Affordable Vintage Loudspeakers: The Budget Audiophiler
As much as I enjoy hunting for vintage amplifiers, the search for affordable vintage loudspeakers is a lot easier for the simple reason that there are thousands of models to choose from if we take a look at the products that were released between 1960 – 1990. Not all of them were good, but if you do some homework, you can come up with a rather substantial list of good loudspeakers that were manufactured in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia during this time period. The problem is that the best vintage loudspeakers have a following; and those who covet them are willing to pay a substantial price. Quad ESLs for $500? Good luck finding that kind of bargain. But what about affordable vintage loudspeakers?
Are there any hidden gems worth checking out at the right price? If you know where to look and you don’t mind getting your hands dirty – there are quite a few worth searching for.
We’re going to cover 5 specific affordable vintage loudspeakers this week that you should be able to find in the $200 range (or slightly below if you’re aggressive) and the best part is that all of them sound quite good.
The best part of affordable vintage loudspeakers (aside from the price) is that most of the speakers on this list are easily restored or repaired with rudimentary wood refinishing skills, or by swapping out a replacement tweeter or woofer. Refoaming woofer surrounds is not as difficult as it sounds, and you can learn how to do it online by watching some excellent videos on YouTube, and practicing on a $25 pair of speakers you find at a local thrift store. It’s a skill that comes in handy when dealing with vintage loudspeakers.
So now that we’ve established that we’re not looking for Quad ESLs, MartinLogan CLS, or Rogers LS3/5As at a bargain basement price, let’s dig a little deeper into some surprising vintage loudspeakers that might really surprise you sonically.
Advent Large Loudspeakers
These are a very common sealed 2-way speaker designed by the late-Henry Kloss who passed away in 2002. Kloss was a very active engineer for decades starting numerous companies including Acoustic Research, Kloss, Cambridge Soundworks, KLH, and Advent. He was also the inventor of the high fidelity cassette deck. The Advent Large stand 26” tall and come in veneer and vinyl versions. They feature a 10” woofer, decent volume size, and 100-watt power rating.
The tweeters balance well with the sealed design which is not bass heavy. These are the most flexible speakers on the list; meaning that you can pair with a low powered tube amplifier (20 – 30 watts) or an 80 watt solid-state receiver just as well. Parts can be found readily online and the woofers are easily refoamed or swapped out. A pair with the vinyl finish will run about $150 — but even less if they need to be cleaned up or repaired.
Ohm Acoustics E’s
Ohm Acoustics have been around since 1972, manufacturing their products in Brooklyn, New York; Ohm, joins DeVore Fidelity, and Grado Labs who have kept the high-end audio torch alight across the East River.
Ohm Acoustics was founded to develop and market loudspeakers based on Lincoln Walsh’s patented design. The first model, the Ohm A, is still considered to be a classic loudspeaker design. The unusual shape and design of the Ohm Walsh A, Ohm Walsh E, and Ohm Walsh F loudspeakers have made them collector’s items and they show up quite frequently in movies and on television; including on the current Amazon Prime series, Bosch.
Ohm E’s are the smallest of the bunch standing about 20” tall with a shallow wood veneer cabinet. They were produced in the late 1970’s featuring a sealed cabinet, and are a 2-way design. The recommended wattage is 10 – 60 watts, making them ideal for a tube or solid-state receiver in that range. They can certainly take the power, but don’t overdrive them with anything more.
For their size they have decent bass, but don’t expect to listen to AC/DC on these at anything but average volume levels. The Ohm factory still supports these loudspeakers; you can order a woofer or tweeter replacement, or a 3-way kit to upgrade the speakers with the 1” tweeters from the Ohm C3. It includes two tweeters, crossovers and the wiring harness. You have to cut a hole in the front panel to add the additional tweeter.
You will need 18″-21″ stands or risers to get the tweeters up to the proper listening level. Depending on the condition, expect to pay between $75-150 for a pair.
These were the biggest surprise of the lot. The Dynaco A25’s were designed and manufactured in Denmark, and are a true bookshelf loudspeaker. The Dynaco A25 are a two-way loudspeaker with a single 10″ woofer and a 2.25″ mid-tweeter. The crossover is quite simple, just a 5 uF capacitor in series with a variable resistor arrangement that feeds the tweeter.
