Klipsch, Altec Lansing, JBL, Advent, Acoustic Research, and more classics that won’t bust your budget.
A great stereo system, the saying goes, is only as good as its speakers. Spend all you want on amps, speaker wire, and cartridges, but if the rectangular wooden boxes that push out the soundwaves can’t handle the power or lack the clarity, your otherwise immaculately conceived system will be wasted.
That’s another way of saying to be prepared to spend more on, and be more finicky when investing in, these essential components than anything else in your system.
As with every decision in our capitalist society, you have the option to buy newly manufactured goods or reuse someone else’s (perfectly good, and excellently crafted) used ones. Both have benefits, but the world desperately needs less new stuff and more recycled stuff. Vintage speakers were built to last and are often easily refurbished..
As an inspiration on your quest for better speakers, here’s an advisory tip from a veteran hi-fi collector, via the highly recommended Vintage Stereo and Hi-Fi Equipment group on Facebook:
Check FB marketplace regularly…..I got KLH6 speakers for $85….Advent 1s for $100…..Bozaks for $80…. Kenwood 7400 receiver for $100….Pioneer sx636 for $100…. Philips 212 TT for $75……Concept 2QD TT for $140……ELAC Miracord TT for $120…..Point is…..for under $500 you can do pretty well if you want vintage….all above pieces were in really good cosmetic condition and work as they should.
As a follow-up to our recent primer on used amplifiers and receivers, below is a list of quality affordable speaker brands and models to seek from the golden era of hi-fi.
History: Klipsch was born in Arkansas in 1946 by the brilliant inventor Paul A. Klipsch with his unveiling of the historic Klipschorn speaker system, a game-changing creation that harnessed a trio of separate drivers — woofer, squawker, and tweeter— to reproduce, respectively, the signal’s bass, midrange, and treble frequencies. Across the following decades, Klipsch introduced an unimpeachable variety of speaker systems based on the inventor’s technology.
Models: Volumes have been written about various landmark Klipsch models, the consensus being that the best bangs for the buck are the classic Heritage line model the Heresy. Those in the know, though, say that the KG4, which are smaller and less expensive than Heresy speakers, offer sound quality equal to, or even better, than their older siblings. But a quick Google search will offer tons of guidance.
History: Starting in the 1950s, the Boston metropolitan area became home to a number of revolutionary speaker makers. Few were more essential to the hi-fi movement than audio renegade, inventor, writer, and researcher Edgar Villchur and his student, Henry Kloss. Founded in the mid-1950s to produce reasonably-priced high quality speakers. To say they succeeded is an understatement. Along with classic Klipsch speakers, Acoustic Research is considered the Cadillac of manufacturers.
Models: If you see vintage ARs, buy them on the spot. Their model numbers are easy to parse: AR-1 was the company’s first foray, and across the decades that number increased as its products evolved. The AR-3 is highly coveted, as are AR-10s.
History: Founded by Henry Kloss after he left Acoustic Research, the former protege shared a similar belief: that great fidelity didn’t have to mean high prices. Dubbed, simply, the Advent Loudspeaker, Kloss aimed to equal the quality of sound generated by AR-3s at half the price. He succeeded, to say the least.
Suggested models: The Advent Loudspeaker (later renamed Larger Advent speakers after the introduction of the equally impressive Smaller Advent model). The company shuttered in the early 1980s, but managed to sell hundreds of thousands of units across the 1970s.
History: Founded in the late 1920s as Altec, it bought James B. Lansing’s speaker company in the early 1940s and eventually became an established seller of theater loudspeakers. Their “Voice of the Theater” line blanketed the country’s movie houses, and the company moved into the home stereo market starting in the 1950s.
Suggested models: The company is still active but the quality isn’t there. The early models, A-1 through A-5, are huge; the company moved into home entertainment with the AR-7s, which, like the AR-8s, are highly coveted now.
History: Best known for helping advance Sensurround technology in the 1970s, CV was founded by aerospace engineer Eugene J. “Gene” Czerwinski in 1954; he made his name after producing an 18-inch speaker able to hit 130 dB at 30 Hz. The company started selling their now desirable “Residential” line of speakers in the 1970s.
Models: Early models 24 and 26 are historic. Later in the decade, the company perfected models A-10 and A-123, while introducing the R-10 (10-inch, 2-way system), R-12 (12-inch, 2-way system), R-123 (12-inch, 3-way system), 12TR (12-inch Tower Reflecting horn), and (per Wikipedia) 15T tower speakers with 12-inch and 15-inch downward firing woofers, and the model S-1 bookshelf speakers.
History: One of the best known speaker brands of the past half-century, JBL remains an industry leader that has evolved as it’s grown. Founded by James B. Lansing (the Lansing of Altec-Lansing) in 1946 after he left Altec-Lansing, JBL continued despite Lansing committing suicide in 1949. It changed ownership several times before its sales skyrocketed in the early 1970s with its home lines.
Suggested models: The L-100 was the best-selling loudspeaker model of any company up until that time, and one measure of its desirability is its resale value. Still they were so popular that many old pairs remain in the wild. Other than the L-100s, you can rest assured that most JBL speakers from the 1970s are lifetime investments.
History: Originally the Kasuga Radio Company of Japan, Kenwood opened its first U.S. offices in Los Angeles in the early 1970s. A wildly successful stereo company within a few years, its ubiquity was due to its high-quality components, which sold at mid-price levels.
Models: Any Kenwood speaker with a model # JL-XXXw are killers