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Would a 10-12 year old high end system like Wilson Audio or Meridian sound nearly as good as a 2016 model from the same brands ? Has speaker technology improved a lot since 2000 or 2005 ?
 

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Obviously, when a speaker ages, it won’t sound exactly like it did when it was new. But a great speaker is still a great speaker. Doesn’t matter if it’s 5, 10 or 12 years old. What has happened in the speaker industry is that there are now a lot of surprisingly nice sounding speakers that won’t cost the consumer several thousands of dollars. Heck, you can find great sounding bookshelf speakers starting at around $200/pair. Because of that, the cost difference vs diminishing returns is getting much steeper. That vast difference from high-end to medium-end to low-end has been narrowing steadily. There are more very good sounding speakers in the market than ever before.
 

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Obviously, when a speaker ages, it won’t sound exactly like it did when it was new. But a great speaker is still a great speaker. Doesn’t matter if it’s 5, 10 or 12 years old. What has happened in the speaker industry is that there are now a lot of surprisingly nice sounding speakers that won’t cost the consumer several thousands of dollars. Heck, you can find great sounding bookshelf speakers starting at around $200/pair. Because of that, the cost difference vs diminishing returns is getting much steeper. That vast difference from high-end to medium-end to low-end has been narrowing steadily. There are more very good sounding speakers in the market than ever before.
By ageing you mean how much a speaker has been used or just the date of manufacture ?
 

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a great speaker is still a great speaker. Doesn’t matter if it’s 5, 10 or 12 years old. What has happened in the speaker industry is that there are now a lot of surprisingly nice sounding speakers that won’t cost the consumer several thousands of dollars. Heck, you can find great sounding bookshelf speakers starting at around $200/pair.
DSRussell is absolutely correct. Firstly, there haven't been many serious improvements in speaker design and technology in the last couple of decades. (Though there is an argument that our 'Gelcore' cabinet construction is a game changer :) )

Secondly, speakers, provided that they are not abused, don't noticeably deteriorate in performance over time - until they get very close to the point that they actually fail. This is often after 20 or even 30 years or use.

What has changed dramatically is the cost of manufacturer. It has to be recognized that the ability to manufacture very high quality products in China, at a much lower cost than making the same products in the US or Europe, has transformed our industry (and of course, so many others).

So, as DSRussell points out, the major difference is you can now purchase a vast selection of extremely good loudspeakers at a far lower cost in real terms, than was possible two or three decades ago.

However, that statement doesn't apply to very high end speakers. Why? Because 'economies of scale' are of paramount importance. The 'lower cost' equation/business model only works if you can manufacture in big numbers. If you manufacture in small numbers, then costs skyrocket, which is why very high end speakers currently still have to cost so much.

Best regards

Q Acoustics
 

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Speakers aren't TVs.

The basic principles of designing and building a speaker still has similarities 50 years ago and today. TVs? No, almost every single thing in the philosophy of making TVs has changed.

Good sound will always sound good, hardware defect aside.
Bad sound will always sound like crap, you can't polish a turd.
 

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We should also add that another part of 'the improvement in performance at a lower price' is because of advances in materials. Chemical engineering plays a major part. An example is speaker cone materials. The improvements in 'paper' (and its variations) are unrecognizable to the performance that could be achieved years ago.

Best regards

Q Acoustics
 

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We should also add that another part of 'the improvement in performance at a lower price' is because of advances in materials. Chemical engineering plays a major part. An example is speaker cone materials. The improvements in 'paper' (and its variations) are unrecognizable to the performance that could be achieved years ago.

Best regards

Q Acoustics
Agreed. Material science, refinement in engineer and manufacturing have all moved forward.

But that does not mean on old speaker can not still sound good. I have speakers that I built in 1978 and are still in service today. They sound fine.

The one critical area of concern is the Surround Rings, that foam or rubber ring that attaches to Cone to the Frame. These can deteriorate over time. Gently touch the Surround Ring, if it feels gritty or is crumbling, then the speaker is deteriorating. Though these can be fixed easy enough. If the Ring feel smooth and firm, then you are good.

