Yesteryears' expensive speakers compared to modern moderately expensive speakers

For the purpose of this discussion, let’s assume that ...
Yesteryears’ -- 10 -15 years old
Expensive speakers -- $25,000+
Moderately expensive speakers -- $8,000 -- 12,000

I often wonder if it’s worth paying 50% of the original retail price for older speakers that were considered state-of-the-art and flagship during their day. So let’s say an expensive Sonus Faber was around $30,000 in 2005. The seller is asking for $10,000 in 2018. Is it worth paying the asking price, or is one better off buying, say an Olympica III, brand new for about $13-14k (maybe less with dealer discounts)?

I feel that due to trickle-down effects and manufacturing advances and efficiencies, the modern speakers are as good, if not better, than speakers that were twice or thrice the price ten to fifteen years ago. Is this a valid assertion? Or do you guys feel that speaker technology really has not advanced to that extent? In other words, is a flagship speaker worth $30k a decade ago still going to outperform a new one at half its price?

The reason I’m asking is that I am going to save some $$$ this year to buy a speaker in the range of $8000-12,000 in about 6 - 7 months. Since it’s a pretty substantial amount (for me), I am planning to do as much research and auditioning in the next few months. So might as well get started now. Given that it is really difficult to audition used speakers -- not that it’s easy to audition new ones, but at least you can if you try, should I just strike used ones (ones that were uber expensive a few years ago but more affordable now) off of my list and just focus on new?

P.S. -- I’m just using Sonus Faber to illustrate my point, otherwise, I’m very open to anything that is in that price range. I am purposely not turning this into a discussion on what I like, room size, music preferences, etc just yet since I want to stay focused on the topic -- yesteryears’ expensive speakers vs not-so-expensive modern ones.

P.S -- I understand that Tekton is going to render all other speakers obsolete in due time, and I respect the opinions of those who agree with the assertions, but please understand that it is not going to be on my list. Period. I will really appreciate if we don’t turn this thread into a Tekton battleground.
Remember that vintage speakers have vintage parts, some of which may no longer be available. For me, I would get as current a speaker as possible. Technology has made speakers much better than ever.
As far as Tekton goes, I doubt they will ' render all other speakers obsolete'.
IMO both possibilities should be pursued, within your ca. $8K to $12K price range. I would not rule out 10 to 15 year old speakers on the basis of generalities, such as general notions about the technological advances which may have been made since that time. IMO there are good choices to be had and bad choices to be had in that price range among both currently produced speakers and 10 to 15 year old speakers.

And speaking of technological progress, it’s worth reflecting upon the fact that Western Electric speaker drivers from the 1930s(!) sell today for astronomical sums (and I can think of at least one highly respected member here whose **very** high end system is built around them), while Tannoy speakers from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s commonly fall within your stated price range today. The reasons for that are certainly not just related to collectibility. Also, many audiophiles (including a number of members here) consider the Quad ESL57, which dates from around 1957, as never having been bettered in certain respects.

Consider also that a significant contributor to the price escalation that has occurred during the 10 to 15 year period you refer to has undoubtedly been simply the declining size of the market, rather than necessarily reflecting improvements in performance.

IMHO. Good luck, however you decide to proceed.

-- Al

Fantastic points as always Al I don't think i could have said it any better. I have new speakers but the speakers I really lust after are built using the vintage drivers Al describes above.
I suppose the answer is 'it depends'.  There have been advances in the past 10-15 years in terms of material science, computer modeling, and even in the scientific understanding of how we process sound and the measurements needed during loudspeaker development to optimize them for that.

Some companies embraced science in loudspeaker development far earlier than others.  Harman, Paradigm, and PSB are great examples of companies that were science-forward before the crowd, and their older designs hold up better, at least IMO, than companies whose approach was 'throw a bunch of fancy drivers and high end components in a box' without regard to baffle interaction and diffraction, dispersion characteristics (either overall or between drivers at the crossover points), power step response, or smooth frequency response.  

