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HiFi buying guide

Part 3: speakers

Geoff Husband's choice

[Italian version]

A sweeping statement... "Second hand speakers are such good value and such a safe buy you need a REALLY good reason to buy new..."
Of all second hand components speakers are the pick of the bunch. Speakers don't normally deteriorate with age, in fact most improve as they loosen up.
One essential aid for buying them is a CD/LP with a full frequency sweep. Play this at decent volume and any rattles or crackles will stand out. Check that sound comes from all the drivers and that there are no rattles and buzzes and voila!
You have speakers as good as new... It's also worth remembering that classics from the 50's like Lowthers, Quads and Tannoys still sound superb by modern standards so don't be put off by the idea that last years speaker is out of date and useless.
The only snag with speakers is that with a top price of 400 GBP we are looking at speakers up to 1000GBP new. The sad fact is that it's easy to unbalance a system by using a pair of speakers that are too revealing, have too much bass or are too hard to drive for budget components.
There are many to avoid, any classic Linn speaker (Kans + Sara's) need serious amps, Lowthers will make you wince, Kef references will sound dead etc.
With this in mind the source first argument is even more relevent and a top price of 250GBP would be more realistic.

Some models are long running and go through several updates, with these often the earlier the speaker the better it is... The classic in this respect is the Wharfedale Diamond. Launched in the late 70's for 100 GBP this tiny ported box sported a 4 inch main driver and a cheapo plastic dome tweeter.
It measured badly, had a bit of an upper bass bump with no real bass but it made music. This little beauty was a cracker and for a tiny speaker had excellent dynamics. Like the NAD 3020 that it was often partnered with, it really defined a new market. The MkII was slightly better (I owned some for years) but from then on the rot set in.
Responding to the market Wharfedale made it sound more like a bigger box, more and woollier bass, tinkly treble from a budget metal dome etc etc.
Considering that over 20 years the price hardly moved perhaps the fall in quality isn't surprising... But don't despair, with such a success clones soon arrived and the pick of the bunch was the Mordant Short MS 10.
Even better than the original, being a little more open and easier to drive. They continued, like the Diamond, to be updated regularly, becoming the MS 3.10, but unlike it they never lost their life and fun.
Think of them as easy to drive baby Kans and you won't go far wrong.
I had one of my formative hi-fi experiences with these. I had an old Trio KD 1033 TT (not bad) and wanted to upgrade it. I went into a shop and listened in turn to a Revolver (at 189 GBP) a Heybrook TT1 (at 275) and an LP12. All were fitted with the Linn Basik+ arm and the system was an Alpha integrated and MS 10's.
The Revolver sounded no better than my own deck. The Heybrook was much better and really made me see what an improvement a deck could make. The LP12 just made an orchestra appear on the back wall - I'd never heard anything like it.
The point is that the amp and speakers easily showed the difference and I couldn't imagine any other component change making such a fundamental difference. The postscript to this was that I went out and bought an LP12 with Mission 774 (drinking straw model) and two MC cartridges for 250 GBP second hand ;-). Pay less than 50 GBP for early Diamonds/MS10's.
With perhaps 30 years worth of modern speakers to choose from the choice must run into the thousands.
Here you really need to try them out. Names of manufacturers with a track record:
Mission make decent cheap small speakers, especially the one's with the inverted drivers (tweeter under the bass unit). Mordant Short's range seem strangely unfashionable so are good and cheap and the Tannoys are both efficient and fun, but the budget dual concentrics are not always easy to drive.

Other personal favourites? The Heybrook HB 1 is a large standmount with a big 8 inch driver and a cheap soft dome (later metal) tweeter.
Again the older the better, but these speakers are the liveliest and most exciting you're going to come across at this price. They make many expensive speakers sound boring.
The secret is a dynamic, fast sound with a big enough main driver to give decent bass. They are however ragged and uneven and so though great fun they can be wearing. Budget 75 GBP for a decent early pair.
Lastly I've heard and been impressed with the Mission 753 speakers. These are slim floorstanders with five (!) drivers, a tweeter and four identical mid bass drivers.
Two of these drivers do the mid/bass two are for bass only so in fact the crossover is 3 way and a bit... They were launched at the beginning of the 90's for 600 GBP and give a tight, fast and wide band presentation. You ought to get an early pair for 250 GBP and for that they are probably the best allrounder out there. They also have the advantage of not needing stands and being happy close to a wall.

Copyright © 1999 Geoff Husband - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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