Keep in mind that the rubber rings in my 1978 speakers are 38 years old and still in pristine condition. Rubber was never a problem, the real problem is in Foam Surround Rings. The foam did not stand up as they had hoped. We assume that this has been corrected, and that newer speakers with foam rings have a longer life. But there was a window of time when the Foam Rings were first introduced when the deteriorated fast than they should have.

Components in the crossovers can age, but if and to what extent that has happened is very difficult to determine. The 1978 speakers above, were rebuilt in 1983 (new cabinets) and the crossovers are still in the speakers and still going strong (32 years).

On an older speaker, depending on the quality of the capacitors, some people will replace the capacitors with better newer types. But that hinges on the value of the capacitors being write on the capacitors.

There are mylar, poly, and other non-polar capacitors that are considered better than the cheaper and more common non-polar ELECTROLYTIC capacitors. Electrolytic typically don't hold their value for long. I would expect quality speaker like Wilson to use quality capacitors, so I really don't see that as an issue.

Unlike electronics, there is no reason way a speaker, well cared for, can not last 20 to 30 years or more.

Steve/bluewizard
 

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Obviously, when a speaker ages, it won’t sound exactly like it did when it was new. But a great speaker is still a great speaker. Doesn’t matter if it’s 5, 10 or 12 years old. What has happened in the speaker industry is that there are now a lot of surprisingly nice sounding speakers that won’t cost the consumer several thousands of dollars. Heck, you can find great sounding bookshelf speakers starting at around $200/pair. Because of that, the cost difference vs diminishing returns is getting much steeper. That vast difference from high-end to medium-end to low-end has been narrowing steadily. There are more very good sounding speakers in the market than ever before.
I agree with a lot of what everyone has said. One thing that should be added is that computers and measurement hardware/software has become really inexpensive. It has allowed companies to narrow the gap on designing good speakers.
 

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Hi,

All of the people who have commented have provided very useful insights, and my experience with vintage speakers is similar to Steve's. In rare instances, even rubber rings can become stiff with age, and it can be desirable to replace capacitors on older speakers. But we are typically talking about much older speakers (30 or 40 years old) in those instances.

I agree that overall speaker technology has not changed dramatically in the last several decades. Tweeter technology has enabled higher frequency ranges, although how many of us can really benefit from that is another question. Cabinets have typically gotten much thinner, in the last decade or two, for better room positioning and WAF. And with thinner, and overall smaller cabinets, the use of ports to increase low frequency response is much more prevalent than it used to be.

I also agree that reasonable quality at lower costs is a feature of modern speakers. But there is a flip side to that with higher-end speakers, as so much of their resale value can be dependent on what is currently in demand. High-end speakers, and other products, have always depended on cachet to command high prices, regardless of additional R&D costs, and material or fabrication costs. So, it is sometimes possible to find older speakers that can exceed the performance of many contemporary speakers (depending on your particular tastes) at a fraction of their original price.

I would suggest that if you are willing to take your time, and identify what you really like in a speaker, older speakers can sometimes offer you much more value for your money than contemporary speakers, bought at retail, can.

Regards,
Mike
 

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By ageing you mean how much a speaker has been used or just the date of manufacture ?
It use to be both. There was a time that surround materials would begin to deteriorate after 15 to 20 years. It didn't matter how often they were played. It was simply a matter of time. Depending upon the environment and playing abuse (running everything to its limits), cracks may start appearing in the cone and surround material. One doesn't see that much anymore. As the gentleman from Q Acoustics stated, materials are constantly changing and being refined. Speakers can last a very long time. It's one of the reasons we are seeing speaker repair companies going out of business (sadly, Orange County Speaker Repair just bit the dust). That, and the fact anyone can go on the internet and buy surround kits and view videos on re-edging and fixing cone cracks.