I'd use the Revel Salon2 as an example of a speaker that was designed right from the beginning.  Even though they're 10 years old at this point Revel hasn't felt the need to redesign them because so far nothing has beaten them in Harman's blind listening tests in their sound lab, even speakers costing considerably more.  In fact, they've held their own so well that they're about to undergo a 20% price increase with no substantive changes other than some new finishes becoming available.  You can find them pre-owned for a nice savings, and I'd consider that a solid value.  

At the same time, you could compare them to a new product like the Revel F228be which goes new for roughly what a pre-owned pair of Salon2 does, features a lot of trickle-down technology from the Ultima2 line such as the beryllium tweeter and improved crossover networks, and has things the Ultima2 line doesn't such as the new deep ceramic composite cones.  Revel says the Salon2 still wins in listening tests, but the F228be closed the gap considerably from the F208, and the F228be comes brand-spankin'-new with a full warranty.

A great resource to see measurements of a number of speakers both new and older is Soundstage's list of speakers they've tested at the Canadian NRC's anechoic chamber.  Since the research from Harman's Dr. Toole has shown that listener preference is very strongly correlated with not only a smooth on-axis response, but on a smooth off-axis response as well, even at extreme angles so that the first reflections and reverberant field don't create peaks or nulls, it's a great way to get an idea of well designed speakers that may be worth a closer look.
If your in the NJ/NYC/Eastern PA area please put Charney Audio on your audition list. High efficiency rear loaded horns made on the tractrix theory. 

Hi arafiq

If I were spending over $500.00 (sometimes less) on speakers I would be looking into if the speaker is going to be used in a living room or dedicated listening room (that's first on my list). The more complicated a speaker is designed the more it can be fussy about the room it is going to be interfaced with. Keep in mind that a speaker is what stimulates the room, the room's sound is what you actually hear.

One of the major reasons why we see expensive speakers selling for less and less is because listeners are getting wise to the speaker setup, again. And, many more costly speakers simply don't cut the mustard when it comes to room/speaker interfacing.

Last year I bought over 15 pair of speakers ranging up to $18,000.00, and did quick auditions of pairs over $100,000.00. In my 6 listening rooms, even after tuning them to the speakers, people chose the simple designs over the "modern" speaker designs. The common reason was "the HEA speakers sound squeezed and fake". The simple speakers played the acoustical instruments "more true to life".

In this hobby you can always spend more, but hearing more is not included in the price tag.

Michael Green

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A bit off the main point, but I would strongly prefer a smaller speaker with better resolution (like a monitor) than a larger one with more power and better bass.  Also, some speakers are a better value than others as long as you're not primarily concerned about name recognition and resale value.
In my experience I bought a far larger and more expensive speaker system, but I may have been better off keeping what I already had.  It wasn't quite as good but was pretty close (diminishing returns), and I didn't need all that extra power.  I'm still happy about my decision, but I'm reminded of the new Magico M6 speaker, which is better than all that preceded it, and THEY were so much improved over the previous designs, etc.  The same goes for Wilson, Rockport, Kharma, and on and on.  Imagine being disappointed with a $150k speaker since it doesn't have the most up-to-the-minute technology.  Or can you wait at least 10 years and just buy music for awhile instead...?
In the specific case of Sonus Faber, I would take the 2005 $12K speaker (Cremona) over the current $12K speaker (Olympica III). The company has changed and I simply like the old technology better than the new technology.

Two points - companies change and technology updates do not always sound better to everyone.

That said, the older Cremona are hard to drive and probably require a more expensive amp than the newer design Oympica III. Off course, an older high end amp may be the same price as a current mid level amp.

My current setup (Cremona and a Mark Levinson 432) can be purchased used (if you can find them) for less than the price of just the current Olympica III.

Of course, it really depends on what sound you like.

By the way, you can sometimes get a pair of SF Strativari for $20K, which would blow away the Olympica III at $13,500.
What almarg said +1

An improvement in speaker technology should result in better sound. Better sound is quite subjective. 

