How much have speakers improved/changed over the years?

Discussion in 'Loudspeakers' started by LiveJazz, Jul 17, 2013.

  1. LiveJazz Junior Audioholic

    LiveJazz
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    I was pondering this the other night and thought I'd bring it to the forum. I am a child of the '80s, and the only real speaker memories of the '80's and early '90's are of my dad's plain old JBL bookshelf speakers. Those speakers died and now he just has this thing. :eek:

    At the time I thought the JBL's were pretty nice sounding (I was, like, 10), but other than that I have no real frame of reference to compare today's speakers against. I haven't heard much vintage equipment, but I know some people prefer it.

    So - If you were to compare a current, well-regarded mid-level bookshelf (or tower or whatever) against a similar, well-regarded speaker at equivalent prices from 10, 20, 30 years ago, what differences would you likely hear? Would it be a drastic improvement, a difference in style alone, or would they actually be pretty close to the untrained ear? Just wondering the degree to which changes in technology translate to clear and obvious improvements in sound.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2013
  2. cpp Audioholic Field Marshall

    cpp
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    Not sure if a person could tell the difference against well made speakers of old and new speakers, maybe a little in the highs and mid range. I own a pair of old Kef 104/2 and also have a AR 3A pair and they still sound so good....Although the AR could use some work in the beautification department as it's one ugly speaker.
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    cpp,
  3. Pyrrho Audioholic Ninja

    Pyrrho
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    I think there is one way the new speakers will win big in the comparison, and that is with the "equivalent prices" stipulation of the opening post. In the past, audio gear was very expensive, which is somewhat obscured by the fact of inflation. Here is an inflation calculator one can use:

    Inflation Calculator: Bureau of Labor Statistics

    To give some examples:

    $100 in 1960 is about $788.86 in 2013.

    $100 in 1970 is about $601.81 in 2013.

    $100 in 1980 is about $283.38 in 2013.

    $100 in 1990 is about $178.66 in 2013.

    $100 in 2000 is about $135.60 in 2013.

    (I hope I have copied the numbers correctly; I recommend using the calculator rather than trusting the numbers listed above, which are there to give you the idea of what is going on.)

    Plug in the list price of an old speaker into the calculator for its year, and you will likely be amazed at how expensive the things were.

    So, when comparing an old speaker against a new one, the old one of equivalent sound quality is most likely going to have been far more expensive. Of course, buying used, one might be able to get the old one for much less than the new one, depending on what deals one can find.

    Also, I think that, overall, speakers have gotten better, though some old ones are quite good, and consequently, someone owning such a speaker may well have no desire to buy anything new.

    I tend to like the styling of some of the old speakers more, as many were made with rich, warm wood finishes that seem less common these days. But, of course, it depends on which speakers we are considering, as there have always been ugly speakers.
  4. cschang Audioholic Chief

    cschang
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    The biggest change in speaker development has been learning what to measure, how to measure it, and how it relates to what people hear.
    • Like Like x 1
  5. Pyrrho Audioholic Ninja

    Pyrrho
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    Regarding the old JBL speakers, if it is just the foam surrounds on the woofers that have deteriorated, that can be fixed. And depending on which speakers we are talking about, and their condition, that may be far cheaper than replacing them with new ones of comparable quality.

    Here is a company I have used more than once, always with excellent results:

    http://www.millersound.net/service.htm

    Obviously, since I am not affiliated with them in any way, I offer no guarantees. I am simply a satisfied customer.

    You can also try to do the work yourself, which is cheaper, though one must be careful to do it right or one will not get satisfactory results.
  6. NewHTbuyer Audioholic

    NewHTbuyer
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    I can't prove this, but I feel that quality has tricked down to less expensive items, kind off like automobiles. Even cheap cars now have more power, more luxury items and excellent quality compared to older models. So, I would guess a "cheap" speaker now will be better made with better components than a cheap speaker back then. Look a the Pioneer, Infinity and some other inexpensive units that are well liked right now as budget speakers. The SP-FS52 tower is only $129, so in the 80s that would be about $40 or 50 bucks. I the 80s that would get you a boom box to carry on your shoulder, not a decent tower speaker.
  7. Dennis Murphy Audioholic Chief

