Hi end audio equip sounds better today than in decades past due to tech - T/F


I am in a hi-end audio store today, speaking with the owner, who has been in the audio business for almost 40 yrs. Super nice guy. Can talk up a storm - but as a good thing... where someone like me can learn a thing or two.

He said something that I found curious... audio equipment (pres, amps, rcvrs, speakers) sound better today than just 20 years ago, b/c ’they didn’t have the same technology back then we have today'. Why? Better materials, better components, better r/d... the stuff just sounds better in today’s world, he is telling me.

Coming from someone who doesn’t know any better.... is there any truth to this?
riffwraith
I think so. CAD has been extremely helpful. Simulation can be done much quicker today. Computers have opened up possibilities which didn't exist 30 yrs ago. All that said, I'm not sure if they work for us, or we them.

IMO there is Far too much dependence on them today. IE. the only ones to profit from computers in retail is the bean counters in accounting. Customer service is often much more irritating with their oft useless menus. Usually when I need tech service I need a human that can reason. But they too are in short supply today. 
YES ! Down with Vinyl...LOL ! Give me Digital DSD/PCM all day and you won't take it "from my cold dead hands". 

Seriously though who'd a thunk Apple and a white box the size of a pack of smokes would revolutionize/degrade/wake up how we listen to music today 20 years later ! mp3's/AAC's forever (ugh! - I have so many that are replaced now with AmazonHD streamed via Bluesound node 2i).

Cheers !
I have actively pursued high end audio for fifty years. Each decade has been market by a sizable improvement in sound. At first it was basic design using available components, then carefully chosen components, then advances in materials, then designers have components designed for high end audio. It is pealing the onion and closing on reality through different designs, tubes, semiconductor, etc. competition drives companies besting each other.

Every component I have replaced that was over ten years old greatly surprised me how much better it was. I am sure that will not end anytime soon.
Generally yes. But i can think of many designs that stand the test of time. Technology has advanced considerably, parts are better, exotic materials are used more frequently but old and new ideas work equally the same.
50 - 70 years ago we used tubes, turntables, high-efficiency speakers and vinyl recorded through tubes and discrete electronics - in other words complete analog systems. Today, we use digital through out our systems and media. In my opinion, digital is more convenient but very rarely sounds better than an all analog system from back then.
Speaker used to be the "weakest link" (talking about dynamic speakers). Today, companies like B&W and Magico are producing products that are really special. I just wish J. Gordon Holt and H.P., RIP, could have heard them.
No, 20 years ago, 2001. (between 01-21)
Yes 40 years ago, 1981.  (between 81-01)
No 60 years ago, 1961 . (before 1961)

I had to think on that.  I really think from the 80s to 2000 things were pretty heavy, ran extremely hot, were HUGE, prone to a lot of electrolytic leaks and failures. They started using LEDs, small planars were being developed. A LOT stronger, lighter, and UN affordable composite were developed (now they are affordable).

Pre 61, LOL The last of the On/Off volume controls. Remember You turned on the unit and that was the volume control too. They still use them today in a pro tube amps. All together different. Valves.
SS was truly JUNK. Transistor radios, what piles of heaping trash..
A TV, you could barely move in a room without it going wiggy.
Radio was a lot more popular when I was a kid.. TV was on the weekends for a couple hours.. Bonanza, and Lawrence Welk. :-)
Nope! The "good stuff" of the past can still hold its own with any of today's touted offerings by the "golden ears" crowd! The idea of continual forward progress in HiFi is an illusion benefiting magazine advertising revenue!
Case in point: my vintage 1973 Altec Stonehenge I's  vs. the Tekton DI's! How about some Zeppelin and Ten Years After as playback  choices? Maybe some Pink Floyd and Hendrix, too! Both speakers look like contenders that can "rock out"!
A nicely restored pair of Marantz Model 9 mono tube amps can today still compete with any four and five figure tube amps!
Add those same Marantz 9's to a pair of KLH Nine full-range ESL's and you have a killer combination circa 1962!
Affordable audio got much better.
High End audio got more expensive with a similar quality.

The niche between the high end was filled with direct selling companies like Tekton, Schiit Audio, Emotiva, Woo Audio ...
And I think it is great!

I am not familiar with audio dealers in Canada here.
But judging by the Israeli audio dealers, they are: crooks, liars, hucksters, bastards.
Thank goodness I switched to vintage and home-made audio and have not had a dealt with audio dealers for a long time. I only see their sly faces on audio show in Montreal.
The vibrant market in vintage audio products is pure nostalgia.

Or is it?
No, no truth to it at all. Same with cars, planes, medical equipment, bicycles, telescopes, rockets - nearly anything you care to name as technological equipment. No way a new item can outperform the old. Really, there is no reason for technological progress, as the old was good enough.

This is especially true when one’s wallet controls all decisions in terms of "diminishing returns". ;)

In fact, what you really want to do in order to beat the industry at its own game is to buy mid to low-fi gear, then spend inordinately on room tuning and tweaks. For sure, that will get you really close to SOTA!  LOL  

The one major area where gear sounds so much better is DACs.

About 20 years ago there was a significant improvement, and Redbook suddenly sounded almost as good as 96/24. Not sure what happened, but it was a real seismic shift upwards in even low cost, USB powered gear. The need to use high resolution formats to get excellent performance almost vanished.

