If I have "audiophile-grade" speakers from 20-30 years ago, what are the differences in sound quality as compared to modern high-end speakers? (To nail this down, let us suppose we're talking about a reference speaker that sold for $1,000 a generation ago, and we're comparing it against new speakers in the same price range of the same size, power, and dynamic frequency range.)

I can think of several possible reasons why older speakers might not keep up, but I don't know if any of these are true in reality:

  1. The state of the art in speaker design and manufacture has improved, so that the same level of performance can be obtained more inexpensively today. (Equivalently: what used to be cutting-edge designs are now mainstream and produced in larger scales.)

  2. Speaker components degrade over time.

  • Guess you're asking about speaker cabinets rather than the chassis speakers themselves? – Tim Feb 23 '19 at 16:25
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    @Tim – I think I'm talking primarily about the chassis speakers, since those are the only moving parts. I'm not saying that the cabinet isn't a significant part of what makes a speaker's sound, but unless we're talking about exotic new materials I don't see how the cabinet can degrade over time, or how the state-of-the-art in cabinets made of any common material could have advanced in 30 years. – feetwet Feb 23 '19 at 16:48
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    The problem here is that the words "good" and "improved" are not well-defined when it comes to speakers. But with reasonable definitions of those, I think the answer is no. For example, I have a pair of Advents that are probably about 40 years old, if not older, and they sound amazing - better than any other speakers I've owned, and I've owned some expensive speakers. The only pair of speakers I like better than these cost $10,000. But that's just my opinion, and I think this question is too opinion based as written. – Todd Wilcox Feb 23 '19 at 17:19
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    @ToddWilcox – Your comments suggest your answer to the question is, "No, there have been no innovations, and no materials in (quality) speakers degrade over 30 years." As to whether speaker performance is primarily opinion: There are objective measures. If nothing else, we can drop one in an anechoic room, surround it with reference mics, and sample the fidelity of test tones across a range of frequencies and amplitudes. – feetwet Feb 23 '19 at 18:56
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    @feetwet The foam surrounds in speakers dry rot over time and can completely degrade after 20 - 30 years, but they are also easily replaceable and the speaker can be made essentially good as new. Performance and quality are two different things. There has been a fad for 20+ years now to make speakers go as low as possible. This is usually achieved with porting or venting to lower the resonant frequency of the enclosure. Unfortunately, those designs go lower but have poorer quality bass than infinite baffle enclosures. So which is better? It's a matter of opinion. – Todd Wilcox Feb 23 '19 at 19:00

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