"Vintage" speakers...good idea?

To feed my stereo habit, I'm toying with the idea of buying a pair of "vintage" speakers, like the old classic JBL L series or something similar. Many of these speakers are up to 25 years old, but can be found with their foam surrounds repaired and in otherwise good condition. My question is, do other parts of the speaker wear out? That is, other than the obvious physical disintegration of the foam surrounds? What is the average life expectancy of a speaker?

Over time, it is possible for the voice coil magnetic gap to shift or degrade as the "spider" ages, or for some paper cone drivers to dry out. However, a well-made and cared for driver can last decades and still sound close to new. As far as cabinetry goes, as long as joints haven't loosened, it should outlive you. Crossovers are another story, and you might encounter a dried out cap on occasion with really old specimens. Determining the average life expectancy of a speaker is really going to be determined by how well the unit was originally built - something that varies widely even today.
Thanks for the input!

You must also take into consideration that parts values, especially capacitors, change with age. As such, most old speakers need to be "re-capped" for best performance. Since caps have come a long way in the last 25 years or so, this can take some older designs that were basically quite good to start off with and actually improve upon the original design.

You also need to think about the internal wiring. Since copper does corrode and connections oxidize, you might as well replace the "antique" wiring ( that was probably low grade stuff anyhow ) with some fresh wiring also.

You might also want to look at the binding posts or terminals that most "antique" speakers use. Most of them were JUNK to start off with. They don't accept any "good" sized wire, were spaced too closely for use with "esoteric" speaker cables, used low grade metals, etc.... While i'm not going to say that you will hear a MASSIVE change in sound by upgrading these parts, i will say that it is possible that you could end up with a much more solid and lower resistance connection by doing so. Even those "cheezy" spring loaded terminals lose tension with time.

The inductors or "coils" used in many crossovers are typically pretty solid and can remain intact in most cases, but you can always find "better" if you really want to. Keep in mind that changing ANY internal component of the speaker WILL alter it's "voice" and the overall performance.

Sgmlaw's points about the spiders sagging with age is also very valid. One of my friends that owns a calibration lab and used to service audio gear for a living gave me a very good suggestion regarding this. What he used to do in order to prevent spider / foam sag and to help keep the voice coil centered was to rotate the driver a 1/4 turn every year or so. While this does involve pulling the screws and breaking the seal at the driver / cabinet junction, he felt that it was WELL worth it in terms of the measurable performance differences that resulted. Since he told me about this tweak, i have done it myself on several sets of speakers and will continue to do so.

As to buying speakers that have been "refoamed", be careful. Some folks don't do it right and the driver is off center. The voice coil drags, can overheat and even short out in severe cases. Keep in mind that the driver will need to be somewhat "broken in" again, as the suspension may need to stretch out slightly for best results. I've purchased speakers that had refoamed woofers in them that very little apparent bass. After some "heavy" listening sessions, the suspension has stretched enough to deliver both more and deeper bass than when i first purchased them. This is something that you might not expect to happen given that the same "old" spiders were still in the drivers. Sean
Another good post at the 'Gon. The info you can pick up by just listening to the voices of experience is one of the reasons I enjoy these forums.
Thanks Sean. Really great information!

The above posts have great merit...all things age. That
said, if a person wants to do retro right, some of Jon
Dahlquist and Saul Marantz old employees have a firm that
will update the DQ-10 speakers. If I were going down
memory lane..the right way.., this is how I would go. A
bit like a 20 year old Ferrari that has been restored..not
current state-of-the-art.., but what a great classic!
(sorry I don't know their web site..but put Dahlquist into
a search engine..and it should come up)
A much better speaker from the same time period are the Yamaha 1000 Studio Monitors. They seemed to be fairly efficient as I once ran a pair with a single Dynaco Stereo 70 with good results. There were a couple of different versions/models and I cannot remember the different letters that were attached to each, but one was better than the other and a little research would be in order. Seems that there was also a controversial material used in the magnets or drivers (can't remember the details on this either) but I do remember clearly that they killed a pair of L-100's and a larger pair 43 somethings (maybe 4311's).
One last caveat I might add regarding vintage or classic speakers is that upgrading components with modern replacement parts could reduce their resale value. I have seen the effects of this practice with some otherwise vintage tube gear, where modern caps and wires had been substituted wholesale for the original, still working, classic parts, changing but not necessarily improving the voice of the gear - and seriously impairing its market value. Personally, I appreciate keeping true classic gear close to original (it would be like installing a breakerless distributor in an old AC Cobra), but if that is not an issue to you, by all means modify. However, a fifty-year old K-horn with Cardas binding posts, Hovlands and silver Alpha core inside won't fetch as much as a good working original at resale time, IMHO.
I,m currently running a pair of KLH model 33 with pretty good results. They definately are not great speakers but there is something about them that makes them very easy to listen to.
I am glad the forum is back; because, I am considering an interim speaker while I save some additional bucks to buy an expensive hi-end speaker that just came on the market. I often wonder how good the original Large Advents would sound with an Aragon amp and Conrad Johnson behind them The problem is those ratty speaker terminals that were a testament to the low quality wire used 25 years ago.I am not sure the today's simplest spade lug would fit them.Someone mentioned KLH 33's; what about Rectilinear 11's and 12's; Epicure 100; or even the AR's 2ax and 4ax(?) Are we just all nostalgia freaks, or was audio just more fun when these "vintage" pieces were on the market??
The advances in speaker quality in the past 30 years are so great that the "Vintage" would need to offer something today's don't. In cone speakers I can't think of any that would fit that. Cabinets, tweeters, cone suspension, components in the cross over have all improved. So unless you plan to totally re-build I would pass. If your looking at horns, something like voice of the theater or the like you may well find some advantages. It would be well worth the time and money to upgrade the components from these beasts, given you have a room that can support the sound and your driving with very low watt tubes. The quality of the right matched tube/ horn speaker is magical and I'd bet with today's capacitors it could be amazing. Just my thoughts for what it's worth.
My 1979 B&W DM7 Mark 2 speakers in my second system are still holding up well and are sounding very good.