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 the 5 best vintage speakers that are great to use when you play your vinyl records, along with three modern day, vintage looking speakers that have awesome new driver technology inside (which you can check out in the table below):
|Wharfedale Linton Speakers|
|KLH Model Three|
Vintage Looking Modern Speakers
Now before we dig into the five best vintage speakers you can find on the secondary market, I first wanted to share three vintage looking turntables (that are modern speakers) that I absolutely love!
If you’re looking for JBL vintage speakers, I have an interesting (and slightly alternative) choice for you: the JBL L52 Classics! Now back in 1970, JBL introduced the the L100 speaker—which only went on to become their best selling speaker of all time.
They eventually revisited the design for modern day roll out of the L100, as well. But what I love about these JBL L52 Classic speakers is that it gives you that retro 1970s vibe while being a bit smaller and more compact.
That doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing quality here, though. In fact, the JBL L52 still manages to stand over 13” tall, so it’s a good size vintage looking bookshelf speaker.
But what’s great about it is that it’s a modern speaker that looks vintage, so you don’t have to worry that the previous owner abused it, or that the speaker is blown. With the JBL L52 Classic speakers, which come in three versions (black grille, light blue grille, and a light orange grille), you getting a great output of punchy bass and a clearly defined mid-range. These beauties are definitely work a second look.
On top of that, if you prefer this speaker but just wished it was a bit bigger, you could instead opt for the JBL L82 Classic. You get the same great design aesthetic and wonderful sound, but these babies are much bigger. While the JBL L52’s were about 13” tall, the JBL L82 speakers are just over 18.5” tall. So if you have a bigger room, definitely go with the JBL L82 over the JBL L52!
|Best Selling Speakers|
|1) Kanto YU6|
|2) JBL L52|
|3) Dali Spektor 6|
|4) Pro-Ject Speaker Box 5 S2|
|5) Audioengine P4|
Now Whafedale, as a brand, is not only synonymous with greatness, but vintage greatness. If you like retro speakers, then Wharfendale is almost always going to be near the top of your list.
So what I love about the Wharfedale LINTON Heritage speakers is that they offer everything you appreciate about vintage speakers and put it all inside a modern day speaker package.
In general, whenever you buy bookshelf speakers (which the Wharfedale LINTON’s are), the very first question you likely have is this: what am I going to put them on? After all, while floor standing speakers can simply sit on, well, the floor, bookshelf speakers need some sort of stand.
This often causes to have to throw your speakers onto bookcases or even buy individual speaker stands (I know that’s what I had to do when I bought my PSB Imagine Mini speakers years ago). But luckily, that’s not the case with the Wharfedale LINTON Heritage speakers. These throwback beauties come with speaker stands.
And not only that, but these are functional stands. Not only will they support your speakers up top, but you can easily store a handful of vinyl records inside of the stands on the bottom.
On top of that, these speakers are going to provide you with a very nice musical mid-rage too. If you love bass, it’s worth noting that this speaker is 22” in height, so be prepared for a surprisingly strong injection of bass into your room, as well.
|Wharfedale Linton Speakers|
|KLH Model Three|
Now for those that love KLH vintage speakers, you might remember that the KLH brand brought their Model Five speaker to market in 1968. Its popularity endured, and now KLH has not only released a new version of the Model Five, but the Model Three as well.
What I love about vintage speaker design from being brought back and re-released in today’s world is that it can now include new technology housed inside it. That’s what we have here with the KLH Model Three, as we get modern driver technology. And what I really love is that, just like in its Model Five speaker from 1968, this newer Model Three also coms with a switch in the back of the speaker that allows you to control acoustic balance. You can turn the dial from LO to MID to HI, allowing you to adjust the sound for proper smooth frequency distribution.
And similar to the Wharfendale LINTON Heritage speakers above, the KLH Model Three comes with its own stand. I’m a fan of how these two stands ever so slightly tilt the speakers upwards. This is particularly great when having your speakers (and stands) sitting on the floor, as the sound with be sent upwards to your ears as you sit in your chair or on your couch. Very well designed.
Now that we’ve discussed a few good looking speakers with vintage aesthetics, let’s now dig into a handful of retro speakers you may want to track down on the secondary market.
|Wharfedale Linton Speakers|
|KLH Model Three|
Best Vintage Speakers You’ll Love
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. And rest assured, when you’re looking for the best vintage speakers available, you rarely can go wrong with Wharfedale.
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. So if you’re looking for a nice pair of Cerwin Vega vintage speakers, you can’t go wrong with the D-9!
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.
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 surrounds.
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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