Vintage audio components were designed for the audiophiles or hobbyists who wanted to create their own personalized systems, designed by them, using existing units that, when put together, resulted in an overall sound. That sound had to be produced by components that were, more or less, compatible with each other. This not only included a high quality turntable, but compatible high-end stereo speakers.
In this article, I’m going to present you with 5 vintage speakers that are great to use when you play your vinyl records. And, to help you better compare vintage equipment to modern tech, we’ve compiled a list of popular modern speakers that can be used with vinyl below. Please use the table to see how well some of the vintage speakers we’ll discuss today stack up to the modern ones on today’s market.
|KEF LS50||$$$||★★★★||Amplifier: 25 - 100W|
|ELAC Uni-fi UB5||$||★★★★||5 ¼” aluminum woofer|
|Focal Aria 906||$$$||★★★★★||Bass Reflex Speakers|
|KEF R300||$$$||★★★★||Features 6.5 inch low-frequency driver|
|KEF Q150||$$||★★★★||5.25” Uni-Q driver Array|
|KEF Q350||$$||★★★★||6.5” Uni-Q driver Array|
|MartinLogan Motion 35XT||$$||★★★||Folded Motion Tweeter|
|Rega RX1||$$$||★★★★||80w per channel|
|SVS Ultra||$$||★★★★||6.5-inch mid-bass drivers|
|Wharfedale Diamond 225||$$||★★★★★||5.1” Kevlar Woofer|
|Wharfedale Diamond 10.2||$$||★★★★||6.5" Kevlar bass driver|
|PSB Imagine Mini||$$$||★★★★★||Sensitivity: 87 dB; 8-ohm impedance|
The Stereo Boom
Stereo speakers have a long and colorful history in the 20th century. Hi Fidelity came about as a result of demand from consumers to improve record transcription. In other words, playing music on a Gramophone just didn’t cut it. The primary users were originally audiophiles, so the manufacturers of the various components had to cater to that demographic.
Classical and jazz were the genres most in demand, so they were given the most attention from sound engineers and industrial designers. As a result, speakers manufactured during this era (approximately 1960-1980) possess a very wide range and quality of sound signatures.
The first mass market stereo recordings hit the market around 1958. Today, stereo playback is ubiquitous, having moved over to digital reproduction, including streaming audio. But, it’s not the same. Listening to stereo on an all-analog system has its benefits. This is not hipsterism, but something palpable that you, as a listener, can hear for yourself.
Digital sound reproduction has its place, but, just like a live concert, analog sound will always have a place in modern music as an art form. That being said, let’s take a look at one of the main components of a stereo system: the speakers.
Vintage Speakers and Your System
The following is definitely my opinion, but one that I express from the viewpoint of suggestion, not gospel truth: If you are going to spend the time and money to put together your own sound system, with one or more vintage components, then it would be an overall best experience to keep all of the parts vintage, more or less. Putting a system together, from hi fi turntables to integrated amps and matching speakers, was and still is, an art form of its own.
Again, this is not an iron-clad rule, but read on and see if my argument holds up.
As you read earlier in this article, audio hardware manufacturers spent a lot of time and money designing components that were able to be sold for relatively high prices in the middle of the last century. These components were very well made and designed to last. Think Hugh Hefner or Frank Sinatra purchasing a sound system. Back then just about everything was made in three countries: The USA, Japan and Germany and Great Britain.
Stereo speakers were part of this manufacturing cycle and these companies went out of their way to satisfy the consumers. Most, if not all, of the speakers from this time period have removable front grilles, so you can inspect and possibly replace individual speaker parts without losing the integrity of the whole unit.
You may even be able to find original parts from that exact unit, or brand new replacement parts that will fit, based on the speaker specifications. Some units, like Polk Audio, have butyl rubber suspensions which last quite a long time. Other speaker systems, such as those made by Infinity, have polypropylene cones which will last longer than the foam
The List Of Vintage Speakers
Let’s begin with speakers made by Wharfedale.
1. Wharfedale W-90
The Wharfedale W-90 is a vintage, early-to-mid-1960s floor-standing speaker.
Based on user experience, the British-made W-90s have a sound quality that is expressed in the best audio reproduction equipment: you can’t hear the speakers at all – only the music. They take well to different amps without a whole lot of tweaking and sound great with both vocals and instrumental music.
These speakers possess a polite sound ( In a high quality system this is usually an indicator of good speaker design. It is subjectively a defining of the sound as very natural and convincing)
These 3-way W-90s have a nicely defined and detailed soundstage (a soundstage allows the listener to hear the location of instruments when listening to a given piece of music). Excellent bass reproduction is prominent in this model.
For trivia buffs, the Wharfedale W-90 was the official speaker of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Metropolitan Orchestra back in the 1960s.
These are large speakers made to sit on the floor in a living room. With their tweed and wood look, they’re like furniture, which makes sense given the mid-century modern time period.
I think British audio equipment is very sedate and somewhat utilitarian (like Garrard turntables) and the W-90 fits into this description. From what I can tell, the cabs are made from heavy plywood clad in wood veneer.
There are two 6-position pots on each cabinet for adjusting the tweeter(highs) and midrange speakers. There are even onboard instructions showing you how to place the speakers in your room and, what instruments cover what range. Wharfedale used a double wall enclosure for the W-90, and filled the void between the outer and inner walls with sand to baffle or dampen the space.
Expect to pay between $100-$300 for a set in good condition.
2. Cerwin Vega D-9
They’re big. They’re bad. They’re Cerwin-Vega!
Some audio enthusiasts swear by these huge, circa 1970s 3-way speakers. Quite a few parties back then featured these ear-popping units, so a lot of people associate the D-9 with rock and roll. This is probably not fair as a blanket assessment, as these work just as well with jazz, R&B and other genres.
