Celestion Ditton 66 Review

My Story

It was a cold winter day, during the times when I was not really into vintage HiFi. I was new in town and decided to visit local CD shop to see what was there. I discovered that apart from CDs they also had massive basement full of vinyl records. What a view! I went for a browse and fallen in love with the music that was playing in the background – one of the soulful tracks by Eric Bibb was playing from the rotating black disc… Sound was coming from a set of old looking speakers, powered by really strange (it was to me at the time) looking amplifier. Despite the fact that an old power cord was used as a speaker cable and secured with a piece of chewing gum, the sound was very alluring – so much warmth and emotion. Without hesitating, I ask the shop keeper about the music and the equipment. The speakers turned out to be Celestion Ditton 44 powered via vintage Sugden Class A amp (don’t remember exact model). This was the time when I realised that sometimes vintage equipment can deliver things that modern can’t… There may well be different reasons for it, including nostalgia, but it works.

I’ve done a lot of research  and concluded that higher model, Celestion Ditton 66, will be able to deliver same character of the sound as Ditton 44 but with superior clarity. I wasn’t in rush to get these speakers but one day, universe reviled to me an opportunity and I became a lucky owner of these beautiful speakers. Ok, I had to spend 4 hours in the car to get them, and the enclosures were in rather bad condition, but they were mine! I was informed that these Celestion Ditton 66 belonged to a HiFi shop in Cumbria (area in the UK) and were used for many years as their reference speakers. This explained tatty enclosures and handle marks on the sides. Well, at least I didn’t have to worry about running them in…

Speakers were upgraded (more on it here) adhering to the factory specifications. Due to this, my views on performance of these Celestion Ditton 66 speakers are based on listening to them after the upgrade. One may say that this is not right, but most of the original caps in the crossovers were nearly 20% out of specs, and therefore, speakers in the original condition did not sound how the manufacturers intended them to do. This basically means that my subjective views below refer to the sound that could be achieved with these speakers with a bit of work. You will not get the same sound if you buy them and leave them in ‘original’ out of spec condition.
Also, bear in mind that purchasing vintage speakers is always a gamble. 30 and often 50 years it’s a long time, and one can never be sure how this time affected driver suspension compliance, ferrofluid cooling is some tweeters, etc. Consequently, it is possible that the Celestion Ditton 66 that you have purchased will sound different than the pair I reviewed.

Speaker Info

Instead of trying to write something myself, I decided that this description from the sales brochure gives a good indication of what we are dealing with here:
The Celestion Ditton 66 is designed to true professional standards of sound accuracy. Its smooth, exceptionally broad frequency response extends well beyond the audible range, its dispersion is wide, and distortion extremely low – less than 0.7% in bass and mid-range at normal listening levels. Its high efficiency (only 4.8 watts input required for 90 dB with pink noise signal) and high power handling capacity result in extremely wide dynamic range. The speaker can accept programme inputs of 80 watts, for 102 dB S.P.L. output – even more on transients. Even the cabinet’s distinctive visual design contributes to your listening enjoyment. Its tall, slender silhouette permits maximum enclosure volume in minimum floor space (only 1.2 square feet), while aligning the upper frequency drivers more directly with the usual listening level. Within the cabinet are a superbly matched set of drivers and the Auxiliary Bass Radiator, all aligned on a single vertical axis to minimize diffraction effects. High frequencies are handled by the HF2000 tweeter (specified by the BBC. for monitor use). The mid-range driver is the pressure-dome MD500. And for the bass, a combination of the FC12 bass unit and 12 inch ABR (Auxiliary Bass Radiator) together with the carefully damped enclosure form an acoustic circuit that operates smoothly to frequencies well below 40 Hz. The crossover has resulted from considerable research and crossover points are at 500 Hz and 5000 Hz, 80 watts maximum. 4 – 8 ohm. This monitor loudspeaker system has an exceptionally wide and flat, frequency response.
 
 
Celestion Ditton 66 Specs

Frequency Response: 18 – 40,000Hz
Sensitivity: 90dB (1W input, measured at 1m)
Impedance: 8Ω (4Ω min.)
Recommended Amplifier: 10 – 160W
High Frequency Driver: HF2000 25mm (1″) Dome
Medium Frequency Driver: MD500 51mm (2″) Dome
Low Frequency Driver: FC12 300mm (12″) Paper Diaphragm and 300mm ABR (Passive Radiator)
Crossover Frequencies: 500Hz & 5,000Hz
Enclosure Type: Closed
Enclosure Dimensions (HxWxD): 1000x380x290mm (40x15x11.5″)
Weight: 26kg (each speaker)
Production Year: 1976
Price When Launched: £330 for a pair
Equivalent Present Day Price: £2,150 for a pair
Current UK Price: £600 to £1,500 for a pair

 

Look & Feel of Celestion Ditton 66 Speakers

By modern standards Celestion Ditton 66 speakers are quite large. Each speaker contains 12″ passive radiator, 12″ bass driver, 2″ dome midrange driver and 1″ dome tweeter. The finishing quality of the drivers isn’t great. Unevenly spread glue, partially covering driver surrounds; not the best paint finish and all the other little imperfections common in many British speakers from 1970s.

