April 10, 2018
When it comes to sound quality, newer doesn’t always mean better. Paul Rigby follows his guide to vintage amplifiers with a look at some of the most enduring speaker designs.
Although modern manufacturers are becoming a little more adventurous, the contemporary market has been plagued for several years with banal and restrictive speakers designs, guided by a lucrative lifestyle market and what brands believe will be seen as acceptable within the family home. This effectively translates into tall, thin speaker cabinets sporting weedy drive units and no personality.
What vintage designs will give you, in contrast, is the big, the bold and the bizarre. Sound and innovation was the priority back then, not looks or interior design, and the sonically adventurous can have a fine time investigating older speakers.
Don’t forget though that the ravages of time will hit the speaker in the same way that it will affect any piece of hi-fi equipment. While the speaker cabinet is usually fairly resilient, keep on eye out for slowly stiffening and crumbling drive units and the rubber surrounds, and punctured cones. Also, take a look at the connections and make sure that the wiring and soldering has not degraded or been disconnected.
For this list, instead of moving from the lowest cost price to the highest, I’m going to list the oldest to the newest. Prices will vary, of course, depending on a range of factors so the figures I provide here are merely a rough guide.
I have not supplied a website source for each product because sourcing each will require a bit of detective work. I’d advise eBay, Facebook specialist hi-fi groups, specialist hi-fi retailers and small ads in hi-fi magazines and blogs.
This is a selection of the varied speakers swimming around the market, so please add your favourites below in the comments section.
Made in 1957, some people described it as a the best speaker in the world, and others still do. The QUAD ESL-57 utilises a cling-film like panel, providing exquisite upper frequency performance. The price reflects the panel upgrades from a third party outfit, One Thing Audio.
This is a classic stand-mounter from 1972, designed and developed by the BBC for internal use. Price reflects a new version from Falcon Acoustics: a remarkably exact – and I mean exact in every possible way – copy of the original. Even the BBC can’t tell the difference.
Spendor is still alive, well and very successful today, but made in 1976, these speakers offer a warm and focused sound with a Bextrene mid/bass and a Celestion tweeter. Needs placing on stands.
From 1977, this three-way speaker uses Bextrene cones within. While it is quite a neutral sounding speaker, which doesn’t sound as pacy as current designs, it still provides quite spacious upper frequencies.
The Yamaha NS1000 uses Beryllium mid-range and tweeter units with whopping great 12” bass units, which could be charged with assault and battery if played too loud. Need to be carefully partnered, though.
At the time of their release back in 1980, the 770s were seen as pretty innovative because they used polypropylene drivers. The result leans towards a clean yet warming sound output.
I’ve seen them at £100 with their original stands and £180 refurbished. Even then, these are a bargain with a top quality overall sound quality. Note that the designer was Peter Comeau – a talented figure and big cheese speaker designer in today’s Wharfedale organisation.
A folded horn design, this one is big, meaning that only large rooms need apply. Tannoy has a knack of producing sonic imagery for almost holographic-like music presentation.