Old-school speakers are truly a blast to have, as their antique style and nature can make for some great conversation starters. But what about the audio quality?
Do hi-fi speaker systems get better or worse with age?
In my experience, I have found that classical and old-school jazz music sounds impeccable on old-school speakers more than they do on newer speakers. After a bit of digging, it turned out that this is mostly because composers take into consideration the sound technology available to most listeners and design the music accordingly.
So, in a sense, you could say that older speaker systems are calibrated to play certain types of music better than the newer models. But of course, this is just my opinion (and several thousand others, I’m sure). I’m confident there are plenty of people out there who would disagree with me.
At the end of the day, it really comes down to personal preference. But over time, do hi-fi speaker systems actually lose their sound value? Or are they like wine and get better with age?
Unfortunately, they tend to get worse. Just like any other electronic, over time, the components inside Hi-Fi speakers will degrade and break down.
This is why it’s important to take care of your speaker system and not play them at full volume all the time – no matter how much you want to (and I really want to).
Do Hi-Fi Speaker Systems Get Better or Worse With Age?
Over time, hi-fi speaker systems tend to get worse in more than one way. As the components get worn out or break down, the sound quality and feedback get worse. However, there are many who like this type of sound.
The constant clicks of the spring, the distortions, or the generally oversaturated sound tends to give classical vibes to many (I’m not among these). In their opinion, hi-fi speakers get much, much better with age as they turn into classics or antiques.
Speakers generate sound by converting electrical energy into vibrations, and these vibrations put stress on the speaker components. Over time, this stress causes the components to break down and degrade.
Consider the impedance, for instance. It is basically the resistance that the speaker offers to the current. As time goes by, the impedance will start to increase as the speaker’s components break down. This will cause the sound quality to deteriorate.
The same thing happens with the capacitors and inductors. These are responsible for storing and releasing energy, which is vital for generating sound. But as they wear down over time, they will become less effective at doing their job. This will also lead to less energy being stored and, in turn, make speakers feel “faded.”
The spider (spring) inside the speaker systems also gets loose with age. When this happens, your speakers may create more vibrations, especially when producing bass, and therefore the sound will be less precise. As an audiophile like me, this is a big deal because it can ruin the listening experience.
So, in short, Hi-Fi speaker systems will definitely get worse with age. The excess feedback from the speakers can also throw sound off-balance, especially with today’s music and movies that tend to use a room’s acoustics, and speaker’s surround capabilities to improve experiences.
But don’t worry; there are ways to prolong their lifespan and prevent them from degrading too quickly.
Things That May Go Wrong
When I picked up my old stereo speakers (over 12 years old, mind you), I found that one speaker was giving off excess distortions while the other struggled to keep up with the volume. As an audiophile, this was unacceptable to me, and I knew that I had to do something about it.
After opening the speakers up, I found that the speaker cone was ruptured and the spring was loose. While the former was rather apparent, the latter needed precise measurements with a Vernier Caliper to determine the misbalance. It may not seem like much, but even 0.1 cm can throw the sound off.
I ended up replacing the spider and the cone, and the speakers are now as good as new. So, this means that while old speakers do tend to wear off over time, there is nothing stopping you from repairing the museum piece and enjoying its sonic beauty once again.
Ways to Prolong The Life of Your Hi-Fi Speakers
There are ways to slow down the aging process of your speakers and maintain the sound for as long as possible. I found that the best way to do that is either to maintain a volume level with the speakers or, if you listen to rock, buy speakers dedicated to that genre that will handle the volume without as much wear and tear.
Here is a list of steps you can take to prolong the life of your Hi-Fi speakers:
- Avoid playing music at high volumes for prolonged periods of time. This will put stress on the components and accelerate the aging process, as mentioned above.
- If you listen to music with a lot of bass, make sure to get speakers that are designed for that. They will be able to handle the extra stress better. The same goes for rock music. These speakers are built with “misuse” in mind.
- Keep your speakers clean and dust-free. This will prevent the build-up of dirt and grime, which can damage the components over time.
- Make sure you handle your speakers with care. Avoid dropping or banging them, as this can damage the components and cause them to break down prematurely (metal/rock band fans, I’m looking at you).
- Store your speakers in a cool, dry place when not in use. This will prevent them from deteriorating due to exposure to heat or moisture.
- Have your speakers serviced by a professional if they start to sound significantly different? This will ensure that any problems are fixed before they cause further damage.
- Invest in a good set of speaker covers. This will protect your speakers from the elements and prolong their lifespan. I made this mistake once and ended up ruining quite an expensive pair of speakers.
- If you intend to use your speakers roughly, it is a good idea to invest in a few spare parts and form a basic collection. I collected spare parts such as the cone, spring, coil, and more over the course of seven months – and thank God I did! It wasn’t soon after that I wasn’t able to find any part online, as the speakers were not discontinued. Nice try, corporations. I did end up using these parts after about 4 years of constant use. With a bit of elbow grease, a few drops of sweat, and a few holes in my fingers, my hi-fi speaker system actually got better with age.
Do Hi-Fi Speakers Go Bad If I Don’t Use Them?
It’s a good idea to use your speakers on a regular basis, but if you don’t, they actually do go bad. However, that’s just me. The hi-fi speaker system in question here was basically left in the dust next to a sunny window for a few months. Soon after the break-in, I bought another pair and ended up kind of abandoning the speaker system.
Without a dust cover for the body or the diaphragm, the Moving Iron started oxidizing, and the sound was dull when I decided to use them again. Users have reported that the voice coil may also break down due to lack of use.
So, while it is okay to not use your speakers for a prolonged period of time, make sure to keep them clean, covered, and stored in a cool, dry place.
How Often Should I Clean My Hi-Fi Speakers?
I would recommend cleaning your speakers at least once a month, but if you live in a dusty environment, you may need to clean them more often. Just use a soft cloth to wipe down the body of the speaker and remove any dust or dirt that has accumulated.
If you notice that the sound quality of your speakers has deteriorated, it is a good idea to have them serviced by a professional. This will ensure that any problems are fixed before they cause further damage.
Do you have a case where your hi-fi speaker systems got better with age, too? Or do you agree that speakers get worse over time? Let me know in the comments!
Endless hours of experimentation, professional work, and personal investment in Home Theatre, Hi-Fi, Smart Home Automation and Headphones have come to this.
Former owner of Headphones Canada, a high-end headphone specialty retailer.