Buy a pair of ten year old $40,000 speakers for $4,000 or new ones at that price point?

Hi. There are bargains to be had on really high-end components that are more than a few years old. DACs change too much and we need the newer technology. How about speakers? I know it can depend on the specific model but in general is a 10 year old speaker system that was $40,000 in 2009 and now sells for $4,000 a better value than a new system that sells for $4,000 in 2019?  How much has speaker and crossover technology evolved in the past decade or so? (I posted a similar questions about amps in that forum). Thanks for all the input and wisdom.
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Showing 1 response by tmcconnell

Interesting thread. I have designed and built a lot of high end speakers, and I have owned many, and used more as a studio Engineer for 25 years. Just to respond to some of the points here. 

It's easy to get a 10 to one sort of advantage if you are willing to undertake a repair. 

Drivers last a long time unless they are driven hard all day.  Because the Voice Coil is suspended in a magnetic field, friction at the moving part is minimal. Surrounds deteriorate, and are generally replaceable. Paper cones do too, but they are also replaceable. Entire drivers are often replaceable, and not very expensive in the overall picture. The top end driver makers (Scan Speak for example) often will have a close-to identical model for some very old drivers. Sticking with a vendor who has been around for a while improves dramatically the chances of finding a proper replacement. 

The way to tell a burned voice coil is to smell it. No kidding. 
In a crossover, the main failure point will be caps. If you have older speakers you can get instant improvement by replacing the caps with some of the excellent audio caps now available. Caps in general are a horrible thing to do to an audio signal, so I avoid any crossover over 3rd order. Low order crossovers do sound better, but make other aspects of design very tricky. 

The "overheads" on speakers are design and engineering time. They are totally worth it. The basic MO of large manufacturers is to use extremely smart design and scale to help drive down the cost of parts and manufacturing. You pay the design costs once. Crossover design is mostly automated at this point, but in years past, getting all the factors in place (box, drivers, xover) just to get a good test was very time consuming. So, one advantage of more modern speakers (>2000)  is that design tools have become commonplace. The interaction of xover, drivers, and box is still a matter of engineering art, however. 

Speaker builders who sell just a few pairs of a high end model can't make much of a living. However, I expect that 3d printing, the availability of cheaper NC machines, etc, has changed that. Keep in mind that the cabinet is costly. I used to have fun buying blown up speakers with good cabinets, and reverse engineering new drivers and crossovers to the cabinet. That's a way to get really amazing quality inexpensively, although it probably makes a few people choke on their coffee. 

Finally, in general, second hand speakers are a bargain, and a chance to afford speakers that were built without compromise. Audiophiles, including myself, like to experiment with sound, and with speakers, that means selling your old ones. My old ones are worth zero to me after I get new ones, so I sell them cheap. Also, our circumstances change. Listening environment, noise restrictions, room size, SAF.  Any of these factors demand different speakers ... so, again, bye bye old speakers. They might be perfectly good, but are only worth what the market will pay, which, sadly, is not much.