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If you’re shopping for used old-school speakers, you’re probably wondering how they sound. One can assume that they have a warm, vintage sound, but you can’t help but wonder what they were like when brand-new. So, do speakers get better or worse with age?
Speakers get worse with age. As speakers age, the materials wear out and deteriorate, making the speaker cone vibrations less precise. The spider (spring) loses tension over time and throws the cone off-balance. However, new speakers can sound better after break-in by allowing the spider to stretch.
The rest of this article will explain how time can affect speakers. I’ll also answer if speakers go bad if you don’t use them, how long quality speakers last, and why speakers get worse with age.
Speakers get worse with age because the materials degrade over time. The cone may lose its original shape, and the spider loses tension. New speakers will sound better with age because they need to be broken in. However, they’ll get worse after a long period as well.
Speakers are mostly made of soft materials like paper, plastic, and aramid fiber, which all degrade with age. So, it makes sense that an old speaker won’t have the same vibrancy as a brand-new one.
Also, the moving parts in speakers get worse over time, just like any other thing. The spider is the most susceptible.
The spider is a spring that wraps around the voice coils and aids in creating and directing the vibrations.
Moreover, old speakers often have foam surround, which degrades in a matter of years when exposed to humidity and sunlight.
Thankfully, foam surround is the one thing you can replace yourself with fairly easily. Watch this YouTube video by Parts Express to learn how to do it:
Another major component that fails over time is the crossover. The crossover is made up of electronic components. It splits soundwave frequencies between the tweeter and the woofer.
The capacitors are the first to fail on crossovers. With a life expectancy of only about 10 years, they’re often the first to break down in vintage speakers.
Older capacitors can’t hold the right voltage and charge, so the speakers lose strength and accuracy.
Brand-new speakers are a whole other story. Although they also break down over time, they often sound way better after a break-in period.
Break-in is especially important for subwoofers and larger woofers. Blasting music at a high volume allows the spider to stretch properly. This increases the range of motion and allows the cone to vibrate with more strength.
So, new speakers get better with age at first.
Speakers do get bad even when not used. Extreme temperatures, high humidity levels, UV exposure, and oxidation are all factors that can degrade speakers over time. Speakers are made of plastic, foam, paper, and fiber, all rather delicate materials.
It’s worth noting that speakers will wear down faster if you use them. But simply existing and being exposed to environmental factors is more than enough to rot your speakers away slowly.
Depending on how long and where they’ve been sitting unused, they may still work. A pair of vintage speakers sitting unused on your shelf should still work.
But if you keep them in a hot, humid garage with rodents, their foam surround and cone have probably degraded over the years. Dirt and debris alone can degrade the speakers and lower sound quality.
Since speakers take years or decades to rot away, your new speakers will be fine if you don’t use them immediately. They won’t go bad if you don’t use them for a couple of years.
Quality speakers can last 15-10 years or even longer if you take care of them. Some Hi-Fi speakers will sound as good as new even after 40 years of use when well-maintained. Occasionally, you may need to replace broken or disintegrated parts, but they’ll still work.
There are countless examples of high-quality speakers from the 1980s working perfectly fine even today.
What Hi-Fi has tested the Mission 70 from 1983, and they found that they’re almost as good as brand-new ones. Of course, we’ve come a long way in the speaker design compartment.
Newer speakers of comparable quality will have a more accurate frequency response curve, less distortion, and can get louder.
But if you dig the vintage sound only old-school speakers and guitar cabinets can achieve, there’s no reason not to buy used high-quality speakers.
If you’re considering a brand-new pair and don’t know if they’re worth the high price, they probably are. If they sound good today, they’ll sound very similar in 20 years too. Clean and maintain them regularly to extend their lifespan.
There are several reasons why speakers degrade over time. Let’s go over the most common ones.
- Regular wear and tear. Regular use is the most significant factor that affects speaker longevity. The cone, foam surround, spider, voice coils, and other components stretch out and lose tension over time. This means that the speaker isn’t as accurate as it used to be. Playing your speakers at a high volume will wear them out even faster.
- Humidity and temperature. Humidity and extremely hot or cold temperatures will degrade your speakers like nothing else. Speakers made of fiber, paper, wood, plastic, and other delicate materials don’t handle high humidity levels and temperatures well.
- Sunlight. Again, most materials used for speakers are very sensitive to sunlight. Plastic and foam are especially susceptible to UV radiation from the sun. Any changes on the molecular level will inadvertently affect the speakers’ sound quality.
- Quality. Not all speakers are made equal, but you already know that. In addition to the differences in sound quality, high-quality speakers use better materials. They also have a better, more resistant design and build quality. We see major differences in the quality of materials for the cone, enclosure, capacitors, and pretty much everything else.
Although new speakers can sound better after a short break-in period, speakers tend to sound worse with age.
Old, used speakers have worn-out voice coils and spiders. This leads to irregular cone vibrations and less accurate sound frequencies with distortion and clipping.
- Audio Engine: How Do Materials Make A Difference In Speaker Construction?
- The Speaker Exchange: How To Identify Parts Of A Speaker
- Teufel: What is a speaker crossover?
- Quora: Do capacitors go bad if not used?
- The Klipsch Joint: How and Why To Break in Your New Speakers
- What Hi-Fi: Old speakers vs. new speakers: How do they compare?
- Quora: Is there any evidence of speakers getting better with age?
- Essentra Components: UV and its effect on plastics: an overview