All drivers use standard ferrite magnets but the size of the magnets on the midrange drivers is incredible – never seen such a small dome powered by a such a large magnet, perhaps with an expiation of midrange driver from Yamaha NS-1000M. Baskets of the bass drivers are made from a nice die cast alloy. Surrounds of the passive radiators and bass drivers are made from rubber, which survived past 40+ years and does not look like it is going to give up any time soon. The tweeter domes are covered with protective metal mesh that often comes off. Luckily, both of mine were in place.
The original crossovers are hardwired and they are made of components that were available in the 70s, which means – electrolytic capacitors (with an exception of the tweeter section). But it is not all bad. We have four air core inductors which indicates that manufacturers did not look for savings there.
Cabinets of these Celestion Ditton 66 are made of veneered chipboard, with three internal reinforcements – fairly rigid but we can do much better nowadays. The grilles are thin metal (not something that you see very often!) wrapped with acoustically transparent black material.

In my opinion, despite some flaws, very good looking speakers, especially versions with veneered fronts. Photos below show the speakers after the refurb.

Sound of Celestion Ditton 66

When I plugged in these Celestion Ditton 66 speakers for the first time, I’ve had certain expectations in terms of how they are going to sound, mainly from reading multiple comments on forums. However, they sounded way better than I was anticipating. First thing that came to my mind was how balanced these speakers are. After giving them some more time, I’ve started noticing other things. Deep soundstage and ability of instruments sounding from behind the speakers is only one of them. Another thing is transparency of the sound – it is very good indeed, but not overwhelming. Not an easy thing to achieve. There are many speakers with greater transparency than 66s, but not many that are equally transparent and still not fatiguing to listen.

The amount of bass generated by Celestion Ditton 66 is an interesting subject. I was never expecting them to go as low as my Tannoy Monitor Gold 15″ in 210 litres BR enclosures. However, on 95% of tracks that I listened, they generated more bass than Tannoys Monitor Gold 15″. Intrigued by this, I’ve plugged in signal generator and started playing. It turned out that between 40 and 80Hz Dittons sounded louder than MG15s, but they dropped rapidly below 40Hz, whereas MG15s continued to generate the sound. As a result of this, MG15s were still generating fairly loud noise at 30Hz where as 66s were nearly silent. The conclusion is that very few recordings feature deep bass as we understand it (i.e. 18-30Hz), so getting excited about 18Hz in a sales brochure isn’t always a good idea, even if the specs are correct. And speaking of correct, I’d be very surprised if fabulous looking frequency response of Celestion Ditton 66 (18Hz to 40kHz) was correct. Well, perhaps manufacturer forgotten to mention +/-30dB… Enough about the technical specs though. The bass generated by these speakers is actually quite good and got some punch, which became clear when I played No Excuses by Alice In Chains from the MTV Unplugged album. It not only has a good extension, but also the visceral and effortless quality rarely present in modern speakers with high wife acceptance factor.

Midrange and treble are very natural with a bit of warmth to it. This pays of when listening to more atmospheric tracks such as Lost and Lookin’ by Sam Cooke, where that little bit of warmth plays an important role in engagement with the track. On the other hand, the same thing that makes Celestion Ditton 66 engaging in quiet tracks, makes them less engaging on busier tracks. That is not to say that they will sound flat on busy tracks. Far from that! They will still sound better than most of speakers within this price range, however, there are speakers out there that will play the busy passages with greater level of separation/transparency. What these speakers do best is natural presentation of vocals, clapping and pianos, not to mention the balanced sound across the whole frequency range. On songs such as Baby, Please Don’t Go by Bill Morrissey & Greg Brown they just sound right and very engaging. What enhances to the overall presentation is a fairly wide and deep soundstage but somewhat limited in separation.

Overall, Celestion Ditton 66 are probably one of my favourite vintage loudspeakers. They are easy to listen, engaging and you don’t have to sell your kidney to buy a set.


 

Conclusion

Celestion Ditton 66 are extremely good speakers, really good value for money. Clear and full bodied sound with plenty of dynamics and well controlled deep bass. Great all-rounders.

Balance of Sound: 5 grey stars
Neutrality of Tone: 4 grey stars
Transparency: 4 grey stars
Soundstage: 4.5 grey stars
Attack: 4 grey stars
Engagement: 4 grey stars
Total Score: 4.5 red stars

 

Songs Mentioned In This Review

Alice In Chains – No Excuses
Bill Morrissey & Greg Brown – Baby, Please Don’t Go
Sam Cooke – Lost and Lookin
 

Reviewed: October 2014 | Published: April 2015

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