Speaker Technology over the last 10 years

I bought my last pair of speakers 13 years ago, Legacy Classic. How much has speaker technology changed since then? I know in terms of amp and cd player there has been tremendous advancements but what about speakers?

Are speakers for the most part dependent upon the source? I appreciate any comments.
IMO you have to answer that by comparing advances across speakers at equivalent price points then and now. I think designers have a very good picture of frequency response and depending on the sound they are going for will be forever tweaking driver placement in all three dimensions and crossovers, not much new there. If there is one area where speaker technology continues to advance is in the materials. Treatment of the drivers -B&W using kevlar and Monitor Audio with its gold tweeters, cabinets being made out of new composite materials and improved feet/spikes all looking to remove unwanted resonance. The added benefit of new materials is that most decent quality speakers today will likely last much longer than say speakers from the 70-80's with their degrading foam around woofers, cracking butyl rubber and cabinet vibration that occurred as some types of glues/adhesives aged.
Speakers are always dependent on the source. Always. Garbage in, garbage out.

But that said, speakers have the greatest difference in sound from design to design and design is a moving target. Driver design has changed some and I think there are drivers available now that were not in the early 90's but that deoesn't mean that there weren't some excellent speakers available then which are still excellent speakers, by any standards, today. Subsequent speaker refinement has been incremental, not earth shaking. FWIW, my favorite speakers were designed in 2004 and possessed a quality in both resolution AND frequency response that did not previously exist (at least I had not heard, or heard about).

Bottom line, if you still love to listen to your Legacy's be happy! If you are not happy, there are lots of viable alternatives.
I think most of the advances are at the micro improvement level in speaker technology. The bigger improvements have been in playback technology, both analog and digital.

A good pair of Klipschhorns, Martin Logans, Tannoys, Magnepans, Quads, Paradigms, B & W, Vandersteens, they still sound stellar.

I just refoamed and sold a pair of 35 year old Advent/1 speakers. The original crossovers were left in tact along with original tweeters. In testing them I was surprised and impressed with their neutrality and coherence. In the short testing I did they semmed only to lack in detail and at the frequency extremes.
The biggest advance in speaker technology has been the unbelievable increase in the ability of speaker companies to get audiophiles to spend money. The last 4 pairs of "NEW" speakers I have purchased have been used. I am picking up my latest Sunday. I have now worked my way up to 2000. My advice is either keep what you have if you like them or to buy used speakers, ones formerly on Stereophile's recommended list are a good place to start.
So what I am hearing, please correct me if I am wrong, that there has not been leaps in speaker technology say compare to CD players over the years.

Then the true improvements in speaker technology is more dependent upon the source. Since those sources have dramatically improved that combination along with speakers technology has contributed to the most improvement in overall sound quality?

Has the been any speaker company that has made a huge difference in sound quality?
Active Speakers have become more popular (this design topology has a lot of advantages in terms of lower distortion, better accuracy and eliminating the interface crap shoot issues between finding the right amp to suit a given speaker).

Speaker transducer technology has not really advanced in any significant way, although more is made in China so thinsg keep getting cheaper (if you are prepared to keep your fingers crossed about the quality control - remember speakers are never tested by consumers to confirm that they conform to manufacturer's claimed standards and it is easy to make ONE good sounding speaker t odeliver to a reviewer but harder to mass produce them with consistent performance)
still putting drivers in boxes..you haven't missed much
Speaker technology went down hill after they Stoped making AlniCo Drivers! www.audiokarma.org/forums/showthread.php?t=28617
I read Entrope's response above with a smile. I just rebuilt my 32 year old New Large Advents I bought new in '77 - crossovers and refoam. I was suprised at how good they sound. I hear a little less coherence than on more expensive speakers but, ya know, the thing is, I believe it's mostly the 1/2" mdf cabinets that are really their only weakness. From my experience with the rebuild, I would say nearly all the improvements in speakers are in the cabinetry. I bet those Advents would sound real good with solid, well-braced cabinets. I knew a dealer who said he could tell how good a speaker was by rapping his knuckles on the cabinet and nothing more. I tend to believe think there's something to that.
I am not sure speaker tech has advanced exponentially like sources for instance.I would say the incredible prices are mostly cosmetic like stuff any cabinet maker can duplicate.The quality oldies are still covering 90% of what you can hear,YMMV,Bob
I definitely agree with the above. Most of the focus these days is on the cosmetic. Bookmatched veneers, piano gloss finish, and jewel-like binding posts are what seems to attract too many buyers.

