Loudspeakers are available in many shapes and sizes, and in a variety of configurations, There are a wealth of loudspeakers available on the pre-owned market, dating back as far as the 1950s, when HiFi separates began to emerge in preference to the radiograms, stereograms and other integrated players that had dominated the market up to that point. While many of these earlier models have survived and remain in good, serviceable condition, many others have been rendered useless by poor choice of materials by the manufacturers, particularly in the use of particle foam for cone surrounds and grille materials. This article will look at the do's and don'ts of purchasing a used pair of loudspeakers for use in the home, to be partnered perhaps with a HiFi system or mini stereo.
What to Look For in Used Loudspeakers - The Do's
There are a number of positives the buyer should look at, such as the cabinet size and style, the type of drive units fitted, and the condition of the loudspeakers. These represent the 'do's' of loudspeaker buying.
Do check the driver style. The majority of loudspeakers designs are those with two or more cone-style drive units.
Two-way, Three-way, and Above
The most basic of these is a 2-way design, with the loudspeaker cabinet incorporating two drive units, one for low and mid frequencies, the other for high frequencies. A 3-way design typically includes an intermediate driver for mid frequencies, but there are a variety of other approaches, some of which involve paired bass drivers. A wide variety of multi-way designs have emerged over many years, including those with multiple bass and mid units, passive bass radiators, and various other combinations.
The dual concentric style of loudspeaker has the high frequency unit mounted within and to the rear of the low frequency one, with both drivers on the same axis. Visually, this style of loudspeaker looks as though it is fitted with only one drive unit, and it will take a degree of buyer knowledge to recognise these by brand or type.
Electrostatic speakers are a highly-specialised design of loudspeaker which utilises a flat membrane, driven by an electrostatic field, as opposed to conventional cone-based designs. These speakers are typically in the higher price ranges, and while they have a number of advantages in terms of transient response and imaging, they function using high voltages and typically require their own mains supply.
Do remember to assess the cabinet style as loudspeakers can be found in a variety.
Compact loudspeakers are often referred to as bookshelf designs, and generally speaking, any size of cabinet near to that which will fit upon a reasonably deep shelf will be marketed in this category.
Loudspeakers which are too large to be accommodated on shelving will typically be stand-mounted. Of course, the purchase of loudspeakers in this category will naturally entail the purchase of separate stands, whether the speaker manufacturer's own brand, or aftermarket.
There are limits to the size of speaker which can be stand-mounted, and once these are reached, loudspeakers are designed as floorstanding items.
Ceiling and In-Wall Styles
A growing trend in recent years has been toward loudspeakers which are mounted in ceiling or wall spaces. Since these are designed with permanent installation in mind, as opposed to freestanding loudspeakers, they are probably best avoided on the used market.
Ione essential Do is to review the power handline. The ideal power handling figure for a loudspeaker is one above the output power of the amplifier with which it will be used, to allow some headroom above the amplifier's rated output. While a speaker of a lower power rating than the output of the amplifier can still be successfully used with care, and at moderate levels, it's generally best to avoid this situation.
Do check the sound quality. If the loudspeakers are available for home trial, or for auditioning prior to purchase, they should be auditioned using material familiar to the buyer, and to which they would normally listen. There's little value in a heavy rock enthusiast auditioning a set of loudspeakers with a programme of baroque music. Although sound quality is, to a large extent, a personal preference, the buyer should listen to aspects like detail, soundstage, and general musicality.
What to Avoid in Used Loudspeakers - The Don'ts
The buyer should consider the following when making a used loudspeaker purchase. These are the negatives of loudspeaker buying, essentially the 'don'ts'.
In terms of general cosmetic condition, it's perfectly possible for the cabinetry of a loudspeaker to be in quite poor condition, but the working elements to be in fine condition, and perfectly serviceable. Chips, severe dents, and corner damage are likely to indicate that the loudspeaker has been dropped at some stage, and it's possible that damage could have been caused to the driver units by such mishandling. On the another hand, general wear and tear, such as watermarks and rubbing marks, can probably be regarded as more acceptable.
Don't Accept Damaged Elements
Loudspeakers are generally quite dependable items, and if they are not abused or overdriven, they do tend to give many years of service. However, in some cases, certain elements naturally deteriorate with age, and this symptom can be found with makes and models which used certain types of particle foam for either cone surrounds or grille materials.
In a number of notable cases, the foam has disintegrated, and any loudspeakers showing any signs of this deterioration are probably best avoided. If the loudspeakers are available for personal inspection, the cone surrounds, especially on any bass or midrange speakers, should be looked at closely for any signs of patchiness or decay. Likewise, any grilles made from foam should also be scrutinised closely.
Don't Pass on Testing
Ideally, some prior research on the loudspeakers should be carried out, and the loudspeakers for sale should be checked to ensure that they match the research, verifying that the drive units are the originals, for instance, and that none have been replaced with after-market replacements. If the loudspeakers are available for a listening test, they should, with the current owner's permission, be driven to the buyer's usual listening level.
Any out-of-place noises such as rattles or buzzes should be a cause for concern, and will usually result in rejection of the loudspeaker. If purchasing at a distance, possibly in an online transaction, the condition will have to be judged on the basis of pictures and descriptions provided by the seller.
The most obvious mismatch when choosing loudspeakers is that of power rating, and the buyer should avoid gross mismatching in this area. For example, with an amplifier rated at 40 watts, for instance, the ideal power rating for a speaker to match should be 40 watts or more, but this need not be a hard and fast rule. It's perfectly possible to use a speaker of lesser rating if moderation is exercised, and the amplifier is not used at levels which will overload the speaker. A speaker of 30 watts power handling could, therefore, be successfully used with the 40 watt amplifier. By the same token, there's little value in pairing a highly-rated speaker with a particularly low-powered amplifier, as it's likely the amplifier will struggle to drive the speaker, and it's likely the amplifier will end up overdriven to achieve any significant volume.
If the buyer wishes to use both amplifier and speakers to their full potential, the ideal is for the speakers to be rated at the same level as the amplifier, or slightly above, to allow a degree of headroom. For this reason, don't buy a pair of speakers which have a radically different power rating, up or down, from the amplifier with which they will be used.
How to Find Used Loudspeakers on eBay
From the eBay homepage, select Shop by category, and if Sound & Vision is on the pop-up category list, select it. If not, expand the category list with the See all categories button, and then selectSound & Vision. From the subcategory list to the left-hand side, selectHome Audio & HiFi Separates, and then Speakers & Subwoofers. Further subcategory distinction can be made by selecting Bookshelf, or Floor-Standing Tower , for instance.
A large number of reliable and serviceable loudspeakers can be found on the used market, and with careful consideration of the factors outlined above, it should be possible to find a pair of loudspeakers in good, serviceable condition which will be likely to give the buyer many years of listening pleasure.