As for manufacturing efficiencies, those are often achieved by sacrificing quality.

Speaker technology has not advanced enough. A 10K used speaker (over ten years old) and sold for less than half list price would probably cost close to 40K new today for similar quality. Remember that inflation means prices double every ten years. The only reason inflation might be less is if manufacturing moved to China.
In your moderately expensive range, you might look at an older Nola Metro Grand 2 pair or perhaps even the earlier Metro Grand. The latest versions of these Nolas - Metro Golds 1, 2 3 etc etc - are probably slightly better but they all use the same Alnico mid-range driver. And I believe the ribbons differ only slightly between the Grand and Gold versions. The voicing of these speakers is great, at least to my ears, superb for vocals, piano, acoustic music generally, and can go very loud for rock. They work beautifully with tubes - VAC, ARC, etc. I use VAC. The very experienced designer has, as I understand, over the years perfected his open baffle design for the above two drivers, while getting deep bass from an isolated, ported cabinet. The bass may not be the tightest in the world but it goes very deep and can be improved upon with good spring isolation, Marigo VTS bands, etc. And you can do shielding things for the open baffle drivers to cut the impact of RFI etc if you have wifi problems.
Well, I have Thiel 3.7s, a 10 year old design at this point which go for around 5K used, and I've been having a hell of a time finding any current speakers under 15K (and even higher) to replace them.  I keep coming home from auditions thinking "wow these things were ahead of their time."

I'm sure some other great designs hold up well too.
I think that you need to step away from the price and age a little and think about what your own ears tell you.

Those speakers may be worth $0 if you don’t like them.

Otherwise, you are unlikely to find them a worthwhile investment opportunity. 


There are a number of factors.  It is in the best interest of manufacturers and the industry in general if people think technology is improving a lot.  Otherwise why upgrade?  

I think in the cases where companies are coming out with new super-expensive models frequently, and the newer ones are much better than the older ones, it's a sign that they aren't actually very good speaker designers.  I'm speculating but I've gotten the distinct impression that some of these companies were started by people with some expertise in some aspects of manufacturing and that allowed them to make speakers that were better in some ways.  On the other hand, they probably weren't particularly well-rounded designers.  That means they may be legitimately getting much better in a short period of time.  Maybe they're learning how to design crossovers, maybe they're learning what is actually important rather than just focusing on what they already know.  I don't know but I certainly have no interest in these companies when there are legitimate expert designers out there creating great products for far less money. 
B&W 801 for sale currently $1500! Now that is superb value.
Great posts already, enthusiastically agree on buying used. Best bang for the buck is chosen carefully.
As long as you pay attention to some basic maintenance issues I believe older loudspeakers are the greatest value in high end audio.  You might have to replace crossover parts, possibly rewire or even replace a driver.  The last can be tricky regarding availability and pair matching, but not usually insurmountable.  At some of the volume levels audiophiles report as typical listening levels a ten year old loudspeaker is barely broken in!
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Good points made by several here.

Myself I fall in the category to assert that while technology may have advanced, in more practical terms I don’t see how it really applies to speakers that have been carefully developed, implemented and constructed to begin with - even the ones that were made many decades ago. Technological advancement, I find, is the easiest claim as a link into sonic proficiency over earlier efforts as a simple marketing ploy, while thorough care into a product, irrespective of tech stance, is probably a humbling process that would find a sellers (reductive) approach less suitable. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, care invested in tandem with technological aid, and when combined can make for an interesting proposition. To my mind though technology comes in handy more as a means in trying to make a more efficient production process, minimize sonic detriments due to cost cuts overall (but maintaining the same retail price, that is), reduction in size, reduce power consumption (not relevant with speakers), and along those lines. Pragmatically speaking I rarely, if ever see technology as something that elevates the sonic bar in more absolute terms in the evolution of speakers; it's rather about "keeping up" or damage reduction in light of named circumstances. 