The best drivers have improved, but a lot of that has been negated by the fading away of folks who understand crossovers, which are more important than the actual drivers themselves.

I have a few friends who build speakers, and in all honesty, their knowledge of crossovers is almost nonexistent. One has a design that was given to him, and despite making other changes to the speaker, he steadfastly refuses to change the crossover, as he simply doesn't understand them. Sadly, most folks are afraid of mathematics these days, and that holds things back.

From a technical standpoint, we've more or less returned to a long ago time. Gone are the days when the likes of designs like Quad, Magneplanar, Apogee, and Ohm are on the horizon.
Trelja, All that you say may be true and probably is, and I just came late to the party, but I have been astonished by the clarity brought to some boxes by introduction of tweeters like a properly integrated Dynaudio Esotar. I must admit I don't miss my Quads much anymore (I've still got them in the closet in case I get angst ridden). :-)
The design & component quality of the Crossover and build quality of the Drivers are key. This separates great speakers from the mediocre and is, or should be, the reason why you would want to replace your present speakers. All Drivers, regardless of make, face the same fate: sagging voice-coils which occur after 10-15 years of use. If there is a perceived difference now in how your speakers sound you could have the same Drivers refurbished and approximate the same quality of sound reproduction as when the speakers were new.
Even if speaker design were to stand still, there are so many designs out there now it would take more than one lifetime to explore them all in your own room. If you could manage to do that, then just change the room and start all over again.
Amen Sarcher.......
The marketplace has changed radically, with fewer multi-national electronic companies dominating the space by offering audiophile components across the equipment spectrum. You rarely see the hold that the Japanese had several decades ago.

In many ways, it is going more the way of a cottage industry, with specific companies offering limited but succinct products by American, Canadian, Danish, and English firms. I think DeVore and Harbeth are in this vein--very focused range of speakers made by small operations.

I see most of the R & D being invested in DAC technology, with very few significant improvements in speaker design.

With that said, I think that price to performance is still available to the end user with limited means--there are wonderful budget oriented speakers in the market at the moment: B & W 685s and DALI Lektors come to mind that offer real world sound for the budget-minded.
There have been some advances in materials. Carbon fiber and Kevlar have been successfully used, for example. Carbon nanotubes are used by a few, although there are other materials that exhibit the same properties. Meanwhile, some who have tried metal dome tweeters have moved away from them.

Cabinet design and construction have evolved as well - they're not just making simple boxes. Crossovers, internal wiring, binding posts and other hardware are given more attention, and rightfully so.
there have been some advances in ribbon and electrostatic panel technology, as exemplified by the newer martin logan panels and piega concentric tweeter/midrange drivers, respectively.

i still can't understand how anyone can get excited by cones. i have never heard a full range all-cone speaker that i have liked.

i did like an earlier gradient speaker, with an open baffle midrange and jordan modules as tweeter.
I think Revel has made huge advances in the last 15 years. Take a hard look at the Salon, Studio and F series speakers. They are an outstanding value used and new products are selling at heavily discounted prices in todays climate.
I would agree with Revel. They have invested a huge amount of R & D into their line in the last 5 years. Just not affordable for the casual consumer.

I would say another interesting story is the cross-over of the pro studio community to the consumer marketplace. Companies like ATC, Benchmark and Bryston engaging both communities with exceptional products.
Cone materials, surrounds,spiders, cone shapes, crossover parts, cabinet designs, binding posts sets, internal dampening all have improved for transducers tweeters have made the most progress. But your legacy is not obsoleted by any of these if you still enjoy them that's all that maters. Use them for 5 more years than maybe give thought to upgrades.
I think (all speaker companies) needs to start making AlNiCo Drivers again. They are a few that are using them now and are getting BEST OF SHOW AWARDS too! www.stereomojo.com/RMAF%202008/RMAF2008BESTOFSHOW.htm
i still can't understand how anyone can get excited by cones. i have never heard a full range all-cone speaker that i have liked.

That is quite a strong statement. Have you had your hearing tested lately? I think most everyone would agree that it is easy to get excited about many a good panel, good ribbons, good horns or good cone speakers.

