Are modern speakers better than old speakers?

I have a pair of Moraunt Short Signifer speakers, which was their flagship in 1980. Have speakers improved dramtically since then? I would like to know what price bracket one would be in now to outperform these. I like their sound, wonderfull 12inch drivers and a paper mid without surrounds (no rubber/etc) plus a nice ferrofluid filled tweeter, which was relatively new technology at the time I believe. Also I would like to know if it is recommendable to upgrade the crossovers and cabling. Also perhaps bypassing the high frequency level adjustment. Please let me know your thoughts on this.
Some progress. Active Speakers without passive crossovers are the biggest change since 1980. These existed before 1980 but have become significantly more popular since then - still a niche. Drivers have improved but only incrementally. The fabric ferro-fluid cooled soft dome tweeters are still fairly dominant despite many attempts to surpass them. Active subwoofers have improved enormously, however, there continue to be large amounts of distortion in the bottom octave.

If they still work well then these might be keepers...

If you like their sound and they're working well, I would keep them "as is". As Shadorne said "some progess" and truth be told, probably not as much as a lot of manufactuers would have you believe.
If you like how the speakers sound, nothing else matters. My system is composed of many older components, each picked by me, and for me.

Modern speaker designs, do have the edge over older speaker designs, and for many reasons. However, exactly which modern designs sound "better", than their older opponents, is left for the listener to decide.

You may need to get out for a good listen to some of the newer speaker systems (this will give you an idea regarding replacement cost) VS...what you have now. You may even go home VERY HAPPY!

A very good question, I am in the same predicament, wondering if I should replace my 1980 B&W 801 with the 802D as technology has advanced so far, especially with the diamond coatings on the 802 tweeters. The 801 still sound terrific but I have had them for 27 years and wonder if it is just being used to them. To compare properly should entail a home audition which I'm not so sure will be possible.

I'm wondering if the improvement would be worth the price of the new speakers or just purely incremental?

Great thread.
I think you should divide two types of speakers: the dipoles (electrostatics, full range ribbons and magnetostats) and the cone (moving coil) speakers. The full range Apogee ribbons are no longer being made (for almost 20 years) but they are still very good and still competitive with most of the planars today (they are maybe even better!). Older Soundlabs sound still very good. Some say the older Magnepans (>20 years) like the original Tympanies are still the best Magnepans. The old JBL giant studio monitors (4350?) from the late 70's are very ugly but they still sound good and many audiophiles love them. Many of today's cone speakers are more detailed (hyperdetailed), are very revealing in the treble and therefore they could sound a bit "sterile". They are better technically, but I don't know if they are more "musical".
PS: The odd technology speakers like the omni's sounded odd during their prototype period but still sound odd to me in their most up to date iterations.

Most, if not all, are.
All you can do is listen for yourself. Don't worry about things like diamondd coated tweeters or synthetic cone materials or new active vs. passive crossovers, since only the sound matters. Go listen to a few speakers in the $5000 to $10000 price range and decide for yourself.

Transducers, crossover parts, software, testing gear cabinet materials, glues, wire all are better than in the past. I feel its the design thats lacking in many modern loudspeakers, manufacters pretty much give folks what they want, even if its crap... Think thin towers, little cubes,the bookshelf 2 way yawn, small subs with drivers that have massive excursions [like this can produce bass detail wont happen sure you get a deep drone but thats it folks just dont know what there missing] Tossin Bean countering,cost of shipping packing, max profit and WAF aproved design seem more important today. Thus the many same old, same old designs.Boring one reason why I started to DIY and later my own loudspeaker company.
Current cone materials, electric parts, testing, etc. are clearly better than past technology.

However, the materials used in today's enclosures are far superior to those of yesteryear. Many will opine the enclosure is the most important factor in a loudspeaker.

For that reason alone comtemporary products are better although some speakers have withstood the test of time well. Quad and Apogee are 2 examples.
I went from a traditional wood box to a composite material box. I don't think I would go back to a wood box anymore.

I went through a phase where I was auditioning electrostatics and ribbon type of speakers. From that point on, I was very sensitive to box speakers and just how 'boxy' they sound.

Now that I have a modern speaker made out of very high tech materials other than wood, the 'boxy' sound is gone. Period. The drivers are a paper woofer and silk dome tweeter.
I went from a traditional wood box to a composite material box. I don't think I would go back to a wood box anymore.

Do you mean real wood panels for speaker cabinet walls? Most wood box speakers are made from MDF...which is itself a composite material and works well.
interesting...depending on how one measures, which is a BIG, multifaceted issue, many technologically-based commodities, cars, athletes, etc., are "better," at least with most more-or-less objective measurements (a term itself at issue), so it would seem odd that stereo equipment would not follow that same trajectory.

the only problem here is that there is poor correlation between available objective measurements and anything like consensus on performance because the experience of music is far more subjective than, say, whether a car at a given price point (accounting for inflation of course) has higher mpg, speed, longevity etc.