Speakers as well now can be much more neutral and extended in the top octaves with less distortion.  Not all, of course, but a lot of brands have gotten truly excellent tweeters, far better than early Be or micro-motor diamond tweeters. Magico, Monitor Audio, Sonus Faber, Legacy, YG and others have pushed this part of the envelope forward a great deal.
I had the MAANTZ 2245 receiver, JBL l00 speakers, and an ELAC MIRACORD turntable back in my university days in the 70’s. it was considered a top-shelf audio system back then in the Jurassic Era of audio.

My take:

- today’s equipment smokes that "vintage" era gear.
- Sure, it still appeals to certain cohort of fans today, mostly from a fond nostalgia, just like old cars.
- "Vintage" in audio is not the same perception of perceived product step-up as "vintage" in old wine. It just means "old" and in need of attention for age-related failing parts..
-And it still won’t best today’s modest price strata offerings even if restored.(just like old cars ...)..

But one can enjoy them if that’s the nostalgia straw that stirs their drink..
While the average quality MAY have improved, certain vintage gear still sounds as good, or in some cases better than current stuff.  If you ever have a chance to sit in front of a pair (or even one) original Quad ESL57s driven by original Quad amplification, you can tell us how much progress there has been.

I still run gear that is 40 years old in one system and 20 years old in my main system.
I love vintage technology, especially watches. But the performance gap between watches produced during the "Golden Era" (i.e. '50s and '60s") and today is far more narrow than that of stereo components, cars, or pretty much anything else.

I was using a re-capped and upgraded Accuphase E-303x integrated amp for about three years, and enjoyed it thoroughly. But when I switched to a used Hegel h160, I was very surprised at how big a step forward it was. 

On an inflation adjusted basis, they were comparable in cost, and yet despite the obvious quality of the Accuphase, it was no match for the Hegel.
KLH 9s. Artjur Janszen. 
David rebuilds them in 2021 and his modern  designs are fine too.
Well, yes to materials and technology. No to the sound, good vintage is simply good. Individual choice.
Digital gear today is far and away superior to vintage vinyl, particularly on digital recordings post ca.2000. The same is not true for amps nor speakers, particularly at the high end
When it comes to amps, I would think that the passage of time treated tubes and SS differently.  There haven't really been any new tube circuit designs in decades, though some of Bob Carver's recent work might qualify.  As someone pointed out, if you were to update older tube gear, replacing aged components with new, where would the vintage gear fall short?  

SS may be a different story, with newer topologies.  That said, an awful lot of experimentation was done in the 70s and 80s.

Speakers have seen the greatest change, benefiting from discoveries and advancements in material science and manufacturing, as well as design and testing tools.

Pretty much everything I own is early 90s or older, except for the home theater preamp and amp, and a pair of speakers from 2008.  Most of it has been recapped and restored, tube and solid state.  Would love to try some new gear once I get my listening room set up.  Thinking Lyngdorf with RoomPerfect might be my first foray.


It is sad that there are a lot of audiophile here who don’t have any idea that records made from 1955 to 1964 sound best, much better than most modern digital records.
They don’t have any idea how do great sound speakers from the same era.
Most of modern speakers are low sensitive and have thermal distortion that most of speakers before 1970 didn’t have.
Thermal distortion lead to:
compression, different frequency response on different volume,
decreasing of magnet field on high volume, listening fatigue.


@alexberger - How do you account for the emergence of this Thermal Compression? How was it avoided in the "old days". This is fascinating...

 @alexbergeri just happen to be listening to Mingus, Ah Um, one of the great albums from the late 1950s... I have lots of them... they are spectacular.

But old speakers? Really? I can’t remember anything of much merit other than Quad... the others boomy distorted high frequency. I have been delighted as one boom has been resolved into its component parts and articulated. But I haven’t listened to any old vintage speakers in decades. So what are some of these old classics that sound so great today?
Thermal Compression is a speaker voice coil heating. The voice coil impedance increasing with heat, so sensitivity goes done, crossover frequency floats. Ferrite magnets field decreasing with heat too that leads to change of Qms and Qts of speakers and bass response.
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/power-compression-vs-thermal-distortion-loudspeaker-alexander-wilson/...

https://pearl-hifi.com/06_Lit_Archive/15_Mfrs_Publications/Harman_Int%27l/AES-Other_Publications/LS_...

Old high sensitive speakers don’t have thermal compression because need a couple of watt to drive it.
There are example of good old speakers: JBL L200, Tannoy Monitor Red and Silver Series, Altec 604, 604B, 604C, 604E, Altec VOT, RCA LC-1A.

I can understand people who don’t like vintage speakers form 50-60x.
But I moved to vintage speakers 16 years ago and I don’t regret.
These speakers suites more for acoustical music but some of them can rock too.
Old speakers are also exceptionally good for old recordings from 50-60x.

They sound more modern and audiophile when you add supertweeter on top. The same true for many electrostatic speakers as well. Vintage speakers benefit from crossover renew.
Low cost DACs made today are superior to those costing 10x, probably 25-50x what was available 20 years ago. Many expensive DACs are a step backward in performance though you may like the way it sounds.

It is surprising how good many low cost speakers are today.

Class-D has come of age and rivals the best amplifiers. You may not like it, but they work very well. Many are even doing that with switch mode power supplies.

Bass management and room correction has grown leaps and bounds with no cost increase.