Vintage vs Modern Speakers: A Comparison Guide

vintage speaker

The comparison between vintage and modern speakers has been one of the major topics that sparked strong opinions when discussed in web forums and blogs. Vintage vs modern speakers, which of the two is better to own?

Both vintage and modern speakers have their individual pros and cons over the other. To add to the body of knowledge, this guide will compare the vintage speakers and modern speakers and maybe put some questions to bed on this topic.

When considering buying either a vintage or modern speaker, the decision is always based on price, quality, reliability, specs, value, and individual preferences.

For some reasons, vintage speakers may not be better than modern speakers. One, vintage speakers were made to be powered from weaker amplifiers. This made them have higher sensitivity, but the quality is sacrificed somewhere.

For another reason, compared to modern speakers, vintage speakers are old with possibly corroded stuff, rotten carbon-infused paper cones and rubber surrounds, and so on. Naturally, most old things can’t be as supple as young things. For instance, old capacitors would also have changed by now.

Most 15in. vintage woofers will rarely extend much below 50 or 60 Hz. This is because they used stamped baskets, flimsy paper cones, small-diameter voice coils, they have inefficient “Alnico V” magnet structures, and their tolerances weren’t tight.

Vintage vs. Modern Speakers: Enclosure

When comparing vintage and modern speakers, enclosures are also an important consideration.

Enclosures of vintage speakers were generally made of cheap pressboard or even plywood. The cabinet walls were often thin and resonant, and rarely was any internal bracing used.

All these are not strong enough to control the back waves within the enclosure, adding to distortion.

Vintage speakers are often large and their enclosures were thick wood and damped to prevent resonance. Physically larger equates to better and lower bass response.

Also, there were many manufacturers in fierce competition, which enables comparison to be carried out not only between speaker to speaker but also between speakers to live music.

Nevertheless, this is a bygone era. Modern speakers tend to be smaller with a hollow sound when tapped. They produced limited proper bass. But there is nothing to compare them against so no one is aware of how poor they sound unless they are compared with a good set of headphones.

Furthermore, the drivers of vintage speakers were usually attached to the enclosure with wood screws. But this is different from what you would see in modern speakers.

Vintage vs. Modern Speakers: Crossover Circuit

The crossover circuits had electrolytic capacitors in the signal path. The electrolytic and ceramic disc capacitors had poor tolerances over time and generally had harsher sound, possibly due to saturation.

Sometimes three and four-way speakers didn’t even have crossover circuits; they just had a single capacitor on each mid and tweeter to filter out lower frequencies at 6 dB/octave. All these show that vintage speakers are not as efficient as modern speakers.

Nevertheless, there were junk speakers from the vintage era, there were also very good speakers from the vintage era.

There are junk modern speakers, and there are also very good modern speakers. That doesn’t mean that vintage speakers can match up to modern speakers.

Vintage vs. Modern Speakers: Technology

Remember, technology has advanced, manufacturing has improved, and better R&D and materials have evolved, and so on. But a good, high-quality, well-engineered vintage speaker will sound better than many cheap modern speakers.

You would find some great value in certain vintage speakers which will outperform modern speakers. On the other side, high-end modern speakers can’t be matched by vintage speakers unless you’re interested specifically in a vintage sound.

Design

One area where modern speakers fail a bit is that they are generally designed in software, not on paper. Cabinets can resonate differently to simulations, driver cone materials sound different, and most certainly do not act as theoretical cones.

The best method of design is to design on paper, then verify in simulation, and then verify by ear. These days, the speaker design process usually takes place in simulation and is then measured by a calibrated microphone.

Unfortunately, it’s expensive to trial and error these days, most manufacturers rely on simulations and frequency response curves to make sure the final product should be good.

Vintage vs. Modern Speakers: Quality

The quality of engineering, tolerances, etc. in today’s drivers far surpass drivers from 20 years ago due to advances in engineering techniques and advances in materials.

Amps have also improved in power, efficiency, and audio quality quite significantly which has enabled speaker designers to make lower efficiency speakers and allow more interesting design choices.

For example, a tiny bookshelf speaker today provides as much quality and SPL as a much larger cabinet sized vintage speaker.

Summary

I fully understand the romance with vintage speakers as there are some users that love old speakers. Nevertheless, nearly all speakers are far superior today to speakers made fifty years ago.

Progress is generally a good thing. While we still need to remember and appreciate that cool, funky vintage speakers, but it’s always nice to take today’s offerings over vintage speakers.

Modern speakers have the advantage of new technology going for them. However, some of the classic vintage speakers have sound qualities that nothing modern can accurately reproduce.

The best advice I can give you is to listen closely to several different speakers, both modern and vintage – and let your ears be the judge.If you are an audiophile and want to enjoy the feel of some vintage speakers.

Here are some affordable vintage speakers you can consider:

JBL L100 Classic

The original JBL L100 Classic was introduced in 1970 and was one of the best-selling loudspeakers of their time. This speaker costs $250 each but the home version requires more space and lots of power.

JBL re-introduced the L100 Classic in 2018 with a newly designed driver. This speaker utilizes JBL’s pure-pulp cone 5” midrange drivers, 12” bass driver, and 1” Titanium dome tweeter in a stand-mounted loudspeaker.

This speaker delivers a lot more finesse and a warmer tone than the original and all of the accuracies of the world’s best studio monitors. Nevertheless, it requires lots of space and a powerful amplifier to function optimally.

Klipsch Forte III

This speaker was introduced in 1985. It is large, heavy, and unlikely to impress initially with its dated look. But this would change the moment you put your speaker to test and put some distance between the loudspeaker and your listening position.

Unlike other Klipsch models which can sound bright and forward sounding, the Forte III sound more restrained without sacrificing the tone, dynamics, and sense of realism that they deliver.

All genres of music work with the Forte III and with warmer sounding amplifiers and sources, they make a lot of really super expensive audiophile loudspeakers sound rather lifeless.

Wharfedale Linton Heritage

The original Wharfedale Linton Heritage was introduced in 1965; the speaker utilized three drive units and developed a strong following with its smooth midrange, punchy low end, and sense of scale.

However, the model disappeared from their line-up in the 70s but was recently reintroduced as the stand-mounted Linton Heritage. Wharfedale has also designed a custom stand for the Linton Heritage that puts the tweeter around 36-inch from the floor and includes room for records as well.

The modern Linton features an 8-inch Kevlar cone woofer, 5in. Kevlar cone midrange driver, and 1in. soft-dome tweeter. Listeners may decide to ditch the woven grille covers, but they also give the Linton that old-school look that makes them stand out.

The new Linton Heritage costs about $1,500 and offers all of the midrange resolution and natural sound of the original, but with a lot more detail, speed and transparency.

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