Sure there are differences and advantages and disadvantages to each approach - but among high quality speakers for us average tin eared folks like myself there is a lot of great stuff out there to get excited about.
hi shadorne:

i think you are ignoring the obvious. i exchew cone speaker designs. i realize others like them. i just have a hard time fathoming why they are so popular, given their faults. i will never buy one .
i exchew cone speaker designs. i realize others like them. i just have a hard time fathoming why they are so popular, given their faults. i will never buy one .

I've listened to a particular Martin Logan electrostatic speakers some time back and the sound was fantastic. Very coherent, full and seamless. I am staying away from these electrostatic panel speakers mainly because of WAF and the extra-care and maintenance needed to keep the speakers in tip-top condition (I've read that the panels need to be vacuumed or washed}. Also, I got to know that the panels have a life span of about 10 years before they need to be replaced whereas conventional cone designs will likely last longer.

I don't think it is a "fault" issue that contributes to the popularity of cone speakers but more towards listening preferences and priorities. Some folks prefer the "flaws" in cone design speakers and there are many of these excellent speakers around. It may not sound as bad as you have exaggerated it as there are still many people who enjoyed listening to cone speakers and can happily live with them in the long run.
I suspect that computer modeling has made a huge impact on driver design. They can now accurately predict breakup and non pistonic behavior, and design even low cost drivers to minimize these aberrations.

Though I don't have any real knowledge of mid fi speakers, I imagine they have gained as much in quality as true high end products, simply by virtue of being able to buy or manufacture these modeled drivers, and know where their cheap boxes will flex and need reinforcement.

Just look at some of the sub $1000 models being reviewed in TAS and Stereophile. They get great reviews. I dont think this point would have garnered serious listening or many reviews 10 years ago.

I use quite small powered genelec monitors in my mac based edit and mix system. The shape of the metal cabinet and built in wave guide was all computer modeled, with a corresponding sound quality.

Quads and Soundlabs (with new PX panels) have improved immensely over the past decade, playing lower, louder and more dynamically.

Better quality caps are available for crossovers, and better internal wiring as well.

More and more designs seem to shave away more of the front baffle for less diffraction.

Cabinet materials have evolved as well. My current speakers are made from ceramic wrapped in kevlar.

No mater what choice you make, familiarize yourself with recent offerings. If nothing else it's fun and informative.
Wow. A lot of great responses. I do like my Legacy speakers and because I have recently upgraded my amp and cd player I thought I might do the same with the speakers.

Still undecided however the response gives me some reassurance that if I did decide to keep them I wouldn't be losing much. The old saying "you can't lose what you never had."

i think you are ignoring the obvious.

Obviously cone speakers, for all their faults, are extremely popular - not just with consumers but also in professional audio engineering circles and with musicians and artists.

I don't know of many multi-million dollar recording facilities that use panels.

I don't know of many concert halls that use panels.

Has it occurred to you that you might be ignoring the obvious?
Shadorne, Consider that the 'obvious' that Mr T refers to may be nothing more that what he said in that post. He is telling us how he feels, what his opinion is. Nothing more or less. He doesn't like cone speakers. Cone speakers have faults. People buy them anyway. He will never buy one. Nothing controversial there.

So who cares what he believes or why, especially given his continual hawking the merits of one speaker, loaded with faults, that may only do one thing well (if the way it does that is the way you want to hear it).

His posts often remind me of necessity for getting even weeds to grow is some water and 'nutrients'. He supplies the 'nutrients', you supply the water, volia - a new crop of weeds. :-)
Johnk, "Cone materials, surrounds,spiders, cone shapes, crossover parts, cabinet designs, binding posts sets, internal dampening all have improved for transducers."

I agree with you, mostly...

Although, I will say that some of the things we're told strike me as people congratulating themselves for what amounts to the normal incremental improvement one sees in most fields that survive over a period of time. We're living in a time of evolution, not revolution. I believe that is a reflection of the fact that precious little in the way of resources are now dedicated to the craft.