As an example a friend of mine recently bought a some 15-17 year old pair of Peak Consult InCognito Grande for just under $4,000 (a new pair retailed for 10x that amount), and they are close to a steal at that price. Some finishing oil for the hardwood and a fitting silicon-spray gently applied to the cone and surround of the midrange and bass unit, and they're as good as new and ready for (at least) 15 more years. I'd say they demolish current speakers many times their used price (though I'm aware the used price here is hardly representative for this model, but even at $10k they'd be a good value). The more interesting question may be raised as to their worth next to current speakers that retails for the same amount as new ($40k), but I suspect they would easily stand their ground. 
I have a pair of Martin Logan SL3’s with their huge electrostatic panels.  They still sound marvelous and I have yet to find many speakers that compete with their ability to image.  I drive them with a pair of fully restored Harman Kardon Citation II tube amps, bi amping the speakers.  Glorious.  So there you have it, 1960 amps, and late 80’s speakers.  I’m very happy regardless of price.
The problem with not buying new is the fact that there is usually no way to listen to the speakers in your room and with your ears prior to purchase. This is so key, especially with speakers, since your room will change the sound, even if you did manage an audition elsewhere. Buying new from a good dealer will usually mean you can home-demo, and that, to me, is fundamental.

Yes you can always sell on an old speaker if you don’t get on with it, but selling it if you bought it used  from a dealer and sell it back will mean making a loss, and can take forever if you sell privately unless you dump the price.  And the inconvenience of shipping etc is substantial. 

I’ve demoed 8 different high-end speakers in my room in the past 12 months, none were what I was looking for. I am still searching. To me I’d rather pay a new-price premium and get the ability to properly audition.
  I agree with newf27 as I myself also have a mint pair of Martin/Logan Sl3's.  They are simply incredible even though they were introduced in 1997.  I got them from a nearby Martin/Logan dealer for $1600 and nothing new could come close for the price.  Certain old stuff is still very good today.  It is just picking the rite ones.  I myself play 35 year old Stax electrostatic headphone systems thru my Audio Research LS27's record out outputs and get fantastic audio reproduction that can compete with much of todays mega priced headphone systems.

Interesting discussion, if after many years we either know or are used to certain types of speakers ie. British warm or leaner US style or even certain types of speakers we should be able to recognise 'best in class' and or major evolution in speaker design.

I think the modern movement to active, and speakers that have their own DACS is for simplicity and better cohesion of the different components in the sound production stages was started by Meridian in the 1990's and their top of the line are as good as any today's speakers, and at todays used price market are tremendous value.

I have a complete active Linn Isobarik Bricks system. 3 amps seperate power supplys aktive crossover. Sold for 20k in the early 80's  It is worth about 4k now and is absolutely magical. 
Bought used Avantgarde acoustic duo omega. The sub speaker foam deteriorated and to repair was very expensive. Decided to add 2 x JL Audio Fathom 12 Subs and the integration was astounding. Highly recommended. Driven with an Ayon mercury tube amp.  For me used has worked perfectly.
@almarg +1

Cost often has very little to do with performance. FULL STOP.

As HiFi is very personal, it's important to know what constitutes good sound to you and you alone... within reason ;-)  AND you are building a system. A loudspeaker than only sounds good with a small subset of electronics will ultimately disappoint.

Well designed products can be timeless, in spite of their failings relative to the latest theoretical improvements.

Over the past couple of years I have updated the crossover caps, replaced connectors and bi-wired. The improvements are astounding, far better than anticipated because the original design was very, very good. Recent auditions of systems costing two+ orders of magnitude more have left me extremely non-plussed as they did not emote, had limited sound stage dimensionality, poor focus and instruments wandered about as if played by strolling minstrels. Additionally, I reverse engineered my 2003 ACI Force sub, modelled its circuitry and was able to integrate with the mains with a theoretical better than ±0.75db vector sum of amplitude and phase. All I had to do was add a 180° phase switch. The tympani in Dvorak's New World are better than ever before. Other orchestral works with less ambitious tympani are accurately placed and dynamically correct. When such works are well presented, Miles, Evans, Herbie, Jimi, Toto, Fagan, Led Zeppelin, Queen, etc. are a doddle.