    Dennis Murphy
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    I'm not sure how much progress has been made in the past 10 - 15 years, but there's a world of difference between vintage 1970 speakers like the AR3a's and modern speakers. They were using text book crossovers with bare bones circuits, and not paying any attention to driver layout. I recently redid a pair of 3a's, and was shocked at how badly the crossover was implemented. There's a huge diffraction peak at the bottom of the midrange ((around 800 Hz) that the crossover does almost nothing to address. The result is that gooey AR sound that affected their other models because they had similar problems. With modern optimization software, it's a trivial task to smooth out the peak and get a decent blend between the woofer and midrange. But there's nothing to be done with the goofy driver layout that produces wildly different off-axis response to the right and left. The drivers themselves are pretty good--the woofer is superb. If the AR were being produced today, the driver layout would be straightened out, the crossover optimized, and the result would be near-first-class sound. That's not to say the 3a sounded outright bad. The sound was basically smooth and lacked the nasal midrange or screaming highs of many of the speakers of that day. But they just weren't transparent, and it's in the area of transparency that the most progress has been made. (Oh--I actually think they look really cool. That's the main reason I modernized the pair I had.)
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  8. Hobbit Full Audioholic

    Hobbit
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    I would think there'd be a noticeable difference over many years. I believe this to be true even in "mature" products where new model, or upgraded versions, come along in 5 or so year increments (BTW, what is the average speaker production run?). I'm an avid cyclist, former racer from the 80's through 90's, and it recently occurred to me how some of the equipment is not only lighter than ever, but material and workmanship has gotten to the point where I don't even think about replacing them like I used to. I can't remember the last time I replaced a saddle for instance. Whereas, I used to go through at least one a season in the 80's. They would droop in the middle or just plain fall apart. I can't pinpoint a single time point where this change occurred, everything just gradually changed for the better over the last 25 years.
  9. j_garcia Audioholic Jedi

    j_garcia
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    There is no real "advantage" to old equipment. Like Dennis mentions, I've opened up a lot of older speakers and the one thing that really stands out to me is how crappy the x-overs tend to be (he's talking about design choices, I'm talking about the fact that they actually LOOK like they were poorly built; and often are, but that was then...). However, if a speaker is old and still sounds good, then really there's no fault in listening to it as long as it survives because regardless of why it sounds good to you all that matters is that it does.
  10. cpp Audioholic Field Marshall

    cpp
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    Dennis please note I wrote " still sound good", ​not great, not excellent, not outstanding, not superb, but good :D , what did you do to modernize your pair and can ask ( you can PM me ) what did it cost and/or what you your charge to modernize a pair....
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    cpp,
  11. Dennis Murphy Audioholic Chief

    Dennis Murphy
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    My very first speakers were AR4x's--ordered them in 1966. Hated them. And now I know why--I just redid a pair of those. Same problem as with the 3a's, except that it was the tweeter that
    had a big diffraction peak at bottom of its range. For the 4x's, I just added some crossover components to smooth out the tweeter roll-off and match it to the woofer's. AR used about a $3.00 2" cone tweeter, so I couldn't work miracles, but it sounds quite nice on its own terms. For the 3a's, I had to replace the hard paper dome tweeters because they had developed holes. I used some Hiquphon 0W1 tweeters I had gathering dust. But if I had to order them new, they would cost over $200. The stock tweeters would be acceptable if they are in good condition. In order to optimize the crossover, I had to take three sets of measurements--one on axis, the other off axis to the left and to the right, and then try to come up with a crossover that could achieve reasonably flat response at all three mic positions. I used spare parts, but I'm guessing new components would cost maybe $150 - $200 per pair if I used poly caps all around, and maybe half that if I used some electrolytics for the high value caps. I've inserted a measurement of the stock AR3a before the mod.


    [​IMG]
  12. fmw Audioholic Samurai

    fmw
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    My father put a Klipsch corner horn in his living room in 1954. That was before stereo was launched. They still make the Klipschorn and I believe it hasn't changed much except possibly for the drivers. In his second home he installed a bunch of Bozak drivers in a stone covered concrete wall that vented to the outside behind the speakers. There were 4 15" woofers on each side, 2 midrange drivers and 4 tweeters per side in a three way configuration. That was in 1965. Zero cabinet resonance. I still haven't heard a better speaker system since. My nephew in law is still using a pair of Altec Model 15's that I gave him 15 years ago. I had to have the foam surrounds replaced. He loves the sound. I bought them back in the late 60's. They made some great speakers back in the day. They weren't all great but there certainly were some that were well done.
    fmw,
  13. Irvrobinson Audioholic Ninja