A couple of years ago, I attended the annual Tube Tasting that Jonathan Weiss puts on at Oswald's Mill. Although some of the discussion was above me, and some has been forgotten, a most informative presentation was given on the team of folks who designed the 12" RCA full-range driver way back when (late 1940s?). It was a real breakthrough, and pointed the industry to where we have come since. I don't want to get into too much of the minutiae, but suffice it to say that regarding the level of talent, resources, money, time, and passion that RCA threw at the development, I believe NOTHING like that will likely occur again for a very, very long time.
As regards panels versus cones I am still considering "exchew"...
sorry for the spelling error, the word is "eschew".

as to faults of cone design, they include the following:

cabinet colorations, lack of driver coherence, stridency of many metal-based tweeters, and crossing over dissimilar drivers

of course, pick your poison. nothing is perfect, i;ve picked mine. it's all a matter of opinion.
My comment on "eschew" was just a gentle jab for a laugh - my thanks for taking it in the spirit it was intended and not taking offense.

I agree that each type speaker has it faults.

I find panel speakers less dynamic and too ambient. They also require more power and are hard loads for amps but I have never heard the really high end panels so I could be swayed.
That's what makes this hobby fun, everyone's preferences and opinions. I love speakers with cones, I want something maintenance free, that meets with the wife's approval and is musically satisfying to me.

One of the things I have observed over the years is that the only people that are impressed with my system are people who buy their stuff from Radio Shack or Best Buy. I don't have any audiophile friends so to speak of where we evaluate each others system.

I guess what is important to you is all that matters. It's like being married, some people who never choose your spouse and I guess they would never choose your speakers, either.
I collect vintage drivers and other kit. Sure some of it sounds good and designs are very interesting. But what I listed is what I find has made the most improvement. I still listen to a moded Altec in my office its good not great but fun and drivers of interest to me. But the only vintage I find equal to modern is comp drivers and few woofers. Some of the vintage cabinet designs are useful today with improvments. And you might be right about a large corpration realy caring about audio design? Except Fostex SEAS PIONEER etc so maybe a few are still at it;)
Back to the original question:

For better or worse, there's been one giant change:

Digital/x-overs and (sometimes) room correction.

All of the DEQX enabled room corrected stuff (Salk, Selah, etc.) and the non-
room corrected DEQX (Salagar, NHT Xd -already discontinued) and the
emerging Lyngdorf entries (Lyngdor, Bosendorfer - now called something
else, etc), as well as the Behringer powered models (Emerald Physics).

You also see Audyssey and similar systems; both full-range pre/pros and
bass only units(for subwoofers).

You may or may not approve of the approach, but this represents a
fundamental change in technology of the sort the OP inquired about.

Revrob-what electonics are you driving your speakers with,your source,how big is your room, and what what type of music do you like to listen to?

I have a Cary 306/200 CD player and a Moon Audio Integrated similar to the LSA integrated amp. My room is 12 x 15.
It really depends on the company, how active they are in R&D, and what they decide to do about it.

Case in point are my Mirage speakers. I bought a pair of M5si's in 1996, at the end of that product run. I still use them in the 7.1 home theater system. Last summer I bought a pair of Mirage OMD-15s for the 2-channel system in the living room.

Soundwise, the OMD-15 betters the M5si in every way:
o Airier, more extended treble
o Higher resolution--better nuance and low-level detail
o More omnidirectional dispersion pattern
o More transparent midrange
o Much clearer bass with equal extension (the M-series bass was formidable)

Yet the new design is much easier to own as well:
o Adjusted for inflation, it costs less
o Enclosure has curved walls, improving cabinet inertness
o Smaller tweeter improves speed and dispersion
o Mirage's patented ribbed elliptical surround enables better bass clarity, extension, and dynamics from a smaller driver (5.5")
o M5si was a 51"x14"x8" 85-lb. monolith; OMD-15 is 41"x8"x12" very stylish "lifestyle" column weighing 36 lbs.--Infinitely higher WAF and blends in much better with living space.
o OMD-15 is about 7dB more sensitive: M5si needed 150 highly damped watts bi-wired with $1200 worth of cable or more to come alive. I power the OMD-15 with an 85wpc Onkyo integrated with a damping factor of 25. The OMD-15 has better dynamic range at both ends, more clarity and transparency, cleaner, tighter bass, and more resolution overall.

In the last 10 years we've seen increasing use of neodymium magnets, curved-wall cabinets, drivers made of diamond, titanium, ceramic, and beryllium, more inert cabinet materials such as birch laminate from Europe, etc.

