered in copper, and both the tweeter and bass unit were said to have been designed using laser-based vibration analysis to determine the real breakup frequencies of the driver. Celestion said that prior to that, most speaker tweeters were suffering from considerable (and unreported) breakup within the audible frequency range. The heavy copper tweeter was said to resist any breakup up into 20Khz.

Celestion SL6 si on the stand

Celestion SL6 si on the stand

The drawback to the revolutionary design was a very inefficient speaker, around 84 db/watt, which required serious current and watts to drive. While impressive in performance and sound, it was a qualified speaker.

Celestion modified the design with the later SL6 si, which replaced the copper-dome tweeter with an aluminum one, an improved crossover and woofer surrounds. This reportedly improved the efficiency and response of the speaker, without sacrificing its famous clarity and imaging.

Placed on its stands, the SL6 si is heavy for a small bookshelf speaker – I estimate about 15lb apiece. They easily dwarf the lighter B&W and Paradigm speakers onhand.

Once plugged in to the NAD, I try a few songs. First up for comparison with all three are the following, all on CD:

Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin IV)
Magic Man (Heart Greatest Hits)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here)

I like the treble and vocals on Magic Man, the imaging test that Stairway and Pink Floyd present, and I can easily spot what jumps out using all 3 recordings.

The Celestions were very impressive. The soundstage they cast was wide. On all songs they presented a pleasant and accurate sound, with nothing jumping out. On Stairway, Robert Plant’s voice sounded realistic and in the room – on some speakers the reverb gets too high and it sounds artificial. Imaging was excellent, and treble details popped out.

Detail of Celestion SL6 si front baffle. Note inverted woofer center cone- also laser designed!

Detail of Celestion SL6 si front baffle. Note inverted woofer center cone- also laser designed!

The most impressive characteristic of the speaker was the air and separation it gave to instruments. Everything was there but space between instruments and vocals was retained.

The B&W DM601s had a different flavor. The 601s I have are a little cosmetically beat up but functionally immaculate. These 601s are the Series 1 and the first iteration of the long-lasting line of this entry-level two-way from B&W. In the past I’ve been really impressed with their honesty and performance, in particular when I had them hooked up to a Denon 1907.

Hoisted up on to the Celestion stands after the SL6s, however I was shocked.

I started with ‘Wish You Were Here”. The midrange at first on the guitar intro sounded warmer, and the soundstage was elevated more vertically. But once the whole band kicked in I noticed right away that the tweeter didn’t kick as high with the same clarity of the Celestion. And then when the cymbals came on I started to wince – this was getting harsh! I actually turned the recording off halfway through the song because the tweeter was so harsh it was uncomfortable. Astonishingly, I’ve never encountered that in these B&Ws before, but I must admit they lead a very relaxed life as my bedroom TV speakers and never have to work too hard.

Overall the B&Ws had the bass and a warm midrange but shocked me with harshness in the tweeters and less range than the Celestions. Off the stands they went.


B&W DM601s. My pair is a little dented in the upper corner. But this has no influence on the sound, which in this test, was disappointing.

B&W DM601s. My pair is a little dented in the upper corner. But this has no influence on the sound, which in this test, was disappointing.

The Paradigms were last. They’re tiny and featherlight compared to the Celestions or even the B&Ws but I didn’t let that cloud my judgement.

When the songs started I was pleasantly surprised. These have a great soundstage, good bass (you need to turn it up a bit), and very nice highs. They are very very pleasant to listen to. Overall they feel noticeably ‘softer’ than the Celestions or the B&Ws but not in a bad way – they impart a different character to the music but it’s fine.

I was really impressed with the Paradigms and came away convinced that they are really nice. It’s almost a shame to put them on the walls in the back of my HT.

Paradigm Atom: Little. Black. Different (not really)

Paradigm Atom: Little. Black. Different (not really)

Last of all I put the Celestions back on the stands for a final listen. Once again they just sounded ‘right’ where the others fell short. I could listen to these for hours. And I’m looking forward to pairing them with my B&W sub to see how they sound with the low-end responsibility delegated somewhere else.


Celestion SL6 si front grille

Celestion SL6 si front grille


~ by silverfacestereo on April 29, 2014.

4 Responses to “Bookshelf Shootout: Celestion SL 6si vs B&W DM601 vs Paradigm Atom v4”

  1. I recently acquired a pair of SL6S Celestial speakers and am totally blown away when assisted by a small pioneer subwoofer. Powered by a fully restored Sansei 9090, this setup will stay with me for a Long time.


  2. I have 3 sets of Celestions, The big Transmission line 300,s , the SL12si,s and my SL6 units. Running Denon PMA 2000 r, amp, matching CD player, Lin LP12 T/Table and the oldest Sony tape a TCFX5C. There is nothing I have heard as crisp, accurate and overwhelming as my system, obviously I cant run all speaker sets at same time but the 60 seconds it takes to change speaker wiring is worth it big time


  3. Back in the 1980s while living in Germany, I bought a pair of Celestion UL6, they had a passive membrane and sounded wonderful for classical music. I added a passive subwoofer which filled in the lower regimen. When I moved to the US I left them with my best high school friend and his wife. I was also introduced to the SL6 at an exhibition back then and was impressed with the laser interferometry technology that was used to created the membrane. Much later, in the early 2000s I found a pair of SL6 that I bought from England. These had the copper tweeters. I bought a second pair with the aluminum tweeters, which I use as the back speakers. I like the copper tweeter better, they appear to have a ‘warmer’ sound. I absolutely love my Celestions.

    Thanks for your review, Stephan.


  4. Having heard SL6si for almost 25 years now, I cannot but stress the importance of the amplifier driving them. They sound dull and boring with the wrong amplifier and simply bloom with the right one. Suprisingly enough, considering its low efficiancy, I get the best sound with a modest power Sonneteer Alabaster, sounding much better than the former high power and high current, not to mention much more expensive gear.

    Liked by 1 person

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