But what I think is even more interesting, though perhaps less relevant to stereo equipment, is that even when so called objective measures point to the future as always superior, this does not at all speak to what is the greater "achievement" (much less what one "should" expect of given time period), because then a whole new question of metrics and subjectivity arises, namely the one raised by having to compare the different contexts in which past versus present achievements were accomplished.

This is why it is not technically possible to objectively measure whether, say, Jim Brown was a greater running back than say Barry Sanders (or whoever surpassed Brown's yards total, sorry not a NFL guy anymore). It's not because we lack objective factors but because objectivity simply is not the issue. Not only must the contexts be compared in some way (which is very tricky since the scientific, economic, social, and other barriers are very different), but we also have to realize that the contexts really can't be compared abstractly and analytically, as two unrelated scientific items or objects, because the two are intimately connected through time and space, i.e., related in yet other larger contexts, e.g., the former in some sense paved the way for the latter, which makes the two achievements like comparing apples and organges because the latter achievement did not include whatever effort the former required to be a "way paver."

Curiously though, this lack of objective basis in no way obviates the importance of talking and arguing about it, since this uncovers more factors whose significance needs to be mutually determined. This process invariably involves values, which are culturally and historically determined.

So the question to me is even all the more intriguing than if it could be determined "objectively," however difficult that might be. I LIKE the subjectivity, I think it's not a limitation to be tolerated but far more useful and enriching than objective comparisons could ever be (even considering how important these are). The best speaker I ever owned was the Apogee Mini-Grand in the late 90s, but for me the greatest speaker achievement I personally judged through my own experience were the Fried Qs I bought for $50 each being driven by Mac MC-30s I bought for $75 each in the mid-seventies. My friends and I will never forget that sound, it is tattooed on the eardrums of our musical souls.

Sincerely sorry for waxing philosophical, simply could not resist...very good question indeed.
It seems hugely variable. Some companies have done some serious cost cutting to appeal to larger markets and have definately undermined their product. Sound may be similar, but materials and build quality are just not the same. My foray into the world of B&W taught me this, while others, like totem, sound the same today as they did 5 years ago.
More often than not, modern speakers look better than old speakers.
Shadorne, yes, good clarification, MDF with a wood veneer.
Hello All,

I had a very illuminating and thought provoking experience today: I auditioned a pair of B&W 802D speakers. I had advised the dealer that I was an analogue fanatic and that I would appear with my LPs. I arrived at the dealer who knew nothing about this arrangement - the message had not been passed on. He quickly rustled up a entry level turntable and preamp and hooked it up to the 802D speakers, played a couple of tracks from my LPs and they sounded terrible. He then hooked up a Cd system to the speakers and they sounded a bit better but not as good as my vinyl. Needless to say I did not purchase the speakers but revelled in the jewels I have at home and reflected a bit.

The dealers was not set up for music buffs, it was set up for surround sound home theatre. and I think the answer to the question of old speakers versus new speakers lies there.

Today speakers are made with the home theatre market in view while the old speakers were made for solely the music lover and sounded so.

I have a pair of 1980 B&W 801 which sound phenomenally musical compared to what I heard today. A home audition would have been a fairer comparison but that wasn't on the cards. If there was an improvement it would have been minimal and not worth the $12,000.00 price tag.

I'm sorry for such a heterodox opinion but that's how I see it. I guess it's what you want from your speakers but I think we are all audio?
I am a Merlin speaker fan. Now I haven't personally auditioned speaker's produced 15-20 years ago by them, but I'm going to bet from reading forum enteries that my modern units are substantially improved. BTW, I use these for 2 channel only.
Nothing wrong with old. I come from an extended family of musicians and we had an original JBL Paragon growing up. My father had it for 50 years and it sounded great, especially on the big band, jazz and R & B records he played on. They always evoked a memory of earlier times, something that modern speakers could not recreate. I will always remember their retro sounds. I have a pair of KEF 104s that are 21 years old that recreate vocals better than newer professional grade ATCs I own.
I am in the same predicament you are in, I own Mordaunt Short Festival Series 2 from the early 80's that seem to sound really good for the most part. What I am wondering though is if, because these are the only speakers I have had in my place with my stereo, then I might be limiting the sound and not knowing it. However, I did take them in recently to do a direct comparison with some Quad 12L2's and Monitor Audio Silver 7i's and my old Mordaunts really held their own. I think the Monitor Audios sounded slightly better, but the Mordaunts have one 8" driver and it seemed to have better bass than both the others.

I still can't help but wonder how my Mordaunts would compare in my listening environment at home with a comparison to Paradigm Studio 20 V.4's, B&W 685 or 705's, or some others. I think there is something to be said for improved technology and better ways to measure the sound from speakers, such as Paradigm's government-funded audio labs, so I am curious too.
Rega Fan

There are some great modern brands to compare. The Paradigm are wonderful speakers. I have the model above, plus the Atoms, and I highly recommend the brand as best class for price performance. I have built lower cost systems for my two children around those components and I am always amazed at the quality of sound.