Even Cerwin-Vega has improved to the point that their CLS-215 has received favorable reviews from Absolute Sound and Soundstage.

So in many cases, you can get a speaker today that can do things a speaker in that price bracket from 10 years ago could not.
Concerning the preferences for panels vs. cone speakers:

You could always go for the speaker that has characteristics of both types--the cone speaker-based line array.

Like panels, they are fast and transparent, can have outstanding coherence, and keep the floor and ceiling reflections largely out of the equation. Unlike many panels, they generally present an easier load to the amp, and can play obscenely loud.

And then there's one area where they equal or exceed panels--total lack of WAF, what with the way line arrays' 6- and 7-foot tall columns completely take over a room. You might be able to sneak in the Scaenas IF she likes the bright red and the modern Euro look.
Objections to cones

cabinet colorations: Get rid of the cabinet or build a properly designed, sealed, and damped enclosure.

driver coherence: Put the crossover at the correct frequency for the size of the drivers, and move the crossover in front of the amplification.

metal based tweeters: Use silk domes.

Panels are great, and compared to most box speakers far better. What many fail to understand is that the qualities of panels are achievable with cones. A thoroughly thought out cone speaker is capable of the same qualities as panels, and at the same time, will avoid the pitfalls of large radiating surfaces.
I do know my Linn Isobarik DMS speakers bought back in the 80's are nothing more than garbage in, and certainly garbage out.
hi ojgalli:

are you suggesting that a "properly" designed cone system can sound like an apogee duetta signature, sound lab, or magnepan 20.1 ?

i would wager that in a blindfold or any other test, i could tell the difference between panel and cone 9 out of 10 times.

if there is a cone design in production that sounds like a panel speaker, please advise as to brand.

I would also wager that you, and most anyone, definitely can tell the difference between panels and at least 9 out of 10 cone speakers.

To say they sound like big panels; not in every way, but with the positive attributes of panels, the openness, transparency, and resolution, yes. The very attributes that we value so highly. And without the lobing/beaming, dynamic restrictions, and low frequency limitations.

One such example is the open baffle Linkwitz Lab Orion, and a few other active, omnidirectional designs.
04-07-09: Ojgalli
Objections to cones
metal based tweeters: Use silk domes.
Then there's Mirage, who uses a pure titanium dome tweeter with a cloth surround. This combines the pistonic linearity of a very rigid dome with the superior damping of cloth. The Mirage tweeter is sweet and airy, never harsh, and nary a hint of metal harshness or ringing.
Thanks for all that responded, I have learned a great deal.
Mr T,We all know you greatly prefer stats or Maggies. But dynamic drivers exist in legion that out perform or perform as well as such loudspeakers but sure you wouldn't like any since you found designs in loudspeakers you like. Why not give others who found loudspeaker designs they enjoy the same respect? stats cones dynamic ribbon horn all can be used to design very hi performing loudspeakers this you dont seem to understand. Just because you prefer one or the other does not mean the other designs are not hi-performing just that you enjoy stats.
I can see why AlNiCo Magnets are making a ComeBack now.... www.audiocircle.com/circles/index.php?topic=52321.0 .. AlNiCo Magnets will make your speakers sound their BEST!
04-08-09: Mrtennis
are you suggesting that a "properly" designed cone system can sound like an apogee duetta signature, sound lab, or magnepan 20.1 ?
The goal of any loudspeaker design is not to sound like a panel speaker; the goal is to sound like reality.

Since no speaker can sound exactly like reality on all types of musical reproduction, we have to choose the speakers' strong points that appeal to us subjectively, and listen through the ones that detract.

Cones and panels have their strong points and weak points. But as has been pointed out, it seems to be easier to mitigate many of cones systems' weaknesses--microdynamics, box resonances, dispersion patterns--than it is to solve the panel speaker problems--difficult impedances, lobing, dispersion anomalies, SIZE, insensitivity, self-cancelling bass, and overall dynamic range.

I've listened to Maggie 20.1's back-to-back with Wilson speakers (MaXX 3 and Watt/Puppy 8), and it's the Wilsons that beat the Maggies on transparency, ambience and low level detail. Not only that, the Wilsons can hit live levels of amplitude without cracking up. And there's nary a hint of box resonance.