Speaker design has been around a long time, a lot longer than I have been going to my favorite audio store, beginning in the late 60's. It's a matter of constant and minor refinements that has slowly, but steadily evolved the industry. It use to be that bookshelf speakers were three-way designs with 10" drivers or larger. Now we are looking at bookshelf speakers with 5-1/4, 6-1/2 and 8-inch drivers (one can thank HT and the subwoofer industry for that). Everyone is seeking a less expensive way to make speakers sound better (the goal then, and is today, to seek that live performance level) and last longer. It may start out with driver design, crossover design and adjustments, but it leads to every aspect including cabinet design/reinforcement techniques.

We, as consumers, can now choose from a vast sea of speakers and speaker manufactures. The obvious problem we face is that we will never be able to audition, or even hear, a fraction of what is available. I often wonder how many great speakers are out there that I'll never get a chance to hear.

Anyway, what all this means is, if you are interested in buying an older high-end speaker, unless the materials have suffered (visual inspection and auditioning can answer that), you'll have an excellent speaker for a fraction of its original price.
 
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Would a 10-12 year old high end system like Wilson Audio or Meridian sound nearly as good as a 2016 model from the same brands ? Has speaker technology improved a lot since 2000 or 2005 ?
I agree with all that has been said. I find it quite amazing that with all of the advancements in technology over the last 50 years that most speakers are still a wooden box, electro mechanical drivers and a bunch of resistors, capacitors and coils! One would have thought that the technology would have developed by now to deliver concert type sound to all for $1000. Even amps and preamps are basically the same with the current generation of amps still using 30-40 year old designs. That said, lots of improvements have been made at the margin and with the rise of the mega rich there are lots more to choose from in the ultra high end with such companies as Wilson, Magico, Solution, Dagastino, etc. There are certainly lots more credible speakers being made in the $1,000-5,000 price range that are quite good and on an inflation adjusted basis stand up quite well to products from 30 years ago. It is interesting to think back to 20-30 years ago when the most expensive speakers cost $5,000-$12,000 a pair, such as Wilson Watt/Puppies, Infinity rs1's and Betas, Duntec Sovereigns, Focal Utopias,etc. and that top speakers now cost $35,000-$200,000. Regards. Ned.
 

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I think this is a very interesting discussion - my thanks to everyone who's contributed.

To return to 'PiggyChops' original question, which was in summary: "Have high end speakers got much better over the past 10 -15 years?"
I think we've pretty much all agreed the answer is no. They have certainly got better, but not by very much. We also seem to agree that if a speaker was excellent 10 or 20 years ago; there's a strong likelihood that it's still excellent today, and will probably continue to be so for many years to come.

From this we deduce there ought to be great bargains to be found in the secondhand market. :)

I, (perhaps slightly mischievously, and for obvious reasons) have pointed out that, whilst improvements have been small at the high-end, the performance of 'affordable' speakers has seen a huge leap forward during the same period. (In my defence, this view has been supported by other posters)

Naturally I'm not impartial in these matters, but I suggest there are many speakers, priced below $1000/pair that will astonish you. This improvement in performance is possible because, as others have pointed out, the introduction of high tech manufacturing, massive improvements in materials and of course, production in China.

In my previous post I used speaker cone design as an example, and how 'paper' (and paper variant) cones are now widely used. Modern 'paper' cones are almost the perfect solution in speaker drive unit production. Low mass, incredibly strong, easy to produce, relatively low cost, and very importantly, absolutely predictable and consistent.

My comments below apply to Q Acoustics - but also of course to other high quality 'affordable' speaker brands.

As well as advanced chemical engineering, modern design tools such as laser spectrometry, finite element analysis and of course, state-of-the-art computer modeling are deployed in the design process. We design all our own drive units. The speaker drive unit manufacturer we use in China can produce thousands of drive units every hour. (They not all for us :) )

Ultra modern manufacturing means, when they make our drive units, every single one will absolutely identical. I don't mean pretty close, I mean so perfectly within the tight manufacturing tolerances we set, the differences are hardly measurable.