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    Some speakers from the 80s and early 90s were very good, like the B&W 801, the Apogees, the Quads, the Duntechs, some from ADS, but most weren't very good at all. By about the Millennium speakers in general got a lot better, but the latest drivers and manufacturing techniques of the last ten years have made the latest high-end speakers truly superior, in my opinion.
  14. Dennis Murphy Audioholic Chief

    Dennis Murphy
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    I agree with all of this except perhaps the degree of superiority of the latest drivers. Some are better--I use the RAAL tweeter in most of my speakers. But I could build something almost as good with any number of drivers that were available 13-15 years ago.
  15. Irvrobinson Audioholic Ninja

    Irvrobinson
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    I must have taken a stupid pill today, because I'm about to argue with you about drivers... For woofers and midranges, perhaps I can see your point, but today's best tweeters sound superior to me to what I heard 15 years ago, and I haven't even heard the RAAL. The latest Be tweeters from Revel, Focal, and Seas, and the B&W diamond tweeter, strike me as much more capable of realistic reproduction of cymbals and stringed instruments. What tweeters from 15 years ago do you think are the equals of these drivers?
  16. PENG Audioholic Warlord

    PENG
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    The Energy 22 Ref Conn's dome tweeter must be 30 years old. I compare it to the KEF R900 and can't say the KEF sounds better. So I believe Dennis could be right about drivers. Like he said, the stock AR3a's cheap tweeter is even acceptable and I assume he meant by today's standard. I always thought the challenge has been the enclosure design and build.
    PENG,
  17. AcuDefTechGuy Audioholic Slumlord

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    I think the better question is, how much has room correction like Audyssey Dynamic EQ, ARC, MCACC, etc, changed over the years. ;) :D
  18. Irvrobinson Audioholic Ninja

    Irvrobinson
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    I heard the 22 Ref Con back when it was new, and on some of the same music I'm still using to audition speakers (Telarc recordings) I don't remember being blown away by the realism of strings and cymbals like I am with certain current speakers. We might be able to write off my reaction to the lesser CD players of the day, but let's not go there. I know the Hyperdome is legendary, but I think the latest domes are substantially better, no less the ribbons and AMT designs.

    A couple of years ago a colleague replaced his B&W 801 Matrix S2 with B&W 800D2s. He had them side-by-side in his room for a few weeks until he sold the 801s, and I had a brief chance to hear them both together. Frankly, I was wondering if I'd hear much of a difference, because the latest 800s still have a similarly hot high-end as the 801 Matrices had. Much to my surprise there was no comparison, the 800Ds were unambiguously better, though we both preferred the plumper bass of the 801. (It's a coloration, but a pleasant one.) The Matrix cabinet is dead, so I doubt I was hearing cabinet differences.
  19. Dennis Murphy Audioholic Chief

    Dennis Murphy
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    I really don't think we're disagreeing. I said that "some are better." But it's hardly a night and day sort of thing. The Seas T25 series, including the Millennium, has been around since I started into this hobby in 1999, and I've never found anything smoother or with less distortion. The venerable Scan 9500 is capable of first class sound. And, although no longer available DIY, the Dynaudio tweets were excellent. I can't say that I was blown away by the Be tweeters I've worked with--ones from Usher and the super expensive Scan Speak. They measured well and sounded clean, but so do a bunch of other premium domes. They certainly weren't as open and relaxed as the RAAL. My only point is that improvements in drivers have been in small increments--no breakthroughs or even substantial improvements. Even the RAAL isn't that much better than the best of the ribbons I could have purchased in 2000. And we're still using the same crossover topologies.
  20. LiveJazz Junior Audioholic

    LiveJazz
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    Very interesting responses...I must say I'm surprised that there isn't more of a consensus on the level of improvement in the sound itself and not just the build quality. Over the decades, I guess I was expecting more of a trickle-down effect with the technology (as with bicycles, as someone mentioned...good analogy), such that a nice $1000/pr speaker from today would sound much better than a much more expensive speaker (for that time) from decades ago. Sounds like that is the case with build quality, but not necessarily for the sound itself. Perhaps the lesson here is that sound-competitive (vs today) speakers were available in the past, but they were harder to come by...so the overall sound quality across all speakers has jumped.

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