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Scratching the upgrade itch

6and8

Well-known member
Jan 20, 2014
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“Why do you keep wanting to improve on what you’ve got? It sounds perfect to me as it is”. This is the missus speaking when I’m feeling a bit critical of my set up. When I get the upgrade itch it’s usually about my speakers, a pair of Musical Fidelity MC4s bought second-hand 30 years ago. They’re slightly scruffy having moved home with me 3 times. They sit on Soundstyle tripod stands, half-filled with iron filings. Feeding them are an equally old pair of Van den Hul Clearwater cables that resemble fire hoses trailing across the floor. And I think, I’ve been reading all the reviews, loudspeaker design has come a long way in the last 30 years, there’s bound to be something out there that’ll give me more detail, more bottom end, more magic, more…whatever. And tonight I’m spinning some even older vinyl – 50s / 60s albums by Gerry Mulligan, Ben Webster, Bill Evans and Eric Dolphy and I’m sitting here thinking, wow, that sounds luscious, really fantastic, the missus is right, why am I even thinking about changing them? So they stay, until that upgrade itch needs scratching again…
 

Gray

Well-known member
Nov 27, 2015
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I doubt many (on this forum at least) will have stuck with the same main speakers for as long as you have.
Obviously you'll be well familiar with their sound!
If you changed them, there's likely to be something you'd miss about that sound.

Would be interesting to hear if anyone can beat your 30 years.
(I've had 7 different brands, all English, over 40+ years).
 

matthewpiano

Well-known member
Nov 23, 2007
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I agree with @DougK that the grass isn't always greener. It often simply changes colour and length!

Swapping and changing has been one of my biggest sources of enjoyment with hi-fi (after the music itself), but it can also be frustrating and expensive. Over the last 20 years my speakers have included Dali, Quad, Wharfedale, Q Acoustics, Mission, MA, B&W, KEF, Tannoy, Mordaunt-Short, Spendor, Dynaudio, Rega and Celestion. None has been perfect and synergy between amp and speakers as well as between room and speakers has often made a significant difference. I've also experienced first-hand that it doesn't matter how 'good' your amplification and speakers are if your source components aren't up to scratch. This is particularly noticeable with vinyl, and not just with regard to the turntable (inc. arm) but also cartridge choice.

At present I have several pairs of speakers - the Linton 85s in my signature, B&W 606s, MA Silver 50s, Wharfedale Diamond 9.1s and Diamond 7.2 Anniversary, MA Monitor 50s and Mission 760i SE. I'm planning to sell some of them on shortly as I haven't got the space for all of them, and the money always comes in useful :) I've tried them all with the amplifiers I currently have to hand and, whilst some show clear overall advantages to the others, there remains elements that show a change rather than a quantifiable improvement.

Yes, loudspeaker design has changed over the 30 years you've had the MFs, but it that doesn't mean current offerings are 'better'. It is often more the case that they are different. If you're enjoying the MFs when you're listening to them, swipe that itch away. If you want the fun of exploring alternatives get out there and do some listening as and when you can. If you find something that appears to offer a welcome change I would, given your long ownership of the MFs, strongly advise negotiating a home demo over several days to make sure the change remains a welcome part of your daily listening.
 

6and8

Well-known member
Jan 20, 2014
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Thank you all for the feedback. I know the only way to really find out if I like something else more is to audition at home, so I can make side by side comparisons. But it is weird how attached I've become to a familiar sound, even if it's not the best. I'm probably a hifi salesman's nightmare - I audition speakers in their demo rooms, say I'll think about it, then get home and fire up my system and think, what the heck, still sounds pretty good. Note to myself - time to take the plunge or stop reading all those hifi magazines...
 

SpursGator

Well-known member
Jan 12, 2012
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I’ve been reading all the reviews, loudspeaker design has come a long way in the last 30 years, there’s bound to be something out there that’ll give me more detail, more bottom end, more magic, more…whatever.
As others have already said, you are going to have a damned hard time upgrading those speakers without spending a fortune, and that newer isn't always better. For the record, I wholeheartedly agree - so a better question might be: why? Your TV has gotten wildly better, and computers by several orders of magnitude. Phones in the last 30 years? Fuggedaboutit. So what gives?

The answer is that the limitations of speakers are not technology limitations. Every speaker's performance is limited by two main factors: size and cost. It's more like building a house than a computer - the more you invest, and the more space you have to build, the better the speaker. It's not like: "Trying to drive those speakers with today's amps is like trying to play Fortnite on a Sinclair ZX81."

Second point is that, to the extent that there have been technological advances, they won't help you much. A lot has been learned about microphony and capacitors over the last 30 years. The solution, super caps, are crazy expensive and won't be available to you, unless your upgrade involves spending Sonus Faber cash. The advances made in driver technology (various approaches such as titanium, ceramic, diamond, beryllium, mineral-filled poly cones) all cost a fortune as well. So the very limited advances that HAVE been made are way up at the high end, and with rapidly diminishing returns.

Finally, the newer cone technologies are designed specifically for that most common of applications: getting accurate midrange and decent bass out of a very small box. They have gotten good at this, but mainly at the expense of sensitivity. So even though technology might give you a more accurate frequency response and (slightly) better bass from the same enclosure, it will come at the expense of the dynamic, lively presentation that a bigger speaker with older, often lighter cones will throw up. Sensitivity is a HUGE factor in how a speaker sounds and nobody really understand it but that's another post.

There are whole websites devoted to endlessly restoring classic JBL speakers from the 70s for exactly this reason. The more modern speakers don't give them the fix. So basically OP, you are right. Put a huge burden of proof on anything that you want to replace those MFs with.
 

knaithrover

Moderator
Nov 24, 2013
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10,670
I find having enough kit for 3 set ups gives me the option to swap and change/rotate my 2 x main set ups to tweak the sound and therefore stave off the upgrade itch - my eggs aren't all in one basket. It doesn't stop me looking at upgrading it just doesn't happen so often.
 

iMark

Well-known member
May 16, 2008
237
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18,870
I suffer from the opposite of upgraditis when it comes to speakers. I bought a pair of Infinity Overture 1 speakers (with a built-in 150 W powered subwoofer in each speaker) in 2000. I also bought the customised stands for them. I stumbled upon them in a sale.
The speakers have been the centre of our stereo audio/video rig for all this time. I don't think I've heard other speakers that deal as well with anything you throw at them. They're great for any type of music from delicate classical to films. Last night things startled rattling in the living room when we watched Interstellar on Netflix.
My biggest fear is that something will break in the speakers and that I have to start looking for an alternative.
 

Simon 13th note

Well-known member
BANNED
Jul 27, 2020
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I dont tend to go along with the source is king nowadays as digital sources are all so good. What I think is undeniable compared to 30 years ago, so far as speakers are concerned, is that you get more for your money.
 
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