Bass was the name of the game with these CVs and woofer response was dynamic and unforgettable.
As I stated earlier, the D-9s have a reputation for being a loud party speaker. Truth be told, they they are efficient at all volume levels and sound just as good from low all the way to eleven.
They were made by Cerwin-Vega, the company that created Sensurround for the movie Earthquake. That should tell you something about what these speakers can do.
They are loud, no doubt. The horn-driven highs and heavy bass are produced without the need for loads of power. The ported cabinets are very sound efficient and will fill a medium sized living room or music room with little effort.
Similar to the Wharfedales, the D-9 has a woofers mounted on a cast aluminum frame and onboard level controls for tweeter/midrange. Cabinets are vinyl clad wood laminate and weigh about 42 pounds each.
A set of CV D-9s in decent shape can be had for a bit under $400 in today’s market.
3. Dynaco A-25
The Dynaco A-25 was designed and built in the mid 60’s. It is a high performance two-way speaker system.
What it excelled at was doing most everything well for those on a limited budget, while delivering quality European design and sound to American consumers..
The Dynaco A-25 was Dynaco´s most successful loudspeaker. It is a bookshelf speaker produced in Denmark at the then unbelievable price of under $100.
Sought after in today’s vintage market, the A-25 boasts excellent treble and midrange and very good bass response in a bookshelf sized package.The aperiodic system, Dynaco’s version of a bass-reflex (not exactly, but similar in function), allowed for smaller cabinet size without loss of low-end range and without any dampening material in the cabinet.
This type of ported system was designed to compete with ‘acoustic suspension’ systems, some of which were considered flawed in their need for higher-powered amplification. It’s still the subject of debate as to which is ‘better’.
The A-25 is sometimes referred to as a very musical speaker system and quite a few people will use it in combination, stacking it with floor standing speakers for the A/B set up in a four speaker system.
The A-25 has a 10″ woofer and a 2.25″ mid-tweeter. That’s it. A two-way that performs as good or better that lower end three way systems, because it significantly reduced the problems that can occur when different drivers cover the same frequencies (as in 3-way systems).
Fitting for a Danish-modern design, it features an oiled walnut veneer.
I’ve seen these sell for between $175 – $300, based on condition. That’s a good deal for a great speaker.
4. KLH model 6
These are very popular and highly sought after bookshelf style speakers. They are sometimes difficult to find, as a lot of people want to keep their Model 6 speakers..
The good news is that they were manufactured from 1958-72. That means a lot of Model 6 speakers were produced. Be patient and keep looking and you just may find one in decent shape.
KLH Model 6s are considered to be some of the best vintage loudspeakers ever made. The sealed system sports a two-way set up: 12″ speakers and 3” tweeters. Henry Kloss (the co-founder of KLH and AR and founder of Advent) had a hand in designing this model.
The KLH 6s are a good fit with jazz, classical, and female vocals.
As with the A-25s, these model 6 speakers are very musical. The smoothness through the midrange and lower highs is sonically appealing. This is a very important factor in speaker quality: your attention is not being drawn to the speaker, but to the music.
The KLH 6s’ woofer surrounds are treated cloth, not foam, so they should not be a problem, even 50+ years later.
Some of the older 6s are sealed and not easy to get into, so you may need to research if you’re going the DIY route of restoration.
These KLHs are currently between $99 – $250, based on sets sold on places like Ebay.
5. AR- 3a
In 1969, the 3-way AR-3a became Acoustic Research´s latest and greatest high-end speaker. Touted by AR as “the best home speaker system we know how to make” , they cost around $500 at the time, which translates into over $3,500 in today’s economy.
They were worth it then and are worth picking up today albeit at a lower ‘vintage’ price.
The AR-3a is a largish speaker system and weighing in at around each. The cabinet is made of real walnut veneer, grills are mostly cream colored.
Each speaker has a 12 inch woofer, a dome midrange and a ¾ inch dome tweeter. High and mid-frequencies can be additionally adjusted at the back of each speaker with onboard level controls.
The sound of the AR-3a´s is considered a very warm, but clear sounding speaker system.
One major advantage of these speakers in the world of vintage sound is the available supply of replacement parts. They should be easy to find on the web with a simple search.
Historically, AR is the company that introduced the sealed “acoustic suspension” bass-alignment system to the high-fidelity world. This would facilitate deep, clean, distortion-free bass in a smaller enclosure, thus saving space and weight without the loss of fidelity.
On the pricier end of the vintage speaker spectrum, these will cost between $500-$1500 for a set in working condition.
Old vs New Speaker Systems
This is a tough argument that nobody will win. Sort of like the ‘Digital versus Analog’ discussion. People have their viewpoints and both sides have their merits.
What may be true is that for the most part, speaker technology has not changed or improved significantly. However, comparing 20-50 year-old speakers to brand-new equipment, without having been fully restored, is not a fair assessment.
They all have the same mechanics and mechanical parts, although the types of materials have become somewhat more varied. More fuel on the fire.
I do know that during the 1960’s and 70’s, the heyday of emerging high-end audio systems, it has been noted that ‘high fidelity’ sound reproduction equipment was a huge business. It was perhaps the second most expensive purchase, right after the automobile. With that, one could conclude that a well made machine made in 1976 could still do the work of a machine made a month ago. It is most definitely open to interpretation, which is one of the things that keeps the vintage audio market alive and well..
Just like cars, which are an understandable comparison, some people will swear by a 1969 Plymouth Road Runner while others like the 2019 Dodge version. Who’s right?
The best approach is to listen to as many different speaker types as possible and then decide for yourself.
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