30 years ago, this simply wasn't possible - at any price. Not only would it have taken dramatically longer to produce a thousand good quality drive units. They would all have been different. The speaker company would have spent weeks measuring each one to try and sort them into 'matched pairs'. This and so much more, inevitably meant good speakers had to be very expensive. That's clearly not the case today.

Best regards

Q Acoustics
 

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Fascinating thread!

Many years ago I read a NYT article about how SUVs are incredibly profitable for otherwise-struggling US automakers because they were basically pickup trucks with extra seats in the back and a covered trunk. I believe it compared a $20,000 Ford F150 pickup vs a $40,000 Ford Expedition SUV, and said that the latter only cost maybe $3000-5000 more to produce, yet sold like hotcakes at almost double the price of the former.

I suspect there is a similar huge leap in profitability between "high end" vs "budget" speakers, especially these days with all the cheap Chinese labor and advances in computer design and manufacturing uniformity. Methinks a $1000/pair loudspeaker probably costs $200 to build compared to its $500/pair "budget" version which cost $100 to build; the manufacturer makes twice as much profit per pair on the "high end" vs "budget" model. Who knows, maybe my proportions are off and the cost/profit margins are even bigger.

Which is perhaps why manufacturers and their industry-bought audio press love to talk up the "high end" speakers.
 
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I absolutely think that the audio press likes to talk-up anything with a potentially higher mark-up. But I don't know to exactly what extent that involves high-end speakers. I guess part of the issue would be to define what constitutes a high-end speaker. There have been numerous threads on the subject with some people treating anything above $500 per speaker, or $1000 per speaker, as high-end.

There has always been some fascination with the cachet of owning something exclusive. And that relative exclusivity is something that many who can afford it are willing to pay extra for. Without wishing to rekindle the never ending debate about sound quality as a function of cost, I would speculate that truly high-end speakers necessarily have a pretty good mark-up per unit due in part to the relatively low volume of sales. Unlike SUV's, which have an inordinately high sales volume when gas prices are low. :rolleyes:

Again, depending on how we define high-end speakers, I would look for significant investments in R&D, higher quality components (obviously not all drivers are the same), and much better cabinetry (sometimes involving exotic woods), and finish details. As others above have said, it's an interesting topic. Personally, I love the idea of getting higher quality and more beautiful whatever--whether it is art objects or audio speakers--without having to pay retail prices. The pre-owned market can be a fertile ground.
 

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I believe, one of, if not the most important reason that speakers of today have an advantage over speakers of the past is the ability to get good results by simulating and measuring designs simply and cheaply without having to incur the expense of an anechoic chamber and expensive measuring equipment. Most speaker companies were/are very small and couldn't/can't afford the capital expense. Now all you need is a laptop, a microphone and some software to design and measure a speaker. The ability to analyze frequency domain, time domain and distortion performance cheaply and easily can't be underestimated

Cheers,
OldMovieNut
 
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My daughter uses the 30 year old B&W CM1 Concept 90s I gave her daily.

Those replaced the fronts in my first 5.1 setup which were B&W DM100i's, two of which I use as rears in my main HT today and two others I gave to a friend who uses them daily as rears in his setup.

They must have used superior woofer surrounds than other brands I've owned that rotted out in half that time, (JBL, Celestion).

I gave my 20 year old Optimus ProLX5's to my sister in law for her 5.1 system and she is running 4 of them daily.
 

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did they have sound chambers to test speakers 10 years ago?
 

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If you mean anechoic chambers; then yes.
And some speaker makers were using quasi-anechoic measuring techniques by at least the late 1950's.
 

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did they have sound chambers to test speakers 10 years ago?
They had them 70 years ago, if not earlier. Besides, an open field away from buildings and noise sources is perfectly suited to testing speakers. McIntosh did so for a long time, Danley still does today. The advantage to anechoic chambers that they can be used in urban areas, in winter, or on windy or rainy days.
 
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