The short version of the above paragraph is that an aural education pays great dividends. $2000 per year spent on acoustic concerts in good halls is cheap tuition compared to blowing $5-10-??K on repeated loudspeaker changes.

IMO, far too much of the loudspeaker market today is not driven by sound engineering principals. One can look at a design and Stereophile measurements show a ragged top, poor off axis, mid-bloat, what-ever, as would be expected from the geometry.

IMO, many would be well served to divide the loudspeaker budget in two and spend half on room treatments. I have far more invested in books, bookcases, carpets and art that act as diffusers and absorbers than I do in HiFi hardware. Educating oneself on room interaction will pay dividends for the rest of your HiFi life.

The ONLY reference is unamplified music in good acoustic space. If one's system can recreate that, all the heavy lifting is done. It may not play Led Zeppelin at concert levels, but it will be accurately rendered.
all shrinks to following simple math expression:

10...20 years old expensive speakers used worth $2...5k and perform at or better than today's $25...50k.

@ieales very well said. I envy those who can mod gear and also have the ability to use room treatments. My GF would never allow that.
Many good points have been made already. I agree that both new and old can be a Good choice. One thing modern design can have is better amps and electronics. The Kii Three seems interesting and it is active with built-in in dac and some room correction, if I remember correctly
One speaker system I often wish could be modified would be replacing Wilson Audio's older metal tweeters with the new silk-dome's they use now. How much would you have to re-design the crossover I don't know but the Sasha-One's or a later Watt-Puppy (at an attractive price) would benefit greatly. They keep upgrading endlessly and (I am pretty sure) drivng their former customers crazy.  You can't keep a Wilson speaker for 10 years like some other brands (i.e.- Quads) or you'll miss at least three or more "improvements"- or maybe even a whole new speaker.  I don't mean to be overly critical of one company- research is wonderful- but it's simply a fact of life. In some cases, even your Toyota stays more current than your stereo system. The brand I currently own is now undergoing a huge redesign with big price tags to match.  But I see a guy selling an OLDER pair on Audiogon that is still the envy of all of his audiophile friends (you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone)...
In this hobby you can always spend more, but hearing more is not included in the price tag.
+1 @michaelgreenaudio 

I would also add that what you really should be shopping for is not speakers, but a speaker/amplifier match up.  The synergy between your speakers and amplifier is going to determine the ceiling of your system's performance.

Fascinating! I cut my teeth in the HEA world on a pair of Maggie 3.6R's. This was back in 2003. Are the new Maggies better sounding? Would my ears be able to tell the difference? I don't know.

And what about a design like the LS3/5A? I know Stirling had to redesign things back in 2005 or something like that, but isn't an LS3 from 1980 just as good now as the new Falcon models?
The synergy between your speakers and amplifier is going to determine the ceiling of your system's performance.
don't forget cables. All may be for naught if the cables exacerbate rather than ameliorate flaws in the amp and speakers.

it's a system
This deal at $11,500 is a great example of a terrific loudspeaker, at the vintage you speak of, that is a killer deal compared to anything new at that price point.
Well I have owned a great many speakers and I think my 40 year old refurbished Gale 401s and my 55 year old Toshiba SS30s and the 50 year old Tannoy Monitor Gold 15s sound better than the vast majority of modern speakers .Certainly anything under $15,000.
The last brand new speakers I purchased were in 1986. I was away from the hobby from 1990 until 2010ish. For me, I realized that the equipment/speakers that I really wanted,I could only afford used. 
  I have no issues getting "yesterday's" toys. It simply means I can get quality, at a greater value. The only piece of gear in my system that was purchased new,is my preamp. They simply just do not come up for sale to regularly. 
       Even my cables are used.