Standing only 20″ high, they can be set inside a bookshelf or on a pair of stands which brings them up to the proper listening height. What makes them so surprising is the overall presentation and bass response coming out of this ported 2-way loudspeaker. The A25 have developed a bit of a cult following so I’m not letting my pair go anytime soon.
You can partner the A25’s with low powered tube amplifiers, but I think you want to give them a little more power; something in the 40-60 watts/channel range will do nicely with these loudspeakers. They do require stands to put them at the proper listening height. The A25 can be found for around $200, but people are now attempting to sell for a lot more.
Marantz Imperial 6g
Marantz built loudspeakers? Yes — they did. And the Imperial 6g’s were one of the best models from that series of loudspeakers. The only issue is they are not particularly easy to find, and even harder to source with their funky foam grilles in excellent condition. These were designed to compete with the Advent Large loudspeakers; both were boxy 2-way designs, but Marantz did something really smart with them. The addition of a port on the front baffle allowed listeners to place them really close to the wall if that was required. There is also a switch on the rear panel above the binding posts to boost or reduce the treble depending on the rest of your set-up.
The Imperial 6 used a paper-cone 10″ “blue glow” woofer with a phenolic ring (edge) cone tweeter. The woofer had a cloth surround and all of the cabinet parts were 3/4″ veneered particleboard. The design of the surround is a definite plus as the material might not have degraded very much over the years. The sad truth is the Imperial 6 didn’t sell very well. It was made redundant by the Imperial 7, but it’s a rather interesting loudspeaker if you can find one. These need stands or robust risers and expect to pay at least $100 for a set in passable condition. I’ve seen replacement tweeters selling for around $25/each online.
The Magnepan SMG are a departure from the rest of the lot. Magnepan are one of the most respected high-end audio loudspeaker manufacturers in the world, and their factory in Minnesota continues to produce world-class products that are sold in dozens of countries. Our Editor-in-Chief uses the Magnepan LRS ($650/pair) in his reference system at home, and considers them to be one of the best loudspeakers below $2,000 from any manufacturer. Magnepan has been in business for almost 50 years and there is a global cult of users who swear by them. Most of their loudspeakers are only 2-3″ deep, but the wall of sound created by these planar magnetic loudspeakers is something you have to experience for yourself.
The SMG are on the smaller side for this type of loudspeaker (48″ tall), but driven with the right amplifier can sound significantly larger. Bass monsters they are not. They also have volume limitations depending on the size of your listening space. There are two crucial issues in regard to getting great sound of them; power and set-up.
Planar loudspeakers require a lot of current. So what is the best amplifier? The short answer is direct-coupled, Class A/B design with high current capability. NAD amplifiers that can double their output into 4 ohms work well — but not something smaller like the otherwise excellent NAD C 316BEE V2 integrated amplifier. Tube amplifiers can sound great with the SMG but not the older tube receivers that I’ve been writing about in recent columns. Vintage Audio Research tube amplifiers that can deliver 60 watts (8 ohms) and 120 watts (4 ohms) sound amazing with current Magnepan products but we’re no longer in the budget range here.
Emotiva, Carver, Aragon, and NAD are a good start with this type of loudspeaker.
Set-up is super critical with these loudspeakers. They need to be at least 3′ from the wall behind them, and the inside edge needs to be further from your ears than the outside edge.
The ribbons on this type of loudspeaker degrade over time and you can hear a buzz from the panel if there is a problem.
So why consider them? A level of transparency, coherency, and resolution that none of these other loudspeakers can touch when everything is set-up properly. Current models are world-class loudspeakers used in systems in the $50,000-$100,000 range by some users.
This is not a complete list of affordable vintage loudspeakers. KLH, Klipsch, EPI, Jensen and others made some very good options as well so don’t limit yourself. When purchasing vintage loudspeakers make the time to listen to them, ask the owners how they sound, and which amplification they have had success with.
Related reading: Best Vintage Audio Speakers for the Modern Audiophile
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