Old Speakers with a New Surround Sound System – Can It Work?

We’ve heard it all before. You’ve inherited speakers from a relative or found a deal online that just seems too good to be true. The downside is that the speakers are old. Maybe a handful of years, maybe much more. But the age of the speakers has you concerned. Can these older speakers keep up with all the new Atmos and 4k technology? Should you jump on that deal or accept the hand-me-downs? Can old speakers work with a new surround sound system? Let’s discuss!

Speakers are Ageless (for the most part)

For the most part, older speakers can work perfectly fine with today’s modern surround sound formats and systems. The technology that makes speakers work (the drivers) hasn’t fundamentally changed in the last half-century or so. Computers and research have led us to understand how to make speakers sound better while being smaller, but older speakers can sound just as good (if not better).

We said “for the most part” for a reason. There is the saying, “they don’t make ’em like they used to.” It’s a shorthand indicating that older gear inherently lasts longer. That, of course, is hogwash. The only reason the older gear is still around is because it DID last longer. That doesn’t mean that ALL old gear lasted. Much of it is sitting in a landfill under a million copies of ET for the Atari 2600.

That said, there is no reason that older speakers won’t work with your new surround sound system. But you’ll want to shop carefully.

How Were They Stored?

You’ll want to hear that they were in use in someone’s home. A speaker sitting deteriorates. A speaker in use at least stretches the spider and surround (parts of the driver). If those pieces aren’t used, they will age and crack.

The foam surround is missing on the top portion of this driver.

If the speakers were not in use, you’ll want to know how they were stored. Garages and attics are not a good sign. Changes in humidity and temperature can wreak havoc on the drivers and components of a speaker.

Inspect for Damage

No matter how they were stored, you should inspect them for damage. Of course, pushed-in tweeters are an easy sign of abuse. You’ll want to push on each of the drivers and look for cracks or splits in the surround material or cone. If the tweeter is pushed in but not damaged, the speaker should still sound the same (negotiate a better price though). If the surround material is damaged, you might be able to repair it yourself (we have a guide for that). Lastly, if the cone or tweeter is damaged, you’ll have to replace the whole driver. Depending on the age of the speaker, that might be fairly inexpensive or impossible. Do your research before buying!

From WikiCommons

But there are other parts of the speaker that can be damaged by use and age. Inside nearly every speaker there is a crossover. That crossover is made of resistors, capacitors, and other components all connected to a circuit board. Those components can age and their performance can suffer. If you aren’t electrically inclined, opening the speaker and looking at it won’t help you. Instead, you’ll need to…

Listen First (if possible)

The real proof is in the proverbial pudding. When buying older speakers for your new surround sound system, you’ll want to know that they work. You can only do that if you can hear them. This will ensure that any damage is only cosmetic. But don’t just grab your favorite tunes and start blasting them. Instead, follow our guide for comparing speakers.

You’ll want to listen carefully for anything that sounds like buzzing or clanging. This is a sure sign that one of the drivers is damaged. You’ll also want to pay attention to the extension of the speakers. In particular, pay attention to the highest notes. You want to hear clear sound all the way up to at least 10kHz. If the speaker stops making any noise before that, the tweeter or crossover is likely damaged.

Take Away

There are older speakers and then there are OLD speakers. Any speaker can work with your surround sound system, but if you are buying older speakers, make sure they were well-reviewed when released. Just because something has been around for a long time doesn’t mean it is quality. I mean, you can still find Ford Pintos out there for sale. That doesn’t mean they are great cars. But if you can pick up some great speakers at a fraction of the cost just because they aren’t brand new, you should definitely jump on it.

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