I recently auditioned the entire B & W line over the holidays. I was not impressed with the 685, but liked the floorstanding 800 series very much. I believe they were 803s or 802s. They sound "spot on the money" around vocals, guitars and piano. Drums and bass were a little relaxed.

If you like more the British sound, I think ATC 19s and KEF 207s are better sounding speakers. ATCs play the widest range of genres and are very precise. They love power and you really want to match with a neutral solid state system. NAD M3, Roksan and Bryston make great amps here.
KEF was one of the better speakers in the 1980s, but was left for dead in the nineties when their owner passed away and they went through ownership changes that dictated a more mid fi position. The current ownership, based on Hong Kong, is revitalising their hi fi line and I am very impressed with their HT line (3005) and new monitors (especially the 207s).

I recently bought a new Pioneer tv and the clerk auditioned their TAD-designed line of speakers called EX. I was very impressed with the sound I heard of those.
Shiprepair, hopefully my comment on B&W will stay within the context of the OP. One audio buddy owned the original 801, then the Series III for a number of years. A few years ago he replaced those with the then-current 802N. As an outsider and therefore more objective listener, I found the 802N a great improvement over the older 801. It is much better balanced top to bottom, offers more detail without harshness or edge, and images better.

He recently considered the 802D but did not find enough improvement to justify the $12K price.

Regarding the original question, I'd say the answer is yes and no. Certainly several models of individual speakers have improved over the years. But are all new speakers today better than their inflation-adjusted price competitors from 20 years ago? I don't think so. Many older models can offer satisfying listening if appropriately restored (foam surrounds replaced, old crossover caps upgraded, etc.).
to op, what do you mean dramatically? take your spkrs to a hi end dealer and do some a/b comps. you will have the definitive answer to the only judge that matters! every hi end dealer i've visted has welcomed customers to make comps with there vintage gear. as they too enjoy the hobby.
I don't know anything about your particular speakers but have learned several things over the last 5 years. I used to use my dads speakers and pioneer amp made back in the late 60's. While they didn't have today’s technology they were extremely well built in Japan. The build quality compensated for a lot and with new speaker grills they would look great even today. One of the biggest mistakes I made was allowing my parents to dispose of them when I went off to college, a few years back. I have since bought new speakers, have surround sound but have had to spend several thousand just to reach what I remember to be comparable system. While the old system lacked a faithfulness to the recording they where very listenable and sonically balanced. So I would if I where you keep the old speakers and considering buying an entirely new seperate system.
Must admit I simply cannot part with my Avalon Ascent MK-II speakers,which I bought well over a decade ago.I set up my dedicated room around them,and later added a Rel Stentor sub,to reinforce the extreme bottom,since they are eight feet into room.The speakers are fanatically maintained,and though I am a BIG fan of much new stuff,and have heard a load of new speakers,with todays improved electronics(especially front ends,and the newer line regenerators)these speakers leave nothing wanting!My previous speakers were the Infinity RS-1 and Betas. To me,these classic Avalons look like a text book case of the perfect three way design,that holds up over time.BIG TIME!Regardless of driver topologys and marketing hype!Cabinetry... 175 lb each channel,main speaker,and two 55lb each seperate crossovers.Stunning cabinetry veneers(sealed box design)and a true hand built look.It took two weeks to build one pair,and four cabinet makers at work.One of the four makers,who signed my hard bound manual,is now the manager of all cabinetry for Avalon.He must have been pretty good at his job!
The speakers were designed and built by the talented Charles Hanson,now of Ayre.
Sorry if this comes off as an ego piece,but there "are" times when we luck out.My Ascent purchase was one,for me!
With the numerous upgrades I have gone through,these speakers "constantly" reveal the most minute detail.I TRULY don't think I could have voiced my analog front end without them.
At the risk of seeming like I am getting a bit carried away,my friend has just gotten the wonderful Magico Minis.I LOVE them,but I'd not trade my Ascents for them.Hand to heart,and yes,they are that good. BTW,we both have the exact electronics and front ends.
Keep an eye out on the used market,as these do appear about once a year!!
Sometimes good craftsmanship holds up!
Best to all,and sorry for my rant.
Sirspeedy, no need to apologize for your enthusiasm for your Avalons. I feel the same way about my Duntech Princess. Good design and build does hold up over time. I think I would need to spend around $20K in today's market for a replacement and even then it could end up being a sideways move.
Pryso,funny you should mention the Duntech Princess.I met a gent at my local LP collecting emporium,who owns that speaker.The guy seemed quite financially well of,but was ecstatic with the performance of the Princess.
I guess he has more cash for new music purchases.-:)
If you're not familiar with the Princess, she is the "little" sister to the Sovereign, the model that received all the notoriety and reviews. I always believed the Princess was scaled more for an average living room - still at 6' tall and 180 pounds, she is not petite. Configuration is five drivers in a 3-way D'Apolito array. The Princess remains in production although with a few minor changes from John Dunlavy's design
It's hard to say,as my hearing is not the same in all probability. I am a 1952 vintage myself,and probably need to have my woofers refoamed.